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.

 

Flames of War: Novus Design Studio 15mm City Block Ruins

ruinsWar is destructive by its very nature, and World War II was the most destructive war in history. Aside from the tens of millions of military personnel and civilian deaths, the war brought unprecedented ruin to the thousands of villages, towns, cities and industrial areas through and over which the war was fought. The nearly immeasurable physical and financial impacts of WWII rippled for decades to come, including enormous effects on buildings and other physical spaces worldwide.

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My 15mm European terrain during a recent game

For my 15mm WWII wargaming using Flames of War and I Ain’t Been Shot Mum rules systems, my terrain has been modeled almost entirely on Western Europe using buildings from numerous manufacturers collected over the past few years. In all my 15mm modelling, destroyed buildings have largely been absent so far, so I’ve been really happy to add my new city block ruin models from Novus Design Studio to my terrain collection.

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NDS was founded just about a year ago in April 2014 by Robert and Nancy Rumfelt, the founders and original owners of JR Miniatures. Like many wargamers, I’ve got a long history with models from JR Minis and so in many ways I knew what to expect from NDS when the company’s launch was first announced. I watched their inventory grow in the past year covering 6mm, 15mm and 28mm scales across WWII, sci-fi, fantasy and modern themes, and they’ve continued to add new products in the new year.

IMG_4969A complete set of four 15mm city block ruins from Novus Design Studio

The two and three story 15mm urban ruins retail for $26-31 USD each but I picked up a full set of four in a 40% off deal NDS ran at the end of 2014. The straight and corner buildings match up nicely together in a row or bunched into a city block in various configurations. The models also look great placed among buildings from other manufacturers, especially other city row houses from JR Minis. The castings in a creamy resin require a little flash clean up with a sharp hobby knife and air pocket holes show up here and there but don’t distract from the destroyed nature of the structures.

Novus Sample Front BackFront and rear view depicting multiple removable floors of a typical city block ruin model

All the NDS city block ruins feature removable floors molded with plank floors, piles of rubble, walls and interior doorways. The buildings have staircases and walls on the interior, broken window panes and more rubble on the attached sidewalks at the front. Everything about these make them very usable for 15mm gaming whether it be for 20th-century historical scenarios or contemporary and near-future gaming in European or even American urban settings. Getting multiples of the models on the table would easily allow setting up a truly impressive cityscape ravaged by the impacts of war.

IMG_4987Cleaned and primed corner city block ruin model

After cleaning up the flash on the models, I washed them all in warm soapy water to remove excess casting residue. The main building structures got a spray of flat gray as a base coat followed by layers of dry brushed tan, light gray and off white paint on the exteriors. Sidewalks also received grays and off white to highlight piles of ash and broken masonry heaped on the ground. On building had shutters which were painted in a dark blue and green and then highlighted with the same color mixed with a bit of white.

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For the interiors, the removable floor levels were base coated in flat black. Plank floors were built up in layers of browns ranging from dark to light in each coat. I went basic on interior walls, using an off white to create a simple plaster look. As with the exterior, the rubble and tile floors on the ground floors were built up in grays and off white.

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After a finish of a few coats of clear matte spray, the city block ruins were done. Arranged in a square block or stretched out in a row, these models easily blend in with other 15mm terrain manufacturers and add a great bit of variety to a tabletop set up. Bringing a bit of destruction to my overly neat wargaming battlefields is a welcome addition with my first buildings from Novus Design Studio.

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28mm: US Airborne By Black Tree Design

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My new 28mm World War II project is marching on, and I’ve recently added some US 101st Airborne models from Black Tree Design. The UK-based BTD offers a diverse line of metal miniatures from various historical eras, fantasy, science fiction and a nifty Doctor Who offering. The WWII US Airborne line offers a nice selection of poses and weapons, so I bought into my first BTD models averaging about $2 USD per figure during one of their frequent online sales.

BTDIMG_4977Nice packaging from Black Tree Miniatures

The BTD miniatures were quickly delivered in the US bagged and packaged in a little tin with a hand-written ‘thank you’ note. Compared to my earlier Airborne from Artizan Designs, the BTD models are a tad smaller and thinner but scale well on the table. Detail is a bit more sparse with less equipment slung on the backs of the paratroopers and rifles which read a bit more like that on toy soldiers. Aside from rifles, the models also came armed with Browning BARs, Thompson submachine guns and one guy hurling a hand grenade. While most of the models are set in generic poses, a few of the models show a lot of individual character with one officer calmly smoking a cigarette and another charging forward without a helmet.

AB Paint SchemeOne minor bummer was the delicate nature of some of the BTD models cast with both feet held tightly together, and one snapped off the base when I attempted to straighten his pose more upright. With the rest of the models successfully glued to bases, I painted up my first group of BTD miniatures using the same quick and simple process from my previous 28mm paratroopers.

Painting 28mm US Airborne

  1. Clean flash from metal models with a sharp knife and glue to metal washer or plastic bases.
  2. Apply filler putty to bases. When dry, scrape off excess with a sharp knife.
  3. Base coat models and bases with flat black spray primer.
  4. Paint uniforms and bandages on helmets with Tallarn Sand.
  5. Paint helmets and knee and elbow patches with Waaagh! Flesh.
  6. Paint faces and hands with Tallarn Flesh.
  7. Paint webbing and packs with Baneblade Brown.
  8. Paint bases, boots, gun stocks and helmet straps with Dark Brown.
  9. Apply Agrax Earthshade wash to uniforms, helmet netting, webbing and packs.
  10. Mix 50/50 Baneblade Brown and Off White and lightly dry brush packs, webbing and socks.
  11. Lightly dry brush bases, gun stocks, helmet netting, holsters and elbow and knee patches with Baneblade Brown.
  12. Paint metal gun, bazooka and mortar parts with black and finish with a light dry brush of metallic silver.
  13. Paint eyes with small dots of Off White and Dark Brown. Clean up around eyes with Tallarn Flesh.
  14. Mix 50/50 Tallarn Flesh and Off White and brush highlights on cheekbones, chins, forehead, nose and hands.
  15. Apply Company B decals to shoulders and helmets, followed by a coat of Solvaset decal fixative from Walthers.
  16. Cover bases in white glue and cover in 50/50 mix of fine light green and dark green grass flock.
  17. Glue small pieces of clump foliage to base.
  18. Spray coat completed models with matte finish.

Finally, a few photos of my finished BTD US Airborne ready to hit the Normandy tabletop.

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Retro Gaming The 70s & 80s: Crossbows and Catapults

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In 1983, I was 15 years old and living in a heyday of gaming. I already had a few years of Dungeons & Dragons under my belt and I was starting to stretch into some other fantasy role-playing, board and miniatures games. Video games had also become a big part of my social life, both in my friends’ living rooms and in the arcades popping up in the malls and main streets near where I grew up.

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Crossbows and Catapults as featured in a 1983 Sears catalog (only $12.99!)

Out of this early 80s mix of increasingly sophisticated RPG and video gaming came the decidedly low-tech Crossbows and Catapults from Lakeside Games. The basic play set came with a bunch of wonderful plastic toys representing enemy kingdoms of vikings and barbarians. Each side had a simple castle-like tower and loosely fitting bricks to construct a stronghold on a square mat depicting a moated island.

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Crossbows and Catapults “Battle Set” components from basic instruction book

But the name of the game wasn’t Crossbows and Catapults for nothing, and that’s where the real fun of the game came in. The opposing sides were each armed with rubber band powered catapults and crossbows (really more like ballistas, but the alliterative name certainly looked better on the box). In alternating turns, players would fling and fire round carom discs at the opposing player’s stronghold and troops. Knocking over figures were scored as casualties and landing caroms in enemy territory allowed advances in raiding forces. The game was won when a player revealed and seized the treasure buried beneath the other player’s castle.

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Components from the Crossbows and Catapults “Battle Set”

I’m fortunate to have a massive archive of well-kept childhood toys stored at my boyhood home, and I was recently able to dig through my surviving Crossbows and Catapults sets. All the rubber bands needed to be replaced, but everything else survives in near-perfect working order. Pieces from my decades old collection are shown in the pictures throughout this post.

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Game set-up instructions from the Crossbows and Catapults “Battle Set”

I also managed to preserve all the original instruction books from the “Battle Set” base game and the various expansions which were subsequently released (some scans included here). The “Castle Outpost” contains larger towers with a rubber banded platform that pops figures and flags into the air if the door is hit by an incoming carom. In the “Trojan Horse” set, the catapult-tailed horse “explodes” from the sides when hit on the base of its front feet, and the accompanying crossbow-armed “battle shield” pops open when struck at the front. My favorite expansion, the “Battling Giants” set, came with 8-inch tall minotaur and cyclops models which fling caroms at the enemy by pushing a button at their backs.

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Crossbows and Catapults “Castle Outpost” expansion  set

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Crossbows and Catapults “Trojan Horse” expansion set

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Crossbows and Catapults “Battling Giants” expansion set

Every Crossbows and Catapults expansion came with new rules and components for each side, allowing for a lot of additional play options on the floor battlefield. The expanded rules for each set allowed for standalone games or for incorporating the new pieces into the base “Battle Set” game. All the instructions also encouraged players to make up their own rules, something my brothers, friends and I did endlessly in our brief period of Crossbows and Catapults obsession.

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H.G. Wells, author of “Little Wars,” and his friends wargaming on a parlor floor

In revisiting my teen delight over Crossbows and Catapults my mind went straight to the descriptions of early 20th-century gaming laid out in Little Wars by H.G. Wells. The tiny 1913 book is seen today as the formative basis for what would become miniatures wargaming in the coming decades. Building on the more abstract Kriegsspiel tradition of the early 1800s, the genesis moment for using toys in wargaming is described in the book as an idea of one of Wells’s friends:

“I believe that if one set up a few obstacles on the floor, volumes of the British Encyclopedia and so forth, to make a Country, and moved these soldiers and guns about, one could have rather a good game…”

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Early 20th-century die-cast Britains spring-loaded 4.7 naval gun

As you read through the game descriptions and rules set forth by Wells, quite a number of similarities to Crossbows and Catapults arise. Rudimentary buildings or forts are placed on small boards, much like the plastic mats provided in Crossbows and Catapults. Resolving combat in the games played by Wells and his gentlemanly friends was commonly achieved through the firing of wooden pegs with the spring-loaded Britains 4.7 naval gun at opponent’s infantry, calvary, buildings and walls constructed of wooden blocks.

Seventy years after Little Wars, Crossbows and Catapults presented a very similar floor game. The rubber-band catapults and ballistas firing caroms at the soldiers, castles and plastic brick walls. In both games, proximity of infantry to artillery — a naval gun of Wells’s day or a catapult in the modern game — determines whether that piece may fire. The measurement of the play area as set forth by Wells and outlined in the Crossbows and Catapults basic rules are uncannily similar.

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“Battleground: Crossbows and Catapults” re-release from 2007

The Crossbows and Catapults license passed through a number of game publishers over the years and was re-released as “Battleground: Crossbows and Catapults” in 2007. The game was modified and updated with orcs versus knights plus some redesigned components and additional expansion sets.

I had a chance to play with my Crossbows and Catapults sets again this past week, some 30 years after I first I bent down on my teenaged knees to do battle between barbarians and vikings. Playing with my nine-year-old son, all the fun of launching plastic discs at opposing armies came back. The game is largely a shoot-out of skill and aim wrapped around some still-nifty game pieces. In the early 1980s I didn’t know about Wells and his Little Wars floor games, but a hundred years on now I can see the connection, tradition and joy in commanding armies on the floor and flinging attacks with Crossbows and Catapults.

Collector’s Note: You can find the 1983 “Crossbows and Catapults Battle Set” in the original box for $50-200 on eBay, and many of the expansions can be picked up for around $20. The re-released “Battleground: Crossbows and Catapults” set from 2007 can also be had for about $50.

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.

Retro Gaming The 70s & 80s: The DragonLords

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As a young gamer in the 70s and 80s, I had an incredibly supportive mother. Our trips shopping always allowed for stops by local bookstores, five-and-dimes and hobby shops to check out the latest Dungeons & Dragons releases, metal miniatures, fan magazines or other gaming delights to add to my growing collection. My mother was also a big yard sale and flea market fan, dragging home all sorts of used games for my brothers and I to try out. One of those early-80s yard sale finds was an unopened copy of 1978’s The DragonLords from Fantasy Games Unlimited.

Founded in 1975, FGU is still in business as a publisher of a variety of board and role-playing games. Like many game companies in the mid-70s, FGU leapt into the D&D tidal wave and released a number of fantasy-themed games. The DragonLords followed the traditional hex map and cardboard counter game model well-established by such publishers as Avalon Hill. The box contained a map, simple rule book, reference sheets and over 600 tiny cardboard playing pieces. The artwork was second-tier generic fantasy illustration, the game map was outright bland and the printing looked like it was done on a typewriter. I loved this game.

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In The DragonLords, each player took on the guise of a wizard ruling over their kingdom. Players chose to play as a Sorcerer, Conjurer, Enchanter, Necromancer or other type of specialized wizard, each with their own unique set of spells. Spells were acquired through turns “studying,” allowing for more advanced spellcraft in areas such as Siege, Hiring , Weather, Speed or Tactical. By casting their spells, wizards developed armies to fan out across the map to conquer the opposing kindgdom, hasten movement of their own horde or wreak horrible natural disasters on the enemy.

For someone well-steeped in D&D and Tolkienesque fantasy, a lot of The DragonLords felt very familiar. Tiny cardboard chips featured very basic line illustrations of elves, giants, trolls, ents, dragons and other creatures, each with values for combat and movement. The wizard spell study mechanic felt akin to the levels of advancement with magic-using characters through Experience points gained in D&D campaigns. Siege of cities and frontier keeps was a key part of the game, and building and attacking with catapults, siege towers and rams was a big component missing from a lot of smaller-scale D&D play.

What I loved about The DragonLords at the time was the mix of individual wizard character development and the grander scale of huge grotesque armies slugging it out across the mountains, swamps, forests, roads and waterways of the map. A game could be played satisfactorily in a few hours, also a nice change of pace from the long-term campaigning in D&D. The DragonLords certainly didn’t win any points for its graphics, but for straight fantasy gaming on an epic scale it definitely had its spell cast on me.

Collector’s Note: The Dragonlords is long out of print, but with a bit of online searching Iwas able to come across one bagged unpunched copy for over $100 on Amazon.com. Clearly my mother’s yardsale find was quite a deal.