Wednesday, May 21, 2014

An Interview with Warlord Games- John Stallard and Rick Priestley

Over a decade ago, I worked for Games Workshop in both their US trade and retail divisions. Love them or hate them, you may be surprised at just how much I loved working for the company at the time. The feeling of nostalgia comes over me, from time to time, as I remember back to where everyday felt like Christmas, but a very stressful one. A large part of my positive memories stems from the gentlemen I worked for and with. While it was not always a sheer pleasure, there was a certain feeling of brotherhood and family and I do miss that as a teacher, today. One of the best bosses I have ever had the privilege to work for was (and remains) John Stallard, now owner of Warlord Games. So, it is with great honor and not a little warmth, I present to you my interview with John Stallard.

JP: John, thank you again for participating in the celebrating this blogging milestone. Hopefully, we will be able to do this again in a few years, when I am hitting a million pageviews and a few thousand followers!

It has been ten years since we last spoke, what has changed for you in that time?

JS: Hi there!! Thanks ever so much  for writing to me..Yes happy  days on the whole in the US business! it was a band of brothers for a time wasn't it just! Hard work , but great fun, just as it is in warlord Games at present....

Since leaving GW I have largely been setting up Warlord Games really...which has been a real learning experience for me..I am back in Nottingham now, also called the Lead belt , on account of the numerous Wargames companies to be found there, courtesy of GW of course.I live near Nottingham castle (Its not a real one anymore  no matter what the Robin Hood films show you 'cos the evil Oliver Cromwell  knocked it down in the English civil war.). I have  made my double garage into a  tidy wargames room where we can playtest our games and or drink beer and roll some dice, trash talking being half the fun of wargaming in my experience..

JP: I remember assembling some 15mm Russian tanks for you, when playtesting another WWII game. However, you're now manufacturing those same tanks, but in a larger scale; why 28mm? Is there a long term plan to produce miniatures at a smaller scale or are you solely focused to producing excellent miniatures in that scale alone?

JS: Yes I remember those 15mm tanks what ever happened to them I wonder? Hmm , I think we will stick to 28mm, its seems to me to be  somehow just the right size, a model soldier that fits nicely in the palm of your hand, about an inch tall.It just feels right..GW have done alright with it for 35 years!

JP: Warlord has made a number of acquisitions or partnerships in the recent past. Are there other areas where you are looking to make similar agreements or have you settled in a bit and are simply working to produce and improve on what you've got now?

JS: Hmmmm...companies can grow by organic  means (ie  just by selling more of what they  have) or by acquisition, buying other suitable complimentary ranges. We have bought a number of smaller companies and partnered up with others to grow our ranges and business. We will acquire more going forward if  the deal is right for both parties. There are some fabulous ranges out there  which really need some love and attention, and proper presentation. Bolt action was our biggest purchase I would suggest and we have done very well with it the last five years, it was a great little company

JP: Is there a range or period of miniatures that you would like to do, but are not yet ready to do so? I mean, between the Very British Civil War and Victorian Science Fiction genres, you're close with a number of current products, are you liable to take the leap into alternative history, beyond Judge Dredd that is?

JS: New periods/whacky stuff? Hmmm  cannot give much away today, but yes indeed,  stay tuned for one or more "odd" period out that should appeal to a broader range of people. That's the fun part of running a wargames company, taking new directions.

JP: What are you thoughts as to the reception for Bolt Action? With the large number of releases to go with it, you've got to be feeling a bit chuffed, right? Are there some near future releases that you are looking forward to, either rules or miniatures-wise?

JS: Bolt action is a belter!  We love it and it is the jewel in the crown at present. This is largely down to two things, a fabulously characterful range of models and a terrific and novel games system. Well done Alessio and Rick, two great games writers and well done Paul sawyer who runs our studio. Pairing up with Osprey  did us no harm either, they have done a great job of distributing  the games world wide.
There is loads to go at with BA...We have 5 campaign books to  come out in the next 12 months which are packed full of cool scenarios and new rules/lists/weapons...fab stuff!

As importantly we have the armoured combat book out in September, which will transform the game too.Its all jolly exciting!

JP: The English Civil War. We've talked about playing a game of this together, but our schedules prevented our doing so, unfortunately. Do you have plans to expand this line much more, and also the related Thirty Years War range? I cannot imagine there is a dire need for another plastic set, but perhaps you've some metal models that you're wanting to see released at some point.

JS: Ah the great love. The good news there is  we have just signed off a fabby dabby new ECW supplement for black powder. It reads really well and has been written by a really passionate fan(shame he is a Crophead by persuasion).there are 19 (sic) army lists in it and some cool new rules...

Hard on its heels will be a Thirty years war supplement, again  nearly finished ...The Thirty years war is incredibly complex, so a book that guides you through it is most welcome..I studied it at school and merely remember that everyone seems to be called Maximilian!

Will do some  new metal models and possibly some  new plastics too...Huge units of Cuirassiers were the order for the day in those times...

JP: Okay, I think I already know the answer to this, but what is your favorite period to game and collect armies for, and why? Are you painting your own troops, or are you having to rely on others to take care of that for you? Time is precious, and I am certain Warlord demands much of yours.

JS: Hmm, favourite period to game...Probably Anglo Zulu war..I am deeply obsessed with the A/Z war. Its the only period that I  think I could call myself an expert in, having read deeply.I have visited all the main battlefields too, what  great fun that is as its a cross between battlefield tours and safari!!The Lodges/hotels in Natal are awesome too...

Next favourite would be ww2.

I am also worryingly obsessed with PT boats and S boats of am messing with some rules for model boats.
I do paint a lot of soldiers, partly to  relax and partly to  see how painting warlord models feels for the end user.You really learn a lot doing it for real don't you...(what a pain it can be when things don't fit correctly).

So saying, I do buy  whole collections,,I bought the fabulous Dave Andrews' Crimean army  last month and its beautiful, as is his WW1 armies which I have acquired.. You can NEXER have enough model soldiers, and if you paint them all, you die.. Its a FACT!

JP: Your start in the wargaming industry is an interesting story, how do you see it now, looking back? Is there anything you'd change or have decided differently, professionally speaking?

JS: Hmm , its funny calling it the wargames industry..Its such a small world really..But yes its an industrial process that needs careful management to get best results.I stumbled into it really...I screwed up at College really and grabbed a low grade job at Citadel miniatures as was.I worked in mail order  for a few years, and a jolly good grounding that is as its all about accuracy and customer  service. My first boss was  none other than Rick Priestley, wonder what ever happened to him......Bryan Ansell was the general manager of Citadel which later bought out Games Workshop. Bryan was simply a model soldier genius, and I certainly learned  about customer service from Bryan and his wife Diane.I then went on to work in trade telesales and then on the road as a rep, glory days indeed......

Then  GW floated and I made the dizzying heights of sales director and we opened an awful lots of shops , worldwide. I then had four  fascinating years in the USA  then back to the UK  to help run the GW training academy. After  about 26 years I was asked to move on, and that is how I was free to set up Warlord Games with my ex GW colleague Paul sawyer(fatbloke from white Dwarf). I had a great time at GW and still know a great many of the fine fellows there. So all in all, its all I have done in my life, but no, I would not have changed pretty much anything. So far!

JP: I have a pure selfish self-interest in asking this next question: What are the chances of Warlord releasing a model of a British Engineer officer in forage cap and undress frock fit for the Abyssinian Expedition? Would it be too much to include him having a waxed mustache and a well groomed imperial beard? Does "pretty please", help my cause?

JS:  No, no and no...

[Denied!...sob :'( ]

JP: While my last question was semi-serious (I DO need a commander figure as described), are you planning on doing more miniature lines for the colonial period, along with rules to go with them? Black Powder official ends at 1900, with Bolt Action picking up in 1939.  I mean, you've British, and their major opponents, for the Sudan and South Africa, but are German, Belgian, Boer, and French troops in the future, ones also useful for early 20th century colonial warfare?

JS: ah, another great question sir....lets just say that mr stallard is also interested in what was called the "Last Gentleman's War.

JP: Is there anything that you are particularly keen on, at the moment, that you would like to talk about, but which I have not asked a related question?

JS: Terribly excited by the Antares game that Rick is writing.. the story line is cool, but the models are  just lovey,,slightly old fashioned, a bit like me really...Most of the models feel like 28mm "Traveller "models if you remember that... and less like , well, other people's models...The new plastic tanks that we have out now are also fascinating... we will have a plastic Panther, a mk4 , bren carriers and a puma all out within 3 months, what is NOT to like there!!

Thank you, John, for the interview.


I've met Rick Priestley twice, both times at GW functions, it was a great pleasure to get to chat with him. I am now honored to have him answer a few questions for my blog.

JP: Hello Rick, thank you for jumping in on this interview with John. We were dinner companions, once, at a Games Workshop function where you were discussing the upcoming release of Warmaster. I was the rabidly interested party at that table. :)

RP: Must have been a good while ago Justin – hope everything is good with you!

JP: Speaking of Warmaster. The basic mechanics of that game have been utilized, in various ways, in a number of other game systems in the twelve or so years since release. What are your thoughts about how useful your design has proven to be across genres, scales, and interests?

RP: At the time the idea of freeing the turn sequence from a literal time scale seemed quite revolutionary – as you say that notion has been taken up by any number of games since. That was the key feature to the design really. It’s interesting to see the basic mechanic developed or picked-up upon and expanded by other rule writers – I suppose it’s nice to see things move on too.

JP: Beyond the Gates of Antares. This is a bit of a change, for you, I think in terms of game development. Can you take us through a brief timeline of how things occurred and changed, thus far in the process?

RP: Blimey I’m not sure – let me think! Well the game uses the basic Bolt Action Order Dice mechanic but introduces a D10 based skirmish wargame system – so it’s like BA but not BA – if you see what I mean. The actual game, background and general feel of the game are rooted in the sort of SF I’ve always enjoyed reading and watching – but it’s basically a small action game with a strong narrative element. So far we’ve been playing games and I’ve been working on the core mechanic to get the framework right – then we’ll start to add more and we’ll build it up that way. It’s taken a long time to get the ball rolling with miniature design though, and that slows you up – mostly because no-one wants to play test a game system in abstract – it’s the models that draws you in! The big developmental difference from BA is the introduction of formalised reactions that allow units to react to enemy actions – which allows for simultaneous firefights, dashes to cover underfire, and stuff like that.

JP: You've been involved in developing wargames for a long time. What do you view as being your "legacy" to the wargame hobby (not Hobby™)

RP: Probably an awful lot of folks who perhaps wouldn’t otherwise have discovered wargaming!

JP: I've asked others this, but what are you currently playing, if anything, that you have not designed? What is your favorite period and army to collect?

RP: I haven’t played a game I haven’t designed in years – I mean aside from Go and the odd card game that comes along – my wife’s just bought a copy of Gamewright Forbidden Island that she’s determined to get me to play! Favourite period – oh like everyone else I like variety – I’m enjoying SF again at the moment because of Antares (and because I always used to enjoy SF pre-GW – and during my time at GW it was very much a job!). But long term my first and inevitable ‘go back to’ army is first century AD Romans.
JP: Life is full of change and learning experiences, what have you learned since you began writing wargame rules?

RP: Well I’ve been writing rules for more than forty years so I’m not sure what to pick there! I guess in terms of what I’ve learned about writing wargames rules it’s that it’s all about making compromises really – compromises between clarity, brevity and accessibility – and the style of game you write is really an expression of how you make those compromises. Try to make things 100% clear and you end up with text that’s long-winded and impenetrable, try to keep things 100% tight and you end up with text that’s incomplete and confusing, try to make things 100% accessible and the result can be that text fails to explain things thoroughly and becomes patronising. So it’s about trying to find a balance. Oh – also – I’ve learned that every time you give a diagram to a graphic artist he will get it wrong. Every time.

JP: If you had to pick, what is your favorite game? Why?

RP: What of mine? The next one… always the next oneJ Of any kind – any body – I do like Kill Doctor Lucky – that’s genius that is.

JP: This last question is what I also asked John. Is there something you have a great interest in, but no one thinks, or dares, to ask about it?

RP: Errr… dunno really… I mean I’m not sure there’s anything really. Years ago I used to be into old cars a bit – though I’m a useless mechanic – but with modern roads, endless speed cameras and so on it’s kinda taken the joy out of that. I haven’t owned an old car for a good few years now. I still occasionally log on to a classic car collectors web site and leave it on the computer screen just to frighten the wife. The Classic Hearse page is the best for that. Classic Plant and Machinery magazine is good too – just leave the ‘for sale’ page open with a 1970’s dumper truck ringed in red. So no. Nothing really. Nothing out of the ordinary. I mean nothing like astrophysics, or taxidermy, or hang-gliding or anything interesting like that.

Thank you, Rick. I do appreciate your time, and your responses.

John, Rick, again, many thanks to you both. I wish you great success in your endeavors


  1. Thanks Justin - Fascinating interviews with two giants of the hobby!

    1. Thank you for stopping by. Please, enter the prize draw, which is one post below.

  2. I've nominated your blog for a Liebster Award! You can see my post listing all my nominations (including this blog) here:

    1. Legatus, thank you for honoring my blog with the nomination!! I have been fairly slammed with life for the past two days, but I will have a proper post about this later today or tonight.

  3. Very interesting interviews.
    Thanks for sharing them.