Warlord Games & More! A Talk With John Stallard.

Originally posted on https://johnwombat.wordpress.com/ in 2020.

The standard bearer for miniature military wargames and models, the multi award winning Warlord Games offers gamers, modellers, painters and collectors an exciting and extensive product range. Prolific in its creative output, Warlord Games provides game systems and models for World War II (Bolt Action), the ‘Black Powder’ era (1700 – 1900), the ‘Pike & Shotte’ period (1400 – 1600), and the early bronze age (3000 BC) through to medieval knights (1400) with Hail Caesar. The worlds of science fiction and fantasy are not ignored either, with Warlord Games offering Beyond The Gates of Antares and Warlords of Erehwon , respectively. Further to this, the company has license agreements for Strontium DogJudge Dredd and Doctor Who.

I was recently kindly afforded some of Warlord Games’ head honcho John Stallard’s time. These blog articles are a result of my communications with John and detail the origins of his wargames company as well as some of the background story of the ‘Bossman’ himself. Over the course of the articles, John and Warlord will be featured in detail, as will each of Warlord’s game systems.

Warlord Games & More! A Talk With John Stallard… Part 1.

John Stallard was born in Cardiff in the early-1960’s. He lived here, with his parents and older brother and sister, until he was four years old, at which point, due to his father’s work commitments with British Petroleum, the Stallard family swapped South Wales for Scotland and relocated to Glasgow. John’s father’s role within BP included touring around various petrol sites, tirelessly crisscrossing the UK, consequently a further family move came about when John was around ten years old. This time, Worcester, the location of the final battle of the English Civil War (the Battle of Worcester) in 1651, provided the setting for the family.

John Stallard: When we moved to Scotland, I was beaten up at school for speaking like a ‘Welshie’… Then, there was the question of whether you supported Celtic or Rangers, so me and my brother worked out a strategy where we’d say Partick Thistle was our team, so the bullies would just pat you on the head and think, “Oh, you poor oaf…” and leave us alone!

When I was nine or ten, we moved down to Worcester, then my brother and I were beaten up for speaking like ‘Jocks’! So, I developed a mid-English accent to remain neutral, just to survive! I see Worcester as my home in many ways, Archers’ country, a very nice place. Nowadays, I’m two stone throws away from Nottingham castle, where Charles the First raised his standards to start the English Civil War.

Aged six years old, it was through his elder cousin that John first discovered the joy of military models and toy soldiers. His cousin, being several years older than John, thought he was much too grown up for such things. His cousin’s loss was John’s gain and he gratefully accepted the castoffs. Soon John began to expand his adopted collection, making regular weekly purchases of Airfix model soldiers with his saved pocket money.

John Stallard: I began using my pocket money to buy boxes of Airfix soldiers each week. Each box had forty-eight models! Wow! I’d get the models home and tear them straight from the sprue, probably breaking some along the way! World War II was my big thing, though my friends and I collected everything, Ancient Romans, Ancient Britons, Arabs, Foreign Legion, Cowboys and Indians, you name it and we bought it. Anything Airfix made was just cool. I can’t think of anything they made that I didn’t want to buy.

My father was an ex-Royal Marine from World War II, his brother was with HMS Howe; he was kamikazed by the Japanese but survived. So, World War II was big at the time I was growing up, you couldn’t get away from it. Everyone had family members who had been in the war, even if they didn’t like to talk about it. It was on television, in comic books, I was just immersed in it all! I enjoyed the Airfix soldiers and making their model tanks, my sister would actually make the ships, my brother meanwhile made the aeroplanes. Between the three of us we had everything covered!

I still have a huge Airfix collection, it’s even been featured in Wargames Illustrated magazine (March 2020 issue HERE.). It’s all installed in cabinets, all in boxes. Everything I had as a kid I bought again, keeping it all with the original packaging on display. I have every model, every variant, including every box design variant. It’s a sickness!

John’s modelling skills developed as he grew older, with the much-thumbed pages of Military Modelling magazine and members of the International Plastic Modelling Society providing much inspiration and support.

 I didn’t start converting models until I was about twelve years old, when I would read through articles covering such things in magazines like Military Modelling. I actually joined the International Plastic Modelling Society when I was eleven. Once a month, we’d meet in this little club, my dad would drop me off and pick me up… You’d basically take your models down to be judged, and some of the old geezers would show you all their tips and tricks, like stretching sprues to make antennas, how to do dry brushing, how to paint in oils, all the cool stuff.

There was this one guy there, I can’t remember his name, it was probably Bob. He was a lovely chap. I thought he was ancient, he was probably only thirty, smoked a pipe, so that made him about hundred to me. He said to me one time, “John, your stuff is quite nice, but you bring down something completely different every time. Have you considered theming your stuff?” I didn’t know what he meant. He went on, “Well, you like Spitfires, right? But did you know there were twenty-six different marks of Spitfire? Plus the Americans flew them, the Israelis flew them, the Canadian’s flew them… Then there’s the different scales you can make. You could do a damaged one, one in combat, different squadrons… There’s a whole hobby in just collecting Spitfires.” This was really interesting to me, really opened my eyes, I thought to myself, “There’s a grownup hobby here”.

Before the ages of twelve to thirteen, everyone was making Airfix kits, the hobby was universal, everybody did it and it was okay to do it. Come thirteen, fourteen, then you had to stop doing it, instead you had to grow up and start listening to dreadful bands and chase girls. So, at that point, Airfix models were seen as very nerdy, even more so wargaming. You might get away with model making, but not wargaming… I well remember wargaming on a desk with two of my mates, we were maybe fifteen, the school bully walked in and did the whole thing; “Ha! Caught you playing with toy soldiers,” and roughed us up a bit. But now, the joy of the hobby is that playing with toy soldiers at school is cool, it’s a rite of passage and it’s entirely normal to play something like Warhammer from a child into later age. We suffered for our art!

Having amassed huge armies of figures, wargaming was a natural progression from model building and collecting for John. However, the first task was to equip himself with some rules so that he and his friends could pit their forced against each other.

One set of rules that John discovered was the Airfix Guide to Napoleonic Wargaming written by Bruce Quarrie, a 1974 ruleset John described as “bloody good stuff”. This was soon followed by Skytrex’s Middle Earth Wargames Rules, released in 1976. Initially intended for 20mm scale models, the Middle Earth rules were formed around the works of JRR Tolkien, offering players the opportunity field armies of Orcs, Dwarfs, Black Riders, and so on.

John Stallard: Back then, wargames rules were as rare as hen’s teeth. But then, you’d go to your local library and find books like Charge! by Brigadier Peter Young. I’d take that book out and just think, “Wow, these are grownups playing wargames!” It was fantastic. Back then getting hold of these sorts of books was really difficult. Not like now, you can pick wargames rules up everywhere. Usually it would be Napoleonic games I’d play, Waterloo being one of the battles my mates and I had heard of.

It was following his ‘university years’ that John moved to Nottingham, a location he has remained in for almost four decades. In addition to being famed as the ‘lead belt’ of the UK because of its number of toy soldier manufacturers, John also appreciates the culture of the city and the ease of which he can travel to other places from here when business calls.

John Stallard: Nottingham is now my home, it’s a cool place to be, it’s where all the toy soldier companies hang out. Property’s cheap, there’s loads of good theatres and restaurants, music venues such as Rock City, plus you can get anywhere else in the country from here in two and a half hours. The place is full of students as there are three universities. It’s quite a happening place, really, in a weird sort of way.

It was reading a job advert in Games Workshop’s monthly White Dwarf magazine that was key to John’s move to Nottingham. Soon after this, following a successful interview, John was part of Bryan Ansells’ Citadel Miniatures team.

John Stallard: I’d left college and managed to do not so well in my exams. One day I was reading a copy of White Dwarf magazine and came across an advert for a Quality Control position at Citadel Miniatures. I wrote in and Bryan Ansell, who owned Citadel Miniatures at the time, gave me a call. So, I went up to Nottingham for an interview, Bryan said, “Well, how about a job in Mail Order?” That was it. Bryan was very charming and gracious and gave me a job and Rick Priestley was my boss. What a lovely time that was, working at Citadel Miniatures. There was probably about thirteen of us there at the time. Games Workshop was down in London, doing all the books and games, while we were the Citadel arm up in Newark.

I first met Rick Priestley when I was twenty-one, when I joined Citadel Miniatures. I’d come out of university and the second person I met was Rick, who had hair all the way from the top of his head to his thighs at the time. He looked like Rick Wakeman, but not quite so tall. He was my first boss, a hippy, and great fun. He taught me a lot of good stuff did Rick, about hard work for a start. Then we lived in a house together for a while, which was quite good fun.

I learned my trade through Bryan and his now wife Diane, who was also my boss. They taught us great practices and fantastic customer service, which is what they were obsessed with, quite correctly. They taught me about detail and passion. Bryan is very much a renaissance man; he can sculpt, he can design, he can build gardens, he can build houses. He’s just one of those guys that can do stuff that would leave many others clueless. Plus, he has a passion for toy soldiers, an energy which channelled Games Workshop forward, also his visions of the various worlds Games Workshop created. Bryan and Rick worked very well together in creating their visions of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000.

Games Workshop was launched in 1975, at the time the company’s predominant focus was on board games. Around a similar period Bryan Ansell co-founded the model company Asgard Miniatures. In the late-1970’s Bryan founded Citadel Miniatures, this beginning the close association with Games Workshop. Bryan would later purchase Games Workshop and merge the company with Citadel Miniatures. John expanded on his thoughts about his early time with Citadel Miniatures.

John Stallard: What Bryan, and Rick to be fair, had built was something ahead of its time. If you look back to the old magazines of the late-1970’s and 1980’s, the adverts in them always said to allow for 28 days delivery. Everything said that. But under Bryan’s regime, obviously there was no internet, orders were via telephone or mail, people would send in these catalogues that they’d scrawled all over, “3 of these, 3 of these,” and so on… So, the order would arrive on say a Tuesday morning, and we’d get that back into the post to them the same day. The customer would get their order the next day, something that was unheard of at the time. It was just astonishing! Everything Bryan did was innovative. He couldn’t help but innovate, packaging, deals, such as a standing order each month which allowed customers to receive everything new that month at a discount. This was completely new, no one else in the whole world was doing this. You had these fantastic sculptors working away, and it didn’t matter if it was Gnolls or Dwarfs or a Dragon you’d want one, they just looked so cool!

Warlord Games & More! A Talk With John Stallard… Part 2.

John Stallard: I left Mail Order with Citadel Miniatures after a year to retake my exams, I thought that would be a good idea. Unfortunately, I failed again, because I was playing Warhammer all the time and had found my passion. Then I had a disastrous forklift truck accident and smashed my foot up whilst working in a freezer plant one summer and lost most of my toes on my left foot. So, I was a bit of an old cripple for a while. I went to a wargames show in Manchester on crutches and saw Rick Priestley behind a Mail Order stand. He asked how I was doing, told me the guy that had replaced me at Mail Order had just left… Rick asked if I wanted my job back in Mail Order, “Yes, please!” was my reply.

So, Bryan Ansell took me back in at Citadel Miniatures, for which I will always be eternally grateful. But because I’d lost my three main toes on my left foot, I wasn’t very good at picking orders, clomping around; if you’ve lost your big toe it’s never good. I wasn’t very good at the job and so got a written warning. I could not stand the shame of being fired, so I resigned. I said to Bryan, “Here’s my letter of resignation, I resign.” He said to me, “What are you resigning for?” I explained that I couldn’t do the job. Very nicely, he said to me, “I don’t want you to go, you idiot! Look, you’ve got a poncey BBC accent, you should go on the phones, on trade sales, they’ll like your poncey voice.” Different times! So, I said, “Thank you very much,” and joined trade sales.

Bryan’s wife to be, Diane, taught me how to open up trade accounts around the world. I later became Sales Manager, I went on the road as a Sales Rep as well. Ultimately, I became Head of Sales and then Sales Director. I had a hoot. I learned a lot at Games Workshop, staying with the company until I set up Warlord Games in 2007, they teach you a lot about all manner of things, like finance and profit, which is very important if you want to keep thousands of people in jobs. I had a lovely time at Games Workshop and learned so much.

Looking to focus more of his time and energies towards his family as well as other projects, in the early-1990’s Bryan Ansell handed the Games Workshop baton to Tom Kirby. The driving creative and business force behind Citadel Miniatures/ Games Workshop, John was open in his appreciation for Bryan.

John Stallard: Bryan would innovate all the time. Citadel Miniatures’ models were larger, the Perry’s had their own designs and ways of doing things, then there were head swaps we’d do; we’d arrange all the Orcs and swap all the heads and so suddenly you had a tribe of Orcs, something like seventy two Orcs, and you had to have them all, it would be rude not to! Everyone else would do ten Orcs all in a static pose, dull, dull, dull… Then, each of the models all had names (and if you were very lucky Bryan would let you name them!)

He was a taskmaster, of which there is no doubt. And because he could do something, he expected that other people could, “If I can make two models a day, so can you!” Plus conversions on top of that. He was a good taskmaster and quite right to get out there and blaze a trail. Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone set up Games Workshop in the olden days and did a magnificent job with that, one cannot take anything away from them, they had the brains and heart to form the company, and they brought in promoting Dungeons and Dragons which was a very important move.

But it was Bryan that saw how miniatures were so much more profitable. I salute Bryan for his vision of creating these large armies of miniatures. What was funny at the time, as an employee of Citadel Miniatures/ Games Workshop, myself and my colleagues were building up these large armies, but there was no reason to do it. You just thought, “Well, a regiment of Orc archers, that would be great.” There was no game to use them in, not until Bryan and Rick came up with Warhammer. Miniatures needed something else, this was fantasy wargaming, Warhammer.

Bryan did a wonderful job in establishing a brand and a style of miniatures. Everything about Citadel Miniatures you could tell from a mile away form everyone else. That was all down to Bryan. He’d tell everyone, “The models need to look like ‘this’, the hands need to be oversized because the weapons are oversized. Because the hands are oversized the feet need to be oversized. It’s all about implied threat, not horrible violence. Naming all the models. Leaving lots of areas on models for freehand painting details. He’d thought about everything so well.

Following on from his departure from Games Workshop, In 2007 John Stallard founded Warlord Games, a company which is now the market leader of historical wargaming rulesets and models. These days, Warlord Games produces thousands of different models in both plastic and metal, along with a range of rulebooks and model supplies, in addition to providing scenery and paints. John provided some background information on how the company was first formed.

John Stallard: Warlord Games came into being because I had always wanted to do historical military models. I’ve been fascinated with them since I was six. I kept on saying to two consecutive bosses at Games Workshop that the company should start to do historical models. I remember Tom Kirby, a man I admire very much, saying to me, “John, I’ve done a study and if you add all the historical gaming companies together it comes to £2m, there’s just not enough money in it.” Being older and wiser than me, he’d actually done the research. I said, “But Tom, that’s because it hasn’t really been done before. What was the market for Goblins with spears fifteen years ago? Bugger all! Citadel and Games Workshop made the marketplace by making great models and banging the drum and producing wargames rules.”

Then, Rick, the Perry Twins and Jervis Johnson persuaded Tom Kirby that they should be allowed to publish Warhammer Historical. Tom said, “Alright, you can make a set of rules based around Warhammer, but you can’t make any models.” So, Warhammer Ancients came out, a jolly good game by Jervis, the Perry’s and Rick. They made a lovely book, but it was done as a separate entity, the books were kept well away from Games Workshop, kept away from the stores, it was kept away from anything to do with Games Workshop. But it still sold well, sold a few thousand copies and there were reprints.

One day, myself and Rick were in the pub, playing the fantasy game of ‘if you had to make a plastic range of historical toy soldiers, what would they be?’ We both agreed that it would be a box of Romans, everybody loves Romans; it’s in the school curriculum, they’re cool, they’re hard, they fought everybody, they beat everybody… This was like a ‘desert island disc sort’ of thing, if we weren’t working for Games Workshop. Unfortunately, due to contract stipulations, I couldn’t go ahead and actually do this. However, in the end, Games Workshop dispensed of my services after twenty-five years. But that was fair enough, things change, no one is bigger than the company.

So, I was made redundant. Now unemployed, I thought to myself, “What am I going to do?” The last thing I wanted to do was go back into the wargames industry, and the first thing I did was go back to the wargaming industry. I thought, “Now is the time to make that box of Romans.” I teamed up with Paul Sawyer, who’d just been made redundant as well, he had been the White Dwarf magazine editor. We found Renedra, the plastic manufacturing company, who had previously been Games Workshop’s plastic manufacturing arm. Then we got Bob Naismith, the nicest guy in the world, to make the figures.

It can take around four months for the completed manufacture of a set of plastic models to be achieved once designs have been finalised. During the ‘waiting’ period for his box of Romans, John found out about his friends Alan and Michael Perry’s forthcoming plastics release.

John Stallard: The Perry’s were still working for Games Workshop, but they had Perry Miniatures in the background, which they were allowed to do. They announced they were going to release some plastic American Civil War figures. They made them so they could be Federals or Confederates, matching them to respective paintjobs. So, Perry Miniatures released the first ever 28mm plastic historical wargames figures, just two of three weeks before we released our Romans, pipping us to the post!

Warlord Games’ hard plastic 28mm Imperial Roman Legionary box set was met with an enthusiastic response from wargames and model fans and critics alike. The set scooped up a number of awards following its release, scoring achievements with Tabletop Gaming News (‘The Best Historical Miniatures of 2008’) and Modellfan Magazine (‘Models of the Year, 2008’). With building momentum, Warlord Games set about growing their model range, also game systems too, with games such as ‘Hail Caesar’ (set to be featured in a future blog article) written by Rick Priestley.

John Stallard: Before long Paul Sawyer and I were looking for designers to make more models. Our brief was, and still is, a bridge between Airfix and Games Workshop. The excitement of Games Workshop and the historical aspect of an Airfix kit. When you look at our officer models, our standard bearer models, you’ll see that they’re all getting stuck in. Just having a drummer standing there, the standard bearer all quiet, that’s not me, that’s not WarlordWarlord is about ‘fightiness’ and what’s going to happen next. We chose our style knowing that some people wouldn’t like it, and that’s fine, but we knew a lot of people would.

Warlord Games’ Bolt Action is a World War II wargame which allows players to field forces from the major powers of Great BritainUSAGermanySoviet UnionJapan, and Italy. Comprehensive in detail, the Bolt Action rules and models also cover the ‘Rome – Berlin – Tokyo Axis’ of FinlandRomaniaBulgaria and Hungary, also additional allied armies in the form of PolandBelgiumFranceAustraliathe CommonwealthChina, and Partisan troops. First released in 2012 and now in its second edition, other Bolt Action games and models also include Konflikt ’47Blood Red SkiesCruel Seas, and Victory At Sea.

John Stallard: When I gave Bolt Action to Alessio Cavatore and Rick Priestley, and Bolt Action is more Alessio, I said, “I want original 40K. I want Rogue Trader meets World War II, a skirmish game; twenty men, an armoured car and a tank against the same. This allowed people to dip into the game but also really expand on it if they wished to. It’s a conscious move not to keep releasing updated versions of our games. We’re only onto the second edition of Bolt Action after nine years, eight years. Even then, when we updated Bolt Action only one of the books changed, the German book. We made sure all the supplements still worked with the second edition.

Warlord Games & More! A Talk With John Stallard (& Alessio Cavatore)… Part 3: Bolt Action.

I was recently kindly afforded some of Warlord Games’ head honcho John Stallard’s time. These blog articles are a result of my communications with John and detail the origins of his wargames company as well as some of the background story of the ‘Bossman’ himself. Over the course of the articles, John and Warlord will be featured in detail, as will each of Warlord’s game systems. Featuring the kind contributions of legendary games designer Alessio Cavatore, the focus on this blog piece is Bolt Action.

Written by Alessio Cavatore and Rick Priestley, the award winning Bolt Action is a 28mm scale World War II wargame by Warlord Games. Launched in 2012, Bolt Action Second Edition was released in 2016. Looking to ensure compatibility with previously released Bolt Action publications, the only original Bolt Action book to require an updated release was Armies of Germany. With a product range boasting thousands of items, from model box sets to individual figures, army specific books to campaign supplements, Bolt Action allows complete versatility in constructing both Allied and Axis forces.

John Stallard: I knew there was room for a 28mm World War II wargame, I just knew it in my blood. If 40K can do it then World War II with goodies and baddies can definitely do it. I’d bought the model range for Bolt Action, the miniatures by Paul Hicks and his mate Simon, so I knew we had some great models, I said to my buddy Paul Sawyer, “Look, we’ve got to get this game written.”

With a career spanning two decades, award winning games designer Alessio Cavatore has worked on a vast number of different wargames, RPG’s and respective supplements, from Mordheim, Warhammer 40,000 and Lords of the Rings through to Kings of War and Deus Vult, to name just a few. Having previously worked with Warlord Games’ John Stallard at Games Workshop, Alessio described how he became involved in writing the rules for Warlord Games’ Bolt Action.

Alessio Cavatore: Similar to John, I had recently left (in 2010) Games Workshop. We met and started to talk about a game for World War II, as John and Warlord Games had already acquired the range of Bolt Action miniatures. I’d already worked on Lord of the Rings, Warhammer and Warhammer 40K with Games Workshop. So, we sat down and had a series of meetings. At these early stages it is customary for me to ask a lot of questions, to bombard the client with questions about what they actually want. Because they don’t actually know what they want sometimes, they have a vague idea but nothing more. So we spent many hours talking, I’d ask questions like, “How long do you want the game to last?” “How many models do you want each player to control?” “How many players are involved?” “Are there vehicles?” We ended up with a brief that we, myself and the brass of Warlord, such as John and Paul Sawyer, agreed on.

Once I had a brief to work from, I started on the design phase. The design phase looks at the high-level design work, addressing the points covered in the previous meetings. I then began writing a skeletal version of the rules, based around bullet points. I took these rules back to Warlord, presented them and played some games with people, like Paul Sawyer. There were some things that Warlord loved about the rules, some things that they pushed back against, so we worked until we got to a place which we considered to be the core system. With Bolt Action, two of the most successful parts of the design were the Order dice and the Pin markers.

When working on the initial brief for Bolt Action, it was said that the game had to have somethingsomething physical which would then be identified with the system. At this point, this something was not worked out, we just knew we needed to find it. I’d already asked what type of game they wanted, if they wanted an ‘I go, you go’ system, did they want something with unit activation… So, I came up with the Order dice, something which very much set the game apart from something like Warhammer 40K and other games at the time. The Order dice was ideal, it allows you to know the order of things, randomises which units activate and marks the units that have been activated.

Reading about World War II, I discovered that for every casualty there was an average of a few thousands shots fired. I thought to myself, “OK, suppression is going to play a part in the rules,” because soldiers shot a lot of bullets but not always to kill but because they wanted to keep the enemies’ heads down. So, I came up with the Pin markers. Even though you’re not inflicting any casualties you’re still affecting the enemy, their morale levels, and their ability to do anything. The more Pin markers the unit has, the less likely they are to do what you want them to. The Pin markers and the Order dice were really answers to the questions raised during the initial Bolt Action game briefings.

John Stallard: Alessio has been fantastic. He’s been like a sponge. He certainly hasn’t been one of these “I’m a games writer, don’t you know” types. He’s absolutely open to playing groups and advice, and he’s done a lot of his own research, he piled into it. Rick’s been very good too. Rick’s got an encyclopaedic knowledge of British tanks for a start, which he pretends he hasn’t, but he has. But Alessio is so good at getting feedback and just being involved with the game.

Setting Bolt Action apart from other Warlord game systems such as Black Powder and Hail Caesar, Alessio also described that part of the initial brief for Bolt Action was that the game needed to have a competitive element, requiring a sense of balance that could be used for tournament play.

Alessio Cavatore: We needed the six factions, the British, the Germans, the Japanese, the Russians, the Americans, and the Italians. You develop army lists for all of these nations and then playtest the hell out of things until you find things are reasonably balanced, as much as possible at least. Balance is always arguable when there are a million possibilities in a game, but arguable balance as opposed to being completely wrong is good. I spent a good six months working on all of the different forces. It’s never an easy process to keep things balanced, fortunately I do have a lot of experience though, having done this for Games Workshop for years and then for other people for years with my own company.

Part of the brief for Bolt Action was that it had to be tournament worthy, which games like Black Powder and Hail Caesar are not. Those games are more for gentlemen to enjoy and it doesn’t really matter who wins. I do love those games, playing them with the Perry’s, with John, with Rick, however, they are not designed to have a tournament with them. Warlord wanted something that could be used in competitive play, with points values. This is the longest stage of developing a game, playtesting a game that captures the balance needed.

  • Fun fact… Following his work with Games Workshop’s Lord of the Rings game, Alessio makes a brief cameo appearance in the 2003 film Return of the King.

Bolt Action was the first historical wargame that Alessio worked on. With background stories for fantasy and science fiction universes being something he was much more familiar and used to working with, Bolt Action was a different animal and required a lot of research.

Alessio Cavatore: There was a lot of research involved with Bolt Action, a lot!  I absorbed a lot of information from people like Rick PriestleyJohn Stallard and Paul Sawyer. I also have some books that I referred to. I was especially knowledgeable about the North African conflict and dates as my grandfather and granduncle had served there and I heard their war stories many, many times. When I was young, I’d play games like Afrika Korps by Avalon Hill, I played that game a lot. I’d be playing the game and my granduncle would come into the room and say, “Hmm, I drove a lot on that road, with spitfires chasing my tracks!”

When it came to writing the rules for weapons and things like anti-tank guns, it would be impossible to have specific rules for every single type ever used. Well, you could do that but there would be pages and pages of rules. So, taking anti-tank guns as an example, I said, “There are four types of anti-tank guns; light, medium, heavy and super heavy.” From there I could drop things into the four categories. There would, of course, be times when something could fall into more than one category. “What was the penetration of 75mm ammunition?” The answer, really, is that no-one really knows, because you don’t know when this was produced, was it at the beginning of the war when things were well made or at the end of the war, when perhaps quality was not of the same standard? Did the target have this or that? There were a lot of discussions about weapon stats! Another example would be flamethrowers, because flamethrowers in wargames are lethal, really horrible, horrible things. The truth is, they are horrible, but usually only for someone stuck in a bunker. I’d research how this weapon was used, how flamethrower teams would sneak up on an enemy because out in the open they just be shot. There was the difference between flamethrowers in wargames and the reality of their use in World War II.

John Stallard: Trying to pitch things correctly is difficult because the more informed people will say things like, “You can’t bracket the 76mm and 75mm as the same, do you not know about the density and pressures of the barrels?” Our response is that, we do know, yes, but the difference is so marginal with a six-sided dice system, and as Rick will often say, “Less is often more.”

Alessio Cavatore: I always try to keep things short. The motto of my company (River Horse) is ‘Sophistication through simplicity’, I really , really, really try to keep things as short as possible… At Games WorkshopRick and I worked in many things together, such as Warmaster, Lord of the Rings, Warhammer 40K. I would say that Rick is my sensei.

Never a fan of villains, Alessio explained that in wargames, Bolt Action and otherwise, he always prefers to play the good guys.

Alessio Cavatore: I always play the Americans because my World War II experience came from watching Hollywood movies growing up, and the Americans were always the good guys. Generally in games, I always prefer to play the good guys, I don’t like the bad guys, and of course World War II clearly had good guys and bad guys! I did find one Axis power that I consider, categorically, to be good guys, this was the Finns. They were attacked by the Russians and so the joined the Axis mostly to defend themselves, however when the Nazis asked for the country’s Jews Finland refused. So, I am happy to play those guys.

  • Never signing the Tripartite Pact (held between Germany, Italy and Japan), Finland was never a true member of the Axis powers. It was during conflicts with the Soviet Union that Finland accepted assistance from Germany. Indeed, almost all World War II conflicts for Finland were with the Soviet Union alone. Far smaller than the Soviet Union and lacking much in terms of modern warfare weapons and equipment of the time, Finland achieved remarkable military successes against their Soviet neighbour.

Alessio is someone that enjoys playing games, be it wargames, RPG’s or boardgames, he likes to immerse himself in the experience, and in addition to games being his work they are also his much-loved hobby. While a very active gamer, Alessio has no interest at all in painting models or armies, finding the time required a loss to what could be otherwise spent gaming.

Alessio Cavatore: I play all sorts of games. Bolt Action is something I enjoy playing as a hobby. I play Bolt Action with the Mail Order guys from Warlord sometimes also. This is quite informative for them as I can explain why a particular rule works in a certain way, plus I can get feedback and answer any questions. I play at tournaments and usually get creamed! I now lack the ‘eye of the tiger’! It’s very difficult when you’ve actually written the book for the game to be competitive and harsh. If there’s a question of something being 6” or 6 ½” away, I’m not interested in arguing the point, plus I’m a public figure at these things. The customer is always right! So, I’m a softie at tournaments and rarely win. But I do have lots of fun.

I am not a collector, nor a painter, nor a modeller. I am a gamer. I own a lot of painted models for a lot of different games and different manufacturers, Games WorkshopWarlordMantic. I have a lot of painted armies but have never painted any. I buy painted armies or buy armies and have people paint them for me. I really don’t like painting or modelling. I don’t like spending the time required for this, I prefer gaming. Whenever I’ve tried painting, I’ve just thought to myself, “All this time spent doing this, I could be playing games or reading books, even watching a movie!”

John Stallard: Alessio is an absolutely pleasure to play against, really good fun. But he never used to be! Fifteen years ago he was an absolute git! A complete rules lawyer than held to the exact wording of the rules, regardless of the intended meaning, if the wording said it then it was so. Over the years he’s certainly mellowed though. He’s a wonderful guy to place against these days.

When I’m playing games, I must confess, I am a romantic and find that rules get in the way. I’m the type of person that when playing a game hears the neighing of horses and booming of canons. I enjoy painting the models and researching them, making the tabletop look fantastic and then, if I’m honest, lose interest in a game. When I host games at my house, my role is chief bottle washer, fetcher of beer and wine and maker of sausage sandwiches. I often serve as umpire. If I could have some small children move my pieces around while I sip at my brandy, surveying the battle, that would be ideal!  Plus seeing your finest units marmelised in the first turn, argh! Then, there’s nothing worse that giving your mate a duffing, seeing him not able to role a six to save his life, I just feel sorry him!

I like to watch games and love the banter that goes on during games. General abuse and insulting between players is magnificent and should be encouraged! Like in Brigadier Young’s book ‘Charge’, “Sorry old man, you seem to have lost a Light Brigade,” “You don’t sound very sorry to me,” “No, No, I really am sorry, old chap!”

Alessio explained that game systems are continually developed, often the result of customer feedback and company communications. Changing a system is a risk, though less so if the game is poorly received by players or is fundamentally broken. Immediately popular among historical wargamers, also those disenchanted with game systems from other manufacturers, Bolt Action has a large and still growing following, the decision to release an updated version (Second Edition Bolt Action was released in 2016) came from Warlord’s receptive response to customer/ player interactions.

Alessio Cavatore: The first edition machine guns were not really good enough, so with the Second Edition we tweaked things a little bit. It’s important to listen to the opinions of the players and take on board their points. With each of the supplements I help to edit them also; I take the author’s work, which sometimes has very good adherence to the rules, other times not so much, and then make sure that things actually work. I oversee all the books and supplements. I also keep in touch with the Customer Services guys at Warlord and go through customer questions on Bolt Action, plus I go to tournaments myself and play Bolt Action as a hobby. This means that I can keep an eye out for where improvements can be made and where any grey areas are.

It’s a big risk doing a new edition of a game. It’s a big risk if the game is going well and a lot of people don’t like to see things changed. If a game isn’t going well, it’s less of a risk. If a game is broken, then a new edition is more readily accepted by players. With Bolt Action, I’m pleased to say, the game is going very well and has a lot of support from its players. A drive for a new edition normally comes from a couple of places, one is design; things that you want to tweak as perhaps the community is letting you know of a few things. For example, Second Edition Bolt Action introduced templates for High Explosives, mostly because John Stallard said, “I don’t like when players keep their models so close together,” but writing rules to keep models at least 2” apart could be cumbersome. The solution was not to force players to space out their models, but to convince them that they may want to, given the fact that there are these giant exploding pizzas flying around!

Warlord Games & More! A Talk With John Stallard… Part 4: Cruel Seas.

Released in 2018, Cruel Seas is a 1/ 300 scale (6mm) World War II naval wargame written by Warlord Games’ CEO John Stallard. Offering players the opportunity to lead one of six navies, British, German, Italian, Japanese, American and Russian, this game centres on motor torpedo boats. Borrowing the Order dice system from Warlord Games’ Bolt Action, this exciting game superbly recreates the atmosphere and detail of World War II naval warfare and missions.

Released in 2018, Cruel Seas is a 1/ 300 scale (6mm) World War II naval wargame written by Warlord Games’ CEO John Stallard. Offering players the opportunity to lead one of six navies, British, German, Italian, Japanese, American and Russian, this game centres on motor torpedo boats. Borrowing the Order dice system from Warlord Games’ Bolt Action, this exciting game superbly recreates the atmosphere and detail of World War II naval warfare and missions.

I kept looking for some good wargame rules for motor torpedo boats. But until the last fifteen to twenty years, one of the curses of wargamers, I found that companies either produced fantastic models but had entirely woeful wargames rules, or fantastic rules and woeful models. There was no crossover either because of different scales. Some of the wargames would have these almost microscopic 1/ 1200 scale models, I just thought, “Well, what’s the point of that?”

So, I thought to myself, “I’ll design a game that is just about motor torpedo boats,” because anything bigger than a destroyer is madness. So, I had to be quite strict with myself. Even then when a destroyer comes along, “Look out! Look out! It’s a balrog, run!” With most motor torpedo boats, you just can’t take on destroyers! I also thought that a model needed to be big enough to have a number painted on it, plus a crew, and know if it was a 20mm, 37mm or a 57mm. The people that had previously made motor torpedo boat models had made them so small that they just had sticks for guns. I thought 1/ 300 scale would be perfect for Cruel Seas, you can just make out the crew, the colours, tell if the boat was German or British or whatever.

We stole the movement system from Bolt Action, putting the Order dice in the bag and drawing them out. One of the benefits for Bolt Action players is that this is a system that they’re already familiar with. I put the measures of the game in centimetres instead of inches because the speeds of the boats and ships is very well known, a U-boat was forty-two knots, so forty-two centimetres. A Vosper was thirty-five knots, so thirty-five centimetres.

  • Cruel Seas boxed game, starter set available HERE.
  • The Cruel Seas boxed game, ‘Strike Fast, Strike Hard!’, contains:
  • A4 softback rulebook
  • A4 quick start guide with painting guides and flags
  • 6 x Plastic Vosper Motor Torpedo Boats
  • 4 x plastic E-boats
  • 1 x set of plastic torpedo markers
  • 1 x set of plastic plume markers
  • 1 x A0 double-sided battle mat
  • 3x die-cut punchboards – double sided and full colour (islands, sandbars, rulers, mine markers, game tokens, lighthouse, aircraft, etc)
  • Ship data-cards for Vosper MTBs, E-boats and a merchant ship
  • Wake markers
  • Fleet order chits (Axis and Allies)
  • Set of game dice (D10 & D6)
  • Plus FREE Special Miniature!

With a deep-rooted interest in naval military vessels and combat, coupled with intense research, John described that it was while on a week-long Mediterranean cruise that he penned the rules for Cruel Seas.

John Stallard: My suitcase was so heavy, so full of books, that my nephew had to assist me with it, because I’m an old crip! I was on a week’s holiday with my lovely girlfriend at the time, but there’s only so many ruins you can see in the Mediterranean, “You go see those ruins, I’m just going to pop back to the cabin to do some reading. You go and take the pictures and I’ll see them when you get back,” meanwhile I’m immersing myself in the history of Russian submarines! I loved the research involved for Cruel Seas. I had so many good research books with me, and there are so many really good first-hand accounts. It was clear upon reading these accounts that the conflicts were incredibly tense affairs. Most of the battles took place at night or first light. Quite often it was difficult to identify an enemy vessel. Sometimes members of the same force would collide with each other or open fire on each other. In the end, the best way to identify things was via tracer fire, the Germans used green tracer and the Allies used red tracer.

Enjoyable for both experienced wargames and newcomers alike, typically lasting an hour to an hour and a half, while Cruel Seas can be played as an all-out fight fest if desired, the game contains rules for several gripping scenarios.

John Stallard: There’s usually a scenario, such as Sink The Freighter or Drop The Agent. So, normally the battle is finished when a player reaches an objective rather than everyone dying, which just never happened. Because in World War II a captain’s ship was like his mistress, he loved that ship and his crew more than anything else. He wanted to do what he had to do and then get out of there with his ship and crew intact. Another rule I added to Cruel Seas was that surrender had to be accepted, except if you’re playing the Americans or Japanese, those two were very brutal with each other and rarely took prisoners either side. Even the Russians and Germans had more heart and would rescue survivors, but not the Americans or Japanese.

While fantasy and science fiction wargames have long been the interest of many wargamers, stepping up to the mark, for the past decade Warlord Games have led the way in historical wargaming. John explained the highly successful launch of Cruel Seas.

John Stallard: I said, “Right, lets put a frame of these boats onto each issue of Wargames Illustrated,” it turned out that the issue with the frames sold out faster than any other issue Wargames Illustrated had ever done. It turned out that often people were buying two copies. It was just a fantastic promotion. Of course, wargamers being wargamers, ten percent of people thought, “Hmm, a naval wargame, I’ll give it a go,” but I reckon eighty percent of people who bought the magazine actually put the sprues together and painted them, finding them to look really cool. Once someone sees the kits, puts them together and sees how they look painted, they more often than not look to the Cruel Seas starter set, find that it’s reasonably priced, and give it a go. That’s how the reception was. Just brilliant.

Vosper motor torpedo boats, E-boats, R-boats, trawlers, PT boats and lots more, Warlord Games provide a great range of Cruel Seas plastic and resin kits, all of which are quick and easy to assemble while also finely detailed.

John Stallard: Rachel Green, who heads up our resin department, she started casting these beautiful models. The guy who designed them, Steve Cox, had previously made a lot of the models in Skytrex’s naval range, merchantmen, submarines, landing ships, all wonderful stuff. He made some things for us in plasticard and Rachel transformed them into these wonderful resin pieces with metal guns and things, plus they only need maybe ten minutes to assemble.

You don’t need many ships for Cruel Seas, maybe just six a-side, though of course you can have more than that. We made six navies: British, German, Italian, Japanese, American and Russian. They all play differently. For example, there’s a big difference between Russian motor torpedo boats and German ones. Russian ones were solid and quite slow, German ones were quite meaty. E-boats had an armoured wheelhouse, which was a big advantage when taking hits… Different navies had radars, such as the Germans, British and Americans, the poor old Japanese, Italians and Russians had hardly any radar, until right at the end of the war, poor devils. 

Released in January 2020, Cruel Seas’ supplement Close Quarters was written by experienced wargames rules designer John Lambshead. In addition to eleven new scenarios, Close Quarters covers rules for the Finnish navy and Yugoslav Partisan Fleet, as well as a selection of new ships and rules for aircraft and submarines.

John Stallard: John Lambshead, a lovely chap. He loved the game and played it with his wargaming group down South. What was lovely about the supplement was that he said, “John, I’m not going to change any of the rules because this is a game about motor torpedo boats, I’m going to add a few rules for submarines, a few more extra rules for airstrikes, plus a few extra ships”, such as a Germain helicopter carrier, of which there was one in World War II, used in the Mediterranean. We’ll have that model out in about a month and it looks really cool. The supplement also has a few new scenarios too. It’s a great supplement.

Following Cruel Seas, with Warlord Games being a dynamic wargames company, John explained that a brand-new game is in the pipeline, one that links Cruel Seas, Bolt Action and Blood Red Skies together.

John Stallard: A game written by Alessio Cavatore is lurking in the wings. It will enable you to fight a battle via land, sea and air, encouraging people to fight a seas game with Cruel Seas, an air game with Blood Red Skies and a land game with Bolt Action. A great thing for a club to do. Really cool campaigns. It is a self-contained game too though. We’re not the borg, we won’t force people to play these games!

Warlord Games & More! A Talk With John Stallard (& Steve Morgan)… Part 5: Pike & Shotte.

I was recently kindly afforded some of Warlord Games’ head honcho John Stallard’s time. These blog articles are a result of my communications with John and detail the origins of his wargames company as well as some of the background story of the ‘Bossman’ himself. Over the course of the articles, John and Warlord will be featured in detail, as will each of Warlord’s game systems. Featuring the kind contributions of English Civil War enthusiast and games designer Steve Morgan, the focus on this blog piece is Pike & Shotte.

  • My review of Pike & Shotte: For King & Country can be found HERE.

Penned by Steve Morgan, with assistance from games designer extraordinaire Rick Priestley, and released in 2012, Pike & Shotte by Warlord Games is a set of wargame rules that cover the Tudor Wars, the Thirty Years War, and English Civil Wars. Following Bolt Action (by Alessio Cavatore and Rick Priestley) and Black Powder (by Rick Priestley), Pike & Shotte was Warlord Games’ third games system, and as such, has become well established within the historical wargames world.

Pike & Shotte: For King & Country contains 1 x full-colour 208-page hardback Pike & Shotte rulebook and 82 x multi-pose, hard plastic 28mm miniatures (58 x pike and musket including command, 12 x Cavalry and 12 x infantry with firelocks). Available from Warlord Games HERE.

John Stallard: Steve Morgan, my lovely Sales Manager, ex-Games Workshop, he has a passion for the English Civil War. Like myself, he was in the Sealed Knots for years and years and has a penchant for long sticks and muskets. He said, “I could write you an English Civil War supplement.” I had written some rules for this period of time some years previously for Warhammer Historical (English Civil War, 2002), it did pretty well, there were a number of reprints of the book. But when Steve said he could write this system he was interested in, I told him to go for it and he came up with Pike & Shotte. It uses the Black Powder system, making the rules a little staid as 17th century battles were somewhat choreographed. So, Steve wrote Pike & Shotte for us and it has been a mainstay in the Warlord Games catalogue ever since.

  • Released as part of the now defunct Games Workshop-associated Warhammer Historical range, English Civil War was designed and developed by John Stallard with “invaluable assistance” from Jervis Johnson and Rick Priestley. Play testers for the game included Mark Renje, Richard Curren, and Steve Morgan.

An ardent English Civil War reenactor, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of warfare for this period, I asked Steve to tell me a little about his background, where he grew up, and how he came to discover the model and wargaming hobby.

Steve Morgan: I was born and grew up on the Powys/ Shropshire border (near Oswestry) in the Welsh Marches. It’s a beautiful part of the world and I guess it was pretty natural to be drawn to history as you are surrounded by castles and battlefield sites (even the small village I grew up in had a castle ruin, helpfully remodelled by Owain Glyndwr). 

My first model was the HMS Royal Sovereign, which I’m sure was a way for my parents to shut up a hyperactive nine year old, and this really laid the foundation for model collecting (the Vasa kit was to follow shortly afterwards, which was a pretty brutal learning curve).

Airfix planes led to Airfix toy soldiers, and by the age of eleven I was lured into fantasy models with the picture of a Dragon on the front of a catalogue, this was my first exposure to Games Workshop. Warhammer Fantasy was launched soon after (first edition) and that was really the start of miniature collecting. With some friends we started adapting the rules to play ECW games using whatever miniatures we could get our hands on, and whatever scale. By college I was a signed up Pikemen in Col. Richard Bagot’s Regiment of Foote in the Sealed Knot.

University brought me to Nottingham, and my hobby became my job as I then spent the best part of 18 years at Games Workshop. After a time living in the USA, I joined Warlord Games as it was just starting out, and the rest is (as they say) history.

Vasa: Swedish Regal Ship. Copyright: Revell.

Steve explained that as much as he enjoys painting his models, he is primarily games focussed, finding that if left to his own resources his figures may not make it to the tabletop.

Steve: I’m very much a researcher/ planner first, gamer second and painter a firm third. I can paint pretty well, but it takes a long time to get stuff on the table. My solution now is to paint a unit or two and then pass them to a professional painter with the guide of “can you make them look roughly like this.” I have at least five projects on my painting table at one time, currently Blood Red Skies planes are the thing, although my constant is an ECW early Parliament army that is of pretty epic proportions (but I have been at it for 30 years). Gaming tends to be weekly (or was until the last few months).

Historical gaming has always been my first love, then fantasy and sci-fi is something I drop into enthusiastically now and then. I honestly can’t remember when I caught the ECW bug, but it was at an early age as I can remember rushing around Montgomery trying to stave off a Roundhead assault by my equally imaginative friends. The Thirty Years War only became an interest at University when I discovered the wonders of travel, languages, and serious book collections.

  • Running from 1642 – 1651, the English Civil War was a series of conflicts and political stratagems between the Parliamentarians and Royalists (often referred to as the Roundheads and Cavaliers, respectively). The Royalists supported King Charles I, and then King Charles II, while the Parliamentarians, led by Robert Devereaux, Thomas Fairfax, and Oliver Cromwell, fought for Parliament and to end the monarchy’s position of ‘divine rule of kings’. Consequently, removing the monarchy from power, the Parliamentarians achieved victory; King Charles I was executed, and King Charles II stepped down. King Charles II went into exile for a very brief period before reclaiming his position and reintroducing the rule of the monarchy in 1660 (with his coronation taking place in 1661), though only with the consent of Parliament.

I asked Steve to describe a little of how the rules for Pike & Shotte were developed, how playtesting the system was, and whether he had any favourite aspects of the game. I also asked about any regular tournaments for the game.

Steve: The nuts and bolts of Pike & Shotte had been something I had been working on for over a decade, and then when Rick Priestley delivered Black Powder to Warlord Games it seemed a natural process to mould what I had been working on with Rick’s rules (after all, he is very good). This meant that Pike & Shotte became part of the Black Powder family of games really. I had thought a supplement for Black Powder would work but Rick pointed out that the scale of what was being done needed its own stand-alone game. Serious writing and playtesting was over about three years, and I certainly took a load of flak from the guys in the Warlord studio department about the time it took.

The playtesting process was actually great fun, and I received a huge amount of help from a number of gaming clubs/ groups trying out different things. This process finally resolved the thorny issue of whether pike and musket elements could be fielded separately and the decision to go down this path was very much to let the players decide how ‘historically accurate’ they wanted to be with their tactics in the game (ie. the ability to overload on pike, or create ‘Swedish’ formations etc.). This remains a keen divide among players of this period, which is why we added optional rules to field combined elements and pike and musket armed troops.

Pike and Shotte covers:

Favourite parts of the game – tough one. Just putting the game together and playing a wide range of games from the Italian Wars right through to end of the 17th century and creating bespoke rules to enable this was great fun. I really liked progressing the rules through the periods so that the armies featured towards the latter part of the book (and period) have a feel of evolving into the Black Powder period (and rules) which was important for conflicts such as The Great Northern War which officially fall in the Black Powder era, but can be dealt with using Pike & Shotte.

It was my first set of rules. I have helped with the playtesting of a number of games (such as Bolt Action) but the task of writing a ruleset was such an involved (and time consuming) project I could imagine doing it for periods about which I am passionate about. I have been dabbling with a skirmish game covering the same period, but also trying to adapt it for the 18th century, as I do have a massive interest in the French Indian War (being married to a Canadian and being lucky enough to visit many of the sites will do this). We will see where that goes 

No specific regular events, as it was never designed as a ‘tournament’ game. I do try to get to events put on by stores that carry the range, and these are a wonderful way to pass a weekend, especially when really ambitious projects are attempted. I’m probably biased, but I cannot think of a period of history where the armies on the table look quite so magnificent (cue outrage from gamers of all periods).

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Official website for River Horse HERE.

Official River Horse Facebook page HERE.

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