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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28mm: US Airborne Support Weapons By Warlord Games

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With my first 101st Airborne troops completed in 28mm, I’ve moved on to adding some support weapons. As a relative newcomer to World War II at this scale, I’ve also taken the opportunity to try another manufacturer’s miniatures for the sake of comparison.

WarlordlogoIn 2008, Warlord Games launched a small selection of WWII miniatures acquired from another manufacturer. To compliment the line of models, about three years ago Bolt Action came to the game scene with a slickly-designed rule set published by Osprey Publishing and a now vastly-expanding line of miniatures from multiple nations and combat theaters of WWII. The Warlord Games plastic and metal line of soldiers, artillery, transports and armor, along with the Bolt Action game system, have come to dominate the market and tournament scene for gamers playing tactical-level WWII in the larger 28mm scale.

For my first figures from Warlord Games, I stuck with a few metal models which scale nicely with my figures from Artizan Designs. The castings display a lot of exaggerated poses, animated facial expressions and detailed equipment which look great on a wargaming tabletop and reveal the influence of the designers who hail from the world of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 from Games Workshop.

AB Paint SchemeIn painting my first Warlord Games miniatures, I went with my same quick and simple painting scheme I’ve been using so far:

Painting 28mm US Airborne Support Weapons

  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 shoulder 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.

To begin, I’ve painted up a 60mm mortar team and a bazooka crew. here’s a few photos of the final results:

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I’ll probably add a light machine gun and some other models from Warlord Games soon, but for now my US Airborne forces will be able to pack a bit more punch in upcoming games.

New Game Weekend: The Battle Of The Five Armies

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Like so many of my generation, J.R.R. Tolkien’s stories from the page to the screen to the game table and back again have shaped much of my life. As a fantasy-steeped child of the 1970s standing on the threshold of a lifetime of gaming and Tolkien fandom, The Hobbit (1977) and The Lord of the Rings (1978) cartoons were my first intros to the mythos of Middle-Earth. From there, I began my own journey of swords, sorcery and funny-shaped dice with Dungeons & Dragons. In my teen and college years, I plowed through Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit books. After traveling through many pages and countless paper and pencil campaigns, Peter Jackson’s trilogy of The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Two Towers (2002) and The Return of the King (2003) turned another whole generation (including my own young kids) on to the story that became a worldwide phenomenon anew. Around the same time, I leaped into Game Workshop’s Lord of the Rings miniatures game and spent a fair amount of time re-fighting the battles of Middle-Earth on the tabletop in miniature. Ten more years on, Jackson returned to the prequel story of The Hobbit with An Unexpected Journey (2012), The Desolation of Smaug (2013) and The Battle of the Five Armies (2014). So, not coincidentally, gaming in the realm of hobbits, orcs, wizards and elves has also returned for a time.

hobbit5armiesposterThe Battle Of The Five Armies dominates the final movie from Peter Jackson’s Lord of The Rings and Hobbit franchises

Over four decades, I’ve come around again and again to the Battle of the Five Armies in the late-70s cartoon, my worn copy of The Hobbit, Jackson’s final blockbuster movie of last year and now with the 2014 re-issue of The Battle Of The Five Armies board game by Ares Games. The epic battle between the loose alliance of the Free Peoples of men, dwarves and elves and the evil Shadow Armies of orcs and goblins at the foot of the Lonely Mountain is a story etched into my imagination and that of many of my friends since an early age. This past week I sat down at the table with a fellow member of Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY for a learning game and to meet as the forces of good and evil for control of Middle-Earth.

IMG_5479The Battle of the Five Armies begins

The two-player Battle Of The Five Armies retails for $89.99 USD but can be found online for about $60 USD, an incredible deal for a big box packed with fantastic components. The game contains 125 well-sculpted plastic miniatures depicting dwarves, men, elves and eagles of the Free Peoples in blue and goblins, orcs, warg riders and bats from the Shadow Armies in a ghastly red. Nine hero characters from the battle — Bard, Beorn, Bolg, Bilbo Baggins, Dain, Gandalf, the Elven King, Lord of the Eagles and Thorin — are each represented with an unique silver miniature and a character card outlining their special heroic abilities. Action and combat dice, numerous cardboard counters, dozens of Event, Fate and Story cards and a simple game board presenting the plains and mountains of the battlefield round out a greatly designed game.

The game begins on the eve of the battle with the Shadow Armies swarming in the mountains while the allied elves, men and dwarves work to create defensive position from the impending onslaught. Turns progress along a Fate track with the forces of evil racing to capture territory equaling ten points before time elapses or the Free Peoples are able to repel the Shadow Armies attack with the arrival of reinforcements or surprise allies like the Eagles from Misty Mountains or the ferocious shape-shifting man-bear Beorn.

IMG_5480The Shadow Armies and Free Peoples fight at the Eastern Spur

In each round, a single Story and Event card is drawn by each player up to a maximum hand size of six cards. The Free Peoples player then chooses to activate up to three hero characters in the round, allowing for extra recruits to appear, special magic attacks from the wizard Gandalf or a hail of arrows from the Elf King. Depending on the number of heroes activated, the Free Peoples player then also places Leadership tokens with some of their units. The Shadow Armies player then randomly selects Fate tiles to advance the Fate track, choosing as many tiles as the Free Peoples player chose to activate. Once the Fate track hits certain levels, additional heroes may appear in the game, bolstering the defenses of good. Thus, the Shadow Armies player needs to race against the Fate track to move and attack quickly and mercilessly before the Free Peoples can string together enough of a defense to win the day.

IMG_5481Gandalf releases a fireball from Ravenhill on the Shadow Armies in the distance

Dice and cards propel the action of the game. Each player throws a set of special Action dice, each depicting a specific type of activation within their turn — Character, Army, Muster, Muster/Army, Event and Will Of The West for the Free Peoples or Lidless Eye for the Shadow Armies. Beginning with the Free Peoples player, each chooses an Action die and resolves a given action. For example, an Army action allows a player to move or attack with armies or play a Character Event or Story card, and a Muster action allows recruitment or rally of armies or the play of a Muster Event or Story card. When a combat occurs, players collect their available unit cards into their hand and then roll dice based on the Combat ratings of their units. Along the way, other cards may be played to create specific events like dealing extra damage or negating leadership abilities. Terrain also plays a role in specific unit effectiveness during battle.

IMG_5485The Shadow Armies mass for a late game attack on the Free Peoples

Like many strategy games, The Battle Of The Five Armies becomes one of timing and getting the right cards, actions and forces in play. In our first learning game, the Shadow Armies quickly built up their horde and raged forward with fierce waves from the north and northeast. A heroic defense of the Eastern Spur by Lakemen fell to the orcs and their wargrider allies, and many dwarves also met their final end in a battle at Camp near the Front Gate. Gandalf held off the orcs and goblins to the west with a ranged fireball hurled from Ravenhill, saving the elven forces at the Fallen Bridge from imminent attack. As the Fate track moved in the late game to the eighth position, the Eagles were able to swoop down from their mountain aerie and attack the Shadow Armies in four areas, stalling the advance of evil. The Shadow Armies regrouped as additional recruits were placed throughout the realms defended by the Free Peoples. The Fate marker moved into the eleventh stage, releasing Beorn who sat at the southern border ready to wreak havoc on the encroaching Shadow Armies. Although many Free Peoples had fallen during the battle, the Shadow Armies weren’t close enough to strike a final fatal blow, and Middle-Earth remained free at the close of the game.

Our first game of The Battle Of The Five Armies, epic as it was, clocked in at over three hours as we got a hang of the rules. Lessons learned included the need for the Shadow Armies to always be on the attack since the arrival of more allies of the Free Peoples spells almost certain defeat for the forces of evil. Studying over the various cards and their effects, used by themselves or in combination, is also a big part of becoming an effective commander on either side of the battle.

Famously, Tolkien’s description of the Battle of the Five Armies in The Hobbit spans less than ten pages tucked in near the end of the book. For the two of us players, what we felt most from the game was how true it was to that short text and the pictures and the legends filling our imaginations over many, many years.

A Gamer’s Guide to Manhattan’s Hobby Shops

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I’ve mentioned here more than once that my childhood was full of hobbies including model rocketry, model railroading, plastic kit building, Dungeons & Dragons, comic books and miniatures wargaming. Like generations before me, hobby stores and the now-vanished hobby areas of large department stores and five-and-dimes were where I felt at home from an early age.

I moved to New York City in the mid-1990s when much of Old New York started breathing its last gasps. Along with the closings of many storied NYC bars, restaurants, clubs, book stores, comic shops and movie theaters, hobby shops of all types are becoming more and more a thing of the past here in the Five Boroughs. The causes of the decline of hobby shops in the city are many, including rising rents, loss of customer interest, the growth of online hobby retail and many owners simply retiring or passing away.

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The New York Times recently did a great little story on Rudy’s Hobby and Art in Astoria, Queens, and I’ve also become a semi-frequent visitor to Trainworld just a few subway stops away from my apartment in Brooklyn. These outposts in the outer boroughs hold on, but many of the classic shops in Manhattan have not. At the top of many city hobbyist memories is Polk’s Hobby Department Store which once occupied five floors at 314 5th Avenue. Like many businesses, Polk’s was a family-run affair headed up by two brothers beginning in the 1930s. The iconic store carried radio controlled boats and planes, slot cars, plastic model kits, trains and all matter hobby supplies which fueled the imaginations for generations of kids and adults. For the observant nostalgic, a quick glimpse of Polk’s survives in a scene from 1972’s The Godfather (photo at top).

Like Polk’s, most of Manhattan’s other hobby stores, like Carmen Webster’s on 45th Street and America’s Hobby Center on West 22nd Street, have likewise vanished from the city’s streets in recent years. At the same time, Brooklyn has seen a surge in gaming-specific stores and play spaces such as Kings Games, Brooklyn Game Lab, Twenty-Sided Store, The Brooklyn Strategist and Nu Brand Gaming. In Greenwich Village, The Uncommons now sits along the old “Chess Row” south of Washington Square, and a Games Workshop can be found a few blocks away well stocked with Warhammer and 40K players on any given weekend.

For the dedicated scale model hobbyist and gaming enthusiast, a few remnants of the traditional densely stocked hobby store of the past still live on in Manhattan. In almost all cases, online suppliers are a more economical option than purchasing from a local hobby or gaming brick-and-mortar store. However, it’s still hard to beat the experience of browsing a shop in person and having conversations with fellow customers and proprietors who share a passion for a hobby. I recently spent a sunny late summer day poking around in a few of my favorite NYC hobby shops that tap into that unique experience that still lives on.


Jan’s Hobby Shop

1435 Lexington Avenue

(212) 987-4765

IMG_4284Way up on Lexington Avenue in the East 90s,  Jan’s Hobby Shop is just the kind of store that fired my youthful imagination. Plastic soldiers, model kits, model rockets, paints, brushes, videos, books and hobby magazines are stacked floor to ceiling in the tight space of this classic hobbyist’s paradise. Kits from hundreds of manufacturers from around the world, from the common to the obscure, cover all eras, skill levels, scales and price ranges. Ships from the Age of Sail sit across from Star Wars X-Wings, ancient siege weapons are just down the aisle from Cold War artillery and all manner of cars, tanks, ships and planes fill every bit of space between. For the more advanced scale modeller, a handy selection of balsa, plastic styrene, brass tubing and specialized glues and construction materials sit at the ready.

IMG_4286Plastic soldiers from a variety of manufacturers, eras and scales at Jan’s

IMG_4287Paints and plastic model kits line the walls at Jan’s

IMG_4285Fred Hutchins’s WWII era experimental aircraft models

At the heart of the store on any given morning, store manager Fred Hutchins sits behind his workbench working away on his latest project. In my short visit with Fred, I learned of his lifelong love and work in aeronautical engineering. His ongoing project, at the rate of 30-50 models per year, is to build to scale every experimental aircraft built during World War II. In the cases nearby, much of Fred’s exquisite work is on display, and if you are a polite and patient visitor, he is more than happy to engage in a brief history lesson. Conversation with Fred, modeller-to-modeller, is just the kind of experience only found in a hobby shop and makes a visit to Jan’s worth the trip.


The Red Caboose

23 West 45th Street

(212) 575-0155

www.theredcaboose.com

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For a hobbyist like me, basements are portals to secret worlds of play hidden away from the normal world above. That’s where you’ll find The Red Caboose, tucked at the end of an easy-to-miss entry hall and then down some narrow stairs to a subterranean hobby wonderland. Focused largely on N and HO scale model railroading, The Red Caboose is lined with glass cases of rolling stock and engines from the steam era to today. Tourists may also find their way here to buy up some authentic scale New York MTA subway cars which may be special ordered to reflect specific routes past or present.

IMG_4283Cases of trains and row upon row of model kits at The Red Caboose

The Red Caboose is a place beyond trains, too.  Rows of shelves are devoted to kits for all sorts of buildings, bridges, industrial complexes and natural scenery, some of which have made their way to my wargaming tables over the years. Rotating racks of scale scratch building plastic, metal and wood parts, along with paints, brushes and other supplies provide a solid inventory for miniature modellers. A decent selection of military and civilian plastic kits and pre-built die-cast scale models can likewise by found, making a stop at The Red Caboose about much more than just trains.


The Compleat Strategist

11 East 33rd Street

(212) 685-3880

www.thecompleatstrategist.com

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As a budding role playing gamer in the 70s and 80s, I was fortunate to live near a college town where the local bookstore and five-and-dime each stocked a handy selection of Dungeons & Dragons books, miniatures and magazines. Tucked in the pages of later issues of those magazines, I occasionally saw ads for The Compleat Strategist with an inventory which sounded like a dream for my hungry gaming appetite. As a resident New Yorker today, a quick visit to “The Strat” over a lunch hour or on a weekend is an amazing escape for a quick purchase or just time spent browsing the latest in gaming.

IMG_4281The Compleat Strategist is NYC’s destination for serious gamers

The store is long, narrow and deep, with shelves of games, books, miniatures and accessories piled to the ceiling. Boardgames, chess sets and puzzles occupy the rear half of the store. A massive selection of boxed historical strategy games stretch down one wall toward an inventory of paints and miniatures ranging from Games Workshop and other fantasy lines to collectible games like Heroclix. RPG books and reference materials fill out the front of the shop along with buckets of dice, stacks of collectible cards like Magic: The Gathering and two large racks of gaming periodicals. Downstairs, the Compleat Strategist also hosts mini gaming tournaments most weekends, rounding out the total experience for the city gamer looking to stay connected to a vital hobby community.


Gotham Model Trains

224 West 35th Street, 13th Floor

(212) 643-4400

www.gothammodeltrains.com

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Down a generic block just north of Penn Station, the tiny and well kept Gotham Model Trains occupies a thirteenth floor space in a building housing a jumble of small businesses and professional offices. The shop is mostly about trains, and the tight inventory offers a well-edited counterpoint to the sprawling warren of shelves at The Red Caboose. I like the nice selection of Woodland Scenics ground cover, shrubbery, trees, gravel and other scratch-building materials in plastic, metal and wood on the walls and racks.

IMG_4279The well-curated inventory of Gotham Model Trains

But trains are the thing at Gotham Model Trains, and over the years this has been my local go-to for a few pieces of track needed in getting a little circular railroad running under my Christmas tree. Multiple scales, controllers, buildings, scale figures and a small selection of railfan books round out the inventory surrounding the sweet little N scale layout greeting you at the shop’s entrance. Stopping in at Gotham Model Trains, like a visit to any of Manhattan’s surviving hobby shops, you can’t help but have the irreplaceable experience of a living breathing hobby.

Metropolitan Wargamers D-Day Plus 70 Event Report

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This past weekend at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY, dozens of gamers came together for three days commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. Throughout the weekend, we ran multiple WWII-themed games, including Normandy ’44, I Ain’t Been Shot Mum, Flames of War, World In Flames and Memoir ’44. Dice were rolled, strategies were debated, prizes were won and Allied and Axis forces vied for control of France. In all, it was another great weekend full of gaming at our club’s space in the heart of Brooklyn.

Friday Games

IMG_3586The invasion of France begins with Normandy ’44 at Metropolitan Wargamers

Friday kicked off after work with a few players unpacking a fresh copy of the classic Normandy ’44 from GMT Games. This one-map game covers the pre-dawn D-Day Airborne landing areas, five Allied invasion beaches and the charge to the initial inland objectives. The game scale plays with regiments and battalions with each turn representing one day of action. The small, self-contained game provides a great introduction to game mechanics at this scale with a tight, clear rules set. With a quick look at the game, I decided I’m going to have to personally give this one a shot sometime soon.

IMG_3587 US infantry blinds move toward unsuspecting German defenders at a farm outside Vierville

At the back of the club, we ran a game of our new favorite WWII tactical miniatures game, IABSM  from Too Fat Lardies. In our ongoing campaign of the Normandy scenarios in the IABSM Where The Hell Have You Been Boys? book, our game focused on the battle at Vierville-sur-Mer. With the 116th Infantry Division supported by the 5th Ranger Batallion, the Allied mission was to drive inland to capture and defend the church at Vierville.

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German and US units exchange fire in and around the farm at Vierville

As per the scenario, initial Allied blinds approach a farm outside Vierville where a German blind sits unknowingly in the complex of buildings. With Allied infantry closing in over dense bocage hedgerows and orchards, a firefight erupted and drove the German defenders through the buildings and into the orchard beyond.

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German reserves arrive at the flanks of the advancing US infantry outside Vierville

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Germans reinforcements push the Americans from the farm

As the first force of Germans fled the farm, their reinforcing comrades came on to the rear and flank of the US infantry. The Americans made consecutive moves of firing and moving back to defend at a series of stone walls across the road from the farm. The retreating defensive US actions held off the German onslaught until enough Americans could take up position amid Vierville’s houses. At the same time, the US Rangers moved in at the far end of town to hold the objective at the church.

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Americans pull back from the farm to take position in Vierville

The game eventually settled into a bloody house-to-house and hedge-to-hedge fight along the road leading toward the church. Occasional lucky shots from US Ranger light machine guns at the church also harassed the Germans lying low behind their stone wall position at the farm’s orchard. By midnight, much of the initial American force had been destroyed or was retreating to a final stand at the church held by the Rangers. While the Germans had also lost a sizable amount of their force, their heavy machine guns were still in play as they closed in through the town. This time around, we called the action at Vierville a draw.

Saturday Games

IMG_3603The Americans hit the Easy Green sector of Omaha Beach

The next day kicked-off with a running of a FOW beach landing at Easy Green on Omaha Beach. We have been play testing the FOW scenario over the past two months, tweaking our forces and strategies to cope with the clumsy beach landing rules. In our past games, the US invaders only manage to win about a third of the time. Even so, we decided no D-Day weekend was complete without a return to “Bloody Omaha” on one of the club’s award-winning sand tables.

IMG_3604German defenders hold their positions behind a burning bunker

The opening turns found a lot of US boats on the beach and a quick push to the seawall. So early combined arms fire managed to destroy the main bunker at the beach, but the battle was far from over. The initial US push followed on to the left of the beach, but multiple turns at clearing the barbed wire stalled the advance as the Americans took heavy fire.

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American armor and artillery follow-up the infantry landings

As US armor arrived, several tanks managed to drive off the beach to the minefield position to lay down fire on the German trenches. One tank wound up spending three turns bobbing in the surf offshore only to arrive and bog for two more turns on the beach. As this most inexperienced tank crew in Normandy struggled, the other Shermans took fire from German rockets and reserve tank platoon which rolled to bulk up the beach defense. American artillery also arrived but proved pretty ineffective to the Germans at the trenches. Wave after wave of US infantry pushed to the trenches, eliminating most of the defenders but never managing to clear the barbed wire lines to seize the German position. At the final turn, the Americans just hadn’t made enough headway to control the beach.

IMG_3627World In Flames continued over D-Day weekend

With action raging on the sand table, a group of club members showed up to continue playing their massive World In Flames game. Australian Design Group’s WIF from 1985 is the standard in grand-scale strategic fighting of the entire WWII period. The game’s rich playable detail, dizzying number of 1400 playing counters and sprawling maps makes it a commitment for only the most experienced gamers over many months of play.

IMG_3630Allied forces push from the beaches inland to Caen in Normandy ’44

The Normandy ’44 game from the evening before concluded with a decisive Allied victory Saturday afternoon. Pushing the Germans back from all but Utah Beach, the Allies captured Bayeux and several smaller towns. With German defenders routed from roads leading inland from the landing beaches, the victors rolled in to control half of Caen by the game’s end.

IMG_3625No one was going hungry at Metropolitan Wargamers over the weekend

Saturday also included a lot of other club members down for the usual variety of board, Euro and card games, making for a packed house. As the crowd rolled in, a longtime club member showed up with an enormous fresh-caught fish which he proceeded to gut with a huge military-style knife. With fish on the grill and food ordered in, there was plenty of food to sustain the crowd of gamers throughout the day.

We all took a mid-afternoon break to dice-off in a game, books, DVD and miniatures raffle to raise funds for the club. I was fortunate to score a copy of A Few Acres of Snow from Treefrog Games, and another lucky person picked up an unused copy of out-of-print the Games Workshop classic Dreadfleet.

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Initial deployment of Allied and Axis blinds in our Saturday evening IABSM scenario

As the main crowd thinned out, we ran an evening IABSM game continuing the assault beyond Easy Green. The scenario found initial US forces deployed around a small French farm with the objective of moving men off the table on the roads beyond. The Germans were tasked with preventing the American advance and seizing the farmhouse stronghold.

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Settling in for a contested fight at the farmhouse above Omaha Beach

Using initial blind deployment, Germans quickly moved to the farm along thick hedgerows as the Americans drove into the building for cover. Turns followed with the Americans jumping from cover to fire on the dwindling German force which returned fire over the hedges to unfortunate US infantry hanging out in the open. A US flamethrower attack from the window of the farmhouse decimated another German squad sitting close behind a nearby hedge. Pressing their luck, a group from the farmhouse made a run for the road exit only to be stalled by a reinforcing German heavy machine gun squad. Returning fire, the German MG42s were eliminated from their position in the open field. However, the damage had been done. Although the Germans had not captured the farm objective, the Americans no longer had a sufficient force to push off the table. The night ended with a German victory beyond Easy Green.

Sunday Games

IMG_3620The war continues on the Memoir ’44 Hedgerow Hell battle map

With the first days of Operation Overlord behind us, Sunday’s game focused on the breakout actions. A couple visiting players showed up for the club’s Memoir ’44 game around noon on Sunday. Using the wide Hedgerow Hell expansion map, the Allies beat the scenario odds to win the game in the Overlord scenario. There was much talk of getting larger games of Memoir ’44 back in rotation at the club soon, so hopefully getting the game back on the table will bring some renewed interest in the coming months.

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The initial armored encounter outside Lingevres leaves British tanks in flames

I finished off my weekend as the British at Lingevres using the same scenario I first ran at the club a few months ago. The mission ahead for the Brits was to move into the heavily defended town and take two of the buildings. Historically, the battle played out as a tank duel between UK Sherman Firefly and German Panther tanks, and our game this past weekend played out in a similar way.

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A Panther meets its end at the hand of the British Royal Artillery as a close assault is attempted on another in the woods nearby

At the outset, my first platoon of tanks got a bit overly aggressive and charged into contact with the full Panther platoon at the farm outside Lingevres. With the first Firefly destroyed in the opening turns, my remaining Shermans pulled back as the Panthers rattled to the middle of the field to hold off UK infantry advancing through the woods and bocage-lined fields beyond. One Panther bogged on a hedgerow and another was destroyed in an initial volley from the Royal Artillery in the fields outside town. Several turns became ensnared in attempted infantry assaults on the third Panther in the woods, but eventually the German tank rolled away to deal with the building reinforcing infantry and tank platoon in the fields on the other side of the table.

IMG_3622British Shermans and infantry break across a field toward Lingevres

With the Panthers moving away, fresh British infantry and the surviving Shermans moved to the farm and fields beyond. British artillery fire winnowed and pinned the German platoon in the church over several turns. Artillery fire also sought to keep the reinforcing German spotter pinned to limit the effectiveness of the reserve Nebelwerfer battery which as delayed reserves to the rear of Lingevres.

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The duel between the Panther and Firefly ends with the British tank in flames as the remaining Shermans destroy a Panzer IV platoon in the distance

In the meantime, a multi-turn tank duel had settled in between a lone Firefly and Panther while a reinforcing Panzer IV platoon arrived at the edge of town. Both tank groups traded fire, and in the end, the Panzers were routed with two or their three destroyed and the Firefly fell to the Panther’s gun. Back at the farm field, Shermans traded fire with Pak 40s and destroyed an anti-aircraft platoon defending the town’s flank. With two Panthers left on either side of the church, Shermans on each side of town and advancing British infantry, we called the game a draw.

 Weekend Debrief

After more than 20 hours of gaming over two nights and days, I was pretty worn out, but the interest in the D-Day event had made the weekend well worth it. WWII still holds enormous interest to this day, as demonstrated not only by our weekend of gaming but by the mainstream media’s coverage of D-Day over the week leading up. In the next week, we’re kicking off an FOW Infantry Aces campaign with fresh forces hitting the tables in rounds of Italy-themed WWII games. This fall we’ll be playing out some Market Garden battles and by the winter we hope to host some Battle of the Bulge engagements. It was a pretty special weekend in Brooklyn, but for regular visitors to Metropolitan Wargamers, there’s always the next game in this very unique New York City community.

Setting The Scene

One of the aspects of wargaming I love most is setting up the tabletop battlefield. I first got into scenery building with a large basement HO scale model railroad as a kid in the 1970s and 80s. Through a mix of sculpting hills and roads, modelling trees and creating realistic tableaus of buildings, I spent hours bringing to life a miniature world.

Setting up a tabletop battlefield serves two purposes. Firstly, playability is affected in terms of terrain contours, defensive cover and lines of sight. Secondly, a well-laid and realistic tabletop brings an aesthetic appeal and excitement only to be found in miniature wargaming. While throwing down a big piece of green fabric and some simple trees or lichen shrubbery and maybe some rocks for outcroppings can provide a bare minimum play area, adding a few pieces of additional model detail really makes a game come to life.

Check out some of my WWII and American Civil War set-ups in the Gaming & Painting section above, and have a quick read on some easy resources below to get your own tabletop ready for battle.

Battlefield Basics

For my groundcover, I use a $10 green fleece throw I picked up in a discount store. I like that I can fold it or open it up to create different sized gaming spaces. You can also use felt or any other cloth easily picked up at a local fabric store. For roads, I use a rubber textured road system I bought at a gaming convention. On the cheap, you can cut felt or other material into strips to create roads of varying lengths and widths. Streams and rivers can also be cut from blue felt. For basic shrubs, a bag or two of lichen from a hobby shop in varying shades of greens and browns provides flexibility in creating hedgerows and other bunches of ground cover. Spreading some gravel or larger stones around the battlefield can also provide some texture and look to the table.

Trees

While a lot of gamers prefer making trees from scratch using twigs and lichen, I like tree systems like those offered by Woodland Scenics. Whether you choose to build your own or buy pre-made trees, you can easily find what you need via websites or stores that cater to model railroading hobbyists. Keep scale in mind that shorter HO-scale trees suffice for 15mm scenarios and taller O-scale trees will stand in nicely for forests and treelines in 28mm games.

 Buildings

There are tons of options for wargaming buildings. Many experienced gamers make their buildings from scratch using foamcore, balsa wood and other kit-building materials found at any decent hobby shop. Another cheap option is downloadable paper cut-out buildings, many examples of which can be found online for free or in easy and immediate pay/download format.

A number of companies specialize in model buildings in lots of scales, eras and geographic locations. Some relatively inexpensive buildings come cast in solid resin and unpainted, while others come completely assembled and detailed with removable floors and roofs. More recently, laser-cut wood buildings are becoming a popular option.

I like using plastic kits from model railroad suppliers, particularly O-scale buildings when I’m gaming the American Civil War in 28mm. These kits are pretty inexpensive ($10-30), easy to find online or in stores, simple to glue together and lightweight. The often simple detailing is easily enhanced with some simple painting and weathering removing the plastic gloss. Companies such as Bachmann (log cabin and covered bridge pictured), Atlas and Lionel all make model railroad buildings which can easily stand on an 18th or 19th-century American battlefield. I love my big Lionel K-Line O-scale American church I picked up for $9 on sale, and it always takes center stage in my American Civil War set-ups.

Boxed Terrain Systems

While pricey, several companies offer full lines of pre-packaged terrain systems made specifically for gaming. Flames of War offers a big line of 15mm WWII terrain through their Battlefield In A Box sets with roads, rivers, buildings and battlefield accessories to fit different regions of the war. Games Workshop also offers a number of products specific to their games from Citadel but much of it could be used for other gaming in Medieval and fantasy gaming environments in 28mm. For gamers with particularly deep pockets, Games Worshop all carries highly-detailed modular gaming boards for nearly $300 each.

“Where Do I Start?” Some Thoughts On Starter Sets

One of the more daunting things for people just getting into tabletop wargaming is where to start. There are countless systems to choose from, many scales, different levels of complexity and hundreds of thousands of products to choose from. Shopping online or walking into a local hobby store, the newcomer can easily be overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of “stuff” that’s out there in the hobby.

Here’s a few pointers on how to get yourself (or your kids) started.

1.) Try a game first. If you have an opportunity to try a game before buying, that’s the best (and cheapest) first step. Spending a few hours with a local gaming club, visiting a gaming convention or playing at a nearby hobby shop will give you a broad overview of how complex and fun a game can be. It’s also good to speak with other players so they can relate their personal experience in what they do (or don’t) about particular games, and what kind of a time and money commitment you may be making by undertaking a new game.

2.) Pick a theme. There is a tremendous variety in the playable world of gaming. If your kids like comic book superheroes or sci-fi space battles, there are games for those. If you like reading about history and are interested in playing a particular historic era, chances are there’s a game for it. If you have tendencies toward swords, sorcery and fantasy monsters, there are plenty of options. And, for those of you into horror and zombies, there are definitely games to suit your taste for the macabre.

3.) Visit a local store. It’s great to support local businesses, and getting to know the folks at your local hobby store, comic book shop or specialized wargaming outlet is key to your intro and growth with a game. People at these stores are usually gamers themselves, and they know and love this stuff. Be honest with them when just starting out. Explain your level of previous experience, interests, budget and the amount of free time available to play games. If you are looking to play a World War II game for a couple hours a week and have a budget of $50, they’ll probably steer toward the great board or card games available. If you have hours of free time and are willing to invest hundreds (or thousands) of dollars in a World War II game over the long term, a good store employee will point you in a different direction.

4.) Get a starter set. One of the great things about wargaming is the wide array of products the industry churns out. Settling on just one gaming system can present a new player with thousands of options. Experienced gamers usually go the a la carte route, picking and choosing the specific miniatures, models and rulesets they want. As a new gamer, however, what you usually need to get started is some miniatures and rules.

Thankfully, many popular wargaming systems offer packaged starter sets. These usually contain a set of rules, dice, maps and enough miniatures to wage a small game right out of the box. The other bonus with starer sets is the costs savings, as many companies package there starter sets with contents that might be double the cost if bought separately.

Here’s a couple of my favorite starter sets, covering a couple different scales and eras. If you’re looking a for a great wargaming gift this holiday season, start here.

Flames of War: Open Fire!

If you’re interested in World War II, start here. For about $70, this incredible set gives a player a 50-page quick-start guide, a full 300-page rulebook, dice, nearly 120 soldiers, eleven tanks and lots of other goodies. The set encourages you to glue up the miniatures and models and start right in playing. Once you’ve got a game or two under your belt, you can get started painting and then head back to the shop to start building out your forces for even bigger games.

The Hobbit: Escape from Goblin Town

Millions of people are going to be marching into movie theaters this month to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. If your interest in things Tolkienesque goes beyond the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings books and movies, then Games Workshop’s line of games should be your next stop. To coincide with the new movie, a whole new line of miniatures, rules and this incredible limited starter set has been introduced. The set costs $125, but with that you get all the hero characters (Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf the Wizard and Thorin Oakenshield and his band of dwarves) and dozens of goblins. The set includes a 50-page rule book plus some terrain models, dice and a ruler. Everything is plastic and modelled with incredible detail and personality. When painted, the models really come to life on the table. There’s also a full line of Hobbit-themed (and previously-produced Lord of The Rings) miniatures and rules ready to be added to your future games.

Warhammer and Warhammer 40K

Games Workshop also offers two long-standing favorites in the miniatures gaming world: Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 (or, 40K to fans). Each gaming system offers a starter set for $99 that comes packed with incredibly detailed miniatures, rule books, starter guides, dice and other gaming accessories.

Warhammer is set in a fantasy world of magic and monsters, The Island of Blood starter sets allows you to field an army of High Elves against the Skaven, a race of giant rats. The 74 models exclusive to this box include Elves on horseback, an Elven prince riding a giant griffon, Skaven ogres and a whimsical cannon strapped to the back of a giant rat.

Warhammer 40K inhabits a universe in a far off future plagued by armies in endless intergalactic planetary war. The dark vengence starter set gives you 48 plastic miniatures depicting the Dark Angels against the Chaos Space Marines. Theses figures come armed to the teeth with gruesome hi-tech weapons and clad in enormous suits of armor. A squad of bikers and a walking death machine armed with laser cannons and giant claws round out the armed forces.