Wargamer – Piers Brand
You would have thought that the online gaming era would have seen platoons of toy soldiers relegated to the loft. Not so. The collectable miniatures and 3D battlegrounds have retained such a pull that every major town in the UK still has its own wargames show and club. What’s more, instead of obliterating the pastime, the Internet has actually broadened its appeal by helping enthusiasts to make contact with each other.
And the wargaming community is by no means destined to fizzle out in a generation’s time. Many men (the female gamer is a rare creature!) rediscover their boyhood hobby when they have children, and bring their young recruits with them to the tabletop battlegrounds.
For semi-professional wargamer Piers Brand, this is all excellent news.
Piers himself has been fascinated by military history since childhood. His particular interest in World War II, the field in which he currently works, stems from the many hours he spent with older relatives who lived in London during the war years.
“Most people my age had a 1970s upbringing but I’d say I had something of a 1940s upbringing,” he tells us. “They were always talking about it, telling you what went on, in that unbiased way that is typical of those who lived through it. All I needed was a ration card and it would’ve been the Blitz. And there were always toy soldiers in the house because members of the family had them before me. I can’t remember not having an interest in tanks and Germans. It’s genetic.”
Indeed Piers’s first business venture in the world of wargaming was the selling of painted World War II soldiers and tanks. Now 40, he has been painting these miniatures for over 30 years, and has been employed by other gamers to do so for 20.
We are curious. Why can’t people paint their own toy soldiers?
“Some people don’t have the talent, some people don’t have the time. Some people don’t want to. You’re either a gamer or a painter. A gamer will want his stuff on the table as quickly as possible, while a painter will happily spend 6 months working on something.”
Wargamers use their painted soldiers to reenact historical battles on tabletops laid out with the appropriate miniature terrain. They follow rule books (the first such book was written in 1913 by H.G. Wells) and use dice and tape measures to determine the movements of the figures.
Piers’s entreé into writing rules was meeting Warwick Kinrade, the owner of Iron Fist Publishing. The duo connected on Facebook when Piers wrote a review of a set of rules Warwick had produced, and after meeting face to face (and playing some games), Warwick asked Piers if he would like co-write a further World War II rule book.
“We don’t need to be inspired from a historical perspective, because everything we do is based on real events. We don’t need to come up with fantastic worlds, goblins and orks. The challenge we have is how we tweak the basic mechanics of the game to make people believe that what they’re playing is that particular part of the war.”
In order to adjust the essential gaming rules, writers must draw upon a detailed knowledge of actual events. Having been involved in war reenactment societies since he was a boy, and with a degree in War Studies, Piers is an adept writer of rules.
For example, for the game he is currently working on set in Normandy in 1945 – The Fall of the Reich – he is keen that players appreciate that the US units had better communications than other troops. The American players will therefore have a special “radio and communication network” rule entitling them to a re-roll of the dice. This detail means that the game will play quite differently from a game set, say, in Russia in 1941 and give it a feeling of authenticity.
After Piers and Warwick teamed up to create their new book – Battlegroup Overlord – they needed some financial backing to bring it to market. For this they approached Will Townshend, owner of The Plastic Soldier Company, and a known fan of Warwick’s work.
When the trio then met up at a gaming event organised by Piers, it transpired that Will needed a painter to be involved on his side of things. “I was very lucky to fulfil the roles that both of them needed at the time,” Piers tells us.
Over time, Piers, Will and Warwick and their respective businesses have become interdependent. The Plastic Soldier Company creates the scaled miniatures used to play Iron Fist’s games, and Piers is actively involved in promoting, selling, painting and exhibiting for these allied companies.
It helps that the three men get on. “They’re both brilliant guys to work with,” says Piers. “Warwick is 6’7” with a beard. We call him The Viking. At weekends he and his family actually dress up as vikings and go out on longships.” And Will? “Will is a sort of Arthur Daley you can trust.”
For the latter, instead of taking the sane option of two people flying to Belgium while the other drives across with their wares, all 3 men cram themselves into a small van “because it’s a laugh”.
As well as exhibiting at wargaming conventions, the Plastic Soldier Company and Iron Fist have a growing online presence via their websites and Facebook pages.
“That whole area has basically been dumped with me,” Piers laughs. “I’m kind of slowly immersing myself more into it because the other two guys don’t really have the time. With social media and websites you really only get out what you put in, especially with the likes of Facebook. So it all needs daily looking at and the odd bit of content. It’s something we’re really starting to focus on.”
Clearly Piers is the right man to build up internet presence, as for the past 9 years he and some friends have run The Guild wargaming forum. It was originally started as a space where tabletop gamers could talk about soldiers, tanks and show off their painting but has grown into much more than that. The Guild now has around 300 members from around the world.
“It’s quite a community now,” Piers tells us, “to the point where I go to shows and I get people that want to talk to me not only because of the game, but because of the forum.”
While building up an online profile is important for any company, Piers also stresses the importance of maintaining the traditional forms of advertising:
“Every month we’ll have a full page ad in one, two, if not three of the wargaming magazines. There’s still a massive proportion of gamers whose only avenue for news is the magazines, so they’re a very important part of the equation.”
Piers is a regular contributor to all the prominent gaming magazines. While to begin with he sent in his articles speculatively, these days he is commissioned and will even turn jobs down if they do not benefit his other business interests.
“They’re quite time consuming, the things I get asked to do,” he explains. “Working on an article will take at least a whole day and we have to weigh up the cost benefits. The piece I’ve just been asked to do is basically showcasing The Plastic Soldier Company’s new paints and tanks, so it’s one that’s worth doing for us. We get a bit of free advertising out of it.”
Time management is something that Piers is currently grappling with across the board. A civil servant for the Irish Government in Dublin during the week, he has recently dropped down to 4 days to spend more time with his wargaming enterprises.
His employers are very understanding about the new arrangement. “It suits them to a degree,” says Piers, “because I probably do as much work as I would do in 5 days.”
Piers does make sure that he has an evening each week where he doesn’t work, to spend with his wife Ruth. Luckily, the rest of the time, Ruth is “an angel” about his wargaming activities, even sanctioning the conversion of the master bedroom into a workshop.
“She went into it with her eyes open,” Piers laughs, “so she only has herself to blame. And anyway, she reaps the benefits with me paying for the odd holiday here and there.”
At the moment, although Piers is heavily involved in both Iron Fist and The Plastic Soldier Company, he is still, on paper, employed by Warwick and Will. While he obviously gets less out of the businesses financially than they do, the risk he carries is also far less. However with the companies growing rapidly this may be set to change.
“I work all day at home on Wednesdays and from 8.30 to midnight every evening, when the kids are in bed. If we have a show or a photo shoot coming up it can be quite full on. I have been known to paint from 7pm till 2 in the morning, get up, go to work, do a full day’s work, come back and start painting again and do it all over again for 2 or 3 days.”
With possible plans afoot to increase market share in the U.S., and to diversify by writing rules for other wars, Piers’s workload looks set to increase. In 6 months’ time he will be evaluating whether he needs to drop a second day at work. Then if the upward trend continues he will have some crucial decisions to make.
“Where we’ll be in 5 years’ time it’s difficult to know,” Piers tells us. “At some point I might have to make the decision as to whether I stay working for the Civil Service, or throw it in and take a punt on doing this full time. Whether I can do that, pay the bills and get a pension is a different matter. At the moment my ideal situation is I get to do 2 or 3 days a week working for the Irish Government and the rest of the week I get to be Piers The Wargamer.”
Piers is lucky enough to be able to take a strategic approach to risk, with his weekday employers being far more flexible than most. With so many opportunities on the horizon, we are intrigued to find out what moves he will make over the coming months. Although he is unsure of what his worklife might look like in the future, we have a hunch that in a few years’ time Piers The Wargamer will be in a rather different position from the one he is in now. Elise & Jon