Monday, November 28, 2011

A Pilgrimage to Gaming Mecca


I refer to a trip I undertook, braving the crossing of the mighty Hudson River, from New Jersey into the borough of Manhattan, to visit what has been the centerpoint of gaming in the greater New York City area for nigh on three decades or more; the Compleat Strategist.

When I was growing up in the 1970's and early 1980's, the Compleat Strategist was a mind-blowing experience for me. I coaxed and conned my mother into taking me on a regular basis (usually agreeing to also visit the Museum of Natural History in the same trip-- very much of a cheat, since I loved going there as well). I purchased my first real wargame there (Invasion America), and was a steady customer of both wargames and, later, RPGs, at both the main store at 11 East 33rd Street (I still have the address memorized, which is a real feat considering my normally-atrocious memory for such things) and the store in Montclair, NJ. I actually worked in the Boston store after college in the early 1990's. But it was that store, mere steps from the Empire State Building, that always held a soft spot in my heart.

I'd not made the time to visit it in more than a decade myself, and with some time off from work, I and one of my friends from the game I run (as well as one of the more fanatical and enthusiastic Ogre Miniatures players) hopped the train into Manhattan and, after encouraging him to his first true "dirty water dog", brought him to the Strategist. It helped that the temperature, even in late November, was edging towards 70 degrees.

This is less than a quarter of the actual store, tightly
packed but with treasures on every shelf.
This, my friends, is what a real game store should be like. It occupies a narrow NYC storefront, and is quite literally packed from floor to ceiling with games of every type. Not just the newest and hottest stuff; they've accumulated things over the decades that even the staff don't realize is on the shelves (although one of the staff was nearly encyclopedic in his knowledge of what was where, and they were all friendly and helpful in the extreme).

The newest stuff is between knee and slightly-above-eye level. And there is TONS of it. Games, modules, miniatures, paints, magazines, cards, supplements for a hundred games I've never even heard of. There is a wealth of older stuff near the floor and on the top shelves, as well. Stuff from the early 1990's (and some even earlier) that's still in the shrink-wrap because it's been on the shelf since it first came out. I'm talking Starfleet Battles, Advanced Squad Leader, Lost Worlds...

The OSR is more than well represented, too. Castles and Crusades had a very decent piece of shelf space, as did Labyrinth Lord and a number of other products I recognized and was greatly heartened to see. My previous FLGS couldn't even special order this stuff, but the Strategist has it on a shelf at eye level.

Plus they have wargames. Not just what passes for wargames today with either plastic or metal miniatures (although they had those too) but real, honest-to-goodness hex-and-counter wargames. And they carry the version of Strategy & Tactics magazine that actually has the game inside the magazine, unlike the version carried in Barnes & Nobel (which is still good, but sans ludi). It was like being transported back to 1977. Except for the prices of said magazine (ouch!).

I ended up picking up a solo game from a company of which I'd never heard, DVG, called Field Commander: Rommel. My friend picked up a pair of games, Discworld and Ivanhoe. They all look like fun, and I'm particularly looking forward to breaking out Rommel on those long blissful winter afternoons when the wife and daughter are off on some mission or other.

Just about the only thing they're lacking is space to play games, but in this environment, that seems natural. This is a place to browse and peruse and buy. [EDIT: Apparently there is gaming space in the back room and below. All the better!]

We had completely lost track of time, and when we emerged it turned out that we had spent two and a half hours in the store, blissfully unaware of the time, pouring through the old and new stuff on the shelves. We followed up with a long but enjoyable walk to the Strand Bookstore down in Greenwich Village (which boasts 18 miles of bookshelves, and somehow manages to discount even new books), with a brief detour to the comic store Forbidden Planet (which, I am reliably informed, also has a shop in Leeds).

All in all, this was a terrific day, and the terrific selection of the Strategist, combined with the really helpful and knowledgeable staff (even if they hadn't ever heard of "The Emperor Must be Told" by Victory Point Games... ahem...) made this an enormously pleasurable trip I'm eager to repeat.