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.

 

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.

Robin Williams (1951-2014) – Comedian, Actor, Gamer

williamstoysAmerican comedian and actor Robin Williams died yesterday from an apparent suicide after battling years of depression and addiction. While his award-winning acting, frenetic comedy performances and activism are what he will no doubt be best remembered for, to a certain set of fans like myself, his lifetime interest in gaming and toy soldiers likewise leaves a mark.

As a lonely, oddball child of wealthy parents, Williams developed an early escape valve through play with toy soldiers. In a 1993 New York Magazine profile, Williams’s mother recounted his boyhood obsession with toy soldiers:

“Robin had the entire third floor,” his mother, Laurie Williams, says. “He put his toy soldiers — he had thousands of them — in those rooms, carefully divided according to period.” Williams not only staged intricate battles between soldiers of different eras, he created dialogue for them in what was, essentially, a childhood version of his performance style.”

Not only was Williams a toy soldier fan from an early age, but gaming was a lifelong passion. He was an avowed Warhammer 40K player (apparently favoring Eldar forces), even posing for photos with staff and other players during stops at local gaming stores. He is also listed among celebrity players of Dungeons & Dragons, going so far as to participate in major gaming events up until a few years ago. His passion for gaming also extended to online and video gaming, and his daughter Zelda is rumored to have been named for the popular adventure fantasy video game series from Nintendo.

morkboardgame1979’s Mork & Mindy board game from Parker Brothers

Like a lot of kids growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, Williams’s starring role in Mork & Mindy from 1978 to 1982 was a fixture in my weekly TV viewing. Starring as Mork, a zany alien from the planet Ork, Williams’s catchphrases, mannerisms and signature look became firmly imbedded in my young mind. There was definitely Mork madness in my life and in the culture for a bit, extending to toys, games and even rainbow suspenders (yes, I had a pair).

Williams certainly went on to much bigger and often more serious professional work, but that period in my youth where I was becoming an impassioned gamer myself definitely informed some of my own willingness to stretch into characters outside the bounds of reality. Williams’s life of playing characters, switching roles and acting out wild fantasies brought so much joy to audiences around the world, but for me, I like to imagine him as that little boy crouching over his little soldiers and creating a universe that was just his for a moment.

A Place To Play: Brooklyn Game Lab

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Living and gaming in New York City is all about space. While gamers worldwide enjoy games in their basements, garages, dining rooms and even dedicated spaces, gamers living in the five boroughs wage a constant struggle for tabletop real estate. It’s in this context that Brooklyn Game Lab opens today and joins a mini-boom in storefront gaming spaces and stores that have opened over the past five years throughout New York.

Brooklyn Game Lab is the vision of Robert Hewitt, a former Silcon Valley game developer, designer, co-founder of game app company HashGo and ESL teacher in Brazil. Carrying his start-up experience and a passion for games and teaching, Bob’s mission for the Brooklyn Game Lab is to provide not only a space for play but to challenge players to think about games beyond what comes right out of the box.

Located in the heart of Brownstone Brooklyn’s Park Slope, the core of the Brooklyn Game Lab is an afterschool program focusing not just on kids playing games but evaluating games and creating homebrewed expansions. The curriculum involves player self-evaluation of gaming mechanics, strategy and tactics, as well as a reward system which will allow kids to earn merits as their gaming prowess develops. Euro, cooperative, social and conquest games like Settlers of Catan, Forbidden Island, King of Tokyo, Werewolf and Small World will serve as jumping-off points.

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Aside from the afterschool program, the Brooklyn Game Lab also features a number of After Hours gaming events targeting adult players. Mondays are Miniatures Night with a revolving series of fantasy and war-themed minis games the likes of Star Wars X-Wing, Space Hulk, Warhammer 40K and Flames of War for experienced players and curious newcomers alike. Wild Card Night on Tuesdays invites outside groups to host favorite go-to games for their own members and drop-ins from the general public. Thursdays are Singles Night, bringing in 20-somethings to roll dice, play cards and mingle. The old mainstay, Magic: The Gathering, occupies the Friday night slot, and weekends will provide opportunity for open gaming.

The 32-seat space will focus solely on the game curriculum and  special events for the time being, although there may be room for retail and private party rentals in the future. Things are off to a great start for Brooklyn Game Lab which is opening with a fully-booked afterschool program including my oldest son who will be a particpating Monday afternoons. Meeting with Bob for coffee last month, I was glad to connect with another passionate gamer looking to put a spin on New York’s gaming spaces. Getting kids engaged in games for life and igniting a developer mindset in them makes Brooklyn Game Lab a very welcome new space for the community.