Share This Page

Miniature armies go to war in Oakland

War is brewing in Oakland.

For centuries, the Emperor has been battling the forces of Chaos in the galaxy; on this Saturday morning, in an upper room in South Craig Street, rival factions have gathered. Preparations have been underway for months. Infighting and old vendettas have built to a breaking point. There is only one honorable way to resolve this feud: bust out the miniatures.

"My girlfriend calls it 'using my little soldiers,'" said longtime player Dominic Metzger, 25, of the North Side. "I'm like, they're not toys, they're models."

This is tabletop wargaming, where wee figurines battle across a carefully-crafted tabletop landscape. Oakland comics and gaming shop Phantom of the Attic opens its second floor to all players every Saturday. The current game of choice is Warhammer 40,000, what store manager Leonard Jarabeck describes as fantasy characters in a war-torn 41st millenium.

Games can last all day. Wielding mini-tape measures and enough dice for three simultaneous games of Yahtzee, a player's success rests on a mixture of luck and careful positioning. Rules and objectives vary depending on the game, but dice always are involved.

"It's a game based on probability," Metzger said. "It's like gambling in a way: nothing's ever assured, you just try to increase your odds of succeeding."

Warhammer 40,000 is one of many such war strategy games. They vary from the sci-fi/fantasy genre of Warhammer 40,000, to historically-based games like Glory, set in the American Civil War. According to Jarabeck, the games gained popularity in the mid-'80s, but H.G. Wells is credited with authoring the first book of miniature wargaming rules in 1913.

The Warhammer universe has a complicated backstory and more than a dozen unique races to fight with, each with its own specialized abilities and weaknesses. It helps to have a grasp of how to think ahead, Metzger said.

"It's sort of like chess," he said. "You move pawns up to block pieces behind them. It's a lot of positioning."

Armies are composed of detailed figurines a little larger than ping-pong balls, each one painstakingly hand-painted by their "general" -- the player. Devotees of tabletop wargaming spend hours bent over the tiny models, using fine-tipped brushes (and sometimes magnifying glasses) to pick out every detail. Call them anal-retentive, but for wargaming, that's a requirement: miniatures must be painted to play. This is the "hobby" portion of the game, and for some, it's the most important part. Jarabeck painted miniatures for nine years as a hobby before actually learning to play the game.

"It's a throwback to a traditional hobby, almost counter to technology," store owner Jeff Yandora said. "People of all ages and both sexes paint them."

A wide range of age levels are represented at Phantom of the Attic on Saturday mornings, but players are overwhelmingly male.

"It's a guy game, mostly," Metzger said. "In 13 years of playing, I've seen very few female players.

"I guess it's the soldiers and the guns."


In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war. According to the official Warhammer 40k Web site, at least. Here's the cast of characters:

Space Marines: humanity's finest warriors, complete with extra organs, superhuman strength and skulls for faces.

Eldar : ancient elf-like race fighting to reclaim their place in the galaxy. Rather snooty.

Imperial Guard : common or garden brave human soldiers. There are a lot of them.

Daemonhunters : specialized Imperial forces that ... hunt daemons.

Witch Hunters : specialized Imperial forces that "purge evil from the worlds of Man with the cleansing fire of purity."

Tau Empire : idealistic, rapidly-growing alien race with superior technology. The nicest ones (comparatively).

Chaos Space Marines : regular Space Marines gone evil. Traitors who can summon daemons and use evil magic.

Dark Eldar : regular Eldar gone evil. Known for piratical raids and never-ending torture.

Orks : barbarous, bloodthirsty, not-too-bright aliens. And they're ugly.

Tyranids : buggy aliens that planet-hop, growing ever-stronger by consuming all available biological resources -- dead or alive.

Necrons : traded their living bodies to the gods in exchange for metal shells and eternal solitude, and now seek domination over all that live.

-- Games Workshop Warhammer 40,000 Web site Additional Information:

Wargaming

When: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturdays

Where: Phantom of the Attic 214 S. Craig St., Oakland

Details: 412-682-6290

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.