In Memoriam of Neal Catapano and The WarStore

If you’ve been a miniatures hobbyist over the past twenty years, chances are you may have had dealing with the The WarStore. What you may or may not have heard was the passing of the owner, Neal Catapano, this past week.

Housed on the property of Catapano Farms, on the North Fork of Long Island in Southold, NY, the online store had a two-decade history of serving customers near and far before closing suddenly in 2019. Founded in 1999 and just a few years behind online retail giants like eBay and Amazon, Neal’s online store was a bit ahead of its time in the gaming community. The modest online store held a broad inventory of modeling paint, brushes and supplies as well rule books, player aids and miniatures and terrain covering multiple eras, scales and interest from fantasy to sci-fi to historical. Neal was always my first stop before I had a look elsewhere.

Living in nearby Brooklyn and less than a three hour drive away, I regret I never made the pilgrimage to Southold but I was always grateful I received speedy responses to my inquiries and quick delivery of my orders. People notoriously groused online (as people do) about poor customer service, but this was never my experience in my dozens of orders over the years. To the contrary, I found Neal and the staff to be incredibly responsive to inquiries, order updates and special orders — an unfortunate rarity in today’s lowered expectations of impersonal customer service in an ecommerce world. With every online order, my heart always soared with the very personal email verfication:

Hi! This is Neal at TheWarstore.com. Thank you Very Much for placing your order with us! This email is to confirm that we have received your order, an actual human being has reviewed it here at the store, and we will ship as soon as all of your ordered items can be readied.”

With the decline of local NYC hobby stores, Neal’s WarStore split the difference with a small, independently owned shop feel and the convenience of a 24/7 website. I looked forward to his quirky sale announcements, pre-release specials and holiday shopping messages. The online store wasn’t always the easiest to navigate, although it had improved by leaps and bounds over the past few years. Neal’s title of “Grand Pooh Bah” and his personal email of neal@thewarstore.com in all communication contributed to the small store experience increasingly absent from the modern world. Although a brick and mortar store had been an extension of The Warstore at one point in its history, it was through the unique online presence that Neal’s legacy was made.

When Neal announced an abrupt shuttering of the business in the middle of last year and a hurried final sale, I felt in the pit of my stomach there was most likely something deeper behind the decision. This past week’s news of his passing confirmed that feeling and charted the true passing of an era.

Rest in peace Neal and The WarStore where their motto spoke volumes to thousands of loyal customers: “We Bring the War to Your Door, For Less!”

French and Indian War: Comparing 28mm Miniatures Scales – Indians

Sometimes it seems the #1 topic all miniatures gamers have is one of scale and how miniatures from different manufacturers scale together. When I run convention games or post photos of scenarios online, people don’t ask about what books I used in my research or what sites, museums or archives I’ve visited. What they do ask about is manufacturers and scale.

So here it is, taking the first of a couple swings at addressing scale for French and Indian War tabletop gaming with a look at Indians from my collection. After some visual comparisons, I’ll weigh in at the end with some commentary about how I feel about the scale conversation.

Currently I have Indians miniatures from seven manufactures, each of which can be viewed in detail on separate posts: AW Miniatures, Conquest Miniatures, Galloping Major Wargames, Knuckleduster Miniatures, North Star Military Figures, Redoubt Enterprises and Sash and Saber Castings. In the photo below, I’ve lined up a sample from each manufacturer from what I see as the smallest on the left with Conquest all the way up to the largest with Redoubt.

In the next photo, I’m showing a zoomed-in look at the manufacturers on the smlaller side — Conquest, Sash and Saber and Knuckleduster. I find these three hew more toward a thinner, more traditional 25mm scale.

On the larger end of the spectrum, I’ve shown a line-up of North Star, AW, Galloping Major and Redoubt as the modern 28mm “heroic” scale.

Finally, I’ve placed two Indian leaders side by side with the Conquest model at one extreme and the towering Redoubt figure on the other.

So there you have it, some visual comparisons of what are broadly viewed as 28mm Indian miniatures. And with that, I have a lot of opinions.

The first one is that many manufacturers use different sculptors over time, creating variations even within one company’s lines of figures. For example, Warlord Games uses older Conquest sculpts in their FIW offering but have also added work from other artists. Companies like AW, Galloping Major and Sash and Saber have a lot of consistency in their models since they are owned and operated by the sculptors themselves. So, broad statements like “X manufacturer always scales well with Y manufacturer” are not always 100% accurate.

Next, my bias is toward metal castings and I try to avoid plastics. I like the heft of metal on the table, I don’t like to put in assembly time and I like how metal takes paint. This means I’m not looking at a very popular manufacturer like Perry Miniatures in the photos above. I have played with Perry plastics and I own some of their wagons cast in metal. Mostly, I find their sculpts are thin, with very acurate real-life scaling that tends toward the smaller end of the 25mm scale.

As a third point, few players I know put their heads right down on the table at figure eye level when playing. Figures used in actual play are seen at arm’s length or table distance of some three feet or more, obscuring fine differences of a millilmeter or two between models. Differences in models on the table can be further obscuredby keeping manufacturers together in cohesive units. I use the approach, and my “tabletop quality” of painting allows my miniatures to fight just fine (provided the dice are cooperating on any given day).

Finally, variety to me is so much more important than scale. With over 120 Indians painted up in my collection (and probably more on the way), I’ve always been more focused on the visual interest of the sculpts than height of one versus another. By stretching across seven manufacturers I’m supporting more companies and artists feeding the hobby and getting a ton more interesting looking Indian units on my table.

French and Indian War: Woodland Indians from Redoubt Enterprises – Raiders and Sachems

The UK-based Redoubt Enterprises carries an enormous variety of metal miniatures including pirates, ancients, Renaissance, English Civil War, American Civil War, Napoleonics and several ranges of colonials figures, icluding nearly 200 separate choices of models for the French and Indian War.

Their FIW line includes vast selections of British, French and Indian models, including warriors, canoes and civillians. Sculpts from Redoubt tend toward a traditional, heroic scale that tips heavily toward 28mm with chunky casts filled with unique personality that are a joy to paint and really pop on the table.

The ‘warriors with firebrands’ pack includes a raiding party, armed with blazing torches and a leader drinking from a clay vessel. The models are great for attacks on villages, farms and fortifications on the frontier. These are unique, ferocious characters modelled to bring high drama to the tabletop.

Another favorite is the ‘sachems and warchiefs’ set. These models are a mix of calm Indian leaders wrapped in a blanket with a mystical crow’s wing, holding forth a wampum belt and standing gracefully in a commanding pose. Others in the pack show more agressive leaders on the run and commanding their people in the field, looking to roll back the onslaught of European incurisions into their lands.

Both sets have brought a great deal of variety and personality to the regular warrior models from other manufacturers in my collection — moreso than just about almost any other company. For miniatures wargaming, they offer an opportunity to inject roleplay into games with the story each sculpt looks to tell — a welcome place in any gaming session with a wide range of characters to act.

Boardgames of the French and Indian War – Part II

Battle of Fort William McHenry during French and Indian War

Quite some time ago, I wrote a round-up of my favorite boardgames of the French and Indian War. Since then I’ve been focusing pretty exclusively on the FIW using 28mm miniatures and Muskets & Tomahawks. I’ve also spent a lot of time over the past year reading about the period and visiting historic sites in New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia that tell the story of the FIW.

Between travel, research, painting miniatures, building scenery and running through tabletop scenarios of the period, I’ve continued to build up my collection of FIW-themed boardgames. With that, I have a second list of more of my favorites from this empire-defining conflict in North America.

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Quebec 1759 (Columbia Games)

You can’t beat Columbia Games for their quick-playing and unique block games for which they are known. I have Liberty: The American Revolution 1775-83, their American Revolution game, on my shelf, and about a year ago I finally to picked up a copy of their FIW game Quebec 1759.

Released in 1972, Quebec 1759 was one of the first block wargames produced and has remained in print for 45 years as a game perfect for entry level players as well as those experienced in the hobby. I’ve been trying to track down a first printing of the game for a while for the embossed blocks, but I couldn’t pass up a great deal on a 1980s edition with 50 stickered blocks for $20 at a convention flea market a couple years back.

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Map and wooden blocks from Quebec 1759

Playable in about an hour or so, this classic abstractly captures the meeting of the British forces led by James Wolfe and the French defenders commanded by Louis-Joseph de Montcalm in September 1759. The decisive Battle of the Plains of Abraham outside Quebec City left both men dead and was the beginning of the end of French rule in North America.

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Typical stickered wooden blocks from a mid-1980s edition of Quebec 1759

My near perfect copy captures the charm of the original edition with its signature wooden blocks, 10″ x 32″ elongated heavy cardboard map and a mere four pages of rules. The game is played over 16 turns with each side — British and French — plotting their moves in advance on paper and then simultaneously revealing them. There are no spaces on the map. Instead ten road-connected land zones and a bisected St. Lawrence River.

The game has remained a classic for a reason, notably its fast play that rewards numerous replays and taking turns on either side.

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End of Empire: 1744-1782 (Compass Games)

Command was a bi-monthly magazine published between 1989 and 2001 which focused on military history, strategy and gaming. Issue 46 from December 1997 features articles on New France, the American Revolution, George Washington and his spy network, and famed traitor Benedict Arnold. The issue also contains a full hex and counter game called End of Empire which captures the grand sweep of North American history from the 1740s through early 1780s. The game was subsequently reprinted as a box game from Compass Games as End of Empire:1744-1782.

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My copy of Command #46 featuring End of Empire just prior to punching the counters

End of Empire covers a wide period from King George’s War, FIW and the American Revolution. Over a dozen scenarios allows play of specific conflicts or campaigns in a few hours, and a full game is playable over the whole period that will run to more than 15 hours for truly committed players. The game is regimental in scope with a huge hex map spanning the entire North American East Coast and contains hundreds of color counters representing British, French, Spanish, Indian and Colonial forces. For a real deep dive into nearly 40 years of colonial conflict, this is the game.

Wilderness Empires (Worthington Publishing)

I’m a big fan of Worthington Publishing’s games. I have three of their American Revolution games – New York 1776, Trenton 1776 and their latest, Saratoga 1777. The simple graphic maps and wooden blocks make Worthington’s games easy to grasp while also providing some great strategic play specific to the conditions of certain battles and campaigns.

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Map detail and wooden playing pieces from Wilderness Empires

With Wilderness Empires, most recently reprinted in 2016, Worthington captures the larger scope of the grand strategy of the FIW in a mix of point-to-point movement, blocks and cards. Designed by my pal Bill Molyneaux, a FIW reenactor and game designer, the game is steeped in real history while producing introductory level play of the period for 2-4 players.

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French (top) and British (bottom) cards from Wilderness Empire featuring original art by Don Troiani

The components are hefty 1″ wooden blocks with nicely rounded corners representing French, British and Indian forces. Indian towns, special wood dice, a large board and cards featuring beautiful original art by Don Troiani round out what’s in the box. Their artwork aside, the cards provide tactical play of reinforcements, leaders, campaign actions and specific play of historical units such as Rogers Rangers and Indian allies.

If you’re lucky, you can track down this recently out of print game in gift shops at various historical sites and forts in the northeast for a great intro to the period.

1759: The Siege of Quebec

1759: Siege of Quebec (Worthington Publishing)

Worthington has also produced a new spin on the famed siege of the era with 1759: Siege of Quebec. The game presents a bit like the classic Columbia game covering the same battle but with a unique 2-in-1 package that allows for both 2-player and solo play, a rarity for games of the period.

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The beautiful map for Worthington’s 1759: Siege of Quebec

This game is gorgeous. The area movement map is bisected with by the St. Lawrence River and has defined deployment areas for stickerless blue (French) and red (British) blocks. In the 2-player game, separate hands of Command Decision cards and Command Field Orders books allow each side to make selections on what they do each turn. Cards are revealed and resolved, with casualties and morale tracked toward victory. The solitaire game uses a separate set of cards but plays out in a similar way.

The game falls into the modern string of fast-play “lunchtime games” which typically run less than a half-hour, making 1759 a great modern spin on the often-covered battle.

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1754: Conquest – The French and Indian War (Academy Games)

I’ve long been a devotee of Academy Games and their take on American history through their highly accessible and educational games. I have copies of their American Revolution game 1775: Rebellion, 1812:The Invasion of Canada and the immensely challenging Freedom: The Underground Railroad, so when I heard they were producing a FIW game, I knew I’d be getting a copy.

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Set-up of 1754: Conquest from Academy Games

The game, 1754: Conquest, follows the same basic mechanics of 1775 and 1812 and rounds out Academy’s trilogy from their “Birth of America” game series. All three games feature wonderfully colorful maps with area movement of small cubes using small hands of action cards keyed to historical events and personalities.

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One of my many plays through 1754: Conquest

In multiple plays of 1754, I’ve found it to be the most challenging in the series. Fortifications, muster points for militia and harbors for arriving British and French reinforcements all reflect the major points of control important to the war. As with all games in the series, this one serves as a great entry into wargaming the period while also providing a challenge to more experienced gamers.

Bayonets & Tomahawks (GMT Games)

One of my most anxiously-anticipated games is GMT’s Bayonets & Tomahawks which has been on their P500 pre-order since 2015. There’s been a steady drip of development and playtesting articles over the game’s long gestation, and in late 2019 some near-final box art was made available.

A 2018 playtest map for Bayonets & Tomahawks, slated for delivery in late 2020

As with all things that come out of GMT, the looks like its going to be a beauty with custom dice supporting a unique battle system and full-color round, square and triangular counters for different forces, fleets, forts and game conditions. The playtest map looks stunning. The game will play over shorter scenarios or the full war with raids, battles, construction, sieges and naval actions. Cards will support historical events and military actions. Having not gotten my hands on it as of yet, I can’t wait to unpack and punch this game when it becomes available, hopefully in late 2020.

The 2010s in Review: My Favorite Games

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The past ten years have been a big decade for gaming and for me as a gamer. I launched this blog (which I haven’t posted to in more than two years). I became president of Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY, NYC’s oldest continuously active gaming group, now in its fourth decade. And, I played a lot of games.

So, here’s my oddball list of 16 games I deem as my favorite of the 2010s. My list isn’t necessarily the most innovative games of the past ten years (although some are) and many are not widely popular (again, some are). These are the games that got back to the table over and over again as other new games came and went.

First up are a few games that capture my love of Marvel comic books and Star Wars from my 1970s childhood. Fantasy Flight Games has really exploded with Star Wars games over the past decade, and while I’ve played most of them, Rebellion and Imperial Assault are my standouts for capturing the story of Star Wars at the epic interplanetary level and as a sci-fi adventure campaign. Both games have incredible design, artwork and plastic miniatures which really speak to the toy nerd in me. The deck-builder Marvel Legendary also captures the teamwork which is the hallmark of Marvel heroes and villains. All three games take me deep into the real storytelling feel of being in the pages of a comic book or a movie.

My other childhood obsession was Dungeons & Dragons. Lords of Waterdeep captures the flavor of D&D within one its most fabled campaign settings dropped into a boardgame that feels like an adventure quest. Back to the classic RPG style of play, the D&D 5th Edition Starter Set brought me back to the table for the first time in years with a slimmed down all-in-one boxed rule set that felt akin to the fast-moving games of my childhood.

From superheroes, science fiction and fantasy, my love swings to American history. The American War of Independence plays out n my two favorite games of that period — Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection and 1775: Rebellion. In 1775, a simple block, card and dice mechanic allows play of the entire war in about 90-minutes and serves as a fantastic entry into the period and wargaming. With LOD, GMT’s COIN (counterinsurgency) mechanic of asymmetric conflict breathes new and nuanced complexity of the often-simplified formative American story.

From the American Revolution, my interest stepped back to the French and Indian War. This was the period that really fired my imagination the past few years with a dive into dozens of books and several long trips visiting historic sites of the era in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and New York. A Few Acres of Snow was my first game of the period and remains one of hands-down favorites with its two player asymmetric, deck building that still challenges over multiple plays as the French and British. My miniatures wargaming interest also swung heavily to the FIW with Muskets & Tomahawks. The quick-playing, card-driven mechanics of the game really captures the clash of British, Indian, French and Canadian forces, and I’ve spent countless hours researching and writing historic scenarios for significant engagements of the period which I’ve run at multiple miniatures gaming conventions as well as my club. A new version of the long out-of-print rules is due in 2020, so I’m very much looking forward to what the game brings next.

Two other historical games I’ve loved deal with two difficult subjects that have significantly shaped American history. Freedom: The Underground Railroad tackles slavery and the fight of abolitionists to bring it to its end through exceedingly challenging gameplay that involves often heartbreaking choices of who does and doesn’t make it to freedom in Canada. Fast-forwarding to the 21st-century, Labyrinth: The War On Terror covers the endless war of the US and coalition forces in the Middle East. As the wars continue, the game has received updated expansions bringing the game’s events and mechanics right up to the current news of the day from the 9/11 attacks to the Arab Spring to today. Both games show the power of games as tools to model and understand history ways few others do.

With time at a premium, there were a few games that filled the gap for 30-minute or less time slots at the beginning or end of a long evening’s game session or when a quick game just fits the bill. The patterned tile placement in a Azul is great for my non-gamer friends as well as experienced players, plus, it has my favorite mechanic of pulling the very satisfying heavy tiles out of a bag. Fuse also has a tactile angle with fast rolls of dice placed into patterned puzzles to be solved against a nerve-wracking countdown app. Finally, The Mind takes a super simple deck of 100 chronologically numbered cards and turns it into a really interesting exercise in how we play collaboratively with others without the benefit of verbal communication.

I play a lot of the above games and others with my family, and one we’ve returned to repeatedly is Five Tribes. The game, set in a fantasy sultanate, scratches all the Eurogame itches of colorful wooden meeples, a modular board, beautiful card artwork and some easy to grasp but hard to master strategies. We’ve taken this game on the road more than just about any game in my collection.

Finally, I wasn’t alone in my obsession with the wildly-popular Root. The game combines so many things I love about games — fantasy, adventure, great art — in an asymmetric clash of woodland animals. With what it presents simply on the surface, the game taps into a wargaming feel that bridges all the games I’ve enjoyed so much over the past ten years.

Aside from all the games above I’ve enjoyed, I have to also celebrate the 2010s coming to a close on a personal gaming note. After some fours decades as a gamer, I was thrilled to co-found Campaign Games and launch a successful Kickstarter in the late summer of 2019 for Forts & Frontiers: The Feast of the Dead Deluxe. Combining the mechanics of D&D 5th Edition with my love for the story of 17th-century European-Indian history in North America, the game was well-received during Free RPG Day 2019 and continues to playtest well at conventions. To end the year and decade on the other side of the table as a game creator is a thrill I’ll watch unfold over the coming year and into the 2020s.

French and Indian War: Woodland Indians from Galloping Major Wargames

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To add yet more Indians to my French and Indian War 28mm collection, I’ve turned again to a current favorite miniatures manufacturers — Galloping Major Wargames. After a recent project using GM’s Provincials and supporting their recent French Marines Kickstarter, I filled out a direct order from the UK with a few of their Indian models which didn’t disappoint.
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GM miniatures are the among the largest in my collection, cast at a 28mm heroic scale. That said, I found my first purchase of their Indians to be just a bit smaller than their other figures I own. The size of the models presents the opportunity for a lot of detail and individual personality, especially in some great facial expressions.
These Indians present a more traditional look with chests bared and dress in leather loincloths and leggings. Knives, hatchets, jewelry, powder horns and various shoulder-slung bags equip these figures nicely for any campaign. As a bonus, the six figures I ordered were supplemented with a seventh figure thrown in for free, a nice thing GM offers to larger orders. And with these Indians complete, I’m sure there will be more of those orders to Galloping Major Wargames in my future.
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French and Indian War: Woodland Indians from Knuckleduster Miniatures

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In my recent quest to add more variety to my French and Indian War Native American forces, I’ve had to look a bit beyond the usual FIW miniatures manufacturers. My core requirements in seeking new models is that they are metal, a reasonable representation of tribes present during the FIW period and that they scale well at 28mm with my other models. With this criteria in mind, I was happy to stumble across a rack of Knuckleduster Miniatures at a convention earlier this year.
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Knuckleduster, as the name evokes, focuses largely on an expanding line of Old West themed miniatures in 25mm, 28mm and 40mm scales. Beyond this core offering, they also have a small selection of British, American and Canadian soldiers for the War of 1812. And, it’s within this era’s figures where you will find a small collection of Native Americans usable in the FIW.
Packaged as “Grand River Nation” Indians, Knuckleduster offers two packs of six models, one in summer dress and one in winter clothing, plus a two-model leader pack. I picked up the summer dress pack for $10, a pretty good deal for a half dozen metal models cast at a true 28mm scale. These are really beefy models with lumpy facial features but with some nice detail in jewelry and clothing. Their dress generally depicts the European-influenced style from trade goods many Indians wore during the FIW era. And, it is their scale, style and variety that makes these a great hidden find for my Native force collection.
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