The Dice Men Cometh

Sometimes it felt like it would never see the light of day, like it was eternally trapped, wandering the gloomy corridors of Zagor’s maze, but after five long years, gamers across the land have finally got their hands on Dice Men, by Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson. And boy, was it worth the wait.

Billed as the origin story of Games Workshop, if you’re a grognard of a certain vintage, you may be wondering: haven’t I heard this tale before? Well, to an extent, you may have, but it’s told by Ian Livingstone with such an engaging, conversational tone, that you’re happy to hear it all over again; this isn’t a dry history, it’s a friendly chat with Ian, like being down the pub with your mates, listening to anecdotes you’ve heard many times before, but loving every minute, smiling at the recollections.

And among the familiar stories, there are numerous new anecdotes and personal details to enjoy: Ian’s letter to his parents in the early days of the company, letting them know he was still alive, but homeless; Steve Jackson’s quest for the red box version of Warlord; his and Ian’s epic coast-to-coast wheeler-dealing USA road trip; the occasional mis-step with Games Workshop’s own board games; to name just a few. Occasionally you’re left wanting more, although you do have to remember that these are recollections from 40-odd years ago!

The book is a real feast for the eyes, starting with Ian McCaig’s cover, a clever reworking of his design for Games Workshop’s carrier bags. The many “behind the scenes” photographs wonderfully evoke the late 70s / early 80s era, and the smiling faces of the personalities involved bring a real human dimension to the company’s story, while the beautifully reproduced artwork from the games and publications trigger so many memories. The book contains a number of one-off rarities too, like Ian Livingstone’s first D&D dungeon, and the maps they drew up when writing The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. It all adds up to a sumptuous volume, one to lose yourself in as you’re swept away on a tide of nostalgia.

Reading it through, what struck me was that Games Workshop’s ascent was no accident – it was driven by the smart business acumen of Ian and Steve in those early days. Business acumen with a friendly British face though; the book features a roster of names of the great and the good in gaming – Gary Gygax, Don Turnbull, Russ Nicholson, Albie Fiore, Bryan Ansell, Jamie Thomson, among many others – and Ian has warm words for each, recalling them all with affection. And underlying everything is Ian and Steve’s love of gaming – a life-long passion that they wanted to share with as many people as possible.

If you ever opened an issue of White Dwarf and marvelled at the magic within, if you ever rolled dice around the Talisman board (maybe your game is still going on?), if you’re a 40K warmonger and have wondered what Games Workshop did back in the day – this is the book for you.

By gamers, for gamers.


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