Mantic Games. The name should sound familiar by now for anyone who’s into the hobby of collecting, painting and (or) playing miniature games and wargames as by now Mantic is the powerhouse behind not one, but six very successful crowdfunding campaigns on Kickstarter.
Kings of War; Dreadball; Deadzone; Loka (which is the pet project of Alessio Cavatore); Mars Attacks and Dreadball Xtreme have all proven to be very popular games which backed by thousands of gamers and miniature collectors all over the world have allowed the British company to amass the incredible combined sum of U$ 3.538.467,00 (three million five hundred and thirty eight thousand, four hundred and sixty seven dollars) through its crowdfunding campaigns and with plans for more game campaigns on Kickstarter soon, Mantic Games is eager to deliver more and they sure know how to please their fans, with lots of added value being the norm for their campaigns.
But those of you who have been in the hobby for a while longer might remember Mantic as the one time “Ugly Duckling” in the wargaming business.
Founded in December 2008 by Ronnie Renton, a former employee from Games Workshop (where he held the positions of Managing Director UK, Germany and Northern Europe for 11 years and Global Marketing Director for another four) Mantic Games made its debut in the wargaming business offering a small selection of fantasy miniatures from classic races such as the ubiquitous Orcs, Undead, Elves and Dwarves sold under the “Building Big Armies” motto.
Back then that motto was a pretty clear shout against the miniature gaming business giant, which could be read a lot like “our models are cheaper than GW’s, so buy ours to play Warhammer” and that’s exactly what a lot of people started doing, using Mantic’s models as a way of building fantasy armies on the cheap.
So how does one company goes from the ugly duckling to the swan it is today, from a company seen only as a cheaper brand of models into one of the leading companies in the wargaming and miniature business, with brilliant original IP in the form of their brand new Dreadball and Deadzone franchises and renewed Kings of War?
Decided to find out the reasons for myself I came up with the idea of stopping by Mantic Games while visiting Nottingham, so I did what any reasonable chap should do, I picked up the phone and rang them asking if I could stop by for a visit.
The phone was answered by a very amicable fellow named Andrew Whelan who not only said yes to my request but also seemed genuinely interested to have me over for a visit, so I departed Brazil full of expectations about visiting them, but also having absolutely no idea about what laid ahead or what to expect about it.
I got to Nottingham early on a Monday afternoon after the train I had been on got delayed for an hour or two using the rest of that day for some sightseeing and for a quick stop I’ll talk about in the future, but my second day there would be devoted to Mantic and whatever they had in store for me.
Knowing about my visit beforehand I did do some research before boarding the tram towards Bulwell, a small town in the outskirts of Nottingham whose name might have had something to do with a bull and a well and where Mantic had its headquarters, and kept pondering about what I had uncovered about the company up to that point.
Apparently Mantic owed its existence to Ronnie Renton’s lifelong interest in toy soldiers and his long term career inside Games Workshop. After 15 years working there he had probably gone as far as he’d be able to inside the company and apparently he felt there was a different angle to miniature business from the one GW has been pursuing (and still is), especially when it came to pricing, one angle he was keen on pursuing.
And that’s how Ronnie left his position (and probably all the comforts it entitled) as one of the directors of a multi millionaire company to found a small gaming company. I believe Mantic had a few rough years to begin with, and here I’m speculating based solely on my personal experience and memory. Yes, their prices were certainly good (almost too good to believe at) and couldn’t even compare to what GW was charging back in the day, but at the time their models didn’t appeal to me. I honestly found their miniatures wanting.
Perhaps I was too judgmental back then, but you’ll probably agree with me that they had stiff competition in whatever GW was putting out on the market back then (one doesn’t get to be the top dog in the business out of the blue), and to be brutally honest I found Mantic’s old models ugly and lacking detail when compared to the models I was used to, however their prices were indeed unrivalled and a lot of people were willing to overlook the model’s looks for the sake of building their armies.
Of course you could have a go at Mantic’s Kings of War and Warpath, the company’s answer to GW’s Warhammer and Warhammer 40.000 respectively, but some believed those sets of rules existed only to justify the company’s miniature line, and a lot of people were really purchasing Mantic’s models in order to play GW’s games, and who’s blaming them? Mantic suddenly offered us pieces to play “skaven in space” in the form of their Veer-Myn, cheap orc armies (either in their classic fantasy guise or sci-fi ones, called Marauders in Mantic’s version), variant models for our Imperial Guard in the dreaded Corporation and they even offered the long demised Squats a new chance in the 40K universe in the form of their Forge Fathers line, in the end Mantic was offering something we didn’t have much of, and that was choice, being able to pick my models for my games from another company, however they seemed doomed to a destiny of providing alternative models for other companies’ games, at least until Kickstarter came along.
By then my journey to Bulwell was at an end and I was surprised to arrive not at thriving business center full of offices and white collar workers everywhere (as in my mind that’s the kind of place a big company should be), but at a surprisingly small British town, with people going about their daily businesses. I gave Andrew a call letting him know I had arrived and sat outside on a nearby pub savouring a little bit of sunshine and the local atmosphere but all I kept thinking about was my imminent visit to Mantic and Kickstarter.
I kept thinking that a company that made millions having successfully funded 5 games with resounding success at the time of my visit (back then Dreadball Extreme was still in development) was out of place in a small town such as Bulwell. By all rights their Headquarters should by right next to GW’s with a pair of huge statues depicting Orcy and Fisty Glue Man in front of it, back in Nottingham.
I was spirited out of my reverie by Andrew’s prompt arrival. Apparently Mantic’s HQ was within walking distance, so we made our way there chatting and 5 minutes later we arrived at Mantic Games, and to my surprise Mantic didn’t have a huge headquarters. Instead it occupied an unnoticeable two storey office/warehouse a couple of streets away from the tram station. There were no statues, no big signs loudly proclaiming to the world they were there. You could walk by a thousand times without ever noticing a gaming company was located there.
I must admit I was intrigued by then. I kept thinking “where did the millions go?” as I went through the front doors to find a much different company inside. To my understanding Ronnie hasn’t bought a manse yet, nor is he driving a Ferrari to work.
If from the outside Mantic was unremarkable, from the inside the company was abuzz with activity. Andrew was kind enough to show me each of Mantic’s offices and departments so I got to see a little bit of the inner workings of a miniature company, and from the warehouse, to the games design room, from the guy casting models to the one painting models on the second floor, including the people packing orders, all I found were people busy about the miniature creation, producing and selling process witnessing first hand their commitment to the company and to producing and delivering the company’s games.
After visiting the company and hearing a bit about its inner workings, plans and history I had some time to peruse the miniature cabinets and take the photographs that illustrate this article and that’s when I got hit by the first reason I believe responsible for Mantic’s transformation from ugly duckling into swan, and that’s the creation of their own identity. If at first Mantic had been an alternative to some other companies’ games there was a moment were they came up with something unique which was their own and ironically, given what they had been know for, that was their own intellectual property.
As I have already mentioned Mantic had their own gaming universes from the get-go, but they were dismissed by many as being too derivative of what other companies had already done with shallow background and only there to prove the point that Mantic had their own games, however as time went by and these games’ fictional universes started being refined, Mantic started to build their own mythology and background their games somehow gained greater appeal. Suddenly their miniatures gained their own identity and the Corporation, for instance, went from cheaper human models for GW’s Imperial Guard, to the armed arm from the corporate ruling elite of the human worlds fighting filthy aliens called Veer-Myn in a game called “Project Pandora: Grim Cargo”.
Games like Dreadball and Deadzone have consolidated and fleshed out the universe first hinted at the Warpath game a lot like the rumoured incoming Kickstarter campaign for a new game titled “Dwarf King’s Quest – The Return of the Necromancer”, based on the original “Dwarf King’s Hold”, promises to do for the Kings of War line.
I believe that this refinement of Mantic’s games fictional universes, which was so well received by the community, has somewhat been translated into their own miniatures line, that went from generic pieces to having a personality of their own, and man do they look beautiful now, with each new line unveiled Mantic has been proving to everyone their learning their ropes when it comes to producing models giving players a fresher vibrant line of models, and for a change the future no longer seems such a gritty dark place. There’s still war, but there’s also this game played Dreadball and other stuff going on there, all that make us keen to find out more, and keeps our interest up.
I did mention to Andrew that Mantic’s zombie miniatures were the first from their line which got my attention and appealed to me in a genuine way as they had finally produced some inspired models that were actually a lot better looking than what GW had at the time (to this day they still sell the same old, comical looking, zombies), and the new stuff ever since, keeps getting better and better, to which he replied that the zombies were indeed one of the first kits in which they experienced a veritable “boom” in interest from the gaming community.
And it was while chatting about the company’s models and success in Kickstarter that we sat down for a game. By then it was time for their lunch break so I sat with Andrew and some of his co-workers for an introductory game of their latest hit on Kickstarter at the time: Deadzone.
I had just received the rewards from the Deadzone Campaign before leaving Brazil on my trip to England so I literally unboxed it, said “wow” at the sheer amount of stuff and boarded a plane the very next day (the game got there really late as the local UPS correspondent was unable to find the house I have been sending packages to over the course of the last 10 years). So I was all hyped up about the game which puts its players in a deadly struggle for resources amidst a plague wracked quarantine zone.
Mantic had a simplified version of the game there, something they called a “Deadzone Demo Kit” (they might not have used that name but I do like it) with fewer miniatures and some of the most important rules explained over a paper gaming mat, and that’s how I got to face Andrew’s Enforcers with the Plague warped mutants. The game itself was really straightforward to play with simplified movement that doesn’t require the use of any measurement aids (you get to move a given number of squares, clearly indicated on the gaming mats), however I found combat a little too complicated with its mechanic of nullifying each other’s successes and doubling up on results and I really felt the need for more variety in my choice of models and gear as we struggled a bit to get rid of each other simply by not having enough heavy hitters, but the “demo kit” did its job of presenting the game for a new player and I got out of it understanding a lot more than when I sat down to play after having a lot of fun.
And it was during this game that I understood another reason for Mantic’s transformation. As we were playing the Deadzone Demo a lot of people from the office dropped by to say hi, to check on the game, to offer advice and that’s when I noticed Mantic’s crew was really into what they were doing. I got the impression it was not only business for them and that a lot of them were also gamers themselves. Of course they’re in the business and of course they’re producing games for a salary at the end of the month, however it’s not only an obligation. Those guys know the people they’re producing games for, as they’re gamers themselves, so they know what makes gamers tick and they’re eager to deliver exactly what they would love to get in our position.
After our game was done it was already time for me to get back to my hotel. Andrew was kind enough to walk me back to the station and I left Mantic with renewed respect for the company. It was on the way back riding the tram and looking at the world outside that it finally dawned on me that perhaps Mantic wasn’t entirely out of place in Bulwell, and that being there was part of the new approach to the gaming business the company’s founder was so eager to explore.
The point Mantic has proven is that you can still be a simple, honest, gaming and community oriented company and still make millions in this business. The company didn’t get cocky nor did they suddenly started feeling high and mighty after their success, it didn’t invest in a huge glorious headquarters, it didn’t let success get to their heads. They put their millions right back into game development, into producing great games and into delivering to their fans and backers what was expected of them, and they continue to do so without resting on their glories and while still being the very same down to earth company founded years ago, true to their commitment to deliver more bang for buck (as their Kickstarter campaigns have proved) without losing sight of what really matters: Customer care and satisfaction.
For that Mantic, I salute you! May you keep on raking up dollars while delivering great games to the community.
I’d like to wrap this article by thanking Mr. Andrew Whelan for being so forthcoming and allowing me to visit Mantic Games, I’d also like to thank every single member of the Mantic family who took a minute out of their time to say hi and chat a little bit, and for Mr. Renton, for having a vision and trusting his guts. I had an incredible day that won’t soon be forgotten and I hope to have more opportunities to show my support for the company in further Kickstarter campaigns!
Over and out.