If you were reading Goonhammer Historicals last year, you might have caught me waxing lyrical about a new miniatures range that I’d just discovered – Bloody Miniatures – which were adding character and interest to the massed ranks of my pikemen. Ahead of a new release, I reached out to founder Richard Lloyd for a chat about the company.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
After a 35-year career in marketing and branding, I was lucky enough to be able to take indecently early retirement in 2019, not long before Coronavirus hit. At that point I was director of brand identity and design for one of the UK’s biggest companies. (I still do a little consultancy and freelance work on the side, just to keep my hand in). I’m married with two grown-up sons, and live in a countryside area a little way to the south of London. I’ve been wargaming on and off for most of my life, and have somehow ended up as a slightly well-known painter and modeller – mainly via my activities over the last 15 years on the Lead Adventure Forum, where I go by the (yes, it’s absurd) nom-de-guerre, ‘Captain Blood’ – hence Bloody Miniatures, see?
What is Bloody Miniatures?
A small but perfectly formed range of 28mm white metal character figures for the English Civil War (ECW) and the Thirty Years War (TYW) period, which is the early / mid-Seventeenth Century.
The range was conceived to add a dash of extra personality to existing collections, or to provide small, distinctive forces for skirmish level wargames. There are many established manufacturers selling wargames figures for this period, but they basically all produce the same types of figures – viz. musketeers, pikemen, cavalry, dragoons, artillery, all in the stock poses: marching, firing, loading, advancing and so on. All well and good for recreating big set-piece battles on the tabletop, but less well suited to depicting the endless minor scrimmages, sieges, raids and sallies which were actually more typical of warfare in this period.
How did you start?
Well, having retired from the day job, I was planning on taking life easy. I mean, you work for 35 years, and suddenly realise that in all that time you’ve never had more than two weeks together off. So the very first thing you’re going to do is absolutely nothing for about six months! I certainly had no intention of starting a cottage industry of my own. Sadly however, my plans for a leisurely start to retirement were royally screwed by successive Covid lockdowns, which summarily terminated all my planned avenues of fun and recreation. Facing a potentially interminable stretch of house arrest with Netflix, I decided to do something creative with this enforced dead time. Something that would add another dimension to my wargaming hobby, allow me to put my design, marketing and branding expertise to good use, and potentially spread a little happiness by offering out some different and appealing new figures to fellow wargamers.
How did you get in to ECW wargaming?
Having played with Airfix figures from a tender age, the first metal figures I ever bought were five 25mm ECW figures (an officer, drummer, and three musketeers) made by Hinchliffe Figurines. This was from a long-vanished model shop near Croydon, and would have been around 1973/4. I was probably 12 years old. But I genuinely remember it as clearly as if it was yesterday – my father inquiring if I really intended to blow my pocket money on five little metal men at a princely nine pence each? Well I did, and the figures were duly decanted into a classy little blue Hinchliffe box of my very own. Five pristine silver figures, nestling jewel-like in blue tissue paper. It was the start of a ridiculous love affair – or possibly an indecent obsession.
A mere 47 years (and several different ECW armies bought and sold) later, I finally reached the inevitable end point of that profoundly formative childhood experience.
What is it about the English Civil War that’s always grabbed me? Difficult to put your finger on it. Such turmoil, I suppose. Such incredible drama, fire and fury. And yet all so peculiarly British and parochial. Our not-so-distant ancestors in the early modern period, waging all-out war against each other in the improbable surroundings of our very own chocolate box villages and beloved pastoral landscapes. It’s all too incongruous. And yet it really happened here – and not all that long ago in the great scheme of things. The English landscape has changed in some ways since, certainly. But you can still discern the scars of war on our countryside and high streets: the buried outlines of defensive earthworks; the bullet marks around church doorways, stone bridges and on venerable civic buildings that still stand in bustling English market towns. It’s all so deeply weird. Familiar, yet unfamiliar. And thus, somehow, endlessly fascinating. To me, anyway.
You had the original Bloody Miniatures sets commissioned for yourself. What made you make the switch to selling the kits?
Well, to be fair, once I’d come up with the idea for the range (it’s ECW Jim, but not as we know it), I quickly realised I would need to sell them to offset the costs of sculpting, moulding, and casting a unique range of figures. Initial table stakes are several thousand pounds, so making the figures commercially available was a logical solution to enable me to add the figures I wanted to my own collection. But to be honest, I also wanted to share the love. I knew the figures would be good. And I reckoned that if I was interested in something other than the same tedious looking figures in the same tedious poses, then other people might appreciate something different as well. As it turns out, I was right. Luckily.
You started off complementing other ranges – how did you identify the gaps to fill?
Yes, I set out to complement the excellent and extensive 28mm ECW ranges produced by Bicorne Miniatures and Renegade Miniatures (the latter now sadly defunct), with a new range of character figures in the same style and stature, and sculpted by the same guy (Nick Collier). I managed to make contact with Nick, who thankfully was entirely up for it, and so Bloody Miniatures was born. The mission was to create a new range of figures portraying the sort of characters never seen in ‘traditional’ ECW ranges. It wasn’t too difficult to identify the gaps. If you think about all the situations and types of fighting that occurred in warfare of the period, you soon realise that marching pikemen, firing lines of musketeers, and cavalry troopers in parade ground poses don’t adequately represent much of what must have gone on day-to-day in the English Civil War, or other conflicts of that era. So instead of thinking in terms of troop types, I just started thinking about all the different sorts of fighting and the desperate situations soldiers of that time would have found themselves in. It quickly leads you to a need for more interesting, scenario-based sets of figures. Like dismounted cavalry troopers engaged in house to house fighting; a storming party attempting to force a town gate; or foraging troops skirmishing along hedgerows or village lanes, vying to secure a barn full of grain.
Can you tell us about the process of commissioning and casting without in house facilities?
Commissioning is pretty straightforward. Basically I tell Nick which sets I would like to produce next, and provide him with a written brief that’s fairly detailed and descriptive in terms of the set of characters I would like portrayed in miniature, but not too specific about exact poses, dress, and weapons.
Nick is an absolute virtuoso at capturing the distinctive look and feel of fighting men of the mid-C17th. He has an amazing feel for the period, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the clothing, arms and armour of the time. He’s also an extremely talented artist, so I trust him to use his own expertise and creativity to answer the brief in the way he chooses. I might ask for one or two tiny changes – the attitude of a head here, the addition of a powder flask there – before signing off the final sculpts in each set, but he’s normally 99% on the money with what he comes up with. Having spent a large chunk of my career working with creative agencies, giving design briefs and providing feedback, has probably stood me in good stead.
Moulding and casting is done by Griffin Moulds JJP Ltd. They’re one of the UK’s leading businesses in the field of centrifugal casting. They have a huge amount of experience and they’re extremely good at what they do. There have been one or two minor quality control hiccups along the way, but these have always been put right immediately and with no complaint. I can’t recommend them highly enough. The first thing you learn as a miniatures business, is that while you might have the best ideas and plans in the world, you’re only as good (and as fast) as your sculptor and your casting contractor. You’re entirely in their hands when it comes to timelines and your ability to get things done as quickly as you’d like. It’s the price you pay for using people who are good at what they do and whose services are therefore in demand.
Bloody Miniatures is new to the industry and a little fish in a big, established pond – what’s that been like?
Not so much little fish as plankton. Actually it’s been fine – mainly because I don’t think any large sharks have noticed me. I have had one or two snippy online comments, but truthfully the figures are so good it’s difficult for anyone to seriously criticise them. Overwhelmingly it’s been glowing feedback all round. People seem to love the figures and the concept behind them. Even the Assistant Curator of European Armour at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds (a bonafide ECW expert right there), got in touch to say how much he loved the figures – and generously sent Nick and I signed copies of his book on ECW arms and armour.
To be fair though, the range is never going to be a massive seller. They’re a fairly niche product within a period that’s only a moderately popular ‘secondary’ wargaming period (‘pike and shot’ as it’s often known, comes a long way behind the big guns of Napoleonics, WW2, and Ancients in popularity). Plus they’re individual character figures, so most people are only ever going to buy one of each pack. It’s not like selling rank and file figures for big battalions. Luckily though, I’m genuinely not in it for the money, but for the enjoyment of doing something creative, putting my skills to good use, and keeping myself out of mischief. The range is selling well so far, we’re building up a good following and a seemingly loyal customer base. Several other small manufacturers have been very nice and supportive along the way, so that’s all good.
Obviously being a minnow means having to do absolutely everything yourself – from wrangling the webstore, folding recalcitrant cardboard mailing boxes, handling enquiries, and making endless trips to the local post office. It’s not a great burden though. I guess on average it equates to two or three hours a day, every day, spent on Bloody business. But it’s hugely rewarding to take even a tiny enterprise like this from first concept to profitable operation, giving people a product they clearly appreciate. A year in, and I still get a little thrill every time another order pops up on my phone! And of course, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as being able to play wargames with figures that you’ve brought into the world yourself.
What’re some of the biggest challenges you face in the industry?
Well I came to this almost directly from the world of big business, where people move heaven and earth to do things at pace, and where suppliers are intensely responsive to client requests. It was a slightly rude awakening to find that in the wargames business everything takes just as long as it takes (and sometimes longer!) It makes it a little tricky to plan ahead or to generate and sustain any momentum. No doubt this is the complaint of people running small businesses the world over – waiting on suppliers to clear bottlenecks. But it’s a whole new experience for me. Ultimately though, the wargames business is largely run by and for hobbyists and enthusiasts. It’s part of its charm, but also means it can be difficult to get things done as quickly as one would like.
That minor whinge apart, the only notable problem to have cropped up is the change to post-Brexit trading arrangements with the EU. Unfortunately, that occurred in July 2021, just a few months after we opened for business, adding VAT (on top of customs import duties and handling charges) onto goods sent to EU countries from the UK. Meaning that in order for buyers in EU countries to actually get their hands on the goods they’ve already paid for, they have to stump up surcharges totalling as much as 50% on top of the purchase price. In the first few months of trading, I was shipping fully one third of Bloody Miniatures orders to EU countries. That dropped off a cliff after the VAT change. Which wasn’t ideal.
Luckily, orders to the UK and the rest of the world, notably the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, have held up really well. But it’s frustrating to know that there’s a ready market for your products out there, but thanks to some incredibly daft political decisions, it’s been closed off to you.
Release three is coming out soon – how does a new release come about for you, and where do you go from here?
Well I’ve got a long list of packs I intend to produce – at least four or five more releases at 16 new figures / four packs at a time. (This, by the way, is because you can fit 16 figures into a standard sized centrifugal casting mould. So makes absolute sense from a production efficiency point of view).
Once I’ve worked my way through that list, people will probably be sick to death of character figures for the ECW / TYW. But if they’re not, then I expect I’ll turn my attention to some mounted packs.
I do regularly get asked if I plan on producing pikemen, musketeers, etc. In response to which, I have to keep pointing out that this would somewhat defeat the object of the exercise. And that these sorts of rank and file figures are readily available in vast quantities from many other manufacturers – including, in the case of Bicorne Miniatures, figures that match my own almost exactly in size and style, being by the same sculptor. (I do wonder if the advent of Bloody Miniatures has had a beneficial effect on Bicorne’s sales. I hope it has, because they’re nice figures). Insofar as Bloody Miniatures has been successful so far, it’s mainly, I believe, because it’s offering something that no-one else has done. Yes they’re delightful figures, well presented, and with great customer service – all that good stuff, certainly. But at the end of the day, it’s about offering a quality product that’s also unique.
Apart from that, I don’t currently have any plans of expanding into other settings or periods. But, you know… never say never.
Massive thanks to Richard from Bloody Miniatures for taking his time to answer our questions – and good luck with the new release!
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