Nic Robson of Eureka Miniatures
& Greg Hallam
From left to right: Kosta, Tony, Nic, and John.
Finally the big day has arrived! After much hard work (thank you, thank you, thank you) Table Top Titans has at last opened its wide barn doors to welcome the enthusiastic wargame hobbyist a first glimpse at all the good things we have in store for you over the coming months.
Indeed, from the outset, we have a rare treat in store for our first readers; and it is with immense pleasure we were able to pin down Nic Robson & Greg Hallam from Eureka Miniatures, and persuade them to take time out from their busy work schedule to talk with us in an exclusive interview and games chat about their amazingly diverse and unique range of wargame and collector piece miniatures.
TTT: Hi guys, and once again, thank you for being able to join us at such short notice... to talk to us a bit about Eureka Miniatures.
Hmmmm, how long have Eureka Miniatures been running Nic; and something I've often wanted to ask you in the past (as an avid customer of yours): how did the company originally come about in the first place? What made you uproot from England and settle in sunny Australia, owner of such an energetic miniatures company?
Nic: Hi Steve. Well, Eureka began in 1991 when I emigrated to Australia to be with my girlfriend and couldn't find a real job (Australia was then in a recession we had to have) My former employer at Irregular Miniatures in the UK offered me the chance to be his agent in Australia, I found a second hand casting machine and began manufacturing under licence and have been running my own small business ever since.
TTT: Ah, so you worked for Irregular Miniatures, wow. I've been collecting their 6mm English Civil War, Fantasy figures, and 6mm terrain for years now, and I must say what a great UK company they are... very pleasant people to deal with as well - and have a wonderful personal touch with their customers.
How did Eureka Miniatures first get its name? Was it like Archimedes stepping into his bath and suddenly shouting "Eureka, I have found it" or was the name chosen under less extreme circumstances?
Nic: I wanted something that wasn't too generically military and that related to Australia in a generalised way. The rebellion at the Eureka Stockade on the outskirts of Ballarat (in Victoria, the state in Australia within which I am based) is a specifically Victorian military action and was a triumph of the people over the Establishment (eventually). Coincidently, as you just mentioned, Eureka also means 'I found it'and I like to think that customers will shout "Eureka"? when they find our web site.
TTT: Haha, yes that was pretty much my reaction when I stumbled across the site early in 2007.
But Eureka has such a diverse range of genres and periods, where on earth do you find time to cover such a wide range of miniatures, and in so many scales too? I mean, with the 28mm range alone you cover everything from Fantasy, Ancients, Age of Reason, Victorian, World War I & II, and you even cover a Modern range of miniatures... yet you also have many less mainstream and unusual periods covered as well, stuff not normally seen by figure makers today?
Nic: Well, all of us at Eureka come up with ideas, and all our sculptors enjoy a good challenge. We also listen to our customers requests via the 100 and 300 Clubs, and the upshot of all this input is that we end up making a huge variety (some think too many) of figures across many genres and in a wide spectrum of scales as well.
TTT: Do you yourself find time to play wargames.
Nic: Yes, I occasionally get to play a figure game with our Pax Limpopo range.
TTT: do you use your own figures exclusively, or do you use other people's figures as well.
Nic: About once a month a get to play a board game (usually something by the excellent Richard Borg). I would like to play more, but business and family often gets in the way of this.
Greg: I play board games and role-playing games on a fairly regular basis, a bit of skirmish wargaming, but these days, because of the time involved in painting and assembling etc, I don't really play big table top games. Most of the time my figure-gaming is Pax-related which means I can just borrow Nic's figures!
Nic: I tend to use any figures that inspire me. Quite often we will write a new scenario for Pax Limpopo because I have some new figures that I want to put on the table. If I see something that is aesthetically pleasing... has some wit and charm, then I will add it to my collection and play with it quite happily alongside our own specific pieces.
TTT: Ah I see, you truly are a cosmopolitan individual then. This is refreshing to see nowadays, in an age when uber companies are often so keen to promote their own wares, they dismiss anything else out of hand entirely.
Who sculpts your miniatures for you?
Nic: Mike Broadbent, Kosta Heristanidis and Alan Marsh all work for us and we are hoping to do much more work with Tony Barton and Victoria Lamb in the future. We are also always interested to see work by new sculptors and will encourage them where we can.
TTT: Wow, there are some real veteran names among that list. No wonder Eureka Miniatures maintain such a high standard for their wargaming and collector public.
Hmmmm, you mention the 100 Club and 300 Club. I've seen this in your site, but have never fully understood it. (I know, I know, when in doubt, click the link and read). But can you tell me a little more about what this is?
Nic: Haha, this is quite a difficult thing to explain properly. Essentially the 100 and 300 Clubs are a response to the worldwide web's ability to put likeminded people in touch with each other. If we can get 10 people to commit to purchasing a total of 150 28mm figures or 600 15mm figures then we can afford to invest in making that range a viable product... knowing we will get our sculpting costs back. I believe that if ten people have had the faith to sign up for a figure, then many more will buy the figures once they are available and can be seen. It does take a great commitment to sign up for something that hasn't been made yet, but so far we believe we have met our customers'expectations and more when making these bespoke figures.
Once a suggestion reaches 150/600 I contact all the Club members with a prospectus before anything is made. If at that point a Club member decides they don't like the idea anymore they can cancel their pre-order and they will not hear anymore from us. However if they then want to continue, we make the figures, cast them and finally charge the customer only when the figures are despatched.
We have had great success with this concept ( which we borrowed from a board games company) and the Flying Monkeys, 15mm WWII figures and 28mm AWI Ragged Continentals would never have been produced without it.
TTT: This sounds great. So effectively, if my games club decided they needed a new type of generic figure (let's say - an Australian Bushman model we could group into fighting units for our Victorian games) if, as the club owner, I could guarantee purchases which match your 100 & 300 club minimal compulsory order, you could make a special sculpt for us. Wow, that's impressive.
A personal favourite period of mine Nic, is your amazingly weird and whacky range of Pax Limpopo miniatures. Pax Limpopo is a relative newcomer to your range, only conceived by you since 1998, I believe.
How an earth did you come up with such a strange idea. You've literally taken the Victorian world, added a bit of Steampunk, given it a twist of irony, and come up with something altogether unique. I've not seen anything even remotely like it anywhere else on the gaming market.
Was this your idea Nic, or did you and Greg sit down together one night after an evening watching some particularly memorable re-run episodes of Monty Pythons Flying Circus? The style could so easily be seen in this light, but remarkably (in my mind), you have also managed to capture the essence of the Dickensian Times... added a make believe Colonial New World and Darkest Africa ... yet you have put a humorous slant on everything without losing the 'feel'of the Victorian era in the slightest. What's this all about?
Nic: It all came about from a suggestion by Jon Tuffly of Ground Zero Games, who mentioned that he had always wanted to see a unicycling lancer figure. I cannot resist a challenge and so we made the figure. Then we needed to do something with it and Greg and Dave McCartney, a good friend of ours, came up with the Pig Tickling game. About this time we also began to be aware of the inherent boredom of Victorian era games of Europeans shooting down hordes of natives from around the globe. How much more interesting it would be if the natives and the Europeans could work together and face common threats. From this came the Anglo-African Empire which became Pax Limpopo. And then we started bringing in other nations such as Prussia and France. We've tried to gave each of them a distinct technology, i.e. so Britain uses steam, Prussia clockwork mechanisms, France uses biological technology, and this is reflected in the figures you see.
Greg: (laughing) Well there you go! I never knew it stemmed from Jon Tuffly! I thought you and Tony (one of Nic's staff) had the first idea.
Now you said something interesting Steve, when you described Pax as weird and whacky. The reason Pax succeeds as a world is that we have never thought of it as wacky. It's strange, bizarre, whimsical, nonsensical, but it all makes perfect sense once you delve into it. There is a wonderful internal consistency in Pax, which unfortunately people can't see, because most of the background to the figures hasn't been published yet. But over the years we've written notes and background about most of the figures and what seems wacky actually makes perfect sense in the context of the world.
Let me give you an example - the British soldiers in rubber dinosaur suits. I actually don't remember how we came up with them, but this is the reason the British use them: After discovering dinosaurs in Africa, the military lost quite a few soldiers by trying to kill or capture dinosaurs with traditional military tactics. Now a thin red line of rifles MIGHT hold off a Zulu attack, but it's no darn good against T-Rexes. So some colonel had the bright idea of luring the dinosaurs by having soldiers dressed up as dinosaur young. You see, they were working on the perfectly reasonable idea that a bleating lamb or bellowing calf attracts its parents. Unfortunately this doesn't work with dinosaurs, which they weren't to know, of course.
As soon as a unit of rubber-dinosaur decoys stood in the open and started screeching, the adult dinosaurs (quite naturally) attacked them. Turns out dinosaurs hate their offspring, which is one of the reasons the dinosaurs died out, by the way :-) . But by this stage the Rubber Dinosaur Decoy units were considered the epitome of courage and stiff-upper-lipped-ness so they continue to be used. And the rubber suits have found to be very good at stopping bullets. So now you have units that look scary and are fairly invulnerable to rifle fire, so the top brass decided that they are perfect defensive units. Of course, they can't actually DO anything except stand there.
Does it sound stupid? Maybe, but once you accept the premise that British have found dinosaurs, it actually makes sense. Some bigwig at the top has a wonderful idea and inflicts it on the rank and file, and when it doesn't work, justifies it away anyway. Entirely consistent with what really happened in Colonial times. The idea of incompetence, both military and otherwise, filters right through Pax.
TTT: Hahahaha, oh this sounds so wonderful. I've always imagined Pax Limpopo as working something like this (and your comments about real Colonial times, the sad lot of the common soldiery, and the stoic stupidity of the 'big-wigs'is spot on); but it's so good to hear it from one of the original concept creators of the game... 'straight from the horse's mouth'as they say in Britain.
So how did you come up with the name Pax Limpopo anyway?
Greg: My friend Dave McCartney and I were tossing around ideas for this new empire, and agreed that it had to be "Pax" something, in the vein of Pax Britannica and Pax Romana. So we obviously needed an African word, to signify the British/African alliance. The first African word we thought of was 'Limpopo'- both of us have read too much Kipling and were thinking of the story 'The Elephant's Child', which talks about the 'banks of the great grey-green greasy Limpopo River.'So we put it to Nic and Co., and Pax Limpopo it became. I always thought it ironic that two reasonably well-read and educated fellows like Dave and I had so little knowledge of Africa, and the first thing that flashed into our mind was by an English writer. But Pax Limpopo is a good name.
TTT: (Steve: makes mental note to dust off his old copy of Kipling stories and start re-reading). What incredible imagination and an unusual perspective on the real world. But then again, I can't argue with your reasoning. There is a certain consistent integral logic to the infrastructure of this imaginary world.
So, Pax Limpopo it is! Peace along the Limpopo River, and in effect, and an Anglo British African alliance... wonderful stuff.
Whose idea was it to add French Ant Eater Soldiers, Circus Clowns, Dinosaurs, and all that unusual stuff to the mix?
Nic: All of us at Eureka have added items into the mix over the years. We almost use Pax as role-playing exercise, someone will think of an idea for a game and each of us will want to better it or make it more ridiculous. The only limit I place is that there must be a reason for things being made or happening in Pax that is consistent with its own internal logic.
Greg: That's a very important point, everything fits into Pax. It wasn't planned that way from the start, as Nic said, we'd just think of figures and characters that ticked our fancy. But through some mysterious process they all make sense. As I said before, there is a lovely internal consistency and this comes out strongly in the Pax rules which, incidentally, will see light of day in the near future.
I think the other delightful thing about Pax is that it's not just a wargame setting - the personalities and events are quite alive and actively encourage you to think of scenarios - as Nic said, almost like a role-playing exercise.
TTT: Yes I see. It all makes sense now; especially as I have been fortunate enough to have glimpsed the rules myself. I must say, they are as unusual and every bit as original as the miniatures themselves.
I see Eureka Miniatures also make flying monkeys, extraterrestrial Cat People, Lunar Warriors, Fighting Teddy Bears, and a lot of other models which are often used alongside the Pax Limpopo range in games, but I notice these items are not exclusively part of the Pax Limpopo range, why is this?
Nic: All those figures were made for different ranges, and some of them as 100 Club requests. They aren't really part of our original expectations of the Pax world, but have been added once we saw their potential as lovely figures that can be added into a Victorian era game and that is consistent with the Pax logic. As an example the Teddy Bears were originally made as a customer request, we have now added clockwork keys to them and they are used as part of the Prussian Army (the Prussians in real life being great makers of toys and of clockwork, and this is the basis of their technology in Pax). Similarly the flying moneys were a 100 Club request, but can now be added into Pax on the principle that The Island Of Dr Moreau is a real life book and that animal experimentation did occur in the Victorian era.
Greg: Yes, the flying monkeys are a good example of a different figure range slotting neatly into Pax. We'd already established that French technology was based on biological experimentation - like the camel infantry - so flying monkeys fitted perfectly - experiments by the French in creating long range scouts :)
TTT: Haha, oh my, this just keeps getting better. What more could the intrepid and daring gamer or collector want out of his or her hobby. It's like toy soldiers for adults, and has a really 'old school'gaming feel to it, where (as you say) Kipling, HG Wells, or Arthur Conan Doyle classics have as much influence as any modern day novel or movie.
Do you have any plans to expand the Pax Limpopo range at all any time soon?
Nic: Pax is always being added to in our minds even though it can be some time before the next figures see the light of day. We have been working on a set of game rules for Pax that will provide a framework for those who like to use their imaginations and be involved in the gaming process, rather than being dictated to as to what they can and cannot do. We hope to have these published in the next twelve months.
We also intend to have a Pax gamette (a board game with figures) available before Christmas, keep watching our web site for further details.
Greg: Yes, we like the idea of 'gamettes', as we call them, set in the world of Pax. We've got Pig Tickler and Wagers of Sin, there's the new game coming up, and I've been working on a cross-country penny-farthing race game. The thing with the gamettes is not only does it give players something to do with the figures (laugh), but it's a way of fleshing out the world a bit more at the same time.
TTT: Oooh yummy. So we may possibly some new Pax models sometime in the future; and the official Pax Limpopo rules will be a wonderful feast for Pax games to sink their teeth into. I can't wait to see these become available, and will look forward to writing many Pax battle reports on Table Top Titans using these new rules.
Perhaps you will allow us to review the rules nearer the time, give readers a taste of things to come :-)
Yes, yes I completely agree with you Greg. The Wagers of Sin and Pig Tickler gamettes... whilst self contained games in their own right (and darn good tasty little games they are too) do add new layers to the Pax Limpopo world as a whole.
So if I have this right, you have a dedicated set of rules exclusively set in the world of Pax Limpopo, which will be available to the public sometime over the next year. That's wonderful.
Nic: Yes, as mentioned above we are working on a set and hope to publish them soon.
Greg: Yes... The theme of incompetence in Pax we mentioned earlier runs right through the rules. The harder you try to perform an action, the more chance you have of succeeding, but simultaneously the greater the chance of making a complete botch-up. It's not how good you are at something, it's how good you look when doing it; style over competence, every time!
TTT: Will the rules be for sale or downloadable as a freebie to customers?
Nic: We are looking into the feasibility of a full colour glossy rules book, but I cannot reveal any other details at the moment.
TTT: Yes of course. You have to keep a few secrets up your sleeve to excite and amuse your customers in the future.
Something I've often looked at in your catalogue, but know nothing about is your Avalon Bleeding range of miniatures. What's this all about. Is it another weird and wonderful made up land similar to the Pax Limpopo one?
Nic: Avalon Bleeding is a much darker world than Pax. In Pax we tend to make terrible puns and push the limits of ridiculousness. Avalon Bleeding is set during the English Civil War and represents the clash or Reason (in the shape of Parliament) and the Old Religions (fairy and magic in the form of the King and the Royalists). We are thinking about the rules for this game as I write these replies and I hope we have more about the background available soon.
TTT: This sounds fascinating, and I can hardly wait to find out more; especially as a personal passion of mine in ECW wargaming. The prospect of an alternative style semi skirmish wargames world in this genre makes me very happy indeed.
What is your most popular range?
Nic: The 15mm AB range that we handle of behalf of Anthony Barton is our biggest seller. Of our own Eureka Miniatures we don't have a stand out seller, everything sells well.
TTT: What new things do Eureka Miniatures have in store for its customers later in 2008/2009?
Nic: The definitive 28mm French Revolutionary War figures, more Pax, more 15mm WW2. Some 28mm Pulp style WW2 figures and lots more 15mm Napoleonics from AB.
TTT: Wonderful news. :-)
Nic, Are you and Greg social buddies outside of work hours?
Nic: Actually, we don't work together, so we only meet outside of work. Greg has a real job, I only make toy soldiers. We get together once a fortnight to indulge ourselves in Pax and other gaming projects.
Greg: I might have a real job, but Nic's is more interesting! Sometimes Nic has a board games afternoon at his shop on the weekend and invites a few friends over... that's always lots of fun.
TTT: Who makes the work decisions, you Nic, or Greg; and how do you divide the workload?
Nic: I leave all the writing to Greg. I try to add my take on the Pax world into Greg's writings but he also has to take notice of all the rest of Eureka's creative team into account as well. I see myself as the helmsman of Pax, trying to steer it towards publication while Greg is in charge of making the map.
Greg: Most of the time ideas come up out of brainstorming sessions amongst the Eureka staff, a single word or phrase or idea can spark a new line of figures for Pax, or more background. Nic leaves it to me actually to put pen to paper, based on ideas that have been floated. The main exception is the wonderful Origins of The Pax Limpopo Empire, that Tony wrote, and which is the basis of 'official'Pax history.
TTT: Ah, that sounds like sound organisation and a great pooling of resources. I know you don't actually work for Nic, but you are obviously a integral part of the team, especially where Pax Limpopo is concerned.
Hey, I know Nic is originally from England, but were you born in Australia Greg?
Greg: I'm about 3rd or 4th generation Australian born, but am of Anglo-Saxon stock J. Don't ask me where in England my ancestors came from. My surname is Hallam, and I know there's a Hallamshire in England. One day I may visit there and discover a whole town that looks like me maybe? Scary thought !
TTT: Hallamshire (or Hallam) is the historical name for an area of South Yorkshire, England, in the current city of Sheffield. Maybe you're related the famous Hallams of the English Civil War period?
Have you ever been to England, finding out your family genealogy could be fun?
Greg: I've only been to London, and was surprised to find no unicycles or penny-farthing's in the streets! But while I was walking around London I came across Shaftesbury Lane (or Road?) Shaftesbury is the main hero of Pax - I was quite thrilled!
TTT: Haha, that must have been quite invigorating. Imagine travelling half way round the world, and suddenly seeing a place named after a main hero in your game *wink*.
See, you're more famous than you knew.
Hey, Nic, Greg, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us here at TTT, it has been a real pleasure talking with you and picking your brains about Eureka Miniatures, the world of Pax Limpopo, and how they do things over in the land of Aus.
Is there anything either of you would like to add yourself before we wrap things up?
Nic: I would just like to commend TTT on their initiative in setting up this web magazine, to wish them every success in the venture and to thank them for inviting us to be part of it.
Greg: Yes, thanks Steve. And if folks have any questions about Pax, or the upcoming rules you can always email me or Nic.
TTT: Thanks for your encouragement Nic, it means a lot; and thanks to you Greg, it's nice to know you are both so openly approachable and friendly.
May Eureka Miniatures, the world of Pax Limpopo, Avalon Bleeding, the Hallam Name, and the success of Nic Robson and Co. continue to thrive for many many years to come.
© 2008, Stephen A Gilbert.