Non-Fiction Reviews

Dice Men
The Original Story of Games Workshop

(2022) Ian Livingstone & Steve Jackson, Unbound, hrdbk, 297pp, ISBN 978-1-800-18052-9


The early years of the hobby industry phenomenon that is Games Workshop should be a subject that appeals to every war-gaming miniature enthusiast of a certain age. Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson are legends to the tabletop community of gamers who have grown up with their work, but here for the first time, we can follow the disparate links of their story from forming a lasting friendship as college students to the moment they sold the company to Brian Ansell, their long-time friend and business partner.

I grew up with the work of Livingstone and Jackson in my life. Much of it appeared as birthday or Christmas presents. I have my own story of how their work influenced and inspired me to create my own games, to write and run role-playing adventures, to read and play interactive fiction and to collect and paint tabletop models. All of those interests are part of who I am today, so like many of those who this book is aimed at, I owe these two a great deal. They inspired me as they inspired others.

As a crowd-funded publisher, Unbound operates with an ear to the ground, trying to identify the audiences that its works may serve. This weighty hardback tome is a gorgeous presentation of the narrative, replete with reproductions of old photographs and other assorted images. We can follow Livingstone and Jackson’s journey from start to finish and get a good sense of the philosophies that underpinned their work. Some of which remain true of Games Workshop today.

In some ways, Dice Men can be seen as a companion volume to Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History (2018). The stories of Gary Gygax and TSR Incorporated are interwoven with those of Livingstone, Jackson, Games Workshop and Fighting Fantasy. Where Dice Men differs is in its direct voice. Gygax passed away in 2008 and his parting from the works he created can be described as acrimonious at best. Art & Arcana makes use of four strong writers to tell its story, with interspersed quotes from those who were there. In Dice Men, we have Livingstone and Jackson leading an impressive cast of colleagues and friends providing more commentary on what happened and why. The writing is accessible, light and impressively more-ish. The pages turn quickly, and the story quickly finds a space next to my childhood memories, adding something to my understanding of the time.

One thing that comes across is that everyone felt they were involved in something special and spoke of the happy times they had. Perhaps the rose-tinted nostalgia is due to the distance from events that happened thirty to forty years ago? If it is, that is forgivable, given how long it has been. But, during and after reading, you are encouraged to visit a time when two friends started a business and took a lot of risks which eventually paid off for them both.

Dice Men (2022) is an indulgent publication, but many books are. There has been need for this story to be told, and now it has been told. Hopefully, it will inspire another generation to imagine what they could make of themselves in the gaming industry.

Allen Stroud


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