Legions in Plastic – Warlord Games Interview
Miniatures devotees are loyal to their hobby and buy quantities of figures, but this segment of gaming has a smaller fan base than computer or board wargames. The miniatures are almost universally made of metal.
So what would possess two (mostly) sane people to create a new company manufacturing plastic historical miniatures—and to kick off their line with figures based on warfare of the Ancient World, rather than more popular fields like World War II?
John Stallard and Paul Sawyer, founders of Warlord Games, recently answered those and other questions in an exclusive interview with ArmchairGeneral.com. Their comments were collaborative and so frequently appear in third person below.
ARMCHAIR GENERAL.COM: Tell me about your backgrounds in the hobby game industry. I understand both of you worked for Games Workshop at one time or another?
Between the two of us we have 40 years experience at Games Workshop and many more as gamers. John joined Citadel Miniatures over 25 years ago, straight out of college.
John worked in sales, ultimately opening dozens of stores in the UK that stocked only Games Workshop products, where newcomers to the hobby could learn the games in store before buying anything at all. He also ran the American GW business before returning to Nottingham.
Paul saw working for a game company as a natural progression of his graphic design career, but his career path was to take him a different direction altogether. Having dabbled in such diverse departments as mail order and casting, he cut his teeth on producing the Citadel Journal, a slightly irreverent periodical that allowed emerging talent, painters, rules writers and customers to show the Games Workshop community what they could do.
He’s best known for his spell as White Dwarf editor, where he added a touch (some would say more) of cheekiness and laddishness that seems to be fondly remembered among many of Warlord’s fans. He was nicknamed "Fat Bloke," from a popular comedy series of the time, and he played up his love of a bacon butties (that’s bacon sandwiches to most other folk).
What all those years at GW meant was that we learned about quality. We know about sculpting, painting, writing and what it takes to print good-looking product, and we learnt that only the highest level of customer service will do, at all levels. We still cheer GW on as they continue their drive to be the best in the world at fantasy gaming.
ACG: Why historicals? Why Romans and Celts in particular?
The first part of the question can be answered easily but in two parts. We both share a passion for history—or more accurately military history. Whilst we’d worked with GW’s futuristic and fantasy worlds for most of our working lives, we both yearned to work with historicals. Secondly, we know that, despite it being fashionable for the naysayers to intimate otherwise, Games Workshop produce the finest miniatures and provide the hobby with a great influx of new gamers. They’re the biggest and the best, so why would we want to fight them on their own ground—fantasy and science fiction? No, historicals is where our hearts are and that’s where we’re cutting our teeth.
When we left GW we were both keen to carry on in the wargaming business, and it wasn’t a hard decision to make to set up on our own and make the world’s finest historical models. What could possibly go wrong?
We chose Romans because both of us are big Roman fans, and secondly, we thought that the Roman war machine was the closest thing commercially to Space Marines! Everyone loves a Roman!
So we formed a limited company and thought about a name. Paul came up with Warlord—short and to the point. It is also the name of a boys’ comic that was obligatory reading for British boys in the 1970s, set in World War II where all foreigners are clearly evil (except Americans who were our gallant allies) and heroic Tommy Atkins defeated the beastly Hun every week. It was all good stuff then. Not sure we would get away with it now, mind …
Romans are quite possibly one of the most iconic and popular historical armies and one with which we’re both passionate. Once work was started on them we had to ensure a great piece of art and found Pater Dennis, a local chap who is a truly stunning artist and keen gamer. He produced a beautiful cover showing Legionaries clashing with a Celtic warband. We knew that the Romans would have to have some opposition, so we chose a horde army of Celts and are currently producing British tribesmen to oppose the invaders, too.
ACG: Given that Mongoose Publishing tried selling modern-era plastic miniatures and got out of that market altogether, what do you see in the market that makes you feel you’ll succeed?
In short, experience and passion. Mongoose are great at making rules and developing systems around their multitude of licenses—they are a truly amazing company which goes from strength to strength. What they don’t have though is a wealth of experience at making great miniatures. That’s where we win through; pretty much our whole working lives have been around the processes, people and experiences of making great miniatures.
Add that experience to our passion to produce not just hard-plastic miniatures but the BEST possible hard-plastic miniatures, and you can see where our conviction comes from.
ACG: Are these miniatures produced in China, the UK, or elsewhere?
We currently produce our plastic models in the UK. Our metal models we cast ourselves in our own foundry. Having control over casting is most important as complex models (chariots , for example) can be unusable if only one piece is missing.
ACG: How is the UK/European market for miniatures different from the US?
Apart from the US market removing "U’s" from all our words (colour, Armour, etc)? Seriously though, wargaming is a broad church and there are more similarities than differences. One big difference we’ve known from our GW days which has been highlighted even further is that the US market is streets ahead in terms of gaming activity. Over in the US, a participation game is one where players sign up weeks in advance and celebrate all the great things in wargaming with their fellow players. In Europe a participation game is often one where the players might talk to you between "their" turns! Of course, we’re being a bit naughty with that gross generalisation, but it serves to show that the biggest differences are those of mindset.
Warlord attends shows on both sides of the Pond. We are getting increasing numbers of orders in from the States, particularly as the pound has dropped significantly to the dollar. In general, we see little cultural differences between how countries buy our models … though I would love to know what on earth that customer in Maine was doing with 90 marching Legionaries and 24 mules.
ACG: Any other historical periods in the works?
We’ve just recently announced our latest range – The English Civil Wars and Thirty Years War. These have gone down very well with the gaming public, and we’ve been inundated with emails, calls and letters already.
We’ve also recently acquired Bolt Action Miniatures, Ltd., so we now have a huge range of World War II miniatures, vehicles and terrain. We’ll be adding to this range aggressively in coming months, so keep your eyes peeled on our website or sign up for our weekly newsletter.
We do have other periods and ranges in the pipeline but we tend towards having something to show before we announce new ranges—we learnt that the hard way at GW in the early days!
ACG: Anything else you’d like to add?
We recently celebrated our first year in business and are doing just fine. Is it easy? No, but no one ever said it would be! We both believe that there is a historical market out there, and the likes of the Perry, Victrix and Wargames Factory putting out plastics into the world seems to back us up. We remain convinced that the historical market will remain small but significant. Really great movies like Gladiator, 300 or Saving Private Ryan help enormously, as do computer games to an extent.