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Friday 2 December 2022

Friday Faction—Dice Men

The influence of Games Workshop upon the hobby—certainly in the United Kingdom, let alone beyond—cannot be underestimated. From its founding in 1975 to its current status as a FTSE 250 company, Games Workshop has come to represent the gaming hobby and latterly the wargaming hobby to first the United kingdom and later the world. Notably it imported the first commercially available copies in the United Kingdom of Dungeons & Dragons and as the first distributor and publisher of licensed versions of the new rulebooks for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, it would grow and grow the hobby in this country. Its main vehicle for this would be White Dwarf magazine, which would not only support Games Workshop’s titles licensed from publishers in the USA, but also its own growing range of board games and roleplaying games. So Apocalypse (or The Warlord) and Talisman, the Judge Dredd Roleplaying Game and Golden Heroes, and many more. Its spin-off, Citadel Miniatures, produced licensed miniatures and its own, ultimately leading to Warhammer The Mass Combat Fantasy Role-Playing Game and from there, Warhammer Fantasy Battle, Warhammer 40,000, and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay

Alongside this, Games Workshop opened retail shops, if not on the high street, then at least close by, thus enabling games enthusiasts to pick up the latest games and miniatures, but also beginning that long road to normalisation and wider acceptance for the hobby, as well as being somewhere where hobby enthusiasts could meet. The refocus of Games Workshop in the late eighties and eventual buyout from the two surviving founders—Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson—in the early nineties would send the company down a different path to the company that it is now. That though, is another story, and not the one told in Dice Men: The Origin Story of Games Workshop.

Written by Sir Ian Livingstone with Steve Jackson—two of the three founders of Games Workshop—Dice Men is a memoir of the company’s first fifteen years. It begins with the two of them, together with their friend John Peake, deciding to set up their own games company. Initially, this was producing wooden puzzles and games, along their gaming fanzine, Owl & Weasel, but when a copy of that fell into the hands of the co-designer of Dungeons & Dragons, E. Gary Gygax, they were first offered a copy of the game to review, then placed an order to sell, and then were offered the distribution rights for the United Kingdom. Proselytising the merits of the first roleplaying game in the pages of Owl & Weazel and then White Dwarf, Livingstone and Jackson, now without Peake, would build the company as a games wholesaler, a magazine publisher, and then a retailor, with its first shop at Dalling Road in Hammersmith, and an events organiser, with Games Day. The company would publish its board games, beginning with Apocalypse: The Game of World War III, Doctor Who: The Game of Time and Space, Valley of the Four Winds: An Epic Game of Swords & Sorcery, and Warlock: The Game of Duelling Wizards and become a licensee for numerous roleplaying games as well publishing its own. Time and again, Games Workshop would publish fondly remembered titles, many of which have been reprinted since or remain in print today. Setting up Citadel Miniatures too to support fantasy gaming in general as well as Games Workshop’s own titles, ultimately of course, lead to Warhammer Fantasy Battles and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.

Physically, Games Workshop would grow too, moving from a flat to an office, the latter with Livingstone and Jackson living out a van, before opening the company’s first shop at Dalling Road, acquiring offices and warehouse space at Sunbeam Road, Citadel Miniatures opening premises in Nottingham, and so on, with many of the addresses being familiar to British gamers from the eighties. The book also looks at other aspects of the authors’ involvement in the hobby, most notably the Fighting Fantasy series of solo adventure books—detailed in You Are The Hero, but also the beginnings of the computer games industry.

Along the way, there are plenty of asides. They include Steve Jackson’s search for a copy of The Warlord, the map and key for ‘The Inner Temple of the Golden Skeleton’—Livingstone’s first dungeon, the authors’ first trip to Gen Con, and more. There are other contributors, including various employees, notably Bryan Ansell, who was so important in establishing Citadel Miniatures and eventually taking the company in a new direction. There is also a lovely message from Gail Gygax, the wife of the late E. Gary Gygax, highlighting how Gary felt about Ian Livingstone. In the main though, 
the voices heard are those of Jackson and Livingstone. There are controversies and failures along the way as well, but not many. Such as the time Games Workshop received a letter from Lucas Film because of an advert, the newspapers’ assertion that the company was distributing Mayfair Games’ War in the Falklands board game, and of course, Ian Marsh’s infamous acrostic in White Dwarf #77!

Physically, Dice Men is an engaging read, but what really catches the eye are its photographs. The book is lavishly illustrated. They begin the company’s first orders for its own games, covers for all of the copies of Owl & Weasel, catalogue covers, flyers for Games Day and Dragonmeet, photographs from these events and the authors’ Gen Con trip, White Dwarf covers, beautiful reproductions of figures from Citadel Miniatures, and more. The book is as much a visual history of the company as it is a personal memoir, and it is clear that the authors have dived deep onto the archives to pull out so many of its photographs.

Dice Men is not a history of Games Workshop. That book is yet to be written, whether of the first part of its history—the period covered here, or of the second part, its more recent history built around its own intellectual properties. It is instead a memoir, and so a personal history. As interesting as it is, to an extent this limits its readership. It is not necessarily going to be of interest to the fan of Games Workshop who has no interest in the company’s origins and for the roleplaying historian, it may not be critical enough. Yet what shines through is the hard work that both authors put into building and developing Games Workshop, as well as their love of games and gaming. 

For the role-player of certain age—especially if British, or the role-player with an interest in the history of gaming, then Dice Men: The Origin Story of Games Workshop is an absolute must-have. This is a sumptuously illustrated trip down memory lane for both reader and the book’s authors to look at the beginning of an institution and the gaming hobby in the United Kingdom.


  1. Thanks for the review. I finished mine a couple of days ago, and I think you hit both its strength and weakness well. Well done sir.

  2. Thank you. Glad you enjoyed the review.