If you’re on the search for miniatures and the table-top games that incorporate them in Brunei, a toy store – or even the toys section at the department store – would be the default recommendation from the uninitiated.

The business of miniatures is arguably then a niche of a niche, a narrow segment the owner of Brunei’s only dedicated miniature modelling shop Kitsu Models openly acknowledges – but is slowly expanding using the “third place” concept.

Kitsu Models sells over a thousand items; from generic miniatures model kits to miniature games, alongside the tools and materials to customise them. But at the centre of their shop in Setia Kenangan II, Kiulap, is a community space that just over 20 people can gather and use for free as they enjoy their time-consuming hobby of model making or tabletop gaming.

“Apart from just offering the space for hobbyists to use at no charge, our staff also offer free tutorials for model design (how to paint and build models) and how to play to table top games,” said Yapp Giem Eing.

Kitsu Models sells reputable miniature craft brands including paint and brushes from Vallejo, model landscape replica materials from Woodland Scenics, and precision craft blades and cutters from Olfa.

“So people are most welcome to bring their own games and models to work on but if they don’t have the sets, we offer the option of renting any (and all) of our games and shelf models for $10 for the whole day. To develop this miniature scene, you really need the ‘third home’ where people can gather and enjoy their hobby conveniently.”

The third place or home is a sociology-inspired concept, referring to a place outside home and work where people gather and build a sense of community. Starbucks is most cited example commercially, which Yapp hopes to replicate more organically for the miniature community.

“Since opening in January, we’ve been hosting gaming nights and opened our coffee bar. Moving forward we want to have the activities scheduled daily so that people can know in advance what to look forward to,” said Yapp. “On weekdays we have five to 10 people using the space (at any time) and on the weekends we’re close to full.”

Miniatures: where craftsmanship meets gaming

Yapp explained that the miniature hobby is best understood in two parts: custom scale modelling and tabletop gaming.

Modelling involves buying model or model kits – which sometimes can be played as tabletop games; along with individual parts or items to build or further customize models; as well as then the tools used to craft or design them.

Individual miniature models – not officially part of a table-top game – include military machines and robots from the science fiction Japanese media franchise Gundam. And when miniature models are made into landscape replicas of environments, they are called diorama.

Kitsu Models sells all these items as well as 10 table top games, often referred to as “systems”, the most popular which are Warhammer and Star Wars.

“The miniature community although small, does attract people with different interests; those more focused on tabletop gaming, while others are more focused on craftsmanship and collectibles,” he added.

Developing the Kitsu brand

Yap’s earliest experience with miniatures came from building a Gundam model kit from his father when he was eight-years-old, and while he continued with collectibles and games like Warhammer, he would eventually leave the hobby behind as he grew older.

A visit to to Japan’s Tobu World Square a few years ago – a theme park with over a hundred 1:25 scale models of famous buildings – would reignite his interest for miniatures, culminating with his decision to open Kitsu Models as an online store in 2019.

Sourcing from regional distributors and where possible directly from manufacturers, Kitsu Models launched with a promise to offer prices competitive with overseas retailers. 

A diorama inspired by a Brunei home from several decades ago.

The 33-year-old former police officer turned financial planner then enrolled to Darussalam Enterprise’s startup development programme Accelerate with a pitch to build a massive diorama of local attractions that Brunei’s growing number of tourists would visit.

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that Yapp has had to shelve that idea indefinitely, but he continues on with his plan to develop his own brand of model kits, tools and accessories.

“Having operated in the market for a few years now we can see what the gaps are in products and in the supply-demand chain (especially for the Brunei market),” said Yap. “From there we see the opportunity to work with manufacturers to have our own product line, hopefully one day which we can even export.”