Our last interview featured Greg from Agema miniatures and his line of superb 28mm ancient Romans and Carthaginians. This time we skip a thousand years and talk to the team behind Gripping Beast miniatures about hardy Vikings, SAGA the game, poster fame in Germany and exciting new projects.
Gripping Beast is a UK-based company that started out with 28mm Viking and Dark Age miniatures to go with Warhammer Ancient Battles in the days of yore, but quickly expanded into new periods and game systems, most importantly SAGA and JUGULA.
They offer an impressive catalogue featuring Late Romans and their enemies such as the Huns and Sassanids, Vikings galore, Arthurian ranges that gladly have nothing to do with the ‘First Knight’, Crusaders and the Armies of Islam, Mongols and Timurids, Polemarch Successors, Gladiators, the Byzantines and their enemies and finally an eclectic selection of livestock, featuring also more exotic stuff such as camels and highland cattle.
It comes as no surprise that the Gripping Beast ranges and SAGA are closely intertwined as they complement the books released so far and allow to build Viking warbands, Crusader forces and Byzantine tagmata. If SAGA does not ring a bell have a look at Viv’s video series below that shows you the ropes.
But onwards to the interview. The chaps at Gripping Beast were kind enough to satisfy my curiosity and came up with some very interesting anecdotes and stories:
D&B: Tell us about the team behind Gripping Beast. How did you guys find each other and how did you get into the miniature business?
GB: Gripping Beast has enjoyed the glorious spiritual leadership of Lord S since 2000 and he operates mostly from his club in London. The day-to-day running of the company at Beast Towers (our workshop in Evesham) is handled by Darren Beast, Martin and Andy. Darren has been here since 2000 and oversees the design, manufacturing and distribution. Martin runs the business management side of things and joined a few years ago when the company grew quite dramatically. Martin is also an accomplished Rules Writer (for example, he wrote WAB 2 for Warhammer Historical) and has just finished a new set of mass battle rules for publication in the autumn. Andy does marketing, graphic design and web ‘stuff’ (or ‘pretend’ work as Martin and Darren call it). He is also responsible for SAGA, working closely with Alex at Studio Tomahawk (who created SAGA) and he also provides the workshop with much-needed glamour.
Roger runs Casting – we have three machines – and he is a stickler for quality. Amongst his industry colleagues he is widely considered one of the top casters but then casters are an odd bunch.
D&B: Can you tell my readers a fun fact about you or your colleagues nobody would guess?
GB: Unbelievably, a black and white photo of Darren was once the best-selling poster in Germany.
D&B: How did you come up with the name Gripping Beast?
A Gripping Beast is a feature of early Viking artwork from the Osberg period; an animal whose paws/claws grip the border that surrounds it. When GB started, the first ranges were of early Vikings and so the name seemed only natural.
D&B: Gripping Beast is well established in the market and goes back some time. How does the vision you had for the company when you started out differ from the current one?
GB: When we first started we were sculptor driven. By that I mean we produced figures that the sculptors were interested in doing and this is a ‘good thing’ in that figures are always better if the sculptor wants to do them and is enjoying themselves.
We pride ourselves in producing historical ranges that were as complete as possible (all major troop types, most minor troop types and supporting packs such as civilians).
We are avid gamers and strong supporters of our hobby and this put us in an excellent position when the first ‘explosion’ happened in our business – the emergence of Warhammer Ancient Battles. We were very closely associated with WAB and worked with the authors of the supplements to ensure they had the figures they needed. As a result, you can see our ranges in most of the WAB books and our business really took off. With the unfortunate demise of WAB, our business was also affected and we realised that to get back on track, we needed to find another system to promote and support – no longer could we just make ranges and hope people would be interested in them as much as we were. At this point in time, it was to our supreme fortune that long-term chum of Lord S, Alex Buchel arrived with SAGA. Time for the second ‘explosion’.
Now we primarily produce figures to support SAGA along with books, accessories, dice etc. and there is much more branding and marketing – things we knew nothing about when we started!
All this is a long-winded way of saying that we originally started out making ranges of figures for no real reason other than we liked them and have ended up very much supporting specific systems. That’s not to say that we don’t produce ranges just because we can, but we have to have a much more commercial focus these days.
D&B: Looking at your ranges it is clear that your team loves the Dark Ages and all things Viking. How did this come about?
GB: Love of the Dark Ages is what unites everyone at Beast Towers and the original GB Pioneers, the Patten Brothers, kicked the whole thing off with Dark Age figures for use in their own Viking skirmish game based on the Icelandic Sagas – funny how things go around in giant circles, like Jormagund.
D&B: Tell me about the single best experience you had at a trades show.
GB: Undoubtedly the best thing at a Trade Show is introducing people to SAGA. That moment when you take them through the first turn and then see the penny drop as they get it … turn two and they are hooked!
D&B: What do you think is needed to attract a more diverse group of people to historical miniature games?
GB: Difficult question. ‘Gateway’ products are probably useful – by that I mean wargames that people might not see as wargames, for example, games based on popular TV and film franchises. The trick is then to persuade them into historical rather than fantasy or sci-fi gaming.
With SAGA we have tried to have good shelf appeal with nice boxes and packaging – an area which Historicals have tended to leave to their Sci-Fi and Fantasy cousins. SAGA also scores in that the start-up costs to new players are quite low. We have quite a few new players who have come from Sci-Fi and Fantasy, attracted by the presentation and low start-up costs, especially with the new plastic starter warbands.
D&B: What is or was the most challenging thing you encountered on your journey as a miniature entrepreneur?
GB: By far the most challenging aspect of the Historical business is that the profit margins are very low, especially when compared to Sci-Fi and Fantasy companies. This means that there is very little to plough back into developing new games, nice packaging, supporting organised play networks – all the things that would help the hobby grow.
D&B: Being a successful entrepreneur do you have some advice for people who want to get into the gaming business?
GB: Make sure you get all your costings right and be realistic about potential sales. You will need a good web-presence and web-store to back it up. If you want to get your product into shops, you will need a strong brand and good packaging – shop space is limited and they will only take what they think they can sell. Give them a reason to stock your stuff! It’s quite difficult to get new brands into shops.
If you decide to use Kickstarter, make sure you are aware of the pitfalls, don’t over-commit and make sure you can actually deliver if it is a raging success. Also, it is very hard to make a living when you start so make sure you can do it and hold down a day-job!
D&B: You have a time machine and can visit any period of human history for a week. Where do you take your vacation and why?
GB: Easy – 1066, October. I would go to Hastings and see how on earth Harold managed to lose. If you could make it a bit longer, I’d like to have from 24th September (the day before Stamford Bridge so I could be there for Harold’s great victory and learn the truth behind the story of the lone Viking on the bridge) and then join the Huscarls on their epic march south to Hastings.
No better way to end an interview with a glorious march! I would like to thank the guys at Gripping Beast for their time and in-depth answers to my questions. I think it becomes clear that this company is working hard to provide excellent miniatures and rules for the wargaming community, while being crazy and passionate about their products.
Until next time and wield your brush with honor!