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Jason Belsha of Middle Island moves several of his miniatures around the battlefield at TWS Hobby Center in Riverhead last Wednesday night. (Credit: Paul Squire)
Jason Belsha of Middle Island moves several of his miniatures around the battlefield at TWS Hobby Center in Riverhead last Wednesday night. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Under a hail of exploding arrows, Thomas Bermudez’s trolls are dying left and right.

One by one, he reaches down and plucks up the inch-tall painted figurines arranged on the felt-top table as his opponent rolls fistfuls of dice, firing off imaginary arrows and picking off his troops.

With several troll figures already eliminated, the opposing archers take aim at a large model, an axe-wielding troll riding an armored buffalo. 

But the troll warrior may yet survive if Bermudez can roll a five or a six on his translucent blue six-sided die.

He tosses it into the air and it lands with a quiet thud; the two pips facing up seem to mock him.

He grabs the mounted figure and puts it aside. Another troll, dead.

He sighs and throws the die itself into a corner, pulling out a new one of the same color. “Done with that one,” he says.

Surveying the tiny battle before him, 27-year-old Bermudez says the die was unlucky, maybe actively working against him. It had to go.

“We’ve all got superstitions,” he laughs.

Bermudez was one of a half-dozen men standing over the tables at TWS Hobby Center on Main Street in Riverhead last Wednesday night to face off against each other with their miniature soldiers.

The game on display this night is Warmachine, a competitive, strategic war game in which two opponents set up fantasy armies on either side of a small play area and simulate a battle.

Tactics in battle may determine a game's strategy, but the hobby also has another side: the modeling and painting of figurines. Small models can be completed quickly, while larger, more complicated figures can take days to finish. (Credit: Paul Squire)
Tactics in battle may determine a game’s strategy, but the hobby also has another side: the modeling and painting of figurines. Small models can be completed quickly, while larger, more complicated figures can take days to finish. (Credit: Paul Squire)

It’s like chess with dragons and robots instead of rooks and knights, said TWS Hobby Center manager Steve Megas. Each game can last upward of an hour or two.

To field an army, players must buy, assemble and often paint figurines called “miniatures,” each of which has its own special abilities, Megas said.

“All of these models would have some information as to what this model could do on the tabletop,” he said.

In battle, the figures are broadly grouped into several factions, each of which has a similar theme and style of fighting.

For example, Bermudez’s trolls are dressed in barbarian garb and tend to be very easy to hit, but not easy to kill.

His opponent, a college student from Sayville named Matt Dowd, is playing an elven faction called “Retribution of Scyrah.” Dowd’s army is much more mobile, but more fragile.

There are other factions as well, like steam-powered tanks or samurai-like fighters riding tamed beasts.

In this war game, opponents send armies of units — like these samurai-style warriors — into battle. A single match in Warmachine can take more than an hour to finish. (Credit: Paul Squire)
In this war game, opponents send armies of units — like these samurai-style warriors — into battle. A single match in Warmachine can take more than an hour to finish. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Megas said wargaming is a “two-pronged” hobby: There are the tactics of where and how to deploy armies and the modeling and painting of the individual figurines.

“Everything’s better if you’ve got paint on it,” he said. “It definitely looks more awesome that way.”

The models are sold in unpainted pewter or plastic pieces and must be glued together and decorated. A quick paint job can be finished in less than an hour, but those who are committed can spend days working to perfect larger models.

Megas says the painting aspect of the hobby is similar to assembling model airplanes.

The East Main Street store began as an online-only company based in Southold in 1999. The owners of the business opened the Riverhead storefront roughly two years ago and, after receiving positive feedback from customers, quickly expanded its selection of Warmachine merchandise.

From there it was a simple decision to make the tables in the back of the store available for open play each Wednesday night, Megas said. The store also hosts tournaments and events at which players can challenge each other for prizes.

On Saturday, March 14, the Riverhead store will host one of those tournaments starting at 10 a.m.

It’s a familiar setup for Megas, who began playing miniatures games when he was young after visiting a gaming store that introduced him to the hobby.

Now he is doing the same for a new legion of players, like Erick Arauz of Southold.

Arauz, who served in the Marine Corps and went to school to become a teacher, now works as a landscaper on the North Fork. During his downtime this winter, he decided to take up Warmachine as a hobby. He arranges his army at TWS Hobby Center, having come with his cousin to discover more strategies.

“I’m still learning my army,” he says from behind a row of robotic elves. “I’m more [about] relaxing, having fun, and kicking ass.”

One of Thomas Bermudez's troll figures charges into battle against an armored elven foe. This unite would soon be eliminated by a band of nearby enemy archers, knocking the troll out of the fight. (Credit: Paul Squire)
One of Thomas Bermudez’s troll figures charges into battle against an armored elven foe. This unite would soon be eliminated by a band of nearby enemy archers, knocking the troll out of the fight. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Although he’s still learning the ropes, he has already adopted some superstitions of his own: he uses a “lucky” shot glass to roll his die, convinced that will give him better results.

“If I roll it myself, I just get twos and ones, so I’m trying that,” he says.

What keeps these players coming back is the strategies and changing tactics they must invent and adopt to win. But equally important is the community of friendly, competitive players.

“They’re all good guys,” Bermudez says. “You can do all this in a video game but interacting with people across the table is more fun.”

Like model airplanes, however, the hobby of playing miniatures games can get expensive.

Bermudez says he’s spent thousands of dollars on his Warmachine figurines. He jokes that while his wife knows he enjoys the hobby, she has no idea how much it costs.

“I have a feeling that if I ever die, she’s going to sell this for what I said it’s worth and I’ll be rolling in my grave,” he says.

Sameer Patel has been playing Warmachine since it came out a decade ago; he now volunteers as an ambassador of sorts for the game, running tournaments and mentoring new players.

He says the four factions’ worth of figurines he’s collected has cost him at least $10,000. He’s also purchased cases for his figures and properly weighted, casino-quality dice.

Other popular war-games can be even more expensive.

But there are more affordable options. For someone who just wants to try the game with a friend, the store sells a starter pack with a rule book and two small armies to build, paint and plan with.

But Patel says the cost doesn’t matter to him.

“People always say, ‘Oh, you’re spending this much on a game,’ ” he says. “Yeah, it’s a game. But so is everything else. Football is a game. Basketball is a game … You get to make friends here. You get to see beautifully painted armies, awesome play and it’s cool. You have a lot of fun.”

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