Behind The Board Games: John Stallard Of Warlord Games

July 4, 2019 by dracs

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John Stallard is the CEO, and minister for fun, at Warlord Games based in the holy city of Nottingham. Born in Cardiff, survived five years in Glasgow, and thence to rural Worcestershire, he can be found, if not painting or gaming, in the various pubs and innumerable curry houses that surround his house near the castle.

A staunch Royalist in persuasion, and can bore for England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland (and does) on many history topics, especially of a WWII or English Civil War nature. You have been warned.

Sam: How did you first get started with tabletop gaming? What did the hobby look like at that point? 

John: Well, I was obsessed with model soldiers by five years old really... 54mm Timpo plastics and Britains. They did all manner of stuff, but my favourites were cowboys and Indians and US cavalry. Also some splendid Crusaders, not considered PC now of course. All of the above were pose-able and had separate weapons and were, to a degree, pre-painted.

My father went away on business one week and had ordered eight hundred weight of sand for a building project. The delivery lorry arrived when he was away and by mistake poured eight tons of sand onto the pavement outside our house. My poor old mum moved it all with a wheel barrow into our drive way, not realising the mistake. Hilarious story, however it gave me a HUGE sand table to play with all my cowboys and crusaders, and later French Foreign Legion and Arabs.

The mighty Airfix then came producing excellent and cheap troops in 20mm and in 1/32 scale and that was it, I was hooked and bought every box of soldiers they ever made, starting with their WWII Japanese, as they were available to a young boy's pocket money of two shillings... And lots more for Christmas!

Setting up armies and knocking them down with thrown Lego bricks satisfied me for three years. Then I discovered books on wargaming in the library... Charge! by Brigadier Peter Young, Wargaming by Don Featherstone, Napoleonic Wargaming by Bruce Quarrie, and the Airfix sets of rules. This was at about eleven years of age... er, forty-six years ago!!

Wargaming was not popular and if you played with toy soldiers at school you would get a booting from the class bully or the form above...... It was character building, however....

I joined a club which still meets, The Friends Of General Hague In Worcester, same lads same gags and some of the same armies!!

I then went to college to study Psychology. That was a bit of a disaster; too much time playing D&D into the night rather than working...... An expensive education wasted!

S: You had a long and storied career at Games Workshop. Can you tell us a bit about how that started and what was your experience like?

J: I applied to Citadel miniatures in Newark and joined as a keen, but humble, mail order troll. It was fab, as it was a small but friendly firm, long before Games Workshop and Citadel merged into its now mighty form. I worked there for about twenty-five years and had a wonderful time learning lots about how to make cool miniatures and games and how businesses are run, two thing GW are still excellent at. I went on the road as a rep, ran mail order, was Head of Trade Sales, then opened a huge amount of GW stores world wide and became Sales Director. All great fun, if challenging as we all were making it up as we went along. There was no one else to follow.

GW instilled into me hard work, quality, honesty, quality, customer service and did I say quality? I owe them much.

S: How did Warlord Games come to be?

J: All good things come to an end, however, and eleven years ago I was made redundant in a re-shuffle. It felt wretched after being there so long, but that's the way the world is..

I thought of opening a restaurant and putting my customer service ethos to use, but I bumped into Paul Sawyer, whom some of you will know was White Dwarf editor.

We went for tea and toast and we came up with the idea of using our redundancy money to plough into a plastic set of 28mm Romans, which would have been the first hard plastic 28mm models in the world!! (We didn't know that the awesome Perry twins were secretly doing the same thing, but with American Civil War models!).

I got the amazing Bob Naismith to sculpt some Romans for me and Renedra, old mates from GW days, to make the steel tools, and four months later and a fortune invested in the tools, we had a fab Roman boxed set ready to roll. Would they sell, however? The answer is yes, and we still sell them today. Huzzah!!

S: Did you plan to create games to go with the miniatures from the start, or was that something that came along later? 

J: We originally wanted to do rules sets as that was Paul's background, but we did models first as it turned out. The amazing Rick Priestley, my old mate, offered Warlord a new game which Jervis Johnson of GW had developed in his spare time, an innovative game for horse and musket period called Black Powder.

He sold it to us for a curry and one shiny pound... He is a nice man... And the rest is history. Hail Caesar followed, then the mighty Bolt Action WWII game.

S: What were some of the early challenges you faced starting out? How do they compare to the challenges you face as a company now?

J: To anyone starting up a company, the greatest problem you will face I guarantee, other than having a good idea, is cash flow. Running out of cash kills 75% of small businesses.

Thus you have to live within your means and take a hit for month after month, indeed for years before you get a return. It is hard work, but hey, no one said it would be easy.

Get To Work!

Get a great right hand man / woman (mine was Paul) and, whilst you are about it, get a GREAT accountant. Not an expensive one, what you can afford. They are there to serve your business and ensure that the numbers stack up. Terribly dull, but vital.

Having fun is also vital. I really, really love coming to work still as all I have to do is make fabulous games and soldiers and sell them to nice people who really desire them. Repeat every day. There are many cracking little companies out there who make great games and rules, and more open each month. That is a good thing for the hobby, competition sharpens you up and keeps you on your toes.

S: Having worked on historical games both at Games Workshop and Warlord, how do you make sure your games stand out? 

J: I had the idea that when we did our models and our games that we would be at a "touching point" where Games Workshop meets Airfix. All of our models are dynamic, action poses, men who are doing something heroic, not standing idly by with a standard pose in a dull fashion. Some gamers don't like that (and our mould makers hate it), but it's our signature look and we have done well the last eleven years with that style and approach. We spend a huge amount on excellent artwork too and illustrations, whilst we also fill our rule books with gloriously photographed model soldier lay outs, a picture paints a thousand words etc. etc.

S: What do you feel is most important for a game to succeed, either as a product or as a fun experience?

J: All our games are simple, deliberately so. There was a period in the 70s and 80s where wargames rules became very, very dull and a degree in mathematics was required to play a game that in the end was no more realistic than a simpler game. It's the same in chess. Chess is a simple game, but impossible to master. Our emphasis is on having a fun game, that is not too competitive, unless you wish it to be. Its a warGAME for pete's sake. Always act as a gent, what goes round comes round.

We also give great value. If you look at all our starter sets you will see that they are a bargain and a no-brainer to try them out. As our reputation grows, we can do some wackier ideas. Case in point, the release last year of Cruel Seas, a tabletop motor torpedo boat game of WWII, which on the face of it seems a bit, well, special. However, we kept the rules simple, made some fabulous little boats and packaged it up, crammed with kit that we sold out twice in three months! Build it and they will come...

S: You’ve said before that you are particularly interested in the English Civil War. What draws you to this time, and is it one that you think particularly lends itself to tabletop gaming?

J: The second range of models we did was a large English Civil War range, a period I have always enjoyed reading about . In fact, I spent thirty years of my life re-enacting the battles in the Sealed Knot and English Civil War society; thirty years of the bestest times, legal thuggery, and a great bunch of friends... happy days... We realised that we could, and should, do ECW before anyone else came in and did it, so Bob Naismith designed horse and foot and before long we had Royalist and Parliament boxed sets in plastic and a host of metal models to support them. We even had written a supplement to Black Powder - Pike and Shotte, a great looking book written by our sales manager Steve Morgan, another re-enacter (a goody like me), and it works well also for Thirty Years War battles too.

S: Are there any other periods of history you would like to explore that Warlord hasn’t already covered?

J: Warlord cover pretty much all periods, and the good news is that history is being made every day, so there is plenty to go at! We do ancient Egyptians right through to the Korean War which we just released! Couple that with a splendid Antares sci-fi game and you can see the mainstream appeal of our ranges. As icing on the cake, we also have licences for Doctor Who and Judge Dredd, with lots more to come.

S: What are your hopes and plans for Warlord moving forward?

Rest assured that we have great plans for the future. Paul is always working three years ahead on the project planning, and we also have plans to revisit some of our early boxed sets, as we think that we could do a lot better now that we have learnt more, and have a little money in the back to invest for the future.

So if you want to keep up to speed just go to our website and take a look, there will be something for you I can assure you. Click on and join our newsletter to get updated for free twice a week.

Thanks to all the Beasty Boys viewers and to the Beasty Boys themselves.

Best wishes, John Stallard, Boss of Warlord Games.

What is your favourite game from Warlord? 

"Rick Priestley sold Black Powder to us for a curry and one shiny pound... He is a nice man."

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