July 1, 2015 by crew
It started out, as so many things do, as a conversation in a pub. Two seasoned wargamers, with houses full of models and scratch built kit, decided to see if they could make some terrain to sell…
We had recently helped to run a public exhibition game, based on D-Day, which had given us the perfect excuse to make beach defences, entrenchments, pillboxes and the like, and the enthusiasm shown for our stuff made us realise that we had something good. So, we started to investigate setting up a small wargaming terrain business.
The Story Begin
Before talking about the ins and outs of setting up a gaming business, here’s a bit about our journey through gaming to reach that point.
Sean grew up in Glastonbury, Somerset. His first steps in wargaming were playing North & South on the Amiga. This inspired him to make a simple gaming board with a river running through it and a bridge crossing, buying in Citadel models to make up his own games. Sean’s father was an art teacher, and they spent much time together working on models and scratch building all kinds of battlefield terrain.
At college Sean studied art and design, and went on to take a degree in graphic design with advertising.
Nic’s wargaming career began when he was four, with 56mm plastic WW2 soldiers (grey Germans and green British) being hidden around the back garden, arranging ambushes on passing Action Man tanks. He soon graduated onto tape measures and dice when his big brother put the models onto a table tennis table and needed someone to play against.
A steady progression of other games happened through childhood and teenage years, giving Nic a broad grounding in a wide range of genres and rules systems. After university Nic moved to Somerset, and after various project and managerial jobs gave up the cosy world of steady employment to bring up his kids, supplementing his income by running an online store selling collectable childrens books.
We met through LARP (Live Action Roleplaying), running around a forest dressed as Viking warriors. Realising we lived close to each other we got talking and found out we were both wargamers then started to meet regularly to push tanks round a board. Through friends who worked at the Museum of Somerset, which also hosts the Somerset Light Infantry’s Military Museum, we were asked if we would help at a Father’s Day event by running an exhibition wargame.
This was in the summer of 2014, and the event was seventy years after D-Day, so our imaginations were filled with infantry sprinting across the open beaches, dug-in machine gun nests, airborne assaults, Churchill Crocodile tanks spewing flames everywhere and Panzers rolling in from reserve.
The exhibition was a great success, with hundreds of visitors seeing a big game in action, and the 4′ by 12′ board being in keeping with the museum’s collection of cannons, Victoria Crosses and looted Nazi memorabilia.
The response to the exhibition helped us to see that the things that we made were good quality and appreciated by a wider audience. So, one night in the pub (after a long day at Sean’s stag do at the Bovington Tank Museum, but that’s a different story) we decided to experiment with making terrain to sell.
The Terrain Building Begins
Much of the terrain we had made had been scratch built, made from polyfilla, sand, bits of stick found in the park, stuff salvaged from the recyling bin and so on. We knew that this was fine for our own use, but anything for public sale would need to be more resilient and easily replicable. We knew in our minds the sort of thing that we wanted to use, and we started by investigating resin casting.
Having never made moulds before we decided to start simple and made a dry stone wall. The original was made from small stones glued together mounted on a base of card, plaster and sand. When the first resin casting came out of the mould it look like a Rice Krispies bar, but once painted it looked awesome.
The advantage of resin casting is being able to turn out lots of pieces all looking the same and all having real strength and durability. The downside is spilling liquid resin on kitchen surfaces and staining them with nasty brown splodges (with ensuing questioning from one’s other half). Soon we were adding different sections to our walls (gate sections, corners, T-junctions), and our games had so many drystone walls that they started to resemble the Yorkshire Dales.
Pieces we had made specifically for our D-Day boards found themselves being moulded, and soon we had HMG nests and trenches in our repertoire.
As well as the resin cast terrain we also worked on 2′ by 2′ gaming boards, made in 9mm MDF, sealed, textured, painted and flocked. These can be used to make different styles of gaming table, usually 4′ square or 4′ by 6′, and we have tried out different styles, such as a standard grass, grey sci-fi moonscape and a desert board.
At first we started to sell our stock through local contacts – friends who played and people at the local gaming club. The next step, drawing on Nic’s experience of selling online, was to selling through Ebay. Ebay has been great for letting people know what we have on offer, but the fees do cut into the profit margins.
In the run up to Christmas 2014 our terrain and boards found their way online, and with some healthy sales and positive feedback we felt we were heading in the right direction.
Moving into 2015 we went through a lot of the boring stuff of setting up a business – bank accounts, admin systems, partnership agreements, and so forth. We also set about designing an ecommerce website, with Sean’s photography skills being used to show the products in use. This has provided us with an excuse to play a few battles during “work” time. It’s a hard life!
A website needed a domain name (www.reddragongaming.co.uk), so we needed to call ourselves something. Living in Somerset we decided on Red Dragon Gaming –“Red Dragon” coming from the County’s flag, and “Gaming” being broad enough to cover a range of possibilities if we ever wanted to branch out from our current niche of wargaming terrain.
With the website going live in March, our next focus was meeting customers in the flesh at a nearby wargames fair. Exeter Legionary was taking place in May, and being less than an hours drive away gave us the chance to put our stuff in front of the public and see what they thought. And sales were good, so we must be doing something right.
To drum up extra interest Nic wore some of his LARP chainmail, while Sean donned a US army helmet (somehow acquired during the infamous stag do at Bovington). For a bit of extra branding we put a Somerset flag with a nice Red Dragon on it in front of the stall, although it made some people think we were Welsh.
Meeting the public at Legionary was valuable, as was the chance to talk to other traders and games manufacturers, giving an insight into the hobby that we rarely saw as players.
Looking ahead we have plenty of projects to develop Red Dragon Gaming. We have been asked by d6lair (www.d6lair.co.uk), a new company in Nottingham looking to develop a tournament scene, to help kit out a large number of gaming tables. They will soon be holding their first 40K tournament, with participants guaranteed five games over a weekend, and with the standards they are looking for in their tables and terrain we reckon players will have a great time.
We are also looking to develop a Kickstarter project around our popular trench systems, which operate at both 15mm and 28mm scale and work for a range of genres. We will be running this throughout September, and if successful we will have everything made, painted and delivered by December. We are also looking to offer special deals to gaming clubs, and provide unpainted resin models to hobby shops – if anyone out there is interested, please get in touch!
So, one year on from that fateful night in the pub, what are the main lessons we have learned? First, getting something started takes a broad range of skills and perseverance. We were fortunate to be able to combine Sean’s artistic and design skills with Nic’s online business experience, left to our own devices we wouldn’t have been able to reach the point that we have.
Second, we have seen the benefit of aiming high and making a product that is as good as we can manage it, offering great terrain which is ready to use. Our guiding principle is to only make terrain that we would be happy to use ourselves. Laying out a proper battleboard and putting specially designed and painted terrain really improves the gaming experience.
It’s strange that some gamers spend huge amounts of time and money collecting and painting an army, and then play on a wrinkled green tablecloth with little or no terrain, giving no realism or atmosphere. Third, we have seen that it’s really important to talk to all kinds of people in the hobby.
We are all into wargaming because we love it, so talking to people who share that passion, and learning about their ideas and what excites them about gaming is key to keep moving forward.
Website: Red Dragon Gaming
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"It started out, as so many things do, as a conversation in a pub..."
"We are all into wargaming because we love it, so talking to people who share that passion, and learning about their ideas and what excites them about gaming is key to keep moving forward..."