A mutual friend, Rob Adams The AmrChair General, brought David Phipps to the attention of Bring Your A-Game. Mr. Phipps and his daughter Mia have just released a nifty new pulp game for miniatures titled Pulp Alley. David took time during the holidays to speak with us about the new release, future plans and more.
Bring Your A-Game: I was excited to get your new release Pulp Alley. I’m an avid pulp gamer and have numerous rule sets including Rattrap’s extensive line, To Be Continued by G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T., Astounding Adventures!, Bob Murch’s free rule set Rugged Adventures to accompany his wonder miniatures line. With so many good pulp games out there, what sets Pulp Alley apart from the others?
David Phipps: Our focus is on flexibility and playability. I think one of our new players explained it pretty good after playing his first game, “I really do think this could be the freshest thing to come up in a long time – and I am an oldie who has played a lot of games and has read more rule sets than a sane person should.
“Sure, checks and tasks and objectives, cards and scenario based games have been around for a long time, but this rule set brings them all together in a fun, easy whole that is a lot more than the parts. Distillation to great effect, a fine, single malt of a game. Bravo.”
BYAG: What drew you to work with the pulp theme?
DP: I’m a longtime fan of the genre. And for me “pulp” is much bigger than playing in the 20’s-40’s. For me, the genre includes the full range of settings represented in the old pulps – including the Wild West, pirate-infested Caribbean, Darkest Africa, swashbuckling France, mythos ridden New England, the canals of Mars, gangland Chicago, barbaric Hyboria, and so much more. Personally, “pulp” is about the fast-paced action, thrilling perils, and daring adventures. And it is for all of this which Pulp Alley was created.
BYAG: I like the basic mechanic a lot, simply best a four, and the fact that characters can have different sizes of dice (i.e. d6, d8, d10, d12) based upon their health. We’ve encountered similar mechanics with Ambush Alley only recently when we reviewed Tomorrow’s War a few weeks ago. Is there a relationship with Ambush Alley?
DP: I grew up gaming with those guys and I’m proud that they are using some of the old rules I designed in their games.
BYAG: You have several pages of Fortune cards in the rulebook. Is there perhaps plans to publish custom Pulp Alley Fortune decks for sale, or to expand that aspect of the game, or even offer blank Fortune cards for gamers to add their own ideas to the Fortune deck? It seems like a logical next step.
DP: Yes, indeed. It is not currently at the top of the project list, but I so want to make decks for specific settings. This will give us a chance to add an extra layer of detail that just doesn’t make sense in the basic cards.
BYAG: Obviously I haven’t had a chance to playtest the game, having just received a copy of the rulebook and only today read through it. However, in principal I’m a huge fan of the way you have chosen to deal with initiative. I won’t steal you thunder and describe it, but would like to let you share the initiative feature with readers. It is one of the more unique ways of handling that aspect of a game that we’ve come across.
DP: In most games “having the initiative” simply means that it is your turn to move.
In Pulp Alley, the initiative is handled in more of a real world tactical sense. This means, you are in a better position to execute your plan and others will be forced to react to you.
It can be really fun when you steal away the Initiative at a key moment, you can almost hear the dramatic music swell in the background. All of this plays very quickly and helps encourage a very fluid and dynamic turn sequence.
BYAG: On the cover of Pulp Alley your by line caught my eye, “by Phipps & Daughter.” My daughter and I share a love of gaming and I wanted to ask you about working with your daughter on this project. A father/daughter relationship is really special. How has it been working with yours to create a game you can both be proud of?
DP: Over the last few years, Mila has become an integral part of Pulp Alley. Not only was she incredibly supportive and helpful, Mila was also brutally honest when she identified areas that did not measure up. Over the course of the project, she’s played over 100 games, built lots of terrain, painted a couple dozen miniatures, made a dozen Fortune Decks, read the entire book a half-dozen times (aloud), and deleted about a million commas.
More recently she took on the challenge of designing our online store (http://pulpalleycom.ipage.com/store/) and tonight she was preparing our Fortune Decks to meet the printer’s specs. I honestly do not think I would have ever finished the book if it was not for all her help.
BYAG: The copyright on the rules is dated 2009. Can we ask about the trials and tribulations you had to face to get from the start of this project to actual publication?
DP: From the get-go I had a vision of what I wanted. Unfortunately, we had neither the experience nor money to make it happen, so we had to learn everything from scratch. While the final product is not exactly what I had in mind all those years ago it is pretty damn close.
BYAG: Along those same lines, how many drafts did you go through before reaching the point you were satisfied the game? Any good/humorous stories from playtesting you’d like to share?
DP: Drafts? Oh dear, I can count six different drafts, two different edited versions, and a couple other “final” versions. So for the record, this was the final-final-final version.
Mila was pretty good at simplifying things for me. I can remember one day I was driving her to school and we were discussing what terms to use for our basic movement types. I suppose anyone that has designed a game understand how meaningful this sort of thing is as a design. It’s almost like picking out your child’s name.
So there I was, driving along and rattling off a list of ideas I was considering, “Cautious Move and Rapid Move, or Slow Move and Fast Move, or Normal Move and Double Move” (yes, they seem pretty goofy in hindsight). And she says to me, “What about Walk and Run?” – which by-the-way had somehow not made it on my list. There and then, Walk and Run became our two movement rates.
BYAG: I have to admit, I’m a big fan of the old pulps, particularly some of the jungle pulps, and I have a modest collection including 20 or so Ki-Gors, a reprint of Sheena, but also several G8 and His Battle Aces, Operator #5s, Captain Futures, Doc Savages, a few Spiders and Shadows. Do you have any favorites from the old pulps? Why?
DP: There is a handful that I really like, but my favorite character from the old pulps is The Spider for purely personal reasons. Over the last few years, I’ve become a bigger fan of the old serials simply because it was easy to have them playing in the background while I worked on the game.
The pulps and serials had an enormous impact on actual game mechanics. For example, I can remember specifically designing the Recovery check rules after it struck me how often characters got knocked-down and got back up.
BYAG: Do you collect originals or the reprints of any of the old pulps, or are you a bigger fan of the more modern pulp films, i.e. Raiders of the Lost Ark, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, The Rocketeer, etc.?
DP: We like all of it. Lately it’s easier for us to enjoy an old serial or re-watch one of the movies you mentioned because we can do it together. And we even make that into a game by playing out the movie as a Pulp Alley game as it is going along… “Oh, that’s a Might or Finesse check… failed… take your two hits!”
BYAG: We were brought together by a mutual friend and a fellow game designer of yours, Rob Adams – The ArmChair General. I see he’s a contributing writer to this project. How did you and Rob meet? What has he contributed to the project?
DP: I met Rob several years ago when I was designing rules for some other games. When I started working on Pulp Alley, Rob was one of the first people to show his support and want to help. He contributed quite a bit of writing, re-writing and editing to earlier versions, and was again helpful in the final edit.
Moreover, when life reared its ugly head and I had to set the project aside for awhile Rob was frequently there to help me get it back on track.
BYAG: Will there be a dead tree edition of Pulp Alley? You have the PDFs available through your web site already.
DP: Yes, folks are already buying the PDF’s from our online store (http://pulpalleycom.ipage.com/store/). And we have always planned to make hard-copies, but at this time it doesn’t look like that will happen before February.
BYAG: What’s next for Pulp Alley? Do you have supplements in mind, or will you be moving on to a new project altogether?
DP: The first supplement we’re doing for Pulp Alley is Perilous Island. For this one I’m bringing in an excellent writer named Robert Fisher to do most of the heavy lifting so I can concentrate on designing rules and running playtesting.
We’re also starting on our Pulp Leagues book. This book will add a bunch more abilities, perks, resource bonuses, and a couple different character types.
Mila almost has the cards ready to ship off to the printer, so we should have some high-quality printed deck ready to add to the online store in a few weeks.
We have always wanted Rob Adams to do a couple supplements as well. And it looks like that may happen as well. So we are really excited to see what he comes up with.
BYAG: Anything you’d like to add about Pulp Alley, the web site, or anything else for that matter, that I failed to ask you about?
DP: I can’t imagine what the game would have looked like today, if not for all the folks that pitched in with playtesting made suggestions along the way. They were, and still are, so important to us.
For links to our store, forums, and more, please visit the Pulp Alley home page at — http://www.pulpalley.com/index.html
Dave & Mila