photo: Dom Henry
How did you get into tabletop gaming?
Ronnie: It started with toy soldiers in 1980, then I moved to Airfix, before Games Workshop. I even sold toys in the playground. I worked at Games Workshop one summer and wanted to stay with them, but my mother dragged me to Leeds to study. When I finished my degree, it was either the real world or that bunch of crazies again.
When did you make the split from Games Workshop?
Ronnie: I had a fantastic ten years with them in the nineties/early noughties and was given lots of opportunities. When I got to thirty, had children, and was getting a bit more serious, the company was going down a route I wasn’t comfortable with – a bit more corporate and less about the growth and variety, which is what I had enjoyed.
I thought some of the areas Games Workshop no longer focused on could be interesting businesses, so Mantic was born. We set out with products we felt comfortable with, and got it right with Kings of War, our first, then tried a sci-fi game, which didn’t work out. I realised it’s better to do small and perfect than big and slapdash, and Dreadball came along, a sports game. I thought we would grow at a steady 20% a year. But I couldn’t find the nitroglycerin to make it explode. A few people suggested Kickstarter, so we tried funding the full printed Kings of War rulebook, and then moved on to Dreadball. Kings of War had a starting goal of $5k, it did $350k. Dreadball did $750k. The nitroglycerin was found.
What’s the lure of Kickstarter for your customers?
Ronnie: Giving the company a leg-up and getting a sweet deal. With Dreadball, I had four teams planned and two of them were in metal. By the end of the campaign we had twelve teams funded, giants, three season books, twenty MVPs and expansion boosters for all those. It’s the engagement with creating something that people are passionate about, though there’s also some hard-nosed commercialism in there, especially for collectors. If you combine those two things and get the word out while keeping it fun, that’s how you build a successful campaign.
Does that leave much for the customer not supporting you on Kickstarter?
Ronnie: We’ve sold five times as many Dreadball through retail stores as we did on Kickstarter. With Dungeon Saga, the fancy, lidded tray box, the plastic furniture and the quickstart guide wouldn’t have been possible without Kickstarter. So it is a funding method, but also a way of doing things with a wide appeal so there’s lots left for the aftermarket.
Nottingham has Games Workshop, Warlord and Mantic. What’s your USP?
Ronnie: We can be a bit quicker. Kings of War is a full wargame but can be played within an hour and a half. We’re trying to offer simplicity – you don’t have to assemble the miniatures. With Dungeon Saga and Mars Attacks, you’re not buying a box of sprue plastic, you’re buying a game experience that you can play ten minutes after you’ve opened it. It’s quick, it’s straightforward, it’s intuitive.
Which makes it a perfect crossover to the board game demographic...
Tom: That’s what Dungeon Saga really does, it breaks out from the wargame crowd into this broader, more mainstream category. It’s that classic board game, adventure quest, dungeons thing that Hero Quest did years ago.
And is that in direct relation to the fact board games are getting so popular?
Tom: Yeah, it’s a growing market and something every games company wants to be part of really.
Ronnie: For a strategy, we’re going to make miniature games, not board games. Some of them we will disguise as a board game to educate those filthy board gamers onto the righteous path of toy soldiers. Suddenly they’ll see the appeal of a wargame and have a serious hobby problem with a two thousand point army.
What has the reaction been from the dedicated tabletop gamers?
Ronnie: Dedicated gamers are always collecting the next army, but also really like playing games. Because Dungeon Saga is so easy to assemble but still a miniature game experience, it’s the missing piece in the jigsaw. You no longer have to play either a full-on, three month, army-building project or nothing.
Hard copy rulebooks are around £25. Are there rules for those that aren’t sure if your games are for them?
Ronnie: The free rules are available online. We have all the rules and about 70% of the army list, the core basic units. If you like it, you can invest in the rulebook.
Tom: There are a lot of barriers to this hobby. If you want to try out a game, you’ve got to buy, read and learn all the stuff. Mantic lowers the barriers. The rules are available for free, and the products are cheaper, so it’s more accessible for everyone.
You’re working with Purple Guerrilla on an interactive, cross-platform rules ebook right now. That sounds cool...
Ronnie: It’s exciting future-proofing. Cross-platform ebooks might not be of-the-time quite yet, but eventually, carrying around a nice tablet will be preferable to hardback books. I don’t think it’s a substitute yet for a good, cold, hard print, but I think it’s a nice ‘as well as’.
You balance your armies very well in that there’s no one specific piece that will win a campaign, unlike with some other games. Why did you want that?
Ronnie: Kings of War is a wargame. I knocked off the weak and the very powerful because inevitably players will end up maxing their armies. Kings of War brings you back to the toy soldiers. Your wizard can either zap things or heal things, essentially. They are flavouring. The main ingredient is an army. I said to Alessio [Mantic employee and writer of rulebooks] to make flank attacks double and rear attacks treble. He looked at me like I was a lunatic, but it really added some colour to the game.
Tom: You’re not going to feel like you never had a chance. We want to give that challenge.
You seem to be very involved in the tournament scene...
Ronnie: From day one we’ve written our games with slick rules, with the view it could make a good tournament. Over the last couple of years, Kings of War has built a global following. We’re picking up guys who played Games Workshop in their youth, then realised rank-and-flank is actually their game. I think recently with the second edition, people have decided they will play our games as the future of the fantasy tournament scene. America has just flipped over Kings of War.
What is the everlasting appeal of sword, sorcery, and battles like this in the fantasy genre?
Ronnie: Imagining and creating stories. The miniatures and the scenery build them up, so visually you’re getting instantaneous feedback. You’re nudging your imagination into a story that you want to create, and it becomes real. We make sure that, like in The Truman Show, you never get to the edge and tap the wall.
What’s your favourite miniature?
Tom: I’m a classic old-school fantasy, skeletons in the dungeon, Dungeon Master, D&D guy. My favourite is Mortibris the Necromancer, raising up a skeleton from the floor, which captures everything I love about Dungeon Saga.
Do you have collections of your own?
Ronnie: I do. I’m ploughing through a Kings of War and it’s really good fun.
Tom: I was working in board games for ten years before I came to Mantic, so I’m more of a board game collector.
Ronnie: We’re converting him, slowly but surely.
Tom: I’m on the cusp.