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5 years old … it’s been a blast!

I really didn’t know what to expect when I decided to start producing MDF terrain kits on a commercial scale.  I originally registered the name Knights of Dice back in November 2011, with the intention of opening another retail store but that fell through unfortunately when the lease was cancelled by the vendor, I guess it was a blessing in disguise.  Retail is a tough game and I was burnt out at my previous store (Battle Bunker) after a little less than 3 years!

Over the next few years I messed around doing custom commission work building terrain sets and doing videos whilst very much running KoD as a hobby business along side my regular work with my families software business.  It was a fun time, we’d rented the premises at Heidelberg West as a place to keep my toys, at the time the software business was doing very well and it was a major indulgence!  After a few years things began to change for our software business and the extravagance of having a 380sqm man-cave was starting to become a problem.

A handmade commission before we started laser cutting things

I’m very fortunate to have a wonderful and supportive wife who was super encouraging, but as finances became tighter and tighter we needed to change things.  I remember her telling me “you need to start making some money at that warehouse or we have to let it go”.  The only thing that I could think of was to buy a cheap laser cutter to help make producing custom terrain sets quicker and easier … cutting intricate windows by hand is a PITA!  So I jumped on eBay and bought a cheap Chinese ‘red machine’ from some seller in Sydney, an 80watt CO2 laser cutter.  I never used that machine to do any commissions … things got out of control real quick!!  We still have that ‘red machine’ … it’s been sitting around gathering dust for years!

‘Red Machine’ … the laser we originally started with

After I had that machine for a few weeks, one my friends who was managing a game store contacted me and said “I saw you got a laser cutter, can you help make some buildings for our store for this new game called Batman: The Miniatures Game?”.  That was when things kicked off.  I phoned my friend Scott Reid, he had worked for me back in the Bunker days and was a trained Texture Artist and had done a lot of work for the paper-craft mob, WorldWorks designing paper kits so I knew he was good with geometry.  We had a real quick chat, it went something like this:

V: “Hey mate, what you doing these days?”

S: “Working in a bottle shop”

V: “Wanna come work with me again and design laser cut model kits”

S: “Shit yeah!”

V: “Can you start on Monday?”

S: “Yep!”

So Scott came on board and we started working on some kits.  It had nothing to do with Batman: The Miniatures Game! (LOL!).  In what has become our typical work methodology, I was into Wild West back then and so we started working on some Wild West terrain … none of that work was every finished nor released!  After talking to my friend at the game store again we got back on track and starting working on some kits designed for what was the original idea.  We spent a few weeks designing things and cutting them on the little “red machine”.  Whilst Scott’s designs were amazing (I really believe we pushed the market forward in what can be done in terms of detail and design), the little “red machine” was not so friendly to work with.  I spent the majority of my time troubleshooting and playing with that machine that the whole thing was becoming more of a PITA than cutting intricate window frames out by hand!

Original prototypes cut on the ‘red machine’

After producing a few kits and despite the issues with the “red machine” I knew we could really get into this whole laser cutting operation if we had a good machine to work with.  I rang one of my friends, Craig Laird.  I knew he was operating a laser cutting business called Laser Touch and producing custom foam trays and storage solutions and I figured he’d have some good feedback on what machines I should look for.  Around the same time I also saw a video from TemplarsCrusade on YouTube in which he had done an interview with the big boys at 4Ground.  Both Craig and the lads from 4Ground were using Trotec lasers so it made immediate sense that I should contact Trotec.

I don’t remember if I was sitting down at the time, but given I’m still capable of walking (mostly!) and didn’t break my back after falling over, I must have been, which was a good thing!  Nothing is cheap in Australia, we pay a premium for everything here, one of the downsides of being so far away from the rest of the world on our large and wonderful island,  but wow (!), Trotec machines in Australia aren’t cheap!  Everyone I had spoken to had told me they were the best so it was just a matter of organising a deal with them and talking with my wife, Kim.

Did I mention I have a wonderfully supportive wife?  When I rang her (she was working at our office in the city, and I was at the warehouse) and said to her “I needed a better machine to replace the little “red machine”, it’s a piece of crap”, I really wasn’t sure what she would say.  The conversation went something like this:

V: Hi Darling, I can’t do anything with that crappy red machine!  We really need to get a better machine.

K: Have you had a look, what do you need?

V: I found a laser from a company called Trotec, they’re Austrian and are the best machines for what we need

K: How much are they?

V: About a hundred grand …. (I waited, and what happened next was the real beginning of Knights of Dice!)

K: How many do you need?

V: (I catch my breath and think quick) … Um, 2?

K:  If we do this you need to make it work, can you make it work?

V: Yep!

K: Okay, get them.

Holy cow, I was like a little kid!!  $200k on new lasers … this was the big time now, I had to make it work.  I organised a deal with Trotec, financed the machines (there are various tax advantages over buying them outright, yadda yadda etc etc) and in a few short weeks we would have two shiny new lasers sitting in the warehouse.  I think it was about that time that I stopped calling it a warehouse and adopted the term ‘studio’.  We were a real design studio now, capable of making some awesome looking terrain and with these machines underneath us everything was set … and it was!

Two new Speedy 400’s arrive from Trotec!

When we got those two new machines unpacked and setup I was the happiest person in the world!  In the image below you can see “red machine” in the background on the right … I don’t think that machine spent more than a few days powered up whilst we transitioned to using proper laser cutters!  Poor old red has been sitting under the staircase to the back loft every since, I can’t bring myself to get rid of it … it’s a big part of our history.

Scott (left) and Viv (right) with Aldo and Kong, our two new 100w laser cutters from Trotec

To add to the craziness that was engulfing me, the owners of the warehouse wanted to sell the building so just after committing to purchasing some incredibly expensive machines we were faced with a difficult decision.  Move to a different premises or contemplate more craziness ….  we didn’t move, we bought the building!  I could stay where I had been for several years now and just compound the crazy with more crazy.  Things by this stage were well out of control, what had started as a way to make producing custom commission jobs quicker and easier was now an almost million dollar investment!

Contract of Sale, we bought the building!

Working with the Trotecs in comparison to the “red machine” was like doing math with an abacus vs a digital calculator … it was a joy, a pleasure, pure bliss … things just worked!  Scott started cranking out the designs and before long we had 12 new models that were unique in the industry.  A lovely range of Art Deco buildings that was absolutely perfect for Batman: The Miniature Game.  It was our version of Gotham, we called it Sentry City.  Every building was named after a piece of the Batman universe as our way of paying homage to the writers and artists.

Launch picture of the Sentry City range of MDF model kits

It was time to “make this work” … too much had been invested now, I HAD to make it work!

I got a website up and running, I had already registered all the domain names and was already using social media accounts for my commission work.  So it was just a matter of getting an online store setup and running.  I already had some experience running an online store from the old days at the Bunker so I used the same software (Zencart) and started setting things up.  Before long we had a functional website and were putting things out on Facebook and started building a following.

With the hype we had been creating on Facebook we decided to run a pre-order campaign to launch our new range. On the 22nd of September 2015 the webstore went live and we sold our first kit.  My good friend Mark Rajic (he tragically and very sadly passed away last year) put in our very first order.  Mark had been a good customer of mine at the old Battle Bunker store and was keen to be the first one to order something, so we let him know in advance when things would be live,  his wasn’t the only order on that day … we had LOADS of them.  I’m a little disappointed his was the ‘4th order’, as the first 3 were placed by me testing the website in ‘live’ mode.

Our first order … from our good friend Mark Rajic

I looked around for shows/events that we could start spruiking our new range of Australian made terrain and came across a show called MOAB (Mother of All Battles) located in Sydney that was happening in a few weeks in October, not a great deal of time to get organised!  I rang the organiser, Kym Pennell and explained who we were and if there was any space.  Amazingly he said that they just had a cancellation and there was a single table space available.  It’s a fair drive between Melbourne and Sydney (around 10 hours) but I wasn’t going to miss this lucky chance to attend our first show, so I booked the space and we started getting ready.

We cut what we could and loaded up my old car and headed off to our first show, I don’t quite remember if we just had things packed in the car (a regular sized family sedan) or if we hooked up the trailer too … now that I think about it a little more, we might have taken my wife’s car, a Mazda CX9 SUV which was bigger, I seem to recall slotting that massive Millers Tower (no longer in production) behind the front passenger seat in the Mazda and hoping it wouldn’t get damaged!  I don’t quite remember, but I do remember the show!  It was amazing, we had such a great time talking to people about our kits and really making a splash … the space was so small we could hardly move!

Scott (left) and Viv (right) at MOAB 2015 … our first trade show!

With MOAB 2015 behind us and a wonderfully sweet taste of success on our lips we looked to the future.  Scott started expanding our Sentry City world and I started ramping up the marketing and looking for more shows to attend … things were in full swing and everything we did was being gobbled up by people online.  We loved it, all the community interactions and feedback was fuelling our excitement and our (Scott’s and mine) passion for terrain.  It only seemed natural that the next expansion to our range of terrain was to build on the Sentry City world and create a new district … China Town!

Sentry City: Chinatown … the next expansion to our Sentry City range

Things grew pretty quickly from there, Scott was pumping out the designs and our social media presence was rapidly growing. We started branching out into new ranges and looking up new shows we could go to.  In November 2015, the month after MOAB, was Little Wars in Canberra, it was held downstairs in a sports bar.  It was a super small show but our stand looked a little more impressive.  Each show from their it would continue to become a little more impressive!  A few months later in January 2016 was Cancon … Australia’s largest tabletop and wargaming convention … by this stage things were pretty serious.

In the background of the photo below you can see lots of foam … that’s Laser Touch (my friend Craig Laird who suggested using Trotec lasers to me, remember?) on the isle behind us.  Keep that in mind for later … just remember things have been super crazy over the last few months, things are going to get even more crazy soon!

Cancon 2016 – our first ‘major’ show

We continued growing, one show after another.  We got bigger, had more products and it didn’t matter what we produced there were people always looking for something we didn’t produce … but we ate it up and kept adding range after range!  There is a break in the calendar in Australia after Cancon (which happens in January every year), and in 2016 Little Wars Melbourne slid their event in to May, just before Wintercon  (organised by the Canberra Games Society, the organisers of Cancon) which happens in July … funnily enough during winter.  Again, our stand at Little Wars Melbourne 2016 was just that little bit bigger than it was at Cancon!

Little Wars Melbourne, May 2016

Just as our trade stand kept growing, so did our range, reputation and exposure.  I was lucky enough to visit my family in the UK and attend Salute 2016, it was a great time and something I look forward to doing again in the future.  During that trip to the UK I visited Mantic Games and met up with Ronnie Renton to show him some of our terrain and have a look around their facilities in Nottingham. Ronnie loved what we were doing and I left him a set of Sentry City terrain that Scott had painted and I took with me to the UK.   I’m 5’11” … Ronnie is MUCH taller than I thought he was! 🙂

Viv (right) meets with Ronnie Renton (left), CEO of Mantic Entertainment Limited

At the time, I didn’t know if they would do anything with the terrain I left them.  I never heard back from Ronnie, but whilst I was there he did mention that if they decided to use our terrain they would give us credit in the rulebook for “The Walking Dead Miniatures Game”.  Well, I guess they liked it so much it was used in all their publications, promotional images, and the rulebook!  I think their miniatures look absolutely amazing next to our terrain … or should I say that our terrain looks amazing next to their beautiful miniatures?

Our terrain featured in ‘Tabletop Gaming Magazine’, issue #6 as part of Mantic Games “The Walking Dead” miniatures game

Things just kept growing, it was wonderful!  Not only were we releasing more and more kits, we started sponsoring tournaments and events and interacting with the community on more than just a commercial basis.  We wouldn’t be where we are now without the people who buy our kits and the support we receive from the various gaming communities.

Viv (right) with Captain Charles Bryers, Australian Army.

It’s now mid 2016, less than a year after we started.  Do you remember Laser Touch?  My friend Craig who suggested using Trotec lasers and was in the stand behind us at Cancon earlier in the year?  Well, the madness continued and Craig wanted to sell … so we bought them out and folded the Laser Touch brand into Knights of Dice!  Not only were we producing awesome MDF model kits, we added a whole host of foam trays and storage options to our range!  At Cancon 2017, we booked our space AND the old Laser Touch space and our stand at Cancon grew a little larger.

After we bought Laser Touch, our stand at Cancon grew a little larger!

With the purchase of Laser Touch, another Trotec Speedy 400 joined the ranks to keep our existing machines (Aldo and Kong) company … we called him Caesar.  Welcome to the clan Caesar!

A new Trotec Speedy 400 joins our existing machines Aldo and Kong, welcome to the family Caesar!

Fast forward to very recently and things have never slowed down.  We’ve continued to pile on the products and expand our ranges, to date we have over 700 unique SKU’s in our catalogue with everything ranging from MDF model kits, accessories such as tokens and templates and foam storage trays … we also have loads of unreleased products and several ranges of 28mm miniatures currently not in production.

As we’ve grown, so has our displays and trade show presence … as you can see from the image below we pretty much set up a full retail shop complete with metal fixtures and fittings!

Knights of Dice trade stand at PAX Australia 2019 in Melbourne

A lot has happened over the last 5 years … so much that it would take me several weeks to recount it all, it’s been a blast and I’m looking forward to the next 5 years!  Knights of Dice has gone from strength to strength and it’s all because of wonderful people like you … those that support us, either buying direct or from one our many retailers across the planet, those that spruik us and introduce us to their friends, those that fuel our passion and excitement by sending in your feedback and wonderful comments … thank you!

Thank you for all your wonderful support. Every message we receive, every image shared fuels our passion and our enthusiasm for what we do!

THANK YOU!!

8 comments

  1. Stephen King

    I swear I’m going to start a cult in your name,..but then on second thoughts, you don’t need one. KOD is at the panicle of my wargaming scenery provider mountain. You never seem to put a foot wrong in what you produce. Every release is a must have gem in it’s own right for a wargamer like me that plays almost any period. The only un ticked box on my KOD bucket list left, is to hopefully get to play across the wargames table with you guys whenever suits. Since downsizing from my home in Frankston to my unit closer to you, the possibility just got foreseeable. Cheers.

  2. Well done Viv and crew. It’s great to see this local Aussie business prosper especially when its leader has been through so much and yet still keeps his passion for the hobby and community. You guys are an exemplary example of persistent in pursuit of a passion.

    1. Thanks Rob. I really am very fortunate to have had several opportunities to pursue my hobbies commercially. Thank you for your many, many years of support!!

  3. Congratulations on five years Viv! The quality of your products and customer service is top notch. I think I’ve used about 500 of your MDF bases over the last few years 🙂

    I still hope to buy the near mythical KoD mudmen minis one day!!

    1. Hahaha … every few months I pop into the casting room and spin up some Mudmen. There are a few poses that never seem to cast well and I never kept any as masters when we bought the range, so producing more production molds is problematic. I just need to dedicate a few days to getting them sorted out!

  4. I can’t believe it’s only been five years, you’ve achieved so much! I remember the trip you did to the UK to visit Mantic Games. I also remember checking out some gaming stores in Berlin too on that trip. Good times!

  5. Congratulations, may the journey continue!

  6. Awesome! Congratulations 🙂

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