Heck no! We won’t go! Heck no! We won’t go back to our basements, comics, and computer screens. Yukon geeks are a strong, diverse community and What’s Up Yukon does a great job profiling the signature event, Yukomicon.
However, every week different groups are organizing events, socializing and gaming. This large subculture happens right under the noses of most Yukoners, without them even knowing the size or scope of the community.
And quite frankly, for the most part that’s how geeks like it. Geeks like the prestige of being part of a secret club that’s much bigger than mainstream pop culture knows. But it is happening here in the Yukon. Geek Nation will be a recurring column open to contributors who want to share what these groups are getting up to in our community.
And if you get a little excited by the Kobayashi Maru, my precious, WAAAAAGH, Kessel runs, that timey-wimey stuff, a Black Lotus, Guenhwyvar, jafa kreeing, sorting hats, taking the top lane, Deadpool vs. the fourth wall, or simply 42; then lords and ladies, I dedicate this column to you. Or maybe I just have a magic kingdom for sale.
Any Given Saturday…
Every Saturday evening, in a humble garage in Riverdale, the Northmen Gaming Club gathers to roll dice, game and share some laughs.
The casual observer can be forgiven for fearing that a prohibition-era gambling house, full of craps and blackjack tables, is operating in a quiet Whitehorse subdivision.
However, at this club, a different sort of gaming is played. The Northmen Gaming Club is a registered society dedicated to wargaming, which is the competition of enacting battles across tabletops with miniature models of the troops they represent.
On this particular Saturday night in mid-September, the room held seven members gathered around the two long tables that filled the room. A wood stove sat in the corner, waiting patiently until it’s needed to heat the garage during the cold nights to come.
It was a slower night at the club, because they weren’t quite into the winter season yet, according to the society vice president, Chris Blaker.
“In the summer we have less people show up, but in the winter we have 12 to 15 each Saturday night,” Blaker said. “We also just finished a campaign and are in between organized sessions.”
One of the games underway was a battle between society president, Ian Duncan, and one of the members, Ben. On the table, a game recently added to the roster played at the club, Infinity, was in progress and it added different dynamics compared to other tabletop games.
“This game is D20 (20-sided die) based game, where most use a D6 (six-sided die),” Duncan said. “It is also more interactive because of the actions. Where most games alternate turns, Infinity has game mechanics that allow both players to act during the other player’s turn.”
Infinity seems to be gaining popularity at the club.
“We’re just getting into it, but people like how interactive it is. There isn’t a lot of waiting.” Duncan added. “It is also very complex. There are less models on the battlefield, but they have more detailed stats.”
The battle was between two futuristic forces, a Caledonian Highlander Army, played by Duncan, and the Shock Army of Acontecimento, played by Ben. At the direction of the players, the small models navigated the terrain laid out to create a town. Measuring tapes determined the distance each model could travel. Dice rolled to resolve confrontations on the battlefield. The players referred to army sheets detailing the different statistics specific to each model that dictated their skills.
Duncan’s forces were overwhelming Ben’s that evening and he went looking for the win. Late in the game, Duncan’s Highlander charged into combat with a Knight of Montesa and Ben was forced to roll to keep his model alive.
Ben grabbed the 20-sided dice like a seasoned craps player, and rolled three times for the multiple times he was hit. Sixteen. It was a fail. Two more. Pass. Pass. His knight stayed alive and Duncan’s Highlander failed his rolls, falling unconscious. Ben was still in the battle.
“That was about time I made a roll,” Ben said.
Across the room at the other table, three members were gathered around a new board game, Cthulhu Wars. The game was Risk-like across the world map, but the troops were monstrous models, Cthulhu, inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s Call of the Cthulhu.
“It was just brought in tonight and they’re learning the rules and how to play,” Blaker said. “Most board games that are at the club are brought in by members who want to play them and they set up their opponents. Having a bunch of different people to play against is one of the main perks of the club.”
Most of the organization for the club takes place on their Facebook page. “Guys will go on the page and ask if others are interested in playing a particular game. They organize the players through that, or arrange what armies to bring that night,” Blaker added. “As well, if guys organize a game for a night other than Saturday, it’s usually done there, so that everyone knows they’ll be at the club.”
The club is an active society and takes advantage of various government programs, like community garbage pickups to raise funds and free wood through FireSmart. They help pay the costs of things like the gaming tables that occupy most of the room.
Each table measures about 16 feet long by four feet wide and were constructed by club members who are carpenters.
“We all chip in where we have skills that are needed,” Blaker said. “We used to have rickety tables that felt like they’d fall if you leaned on them. These are so much better because a good table and terrain are key to a great game.”
The club has shelves of terrain and models to add to the battlefields and create diverse areas.
“This hobby really takes up a lot of space, so it’s amazing to have this dedicated room to store all of this instead of at home,” Blaker said. “To have access to all this material, let’s us play all kinds of games. I’m really into Warhammer 40k and liking the new Infinity.”
That storage space comes in handy as the club plays a number of different games including Warhammer, Warhammer 40k, Warmachine and more. They have different leagues and up to eight tournaments each year.
“One of the members, usually Ian, will arrange a league or a tournament and we’ll play that specific game for a while. It links the different battles into a narrative that adds some extra fun to the battles,” Blaker said.
The club has 94 members on their Facebook page and is always looking for more. Members ages range from 16 years old to guys in their 30s and 40s. Teens attending often have their parents stop by to check on their kids hanging out with grown men. “Parents usually stop by at first and just hang out at the door without saying anything to anyone. I think they aren’t sure how to interact,” Blaker laughed. “But the teens usually end up back at the garage and playing. I think the parents are happy that their kids have somewhere that they fit in.”
Being a geek and wanting to play wargames on a Saturday night is misunderstood by many people. But just like the weekend warriors out playing soccer, hockey, or other sports, the members of the Northmen Gaming Club gather for like-minded comrades, laughs, and some friendly competition.
Instead of heading out to a bar, house party, book club, knitting-circle, performance, or sporting event like many Yukoners, they prefer the culture of the gaming club. As one member asked, “You’re not going to put us in the pictures in your magazine, are you? Because most of us are introverts. It’s kind of a prerequisite.”
The Northmen Gaming Club is a great place for introverts, geeks and friends to gather, laugh, and share tales and battles together. They start at 8 p.m. on Saturday nights and go until the games are finished.
“Every once in awhile, a game will go to 6 a.m.,” Blaker laughed. “That usually gets the wives and girlfriends calling.” The club can be contacted on their Facebook page under the same name.
Winter is coming and the members of the club will start returning in larger numbers. Like any traditional sport, it’s the friendly competition that draws them back. Because any given Saturday, at a garage tucked away in Riverdale, you’re going to win, or you’re going to lose. But it’s how your Knight of Montesa withstood the harrowing charge of a Caledonian Highlander that will be remembered.