Brian Brooks knew this strategic assault was going to hurt.
So much, in fact, that it would take two handfuls of dice to measure just how much pain would be dealt to his demonic soldiers.
Shaking his head, Brooks plucked a platoon of magic-resistant demon figurines off of the battlefield. None of the other men nearby noticed – they were involved in battles of their own. Chatter filled the echoing, concrete-floored room behind Gryphon Games and Comics, where glory and agony are doled out to the beat of clicking dice.
Every tabletop was different, dressed as jungle, arctic tundra or forested hills. But each saw slaughter. In this corner, Chaos Beastmen were picking off the remainder of the Blooded Horde of Haargroth.
“You’re gonna go to school today,” said Elliot Vigil, commander of the Chaos Beastmen, who was gloating like a street basketball player who just dunked. “The teacher’s in.”
And he was.
Through alumni connections, Vigil, a 33-year-old CSU alum, met and mentored Brooks, a health and exercise senior, in the ways of Warhammer (and trash talking Colorado-Boulder). This was just another reminder that the student’s not ready to surpass the master.
“That really sucks for him,” Vigil said. He gestured at Brooks. “They’re so cute at this age.”
Vigil, stout, bearded and boisterous, won a national Warhammer tournament in Dallas – the first one he entered. He’s since traveled the nation to find worthy foes and plans on a trip to Great Britain.
It’s a game, Vigil said. When it stops becoming a game, it stops being fun.
But as far as games go, it’s involved and costly – a cross between Dungeons and Dragons and model trains. Players find joy in discussion and debate over rules. Factors that go into who “wins” don’t end in strategy; good sportsmanship and figurine painting earn a player points.
Unpainted figurines, sold a la carte, can be relatively cheap – about $10 each, sometimes less.
But when an army of goblins or Skaven (rat-men) consists of hundreds of figurines, the price becomes formidable. Players at Gryphon said that cheap armies can go for as little as $200 or $300, while a respectable army can cost upwards of $1,000.
And there’s prestige in being the “general” (or player) with the best-looking army. Nobody likes playing against someone with a bunch of dull gray dark elves.
Each toy-soldier-sized figurine has its own suit of armor, weapons, trinkets and hair. Some have tentacles, others horns.
“You know you’re good when you start (painting) the pupils,” Vigil said.
Each intricate figurine takes at least two or three hours to paint well. Multiply that by 100.
On eBay this week, well-painted armies fetched up to $1,300. Some individual figurines have gone for more than $2,000.
Sherman Sanders, 32, the owner of Gryphon Games and Comics, took over the shop last year. His goal from the beginning was to create community – a fantasy rooted in a mobile childhood.
His family moved constantly, and he left group after group of friends behind. But every town had a Dungeons and Dragons community, or at least fertile enough soil for one to sprout.
Through the game, Sanders made “instant friends.”
“A lot of times, I would just teach whatever locals were around, kids my age, how to play,” Sanders said. “They’d get into it and we’d have a weekly thing, or sometimes even a daily thing.”
Players said this game tends to attract a breed of person with above-average intelligence.
They pointed to their professions:
Scientists. Technicians. College students. Business owners.
And in this small, niche community, generosity reigns.
Chris Whitfield, a regular at Gryphon, bought the trophies for the tournament, though he didn’t end up taking one home. Gryphon paid to have it engraved.
And when Vigil took home the top prize, he and other winners gave up their free $25 gift certificates to Whitfield for the trophies.
Sanders and his wife, 23-year-old Liana Bartz, still get together for a weekly role playing game. Their characters drive “giant robot-type things that are steam-driven and magically driven, and things like that.”
Women like Bartz are few and far between.
Bartz, a co-owner of Gryphon Games and Comics with her husband, said that those who do get involved tend to enjoy the role playing (acting) or painting aspects of the hobby. She enjoys it all.
At a recent Warhammer tournament behind Gryphon, none of the 20 competitors were women. And none of the 20 competitors, ages 20 to 44, called that unusual.
“It’s not like the females aren’t welcome,” Vigil said. “The best (Warhammer figurine) painters in the world are all female.”
But even that draw isn’t universal among women.
“It’s probably the same reason most girls don’t play video games,” said 32-year-old Frank Baca of Loveland, who works in a muscular-skeletal research lab. “It involves killing.”
CSU students agreed.
“I don’t even own a video game system,” said Alli Jones, a sophomore psychology major. “It just seems like guys are always more into stuff like that, like action movies. . Girls just aren’t into killing people.”
When Warhammer and Dungeons & Dragon activities were described to sophomore business marketing major Mandy Winegar, she seemed surprised.
“People do that?” she said. “I just don’t think girls are as into that stuff . probably because girls aren’t as wanting to fight as guys are.”
Fort Collins Warhammer player Jeff Stephens, 44, lamented the absence of the fairer sex.
“I’d kind of like some groupies,” the financial assistance representative joked. “We need to work on that.”
WITH FRIENDS LIKE THAT.
Brooks generally keeps his hobby to himself. His friends just don’t understand why he’d build a skull-adorned blood fountain to show off his army of demons, or why he’d write up a fantasy story to explain his army’s origins.
“They call me a nerd,” Brooks said.
Vigil responded in a style typical of the communal, good-feeling attitude at the tournament: “It doesn’t matter what you do in life, as long as you’re the best – or strive to do as well as you can.”
In the end, Vigil won all three battles. Brooks won one, lost one and tied one.
Teasing Brooks again, Vigil quipped: “Don’t let that reflect what a CSU grad can do.”
Editor in Chief Brandon Lowrey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IF YOU GO:
256 Linden St. in Old Town
Tonight – Open board games
Friday – Magic: The Gathering
Sunday – Warhammer