Star Wars Legion: Dewback Rider

When I first saw Star Wars in the summer of 1977, there was only a brief and far off glimpse of a Dewback, the large lizard-like creature ridden by Stormtroopers on the desert planet of Tatooine. When the original movies were re-released for the 20th-anniversary in 1997 as the Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition, modern digital effects added more film time for the Dewbacks (one of the few changes I don’t complain about as a fan).

Kenner’s Patrol Dewback from 1979

Despite its only brief cameo in the original movie, Kenner’s Patrol Dewback toy in 1979 became a favorite of mine and other first generation fans. I wound up with two in my toy box — one for me and one for my brother — and our Stormtroopers spent many hours marching around mounted on their Dewbacks on our bedroom floor.

Dewback | Wookieepedia | Fandom
Stormtrooper and Dewback from a production still from Star Wars (1977)

One of the joys I find with Star Wars Legion miniatures game from Fantasy Flight Games is the chance to revisit some of my favorite characters and creatures from the Star Wars universe. And, all these years later, I still like playing with Star Wars toys.

Dewback rider with shock prod

The Dewback Rider unit expansion is a chunky model and includes two swappable torsos of Stormtrooper riders. With these bodies, four weapons are offered — a shock prod, a T-21 blaster rifle, a RT-97C blaster rifle and a CR-24 flame rifle. I chose to model my two riders with the standard shock prod and RT-97C blaster rifle. My long term thinking is to get a second Dewback and model the other two weapons on those riders.

If I’m totally honest with myself, I am not a fan of painting primarily white figures. This is also why I’ve avoided Imperial troops to this point. In my four decades of miniatures painting I can never quite get white figures right and my first shot at Stormtroopers is no different. Fortunately, the sculpt and detail in the model offsets my so-so painting. All said, I’ve enjoyed getting my first Dewback on the table after so many years.

Dewback rider with RT-97C blaster rifle

Star Wars Legion: Rebel Commandos and Commander Leia Organa

As a first generation Star Wars fan, I’ve always loved the Rebel Commandos from the Battle of Endor in 1985’s Return of the Jedi. The gritty, rugged camouflage-clad fighters have always reminded me of World War II or Vietnam War soldiers, just the sort of realism found in so much of the Star Wars saga.

Having just jumped into Star Wars Legion from Fantasy Flight Games, I’ve quickly moved to boost my forces from the base starter set. Given my interest in the Rebel Troopers in the starter kit, it was a natural next-step to add the Rebel Commandos unit expansion to my collection.

I love the seven figures in this box with their flowing, hooded ponchos and five toting A-280 blaster rifles. The other two figures include a saboteur armed with proton charges and a crouching Mon Calamari sniper carefully aiming a DH-447 rifle with his fish-like eye. The inclusion of this alien race, along with a Dressellian, expands the story of the Rebellion stretching across systems.

Leading them all, I added the Commander Leia Organa figure to the squad. her figure strikes a heroic pose on the run, and blaster at outstretched. With the Rebel Commandos at her back, Leia is no doubt leading the charge of this small squad fighting for a free galaxy.

Mon Calamari Rebel Sniper and Dressellian Rebel Commando
Rebel Commando and Saboteur
Rebel Commandos
Rebel Commander Leia Organa

Star Wars Legion: Rebel Troopers, AT-RT and Luke Skywalker

Before I was a gamer or miniatures modeler, I was a fan of Star Wars when my mom plopped me down in a movie theater seat in the summer of 1977. Over more than four decades of movies, TV shows, cartoons, books, action figures, puzzles, board games, shirts and all things Star Wars, I’ve remained a huge fan and raised my sons as second generation devotees to the space opera franchise.

Star Wars games in my collection from Fantasy Flight Games

All that said, my Star Wars gaming has been limited until recently. I jumped in early with Star Wars X-Wing, and I’ve added a bunch of other Star Wars games from Fantasy Flight Games to my collection over the years including Armada, Imperial Assault. Destiny and Rebellion.

In 2019, I picked up a copy of Star Wars Legion at a discount, opened it up, looked at the models, leafed through the rules and put it back on the shelf. In the past month, my sons and I decided to give it another look. One of my sons went to work painting up the Imperials and I tasked myself with painting the Rebel units.

I’m generally not a fan of plastic miniatures, but at the large 34mm scale, the figures are a joy to paint. The Rebel units have a lot of personality and detail with a mix of weapons and gear. The AT-RT and Luke Skywalker models are also a lot of fun, adding diversity to the two squads included in the base starter kit.

I was a bit skeptical of the skirmish nature of a Star Wars game, given the general epic proportion of the saga. The base set is a huge value for the amount of stuff that comes in the box, and the quality of the painted-up models really pops. With my first figures painted and a new dive into the rules, my mind has been changed. I’m going to be quickly adding more from the Legion game to my collection and playing out my own Star Wars stories on the table soon.

Rebel Troopers
Rebel MPL-57 Ion Trooper, Unit Leader and Z-6 Trooper
Rebel Trooper Squad
Rebel AT-RT and Luke Skywalker
Completed Rebel Troopers, AT-RT and Luke Skywalker from the Star Wars Legion Base Set

The 2010s in Review: My Favorite Games

TopGames.jpg

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.

Mad Max In Miniature

MadMaxOriginal Just as my early-1980s adolescent brain was feasting on a steady diet of Dungeons & Dragons, comic books and all things Star Wars, Mad Max raced out of the Australian wastelands and into my world. I caught The Road Warrior at a local theater, only to realize there was an earlier film which I tracked down on video cassette. In the years to come, the Mad Max movies and their sequels tucked in nicely with my other adventure film mythologies. The Conan movies held the sword-and-sandals spot, Star Wars filled the sci-fi niche and Indiana Jones was the retro heroic adventure serial.

It was the the Mad Max films which brought the genres together in a barbaric, sci-fi tale led by a charismatic hero who always seemed to be losing right up until the final moments of the film when you realized he’d just won. The Mad Max movies also held a certain raw immediacy to me, especially in the final dangerous decade of the Cold War where a Road Warrior-esque post-apocalyptic future seemed like a possibility. Thirty years after the third film, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, I (thankfully) am not surviving in a souped up car on a murderous desert highway, but I did get another new Mad Max film that thrilled my inner teenager while satisfying my now more adult brain with story and message.

I’m also thankful for being a part of Metropolitan Wargamers which is filled with passionate, creative gamers who put together stunning games like the Road Warrior miniatures event this past weekend at the club. IMG_6151 The game was based largely on a modified set of rules available at the Third Point of Singularity website which have been popular during late night games at some conventions the past year or so. The basics of the rules were maintained with simple sticks for movement, and combat and damage results resolved with D20s and D6s cross-referencing tables. The tabletop itself  used an extra large canvas desert mat, rocky outcroppings and some custom blacktop roads made from roofing material. Dust, smoke and fire markers all come in handy as the carnage builds rapidly. The pics below give a pretty good feel for what the game looks like as the cars race and battle across the table. IMG_6156 IMG_6150 IMG_6162 IMG_6160 IMG_6161 The really wonderful aspect of the game is the cars, made for the most part from Hot Wheels and Matchbox toy vehicles. Cars are tricked-out using bits left over from other military models plus a lot of special 20mm parts and figures made specifically by Stan Johnson Miniatures for post-apocalyptic gamers. Each of the unique cars gets its own stats card and name, as shown in some of the examples below. IMG_6159 IMG_6153 IMG_6152 IMG_6154 IMG_6155 IMG_6158 IMG_6157 With a couple dozen cars, trucks and vans, bunches of good guys and bad guys, and a raucously absurd game, there’s going to be a lot of Mad Max-style roadside carnage in the weeks to come in Brooklyn.

A Gamer’s Guide to Manhattan’s Hobby Shops

PolksHobbiesGF

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.

PolksHobbiesLogo

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

IMG_4282

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

IMG_4280

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

IMG_4278

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.

Retro Gaming The 70s & 80s: DC Heroes Role Playing Game

dcheroes

Households tend to gravitate to fan divisions. There are Star Trek people and Star Wars people. In New York City, you’re a Mets fan or a Yankees supporter. With comic books, divisions have fallen for decades between Marvel Comics and DC Comics with endless nerdy debates of the pros and cons for each.

In my home growing up, my brothers and I were Marvel guys. Our cardboard storage boxes were chocked full of bagged and boarded books from the Fantastic Four, The Avengers, Captain America, The Uncanny X-Men, Doctor Strange, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and Alpha Flight. The occasional Batman or Justice League story grabbed our interest, but superheroes who dwelled in the real-world embattled streets of New York City always won our hearts over the denizens of Gotham, Metropolis and Star City.

When we got around to superhero gaming we likewise threw our fandom (and dollars) behind TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes Role-Playing Game. While role-playing our favorite Marvel characters never took off with the passion we had for Dungeons & Dragons, we loved the modules and expanions chocked full of great art, stories and cut-out scenery and foldable heroes.

In 1985, a year after TSR’s comic-themed release, Mayfair Games answered with DC Heroes Role Playing Game. The game was released just as DC’s monumental Crisis On Infinite Earths series hit the comic racks garnering wide praise from long-time fans and the straight press alike. For a tepid DC fan like myself, Crisis was a crash course in DC lore and injected significant emotional realism to the character storylines mimicking much of what Marvel had been up to for a couple decades. The one-two punch of Crisis and the new game had me running to the store to add yet another RPG system to my shelf.

dcheroescontents

Like the Marvel role-playing game, the DC system never became a big part of my gaming time but its mechanics had some merits which retain a significant fan base to this day. At its root, the game used a unified “attributes points” design from which all manner of super powers, skills, wealth, time and distance variables could be calculated. Within this single framework, the game could contextually handle normal human characters such as Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen side-by-side with epic heroes like Superman and Shazam.

Similar to TSR’s Marvel game, Mayfair’s DC game box came with a group of manuals for the players and gamemaster as well as a gamemaster’s screen, starter character cards and a manual of powers and skills. While the primary color design was more spare, the DC game’s mechanics and information offered a quicker start than wading through the uneven and occassionally frustrating complexities of the Marvel game.

Despite the surface comic book character interest in the DC game and the earlier Marvel one, my interest in superhero gaming waned pretty quickly. With positives and negatives to each RPG super hero system, what I always walked away with was a feeling of constraint within the boundaries of massive established narrative comic universes. While both games offered rules for creating new characters and scenarios (more effectively in the DC one), my mind inevitably drifted back to known caharacters and storylines I couldn’t imagine breaking into new realms and threads. With plenty of more satisfying fantasy RPG and historical miniature gaming options available to me, one thing I could always reconcile about Marvel and DC alike was that I preferred my comic heroes on the page rather than the tabletop.

Collector’s Note: Mayfair’s DC Heroes Role Playing Game and its expansion modules can be easily found online in the non-heroic $10-30 price range at eBay and elsewhere.