Saturday 16 May 2015

Challenger and IT Terrain.

Odd how things coalesced, and one day can define years to come...

Occasionally in this Life in Miniature, I 'be been around successful protects, at GW late in the 80's they came thick and fast, in the 90's it was amazing to watch Magic: the Gathering grow from nothing to a world beater, but TTG's little (micro) success, stems from the summer 1983 launch of Challenger, the 1/300 scale micro-tank game set in the 'Ultra Modern' period.

Challenger, written by Bruce Rea-Taylor, and published through Table Top Games, is a simulation wargame based on the  supposed escalation of the NATO/WarPact Cold War to a point where hoards of Soviet Armoured Divisions roamed into Western Wargamerland.

Quiet if this was simulation, dystopian fiction or wish fulfilment, I can't really say, At what point would a Soviet invasion of Western Europe, have not provoked a nuclear  response, and made all these tiny tanks piles of radioactive dust? Or maybe this was after 'the bomb' and the elephant in the room was that all these little model towns, hills and road junctions were already a radio active wastelands, but still strategically important...  in either case, a certain type of British gamer started to lap it up, and Ultra Modern was a big success, in TTG terms, for the remainder of the 80's.
Within a year or so it was adopted for Nation Championship play, making it the game of choice for both Marxist teachers and Civil servants, looking to advance the cause of Communism, and camo-jacketed maths junkies, holding out for Freedom.

Over the next 10 years Challenger and all it's updates, digests, and army lists would keep TTG in a steady stream of sales that drove the tiny company forwards, and I think this period was the happiest I ever saw Bob, he liked the rules, he loved the period, and he was great chums with Bruce, a larger than life figure, who quiet clearly loved his hobby, and the (niche-sized) recognition it brought him.

Bruce's Rules (published through TTG)
No pictures of Challenger I on t'interweb, unless you know better...
Challenger Revised Edition
Challenger II
Challenger 2000
Battlezones - Scenarios for the Ultra Modern Period
Corps Commander OMG (Div Scale)           
Firefight (Modern Skirmish)

Ultra Modern Army Lists and Organisation Volume 1 Challenger
Ultra Modern Army Lists & Organisation Volume 2 Challenger

Digest No. 3 - Challenger / Corps Commander
Digest 4 Ultra Modern Army Lists for Challenger II Rules
Digest 5 Ultra Modern Army Lists for Challenger II Rules  

Modern Aircraft Handbook - Aircraft Details & Weapons for Challenger II           
Revised Modern Aircraft Handbook - Aircraft Details & Weapons for Challenger II

Bob used to clean up on the miniature sales for the games too, buying in Skytrex, and Heroics and Ross, tanks and vehicles, the only brands available freely in the UK, and stripping them from their packaging and reselling them at just below original price... Those camo-jacketed gamers could be seen in droves at any show TTG attended, heads down perusing lists and scraps of paper for micro armour at 33pence a pop...

On a couple of occasions both Skytrex and H&R both put a stop on selling to Bob, he just bought around through other people, before getting back into good-books with both companies, and at least once trying to buy Skytrex's range to tie our rules to their models.

Bruce died suddenly in the late 80's, from what I suspect would be described as a life-style related condition, smoking or weight related, and Bob would never be the same person after, the wind gone from his sails...

Ok then, and now for the odd coincidence, on the very same day the TTG took delivery of the first batch of Challenger rules (mid-summer '83?) Bob had a visit from a chap, whose name I never knew, who bought samples of his new companies product to 'pitch', polystyrene terrain and tiles.

2 of the first poly tiles in the world...
These things would over the next few years become almost standard items for large numbers of wargames, but as yet were an untested idea. People used to bring ideas to Bob quiet a lot, I suppose his opinion must have been valued by those wanting to get into the hobby, as the chap from Integral Terrain had done, most were given short shrift, but Bob spotted this as a winner straight away and bought whatever samples the guy had, a few packs of small, medium and large hills, and 3 or 4, two feet square, terrain boards...

I remember  Kate saying, "what fools are going to pay £6 for 2 feet of polystyrene covered in green flock?" with complete disdain... seconds before Mark and I tore into the stock to buy up whatever stock Bob had acquired minutes earlier...

And that's the way it went, gamers knew a great idea when they saw it, and TTG would sell out of Integral Terrain whenever we got new stock in, what gamers had used  previously; green baize or cloth, was cheap and easy, but looked bad, plywood tiles with Tetrion 'hard modeled' on looked good, but needed a village hall to store it in, and a team of volunteers to lift into place, sand-trays were versatile but heavy and attracted cats (!!!)... polystyrene solved a load of these problems, light, adaptable and uniform they gave a gamers a handy battlefield that could be changed to suit many games and was easy to break down and store in a small (ish) area.

So on that evening, Mark bought half a dozen T72's and M60's, which he quickly daubed with green and olive paint, and the pair of us tried, almost in vain, to get some kind of enjoyment out of the maths equation that was Challenger...

I can't say ever I did get a great deal of mirth from the game, then, or on any of the two or three occasions I've played since, but on that night, with some brand new Ultra Modern rules in hand, and some state of the art polystyrene terrain to play on, we could definitely say, the 80's started here...

Tuesday 12 May 2015

Still clearing up '83

Ok, this blog update is dedicated to Kevin Davies (no not that one), Shaun Watson, Steve Clark and the two or three Frothers that commented, without whom I might not have continued blogging...

Not this Kevin Davies
I had hoped to deal with things in a roughly chronological order, but this has gone wholly out of the window over the last year or so, the best laid plans, and all that... So what I'm gonna do is catch-up as quickly as I can with one big post about events in '84, which should bring us to the early spring of '85 and another fairly traumatic full stop point... 

But before that there are s couple of thinks to clear up from '83 that really need doing, one that has personal impact on me, and one that was of a more general interest for the wargames world...

So, with a much waffle as always, I'll blog on... 

Saturday 6 September 2014

Series 2 games - Micro Warfare

Ok, gone off the boil recently, work gets in the way of writing... so some '83 stuff to catch up on, there really was a lot going off including; Wargames Illustrated, Challenger, Tercio and mould making, and then I'll get onto whatever was going on in '84, but first I'll finish off the TTG history lessons for awhile, before moving onto more time related stuff...

page one, slightly damaged/aged
The next step for TTG back then in the mid-70's was the Micro Warfare Series, known as the Series 2 games, and if what Bob had done with the Series 1 games was strip the flab from American board games of the period, what he tried to do with the Micro Series games, was in a way even more radical.

Mirco Warfare Series games, Ancient Mediaeval, Napoleonic, Colonial, three Naval games (Napoleonic, WW1 and WW2) as well as a Sci-fi ground warfare game, reduced everything from the traditional wargame, the rules, the playing pieces, the terrain, everything, to the barest minimum necessary for play, turning expensive and difficult to find miniatures and terrain into card counters, and giving you everything necessary to play in an 16 page A5 booklet, with record sheets, and cut-out and keep counters, in a sleeve in the dust jacket.

Once again the rules were all Bob's, although I bet the Nottingham club had helped with the play testing, and Roger Heaton supplied the art work, and both still stand up to closer inspection. Bob had a knack for writing just enough detail into the rules to enable fun, flowing play, and Roger does wonders with 70's-printed black and white line drawings, character and action in such a small production can't have been easy...

I don't know whether Bob would thank me for saying this, or even acknowledge the existence of the word, but what he was doing, and continued to do all his working life, was democratize gaming. He was a great believer in trying to get everyone playing games, and this is what the Series 2 games did best. The rules were pocket money prices,  £1 each, and extra armies even less... you could have bought all 5 extra Napoleonic armies for less than a couple of quid... and the games themselves were pocket sized... micro even... no need for huge table, or massive amounts of toy soldiers. Everyone could play.

Which brings me to a point of contention, whilst I was looking at the Wikipedia page for Micro Games I read that...
...but TTG's Mirco Series pre-dates this release by a couple of years, and it is possible that they would have been on sale, and known to American gamers before 1977 and the Metagaming release, making TableTop Games the first to introduce the word Micro into gaming...

French and British Napoleonic ready for play

So I'm off to edit the Wikipedia, and when I get back, I'll finish off with the 1983 stuff that I mentioned above, and then onto 1984...

Monday 9 June 2014

Series 1 games

I think Bob's first love was for board games, even into the 80's he would argue that Avalon Hill's Stalingrad was the best game ever made,and I'm sure that at some point in the period between '73 and '81, TTG did in fact produce a board game, called Wild West, but on the whole I think that full-sized, boxed games, were beyond the scope of a small company like TTG at that time.

Cover by Rodger Heaton
So what Bob, and Rodger, did for their first game release was strip away all the flabby excess of the American tactical Board game, the board (!!!), the die-cut counters (players cut-out their own printed ones), and the box, and instead, produced a game in a zip-seal bag, that could be played on any flat-ish surface and packed away into a (duffel) coat pocket.

In what order, Galactic War, MTB, U Boat,and Ballistic Missile were designed and released, I don't know, something makes me want to say that they were all done at the same time in '73/4, which would have been quite an organisational achievement for a small company, but regardless, these four Series 1 games were TTG's first pop at the gaming market.

Series 1 game
MTB (Motor Torpedo Boat) and U-Boat show Bob's Naval fascinations coming to the fore, I suppose its not surprising that as a child of the 40's and 50's, World War II, and  the Navy with all it history and traditions played, such a part in his life. MTB is set in the English Channel in the mid-war period and U-boat under it, but both are very (too) similar games in out look, groups of small craft against each other in encounter battles with weapons and damage recorded on record sheets.

Fun with nukes '70's style
The only one of these games that I had played before working with Bob was Galactic war, a sci-fi ship combat to ship combat, which I suppose again owed a lot to Bob's interest in Naval gaming. I can't say it particularly grabbed me, the ships on both sides were too same-y and looked like ELO's space ship from the Out of the Blue LP cover, a bit dated in the 80's, but it was a reasonably good game and played out in 45 minutes to an hour...

Image nicked from Noble Knight Games

Ballistic Missile is only one of the four basic games that was a based on Naval warfare, it being a Cold War gone hot, shoot out, with counters, rules and record sheets all yours for the princely sum of 75p.

The thing that strikes me now and has really struck me before about these games is Rodger's art work. His covers, especially MTB and Ballistic Missile have a good deal of 'dash' about them, which can't have been easy to achieve in the two colours that they were printed in.

I am unsure of the current availability of these TTG products, if anyone has pdf copies of them I'd be delighted to see them.

Wednesday 28 May 2014

Tabletop Games

Ok, well the previous posts clears the Old School games out of the way, and I can get into the meat of the next stage of this blog.

Tabletop Games, had been a new comer to the wargames scene in the early 70's, Kate told us (new boys) that the company had grown out of Bob's dissatisfaction with the currently available wargames rules for the Napoleonic period that he playing at competitive level at that time.
Quite what his beef was with the sets they were using I never got to the bottom of, ask him and you get a mumbled responses about "riflemen lying down" and the only way you could "kill them, was with Lancers..."  quiet why this got at him I have no idea... but it did, so when in 1973 Bob won the National Napoleonic title, and I assume, as part of team, was invited to host the following years tournament, he threw away the old rule set and wrote his own.

Bob's rules for Napoleonic warfare were used at the 1974 National Championship.At first they were just given away to competitors, but reaction must have been favourable, because shortly after they were being published by the infant Tabletop Games.
Cover by Rodger Heaton

Tabletop in seems was a partnership at its inception, Bob of course wrote the rules, and the other Partner, Rodger Heaton did all the illustrations.
Kate also told a tale about Richard Butler being there at the start of the company, but not becoming a partner in the business at the last moment because of the finance necessary.
Richard would later go on to write his own set of Napoleonic wargames rules used for National Championship games, To the Sound of the Guns, which TTG published, and Bob and He would remain firm friends.
Richard was one of the few people who wouldn't stop when arriving at the shop, he'd hustle on through to the back rooms without stopping, not even noticing the bemused wooden-top shop assistant sitting on the stool, with his speechless mouth open...

When or how the split with Rodger occurred I don't know; all the early games (series 1 & series 2) had an address given as Ruddington, which is a couple of miles outside central Nottingham, which I'm assuming is his, and all these early games, and many of the early rule sets published, used his illustrations as covers, or scattered though-out the text. By the late 70's Rodger seems to have dropped out of TTG leaving Bob and Kate as the sole proprietors, to run the business from the home on Acton Road in Arnold.

OK then, back after a short break, with the early TTG micro-games, and all the other products of the late 70's and early 80's

Interested in reading Bob's Napoleonic rules?
Check them out here on Scribd.

Thursday 10 April 2014

Combat 3000

As much as I was fighting shy the previous post then this one is a much more cherished task.
Of all the games that I played before leaving school, this, a sci-fi skirmish set in the distant future, was the one that really fired me up...

Written by Halliwell and Priestly in 1979, it flung gamers into a universe of possibilities some of which were trailed on the inside as including...

"Command a squad of Star troopers, blast your way into the Galaxies richest banks and out of the strongest and most infamous jails. Boldly go where no man had probably gone before, swap insults with exotic aliens, then swap blows with insulted aliens..."

Front cover by Tony Yates

Which all sound great to me as a kid raised on Dr Who, UFO, Space 1999 and just discovering The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy, Combat 3000 seemed like an ideal jumping off point for the whole universe...

Not that there was a whole universe inside the rule book, this was a TTG product and the whole thing ran to 32 pages long, with just three alien races (plus humans) for the players to get there teeth into; Trimotes, three armed apes, lifted shamelessly from Larry Niven's 'A Mote in God's eye', Maniblax, bipedal insectoids, and Zarquins, which had a more alien hive-mind thing going on, but this was enough, along with what seemed like an endless list (50+) of lasers and blasters to arm your soldiers, and loads of armour and secondary weaponry to add, the game lent itself to highly personal squads.

Once again, looking back, the rules themselves were quite complex, a percentile system with everything; (range, movement, target size and situations, types of weapon,  types of fire; aimed indirect, covering, conditions etc) adding or subtracting from the chance to hit, and then all that armour and variable weapon effects to take into account for damage, once a hit had been achieved... which lead to quite small intense games, 6 - 10 each minis a side on a 4 feet square area would take a few hours for us to get through, with each -5% for being hotly (childishly) contested, each move/shot/throw or melee vital...

Space Marine by Nick Bibby
I suppose that I shouldn't be surprised that this game played so sweetly, and that I became so enamoured with it, Halliwell went on to become THE greatest British game designer of his generation, with a list of credits that include; Warhammer Fantasy Battle, and it's highly regarded but less well supported sister game, Warhammer Fantasy Role-play, Battlecars, the most entertaining car-wars game ever, and of course the classic Space Hulk.

This was also the first game I played outside school, the time needed play meant we (Simon, Mark, a lad called Richard Purseglove and I) had to meet up on Saturdays to play at each other's houses. In fact the only time Andy Chambers ever came to my house, was to play was a game of Combat 3000, he arrived an hour or so late, mocked my rudimentary modelling skills on a future-tank I'd made, and then nuked the playing field from some cool looking space-fighter he'd scratch built.

Which cuts to the heart of what I loved about Combat 3000, and the problem with Sci-fi gaming in general. This is summed up in a quote from Ripley in the Aliens movie... present with an insumountable number of menacing monster aliens she says..."I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit?", in that, in the far-future whole planets can be whipped-out at the press of a button, or alien cities reduced to dust by half a dozen power-armoured Space Marines with imploding mini-nukes, so that minor conflicts can't/shouldn't exist, without some kind of narrative to drive the game forward, scifi gaming becomes a power gamers dream.

Trimote, by Nick Bibby

How much better then, not to use all those high-end future weapons (Imperial Arsenals, the standard weapon of Imperial troops, +18% to hit, +5 damage effect!) "check your blasters at the door", and duke it out with pistols and laser sabres, rather than to fight armoured combats, with roughly man-shaped future tanks... Battletech anyone?

Combat 3001 was released in 1981, this time authored by Halliwell alone, and although it did add more depth to our imaginary future worlds; gravities, vehicles, more weapon types, more Aliens, it didn't really add anything much to the gaming experience, and apart from Laserburn, British Sci-fi gaming was heading to the doldrums for half a decade or so...

Future-Cafe from the inside cover of Combat3001, reportedly showing the Asgard crowd responsible for the game
Interested in reading these veteran rule-sets?
Check them out here on my Scribd page. Combat 3000, Combat 3001

Tuesday 4 March 2014

Middle Earth

Ok, so then you look up and a month has flown by and I've not updated the blog... and...

Well to tell the truth I've been fighting shy of this one, coz the rule set that I found next in my lil'life in miniatures is Middle Earth, written by the South London Warlords and published by Skytrex in 1976, a wargame in the style that WRG were producing in the same period, and obviously based on Tolkien's world in Lord or the Ring et al.
the only picture from this 1976 publication

Now I had no trouble with the rules, slightly less involved than D&D but by no means simple, or the wargames aspect, it made a change to line up the few dozen minis we had in little warbands and advance them at each other, rather than 'roleplay' with them.

Where the issue lay was with the whole Tolkien background, implied but not exactly explained in the rules, a world similar to the one of my D&D experience, Orcs, Elves, Dwarves, even Dragons are allowed for in the rules, but there seemed to be so much more...

And this off is course the problem...
Of there is "so much more", because Tokien's world is huge, vast, a history and a mythology of a continent, over 1000's of years, and I hadn't read a single word of it...
I wanted to play, I loved the idea of battling armies of dwarves and elves but I was a complete wooden-top where Tolkien was concerned. 
"No..." Simon Maze would cry "...Nazgul do not have wings..." as I tried to rope in my Ral Patha demons as the Dark Lords servants...

a better draughtsman than writer?
It wouldn't be another three or four years (after I left school) before I even attempted to read LotR, even then it took me a couple if attempts to get through it, and as anyone who has known me at all in the last 30 years will probably be able to tell you, I am not a fan of JRR.

I find there is just 'too much' LotR; the prose is leaden, the plot drawn out, and the dialogue stilted, I admire the scope of the book, and his work in general, bringing together all the tradition elements of the myths of Northern Europe into one whole as he does, you can't doubt he knew his stuff but, but, but...

Like a huge Christmas dinner, where with the need to accommodate everyone's favourite tradition goes into the meal, it gets larger and denser with every element added, until the whole thing is fit to burst... Now everyone likes a blow-out meal now and then, but Tolkien servers his spicy stodge all the time, page after page for 100's of pages...
Ok, ok, ok, I know it's not a popular opinion, and in the Geek World in which I live, it is almost considered heresy to say you aren't a fan, but there ya'go, I can't lie to you folks can I?

So, my introduction to The Master comes not from his great work, or his kids intro book, or the film (the Bakshi version kids, go ask your Mum) or some other kind of tie-in product (like there were any), but this little fan made rule set.

Check out my copy of Middle Earth here on Scribd

Ral Partha Demons, not Nazgul.

Next Combat 3000, where stealing ballpoint pens on far away worlds, is a distinct possibility.

Wednesday 22 January 2014

D&D the game that changed the world

Well if this blog is going to be about Games and Gaming then we might as well start with the biggy, the daddy of all modern fantasy games, the system which launched a thousand imitators and made stars of its creators, writers and artists...

Dave Arneson
Dungeons & Dragons is, this year in its fortieth year, and fifth or sixth incarnations . It's creators, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, both of whom are now dead  had the genius idea of marrying, role-playing, a previously little known psychology and management tool, with escapist fantasy story telling, and traditional tabletop miniature and board games, to create a game like no other of its time...

The earliest versions of the game, simply called Dungeons & Dragons, or Chainmail, seem to have had an effect not unlike the Velvet Underground's early LP's, or the Sex Pistol's gig in Manchester 1976, not many people bought records or heard them play live, but everyone who did went away and started their own bands, or in this case their own game systems... The game was that inspirational.

Gygax, great dress sense too...
But what was it that inspired so many people? There was little in the way of story, background or plot for a modern role-player to get their teeth into, the rule system although quite complex for its time, and becoming increasing dense with each new edition, were really little more than a combat system and list of spells and their effects, it's surprising to look back at those rules now and read "the DM's word is final" and accept we live/gamed in worlds with no fixed rules.

When I got to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons as it was called, in the late 70's TSR monstrous baby was seeming huge, they had a whole world, Grayhawk, for gamers to explore, but wafer thin, huge areas were pencilled in with mountains or dessert, cities and kingdoms but very little detail was given, not even 'Here be Dragons' to aid the Characters or DM in their quests to adventure into this new world... and even where D&D did give you a grand plot or over arching scenario to discover and work through, such as in the now legendary G1/2/3,D1/2/3,Q1 campaign, the action takes place outside of the Greyhawk continuum, and outside the rest of TSR's output (other modules) completely.

my first D&D character,
in Andy Chambers's hand writing
Later as the system and the Company behind it grew, TSR became more prescriptive about its worlds and the mythos within them, they spoon fed gamers with Dragonlance, or Ravenloft, or Shadowrun or... but somehow giving us more detail, they restricted the imagination of  the gamer, they corralled  everybody, 1000's of us, all locked into the same 10' wide corridors fighting the same Liche Lords or Tentacle walls.

And although this gave people of a certain age, a shared experience, it also reduced creativity at the base level of the game, the stand alone role-play group and it's DM.
Today Dungeons & Dragons is huge, more people play now than ever have before, the conventions are better attended, gaming groups are growing and TSR's parent company knows that if it continues to nurture its brand with new product and continued support, the game will run and run...
12 pages of black & white print, and few drawings

So if you're a gamer, or modeller, or even a collector of fantasy and sci-fi metal models, and you've not already contributed to the Gygax memorial, or raised a toast to Dave Arneson and those ground breaking early guys, can I suggest you do so, salute D&D; the game that changed the world.

Tuesday 24 December 2013

TTG Christmas Party!

Yer yer, I know promised you more Old School ramblings about the Fantasy and Sci-fi games I played in school, but the  Christmas rush here at work kicked-in, and I've had little or no time for writing, so all that stuff about D&D, Combat 3000 etc will have to wait until the New Year...

30 years ago today... I know exactly what I was doing....

Christmas Eve that year fell on the Saturday, so although the shop was open and we did get a few customers though the door, we spend most of the day playing Shock of Impact on Bob's old dinning room table in the shop...

not WRG 6th
Shock of Impact were TTG's Ancient Wargames rules, covering warfare from the dawn of recorded time until the end of the 11thC, written by Ian S. Beck, who wrote a lot of what was good about TTG in the late 70's, they had one or two new ideas contained with-in the rule system...
Firstly they used D10 instead of D6, which in Wargames rules was a bit of a leap, and secondly they had a whole figure causality removal system, again based on D10, which stopped too much record keeping.

I'd been playing SoI over the summer and autumn of  '83, it gave good games for smallish units and  I'd been enthused enough to buy a second hand (half finished) Late Roman army from a painter called Ted Pool who would come into the shop, it was mostly Minifigs infantry and TTG cavalry, but it gave me enough smartly painted minis to use at the club on Monday's, and start learning to play.

But on Christmas Eve we didn't use our own armies...
Oh no, too easy...

it does what it says on the tin...
In the week or two previously we'd rolled randomly to see not only, which army we would be using from the 60 or 70 given in the Army List, but also the number and type of troops that each army contained... SoI had a randomisation factor built into the army list which was supposed to stop players fielding only super armies with no dross, in actual fact all the players I played liked to pick their armies rather than take what came on the randomiser, all super troops and no dross was how we rolled, but for Christmas we had proper random armies... and we had to find the minis out of TTG's range, with proxies standing in, where we didn't have the exact minis needed...

I don't really remember which army I rolled, something with lots of Medium Calvary in it, or how the game went (which means I probably lost), but the day stays with me... Kate bringing food and drink in between serving customers, and us four boys, head down over the green baize for the best part of the day...

Tuesday 3 December 2013


Well I was going to blog about a couple of my favourite games today, but I shall fly in the face for the current vogue for Old School Gaming by going back, way back, before Old School, to Pre-School... And like almost my entire generation, pre-school soldiers meant plastic, and plastic meant Airfix. 

Airfix Nottingham connection
Airfix were huge in the UK, and had been a staple of British boyhood for over 20 years when I got to them in them in the early 70's.

Little did I know it at the time but the had 100's of kits, and were Britain's biggest toy company producing models as diverse at 1/144th scale airliners and 1/8th motor bikes... But all these kits were for older boys, and I, like so many others my age, started out with a box of their 1/72 scale 'little men'.

Saturday afternoons would mean a walk to my paternal Grandma's house, to be left there in front of the wrestling on ITV or a Cowboy 'picture', whilst my Dad went into Arnold to watch the local non-league side play football... Walking to Gran's, we had to pass Berry's paper shop and as often as not, we stopped in the shop for a treat... 

I can't remember why Dad bought me the first box, Astronauts, but after a couple of  boxes, Robin Hood & Sheriff's men, I was hooked. 

Astronauts first, well it was 1970
Maybe it was the boxes, all the boxes had full colour art and Airfix were very good at showing you what you were going to get inside... Or maybe it was the models, 10 or 12 different little men with a few doubles, and little diorama, or a two or three part snap-fit kit... But whatever it was, there was everything in the box to create a tiny world, right there on the carpet in front of Mick Mcmanus or John Wayne.

Soon it was a regular feature of my weekend, a box of soldiers on a Saturday keep me in a world of my own until Doctor Who at 6ish, and time to go home... After a while I had quite a lot, bags full in fact, and I would acquire loads more too, including tanks and diorama sets, as other boys grew out-off theirs and handed them down... 

And everybody (well every boy) had loads. You'd go to peoples house's; cousins, children of family friends, school mates, and they'd all have loads too... so we'd tip them out onto the bedroom floor, line them up, and knock them down...
It was in a bag of Soldiers that I inherited from somewhere that I first learned a salutary lesson about scale... In the bag, much like the others ,there were the usual British Commandos and WW2 Germans, as well as the odd stray knight or WW1 Frenchman, but there were also some American Paras or Airborne... AND THEY WERE A DIFFERENT SIZE!
Airfix advertise their minis as 1/72 HO sized, and these were BIGGER! 
Now I wasn't daft I knew that Airfix, and say Action Man, weren't going to be compilable together, but what on earth was this all about? Why make Soldiers like Airfix, and not make them the same size as Airfix. It was my first inkling that all was not right with the world of tiny troopers... and I didn't like it...

Bruce Quarrie's rules for WW2
Much later, at about 11 or 12, just before I got into D&D actually, I had come across Bruce Quarrie's rules for WW2 games, published by Airfix. These were the first rules I'd ever seen and I was on the verge of getting a few mates together to play, when the D&D bug bit, and I (we all) moved over from plastic WW2, to metal Fantasy minis and gaming.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

A bit of a catch up...

Ok Folks, sorry if the last three or four posts have been a bit of a hatchet-job, I didn't really intent for it to be read that way. I had hoped to start the blog in June with leaving school and starting at TTG, but one thing drove out another (TAG Tudors) and I didn't get started until September... which made getting to Nov 8th a bit of a rush.... and consequently the posts do come across as a bit of a... frenzied...

Tony Yates Illo
But this Blog is not necessarily about Citadel Miniatures, its about my life with in the minis world, and as I said in previous posts, a break with Citadel occurred in the late '83 so at that point I stopped following there mini releases as closely as I had been doing. And although TTG did keep up a relationship with Game Workshop for awhile, which I will blog about when the time comes, for the next few years most of these posts will be about TTG, their miniature range and rules, as well as the games that we stocked in the shop and some of the people who bought them.

Before that though, I would like to blog about one or two of the games that we played back at school, that were very important to me in a couple of ways, for the worlds they created, and the way that they did so...

So next time, back in full flow, with Combat 3000 and Middle Earth.

Tuesday 19 November 2013

A gamble?


I didn't mean this to turn into a micro analysis of Citadel miniatures, but what Bryan did with the production of the miniatures in the period ('82-84) after he took charge bares noting, so if this gets a little technical please stick with me, and I get back to the rampant nostalgia in the next update or two...

Traditionally, making white-metal minis involves a two stage moulding process; firstly an original sculpture is made using an epoxy putty (or even earlier carved from solder) and then moulded into what is called a Master-mould. This Master-mould might contain a few different models but of course it could only have one copy of each original in it, this is ok for small scale production, but as moulds ware, and quite often the original would be destroyed in the stressful vulcanisation process, it is only really a temporary mould.
a silicon rubber Master-mould.

So once a mini had been Master-moulded a number of Master-castings would be taken from it, cleaned of blemishes and then these would in-turn be moulded into a Production mould, which would have a large number of each mini type on it.
It would have been incredibly difficult to provide large numbers of castings from a mould with one cavity on it, but considerably easier if the mould had 10 - 20 minis of the same type on in... simples...

In this a 'belt and braces' type of mini production, the expensive to produce original is protected by having firstly a Master-mould taken, and secondly by having the master-castings cast, and saved, to return to when the Production-mould inevitably wore out.

So what Bryan did in 82 - 84 to this traditional process was not only radical for the time, but also quite risky.

What he did was get the sculptors, and at this time there was only a handful of them, to make-up only the basic bodies of the miniatures before master-moulding, and then to add the final detailing onto the Master-castings just before the production moulds were made. This allowed a great degree of variation to each mini that went into production, for example one fighter would get one type of helmet and a bag, and the next in line might get a different helmet and a cloak, the next, a third helmet and a sword instead of a axe etc... One well known sculptor told me that his job when he first went to Citadel in this period was to do a good deal of this type of conversion work, sitting between the moulding processes, sculpting bags and pouches, cloaks and hats that all added a huge amount of character and colour to the minis that were being released.

C02 Wizard
a converted C02 Wizard
But there is a problem with this method, moulds ware-out. The moulds once spun a few time start to degrade, areas that are undercut will rip, larger items will start to flash and constant use will cause them to burn-out (lose the oils in the organic rubber compounds) and break up. In the traditional process this is not an issue, in that it is possible to return to the master-castings, which survive the vulcanisation process, to make more moulds... But where the design team had added extra detailing to the basic body types in Bryan's new method, the putty would be lucky to survive, and the sculptors would need to make a number of new variants to fill the new production mould every time they were remade.
As an aside, it might have been possible to take more 'master-castings' from a fresh production moulds and put these aside to make more production-moulds from, but these would have been third, (forth, fifth) generation copies of the original bodies and would be of lower quality that the first and second generation copies...

From gamers this method of making minis produced a boom in the numbers of different models that were available and kick started the 'Collector-gene' in a lot of people, but it had an inherent problem, it required an almost ever increasing number of sculptors to service the constant remaking of the range... and although Citadel did increase the design capacity over this period, doubling the number of sculptors they employed, I suppose the decision was taken to move back to a more traditional method of working, and by the release of the Second Compendium ('85?) the range had settled down to less varied 'codes' with regular numbers of set minis in each...

Which all begs a couple of big question; 1) did Bryan know what he was doing with the moulds?
I suspect that he did, he knew that his new moulds would ware-out, he is an accomplish mould maker himself and Citadel must have already been remaking loads of moulds on a regular basis, given the numbers they were selling of the old range... And 2), did he realise the medium term problems he would create? And again my guess is that he did, taking a gamble on pumping the highly profitable miniatures side of his business as quickly as possible to grow the whole organisation.
An entrepreneurial risk.

Regardless it worked, Citadel miniatures were now driving Games Workshop forward but at a cost... most of those great minis from this period are now lost forever, torn, ripped or burnt-out long ago, never to return.

Next time, a pause for breath...

Friday 15 November 2013

...and rise...

Citadel miniatures in 1983, must have been a fabulous place to be.

After the changes in personal at the top of Citadel/GW in the previous year left Bryan wholly in command, the year that followed would be one which shaped the miniature gaming hobby for the next two decades.

Bryan changed the way that miniatures were produced, marketed and consumed for a generation of gamers. These changes weren't instantaneous, and some like the production methods, had been  developments of what was already going on across the previous couple of years, and of course some developments were only temporary themselves and would be superseded  in a the fullness of time, but it clear to see Bryan's direction and imagination coming to the fore, in his first full year in charge.

The first noticeable move away from the sales model of the previous 4 years came in late '82, Citadel started to put out new miniatures in boxed sets. Now I don't think this was a original idea, I had seen some American companies selling in boxes (but I can for the life of me remember who? Dave?) in the early '80's, but these new Citadel boxes were the first to contain minis that were any good.

The Dwarf Kings Court

Previously minis had only been sold in singles, in plastic bags with folded cardboard headers, and if you wanted one mini, you paid for and got, one mini.
Boxing was the first attempt to drive gamers/collectors into buying more miniatures than they necessarily wanted. A box would contain 8 to 10 minis that you couldn't get in the main range, so if you wanted a specific mini the only option was to spend £3.95 on the box to get it...

Fortunately, for gamers, most of the these early boxes contained great minis, so people were only too willing to to put up with the marketing to get the best Citadel had to offer, and most of these box sets are still very fondly remembered.

The second change, visible form the outside, was the move away for a catalogs of miniatures you could buy to what came to be known as the 'C' codes.
In the early years Citadel had it range divided into Adventures, Monster and specials, with each mini having its own specific code, with-in these broad groups, which you could order separately.
The 'C' codes stopped this, minis were grouped into 40 codes which contained many different minis.

John Blanche art from the first Compendium
I don't quite know when this change took place, The Stuff of Legend gives a date as early '83, and when I got to TTG in that summer, Bob had me had me change over the figure-racks from the old codes over to the new system, the change was defiantly complete by the release of the fist Citadel Compendium in October...

In October '82, if you wanted FA-1 Fighter in Plate, you got it and noting else, in October '83 if you ordered from C01 Fighters, you got one of sixty plus variants.

Finally, the biggest thing at Citadel in 1983, was the release of Warhammer.
The first edition of the mass battle system was launched in the summer, and was an attempt to put a game behind the miniature range to guide players into buying more miniatures. The problem with D&D was a vehicle for a miniatures range was that the miniatures themselves were an unnecessary luxury. With role-playing most players wanted one or two miniatures, preferably ones that represented their Character as closely as possible, and no more... DM's would be expected to have a few more, half a dozen goblins and Orcs, an Ogre or troll, or a scenario specific monster or two, but not huge numbers.
Warhammer changed all that.
Mr Blanche again

I remember taking the first box home, and playing a scenario given in the back of one of the books.
The adventures had to cross one of three bridges, whilst a random assortment of 'baddies' tried to stop them... the heroes I think were given in the rules and the baddies were generated by an encounter table... Now, Mark and I had a fair number of minis each... I must have had 50 or 60, Mark a similar amount but within a few rounds we'd exhausted our supply, even reusing dead'uns and throwing in proxies where we didn't have an exact match for what the the random table generated, we ran out of minis...
Plus the rule system seamed retrogressive even then... saving throws! What was all that about? Mark was throwing buckets of random monsters at my five heroes, with whatever damage done 'saved' on a roll of 3-6!
Would you believe I played Warhammer on the first day it was released, and didn't play again for 5 years, I just didn't like it... but I assume lots of people did, or were looking for something new after the D&D boom waned, as it went on to be the biggest game in the UK Fantasy market in the 80's and 90's, but you needed LOTS of miniatures...

How Citadel provided all these new and different miniatures is in perhaps the most interesting thing about the growth of the company in the period, and I'll write about the radical production methods next time, but for now I hope that I've shown you how Citadel Miniatures started to dominate, firstly Games Workshop Britain's biggest game manufacturer and retailer, and secondly the UK market itself.

Tuesday 12 November 2013

The Rise...

It's hard to look back now at Citadel Miniatures and not see them as the all conquering behemoth of the miniature gaming world they were to become, but in the early 80's that one particular outcome was not certain by any means, other companies could have come to the fore or the company might not have developed in the way that it did.
So what happened between the formation of the company in early '79 and my formative year of '83 to turn the casting arm of a small games company into a dominant market leader?

Citadel's early miniatures show their roots, all those early minis are designed almost exclusively for use alongside Dungeons & Dragons. 
Character types are copied slavishly from the AD&D books, creatures from the Monster Manual, very little is original, and where it was, as was the case of the few monsters that travelled from the range over into new D&D books, we all knew what we were being sold, and for what we were supposed to be using them... D&D.

'82 catalogue
Which is a bit odd really, because it wasn't until  much later that Citadel had a full AD&D license...  
Grenadier Models had that license in the in the late 70's and early 80's in the US, but made little impact in the UK in spite of the tie-in.
Even the range that Citadel were set up to produce over here, Ral Partha, could (should) have gone on to become the dominant player here, as it was in the US, but again, even with a long standing history of being associated with D&D, it slipped into the position of also-ran.

It's possible to go a look at what Citadel produced in the first couple of years and pick out virtually every monster and character from the D&D pantheon or it's  rough equivalent, but after making everything that the D&Der needed there was a natural break on what the company might possible make next.

Obviously they looked for other markets, historical miniatures were (are) a short step away, as are minis for other game systems, and Citadel go away and try to expand all these other revenue streams as the 80's dawn... Gangsters, sci-fi, larger scale models and movie tie-ins (Star Trek) are all explored, but with little success... 
The only thing that does start to sell more miniatures, and I mean sell more than the one of each or the few that you needed for the D&D campaigns, were the Fantasy Tribes.

One of 20 variants of FTD9 Dwarf in plate-mail with sword
Fantasy Tribes, I feel, have all the hallmarks of what made Citadel great in the 80's, and would show the pattern which Bryan would try to repeat whenever he started a new project.
Firstly they were wholly original, other manufacturers may have had a dwarf or two in their range, only Citadel had 60 different models in a Tribe, secondly they were collectible, where other ranges had fixed models to buy, Tribes were, it seamed, constantly changing so that just when you thought you had them all, new variants would turn up to keep you buying, thirdly, and this was true of all the models that Bryan commissioned, they were full of character, no bland Orc with Sword in this range, these Orcs are attacking, swinging, charging, and finally, they were great models, in a way that lots of early Citadel or American imported minis weren't.

But even these stand out collections weren't for very much more than extra variety on the D&D table and I doubt that the company could have gone on from strength to strength in the way it did with just these...

Which is where a little bit of luck comes in handy...

Steve Jackson and Ian Livingston, Bryan's partners in Citadel and owners of the parent company, Game Workshop, had hit on the smart idea of copying the unique feature of also ran fantasy role play game Tunnels & Trolls, it's solo play option, and repackaging it for a younger market as Fighting Fantasy game books... They were hugely successful  creating a publishing phenomena and launching a whole line of best selling books which made their authors at least properly famous, if not quite house-hold names.

The first Fighting Fantasy book I bought
Which must have taken the pressure off Citadel/GW to perform financially, Bryan had made another halfhearted effort to start again with his Bryan Ansell Miniatures, but by late '82 with Steve and Ian moving into new spheres and Bryan looking for new directions, a deal is struck that gives Bryan control of Citadel AND Games Workshop and allows him to take both companies forward with his direction and control.

Now, the deal that I heard that was struck was that Bryan would take immediate control and pay Steve and Ian £1,000,000 in 12 months. Bryan told me at a much later date, that he didn't have the money when he took control, and had to make £1M in that first year to for-fill his part of the agreement, but fore-fill it he did, so we can assume that 1983 was a very good year for miniatures...

Next time, Lets make a million! All aboard for Boxed sets, the  first Compendium and Warhammer Fantasy Battles

Friday 8 November 2013

The Severed Alliance

(80's joke in the title...)
So it came as a bit of a shock to get to work on the 8th of November 1983, and find Bob in a terrible mood, Kate warned us (Mark and I), just to stay out of his way when he was in a foul mood, so we kept our heads down and got on with whatever we had to do...

Shame really coz  I'd had a terrific weekend, for the first time I'd travelled away to help out at a wargames show... and not just any wargames show, oh no... this was the BIG one.

Northern Militaire was held on the 5th and 6th of November in Oldham, at the Queen Elizebeth Hall.  Bob had travelled up on the Friday evening but I went on the Saturday morning with Rees (if memory serves we went up in an escort-type hire-van rented from the place where his wife worked... it's was foggy on the M1 and I remember Siouxsie and the Banshees version of Dear Prudence on the radio...)
Queen Elizabeth Hall, Oldham

TTG had a huge stand at the event by Bob's standards, which is why Rees and I travelled up, and Bob roped in the willing hands of Bruce Rea-Taylor to make four of us to cover the 24 feet.
My section of the stand was made up of the extra stock that Bob had arranged to bring from Citadel.
That same weekend was Games Day in London, and of course Citadel/GW were directing all their efforts toward that.

A deal was struck to exchange stock between Citadel and Bob, so that we could both have a presence in, and a profit from, both events.
Rik Priestley and Richard Halliwell had come to the shop in Daybrook square to bring stock for us to take to Oldham, and also to take away TTG rules and minis for sale in London.

Northern Mil. was amazing for a young'un like me, it was so BIG, a couple or three floors and although there were only a few games on, it was primarily a modelling event, there was a much greater variety in displays, traders and public than a normal wargames event...
And boy were we busy... now in my time I've stood trade shows like Salute or Games Day where the public have been three or four deep at the stand, but nothing came close to the two days of Northern Mil.

"Used to be better in the old place..." grumbled my Boss, "... Never recovered from the change of venue..." But if shows did get bigger and better than this, I would have been amazed.

Games Day '83, note the date.
I remember being driven through Oldham in the dark, heading for the hotel, and the road ran through all the old back to back houses, which were lit with fires and fireworks... Punch drunk and tired I sat drinking cola listening to the old Chaps joke in the bar... perfect.
Sunday, more of the same... Non stop customers... and non stop music too... They used to play Top 20 War Film Themes over and over, all day long on the public address system... Even Bob who liked a movie film theme, would be tiring for 636 Squadron by 11am on Sunday morning...

I bought some minis, a second hand Japanese Samurai army from the Bring& Buy. (more stuff for Tercio)

No club on Monday, a night off after a two day event, and then into work again on Tuesday as normal.

Or not...
It transpired that Bob was fuming because all the stock, minis, rules, displays, that we had sent to Citadel had not been taken to Games Day, they had been left behind and TTG would get no presence, or profit, from the event despite having to work double-hard to do two major events in one weekend, and working hard and taking extra staff/space to sell the Citadel stuff at Northern Mil.

I don't know if Bob even spoke to Bryan on the normal Monday 'Run' or not, but as far as Bob was concerned, that was it, The End.
Over that week, Bob had me take down all the Citadel miniatures stock from
the rack in the shop, other things would take its place, and we would have no more contact with Citadel.

So, people often say to me, "oh the golden age of Game Workshop was such and such... 85-87, or 88-91, or mid 90's". Well for me the golden age of Citadel miniatures ran from the time that they started on the Fantasy Tribes (81?), until the 8th of November 1983, the day that I found out that you couldn't trust them, and they were only looking out for No.1.

And what next dear reader?
Why I suppose we need to judge Citadel's actions in context, so next time, I'll muse on the changes in Citadel in the years of 82 and 83...