May 23, 2024

5 Questions with… Dave Shaw & Ryan Heilman

Brant Guillory, 17 March 2021

Ryan & Dave are not just great game designers, but also great game teachers.  Two-time GM’s with our digital conventions, they are always enthusiastic about sharing their designs with other players and having a good time with their fellow gamers.  Armchair Dragoons were fortunate to corner them for a few questions.

You guys opened up with a pair of games that look pretty lopsided at first.  What was it about Brave Little Belgium and White Eagle Defiant that made them attractive topics for a wargame? 

The game that started it all

Dave – The idea behind Brave Little Belgium first came to me back in 1993, when I visited Belgium to stay with some friends who were studying in Leuven for the semester. I remember being struck by how many monuments there were that commemorated Belgium’s struggle in the First World War. It left a big impression on me – I knew the Belgians fought to stop the Germans from entering their country in the war’s opening stages, but I didn’t appreciate how courageous they were in resisting a military power that was far larger than theirs. It seemed to me that a game covering that resistance would be very interesting (and challenging). It only took 25 years, but thanks to Ryan that vision finally came to life with BLB.

Ryan – Several years ago, Dave and I were hanging around the WBC open gaming area playing some old Avalon Hill games. It was the first time that I had played a hex and counter wargame since I was kid. We started talking about creating games of our own and Dave mentioned his idea for Brave Little Belgium.  I was immediately struck by the idea and despite the fact that I had little-to-no game design experience, I decided to try and create the game.  It was probably my inexperience with game design that made me think that I could create a game based on the German invasion of Belgium in WWI.  If I had more experience, I may have chalked it off as an undesignable game.  In fact, after BLB was released and I started thinking about the follow-up game, I proposed White Eagle Defiant to Dave. He was initially very worried that it would not be a fun game to play given the lopsided nature of the campaign. It took a lot of effort to create something that was fun and to win Dave over.  


Aside from the twerps at The Dice Tower, what’s been your impression of the overall reactions to your designs from the wargaming world as a whole?

Ryan – Frankly, I have been stunned by the reaction to both games. Overall, the reviews have been very positive, and the comments posted by wargamers and non-wargamers have been equally positive. I have been particularly delighted by how both games are being used as introductions to wargames.  The pictures I have seen posted on social media of a parent playing one of our games with a young child truly warms my heart.

Dave – I have been very humbled and grateful for the warm reception that both games have received from the majority of the gaming community. Ryan and I wanted to make games that were fun to play, historically based, and easily learned so that as many people as possible could enjoy them. I’m proud at how both games seem to have met all of those goals. It’s been very encouraging, and I am deeply appreciative to all of the kind words that both games have garnered. Wargamers can be a tough-to-please bunch, so having so many give positive feedback is definitely an awesome experience. (And honestly, I have no hard feelings for those who don’t enjoy the games – I am thankful that those people tried the game; I know you can’t please everyone.) 


Last One Standing gets out of the historical milieu and into a different space.  Were you just noodling around for fun?  Sick of having to do historical research?  Lost a bet?  Is that one going to escape into the wild through a publisher, or were you just goofing off for yourself? 

Dave – Last One Standing is more Ryan’s idea than mine (actually it’s 99% his, LOL), but it immediately appealed to me because I am a huge fan of the sci-fi/post-apocalypse/kaiju genres, and this game touches all of those subjects. While it was a bit easier in some respects because it didn’t involve as much hardcore historical research, it presented new design challenges that were just as tough to overcome. It’s definitely a tongue-in-cheek game, not meant to be taken literally, but rather something to be enjoyed by presenting a conflict-based simulation that mixes in a healthy dose of fantasy. Hopefully when people play LOS they’ll enjoy the experience as something that’s obviously not historical but still fun and engaging. 

Ryan – Dave and I have been talking for several years about creating a science fiction game, but the assumption always was that it was going to be a completely new design. Knowing that would take a lot of time and work to create, I decided one day to see if I could use the Brave Little Belgium / White Eagle Defiant system as the basis for the science fiction game I wanted to create.  I quickly created a scenario that would be similar to those two games and migrated some of the basic mechanics into the new game.  Amazingly, even on the first play, it worked.  After much playtesting and the addition of some new, unique mechanics, we knew we had a game that would be incredibly fun to play.  In fact, of the three games I have designed in the system, I enjoy this one the most.  Currently, we do have a deal for it to be published and we are working on some additions to the game to make it even more fun to play.  

Playtest of Last One Standing at The ACDC in January 2021


Is there a topic out there that’s an obvious fit for the BLB system that you’re hoping someone else works on?  Or do you already have the next couple of games already mapped out in your heads and just need the time to finalize them? 

Dave – At the moment Ryan and I don’t have any obvious candidates for a new game in the series, but I would be extremely flattered (not to mention very excited) to see another designer take the series to another historical period and give it spin. Just knowing that someone likes your game concepts enough to want to do a game of their own is, again, very humbling and flattering. I hope someone gives it a shot!

Ryan – Dave is being a bit modest as he does have several ideas for games that would work in the BLB system. Among these are a game on the Romanian Campaign of 1916, a game on the Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania in 1863, and a game on the Italian invasion of France in 1940. While I did work a little on the Romanian Campaign game as a possible follow-up to Brave Little Belgium, I put it aside due to the lack of material on the campaign.  I may revisit it at some point but in the meantime, I really want to work on games that did not use the BLB system.

Having a little fun with the idea of a ‘lost cause’



Every gamer has a bunch of dice laying around.  What are some of your favorite dice and why those particular ones? 

Dave – Like most gamers, I have a ton of dice… but if I had to say which are my favorites, it’s my collection of tiny dice. These are the mini-sized dice that can be found in Against the Odds boxed versions of their magazine games. I am a big collector of miniature stuff! I also have a beautiful set of jade dice my daughter got me last Christmas that are just gorgeous. Finally, I have the original dice from my first RPG game, Gamma World, which I bought back in the mid-1980s. Unfortunately they’re all that’s left of the game, I lost the rest of many years ago!

Ryan – I just recently bought the DoubleSix dice. If you are not familiar with them, they are 12-sided dice with 1-6 marked twice on them.  I find that they roll better than 6 sided dice and the dice are premium quality with lots of great color choices.  


Ed Note: there’s a bonus question or two that will be shared exclusively with our Patreon supporters.  It’s just one of the perks of being a supporter of The Armchair Dragoons!

Thank you for visiting The Armchair Dragoons and spending some time with the Regiment of Strategy Gaming.
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Brant G

Editor-in-chief at Armchair Dragoons

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