Bryan Charles Ansell, creator of Warhammer and a key figure in the role-playing and wargaming hobby of the 1980s and continuing to the modern era has passed away at the age of 68 as reported by his wife, Diane on December 30th. Mr. Ansell is credited as being the driving force in building the Nottingham-based games company Games Workshop into the £3.25B company it is today.
In this day and age where role-playing games (RPGs) are a multi-billion dollar a year industry, it is easy to forget that the hobby was viewed as “fringe” and “weird” in the early 1980s, some few years after Dungeons and Dragons was first published. Across the pond, D&D was also the go-to RPG. The hobby grew on both sides of the Atlantic and like in the US, the UK had its share of fanzines including Ansell’s Trollcrusher. This is perhaps what brough him to the attention of Games Workshop (GW), which was at the time the largest UK importer of Dungeons and Dragons. In 1978, with GW’s financial backing, Mr. Ansell co-founded Citadel Miniatures which produced metal miniatures which players could use for their D&D sessions.
Mr. Ansell also showed great talent as a game designer, creating Warhammer Fantasy Battle (WHFB) in 1983, along with Rick Priestley and Richard Halliwell – who themselves had run a fanzine entitled Reaper. In addition printing its own Warhammer products, GW was also reprinting American RPGs Call of Cthulhu, Middle Earth Role Playing, Runequest and Traveller as importing the books and modules was prohibitively expensive. Even as that was going on Citadel Miniatures became the primary revenue source for GW as a whole. He also authored several supplements for both Call of Cthulhu and WHFB during this period.
By 1984, GW moved away from being a distributor of American products and had opened up an office in the US, which allowed it to sell and distribute its WHFB game directly to American retailers while also offering a lucrative mail order miniatures business for players in North America.
In 1985, Mr. Ansell was appointed as managing director of Games Workshop itself where he oversaw the rapid growth of the brand and its signature game along with a supporting Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay game – a competitor to D&D. Soon after, he bought out the shares of GW’s owners for £10M and relocated the company along with its publishing and miniatures casting operations from London to Nottingham where it is still located today.
Over the next decade, Mr. Ansell’s leadership saw GW license games and rights to make miniatures for Judge Dredd, Paranoia, Dungeons and Dragons and Lord of the Rings. In 1987, GW first published Warhammer 40,000 – referred to as WH40K – introducing gamers to scifi conflict in the far future. Many of the races and figures found their origins in the fantasy game.
In 1991, Mr. Ansell was overseeing a company that had grown to over 250 employees. A refocus on the twin wargames, WHFB and WH40K as well as a growing retail chain aimed at a family-friendly market brought even greater financial success and increased popularity. At this point, he sold his shares to Tom Kirby, who had succeeded him as general manager for the company and he retired to Guernsey to raise a family and devote time to his other passion of restoring old houses. Per his son Marcus, Bryan “raised three children and restored four houses” while there.
However, he could not stay away from the miniatures business. He established Guernsey Foundry that same year to produce historical miniatures covering the American Old West, the Seven Years War, and the British exploration and colonization of Africa in the 18th and 19th centuries. When GW stopped producing historical miniatures in the early 1980s as Warhammer took off, Mr. Ansell had had the foresight to buy up the rights to those figures and established Wargames Foundry which was run by his retired father, Cliff. In addition to its own ranges, Foundry was also contracted by GW to create moulds for miniatures when they didn’t have enough capacity in-house. A large percentage of the former GW miniatures were sculpted by the prolific Perry Twins – Alan and Michael – who continue to sculpt new historical figures for Foundry.
In 2000, Mr. Ansell relocated to Newark in Nottinghamshire, a half hour from where he had relocated Games Workshop’s headquarters in Lenton over a decade ago. He combined his two miniature operations under the Wargames Foundry banner. He grew Foundry’s product range and continued to operate the company before retiring in 2005 to return to gardening and restoring houses. Even in retirement though, he still kept his hand in the industry. In the mid-2010s he partnered with another revered, former GW sculptor, Kevin “Goblinmaster” Adams to create a sister company called Warmonger Miniatures. Many “Oldhammer” fans of the 1980s miniatures add these newer minis to their classic “greenskin” hordes.
Wargames Foundry continues to operate under the direction the Ansell family. It is now one of the largest producers of historical and fantasy miniatures in the world, rivaling even Games Workshop.