Sunday 9 August 2009

Critical Mass Games - An Introduction


My first indication that something big was going to drop bang squarely into the 15mm Sci Fi market came following my blog entry of July 12th: Drop Trooper TV Advert - (click here). The email simply said:

"If you like the Drop Troopers
in the Virgin Media Ad, then you'll love these!"

Critical Mass Games had suddenly burst across my horizon and I needed intel. Who was this company, the people behind it and what were their plans? This info would shape my own plans and potentially shape my future Sci Fi gaming.

Craig was very forthcoming over the phone and was kind enough to agree to answer some questions that would give the followers of this blog an insight into Critical Mass Games, who they were and what we could expect from CMG over the coming months.

Q1) Who is the team behind CMG?

Critical Mass Games is a business partnership formed in June 2008 between Dale Hurst and myself Craig Grady. Dale and I got to know each other about ten years ago after we where introduced by Orclord (Richard Hale) from the Stuff of Legends Website for whom we both carried out painting commissions.

Craig: I start painting and gaming at 16 first getting into Epic 40K, the 40K and then finally breaking my GW ‘hobby’ shackles a year later after I join St. Helens and Ashton Wargames club and was introduced to a whole different side of gaming.

Through sheer perseverance I became a reasonably good miniature painter over the years and ending up doing miniatures and terrain works for a few miniature companies including Harlequin Miniatures, Target Games, Scotia Grendal, and Cerberus Entertainment.

In regards to Sci-fi games I have bounced around many including Dirtside II, Stargrunt, Kyromek, Kill Zone, Battlefleet Gothic, Full thrust, to name but a few, but really got into 15mm when I started writing my own skirmish rules for Ainsty Castings Down Below Corridor system which I took to a few shows in support of the late Mike Brooks.

Dale: I started painting and gaming in 1981 (at 18) with Dungeons & Dragons. One day I was in Beatties Toy Shop in Liverpool and came across a Citadel Miniatures Section and bought a Knight of Chaos to paint. In 1988 I won a Golden Demon taking 3rd place Mounted, and then again in 1989 when I won 3 Golden Demons, again with a mounted figure, a 2nd Place Monster and a 1st with an Epic Vignette.

Two weeks after that I started working for Games Workshops ‘eavy metal team having been made redundant as a ballistics engineer for the MOD. This was certainly a change of pace.

After two years with Games Workshop I returned to full time education and worked as a Design Technology Teacher, until I recently decided to get back into the games industry by forming Critical Mass Games with Craig.

Q2) What are your influences: Media, games and other miniatures?

Craig: What am I not influenced by would perhaps be an easier question, I am always on the look out for new ideas, I was even taking pictures out of a magazine with my phone a few weeks ago in the dentist because I thought it might help progress some of the artwork we are having done.

To put definite things down that have influenced me in relation to CMG’s direction then I would certainly say many media elements have had a great effect. Video games have played a big part, Battlefield 2142 & Mass Effect are my personal favorites, along with all the Halo games, Star Wars Battlefront, Command & Conquer, the list goes on and on.

Alongside this there have been a great many television shows and films that have also helped spark ideas. The new T.V. classics, Star Trek (in all its flavors), Stargate (all 10 years of it), and more recently the gritty and often depressing Battlestar Galactica all swirl around in the mind.

Looking at things from a business point of view I am enamored with what Privateer Press and Battlefront have achieved in the wargaming market, essentially carving out their own distinct turf with excellent quality products and rules systems. Out of the two however the Flames of War rules have certainly had the biggest impact on my gaming.

Dale: I am a big fan of Marvel Comics and a lot of Sci-fi shows, e.g. Battlestar, Babylon 5, Terminator, etc. In regards to miniatures I have always been a fan of the Battletech/Mechwarrior universe, yet I enjoy and take influence from a multitude of systems. I still play D&D along with 40K, Warmachine, Flames of War, Confrontation, Fields of Glory and many others.

Q3) Tell us more about the journey to this point. How CMG came about and the ups and downs.

Craig: In 2001 whilst running the now defunct Gamer Haven website I wrote a set of 15mm rules called Firefight Mass Combat which where rough and ready but did the job for my little gaming group, but these got put to one side when I went to backpacking in Australia.

Having reestablished my gaming group under a new wargames club, Wigan Wargames, I became swept up with the Flames of War phenomenon collecting and gaming more than ever.

What really got me thinking about 15mm Sci-fi once again was a conversation I had with a club member with whom I spent a lot of time with online playing the shooter Battlefield 2142. We really wanted to play this game in miniature, but nothing existed.

It was at this point Dale reminded me about the old set of rules I had done and that perhaps we should look at getting some made. An off-hand comment perhaps, that has now blossomed into a full blown business.

Establishing Critical Mass Games has since been a labor of love, with Dale and I having almost daily progress meetings about what we are individually doing and how things are progressing. We where lucky to recruit, quite early on through a friend, a local artist called Rob Parkinson who turns our rambling briefs in to drawings, and it was from here or should I say the Unusual Suspects picture, work really began.

We knew what we wanted, we just had to get some sculptors to make it, easy we thought. At this point I advertised for sculptors and we paid out for 10 test miniatures to be sculpted from 5 sculptors. Receiving those initial sculpts was a roller coaster as the quality to cost ratio variance was incredible, and not all the models met the grade. We tried some of the sculptors we thought would be okay with further miniatures only to discover they really could not provided us with the quality we wanted. A real disappointment and expense at the time, but we persevered.

As usual with these things the sculptor we actually ended up with is an old acquaintance of Dale's from his GW days, and he put me in touch with Phil Lewis, who specializes in smaller scale miniatures having done a lot of 12mm WWII for Wargames South.

Another thing that I see as a boon to the CMG project is the recruitment of freelance Digital Sculptors John Bear Ross and Charles Oines, who both create wonderful 3D vehicle renders for us that can then be rapid prototyped and (after some traditional model makers cleaning, filling and filing), be made into some of the best 15mm models on the market.

Whether the sculpt is digital or traditional is has been an absolute joy time and time again to see something come from a drawing on a computer screen to an actual finished object in my hand. The sense of accomplishment does not get old.

Q4) What are your aims for CMG and what we can expect of you as a company in terms of quality and customer service?

Craig: We have a clear long term Aim to get people playing company level 15mm Sci-fi games with a Critical Mass Rules System. We have this development planned out as a 3 year project and very much hope to reach our goal at the end of that time.

Included in this as a company we aim to:

  1. Provide extensive lines of quality miniatures, vehicles, building, and accessories to support the CMG background and 15mm Sci-fi gaming in general.
  2. Support our miniatures ranges with continued/updated releases and online resources.
  3. Provide customers with a personal, quality service in support of their needs relating to our products.

Q5) Your first release are the ARC Fleet, can you fill us in on their background?

Humanity scattered amongst the stars since the betrayal on earth and the fall of the human empire now live aboard the ARC Fleets, huge conglomerations of Interstellar craft that form self sufficient colonies. Having no significant territories the ARC Fleets have become the scavengers of the stars, relying on the soldiers of the ARC Fleet acting as their proxy to strike out and draw in resources. These gatherings are well planned and typically avoid contact with other life forms so that ARC Fleets locations can remain hidden, yet there are times when hostilities become necessary.

The ARC Fleet employ a large proportion of 'Drop' and Jump' Troops in their Order of Battle alongside a family of support vehicles that can be rapidly deployed from orbit into any planetary environment. The Heavy Drop troopers are normally first to deploy, being inserted directly into combat zones and where the fighting is thickest they are supported by the much heavier Augment Battle Suits. In protracted engagements the eyes and ears of the ARC Fleet, the Light Recon troopers, will be deployed as Scouts, with the massed Rifle Infantry following up to take and hold ground.

Craig: In Brief our design process typically starts with Dale and I laying out what we want from a particular race, in terms of looks and weapons, we will then spend a few weeks looking for visual ideas to support what we have written down before passing a formalized brief onto Rob our artist. It is then typically two to three months of drawings going backwards and forwards until we get to a point we where we are happy with the concept designs.

The drawings are next sent on to the sculptor who will design a kit set for each troop type. Kits normally include multiple leg options, heads, torsos and weapons, all of which help contribute towards a consistent end product.

Master castings of the kits are made and there returned to the sculptor for conversion into complete posed models, at which stage they are then ready for casting again giving us a finished product.

Q6) As your initial release, what do you have planned in the way of heavy weapons and vehicles to support the ARC Fleet?

Craig: At first we only had the Laser Defense Platform planned for the ARC Fleet, but the integration of the Digital Sculpting with our miniatures ranges has opened up far more options to us. Our first vehicle for the ARC Fleet will be a Combat Walker, followed by a Heavy Grav Tank. After this the ARC Fleet will get a Medium Tank and APC with a family of Variants.

In addition we are also planning some more weapon platforms utilizing common parts from the walker kit and (susssh!) a Grav Bike.

Q7) The Protolene Khanate are the first 'Alien' race you are releasing, what was the inspiration for them?

Craig: Since we announced the Protolenes I have heard many people refer to them as the Vargr from the Traveller background but in all honesty the original (classic) Traveller was well before my time in gaming and both Dale and I had no prior knowledge or them or the Traveller background (something I am trying to amend). Whilst the Protolenes will be suitable for people wanting something to represent Vargr, but Vargr they most certainly are not.

The Protolenes actually started life as a cat race called the Felids, we had test sculpts done but where really not happy with the look of them or the way they where going, it was at this point we looked into changing them and Rob came up with some interesting Canine based ideas. This was refined to incorporate a ‘soft’ intelligent looking Jackal type face with the aggressive flared ruff of a Hyena, giving us the Protolenes.

Q8) Will they have heavy weapons and vehicles to take on the Arc Fleet troopers?

Craig: They most certainly will, however we are taking a different approach with the Protolenes than the ARC Fleet. The ARC fleet vehicles are all heavy bulky looking things with different propulsion sets. The Protolenes will all be single crewed Walkers. The light walker will take the place of other races Augmented Infantry, whilst the medium walker will replace the typical main battle tank role.

After that we will be working towards troop transport and heavy support versions.

Q9) Can you tell us more about the other alien races you have planned?

Craig: We currently have 4 races in the pipeline, the two mentioned already and the Kaamados Dominion and the Praesentia.

The Kaamadoes Dominion is a reptilian race with many different troop types. We have the Naga, a leadership cast, the Agaamids, warriors in various stages of growth, and the Squamata, battlefield servitors and general cannon fodder for the Dominion.

The first set of vehicles for the Kaamados have already been digitally created and will include 4 heavy tank variants, 2 Armored Cars, and 5 APC variants.

The Praesentia are an Ancient and psychically powerful race of Greys few in number so they are supported by Constructs know as the PRAL. We have three stages of Praesentia planned, the Enlightened, novice warriors, the Immortals, veteran fighters, and the Ancients, long lived and power warrior leaders.

The Praesentia vehicles are still at the concept stage at the moment and at this present time will be best described by the word, “sleek”.

Q10) You have a number of ranges in various stages of development, is there room for requests from gamers

Craig: We are always open to ideas from gamers but it must be understood that we have an extensive schedule budgeted out for the next year, so further product developments must each be carefully considered on their merit around this. To put it bluntly ideas are cheap, manufacturing is not, but asking cost nothing.

Q11) What sort of feedback are you hoping for about your miniatures?

Craig: We are confident that our product will be welcomed by the gaming community but it would be naive of us to not expect some criticisms and certainly foolish of us to ignore them when it comes to improving our products. My door is always open for people who want to talk to me.

Q12) What of the future?

Craig: We are hoping to start with participation games at Salute 2010 and from then on start trading at as many shows as we can access in the UK to increase the awareness of our products.

In regards to our rules system we will be hoping to assemble an online play test team in the next few months and progress the game to a printed release in 2010.

The miniatures range for our first 4 races should be completed by the end of 2010 after which we intend to announce several new ranges currently under development whilst simultaneously expanding our existing options. This is of course relying on things going well for us this year.

Distribution of our products will primarily be dealt with direct from us. We are offering free worldwide postage for all orders over £20.00 so currently there is no need for us to expand whilst we are still finding our feet, however as our number of products lines increase in 2010 we may seek partnerships in this area to reach a wider audience.

Craig, Dale, thank you both for your time and for being so open and honest with us about yourselves and your plans for the future. Let me wish you every success with your venture.




Mark Hannam & Dropship Horizon 2009©


  1. Thanks for that interview Mark. It is a very exciting time for Sci-Fi 15's, and i'll be watching this space for more news on this very exciting company. Keen to hear how thier rules play and see more background for thier interesting universe.

    I must say the Protolenes will definatly be my first purchase of this new line. Fantastic looking stuff. Good to here Criag and Dale are open to suggestions from the paying public. (Lets get them to do some space pirates.)

  2. Great interview!
    Let me chime in with Lee the Protolenes are on my must buy list. I also think some space pirates would be cool!

  3. Never heard of the Vargr? Shome Mishtake Shurely? Wont stop me buying them though?