I am happy to introduce you to Rich Brown. He is as passionate about keeping vintage miniatures and gaming alive as I am. Please enjoy the interview below, and visit the shop to check out all the fantastic miniatures that RRB Minis has to offer.
Can you please introduce yourself and tell my readers a bit about you?
My name is Rich Brown. I have been a miniatures wargamer and a tabletop role-playing gamer since the mid-’70s. I've amassed thousands of miniatures over the years, but only started purposefully collecting them in the past 15 or so years. I enjoy crafting terrain pieces and sculpting my own miniatures for hard-to-find pieces in my preferred scale (true 25mm). I also do miniature restoration and 3D modelingmonths'/printing. In general, I have too many hobbies, so I decided to start a business too.
How did your hobby journey start?
When I was young, my uncle and his friends were into military board games: Avalon Hill, Diplomacy, and the like. He started my cousin and me playing board games like Risk and then worked us up to more and more complex games. I still remember him saying things like “This game says it is for ages 12 and up but you guys are smart enough to handle it.” It always made me feel good to be included in serious games that adults enjoyed playing.
Then around 1975, during a trip to our local hobby shop, we noticed that they had started stocking John McEwan’s Starguard rules and miniatures. The shop even set up a table to run games so people could observe it in action and learn the rules. It was amazing to see a game played out with miniatures and terrain versus the cardboard counters and hex maps we were accustomed to. Needless to say, we were all hooked immediately and each of us bought our own beginning units. Mine was a group of 13 Terrellians. 13 because that is all I could afford. At $0.30 each, that added up to several month's allowance. The Terrellians because the one-eyed, worm-armed guys gave me the creeps and I thought they might intimidate my opponents. For those who haven’t played Starguard yet, without allied troops and/or robot support, Terrellians are not a match at all for jetpack-wearing opponents.
Around the same time, my uncle picked up the wood-grain box edition of D&D and ran some adventures for us. We played that “theater of the mind” style (without miniatures), so it had limited appeal to me. It wasn't until the late ’70s—that I came across Steve Jackson’s game The Fantasy Trip, which put a huge emphasis on the individuals’ distance, facing, intervening terrain, etc.—that I got heavily into RGPing. It also helped that Martian Metals had a line of licensed TFT miniatures that were way cooler than using the cardboard counters that came with the game. I was hooked.
There has been a revival in Old-School Roleplaying lately and lots of fervor for both classic RPG and miniature games. What do you think the factors are that are causing folks to return to older games?
I imagine it is three things.
First, many of us in the hobby are getting older, and we are nostalgic for the things from our past. Many of us want to share some of our most valued experiences with our kids and that sort of thing.
Second, it is natural to be distracted by new and shiny things. We often end up chasing them one after another for fear of missing out, or because that is what is being run at conventions, or because it is printed on glossy paper so it looks really great. But eventually, it gets tiring (and expensive) to keep buying new rules sets/miniatures… maybe not even getting them painted before the next hot thing is out on the market. Eventually, there is a realization that you already have some really great sets of rules that you know how to play and have all the needed miniatures for. Why not just dust those off and introduce it to a new generation of players?
Third, the rules were concise without being simplistic. Whether you are playing games like original D&D or Starguard, they gave all the core rules without a lot of fluff or hand-holding. You are then encouraged to use your imagination to develop as much more as you want. Not only does that allow you to tailor the games to your group’s particular taste, but it also allows the focus of the gaming session to be on having fun. Too often in more modern games, you see gameplay stop as folks frantically flip through hundreds of pages of rules trying to find that one clause that gives a special advantage. Maybe rules-lawyering is great fun for some people. It just doesn’t interest me at all.
Do you feel that archiving and preserving vintage miniatures and games is important? Why?
Yes, I do. It is overly simplistic to dismiss this content because it relates to playing games. It is also an art form that deserves to be appreciated by future generations. Beyond that, it is part of an interesting time in history. Miniature figures have existed for a long time but were primarily only collected or played with as toys. Then codified gaming rules begin to show up so you can play proper wargames with them. Then there are miniatures made specifically for gaming. Lastly, there are miniatures and games made specifically to go with each other.
All of that happened, primarily by small hobbyist operations, pre-internet. The historical record for a lot of that is still lacking in proper documentation, though it is improving. As an example, I am one of a host of contributors on Lost Minis Wiki. That site is a great example of the role-playing-miniatures cataloging effort that is ongoing. Sites like that help people identify what they have in their hands, which then helps them get the item into the hands of a person that is looking for it.
Tell me a little about RRB Minis and what you would like to accomplish with it?
RRB Minis was born from my collecting obsession. Maybe most people would be happy to sit back and wait to see if something interesting comes up for sale, then buy it. I've always been a completionist. If some figures were sold as a boxed set, I want to collect all those figures. When you are talking about miniature figure lines from back in the ’70s that are long out of production, it is very challenging. I began contacting the original sculptors or current rights holders looking to see if any of the old items were still available. And several of them were willing to pull old molds out of their archives and run them for me. I wanted to be able to make these hard-to-find items available to other collectors or nostalgic gamers, so I began talks to obtain the rights or wholesale accounts for the figures I like best.
I am currently in the process of accumulating minis for stock, but it is a slow process since there is so much to get through all at once. I'm working with three veteran moldings/castings companies to ensure great quality: Reviresco (John McEwan), Zombiesmith (Joshua Qualtieri), and Iron Wind Metals (Mike Noe). While that pile of work is being chipped away, I am building the web store database. That is a long and time consuming project for me since I am doing all this as a side job, funding it by my full-time work. The process is rewarding, but it is taking longer than I would have liked. Once the web store is up and running, I'll start focusing on growing the business by picking up additional lines, adding 3Dprinted pieces, adding a selection of used items, and vending at conventions.
I also want to help grow the hobby. I plan on offering some free rules sets (of the simple beer and pretzels variety), along with coordinating inexpensive starter unit packs. These will help serve as gateway games… things you can easily run for friends to get them interested in gaming. We are close to releasing our first rules set, Fictioneers Legacy, as a beta-test version. That set will be for the Fictioneers line of minis, which sadly never had a specific set of rules written for them. Because they are such a blank slate, we are doing a little world-building for them so players will have a bit of background for each faction. Hopefully, that rules set will be ready to release at the same time as that mini line.
Fans of wargaming know McEwan Miniatures and Stan Johansen. What brought you to working with those two legends of the hobby?
John McEwan is the person who had the biggest impact on my gaming life. And when I started collecting as a hobby, I already had a good number of his figures, and the pages on the Lost Minis Wiki for them were pretty blank. After I filled in all the holes of everything that was still in production, I kept bugging John for more and more information about the items that were still missing. We started getting into conversations about the old fantasy lines, and he mentioned making some new molds for them. I found out that there were some pieces that he sadly no longer had the original masters for, but I happened to have good clean figures in my collection. I was able to donate five or so of my pieces to him to include in the new molds, and now they are available for sale again along with a good portion of the fantasy line. Then at one point in our many conversations, after John had made some custom molds for me, he suggested that I get a wholesale account. It made perfect sense.
Stan Johansen has made so many great miniatures, but the ones that I was always most interested in were his sci-fi lines. Many Starguard players incorporated them into their games ever since way back in the very early days, so I had been familiar with them for a long time. I worked with Stan in a similar fashion as I did with John but it went a slightly different route. He did cast some old items for me, and he even sold me some pieces from his personal collection, but he wasn’t interested in putting any of the old masters into new molds. He was interested in selling the rights along with the remaining molds/masters/stock for the lines and by the end of 2021, we were able to negotiate a deal. My priority has been to get the Fictioneers line back into production again first. The retro pulp-fiction look of them appealed to me, and they have been out of production for so long that they have been really difficult to find.
What are your thoughts on 3D printing?
Personally, I love it. I have a resin printer myself for printing minis in fine detail, and a friend has an FDM printer that can do larger terrain pieces, so, between the two of us, we can print almost any item. I got mine because my preferred scale for minis is not widely available in the marketplace. With a printer, I can produce the items that I need for my own games at the scale that I want them. It also allows for simple/easy mods such as mirror-imaging a model. That way you can make a group of minis look more like various individuals instead of everyone obviously all the same. I will be selling 3D-printed items down the road to fill in gaps in product lines, offer game props or scatter terrain, etc.
Do you think it would be a viable way to archive vintage sculpts and keep the minis “alive”?
Yes, if you are referring to scanning actual minis to make 3D models of them. In fact,, there are some exciting things currently happening as proof of the viability of the concept. One is that they are already doing it with statues and architecture. You can simply search “Scan The World” to see thousands of examples that are collected.
Another example is a small but growing collection of minis called the Old School Archive. They are working with the current rights-holders to get licenses to scan the minis and sell downloads of the 3D models. I don’t see a reason that things would not continue to develop along these lines.
What do you think about the current state of wargaming? Too commercial? Just right?
I'm very excited about it. For a long while there was a real fear of the population graying and dropping out. We were not sure if it was going to continue much past our lifetime. Now, there is so much going on it is hard to keep up with it all. Never before have we had easy access to so much free content, such as tutorials and inspiration/documentation on YouTube, Facebook groups, blogs, wikis, and webpages. And for those that do not have a local hobby shop or are looking for ultra-rare items, there is the amazing ability to purchase a vast selection of items online. Have trouble finding opponents or getting to conventions? There are a ton of resources for solo gaming or gaming online. And of course, there is the huge door that opened with 3D printing. You can print armies of minis just using the free models found at places like Thingiverse.
Another positive is that there are so many crossover games being played. It is bringing new life into the hobby. And by crossover, I mean both crossing game genres or formats. Many local groups and conventions are much more welcoming today of mixing board/card/role-playing/war-gaming than they were in the past. Or including historical, sci-fi, and fantasy together. It is great to encourage inclusivity. This week, we'll play a game you like. Next week, I get to pick.
Is the hobby too commercial? No, I don't think so. Sure, everyone likes to complain about the big giants. And there are certainly plenty of things that they do that are valid to complain about. But if you do not like the environment they are creating, they cannot force you to buy their stuff or to play their games. What is the issue… everyone else is playing their game? So what! For any game out there, not only is there a better alternative but there are likely 100 better alternatives. Give some a try. Try mine… it's free. And if you don't like it, try something else. It won't hurt my feelings. It is a great big sandbox with room for everyone. The important thing is that you and your friends are having fun.
What are your favorite games? Miniatures?
It seems that you put me into a difficult spot with this one. Of course, as a business owner, I have to say my own. Then again, we just talked a lot about John and Stan; I mentioned Joshua at Zombiesmith and Mike at Iron Wind Metals, who both offer great minis. And I didn't even touch on the great stuff that Jacob Fathbruckner is doing at Ral Partha Legacy or Michael Thomas at Classic Miniatures (old Heritage, RAFM, Archive, etc.). There are many others too, but I am most familiar with the fantastic work these guys do provide old-school, vintage sculpted (and new) miniatures to the community. If I have to pick one line as a favorite, it would be John's 1/72 scale fantasy minis. I use them with my all-time favorite game, Steve Jackson’s The Fantasy Trip: In the Labyrinth. Other favorite games include John’s Starguard, Ral Partha’s Rules According to Ral or Chaos Wars, Stan’s Gunship 2000, and Little Wars TV’s Ravenfeast.