FANTASY roleplaying games, fantasy card games and tabletop strategy games played with miniature figures?

As any lazy comedian or media fool will tell you, such things are solely the preserve of awkward teenaged boys who can’t look a girl in the eye.

Strangely, the millions across the globe who love the games – people of all all ages and from all walks of life – don’t seem to realise this.

Nor do the mindbogglingly successful firms who provide those people with everything from sets of rules spanning entire fantasy universes to figurines of aliens, monsters and warriors.

I like writing about Swindon success stories, and the more unusual the better, so I was intrigued to learn that one of the biggest of those mindbogglingly successful firms – one of the top three in the world, in fact – is entirely local.

The only clue that a person is about to enter the domain of Mongoose Publishing is a discreet metal plaque next to a side door at the end of a block of shops in Cricklade Road, Gorse Hill.

Once inside, framed fantasy and sci-fi art lining a staircase hints at what lurks in the open plan space above.

Mongoose is the domain of Matthew Sprange, 37, who was born in Swindon and grew up in Wanborough.

“All the way through school I was messing around with one game or another,” he said. “When I left school I spent six months working for a games designer in Chester, but then I left games and went to work in IT.

“When I was about 25 I had a friend who had just come out of the Army and was wondering what to do. I put together a business plan for publishing these games.”

That was back in May 2001. Nearly a decade later, Matthew is sole proprietor. The company has gone from strength to strength, with a small team at the Swindon HQ and its own casting facility in Ohio for game figurines.

Custom comes from Britain, Europe, the US, Australia, Asia, the Middle East – just about everywhere.

Matthew himself is the author of rule books and game-based novels.

Turnover is into seven figures, and it’s not unknown for Matthew to be asked for his autograph by games fans at conventions.

The Swindon office is an Aladdin’s cave for anybody who has so much as a passing interest in games or the fantasy and science fiction genres.

Mongoose is best known in the roleplaying game world for publishing some of the most popular examples under licence. These range from the sword and sorcery themes of Runequest to the raw science fiction of Traveller, not to mention games based around Starship Troopers, Conan, Babylon 5 and other well-known books, TV programmes and films.

For the benefit of the uninitiated, such games generally involve players taking on the personas of various characters who progress through scenarios set in anything from a monster-haunted city to a confederation of planets. Players keep records of their progress.

With the rise of computer RPGs such as World of Warcraft, it would be natural to expect their ‘pen and paper’ counterparts to wane, but they remain popular.

As Matthew said: “A computer game is just something you can sit in your front room and play.

“There’s a bit more effort in pen and paper games and probably a bit more fun involved, as they take place in your imagination and the graphics are better!”

Mongoose publishes a range of card games and tabletop game rules, as well as the highly collectable figurines used in those games.

Complex modern boardgames, many produced in Germany or adapted from German games, are also very popular.

Every Tuesday at 7pm, tabletop games fans converge on the Cricklade Road premises to play.

Games devotees are of all ages and both genders, although core business comes from men whose ages range from late 20s to early 40s.

The “teenaged boys only” image is long out of date. For one thing, tabletop games have been around in one form or another for a century.

For another, RPGs have been around since the early 1970s. Indeed, pioneering games designer Gary Gygax, the inventor of Dungeons and Dragons, was in his 70th year when he died in 2008.

But why are games such as the ones sold by Mongoose mainly popular among males?

I’d better leave the answer to Matthew, who suspects that our urge to play stretches back to ancient times, when we needed something to keep our hunting skills sharp when we weren’t actually out killing things.

I like that idea. I’ll run with it. Perhaps we spent hours chucking rocks and spears at wooden targets while the women attended to other matters, such as looking after children and generally making sure the whole of primitive society didn’t collapse.

In other words, it’s not that we’re lazy or anything: It’s nature.

I’ll try to point that out the next time I’m caught slaying video game monsters while the lawn in the back garden reaches waist height.

Wish me luck.

The Mongoose Publishing website is at