A Place To Play: The Brooklyn Strategist

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The Brooklyn Strategist was opened several years ago by Dr. Jon Freeman, a clinical psychologist, neuroscience researcher and life-long game fan. Situated along the main drag of Court Street in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, has quickly grown to be a go-to gaming space for the Brownstone Brooklyn crowds of kids, families and adults.

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Board games, card games and gaming accessories line the walls

The original storefront space of hardwood floors and exposed-brick walls holds a number of tables (including a stunning Sultan custom table from Geek Chic), shelves of games and accessories for sale, and a small coffee and snacks bar. In the spring of 2015, the store doubled in size next door. The new space added about a dozen more tables to accommodate the expanding children and adult programs, tournament events and growing miniatures gaming community.

The core of The Brooklyn Strategist is in its after school programming, and a packed regular schedule of events is also offered every day and night of the week. Magic: The Gathering card games are featured Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Mondays also showcase ongoing Star Wars X-Wing play, and other X-Wing events are held periodically with hosting by the NYC X-Wing group. Scrabble and chess take over Tuesday nights, and opportunities abound for Dungeons & Dragons and other RPG games Wednesdays and Saturdays. Hundreds of games are on hand to pull off the shelf to play.

Paying your way at The Brooklyn Strategist is a great deal with a $10 walk-in fee, individual memberships at $25 per month, couples at $45 per month and family packages at $60 per month. Each level of membership comes with a package of discounts and perks which encourages a solid community to fill the space all week long.

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The expanded miniatures gaming selection includes Flames of War, Games Workshop, Star Wars X-Wing, Battle Foam cases, paints and other popular lines

This past weekend I had the opportunity to sit down with Colt Johnson who has worked hard for a year to expand the shop’s interest in miniatures gaming. Johnson said the miniatures scene is focusing right now on the “five food groups: Malifaux, Infinity, Warmachine, Games Workshop and Flames of War.” Over his time working at the store, the miniatures scene has grown from maybe a dozen players on a weekend afternoon to 40 to 50 packing the tables on a busy day. Organized miniatures tournaments, events and pick-up games rage on the tabletop battlefields, and players new to the hobby can drop in and whet their appetites using beautifully painted 28mm loaner models on hand in display cases throughout the store.

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Miniatures gaming and painting gears up on a recent Saturday

A Warhammer 40K escalation league just kicked off with nearly 40 players signed up to play over the coming months. On the day I was there, 40K was very much in the air. A group of players from Staten Island were settling into their first games on some beautiful tables packed with terrain. One table over, a young girl who recently hosted a birthday party for 15 other girls at the store sat painting up her latest plastic goodies from Games Workshop. As the dice rolled, a phone call came in from someone who had just moved to the city and was looking to play some 40K.

Sci-fi and fantasy miniatures gaming clearly has a big following at the The Brooklyn Strategist, but historical gaming is newly on the rise. The popular World War II 15mm game Flames of War is a recent addition to the store’s minis mix, and this past weekend also presented a demo game of the 15mm Cold War-themed Team Yankee. WWII at 28mm with Bolt Action and even some 18th-century Blackpowder gaming is also on the horizon.

While growing every aspect of miniatures gaming, Johnson is hoping to push into even more historical gaming as both a hobby and way to create excitement for local kids and adults around learning about history through gaming and modelling. No matter the game, period, theme or level of experience, everyone who finds their way to the tables at The Brooklyn Strategist will find themselves in the right place.

The Brooklyn Strategist is located at 333 Court Street in Brooklyn, NY 11231 (a short walk from the F/G train at Carroll Street). Contact them at 718-576-3035 or check them out on their website or Facebook page. For news on the miniatures scene at the shop, check out their separate wargaming Facebook page.

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New Game Weekend: Acquire

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Acquire was designed by Sid Jackson and published in 1964 as part of the 3M bookshelf series. Produced from the early 1960s through mid-1970s, 3M’s games were a bit of an oddity outside their core office, medical and industrial supplies business yet they hold a solid place in the hearts and history of the gaming community. Along with classic board games like Go, Backgammon and Chess, the 3M bookshelf games also introduced the early trivia game Facts In Five, the election-themed Mr. President and economic strategy games like Acquire. In 1976, the 3M games were sold off to Avalon Hill which was subsequently purchased by Hasbro in 1998. The chain of ownership of Acquire through the years made for multiple international editions as well as a more recent period of the game being out of print until Hasbro’s Wizards of the Coast made the game available again in 2008. For a game based in the economic mechanics of buying and selling, Acquire itself has passed through several acquisitions itself over the past five decades.

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Various editions of Acquire from the 1960s to 1990s

I had a chance to play the modern incarnation of this venerable game on a recent weekend at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY. The latest edition of Acquire consists of relatively underwhelming card stock and paper components that is short on charm but does keep the price just under $30. The game board presents a grid of building lots marked with a number and letter combination which coincide with a set of tiles with the same markings. In turn, players play tiles and may opt to construct an available corporation once two contiguous lots are available. Constructing a new corporation gets the player a free stock certificate plus the opportunity to buy up to two more shares at the starting price.

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My first game of Acquire in progress

On a turn where a new corporation is not being founded, a player may instead buy up to three shares total among the existing corporations. As chains of tiles are built out, the value and cost of a stock rises. Over the course of the game, existing corporations expand and larger corporations merge with smaller ones once their chains of building lots intersect. When corporations merge, players with stock may cash out, convert shares at two to one for the new coronation’s stock or hold the old stock for when (or if) the gobbled up company finds a new space to start again on the board. Once a corporation grows to a chain of eleven tiles it becomes safe from a take over, and the game ends once every company reaches at least eleven tiles in size. Stocks are cashed in and money is counted to determine the winner.

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Stock certificates, tile rack and reference chart from Acquire

Acquire’s staying power rests in its simplicity coupled with a lot of strategic and tactical play mirroring something like actual investing. As in the real world, timing, location and having cash on hand to strike when an opportunity presents itself are all key factors in Acquire. The game is also almost purely competitive, and the rules as written offer no opportunity for side trading or off-board deals. Placing a tile is usually a direct benefit to the player or may be a defensive move against another player’s expansion. Swooping in to buy stock to become a majority shareholder right before a merger can cut someone else out of a hefty payout. A merger or expansion of existing companies may also benefit multiple players. The ability to quickly convert cash earned into a new investment and then flipping that into more profit rules the game.

While the modern incarnation of Acquire pales next to past editions with their better components, the game itself remains strong. The buy-sell cycle of investing hasn’t changed much over the years. For a game with a fifty-year history of itself being bought and sold, little has changed with Acquire either.

New Game Weekend: The Resistance: Avalon and One Night Ultimate Werewolf

avalonwerewolfThe mechanics of common and secret knowledge among players creates the basis for so many games we play. A game like chess has everything set on the board for everyone to see, and it is only a player’s skill and strategy that remains secret until revealed in a series of successive moves of action and reaction.

More typically games involve some level of secrecy either in cards hidden in a player’s hand or pieces set on a game board ready to be revealed at specific moments during play. Deduction, reason, probability, informed guesses, manipulation through bluffing and revelation of information drives much of the action of these games.

Almost 30 years ago, Mafia was created by a psychologist at Moscow University. In the game, two players act as the mafia with their identity known to each other but not the other players. The non-mafia participants take on a variety of other roles, each with select knowledge of the other players and abilities to effect other player roles. With starting roles assigned, the game enters a “night phase” with all players shutting their eyes. A non-player game moderator bears witness as the mafia players and any accomplices kill off other players in secret. Next, all players open their eyes for a “day phase” and changes in the situation of the game is revealed. Players still alive in the game discuss the new conditions of the game, and attempt to discern the mafia players among them in subsequent night and day phases.

As Mafia spread outside of the former Soviet Union in the mid-1990s, it took on a horror-themed variant known as Werewolf. In the new version, players act as werewolves or villagers attempting to identify and kill off each other in night and day phases. Once players have an understanding of the basics of Mafia or Werewolf, neither game really requires any special equipment. This had made these games popular as pick-up party games with hardcore and casual gamers alike (my wife recently played Werewolf on a company retreat as a team-building exercise).

wwcontentsCards, markers and free app from One Night Ultimate Werewolf

In the past two weeks, I had a chance to play two of the more popular modern versions of these games at Metropolitan Wargamers and Brooklyn Game Lab. One Night Ultimate Werewolf is the latest riff on the classic game from Bezier Games with werewolf players hiding among villagers with a variety of roles. These include colorful characters like the Minion who knows the werewolves and only wins if they survive, the Seer who secretly knows identities of other players and the Tanner who has a death wish and wants to be killed before the werewolves are found out. Along with the cartoon artwork on the heavy-carded playing pieces, this version of Werewolf comes with a free app which acts as a game moderator and timekeeper.

avaloncardartCard artwork from The Resistance: Avalon

The Resistance: Avalon is a the sequel to the sci-fi-themed The Resistance from four years ago from Indie Boards & Cards. Players of Avalon take on good and evil roles from Arthurian legend and set out on a series of quests to root out the opposition. After roles are set, a king is selected each round to select other players to participate in a quest. All players vote to approve or deny the selected party on their quest, and then players on the quest vote for the quest to succeed or fail. The evil players win if more quests fail than succeed, so each quest round is the chance to reveal who may be working alone or in concert to win the game for the evil side. Like the more traditional, Mafia game, Avalon involves a non-playing moderator.

With all these games, the colorful pieces and cards are just jumping-off points for the real action which takes place among the players. Accusations are slung, theories are posited and alliances are built and then dissolve in minutes. In the games I played recently, people spent a lot of time just staring into other people’s eyes, looking for a glint of deception or a sly twinkle of acknowledgement. What has made all these games in their various names and variations so enduring is that human nature itself becomes the mechanic of the game. Whether the game is Mafia, Werewolf, Resistance or Avalon, the only real equipment needed isn’t in a cardstock box but in what each player brings with them to the table.

New Game Weekend: Revolution! and Carcassonne

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This past Saturday was International Tabletop Day, a day where tens-of-thousands of people around the world crowd around tables in dining rooms, basements, clubs and hobby shops to do what many of us do year-round — play games. My youngest son and I spent the afternoon at Brooklyn Game Lab, a recent entry into the growing list of New York City venues dedicated to unplugging and playing tabletop games with friends and strangers alike. The scene in Brooklyn was like that played-out worldwide with a packed house of experienced gamers and newcomers joining together, rolling dice, racking up points, playing cards, placing tokens and role-playing through a massive variety of games. At Brooklyn Game Lab, players faced off with a variety of games like Betrayal at House on the Hill, Love Letter, The Resistance: Avalon, Tokaido and even a few games of Chess. My son and I had a go at two games which were new to us — Revolution! and Carcassonne.

rev picIn Revolution! from the decades-old Steve Jackson Games  players vie for power in a town through a secretive combination of blackmail, strong-armed force and out-and-out bribery. With four new players at the table, Revolution! was a quick learn and exciting fast play in just under an hour’s time.

securedownload-1A player’s secret bidding card in Revolution with Gold, Blackmail and Force tokens

Revolution! has an interesting secret bidding mechanic where players simultaneously bid their Force, Blackmail and Gold tokens on a dozen citizens of the board’s town such as the General, Priest, Printer, Mercenary or Spy. Once bids are placed, players remove their screens to reveal their bids. Bids to influence the same character are resolved through a simple Force beats Blackmail, Blackmail beat Gold and ties result in no effect for the round. Once a player wins influence over a character, the effects dealt out through additional earned Force, Blackmail and Gold tokens, Support points or placement of Influence markers in one of the town’s areas such as the Tavern, Town Hall, Market or Harbor.

securedownloadOur game of Revolution! from Steve Jackson Games at Brooklyn Game Lab

The game continues with subsequent rounds of bidding which progress into evolving strategies and agendas as the town’s areas fill up with player Influence. As the board is filled, players in Revolution! shift in their need for Force, Blackmail and Gold tokens, seeking to not only control the board but shift and undermine their opponent’s already-placed pieces. Controlling an area of the town brings additional Support points when the game ends, and the player with the most points on the outer scoring track wins.

carcassonneFor our second game of the day, we got into the now-classic Carcassonne from 2000. Distributed by Z-Man Games in the United States, Carcassonne is a tile-placement game where players build-out and a kingdom dotted with cities, roads and monasteries. Carcassonne is a quick learn, and the random tile choice at the beginning of each player’s turn creates choices in matching the tile to the multiple potential fits on the table.

In placing a tile, a player also makes a choice in placing a meeple on the board and in doing so, placing a bet on potential points. In placing the first tile of a city, a player may place one of their colored meeple pieces with the hope of closing off the city with additional tile plays which score points on the number of subsequently connected city pieces at a two points apiece. A monastery scores nine points when the eight surrounding tiles are placed, and roads are scored at a tile each once a route is closed between two endpoints. Victory points are tracked on a scorecard next to the growing kingdom of Carcassonne, and each tile played reduces the chances from the finite number of potential tiles in the draw pile. Playing against three experienced players in my first game,  I was able to score highest on some chancy bets and lucky tile draws.

International Tabletop Day is 24 hours of celebration of games, chanced strategies played out and opportunities to try something new. At the Brooklyn Game Lab this past weekend I found myself in my element surrounded by passionate gamers questing for victory and fun and more than a few hours of play. Games focus on this one day per year, but for a lot of my fellow gamers, they play out week after week until next turn  rolls around on the calendar.