Greeting fellow wargamers! Caleb with War Council here! As a hobby centered podcast, one of our 2016 goals was to start reaching out to other studios, manufacturers, and hobbyists like ourselves and find out more about what their niche in our most beloved hobbies. A few weeks ago I read an article on BOLS about a new and upcoming miniature manufacturer Mindworm Games, and their soon to be released Weird West tabletop skirmish game called Exiles.
Check out the highlights from our interview!
WARCOUNCIL: How did Mindworm Games get it’s start? How does one get into casting miniatures in what looks to be a pretty well thought out operation?
MINDWORM GAMES: Thanks! I’m glad that we look so well thought out. I started Mindworm Games because I love making things. I love the feeling of creating something that people enjoy, and I have been addicted to Exiles for years. I wanted to turn Exiles from a game that I ran for my friends into a game everybody can enjoy. I wanted it to work, and I wanted to do it without taking on a bunch of debt or pissing off my wife.
In house spin casting is the answer to that. It’s relatively cheap to get into, it is something that anybody can learn how to do, the equipment has plenty of uses aside from making miniatures, and the nature of the production process allows a small company like ours to remain very nimble even on a small budget.
WC: How much product can you churn out of your workshop on a yearly basis?
MWG: That remains to be seen! The short answer is that we really don’t know. Somebody like Josh Qualtieri (ZombieSmith Studios) or Forrest Harris (Knuckleduster Miniatures) can give you an experience-based answer to that. They are both small manufacturers with minimal staff that provide contract casting and mold-making services. What I can tell you is that (conservatively) it takes about 5-10 minutes of hands-on time to work a mold. Spinning is about 30 seconds and then you have to let the mold cool down, remove and sort the casts, re-talc the mold, and put it back into rotation. You get less down time if you have enough molds in rotation to keep them cool enough to spin.
If you figure an average of 10 models per mold, that’s about 1 minute of hands on time per model. If you figure working 6 hours on the weekends, say 40 weekends per year, that gives you about 15,000 casts. If you put all of the Wave 1 Exiles products together and took out the models, you’d have 36 casts total. That’s more than 400 units of every product from of the equivalent of about six 40-hour work weeks. Not bad.
WC: You appear to have a very large staff. How did you guys all get together and create a shared vision for a company?
MWG: The truth is that it’s just me, Jesse, and a few artists that we work with! It helps to have a shared vision, and in my view the key to creating that vision is to treat it as a collaboration. Here is my vision. How are you going to make it your own? I want to work consistently with talented artists who bring their own creative vision to the project. I want to work with people who get excited about what we are doing. If they’re not, then it’s just work, isn’t it? Where’s the fun in that?
The key to building these relationships is to have a clear vision but also keep an open mind. My job is to get the artist’s creative juices flowing and provide a flexible framework that allows them to do their own thing. That’s how we get the kind of beautiful work we do from Adam, Hugh, and Marco. These guys are very much an integral part of the Exiles world, and we plan on working with them for as long as they are happy to work with us.
WC: As the world moves towards 3D Printing and vacuform molding, are you concerned at all that Mindworm Games will be challenged to find it’s niche in the industry? Is spin casting becoming an outdated hobby medium?
MWG: Not at all. Spin casting is more important now than it ever was, and there will always be a place for spin casting in this market. The table top gaming market is exploding right now because the means of production are becoming more democratized. Advances in 3D printing have made digital sculpting a viable mainstream medium for table top miniatures, which has in turn made it far easier for artists to connect with prospective clients and publishers.
Injection molding is becoming cheaper and more accessible as well, and Chinese manufacturers have found ways to make small batch production jobs viable. Combined with the rise in crowdfunding, this has made it easier than ever to produce a table top game from your laptop. But these types of games still have to be manufactured overseas, and they still require comparatively substantial capital to fund and a relatively rigid production format. Hence the boxed game.
Resin casting is easier than ever now with plenty of resources at your fingertips, and laser engravers have become smaller, cheaper, and easier to use. And yet you still see metal miniatures from a huge swath of small, independent companies. The reason is that spin cast metal remains the simplest and cheapest form of mass production while at the same time offering the kind of flexibility and reliability that is critical to a small business, assuming you want to be in business for the long haul.
WC: What are some of the challenges and advantages of spincasting over other product mediums?
MWG: For us, the flexibility of spin casting is absolutely critical. You can reclaim resin miscasts, but reclaiming metal is as simple as dropping the cast back into the melt pot. You can manufacture small volumes very quickly with cheap molds that last practically forever. Because the labor is sweat equity for us, if a product isn’t selling we can simply turn it into a product that does sell without suffering a substantial loss. We can scale production up and down to meet demand, and we can be very flexible when it comes to customer demands. I wouldn’t much mind spinning a mold to get 10 casts of a particular bit that you were in love with because I can throw everything else back into the melt pot. I don’t mind making a new mold if somebody loves slotta tabs because a blank is less than $15.
In terms of challenges, well, mold-making is the biggest challenge. A drunk monkey can run a spin caster, but making a mold takes a little more finesse. But honestly, the biggest challenge for us has been the same manufacturing bottlenecks everyone else is dealing with. We are using 3D printed models, and we don’t do that in house (yet?) which means we have to sit and wait in line. And a mistake can cost us weeks if we need to wait for a new print.
Other than that, spin casting takes up more space than resin casting, I think. Even a New Venture Casting Factory takes up a not insignificant footprint, and you have to be pretty hands-on to do spin casting. It has a similar type of grimy, elbow grease type of feel to it as working on a car. You are moving heavy pieces of metal, prying things open with a screwdriver, cutting vulcanized rubber, working with molten metal, hammering shit, bending shit, and running machinery. If that’s something you like, it’s not hard, but it’s much less… clinical… than resin casting, which is more soft things and clean spaces and precise measurements and dainty work.
WC: Exiles appears to be a Wild West Skirmish Game with some RPG elements, like character progression, which I think is a great idea and high time for one. What makes Exiles unique and differentiates it from other skirmish games?
MWG: Well first of all it isn’t a skirmish wargame! Not in the way you normally think of one. Exiles isn’t a two-player, PVP, your group of dudes vs my group of dudes experience. But if you are into skirmish war-games you’ll feel right at home in Exiles. The game has the same flexible, fast-play, narrative feel that you love about skirmish wargames.
Exiles is what we call Miniatures Action Role Playing. It’s an intensely cooperative game where you control a single character and work closely with your buddies to kick the shit out of a bunch of dudes controlled by a GM. What makes Exiles unique is that it has an incredibly fast, frenetic play style that I thought was an insane idea when we first dreamed it up!
Games last about 45 minutes, and you normally cram in more than 15 game turns, which IS insane. We’re talking 90 second game turns, even with 5 or more people playing at once. Talk about being constantly engaged in the game! We accomplish this with a simultaneous play mechanic in which everybody does their shit at the same time. Add to this the fact that the game is designed to play in a 3×3 area or SMALLER and a picture of the gameplay starts to emerge.
You’ve got a quick-moving, intensely cooperative game in a small space with people playing and talking and planning and moving models and rolling dice all at the same time. Even if you are a purist wargamer, Exiles provides a uniquely intense tactical challenge. You don’t get to dither over details or spend minutes orchestrating actions. You’ve got to PLAY, and you’ve got to make sure your buddy has your back, and you’ve got to somehow achieve the objective without it all descending into a clusterf**k that leaves you bleeding out in a ditch.
WC: How did the idea for Exiles come about? Who was the brainchild of this game?
MWG: Jesse invented the setting and the original game. I don’t care to know from what dark corner of his weird-ass mind it crawled. No, thanks. I took the game up to college with me and gave it a new lease on life. It was circulated throughout many groups of friends who fell in love with it, added to it, and played it in their own ways. When I moved back to NOLA , got a real job, and started having kids I had a lot less time for RPGs, and I stuck much closer to quick skirmish minis games.
But Exiles never dies in you. Never. So eventually I made up some rules for an Exiles minis game and started running 8+ hour binge-play events at my house every couple of months. The system was fine, but was sorely lacking. Even so, people ate it up and I got the burning desire to do something stupid, so I called up Jesse and asked him if he wanted to start a business and make Exiles for the masses. After that we started spitballing ways to give the minis game the same fast, frenetic feel we always loved about Exiles as a role-playing game, and I ponied up a sh**load of cash I had laying around.
And until next time, this is Caleb reminding you to PUT YOUR MINIS WHERE YOUR MOUTH IS!!!