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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A Place To Play: Nu Brand Gaming

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Tucked away on a residential side street in Sunset Park, Brooklyn is an inviting tabletop miniatures players paradise. Located in a former chiropractor’s office decked out in knotty pine paneling, wall to wall carpeting and an assortment of Americana and Wild West decor, Nu Brand Gaming opened in 2015 and is one of the newest and best gamer play spaces in the city.

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One of the many racks of terrain throughout the space

Nu Brand is operated by Ade Sanya, the resident owner of the building and son of the doctor who formerly served patients in the rooms where dice are now rolled and minis are pushed on tabletop battlefields.  With his family living upstairs, Ade has spent the past year creating an incredibly comfortable and inviting space for gamers focused on historic, fantasy and sci-fi miniatures. His skills as a carpenter and set builder are evident in the sturdy tables and racks of terrain found in the half-dozen well-lit rooms which radiate off the central hallway.

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Hobby room with supplies and tools to lend

A small hobby room sits at the back of the building where tools and supplies are available for use by members and drop-ins who come to spend time modelling at one of the many comfortable work places throughout the rooms. A small galley kitchen offers drinks, snacks and a refrigerator for visitors to store their own food. Secured storage lockers are also made available to members to store their gaming gear.

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 Miniatures painting in the back room

Membership runs $30 a month at Nu Brand, and a day rate of just $10 is available for people who come to just give the place a try or participate in one of the many growing number of events scheduled. Members can also take advantage of retail discounts with several suppliers Nu Brand is working with to bring product to the community. The space is generally open Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

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German Fallschirmjager and US Airborne troops clash in a Bolt Action game

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US Airborne assault a German tank in Bolt Action

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More Bolt Action gaming

My first visit to Nu Brand this past weekend found ten gamers playing in a day-long series of Bolt Action 28mm World War II games. Tables were gorgeous — from the towns of late-war Western France and the wintery ruins of an Eastern Front forest to an urban town fight and a clash on a Pacific Island. At the end of the day’s events, certificates were awarded for best painting and force lists, a raffle was held and announcements were made for the new monthly Brooklyn Bolt Action campaign kicking off at Nu Brand this month.

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One of the  Warmachine battles in action

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More War Machine gaming

As WWII battles raged in several rooms, other players were occupied with Warmachine and other fantasy games, and four hobbyists were camped out in the back painting away at their miniatures. A variety of games like Star Wars X-Wing, Beyond the Gates of Antares, Malifaux, Mage Wars and Warhammer 40K are played regularly at Nu Brand. Newbies and experts alike all find a spot at Nu Brand. No matter the game, the love of the craft and gaming in the hobby — no matter the era or theme — is evident with everyone who crowds the tables each week.

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Urban terrain set up on one of the many tables

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Modular tables allow for flexible game sizes

The hum of activity and welcoming environment was evident for regulars and newcomers alike at Nu Brand Gaming on my first visit. Aside from myself, two other members of Metropolitan Wargamers were along for the day and we were able to meet and play with a whole host of new people and veteran players who were connected to friends-of-friends throughout the New York City area. Like so many of us in the wide gaming community “keeping table top gaming alive” is the mission of Nu Brand Gaming, and this marvelous place to play is a fantastic new outpost to seize this objective.

Nu Brand Gaming is located at 194 31st Street in Brooklyn, NY 11232 (a short walk from the D/N/R train at 36th Street). Contact them at 646-696-4132 or check them out on their website or Facebook page.

 

New Game Weekend: Arkham Horror

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Released in 1987 and then vastly revised in 2005 and 2007 by Fantasy Flight Games, Arkham Horror is one of the modern classics in horror-fantasy boardgames. This past weekend, the creatures of Arkham Horror invaded our home in Brooklyn, and my sons and I have a new favorite.

Based on the writings of H.P. Lovecraft and his Cthulhu Mythos, the game casts 2-8 players in the roles of investigators in the fictional town of Arkham, Massachusetts during the interwar period of the 1920s. The New England town has been beset by the terror of strange rumblings of monsters invading the streets accompanied by weird magic, supernatural beings and strange goings-on. The mission of the investigators is to travel through portals to Other Worlds and seal them before a great Ancient One emerges in the town. Along the way, investigators accumulate clues, arcane items, spells and skills by visiting various locations in the town. If the portals are not closed in time, the horrific Ancient One rises and squares off in a final epic battle with the investigators in a last-ditch effort to save Arkham and the world as we know it.

wtcoversIssues of Weird Tales magazine featuring the work of H.P. Lovecraft from 1927 to 1937

H.P. Lovecraft is a darling of gamers and science-fiction/horror fans, and his influence resonates throughout today’s pop culture of movies, comic books, fantasy literature and gaming. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Lovecraft published a series of short stories broadly placed in the weird fiction category combining elements of horror, science fiction, fantasy and crime genres. With its troubling themes of peril and unknown, weird fiction was perfectly suited for a broad mindset of American society just emerging from World War I, living through the Great Depression and watching the storm clouds of World War II gather on the horizon.

Weird fiction found a home with the cheap pulp-paper magazines popular in the first half of the 20th-century including dozens of titles such as Argosy Magazine, Amazing Stories, Western Story Magazine and Weird Tales. Within their wondrous and often racy covers, pulp magazines featured everything from western adventures, jungle stories, Victorian detective tales, sword and sorcery plots and science-fiction wonders. Authors such as Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Lovecraft could all be found side-by-side within these magazines. The stories from pulp magazines were of profound influence on countless later 20th-century writers and directors, perhaps most famously with Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. As kids in the 1970s and 80s, reprints of many of these pulp tales filled the heads of my circle of friends and informed our lifelong interests in all things weird and fantastic.

CsketchA 1934 sketch of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft

One of Lovecraft’s most enduring stories, The Call of Cthulhu, was first published in Weird Tales in February 1928. The story recounts a mystery of an ancient cult of a mythic tentacled beast known as Cthulhu and the worldwide quest to uncover its origins and its new rise to plague the modern world. Through subsequent stories by Lovecraft and other writers, the world of the Cthulhu stories grew to be dizzyingly expansive in it depth of detail and plot. Today, Lovecraft’s Cthulhu universe serves as an insidery geek shorthand that stretches from stories, games, comic books and compendium reference books to clothing, statuettes, cupcakes, tattoos, jewelry and countless other collectibles.

10649826_10203907450141018_1116891535581886976_nArkham Horror from Fantasy Flight Games gets unboxed at our house

My older son recently scored a free copy of Arkham Horror after serving as a counselor in training during the summer day camp program at Brooklyn Game Lab, and we jumped into a full weekend of playing this wonderful game. People familiar with products from Fantasy Flight Games will find a box of incredibly well-designed pieces, with a richly-illustrated game board and hundreds of cards, playing pieces and reference sheets. The rules are daunting and require several plays to wrap one’s head around, but eventually Arkham Horror moves along briskly in a couple hours of gaming.

The game is basically a race against time until the Ancient One awakens to destroy the town. Much like an adventuring party in role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, players choose to play as one or two of sixteen roles such as a researcher, magician, gangster, nun, archaeologist or drifter. Each character begins with set standard and specialized equipment, money, spells, skills and allies laid out on a card depicting base abilities. The abilities — speed, sneak, luck, lore, will and fight — are each measured on a track that allows a player to boost or lesson their effectiveness at the beginning of each turn. Players move to various locations within Arkham where they find clues, engage in encounters or perform other actions like healing at the hospital, hiring allies at the boarding house or shopping for items at the general store or curiosity shop. Armed with items, skills and spells, characters either engage in combat with revealed monsters or attempt to slip by them. Taking damage from monsters or other encounters reduces an investigator’s Stamina (ie, health or hit points) or Sanity, driving the player closer and closer to death or madness.

At the end of each player round, a Mythos card is revealed opening a new portal to the Other Worlds, spawning new monsters and moving monsters already in the town. A character moving to a portal spends two turns journeying in one of eight Other Worlds where they may encounter more monsters or find objects. Upon emerging from the Other World, a character attempts to close or even seal the portal at the location. Each turn, the Ancient One moves on step closer to awakening. Players must either close or seal a set number of portals before the Ancient One arises for a final battle with all the players.

10639448_10203907820550278_4188666163549777050_nArkham Horror laid out for our first games this past weekend

 Like Lovecraft’s written work, there is an enormous amount of story in Arkham Horror. The game plays like a rich role-playing game with backstories on the investigator characters and detailed information on the various cards and monster pieces. Since the game is collaborative, everyone either wins or loses, making collective planning and playing to each character’s evolving set of equipment and abilities a must. For instance, certain characters may be more adept at moving quickly and acquiring valuable items while other characters may be better suited to go to battle with physical or magical beasts. In a battle with the Ancient One, the collective strengths of the entire group will combine to have any hope against defeating the creature and saving Arkham.

My sons — ages 14 and 9 — played three games of Arkham Horror with me this past weekend, and it’s a big hit at our house. We’re all fairly experienced gamers and we’ve logged many hours with some pretty heavy boardgames like Civilization, also from Fantasy Flight Games. Arkham Horror is suggested for ages 12 and up, and the flavor text on the game cards and mechanics were a bit on the challenging side for my younger son. With that said, with a little help on the heftier vocabulary words, he enjoyed the story, collecting items and using various combinations of gear, spells and skills to destroy some monsters and seal portals to the Other World. By the end of the weekend, my older son and I also started getting a handle on using characters in combination to effectively work through the rising tide of beasts and terror in the town. No matter the age, Arkham Horror is going to push any gamer’s skill and sanity to the limit.

New Game Weekend: Letters From Whitechapel

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This fall will be the 125th anniversary of one of the most famed unsolved crime cases in history and a story that continues to fascinate to this day. The Jack the Ripper case, also known as the Whitechapel Murders for the section of London where the killings occured in 1888, involved the gruesome homicides of (at least) five prostitutes by a still-unknown perpetrator. Much like today’s high-profile crimes, the case held Victorian London in a state of rapturous horror as an anxious police force, press and citizenry obsessed over the murders and hunt for the suspect. Graphic crime-scene photos, mysteriously cryptic letters and speculation on potential suspects – from butchers to surgeons to members of the British royal family – combine to make to make the lore of “Ripperology” a thing of modern legend.

Jack The Ripper in Pop Culture

From a pretty early age, I had a macabre interest in Jack The Ripper. Aside from the countless true-crime books on the case, Jack The Ripper has made it to the big and small screen dozens of times over the years. I love the moody 1928 silent picture Pandora’s Box starring Louise Brooks as a wayward innocent who falls into a life of prostitution before becoming a victim of Jack. The 1979 movie Time After Time adds a sci-fi spin on the case with Malcolm McDowell as H.G. Wells chasing Jack The Ripper through time to modern day San Francisco. My favorite by far has to be the 1988 Golden Globe-winning TV miniseries Jack The Ripper with Michael Caine chewing the scenery as the real-life Scotland Yard chief investigator of the Whitechapel Murders Inspector Frederick Aberline. Made on the centennial of the case, the series focused on the theorized link of the murders to the British royal family and re-introduced the case to a new generation of Ripper-obsessives like myself.

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fromhellcoverOf all the movies and books I’ve encountered about Jack the Ripper nothing can hold an oil lamp to Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell‘s 1999 graphic novel masterpiece, From Hell. Orginally released in a 10-issue serial and now available as a bound edition, From Hell is one of the most dizzyingly complex stories I’ve ever read. This is also Moore at his most obsessive with nearly 600 pages of slowly-building detail ultimately pointing to a grand and ancient conspiracy. The muddy black-and-white ink drawings of Campbell perfectly capture the grime of the streets of 19th-century London and the unhinged mind of a serial killer. The depth of research and detail in the characters and places surrounding the case really can’t be described, and it’s this complexity in the book that has driven me back to re-read it a number of times over the years. Johnny Depp starred in a 2011 film adaptaion of the story, but honestly I’ve never been able to bring myself to watch it given how much I love Moore and Campbell’s original series. A new book, The From Hell Companion, goes behind the scenes to the story and visual development of the book, and I’m certain I’ll be picking up a copy very soon.

Letters From Whitechapel

With a long-time interest with Jack The Ripper, I was thrilled to get a chance to play Fantasy Flight Game’s Letters From Whitechapel recently at Metropolitan Wargamers. The game presents a historically-accurate map of Whitechapel with its intricate cobblestoned streets and alleys on which a group of police officers attempt to track down and apprehend Jack The Ripper before his murderous spree comes to a bloody end.

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In the game, one player is elected to play as Jack while the other players take on the roles of patrolling London policemen. Behind a special screen, Jack denotes his hidden home base on a special sheet before placing tokens on the board at the location of possible victims. The police players then secretly place the starting locations of their patrolling officers. Then, all starting places for the police and prostitutes are revealed and markers are placed on the board. Going first, Jack then decides whether to kill his first victim or delay for time. Once the victim is murdered, a red token is placed to denote the scene of the crime and the police pawns are moved up to two black squares at a time.

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Jack the Ripper then moves each turn in secret between numbered spaces, marking the locations on his sheet away from view from the police players. A carriage token allows Jack to move two spaces and slip by police potentially blocking his path. An alley token lets jack slip through a dark back passage within any given city block. After each move by Jack, the police move and choose to investigate nearby areas or speculate on and adjacent location of Jack and make an arrest. If a player investigates a space where Jack has been, a clue is revealed and marked on the board. Turns alternate with Jack moving and the officers attempting to string together his movements through discovering more clues. Jack attempts to get back to his secret hideout before being found out by the inspectors within the set time of the round. If Jack is successful, the next round begins with a reset of the board and a new potential victim being placed.

Letters from Whitechapel is basically a cat-and-mouse game with the police players attempting to decode Jack’s possible routes of movement in order to close in and capture him. In my first game, it took us two rounds to track down a very elusive Jack who ran devious circuitous routes back toward his hideout. After the first round, we felt fairly confident we had narrowed his home base to one of three areas of the board, and we finally caught him in the second round by focusing on those areas. The game involves a lot of discussion among the police players with various theories of Jack’s whereabouts bandied across the table throughout the game.

For gamers with more than a little Jack The Ripper interest coupled with a desire to play out a game of hidden movement of the opponent, Letters From White Chapel is incredibly satisfying. With 125 years of the unsolved Whitechapel Murders behind us and probably many more to come, having a go at bringing Jack The Ripper to justice makes for an intriguing couple hours of play.

New Game Weekend: Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game

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Unlike myself, electronic games have been a constant presence with both my sons since they were born. Now aged 8 and 13, my boys have graduated up through a host of platforms and games with the Leapster, DS, PS2, Wii, PS3, online through sites like Steam and on the iPhone. Over the past year, their obsessive play over Minecraft has been gradually replaced with scores of hours logged with the wildy-popular Civilization V.

Developed more than 20 years ago by Sid Meier and Bruce Shelley, the Civilization franchise has evolved from a PC-only DOS game to occupy a variety of gaming platforms. The turn-based civilization-building mechanic and historical theme sets up an incredibly-engaging and educational universe for players to plan and play out a nearly-endless variety of paths in human advancement from the ancient era to the near future. The latest iteration, Civilization V, broke on the scene in 2010 with two expansions since. Worldwide, the game has sold millions of copies and has continuously won accolades from a couple generations gaming critics and devoted fans alike.

Even though my kids are devoted electronic gamers, they’ve also been raised with a healthy love for card, board and miniatures gaming. So, when my 8-year-old caught wind last week that a boardgame version of Civilization existed, I leapt at the chance to introduce the boys to the game. I’ve played a number of civilization-building games such as Clash of Cultures but hadn’t yet played Civilization.

Now published by Fantasy Flight Games, Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game has been around since 2002 and can be found at your local Barnes and Noble for $60 or cheaper online. Like many games of this type, the box comes stuffed with hundreds of components plus more than 300 cards. Geared for 2-4 players ages 14 and up, Civilization takes 3+ hours to play. Fortunately, my boys have been exposed to enough games, both online and on the tabletop, that they’ve been able to quickly pick up on the basic play and strategy Civilization offers.

CivContentsCivilization involves a march toward victory in one of four ways: Economic, Military, Cultural or Technological. Players begin by selecting a civilization such as the Americans, Egyptians, Romans or Russians. Each starting civilization carries its own strengths in play, making this first choice an important one in setting your strategy for the game. Based on the number of players, a map of hidden tiles is laid out and the market area is set up to the side of the board.

After set-up, the game progresses through a series of turns. In the Start Turn, a player may build a city or change their government type – an important choice which can greatly affect the path of a player’s civilization. Next, the Trade Phase allows a player to reap trade points from the areas around their cities and offer trades in resources with other players.

In the City Management Phase, the player may build units or buildings, harvest resources or focus on developing their culture. Building units – Scouts or Armies – allows the player to explore and conquer areas of the board. Constructing buildings such as Markets, Temples or Baracks allows a variety of bonuses to your civilization. At a higher price, Wonders like The Oracle, The Hanging Gardens or Angkor Wat may be built. Finally, a player may pay to build their military prowess through a progression from simple archers and pikemen to tanks and aircraft. Aside from building, a player may harvest resources such as silk, iron, incense or wheat to be later spent to activate certain technologies already researched. A player may also choose to focus on culture, with gained cultural points moving the player up the culture track while also earning special cultural event cards played to change different courses of the game’s play.

Next, in the Movement Phase a players may move their Scouts and/or Armies to explore, claim new territory or engage in combat with a barbarian village or another player. In the final Research Phase, players may spend their earned trade points to develop new technologies. The game’s “technology pyramid” is built progressively by each player as they grow from simple technologies such as Metalurgy and Horseback Riding toward higher level advancements all the way up to Flight and Nuclear Energy.

The play adavances through the above turns until a player arrives at a victory condition. Cultural victory is earned by completing progress on the culture track. A military victory is won by conquering an opponent’s capital city. Earning a technological win is done by completing the technology pyramid all the way up to Space Flight. Finally, an economic outcome is reached by collecting 15 gold coins earned through various actions your civilization makes throughout the game.

To summarize the game in a couple paragraphs is hard, as the variation of play in the game is boundless. This weekend, my younger son and I played through our first quick starter game on an eight-tile two player-map (pic below). Despite over twenty pages or rules and scores of playing pieces to manage, he picked up the game really fast. Along the way, there’s a ton of reading I’m certain is not covered in the general elementary curriculum with stops along the way to have side conversations on the meanings of words such as “despotism” and “anarchy.” At his age, my son’s memory is quite amazing and our discussions of the finer points of the rules has continued even away from the game table.

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In our second game (pic below), three of us played on a larger map. My older son, a pretty experienced gamer at this point, blew threw a ten minute intro to the rules and played as the Prussians with an aggressively militaristic strategy I’ve grown used to over the years. Using the Egyptians, my younger son focused on culture and building construction. For my own strategy, I played as the Romans with a healthy mix of the military and cultural expansionism for which their empire was known.

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For parents and critics of them who decry the falling attention spans of today’s kids, weekends like this past one show how with a bit of parental creativity all the stereotypes simply fall away. A game like Civilization — both online and off — offers so many opportunities to build vocabulary, learn history and develop some complex multi-layered management skills I see sorely lacking in many of the adults I encounter. Over hours of focused play, not only are my sons and I developing our civilizations but we’re also developing each other — an investment in time together well-spent.

New Game Weekend: Dust Tactics

The long Memorial Day weekend was as good a time as any to roll up my sleeves for a big day of wargaming, and the Dust Tactics Regional Tournament at the Compleat Strategist in New York City on Saturday May 25th was the place to be.

I signed up my son and I for two slots in the small tournament organized by a fellow club member at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn. The two of us were newbies to Dust Tactics but I had certainly read a lot about it since its release last year by Fantasy Flight Games. Dust Tactics is an alternate reality WWII-era game where alien technology is discovered by Germany in the late 1930s and goes on to shape a world of warfare between the Axis and Allies throughout the 1940s.

As is expected with FFG releases, Dust Tactics is a gorgeous game ready to play straight out of the box for about $80 retail and cheaper online. The core set comes with a dozen infantry forces for each side plus heavily-armored walkers. The box contains two two-sided fold-out gaming mats , special dice, rules, a scenario guide, reference cards and a few rudimentary plastic terrain pieces. There’s a large variety of additional accessories, campaign expansions and army packs available in the price range of $15 to $45. All this makes Dust Tactics very collectible and flexible as a gamer’s interest expands and wallet can abide. The models are gorgeous and mostly pre-assembled at a hefty 1:48 scale with a visual appeal bridging interests from WWII into a dystopian sci-fi theme.

For the tournament, we rolled-off to choose our armies and then paired-up with other players for the first round of three games. The organizer of the tournament is way into Dust Tactics, and he hauled along his extensive collection of miniatures for players to choose from. My son chose to play as the SSU (aka Soviets) and backed his ground troops with a monstrously deadly helicopter. I chose to play as the Axis (aka Germans) with laser-armed ground troops, a huge four-legged walking gun platform and a squad of weaponized gorillas.

Dust Tactics plays pretty easily and fast. After the board is set and a scenario is chosen, players take turns performing two actions with each of their units. Combinations of move/fire, fire/move or deadly sustained fire are the most common actions. Range and strength of weaponry is clearly listed on each unit’s reference card. Special dice with hits on two sides and misses on the other four resolve combat, damage and saves from taking damage in cases where troops wear special armor.

Each game was timed at an hour with a maximum of eight turns per game. My son (above left) and I were easily beaten in the first round by more experienced players. What we both quickly learned was a lot of the game outcome could be pre-determined by the forces chosen by a player. Too much reliance on our heavy mechanized forces had also led to quick defeats for the both of us once they were destroyed in the first round.

In the second round, my son and I played off against each other with a bit more knowledge of the capabilities of the forces on the board. We each scored lucky shots early in the game, again knocking out each other’s heaviest armaments. After that, the game settled into a really enjoyable cat-and-mouse between buildings and barriers as our infantry, snipers and smaller mechanized walker units dueled it out to my eventual victory by a slim margin.

For the third and final round, the tournament organizer and house expert on Dust Tactics played against my son. Failing to focus early on destroying my son’s massive helicopter gunship drifting eight inches above the table, my son managed a solid win by picking off the tournament organizer’s ground units from the air with his multiple weapons. I got crushed in my final game as I faced-off against another Axis player who had stacked his forces with fast-moving zombie and gorilla units. These savage figures ran right over most of my ground units and even my artillery platform was eventually torn to pieces by the ape squad.

So, we didn’t do so well with our first go-around at Dust Tactics but we did have a good time. Dust Tactics is a fun little game that looks fantastic and plays pretty easy. The common criticism I’ve heard and experienced a bit today is that the game looks better than it plays. A detailed knowledge of all allied and opposing units is pretty necessary in fielding an effective force in the game. A few poor moves or die rolls can also pretty much end a game in an opening turn, making for some frustration I myself felt in my first game today.

There does seem to be a glimmer of future hope for a next stage of Dust Tactics. An announcement was made this month that Battlefront Miniatures will be taking over publishing and distribution of the game and the tabletop version, Dust Warfare. Battlefront’s past success with its Flames of War WWII gaming system had fans hotly debating the possible outcomes that may bring a bit more finesse to Dust Tactics over time. For now, the combination of some high-style miniatures with a somewhat less-than perfect set of rules still makes Dust Tactics more than worth a rainy day play.

New Game Weekend: Star Wars X-Wing

One of the big instant hits to come out of last year’s huge GenCon gaming convention was the new Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game from Fantasy Flight Games. I finally got a chance to play it a few times in the past couple weeks with members of the Metropolitan Wargamers club in Brooklyn. Then, my brother brought me a starter set of the game over this past Easter holiday weekend. As both a lover of all things Star Wars and well-designed games, I’m hooked.

SWXW is the one of the latest fan favorites to appeal to both experienced and new gamers wanting some gaming right out of a box full of easy rules, well-designed components and beautiful pre-painted miniatures. The starter set offers two Tie Fighters and a X-Wing model, rules, movement templates and dials, cards, specialized dice and scenario markers for about $30-40. A few beginner scenarios are also included with the starter set, allowing two players a pretty solid and varied intro to the basics of the game.

In a nutshell, SWXW is a dogfight game where ships chase and fire at their opponents while maneuvering to avoid their own destruction on a typically 3′ x 3′ playing area. Play starts with each player pre-assigning movement to each of their models with a special movement dial. The dials are particular to each class of ship and allow for combinations of straight and turning moves. Since movement is planned in secret from your opponent, guessing which way the enemy will move and how you should react is key to the strategy of the game.

After ships move, firing lasers and other specialized secondary weapons occurs using special dice. Modifying “focus” or “target lock” actions increase the ability to hit enemy ships while “evade” actions increases a ship’s ability to avoid damage. Ships take damage to their hulls or shields, and destroyed ships are removed from the table. The game moves fast, and a basic game can be accomplished in well under an hour.

While the starter set allows for some fun intro games, players will soon want to grow their fleets and options. Like the Star Wars Universe itself, SWXW soon proves to be as expansive as players (and their bank accounts) allow. Single ship expansion sets of Tie Fighters, Tie Advanced Fighters (pictured below, right), Tie Interceptors, X-Wings, Y-Wings (pictured at right) and A-Wings retail for about $15 each (cheaper online). With these, players gain greater choice in fielding larger Rebel and Imperial fleets.

Each ship expansion comes with specific cards indicating pilots, astromech droids, secondary weapons and other special abilities which may be used in combination with that model or, in some cases, other ship types. So, an X-Wing can be fielded with Luke Skywalker, Wedge Antilles or Biggs Darklighter at the helm and R2-D2 or some other astromech droid along for the ride. You can assign Darth Vader to the controls of a Tie Advanced ship and then assign addition weapons and abilities to the ship. The latest expansion wave offers two large-sized ships — the Millenium Falcon and the Slave I — which are certain to be a huge hit with fans anxious to pit Han Solo against Boba Fett in an intergalactic duel.

Players wishing to get into SWXW will do well by themselves to get a couple of the basic sets plus some expansion ship packs. Once you’re quickly beyond the beginner stage, games are typically fielded with 100 points of ships on a side. Points are assigned according to ship class, pilot expertise and other add ons, allowing for lots of replay value and experimentation with combinations of forces. While the game is still new to me, I can see this one coming out of the box and onto the galaxy of my gaming table pretty frequently in the months ahead.