Enthusiasts bring their game to town


It is the early 15th century and a ragged army of skeleton soldiers is charging the "Empire's" fort to burn down the town of Kroneburg.

The troops charge at the Empire knights, who put up a valiant fight and manage to take out some of the enemy soldiers. Both sides retreat, and the fort is safe for the moment.

Considering the fallen soldiers were inch-high, hand-painted pewter miniatures duking it out on a landscape made of insulation foam, the battle wasn't literally hard-fought, but Scott Perry watched the military maneuvers with pride nonetheless.

Perry, 24, has collected the toy soldiers for 15 years and has spent thousands of hours of his free time carefully painting them, researching ancient battle strategies and engaging in miniature wars on his dining table.

Yesterday, Perry went to the Baltimore Convention Center to spend 10 hours pitting his battle skills against those of the 2,400 other fantasy game enthusiasts who showed up at the Gamesday 2000 conference. The conference is organized by Games Workshop, an international toy soldier fantasy gaming company.

"Most of my friends think I'm wasting my time," said Perry, a biochemist who moved to Baltimore from State College, Pa., a year ago because there are more Games Workshop conferences in this area. "They say, 'You're 24 years old. You're still playing with these toys?' Well, it could be worse."

Lee E. Krubner, Games Workshop's chief financial officer, said the company organized the first national convention in Baltimore eight years ago to bring gaming enthusiasts like Perry together for tournaments and to sell products that not all stores carried.

The hobby, which has the appeal of popular role-playing games and science-fiction battle fantasies similar to those found in video games and Star Wars movies, has gained a following.

Games Workshop started in England 25 years ago and set up its United States headquarters in Glen Burnie in 1987. Last year, it sold $130 million worth of miniature soldiers, elves, goblins, tanks, castles and other gaming paraphernalia for its two main games, Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000. Each miniature army costs about $100 to assemble and in the United States, Games Workshop had sales of about $33 million last year - triple that of five years ago.

"It takes people to a different world, a different set of worlds, in fact," Krubner said of the growing popularity of the games, which take place against several backdrops, including ancient Rome and the year 40,000. "It's a great alternative to computer games."

From yesterday's convention turnout, it appeared the games don't appeal just to children. Many participants standing around the 90 gaming tables were well past adolescence. Most of the participants at the male-dominated convention appeared to be between the ages of 14 and 30.

Larry Dimmett, 57, drove a day and a half from his home in West Palm Beach, Fla., with six friends in their 20s and 30s to attend the convention. Joining forces with five other enthusiasts to pit their alien Orc soldiers against the Imperial Guard, Dimmett said his 10-year passion for Warhammer has the support of his wife and family.

The elementary school math and social science teacher said he's bonded with his 30-year-old son and teen-age grandsons through playing the game, collecting figures and discussing painting techniques.

"You can sit for a long time and teach them how to paint the miniatures," said Dimmett, maneuvering his Orc forces against the Imperial Guard. "It's a common interest that we have, and it's a time that we get to share that interest together."

Several participants said the convention was an opportunity for them to show off their painting skills and gather ideas for costume detail, story lines and battle strategies.

The convention's events included speed-painting competitions, demonstration games and panel discussions featuring gaming designers from Games Workshop's United Kingdom office.

Taking a break from the convention to paint a futuristic Sister of Battle warrior with techniques she'd picked up from other enthusiasts, Christine Britz of Philadelphia said she was determined to learn new skills to show up her boyfriend.

"He wouldn't let me paint his models," said Britz, 32, whose boyfriend introduced her to Warhammer a few weeks before when he brought her to a game at a friend's garage that lasted from noon to 10 p.m. "When I'm finished here, I want to have him begging me to paint his models."

Perry said he enjoyed attending the conventions and meeting people from other parts of the country who are as enthusiastic about gaming as he is and challenging them to battles.

He recently finished reading a four-volume historical account of the Peloponnesian War in the fourth century B.C. and hoped to employ some battle strategies he had learned.

In all his years of buying and painting the toy armies, Perry has spent so much on his hobby that he has his collection insured for $25,000 and refers to himself as a "mega-geek."

"I don't really know why I'm so into it," he said with a smile after rattling off the myriad battle strategies he has gleaned from spending hours reading about ancient warfare. "Just morbid curiosity, I guess. I'm just a sick little puppy."

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