The Dropship recently stopped off in the Tuffleyverse to catch up with Jon and gather some intel on Ground Zero Games and get a look at some new models that will be available shortly.
First of all, how did you get into table top wargaming?
I started wargaming when I was about 10 or 11, when I got hold of a copy of Charles Grant's Battle - Practical Wargaming. Around the same time (1970-71), the very first 6mm / 1/300 minis were becoming available - funny little lumps of lead that looked vaguely like Shermans and Panzer IIIs... but to a kid used to nothing but OO/HO plastics they were something new and wonderful!
My fascination with Sci Fi has been around as long as I can remember, and it wasn't long before I began to put the two interests together and think about the possibilities of SF wargaming - in the mid-70s I found the first commercial SF rules and minis, followed quickly by a copy of Traveller. Around that time I wrote my first rudimentary rules set, a very simple space combat game which eventually metamorphosed into Full Thrust. The rest, as they say, is history...
Crusty Power Armour and a Crusty Combat Walker.
Ground Zero Games has been around for quite a while, when did you decide to set up your own business and how has running the business changed over the years?
Around 1985 I started to cast a small range of resin 15mm SF vehicles in the garden shed - some Traveller-inspired Grav Tanks, ATVs etc.- and these were the first products ever marketed under the GZG name; with the help of small ads in White Dwarf (still an independent games mag in those days!) I sold a surprising number of them and it just snowballed from there. At the same time, I published my first "commercial" rules set - G-CAV - very much aimed at 15mm actions with the resin vehicles I was making.
The 25mm resins followed soon after, then the first FT starships and 6mm (though at that point the metal stuff was sculpted and cast by Paul Copeland (CMD), I just marketed them - a number of years later Paul had to give up due to poor health, and I bought the ranges from him). Once I decided to go into 25mm figures, I started doing my own metal casting as well as resin; by this time the 25mm sales had vastly overtaken the original 15mm, and 25mm (plus the starships of course) became my main focus for many years.
By 1991 GZG had grown to the point where I simply couldn't continue to run it as a part-time "hobby business" while holding down a full-time job - so I took the plunge, quit my "proper" job and GZG became my full time livelihood, which it still is today, 20 years on.
During the '90s I wrote and published the full, glossy second editions of Full Thrust, Dirtside and Stargrunt (all of which started life as first-edition photocopied A5 booklets). Metal casting gradually overtook the resins, to the point where I gave up on resin altogether; it's a good medium but compared with metal it's very time and labour intensive.
So, now everything I do is metal-cast and it is still 100% manufactured in-house. Unlike a number of the other companies in the field, I still do virtually EVERYTHING in-house - I design, build masters (still in the traditional way, not pixel-pushing!), make the moulds, cast the stock, pack the orders and take them to the post office each day. The only thing that is outsourced in any way is the human and alien figure sculpting, as I've always been more of a builder than a sculptor; aside from that, I still do the lot...
My return to 15mm started around 2000/2001, when I released some new 15mm figure packs which were effectively reduced size versions of our 25mm lines; they proved immediately popular, and a couple of years later I built the first new 15mm vehicle sculpts - sales of these were so good that I expanded the range as rapidly as I could, starting to cover all "tech levels" from near-future tracked equipment right up to ultra-tech grav stuff. The 15mm ranges were soon outselling the 25mm lines, and it wasn't long before 15mm was once again my best-selling scale (alongside the ever-popular FT starships, of course). It's funny how things go full-circle!
Rear view of new Crusty miniatures
What are your general plans for Ground Zero Games 15mm sci fi range?
At the moment, a continued steady growth of new items, plus going back to revisit and resculpt some of the earlier items. The last few years have seen a huge and rapid expansion to get the range built up, now it has slowed a bit because I'm kept so busy casting stock and fulfilling orders.
A long-term ongoing project is revisiting each of the figure nationalities that were released early on, and expanding them into full ranges of all-new sculpts - the NAC and NI (New Israelis) are pretty much done, but there are still a lot of other forces to do. In between these, I'm introducing entirely new stuff like the Crusties and the UNSC-Light guys, which have proved to be especially popular.
Vehicle-wise I have quite a few ideas in mind, but I'm not going to give details till they actually happen; I'd certainly like to do some more civilian and paramilitary type stuff, and maybe a few more buildings if I can figure out ways to do them effectively in metal - I won't be going back to resin-casting for the foreseeable future.
Do you have any plans to update or expand the setting of your Stargrunt/Dirtside/Fullthrust rule sets or the rules themselves?
I'd love to but, realistically, at present miniatures production is occupying all my work time; one day in the future I might get them done, but it's going to be a long way off. At the moment I'm happy to help to promote and recommend several of the new rulesets that have come on the market in the last couple of years - such as Future War Commander, Gruntz, and AAG/Osprey's forthcoming Tomorrow's War, all of which in turn help my miniatures sales. The hardcopies of my own rules have long since sold out, but I keep them available as free PDF downloads via the website for anyone who wants them - it's nice to see that they are still popular even with so much new competition around. Seeing GZG products used on the table with all sorts of different game systems is great, because it means people are buying the minis because they like them for themselves rather than because they are the "official" range for that game.
New NAC Power Armour including optional Jump Pack
How do you think the hobby (sci fi wargaming generally and 15mm sci fi wargaming more specifically) look now compared to when you started out?
It's quite odd to look back and realise that everything has come full-circle - I started out with 15mm, and more than twenty-five years later here I am back with it again! When I started, it was mostly home-brewed rules, converted toys and using what few crude and basic figures you could get - we'd have killed for the sort of ranges and variety that there is now, in 15mm and all the other scales.
Even with the recession, I think that most folks still want to keep doing their hobbies - possibly even more so to escape from how bad Real Life(tm) is... Wargaming is still NOT an expensive hobby compared with a lot of others, and I think that provided there is still a steady flow of newcomers at the bottom end of the age range (which is where, like 'em or loathe 'em, the "big boys" such as GW do perform a useful function for the hobby as a whole) then the future doesn't look too bad.
15mm SF is certainly having a "golden age" at the moment; in many ways it's never been easier to start a small miniatures business - you can get freelancers to create and sculpt (or 3D print) the models for you, then get contract casters to produce them - all you really have to do is come up with the initial ideas, then sell the finished product. The fact that I still do everything myself the old-fashioned way is just my choice!
More and more manufacturers old and new are seeing this resurgence of the scale and deciding to get involved - which is great from the consumer's point of view, though inevitably if the market gets too crowded I fear that a few will probably fall by the wayside. For the time being, though, I think it is a case of "a rising tide lifts all boats" - the more there is out there for them to buy, the more SF gamers are getting interested in the scale again and hopefully this translates into more sales for everyone in this part of the industry - I know I've never been busier than in the last 12 months, and long may it continue. As I've said before, if people keep buying the stuff, then I'll keep making it!