Elm City Games Does A Party Trick
Lieutenant Jeanne d’Arc, super-soldier, was dying its second death.
“I’m going to try to hack your lieutenant that’s unconscious there,” announced player Adam Crumpton to opponent Mark Skinner, who nominally commanded the prone Jeanne. He rolled several orange, diamond-shaped die into a box at the side of the play area. They thumped onto its felt padding and rattled against its wooden sides.
It was the scene at Elm City Games last weekend, as the board game haven celebrated its second birthday in business, and first full year in The Grove coworking spaces at 760 Chapel St. After a year of unexpected transition—owners Matt Fantistic and Trish Loter lost their last location when The Happiness Lab moved abruptly in December 2016—the group is totally moved into the Grove, and has established a sort of weekly rhythm there.
To celebrate, Fantastic and Loter decided to throw a large, potluck-style party on Saturday, opening their roomy offices for a day-long game fest. In true gaming fashion, they also set up several board game tutorials and six different “terrains" custom-crafted for the turn-based tactical title Infinity.
Crumpton and Skinner were deadlocked in a tournament-style skirmish on one of these play spaces—four-by-four foot, waist-height sculptural game boards, 3D-printed from medium density fiberboard. As Crumpton rolled the die, Skinner accepted that though it might be a good day for Elm City Games, it was about to be a bad one for his team’s Jeanne d’Arc figurine.
“I succeed,” Crumpton said. “And I’m doing my ‘highly classified.’”
He drew a laminated lime green card and flashed it before Skinner in one seamless gesture. Skinner leaned over the board and cocked his glasses, squinting at the card’s text. Satisfied it was a legal move, he gave a hearty, good-natured thumbs-up at yet another deadly development for his squad of futuristic Catholic neo-crusaders.
Greg Childress, a highly knowledgeable Infinity player tasked with refereeing the birthday tournament, narrated what was happening.
“It’s a game about posturing and manipulating the odds,” he said. Each player deployed about twenty, 28-millimeter cast pewter scale characters around the map and used them and their associated abilities to win at specific objectives.
“Press that button on a console,” Childress listed. “Or, one mission might be that every turn you want more of your troopers around an antenna, but—then you’re open to being shot.”
A The Price is Right-style roll-off system determined whether or not the cyberpunk commandos were wounded in these ensuing firefights. “You want to hit the right number, but not exceed it.”
Real objects on the terrain determined lines-of-sight, acting as obstructions and protective cover. The result was a low murmur of voices speaking in a breezy argot of calculations. The snapping and slithering of safety-yellow metal measuring tapes—at the fingertips or on the hips of almost every player there—punctuated the thoughtful silences.
“I’m at eleven, plus or minus three. I’m looking for eights.” “I move six and check for AROs.” “She’s going to enter close combat, but I’m going to do a Burst Two on a 25. So—two rolls for you. Roll a 12 or higher!” “I need a 14 on one dice.” “I have a seven.” “I’m wounded, but it’s not shock or anything.” “Three rolls—” “Mm. She’s dead!”
“The rabbit holes go very deep,” Fantastic had said earlier in the afternoon. “You’ll see—the Infinity stuff, especially. You come in and you’re like: ‘Mm, I don’t know about this.’ But then, you’re like: ‘Oh! I am really fucking into this. This is cool as shit! I want to do this.’”
Fantastic spoke at length about so-called “lifestyle” games and how Elm City Games plans to expand these niche communities as it begins its third year running.
“You come, and you play the game, but you also spend a ton of time putting together these miniatures, creating terrain,” he said. “The modeling aspect is really exciting for a lot of people, and draws a lot of people into it.”
To that end, Elm City Games hosts regular paint nights where novices and veterans alike go at the blank models first with diamond files, then with polyurethane primers and acrylic paints.
“We have people who are super talented and those who have never painted before. People give them advice and show them the ropes,” Fantastic said. At the sessions, he offers a few free figurines for folks just starting out.
“You’re not going to screw it up that bad, but you’ll learn a lot!” he added.
In particular, Fantastic said he hopes to make a big promotional push to grow a group of gamers around the new miniature title Star Wars: Legion, which releases next month.
“I’m buying multiples of everything at launch for myself,” he said. “So, we’re going to have a community, because I’m going to definitely make people play with me. But—even already—we’ve got pre-orders. People are excited.”
Fantastic made no attempt to hide his enthusiasm. “The AT-STs are cool,” he hissed in a breathy stage whisper. “They’re like, this big. Those are the two-legged ones and they’re fucking—they’re like this big!”
It’s a happiness he wasn’t feeling as fully two years ago, as he and Loter scrambled to find a new lease or landlord willing to take them in temporarily.
“This space is beautiful. We have these huge windows…there’s light everywhere,” he said. “It’s just a much nicer space, especially if you’re used to the more ‘traditional’ games store environment.”
“So, this Infinity tournament," he added when asked what he meant by 'traditional.' "We have a couple people who have never been here before. They were like, ‘Oh, ha-ha! We’re going to get sent to the back room.’”
Fantastic shook his head. “I’m like, ‘I think you’re going to be okay with it.’”
Fantastic and Childress set up the six Infinity terrains in a refurbished kitchen and commons area, with high ceilings, hardwood floors, and a few pieces of nonobjective painting on the walls. Spectators filed in and out, watching while they microwaved home-cooked lunches.
“This isn’t like the back room of a regular storefront where it’s just shitty drywall and no windows and crappy lights, you know? This is the kind of space where you can go and spend a day and you don’t feel like a gross cave-person. Like, ‘Ugh! What did I do all day?’ Here, I feel much more productive!”
Skinner—one of those Infinity players visiting from in out of town—had just returned with a sandwich from Elm City Market across the block. Crumpton and Childress pieced apart the results of the game. Crumpton had apparently been outgunned by Skinner’s knights: reactivated Papal military orders like Blackfriars, Hospitaliers, and Santiagos. But he’d hamstrung the Christian juggernaut before it could ever grind into gear.
“My data tracker,” Crumpton explained, “was able to kill his lieutenant. She ended up dying, but not off the table. But, because she was unconscious, I could do my specialist thing. Since he lost his lieutenant, he couldn’t contest these two zones.”
Crumpton pointed at key positions on the board where Skinner couldn’t advance forward in good order, mapping out the 3:2 advantage that won him this round of the tournament.
“One of the cool things is that Infinity generates these emergent stories,” said Childress. The commands that players give imagine where the camera might point during a movie’s action sequence, giving beholders of each game a kind of “cinematic view.”
In only an hour of play, for example, Skinner and Crumpton had surprised one another with a nasty rooftop ambush and watched a paramedic make a heroic dive to save her commanding officer. They’d played out a tense game of cat and mouse between a spy who’d brought a knife to fight rifle-wielding Templars that saw the world in 360 degrees and were able to shoot foes from all of them. An entire squad met its doom taking desperate potshots at a rocket-launching exo-skeleton.
“It’s like chess,” Childress offered. “But real.”