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

Airfix

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?

Right-o,

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...

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Laserburn.

I said I was happy to have spoken to  Bryan Ansell at my first Wargames show, but that wasn't the first time I'd seen the him, oh, no, he'd been into TTG in the summer...
Tony Yates illo
So I suppose I need to write about why Bryan and TTG were linked in those days, and what happened to end this relationship.

TTG and Bryan had history going way back into the 70's, Kate had said the Bryan had first started casting miniatures in her kitchen on Acton Road in Arnold, but I am unsure whether she meant casting for Asgard, or Citadel, or why even he wasn't using his own kitchen (?!?), but hey that was the story...

Bryan had been instrumental is starting Asgard in the mid-70's, with I think at least two other people, Paul Sulley being one, and had sculpted quite a number of their early miniatures, but as always, with his eye on the main chance, he'd jumped ship in in the late 70's (78?) and started to work with Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone at Games Workshop to start Citadel miniatures.

Bryan's Robin Hood sample piece for GW
GW had a license to to produce Ral Partha in the UK, and had been importing for the past few years. Bryan, I was told by Richard, had submitted 5 self-sculpted minis to Steve and Ian and they were keen to become involved, so Citadel was founded, and started to produce minis from a lock-up garage off High Street in Arnold.

And it was a success.
By the early 80's Citadel were operating out of Newark, Notts, and making a large range of fantasy, sci-fi and historical miniatures and growing rapidly alongside Games Workshop.

In 1980 Bryan had tried to get a sci-fi game/rule-set printed through Games Workshop, and although GW (Steve and Ian) were sold on the idea, and went on to commission Sparefarers, a rule-set based around Citadel sci-fi range, they didn't use Bryan's rules. (details here on BoardGameGeek)
Spacefarers rule book cover by Tony Ackland


Quite how put-out by this Bryan was I don't really know, but regardless, within months Bryan was back with Bob, to set up Tabletop Miniatures to print Laserburn and produce a range of  miniatures to support it...

Laserburn was 15mm based, which I think was a bit of a revolutionary step back then... All GW/Citadels miniatures were in 25mm (inc Sparefarers), and maybe Bryan switched scales as a way of mollifying his partners at GW that he wasn't competing with them... or maybe he and Bob thought 15mm was a better scale for larger sci-fi battles, or possibly the move to 15mm was a trend, economic conditions generally weren't good in the early 80's, so maybe they figured a change to a smaller scale would get people buying, and 15mms were a growing part of the fantasy/sci-fi market, Asgard also produced their own 15mm ranges.

Laserburn was published in late 1980, and was quickly followed by a large miniatures range, covering all the types of troops necessary for the game. Looking back it was quite derivative, the basic game, as Bryan says on the BGG page given above, owed a lot to Western Gunfight games and the background given, to many other current 70's sci-fi staples, the Law Offices were borrowed from 2000AD's Judge Dredd, the Imperialist were classic Heinlein Starship Troopers, and the Red Redemptionists owed more that a little to the Fremen in Dune.

Law Officer (not Judge Dredd)

Tabletop Miniatures started casting this range out of the Daybrook shop, with a machine bought from Citadel, although I think the early miniatures were both moulded and cast in Newark, with Bryan doing the sculpting duties on all the minis, including TTM's range of historical as well...

By '83 when I got to TTG, the range was going cold, Bryan had stopped sculpting and writing for Laserburn, and although he did bring 5 new miniatures when he came to the shop in July or August, these were there first to have seen the light of day for a year or so, and would be the last he did with Bob. I was told after the event that Bryan had come to sign-off with TTM, handing ownership fully to Bob (& Kate) in exchange for a royalty on all his work.

At this point, from my view of it in the back kitchen, it looked like an amicable split, TTM had served its purpose, Bryan was moving on to bigger things and TTM had inherited a lots of Citadel 'staff' to work on side projects, including Rick Priestly, Tony Yates and Tony Ackland on sculpting duties...

But this wasn't really the end of Bob and Bryan's relationship, that comes tomorrow, 30 years ago...

(Interested in reading my copy of Spacefarers, check it out here, on my Scribd page)

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

First Show.

Wargames Conventions are, I assume, as old as Wargaming as a hobby...
Wargaming by it's nature, and unlike say, model railways or model flight, needs groups of people to make it worthwhile, so where two or three are gathered together, then a 'Show' and the accompanying Trade are bound to follow.

TTG used to have  big calendar in the back room on which were displayed all the events that Bob would be attending in the year. The Season, started in late January or early February and ran through the whole year with a few weeks off in the summer, until the last week in November or first in December... There would be a show almost every weekend, and Bob would attend most of them.
At the time names like, Triples and Midland Militare were all new to me, I didn't really know what went off at these events, all I really knew was that on these Saturdays, Bob would be out of the shop on the weekend, taking half of the shop with him, and Kate and the other Robert would be left alone to hold the fort.

Once Mark and I had started work it became obvious what a large part of TTG's business Conventions were. We would spend the later part of most Show-weeks, getting the stock ready, rules and games all counted and boxed, miniature stock filled to the brim and display cabinets repaired and updated with new items... and by Friday afternoon, there would be a large pile of heavily taped brown card-board boxes stacked by the door waiting for the command from His Lordship to load-up so that he could be away that evening, or early next morning.

Balrog in constant need of fixing...
Tuesdays the reverse would happen, all the stock piled near the door would have to be counted, filled or repaired again and stacked away waiting for the same to happen over and over again... Mark whose job it had become to repair the mini display cases, would become thoroughly sick of constantly having to re-stick dragon wings, or hydra heads to the fantasy range display or tank turrets that had 'taken a knock' in transit... 

Kate had promised Mark and I that when it can to the bigger two day shows later in the year, that Bob would take us one of us with him to help, which would mean a weekend away from home.

But...
The first major show, after the small summer pause, would not require us to go very far, as the British Nationals Championship would be held on our doorstep in Nottingham.

Arena, as I'm sure the event was called, was a result of  the Sherwood Foresters (off whom more later) winning the team prize at the previous years event, and opting to host the event themselves as was the tradition at that stage...
Victoria Leisure Centre

The event itself was held at Victoria Leisure Centre on the outskirts of central Nottingham, less than a mile from the city centre, over two days on I think the 17th and 18th of September 1983. The venue was split into two main halls, with games and Trade in the sports hall and more games and the Bring & Buy in the (covered) swimming pool hall...

From what I recall, Bob had set the trade stand up on the Friday evening so that when I got there on the Saturday morning there was very little in the way of work required of me for the first hour or so until the event opened, and I had chance to wander around... 

The centre of the hall was given over to the games championship, with those grass-green 6x4's borrowed from Notts Wargames Club featuring... but around the outside were other traders like TTG. Bob introduced me to Paul and Teresa Bailey, who had the Minifigs stand, next to them were Jacobite miniatures, who had travelled from Scotland for the weekend and also in the Hall were Dixon miniatures, whose adverts I had seen in White Dwarf magazine and many others.

Also there, taking up one side of the hall were Citadel miniatures. I was very pleased to speak to Bryan Ansell for the first time, He said hello and was I Bob's 'new boy', I was wearing a hand knitted jumper with the logo on, so I guess it wasn't too big a leap for him to make,  I asked about what new minis they had along that day... and in front of the Citadel stand was a huge siege game run by The Players Guild using the new Warhammer Fantasy rules.

And outside, were the Treasure Trap, Live Role Play people, who were offering a free weekend to anyone who could defeat their Champion in hand to hand combat. Mark had about 10 goes at doing this and I think eventually they just gave him the prize for persistence...

I don't really remember much about the weekend other than I spent a long time on my feet, serving customers with minis and rules, I left Bob to serve the people wanting the tanks, planes and ships, as these were well beyond my knowledge... and I came away on the Sunday afternoon with a Jacobite 15mm English Civil War royalist army (with which I hoped to start playing Tercio when I had some painted) 

I think John Blanche won the painting competition, with an Asgard half-troll stood on the most elaborate base I'd ever seen, it had resin as a water effect at the lower levels of it and I just had to (just HAD to) touch it to prove to myself that it wasn't real water... 

I can't really remember much about the games, Ancient and Medieval using WRG 6th, Renaissance using the new edition of Tercio, Napoleonic with To The Sound of the Guns, ACW using the Newbury rules and Modern and WW2 using WRG or maybe Challenger... Who won? can't remember... Not the Foresters, or Nottingham club, I think the over all Champions were The Bun Shop a London club, so the next years event would be theirs to organize.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Casting

Tabletop's casting operation was tiny...

The whole place, shop, warehouse, casting room and Bob and Kate's living space was situated in two three story Edwardian terrace houses with shop fronts... When I started they didn't need all the space they had so the 'house' above the second shop (55 Mansfield Rd Daybrook) was rented out to a couple of Police officers, who would come and go though the shop or back rooms at will.

The shop fronts were backed by a small room with a fireplace which I assume would have been the main living room in days gone by, but either Bob or the previous occupants had had the living space moved up-stairs and added a kitchen and Bathroom on the first floor... But at the back of the old main room was what might have been the old kitchen, or scullery, a room 4 yards square that opened on to the 'back-yard'... this was where all the casting was done.

When I started they had one casting machine, an ex-Citadel, swinging weight thing powered by a belt driven motor. White metal casting works by spinning a circular mould at a few 100 RPM and then dropping the hot metal into the central feed-hole and letting gravity, centrifugal and centripetal forces do their work...
Saunders Spinning weight machine similar to the TTG one
The only real issue with this is that it works too well, and pressure is needed to stop the still hot metal from shooting out the sides of the mould. Early machines, like TTG's, had three 'towers' place evenly on the spinning plate from which swung levers with weights attached which when spinning, swung outward and levered the top plate shut.
Cleaver huh?

Well to a certain extent it was an ideal way to work, but unfortunately it had one big draw back... The areas in-between the swinging weight would receive less pressure that the rest of the mould, and as a result these areas would flash (excessively fill) the cavities and if these cavities were large or particularly close to the edge of the mould, the still molten metal would shoot out of the mould and spray the inside of the machine... and as the lids on these machine were quite low to the spinning plate, and never shut satisfactorily, the metal would spray from the machine and blast a line of cooling lead alloy across the crotch of the operative... It didn't hurt, fortunately, but it would leave a line of metal embedded in the trousers of every caster in town... For years after it was possible to tell people who were working in the same job as me for other companies, by the 'Caster's Crotch' they all had...

In the middle of the summer of '83 TTG took delivery of another new casting machine, and this one was a bit different. The new machine, with an electric motor driving it's spinning plate directly, and its pressure controlled by a pneumatic ram was a huge step forward. Speed and pressure were now controlled by the caster, allowing for minor adjustments to keep a warming mould spinning for longer in a day. Previously a mould would have to be rested to cool once the swing weights could no long apply enough pressure to keep it running without the flash becoming too bad...

The new machine was delivered by MCP (Multi-Coupling Pneumatic), with a gentleman called Ray Tutt doing the fitting, whist his boss Mike chatted with Bob and Richard. Ray said that the machine that was being delivered was the first in a run of new machines which Citadel had ordered to replace their old spinning weight machines, and we were getting the prototype model ahead of them.

The new machine was fabbo, the pressure controller cured the flash and spitting issued almost instantly, and the dropping of the plates well below the the lid height meant that if you did get a mould that spat, the metal no-longer splashed into your groin...

BYC7 sculpted by Ali Morrison
TTG kept the old machine, so across that summer there were pretty much always two of us working in the tiny room... As I mentioned in the last post, Rees Taylor was one of the other casters, who I was told was just making up a little pin-money whilst being a full-time Father, but my main work mate was Richard Evans, a 27 year old local man, who I don't think actually spoke to me for over a week or so once I'd started...
He and  I would become firm-friends over the next four years while I worked at TTG.
(more on Richard later, a very interesting character, who I was to discover had his own history in the Wargames-world)

Casting isn't a bad job, its not difficult to master, but it is hot and heavy work, and requires long spells at the machine if the job is to be done efficiently... and although I'd jump at a chance to do anything else at TTG if the chance arose, I didn't mind if I had to stand casting all day... it gave the two of us in the tiny room time to chat, and listen to music...

Oh, and the first mini I ever cast... Well it was one of these... BYC7 Asisiactic light-horsemen with bow and javs.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Nottingham Wargames Club

They'll be there tonight you know...

And not just tonight, as if I'd chosen to write this on the one night a month or for the first time in ages, when they would be there....

They are always there... well maybe not always... Christmases, and Bank Holiday Mondays,  there wouldn't be a club, but every other week, like clock-work at 6.30pm the place is open for walk in gamers and regulars alike.

Nottingham Wargame club dates back to the late 1960's, but I first started to go when I started work at TTG in the summer of '83. Bob would offer to take me and Mark, as he was virtually driving passed where we lived, to collect Richard from his mom's, to take him to the club... so keen as mustard types that we were we hitched along to see what the crack was...

The club it's self was at that time on the top floor of this building, Queens Walk Community Centre, in Nottingham's less than salubrious Meadows area... up three or four flights of stairs, which didn't help those members who were carting 25mm cavalry armies in large tool boxes, to the large room at the rear of the building, where there were plenty of trestle tables on which grass-green 6' x 4' chip-board tops were placed for the games to take place... 
Queen's Walk view of the Community centre


...and to tell you the truth, this place was probably the first place I'd seen grown men playing wargames... I think I'd seen the Callan movie at this point and was I was kind of expecting retired Brigadiers types with tweedy jackets and pip-pip attitudes, but this was all a bit different... Blokes, normal blokes, some of whom I'd seen from the shop, sitting behind units of tiny troops, measuring with expandable tape measures and either cursing their luck or looking smugly at their dice... 

I think that Mark and I just watched the first week, I don't remember playing, but in the following weeks he and I would bring Bob's old Airfix Napoleonic (of which more later) and we'd have a game or two with those...

In those days their could 20 to 30 people gaming on any one week, and of course this meant that there was a large variety of games to get involved in, there was of course WW2 with more Airfix plastics, and other periods that were new, Ancients, Medieval and Renaissance games, as well as others with metal Napoleonic and micro tank games of 'Ultra-Modern' and more WW2... Loads of stuff, and to add to the verity each of the major periods also had a choice of rule-sets to use, Wargames Research Group (WRG) and TTG had rules for all, and others would surface form Newbury or Skytrex or other independent Wargames groups... 

Players tended to like one rule-set for one period, which could reduce your choice of opponent, but usually if you fancied a game against a particular player you could find something compatible to play, or if you want to play a particular type of game there were plenty of players willing to play along...


Callan and Lonely
Now I suppose that every largeish town in the UK and every city, has its equivalent Club to NWG, London has at least 2, Birmingham and Manchester a couple, Liverpool, Leeds, Glasgow and many more, and by the very fact that they are open to new members, they act as a starting point for very many gamers, young and old, who might otherwise struggle to get into the hobby, but it is this very openness which is the downside of them. For every cool Callan or retired Brigadier, there has to be a Lonely, and this bottom end can be a bit off putting... 




But...
If you could stand the smell of 'ripe' wargamer on a hot summer evening then NWC was a great place to be, and I'd meet loads of folks to game with, many of whom like Steve Bruce, Keith Tate, Karl Tebbe (who was running a role-play group downstairs) and Steve Clark, will crop-up again in connection with my future working life, and others; Andy Revel, Andy 'Nick' Nicholson, Gary, Chris Thorn, who I still say hello to as I pass them at shows...

And after the club... off to the pub... the Queen's Hotel near the station, which is now a carpet warehouse, for a Britvic55 (well I was only 16) and a debrief of the evenings games... before Bob ran us home in the van... perfect... 

Ok, so then, for the next four years of this blog, you can take it that on any given Monday evening, I'll be there... a tool box full of soldiers, expandable tape-measure in hand, either cursing or hooting with joy, at the dice rolls in front of me... I am a Wargamer.

Strange coincidence time... Whist looking on t'web for details of Nott's Club I noticed that the name given for contact is Rees Taylor, who I think is now Chair of the club, but in '83 he was one of the two people I worked alongside in my first few days as a Caster at TTG... Its not a small world, its a Miniature world...

Next time... Casting...

Friday, 1 November 2013

Nottingham, and the Run.

As I implied in the last post, TTG was shut on Mondays, Bob would often not arrive back from Wargame Shows until Sunday afternoon, and I suppose that it was time-off to do banking and paperwork, without the shop bell ringing, or interruptions on the telephone...

Also on a Monday, Bob would get back in the van and take advantage of Nottingham's place in the Wargames world to get out to see other companies in our area.

Nottingham was not, as yet, known as the British Lead-Belt, a term which I don't think I heard first until the advent of the internet in the late '90's, but is was ideally placed, in the middle of three or four other little centres of miniature production.
Asgard, as I mentioned were in the City, not quite the center but in the city never the less, as were TTG's printer, Trent Printers in the Meadows area. To the south was Loughborough, home to Skytex, manufacturer of small scale tanks, boats and planes for the wargames trade, as well as the agents for Heritage minis in this country, and of course to the north-west in Newark were Citadel miniatures the big-boys of the hobby even then...

VW T2 Transporter
So Bob would jump in the van, and trundle off to see these other companies on a Monday afternoon, bringing back rumours and news from them, as well as picking up new stuff and out-of-stock items to for-fill mail-orders back at HQ.

It strikes me now just how much Bob devoted his life to the wargames industry, working all week at mail-order, spending his evenings typing  rules in preparation for them being printed, driving on Friday or Saturday to a show, standing all day (sometimes two days), and then driving home, only to jump into the van again on Monday to head-out on to The Run, to see all these other people.

Amazing...

But there was one more thing to fit into Bob's day-off  (?!?), and that was Nottingham Wargame Club... and that dear reader is where our travels will lead us, next time...

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Full time.

So after two or three weeks of working on Saturdays, I knew I wanted a job at TTG.

I wrote a letter, asking if they had any vacancies, despite the fact that it would have been easier just to ask face-to-face, but that was what I'd been told in school, so that what I did, best hand-writing and everything...
Thulg, illo by Tony Ackland.


The next time I was in the shop after school, Kate said...
"I got your letter... its left me in a bit of a dilemer..."

"Why?" I wimpered, preparing myself for a big dose of rejection...

"Well" she continued, "your mate Mark asked me for the same thing yesterday as well..."

My life hung on one sentence...

"...but, I think there is something we can do..."

TTG were planning on going though a bit of an expansion, they had started a miniatures range, which was making the 15mm Laserburn minis, a few 25mm sci-fi and a small range of Dark Age 15mm's,
which they had been licensing in the USA to a company called Alliance Miniatures.

Now, it had come down the grape-vine that another US company, Heritage Miniatures, were going bust, and that Alliance in the States wanted to buy up the failed company and license them back to Tabletop for production here in the UK. Bob was already selling quite large numbers of the Heritage Napoleonics through the shop and though mail-order, so picking up on an existing range would have doubled their miniature out-put in one swoop.
So if the deal went through, Kate was sure that there would be work for both Mark and Myself, in the newly expanded Tabletop Miniatures.

As far as I remember, the deal was still to be finalized in the US, but Kate said if I could do a few days casual work, in the casting room, to see if I was up to the task, then the job would be mine when I finished school...
Casting???
Well I'd seen the machine and moulds in the back-room but I'd never done it at that time, but yes, " I can do that" as Yosser Hughes would have said, "Gizza job."

As it turned out, the deal with Heritage fell though, someone else bought the failing/failed company and their big selling Napoleonic range would remain with Skytex (the UK agent) for a while yet, but Bob, indomitable as he was, made his mind up overnight, with the aid of Alliance in the US, that TTG would start their own range of 15mm Napoleonics, using their great young sculptor Aly Morrison who was already working on a Medieval range of 15mms.

If anyone reading this has any more details about Alliance or Heritage in the early 80's I would be delighted to hear from you... I owe my Life in Miniatures almost directly to these two American companies, and I'd love to find out just exactly what went off in June or July of '83, I heard that Alliance were out bid, is this the truth? Who did pick up Heritage? What happened to them? I don't think that they are still out there... all information gratefully received...

So, short of doing a few trail days in the casting room I had a job... £35 a week for 5 days, 40 hours Tuesday to Saturday.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Saturday, Saturday, Saturday...

I did already have a Saturday job, in late February of '83, Mark had got me a job on Arnold Market, working for a flower seller, but in truth I hated it... fetching and carrying for a couple of '80's barrow boys, in all weathers was no fun at all, so after working on the stock take, I asked Kate if they needed a new Saturday-boy to fill in for Robert (who's second name I can remember), the lad who had done the job for the last couple of years and who was finishing his A levels and heading of to Bristol for Uni...

 
an afternoon tipple

Kate gave it a thought, I assume asked Bob, and said yes. The Saturday post was all about watching the shop whilst Kate got on with a day-to-day life, which from what I remember was sitting with her feet-up, drinking coffee, or after 2pm a barley-wine, and reading the paper... Bob, most weekends would be away at a Wargame Show (a what?), so Kate liked the idea of not sitting in the shop all day whilst he was gone.

'Watching the shop' suited me down to the ground...
Plonked on a tall stool behind the counter, I would sit and read game books, or White Dwarf, or whatever came to hand, and wait for the bell to ring to announce the entrance of a customer...
Saturday Mornings wouldn't be too busy, opening at 9, Kate would fulfill whatever mail-order she could that had arrived that morning, but mostly it was only a light trip to the post office before the last collection at 11.00am, and then a day of waiting for customers...

Trying to remember back to those early weekends, I don't think we ever took over £150, some weeks much less, which doesn't sound like a lot of money these days, but it could be quite hard work when we were selling 15mm minis for 7p (25's for 30p)... and even a big sale, a boxed game or D&D book, might only be £8 - £10, getting to £150 wasn't easy...

The thing that made it for me was the customers, mostly they were fabulous, people wanted to be enjoying themselves when they arrived at the shop, so every-time the bell went, there would be another happy Wargamer delighted to have found a little Aladdins cave of stuff...
 And OK, we did have our share of 'characters' though the place, (more of whom later), but mostly customers were bright, knowledgeable and funny, and I couldn't think of a better way to spend my time on Saturdays than fishing around in the figure cabinets for missing T72 turrets, or dusting down copies of Starship Troopers, or whatever else the customers wanted...

Not only was I doing something well with-in my skill range, I had started to enjoy it too.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The first days work

Pathetic Stock-taker!
Right-o then, fast forward a couple of years, '81 to 83, me and my best mate Mark Weston were in and out of TTG two or three times a week, several things happened in this two year period, expansion, Laserburn, to mention two, but I'll get to these later...

In March of '83 Kate Connor asked me and Mark, if we'd like to help with the stock taking in the shop. He and I lept at the chance. I think that we did two days, Tuesday the 29th and Thursday the 31st, just before the UK Tax year-end in April..

We arrived at 9.00 and after coffee and a chat about why we were doing the count, we set to totaling up box games, and tiny tanks, Citadel minis and Davco ships, and everything else they had in what amounted to the warehouse space in the back of the place. TTG did quiet a number of rule sets and micro-games and all these had to have their components counted, books, QR, record and counter sheets...

At lunch time Kate fed us all, Mark and I, and the other chap who was working full-time in the casting room, Richard Evans, something she would continue to do whilst we worked for Her/Bob.
It didn't really strike me at the time, but it was this kind of small thing that made work feel like home, they didn't have to do it, but they did, and even in later years when we 'workers' stopped using Kate's kitchen and living room as a canteen, they continued to provide cash for us to buy food, to cook in the work's kitchen...

I don't remember what we got paid for the two days, or why we weren't in school for that matter, maybe we were on holiday or maybe school was winding down for 5th year exams, but what I do remember is finishing on the second day and being given a little handful of folding cash.

illo by Tony Yates
 On the way-out that evening, I grabbed a couple of Laserburn scenarios that I wanted, Sewerville shootout and Tarrim Towers heist, and asked Bob
"...how much?"
"Oh you can have those", the great man said...

Money and free games, just for standing around in the shop all day, looking at whatever they had...
I think I'd found something in my skill-range...
Result!

Now the only thing was to turn a couple of days casual work into a Career...

Friday, 25 October 2013

A new shop in town...

I've always been of the opinion that Daybrook Square was the centre of the whole wide world, a fact proved to me in early '81, when a wargames shop open there, right on my doorstep, with-in a 100yrds of where I had first played with Airfix Knights and Astronauts on my Grandma's front room carpet...



Once again I think Andy Black was the bringer of the great news, he must have had to walk past it that morning to get to school and by the time D&D club started at dinner time it was pretty much old news that we had our own shop with-in walking distance...

Images stolen from Richard Scott
My first memory of going though inside was one tea-time after a dentist appointment with my mother...
ding-ding-ding, went the the door dell on entry and we were greeted by a friendly blonde lady, Kate Connor, behind the counter who explained that they had just opened, after working out of their house on Acton Rd, Arnold for years.

My Mum and Kate chatted for awhile whilst I shot to figure racks to see what they had...

And they had loads of stuff, everything Citadel had; Adventures, Monsters, Historicals,  plus loads of Ral Partha and others...

NOT my painting
The shop was also full of other stuff, plastic kits and modelling supplies which Kate later told me had been bought it to fill out the space, and also Dungeons and Dragons books and Modules, rules from other people, and 'Wargames Miniatures', tanks for WW2, soldiers for Napoleonics and ACW, none of which I'd ever seen before... and board games, loads of them...

But, on that first visit I only had eyes for the fantasy figures, Kate lent me a chair to stand on, so i could reach the top of the rack and from there I picked my first ever Citadel miniatures... a slime beast with sword (FF2), and a Fighter in plate-mail (FA1), amongst them...

From then on, for the next couple of years, I'd cycle through Arnold Park and down to TTG after school and spend half and hour or so, going through everything fantasy and sci-fi they had... I knew there stock as well as they did... which was handy...

Next, Stock taker!

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Asgard for the first time.



Ok, so my first Visit to Asgard was a bust...

But luckily I was making better friends with the lads at the D&D club and on one Saturday Simon Maze suggested that I go with him into Nottingham to have a look at the place...


Now from what I remember this was probably my first trip into Nottingham on my own, OK I wasn't on my own, I was with Simon, but without a parent, if you see what I mean...

I went to his house in the morning, he lived a mile or so from where I did, and we caught the bus in the City Centre... Simon had said that we should save our bus fare and walk, but Nottingham seemed like a million miles away to a lad of 13 so we spent the 7 or 8p that was the cost of the ride and got into the city as quickly as the bus would carry us...

The Asgard shop I first visited was on Commerce Square, which I was lead to believe was their second shop in roughly the same area of the City, off High Pavement, in what was then, quite a run-down area called The Lace Market.
The Shop, which was really nothing more than a front to a warehouse or old mill, was up a couple of big stone steps, with what I assumed was a little workshop and storage space to the rear...
The walls were lined, as was the fashion in those days, with a large areas of 'peg-board' racks, on which were hung all the miniatures they had in stock... Some Citadel, mostly fantasy adventures, some Ral Partha, and loads of Asgard minis they had made on the premise... and that was about it... No painted minis that I can remember, no gaming tables, no racks of rules and modules, just minis and a few old copies of White Dwarf magazine...
The chap behind the counter, I later learnt was Paul Sulley, who at this time owned Asgard...

I'd seen White Dwarf at the D&D club, someone would always have the latest copy, but a back issue took my fancy, so I came away with one mag and one mini... The front cover of the mag that had taken my interest was issue 20 something, with this excellent Les Edwards Ghoul on the Cover...

And the mini... well it was this this Ogre, FM63, a cracking model with tonnes of character...


So, I'd broken my duck with Asgard, it really did seem like a cool place, hidden away as it was, filled with all this stuff, and inhabited with what looked like an 'interesting' crowd of people... but little did I know that at this point, that the next time I was going to set foot in a wargames shop it wouldn't be Asgard but a new shop, almost on my doorstep... TTG was just about to come into my life..