Interviewing Mark Fastoso – Wargamer, TV Producer, & History Buff

06 January 2023
And YouTube sensation

Words and pictures by Conrad Kinch

Living in the “COVID Times” (or, as the Kinchlets call it, “The Big Sick”) has found me watching even more YouTube than I do normally, and this led to me discovering some excellent wargaming channels, most notably Little Wars TV. It was on Little Wars TV that I came across American wargamer Mark Fastoso while they were reviewing his free set of Western gunfight rules, Ruthless. I was impressed with these, but I knew the name rang a bell.


It was weeks later when I realised that this must be the same Mark Fastoso who was associated with the Colonial Campaigns series of scenario books, most notably his book on Ethiopian campaigns of the 1890s. Mark has had a varied wargaming career, writing a set of Company Level Second World War rules called Fireball Forward; scenario books for the classic colonial era ruleset The Sword and the Flame and aerial combat game Check Your Six! and – most recently – the Cowboy skirmish rules Ruthless.

Ruthless is an interesting case in point because they are incredibly short (being just two sides of a sheet of A4) but are also available absolutely free, both from the Little Wars TV site ( and from Mark’s own website ( I would recommend checking out Mark’s own website as the free download there also includes a few pages on generating your own cowboys and writing your own scenarios. The Little Wars TV site ( also has two free scenarios and a free mini campaign based on the events leading up to the gunfight at the OK Corral.

I’ve played around with Ruthless a little bit and can confirm that the rules are slick, fast playing and well suited to the chaotic western gunfight genre. Unfortunately they are not solitaire friendly at all, but the ingenious card based mechanic makes them ideally suited to fast paced multi-player games. Perfectly suited for a club night or an evening with friends.

This motivated me to get in touch with the man himself, who is not only a wargamer, but proved to be a gentleman and a TV producer whose work includes a forthcoming documentary on the famous “Lost Battalion”, whose fight in the Argonne during the Great War was so memorably reported by Damon Runyon.


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I know you mainly through your work  on the Colonial Campaigns Series – but  looking at your back catalogue – there’s  a wide variety of stuff there: air combat, naval wargames, cowboy skirmish, second world war. How would you describe your wargaming work?

 I create wargames and scenarios that try to tell compelling stories about historical subjects. One reason so many people are attracted to historical gaming is that history is inherently dramatic. Let’s face it, we all want to imagine we are riding a muscular horse while leading a great cavalry charge at Waterloo! I want my games to help you access your imagination and bring history to life. I model my games on compelling memoirs and hope they have that feel.

If a game is fast-paced, exciting, gives the players plenty of decisions to make and they leave with a gaming ‘buzz,’ I have done my job. I have found that an exciting game also can inspire gamers to explore history a little deeper. Many people do historical research and produce thick books, I express my research and love of history through wargames.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

When I was about eight years old, I befriended a World War Two veteran who worked for my Dad. This would be around 1975. He used my little ‘plastic green army men’ to demonstrate how the US Marines tried to cross the Matanikau River on Guadalcanal. His stories about Guadalcanal brought my army men to life in a way uncommon to most young boys.

This started me on a road to find interesting ways to understand and tell stories about history. When I watched the Civil War documentary by Ken Burns on PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) I found a career path. Eventually I ended up as a television producer for PBS… even working on a couple of Ken Burns’ films. You can watch one of my PBS documentaries, titled Jeremiah, about Vietnam prisoner of war Jeremiah Denton on Vimeo. Currently I am living outside of Washington DC with my wife and son.


How did you get started in the hobby?

One day in the late 1970s (when I was about 12 years old) I walked into a hobby store and saw a game on the shelf called, ‘Afrika Korps.’ My mind was immediately blown. I thought, ‘What could this be? How do you make a game about World War Two in Africa?’ My Mom got it for me as a birthday present and eventually I found a group at the local college that knew how to play Afrika Korps. I still know a few of the guys from that first gaming group.


When – and how – did you make the jump from playing wargames to writing and publishing your own material? 

I started writing and publishing my own stuff when I moved to the Washington DC area and began gaming with the SkirmishCampaigns guys. They had been producing scenario books and it inspired me to create my own and that is how Colonial Campaigns was born. If I did not have a group of supportive hobbyists around me, I might not have made the jump.


You’ve worked quite closely with the lads from Little Wars TV and I particularly liked the Operation Bluecoat battle report: how do you see the proliferation of YouTube affecting the hobby?

I think that YouTube is allowing gamers from across the world to come together to share ideas and experiences. It remains to be seen how this will impact the hobby over time, but I hope it will allow interesting ideas to spread and the hobby to grow. I love sharing what I am doing in my game room and hearing about what other people are doing. When I see how others use the hobby to have fun, understand history or tell stories, it helps me see new possibilities for how this quirky hobby can enhance my life. Hopefully YouTube helps open these doors for other gamers as well.

The Little Wars TV guys are doing a great job and have some different approaches to gaming than I do. Thanks to their inspiration I am planning on jumping into the YouTube world with both feet as Mark’s Game Room will be starting its own channel in late fall/early winter of 2022. Thank you, Little Wars TV!

By my count, you’ve written eleven scenario books? In anyone’s language that’s a lot. What motivates you to keep writing them and how do you keep finding new material?

I am motivated to keep writing scenario books because it is fun. If it wasn’t fun, I would stop. My group of gamers playtests each scenario in these books multiple times. We enjoy tweaking them to make them ‘just right.’ In the end, the scenario books are a record of the gaming that goes on in my game room.

I don’t see this ending as it is pretty easy to keep finding new material as we have all of recorded history to pull from! When a certain battle piques my interest I just dive into some research and start to figure out how it might translate into a game… and what might the game teach us.


What do you think makes for a good scenario? And is there any advice that you would offer budding scenario writers?

You know that you have played a good scenario when you are still talking about it (or thinking about it) the next day. A scenario that excites your imagination will inspire you to go deeper into the hobby. How you create such a scenario is a little bit of alchemy I suppose.

I stick to a few basic tenets when writing scenarios:

Firstly, try to use the entire table. Don’t have all the action take place in one small space.

Secondly, write scenarios for rules that are not overly burdened with useless detail. This tends to slow the pace of the game and saps energy from the players.

Next, have victory conditions that allow players to win in multiple ways. That will give more uncertainty to the game and allows for more replay value.

Lastly, don’t write a scenario that is not in line with the scale of the rules you are using. For example: You should not use Check Your 6! to fight Eagle Day during the Battle of Britain. The rules cannot handle that many planes and the players will get frustrated.


Your Ethiopian book for The Sword and the Flame has been my downfall and a complete army for Menelik II in 1/72 is currently winging its way to me as I write this. This is by no means a popular period - what possessed you to try and write a book about it? 

Ha ha…! I hope it’s not your downfall! I bet when you play the scenarios you will recover from your buyer’s remorse. It was my first scenario book and I had an absolute blast creating it. We still pull it out occasionally and refight the battles. I was drawn to writing it because – as a young gamer – I was struck by the exotic nature of the colonial games. Most, if not all, of the games that I played were set in the British Empire and eventually I started to wonder what Italy was doing during this period. (My family is Italian-American.)

After digging around in the Library of Congress I discovered some very interesting material about the Italian colonial wars in Africa. The scenario book was how I expressed this research. In fact, all of my scenario books are expressions of my time exploring and researching the various historical topics.


Are there any similarly neglected periods that you haven’t seen given the wargaming treatment that you really think should get a go?

Nothing comes to mind. Although I do feel that the First World War does not have a set of rules that depicts that war accurately. Most games I have seen use large 28mm figures in squad size units. Since that war was mainly an artillery battle, using squads as the manoeuvre units seems odd to me.


What are you working on at the moment? 

Currently I am working on Fire in the Sky: this is a Second World War air combat game that is a companion game to my naval game Fire at Sea. It is a fun and fast paced game which allows players to game large air battles. You take the role of an air commander as opposed to a fighter pilot. There are games where you can dogfight your opponents but not many that allow for bigger actions.

We have been having a lot of fun using this new game to refight the Kanalkampf which was the prelude to the Battle of Britain. Eventually it will be available – along with my other games and scenarios books – through my website (


Who do you think is doing the most exciting work in the wargaming field at the moment?

I think that Daniel Mersey is doing some exciting work in the wargaming field. His rules like Lion Rampant, The Men Who Would be Kings, etc. are fairly tight while not being overly burdened with detail. This allows a gamer to add their own twist on his rules without compromising the game. We have had hours and hours of fun using his Dragon Rampant rules to play fantasy Napoleonics. I have tons of Alternative Armies’ Flintloque/Slaughterloo figures but never had a set of rules that worked with them. We adapted Dragon Rampant and never looked back. Most of my gaming companions are hardcore historical gamers but Dragon Rampant is so much fun that they have been converted.


Why fantasy Napoleonics? What itch did they scratch that historical Napoleonics weren’t doing for you?

The short answer is that fantasy Napoleonics allows me to give free reign to my imagination. You are always in a box when you create historical scenarios because you are limited by the historical record. I find it healthy to create games that can go wherever I want the narrative to go. Having said that, fostering a healthy imagination is not what initially drew me into fantasy Napoleonics.

I was reading the Sharpe novels and watching Sean Bean portray him on TV when Alternative Armies released their miniatures line. The Sharpe figure, a.k.a. ‘Sharke’ was a dead ringer for an elf version of Sean Bean. There weren’t any historical Sharpe minis at the time, so I bought the fantasy version and fell in love with the miniatures. They are full of character and fun to paint. The broad areas and exaggerated proportions are like colouring books for miniatures painters.

You’ve written for Check Your 6! (aerial wargaming) and Fire at Sea (naval wargaming). What prompted you to do that work? Aerial and naval wargaming are both niche areas in an already niche hobby.

I jumped into writing Fire at Sea because naval miniatures are perfect for someone who wants to start historical miniatures but doesn’t want to spend a lot of time or money to get going. A blue cloth, 4 or 5 ships models and you are ready to go! There was also a need for a fun entry-level set of rules.

Originally, I wrote a very simple set of rules that just covered the Battle of the Denmark Straight which we played via web cams during the beginning of the COVID lockdown. Everyone had so much fun that I decided to expand it into a full set of rules. This gave me the opportunity to put my own spin on World War Two naval gaming. I became interested in how you account for what is happening with the crew during a battle.

Most games that I have played treat ships as robots that fight to the death. I wanted to add simple rules which reflect the human drama playing out on the ships. Currently I am working on a Pacific version of the game. Check Your 6! was written by the SkirmishCampaigns guys although I had input and playtesting. They started playing air games, but they couldn’t find anything that satisfied them, so they wrote their own game. I had a ton of fun writing scenarios books for them.


With the advent of computer games like World of Warships and the literal hundreds of excellent flight simulator wargames, what can tabletop wargame offer that computer games cannot?

Tabletop wargames offer a wide variety of experiences that you can’t get out of computer games. This hobby is actually a collection of different hobbies that combine to make something unique. You explore terrain modelling, miniature painting, historical research, game design, scenario design… on top of actually playing the games. I enjoy all aspects of the hobby but some people that I game with only participate in one or two.

The other major difference from computer games is the face-to-face experience that tabletop gaming offers. Standing around a game table with your neighbours and friends connects you to your local community.


What’s next for Colonial Campaigns?

I am planning on starting a new Colonial Campaigns project in 2023 and featuring it on the Mark’s Game Room YouTube channel. The topic will be either French-Indo China, 1880 or The Sudan Campaign, 1898. The former is a less-known period which peaks my interest in much the same way as the Italians in Ethiopia, but the Sudan is classic colonial wargaming. I might ask my YouTube audience what they would like to see and let them decide.


The Colonial Campaigns were – up until relatively recently – exclusively for an adaption of the popular The Sword and the Flames rules. Will you be expanding them to take in The Men who would be Kings?

TMWWBK has rekindled my interest in colonial wargaming. I think of it as an updated version of TSATF. My new Colonial Campaigns project will be based on TMWWBK but it will be easily converted to TSATF. It is trickier to convert my older (TSATF) scenarios to (TMWWBK) because of the uncertain movement in the latter. When I release my new colonial book, I will provide guidelines on converting my older books to The Men who would be Kings. I think that you can adapt either set of rules to larger engagements because they are fairly broad in terms of scale.


Your day job is as a TV producer. Is there ever any cross over into your historical/ wargaming interests?

There is a lot of crossover between my career as a TV producer and my wargame career and it goes both ways. One direct crossover was in my Vietnam War film Jeremiah when I needed to film scenes in the infamous Hao Lo prison, also known as the ‘Hanoi Hilton.’ We did not have the budget to film in Hanoi, so I decided to recreate part of the prison in miniature.

The miniature was so convincing that a former veteran inmate thought that I had been filming in the actual location. That is a unique example as most of the crossover has to do with storytelling. As a producer I tell stories… I want my games to do the same thing. I try to have my games/scenarios be a series of cinematic moments that capture the player’s imagination: they should feel like you are reading a memoir. Most games that I played in the 1970s-80s felt like I was reading an engineering manual.

Wargaming has had some limited exposure on UK television I’m thinking of Battleground, Game of War and Time Commanders but I don’t think that there’s ever been a US version. Do you think there’s a good reason for that? Or could a programme based on wargaming work?

I don’t know for sure why there are no wargaming programs in the US. My conjecture would be that the audience is much too small to support a national broadcast audience. The Little Wars TV crew do a good job of reaching the US audience and their average video has about 35 thousand views. Those numbers won’t gather enough advertising dollars to support a broadcast program. Until there is a demonstrably larger wargamer audience a wargame program won’t be viable in the US.


What do you think is the greatest “Wargamer” film?

Great question! To me the greatest “Wargamer” films are the films that are quotable around the gaming table. There are two films which are essentially just quotes strung together to form a script: Gettysburg and Waterloo. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard gamers say, “We should have gone around to the right!”; or: “I’ve made one mistake in my life; I should have burnt Berlin.” To me it’s a toss-up between those two films.


This is actually the only question that you got wrong during this interview. The perfect wargamer film is clearly Zulu: “Thousands of ‘em!” “Because we’re ‘ere lad.” and the always popular “You be quiet there’s a good gentleman, you’re frightening my lads.”

However, thank you very much for taking the time.

Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.



If you’re looking for more of Mark’s gaming work you can find it at the previously mentioned, while his film work can be found at He is @mfastoso on Twitter. 



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