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A Conversation with Chipco


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19 April 1998page first published

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©1994-2022 Bill Armintrout
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Finding myself scheduled to make a trip to a business convention in the San Francisco Bay Area, I immediately thought - miniatures companies! Who could I visit with? I contacted several companies, but only one visit worked out.

And so it was that Chip and Curtis, the Chipco partners, sat down to dinner with me at a hotel, before adjourning to Chip's home for some show-and-tell...

It turns out that when you go to visit Chipco, there's no there to visit. Chipco publishes rules, but there's no factory, no racks of inventory, no shifts of workers packing products for shipping. In essence, Chipco is two people - Chip Harrison and Curtis Wright. And so, dining with them at my hotel, I really was visiting Chipco!

the partners - Curtis (left) and Chip (right)

Chip is a friendly, "teddy bear" sort of person, a man of gentle demeanor and no apparent tempers. It was he who started the company (hence, "Chipco" is the name of the company), looking for something to satisfy his urge to play Napoleonic wargames. He tried Napoleon's Battles, then moved on to DBA for its system - but found the game too limiting. Chip took the next nine months to come up with his own fundamental game engine.

"I love the mystique, the excitement of Napoleonics," he told me. "I'm not interested in hack and slash. I want to know - what was the period like?

"And if I want a whole army of Scotsman, why should they stop me? Who cares if it never happened.

"Complex rulesets have been the death of Napoleonics."

Having designed the rules, Chip wondered if he could actually sell them as a commercial product. Applying his 14 years of sales and marketing experience, he began to call the buyers. His research indicated his target retail price should be $10, which meant the distributors would pay $4, and to make a profit he had to keep his costs around $1.50 per unit. To keep costs low, Chip did as much of the pre-publishing work himself, and looked for production methods which would give a nice effect for little expense. He discovered that he could indeed produce a product at a price that was a minimal risk for a distributor (about the same cost as one elf chariot figure from Games Workshop!). "Everything I had learned about business, I had to use," Chip said.

And so Le Petit Empereur was published.

Continuing with an approach that favored getting the right period feel over an absorption in tactical details, Chip next designed Age of Gunpowder, a set of Renaissance rules. "I was interested in the period, and there were no rules," he said. (This was before DBR.)

"I would almost prefer to watch people play, than to play games myself," said Chip. "I enjoy writing the rules."

"Every figure in the game had to be beatable," said Chip. "Even the least powerful unit had to have a chance to kill the most powerful." He chose to use a 10-sided die to add variety to the game results. And the game had to fit on a standard kitchen table.

"With Tactica, it takes a year to paint the army, then you find that all of the games are the same." Chip said he wanted players to be able to design their armies in five minutes, not spend hours tweaking their design.