News has sadly broken that veteran British game designer Bryan Ansell has passed away at the age of 68. Ansell was the co-founder of Citadel Miniatures and the boss of Games Workshop in the 1980s and 1990s, particularly the period when Warhammer 40,000 was launched. Ansell was a hands-on boss and worked on books and material for both the Warhammer fantasy and 40K universes.
Ansell was born in 1955 and became a key fan of science fiction, fantasy and wargaming at a young age. He sculpted his first miniature - a guardsman of Gondor - in 1966 after reading J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. A few years later he acquired a pyrogravure heat pen and set about converting Robin Hood figures produced by Airfix into hordes of orcs.
Ansell further developed his artistic skills as a teenager and began sculpting models for wargaming, earning him a job at Skytrex and then Conquest Miniatures. At Conquest he worked on the Age of Joman range. He was inspired to start his own company, Asgard Miniatures, in 1976, along with Paul Sulley and Steven Fitzwater. Whilst at Asgard he met and worked with Jes Goodwin, Nick Bibby, Tony Ackland and Rick Priestley. In 1978 Priestley and his friend Richard Halliwell created the wargame system Reaper for Tabletop Games, with a second edition following in 1981.
Ansell left Asgard in 1978 to found rival miniatures company Citadel Miniatures, with funding from British gaming company Games Workshop. Citadel Miniatures began churning out large numbers of generic figures for use with roleplaying games, particularly Dungeons & Dragons (to which Games Workshop held the exclusive European distribution rights). The company initially focused on fantasy figures but also branched out to science fiction, producing figures for the SF roleplaying game Traveller and then the TV series Doctor Who.
Bryan Ansell was notable for not just his sculpting skills but also his business acumen, and he noted that from the sales patterns that people were buying some of the more generic figures - orcs, dwarves, elves - in large numbers, enough for entire regiments. This suggested they were playing full-on wargames with the figures, not just the very small skirmishes allowed for by roleplaying games. The suggestion was made for Games Workshop to create their own wargame, drawing on their immense catalogue of figures rather than having to invent things from scratch. Based on their work on Reaper, Ansell brought in Priestley and Halliwell to design a new game that could make use of their existing range. The result was Warhammer, published in 1983 and an immediate success story. A second edition followed in 1984.
Ansell contributed creatively to the worldbuilding for Warhammer by working on the Chaos and Orc factions, and created the infamous Chaos Gods for the setting.
In 1983 Ansell founded Wargames Foundry as a spin-off company run by his father after his retirement.
Ansell instigated a buyout of Games Workshop in 1985 and an effective merging of Games Workshop and Citadel Miniatures into a single company. Ansell oversaw a series of sustained growth for the company, first through the expansion of the Warhammer line and then the introduction of Warhammer 40,000 in 1987. Like Warhammer, the 40,000 line drew on GW's immense pre-existing SF figure line and even modifications of the fantasy line, sometimes literally taking orcs and removing their swords and bows in exchange for guns. As the line became hugely successful in its own right, bespoke models were introduced.
Ansell also redirected all Games Workshop offices and entities to be based in Nottingham. As the years passed, ex-GW employees would found their own companies nearby, leading to shared vendors and resources, creating an area known as the "Lead Belt," the centre of the British (and arguably European) warming miniatures scene.
Towards the end of his tenure Ansell saw the further expansion of the company, with the profile of their games raised by a strategic alliance with MB Games which resulted in the board games Hero Quest (1989) and Space Crusade (1990), as well as their first forays into video games. However, Ansell also directed the company to drop its work with other games and focus almost all of its creative efforts on the Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 brands, with its associated White Dwarf magazine also becoming solely focused on the company's own games rather than the hobby at large. This move was criticised by some employees and some critics in the hobby at large.
Ansell left Games Workshop in 1991 to focus on his family and returning to his first love, of sculpting miniatures. He established Guernsey Foundry in 1991, transforming it into a new incarnation of Wargames Foundry in 2000. The new company specialised in historical figures with some SF elements. Bryan retired from the company in 2005, but mismanagement led to him returning in 2012. A new company, Casting Room, was set up to help ease the problems and bring in new models. A further company, Warmonger Miniatures, was set up in 2015 to sell exclusively fantasy figures.
Bryan Ansell was an integral part of the Games Workshop story, and his combination of creative and business inspirations led to the company's mass expansion in the 1980s and early 1990s, and the creation of Warhammer 40,000. He left an indelible mark on the British wargaming industry, and can be credited with transforming it, turning into a world-leader in the miniatures field. He will very much be missed.