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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French and Indian War: Woodland Indians from North Star Military Figures

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With the majority of my core 28mm forces for my French and Indian War gaming complete, I’ve been focusing on filling out my model variety with more Indian figures from a number of manufacturers. The FIW lends itself to having a lot of different Native American models on the table, given the numerous North American tribes which participated in the conflict. Most of my Indians are from Conquest Miniatures distributed by Warlord Games but my next few posts are focusing on some small units I’ve been adding from other makers.
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First up are a half dozen figures from North Star Military Figures. Until recently, Northstar was manufacturing figures packaged specifically for use with the very popular Muskets & Tomahawks rules set. With a second edition of M&T pending at some unnamed future date, Northstar recently put their figure line on hold.
Fortunately I had grabbed a pack of Indian reinforcements at a convention earlier this year. The six models, armed with muskets and hatchets, all come with nice detail of equipment, jewelry and some hooded frocks. I chose to paint them in colorful reds, greens and blues, reflecting the steady trade of European goods during the era. The sculpts are solid with a real 28mm feel a bit larger than my Conquests which stand closer to 25mm. With these Northstar Indians, my native forces have grown in variety and scale as I build out a larger group of allies for my French.
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Touring the Battle of Brooklyn at Green-Wood Cemetery

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This past Sunday a fellow member of Metropolitan Wargamers and I climbed aboard a trolley tour at historic Green-Wood Cemetery. The occasion was the cemetery’s annual Battle of Brooklyn Commemoration, fortuitously held this year on the exact date — 241 years later — of the battle on August 27, 1776.

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Leading the two-hour tour were the cemetery’s resident historian, Jeff Richman, and Barnet Schecter, historian and author of The Battle for New York. Schecter’s book is the long-held standard text on the battle, variously known as the Battle of Long Island or the Battle of Brooklyn. I’ve had a copy of his book for years and I’ve heard him lecture previously, but the tour offered a great chance to get up close with both Schecter and Richman as they spun a narrative of the battle’s events more than two centuries previous.

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Barnet Schecter presents the view toward eastern Long Island where British troops were observed landing in August 1776

One of the first stops on the tour was along a ridge affording an southeast-facing view from the cemetery out into Long Island. From this position, the historians presented with some certainty,  General George Washington and his staff were able to make their first accounting of the landing of General William Howe’s British forces at Gravesend Bay August 22nd-24th. The prospect sits atop a terminal moraine known as the Heights of Guan, the furthest point of a glacier’s advance millennia ago, and opens into a wide view across the flatlands of Brooklyn where only farms, fields and open ground stood between British and Continental forces. On the beautiful, clear morning of the tour, our view stretched to the horizon, making it easy to imagine how important the high ground had been in an era when first-hand observation was often the only information a commander had to go on in the field. From this view, Washington’s observations came to the (incorrect) conclusion the bulk of the British force would march here to his west flank and attack. The British command had other plans.

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The mausoleum of Robert Troup, lieutenant colonel of the Continental Army

Green-Wood being the final resting place of many prominent New Yorkers of the past couple hundred years, there were several stops along the tour at notable graves. One example was at the mausoleum of Robert Troup. A college roommate of Alexander Hamilton and junior officer in the Continental Army at the time of the battle, Troup was one of just five men sent to stand watch at the far east flank of Washington’s position at the Jamaica Pass on the eve of the battle. Unfortunately for the Colonials, the British secretly divided their force on the evening of August 26th and silently marched some 10,000 men, 40 guns and a long baggage train through the darkness to Jamaica Pass. In this audacious flanking maneuver, the British would capture Troup and his comrades and begin closing on an unsuspecting Washington from the east.

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The Delaware Regiment monument at Green-Wood Cemetery

Washington had thrown the bulk of his force on the west flank, led by William Alexander (aka “Lord Stirling”). Just as the British were moving in from the east, a British decoy force led by James Grant had made its way toward Stirling’s lines. Our tour traced Grant’s advance and made our next stop near the approximate site of the first clash of Stirling and Grant late on August 26th. The skirmish, now remembered in a typical mixture of fact and folklore, was recounted as being fought through near a watermelon patch at the now-vanished Red Lion Inn. This far edge of the cemetery property now houses a parking lot and maintenance sheds, so it really takes a stretch of the imagination to transport oneself to those opening shots of the battle. The one nod to the historic events there is in a relatively recent monument to the the Delaware Regiment which would play a part near this spot the following day as the Battle of Brooklyn commenced.

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Our guides for the morning, Jeff Richman (left) and Barnet Schecter (right)

It was here, Richman and Schecter both pointed out, that American troops for the first time in the war formed European-styled firing lines and exchanged volleys with British soldiers, then the most powerful military force in the world. Our tour then followed the action of the Colonial’s right flank as Stirling’s men -including the Delaware regiment and Pennsylvanians — repositioned at an angled rise, firing into Grant’s advancing troops. It was there that two distant cannon blasts, far to east, signaled the surprise advance of the main British lines that had snuck through the Jamaica Pass overnight. In one echoing report, the British had announced themselves and the Americans found themselves enveloped by a force more than twice its size.

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The statue of Minerva, placed atop Battle Hill by Charles Higgins in 1920

Following the retreat of Stirling’s troops, we made our way to our final tour stop at what became known as Battle Hill in the 20th-century. Standing before the statue of the goddess Minerva, Richman recounted the story of the monument’s placement by Charles Higgins, an Irish immigrant who made his fortune in India ink. Archival research unveiled Higgins’s original intent to have the statue face the Woolworth Building although we can be thankful today for its dramatic placement facing of the Statue of Liberty across the harbor.

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And it was on the hill 241 years ago this past weekend where a couple hundred Americans seized the 200-foot hill and held off 2000 British troops over several attacks. Out of ammunition, the Colonials eventually surrendered but they allowed for the majority of Stirling’s men to slip toward the Gowanus Creek. There, outgunned and outnumbered, the Americans (led by the 1st Maryland Regiment) made head-on attacks British dug in at the Vechte–Cortelyou House, known today as the Old Stone House. Once again, the sacrifices and delaying actions of Stirling’s force against the British allowed the vast majority of the Americans to flee toward the East River. Two evenings later, on August 29, 1776, Washington led a nighttime evacuation to Manhattan. Not only had the young Continental Army and most of its leadership been saved, but most probably the Revolution was saved, too.

I’ve lived in Brooklyn for more than twenty years and I’m an avid history fan, but sharing a morning with two passionate guides walking historic ground really brought long-ago events alive anew. New York and Brooklyn are not places that evoke the Revolution for most Americans. Boston, Lexington-Concord, Bunker Hill, Saratoga and Yorktown — those are sites of the War of Independence we all learn as children, not Brooklyn. But both Richman and Schecter hit on the importance of the Battle of Brooklyn over and over again on the tour — the first battle after the Declaration of Independence as Americans; the largest battle of the American Revolution; the first time Americans faced British in traditional open field battle; and, the event where Washington managed to snatch a victory (of sorts) out of a defeat. The war continued another seven years, but had the events in Brooklyn gone differently it may very well have ended less than two months after tAmericans had taken the radical first steps toward independence. One thing we Brooklynites are good at is promoting our local brand, but when it comes to the Battle of Brooklyn, it most certainly warrants repeated commemoration every August.

Rebuilding a 28mm Wilderness Fortification

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The construction of 17th and 18th-century European fortifications were revolutionized by the writing of Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, the French military engineer and author of A Manual of Siegecraft and Fortification. His formal star-shaped forts of the era defined military and city defensive architecture throughout Europe and in overseas colonies.

North American wilderness warfare of the French and Indian War often called for more hastily-built backcountry defenses. A paper by Military Architecture of the American Frontier, made available online by the National Park Service, provides an overview of how Vauban’s and other writings of the period influenced fort building in a very different environment. Blockhouses and stockades were common, and some reconstructed examples like Fort Necessity and Fort Ligonier can be visited today. Given even less time and planning, dirt, plentiful trees, and woven gabions filled with rocks could be used to create a somewhat formidable defensive position by throwing the strong backs of soldiers and hired civilians into the effort. While some Vauban-style grand forts of the period like Fort Niagara and Fort Ticonderoga still stand centuries later in the United States, countless small, temporary fortifications have been long lost to time.

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A plan of Fort Ligonier, Pennsylvania from “A Set of Plans and Forts in America. Reduced from Actual Surveys” by John Rocque (c. 1750)

My local club Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY has hundreds of pieces of terrain in multiple scales spanning many historical eras. Some of these pieces are decades old, once belonging to members who have long since moved on. They reflect different wargaming modeling techniques of the past and some bear the markings of manufacturers long gone.

I’ve taken it upon myself recently to rebuild and refresh some of these pieces, particularly a number of 28mm buildings and scratch built terrain models appropriate to 18th-century scenarios of the French and Indian War era. With this in mind, a large, banged-up and dusty wilderness fortress piece recently caught my eye on the club’s shelf and I set to work making it usable again.

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A decades-old scratchbuilt piece of terrain in need of repair

Mounted on a piece of quarter-inch plywood measuring about 8″ x 18″, this hefty model features three canon positions on a plaster raised earth mound surrounded by resin-cast wicker gabions and sharpened wooden stakes. The years had not been kind to the model. Original trees had snapped off long ago, several breaks in the plaster were evident, grass had worn off, fences were broken and overall, the whole model had taken on a drab appearance.

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Some initial repairs and a fresh coat of paint

The first step was to clean the model of the layers of dust accumulated over the years, remove remnants of broken trees and trim off flaking and broken bits of plaster. Next, I filled cracks and missing areas of plaster with lightweight wood filler. All the earthen areas then received a fresh coat of dark brown paint over which I dry brushed varying layers of browns and gray paints.

With the base repainted, I made small glued repairs to broken fencing. I also added a few spare sticks and a barrel to bring some detail to the model as if repairs were an ongoing part of the fortification’s use. From there, the logs, fence, sharpened stakes and gabions were repainted and weathered using more dry brushed coats of browns and grays.

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New trees are glued to the model

With most of the new painting done, I turned to adding new trees. I drilled and glued nails into the trunks of pre-made trees from Woodland Scenics which were then glued into holes in the base at the rear along the fence. The trees added textural and vertical interest to an otherwise flat model and also provided some additional color to the overall earthiness of the terrain.

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A layer of new groundcover is applied over the model

Further texture and color was added with my favorite Adirondack Blend from Scenic Express. This material contains grass of varying color and texture along with other larger bits of scattered twigs and wood chips which give a highly detailed look that reflects the ground of the North American wilderness. To attach, I heavily brushed white glue on a section at a time all around the base of the fortification and then shook a thick layer of the grass over the glue. Some areas around the logs also received a bit of grass to break up the sameness of the main battery area. Once dry, I lightly tapped the excess grass off the model, carefully scooping up the extra for use again. Finally, a couple small bits of clump foliage were glued around the trees and in random areas along the model’s base. With everything dry, the model got a matte spray coat to hold on the grass and seal the new paint.

In less than a couple hours work, the whole model popped back to life after sitting unused for years. The fortress also has a look more consistent with some of my other terrain pieces, allowing for a more unified look on the table. The project has inspired me to have a look at rebuilding other long-ignored pieces of terrain at the club, bringing them into a new century of miniature wargaming for hopefully years to come.

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French and Indian War: Scottish Highlanders from North Star Military Figures

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In the early 1700s, Scots from clans loyal to the British ruling government had been recruited into local law keeping forces and later as more formal militia. Allowed to dress and employ traditional Highland garb and weapons, Scottish forces would serve the British military cause from the European mainland to Egypt to the Caribbean to India over the next two centuries.  Three Highlander regiments — the 42nd, 77th and 78th — would distinguish themselves in service of the Crown’s rule in the first major 18th-century conflict of British North America, the French and Indian War (1756-1763).

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The Highland Regiment Exercising on Glasgow Green, 1758 (artist unknown)

The 42nd (Royal Highland) Regiment of Foot set sail for North America in January of 1757 and landed in April. During their time in the colonies, these Scotsmen would participate in many key battles of the FIW, including the Battle of Carillion (1758) and the capture of Fort Ticonderoga (1759). After the war, the 42nd Foot spent time in Pennsylvania at Fort Pitt and Fort Ligonier before fighting in one of their most famed battles during Pontiac’s Rebellion at Bushy Run, Pennsylvania in August 1763.

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Aside from a general collection of FIW books, I turned to a copy of Osprey Publishing’s Highlander in the French-Indian War, 1756–67 by Ian Macpherson McCulloch. The book focuses on three Highlander regiments of the period, including the 42nd Foot I’ve chosen to model. The historic background, period illustrations and contemporary plates make this a great foundation for anyone wanting to learn a bit more about the Highland regiments of the period. One plate in particular portrays detail of uniform and equipment of a typical c. 1756 private of the 42nd Foot — just the inspiration I needed as I worked on fielding my very first Highlander models.

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I managed to score a half-dozen Highlanders from North Star Military Figures at half price during a recent close-out sale. Sadly, North Star is mothballing their FIW line of models for the time being as Studio Tomahawk works toward a future second edition of the popular Muskets & Tomahawks wargaming rules. I had previously painted up some of their French Canadian miniatures and I still have some of their Indians in my painting queue, so I was glad to add a few of their Highlanders to my collection while I could.

The 18th-century is fun to paint for the diversity of uniforms, weapons and mode of dress, and these Highlanders were no exceptions. This was my first go at tartan kilts, so I sunk some time into watching how-to videos online. I went with a simple technique of dark blue undercoat followed by layered grids of varying greens and greys to approximate the signature tartan of the 42nd Foot. Close-up it looks a bit pointillistic, but at arm’s length on the table I was pretty satisfied with the results.

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The rest of the figures were a bit more straight forward with red jackets and blue bonnets (or “tams”) with red balls on the top and red lacing at the brim. The officer also got some fancy stockings with an angled cross-hatched plaid of white and red. Having just six of the North Star Highlander models completed, I wish I had bought more before they became impossible to get. That said, I’ll be tracking down some more from other manufacturers so I can better field a large force of the 42nd Royal Highlanders.

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