In Memoriam of Neal Catapano and The WarStore

If you’ve been a miniatures hobbyist over the past twenty years, chances are you may have had dealing with the The WarStore. What you may or may not have heard was the passing of the owner, Neal Catapano, this past week.

Housed on the property of Catapano Farms, on the North Fork of Long Island in Southold, NY, the online store had a two-decade history of serving customers near and far before closing suddenly in 2019. Founded in 1999 and just a few years behind online retail giants like eBay and Amazon, Neal’s online store was a bit ahead of its time in the gaming community. The modest online store held a broad inventory of modeling paint, brushes and supplies as well rule books, player aids and miniatures and terrain covering multiple eras, scales and interest from fantasy to sci-fi to historical. Neal was always my first stop before I had a look elsewhere.

Living in nearby Brooklyn and less than a three hour drive away, I regret I never made the pilgrimage to Southold but I was always grateful I received speedy responses to my inquiries and quick delivery of my orders. People notoriously groused online (as people do) about poor customer service, but this was never my experience in my dozens of orders over the years. To the contrary, I found Neal and the staff to be incredibly responsive to inquiries, order updates and special orders — an unfortunate rarity in today’s lowered expectations of impersonal customer service in an ecommerce world. With every online order, my heart always soared with the very personal email verfication:

Hi! This is Neal at TheWarstore.com. Thank you Very Much for placing your order with us! This email is to confirm that we have received your order, an actual human being has reviewed it here at the store, and we will ship as soon as all of your ordered items can be readied.”

With the decline of local NYC hobby stores, Neal’s WarStore split the difference with a small, independently owned shop feel and the convenience of a 24/7 website. I looked forward to his quirky sale announcements, pre-release specials and holiday shopping messages. The online store wasn’t always the easiest to navigate, although it had improved by leaps and bounds over the past few years. Neal’s title of “Grand Pooh Bah” and his personal email of neal@thewarstore.com in all communication contributed to the small store experience increasingly absent from the modern world. Although a brick and mortar store had been an extension of The Warstore at one point in its history, it was through the unique online presence that Neal’s legacy was made.

When Neal announced an abrupt shuttering of the business in the middle of last year and a hurried final sale, I felt in the pit of my stomach there was most likely something deeper behind the decision. This past week’s news of his passing confirmed that feeling and charted the true passing of an era.

Rest in peace Neal and The WarStore where their motto spoke volumes to thousands of loyal customers: “We Bring the War to Your Door, For Less!”

French and Indian War: Comparing 28mm Miniatures Scales – Indians

Sometimes it seems the #1 topic all miniatures gamers have is one of scale and how miniatures from different manufacturers scale together. When I run convention games or post photos of scenarios online, people don’t ask about what books I used in my research or what sites, museums or archives I’ve visited. What they do ask about is manufacturers and scale.

So here it is, taking the first of a couple swings at addressing scale for French and Indian War tabletop gaming with a look at Indians from my collection. After some visual comparisons, I’ll weigh in at the end with some commentary about how I feel about the scale conversation.

Currently I have Indians miniatures from seven manufactures, each of which can be viewed in detail on separate posts: AW Miniatures, Conquest Miniatures, Galloping Major Wargames, Knuckleduster Miniatures, North Star Military Figures, Redoubt Enterprises and Sash and Saber Castings. In the photo below, I’ve lined up a sample from each manufacturer from what I see as the smallest on the left with Conquest all the way up to the largest with Redoubt.

In the next photo, I’m showing a zoomed-in look at the manufacturers on the smlaller side — Conquest, Sash and Saber and Knuckleduster. I find these three hew more toward a thinner, more traditional 25mm scale.

On the larger end of the spectrum, I’ve shown a line-up of North Star, AW, Galloping Major and Redoubt as the modern 28mm “heroic” scale.

Finally, I’ve placed two Indian leaders side by side with the Conquest model at one extreme and the towering Redoubt figure on the other.

So there you have it, some visual comparisons of what are broadly viewed as 28mm Indian miniatures. And with that, I have a lot of opinions.

The first one is that many manufacturers use different sculptors over time, creating variations even within one company’s lines of figures. For example, Warlord Games uses older Conquest sculpts in their FIW offering but have also added work from other artists. Companies like AW, Galloping Major and Sash and Saber have a lot of consistency in their models since they are owned and operated by the sculptors themselves. So, broad statements like “X manufacturer always scales well with Y manufacturer” are not always 100% accurate.

Next, my bias is toward metal castings and I try to avoid plastics. I like the heft of metal on the table, I don’t like to put in assembly time and I like how metal takes paint. This means I’m not looking at a very popular manufacturer like Perry Miniatures in the photos above. I have played with Perry plastics and I own some of their wagons cast in metal. Mostly, I find their sculpts are thin, with very acurate real-life scaling that tends toward the smaller end of the 25mm scale.

As a third point, few players I know put their heads right down on the table at figure eye level when playing. Figures used in actual play are seen at arm’s length or table distance of some three feet or more, obscuring fine differences of a millilmeter or two between models. Differences in models on the table can be further obscuredby keeping manufacturers together in cohesive units. I use the approach, and my “tabletop quality” of painting allows my miniatures to fight just fine (provided the dice are cooperating on any given day).

Finally, variety to me is so much more important than scale. With over 120 Indians painted up in my collection (and probably more on the way), I’ve always been more focused on the visual interest of the sculpts than height of one versus another. By stretching across seven manufacturers I’m supporting more companies and artists feeding the hobby and getting a ton more interesting looking Indian units on my table.

French and Indian War: Woodland Indians from Redoubt Enterprises – Warriors

I have a fair amount of Indian models from Redoubt Enterprises. Previously, I have posted some work on some very unique torch-wielding raiders and sachems. To these models I’ve added over a dozen more warrior miniatures from the same maker.

Redoubt casts are a joy to paint with old-scale, stockier molds that take paint well on broad surfaces. In six-figure packs of firing and advancing poses with both bare chests and more European-style clothing, these figures showcase minimal detail while also offering a bit of nuanced variety. These figures scale well with my more than 120 Indian warriors from some six manufacturers now all ready to hit the table.

The 2010s in Review: My Favorite Games

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The past ten years have been a big decade for gaming and for me as a gamer. I launched this blog (which I haven’t posted to in more than two years). I became president of Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY, NYC’s oldest continuously active gaming group, now in its fourth decade. And, I played a lot of games.

So, here’s my oddball list of 16 games I deem as my favorite of the 2010s. My list isn’t necessarily the most innovative games of the past ten years (although some are) and many are not widely popular (again, some are). These are the games that got back to the table over and over again as other new games came and went.

First up are a few games that capture my love of Marvel comic books and Star Wars from my 1970s childhood. Fantasy Flight Games has really exploded with Star Wars games over the past decade, and while I’ve played most of them, Rebellion and Imperial Assault are my standouts for capturing the story of Star Wars at the epic interplanetary level and as a sci-fi adventure campaign. Both games have incredible design, artwork and plastic miniatures which really speak to the toy nerd in me. The deck-builder Marvel Legendary also captures the teamwork which is the hallmark of Marvel heroes and villains. All three games take me deep into the real storytelling feel of being in the pages of a comic book or a movie.

My other childhood obsession was Dungeons & Dragons. Lords of Waterdeep captures the flavor of D&D within one its most fabled campaign settings dropped into a boardgame that feels like an adventure quest. Back to the classic RPG style of play, the D&D 5th Edition Starter Set brought me back to the table for the first time in years with a slimmed down all-in-one boxed rule set that felt akin to the fast-moving games of my childhood.

From superheroes, science fiction and fantasy, my love swings to American history. The American War of Independence plays out n my two favorite games of that period — Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection and 1775: Rebellion. In 1775, a simple block, card and dice mechanic allows play of the entire war in about 90-minutes and serves as a fantastic entry into the period and wargaming. With LOD, GMT’s COIN (counterinsurgency) mechanic of asymmetric conflict breathes new and nuanced complexity of the often-simplified formative American story.

From the American Revolution, my interest stepped back to the French and Indian War. This was the period that really fired my imagination the past few years with a dive into dozens of books and several long trips visiting historic sites of the era in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and New York. A Few Acres of Snow was my first game of the period and remains one of hands-down favorites with its two player asymmetric, deck building that still challenges over multiple plays as the French and British. My miniatures wargaming interest also swung heavily to the FIW with Muskets & Tomahawks. The quick-playing, card-driven mechanics of the game really captures the clash of British, Indian, French and Canadian forces, and I’ve spent countless hours researching and writing historic scenarios for significant engagements of the period which I’ve run at multiple miniatures gaming conventions as well as my club. A new version of the long out-of-print rules is due in 2020, so I’m very much looking forward to what the game brings next.

Two other historical games I’ve loved deal with two difficult subjects that have significantly shaped American history. Freedom: The Underground Railroad tackles slavery and the fight of abolitionists to bring it to its end through exceedingly challenging gameplay that involves often heartbreaking choices of who does and doesn’t make it to freedom in Canada. Fast-forwarding to the 21st-century, Labyrinth: The War On Terror covers the endless war of the US and coalition forces in the Middle East. As the wars continue, the game has received updated expansions bringing the game’s events and mechanics right up to the current news of the day from the 9/11 attacks to the Arab Spring to today. Both games show the power of games as tools to model and understand history ways few others do.

With time at a premium, there were a few games that filled the gap for 30-minute or less time slots at the beginning or end of a long evening’s game session or when a quick game just fits the bill. The patterned tile placement in a Azul is great for my non-gamer friends as well as experienced players, plus, it has my favorite mechanic of pulling the very satisfying heavy tiles out of a bag. Fuse also has a tactile angle with fast rolls of dice placed into patterned puzzles to be solved against a nerve-wracking countdown app. Finally, The Mind takes a super simple deck of 100 chronologically numbered cards and turns it into a really interesting exercise in how we play collaboratively with others without the benefit of verbal communication.

I play a lot of the above games and others with my family, and one we’ve returned to repeatedly is Five Tribes. The game, set in a fantasy sultanate, scratches all the Eurogame itches of colorful wooden meeples, a modular board, beautiful card artwork and some easy to grasp but hard to master strategies. We’ve taken this game on the road more than just about any game in my collection.

Finally, I wasn’t alone in my obsession with the wildly-popular Root. The game combines so many things I love about games — fantasy, adventure, great art — in an asymmetric clash of woodland animals. With what it presents simply on the surface, the game taps into a wargaming feel that bridges all the games I’ve enjoyed so much over the past ten years.

Aside from all the games above I’ve enjoyed, I have to also celebrate the 2010s coming to a close on a personal gaming note. After some fours decades as a gamer, I was thrilled to co-found Campaign Games and launch a successful Kickstarter in the late summer of 2019 for Forts & Frontiers: The Feast of the Dead Deluxe. Combining the mechanics of D&D 5th Edition with my love for the story of 17th-century European-Indian history in North America, the game was well-received during Free RPG Day 2019 and continues to playtest well at conventions. To end the year and decade on the other side of the table as a game creator is a thrill I’ll watch unfold over the coming year and into the 2020s.