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OgreCave's 2002 Christmas List - part 1
 
Twelve Games of Christmas Morn
One dozen games, each $20 or less

By Matthew Pook, Cedric Chin, Mike Sugarbaker, and Allan Sugarbaker

Another year passes and we reach that time of year when we would all like to receive something nice as a gift on Christmas Day. For some this might be the latest model of circular saw or some other high horsepower tool for use around the house. Others prefer a cookbook from this year's hottest new television chef. But for us, the gamers, what do we want? That cutting edge new game or supplement? That must-have set of miniatures (and we don't mean the alcoholic kind) or that truly swank dice bag? Well, maybe... but whether we get them or not depends on our wives, mothers, girlfriends and various friends and relatives all hearing what to look for.

Which is where OgreCave comes to the rescue and gives it annual look back at some of the best releases of the last twelve months to tell you what it might be nice to unwrap. For this first of three articles we give you the twelve choicest items that you might like to find on Christmas morning. With this in mind, we can guarantee that not one of these dozen will cost you more than $20! Once you have digested these twelve come back in two days to see what we have for you under the tree (read: bigger gifts), and after that in our third and final piece we unveil the best d20 titles that every fan should be getting for Christmas.

On with the list!

Diceland: Deep White Sea
James Ernest Games, $14.95

It's traditional for this list to include at least one title from James Ernest, but this one's not from Cheapass proper, coming from James Ernest Games instead. A game of tactical dice throwing in which the pieces are large, full-colour eight-sided dice in sturdy card, Diceland combines luck and strategy well. Every die is a member of a small army with a range of attacks and spells, and the box contains five different factions, which need to be folded together. As each character takes damage, the facing changes on the die and their abilities change and decrease. Easy to grasp and play, this is a cleverly designed game with strong replay value.

Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers
Rio Grande Games, $19.95

A classic game of tile laying and road/city/monastery building, Carcassonne was German game of the year in 2001 and now the designers have created a wonderful new variant that takes the Roman and Medieval themes of the original thousands of years back into the stone age. Featuring extremely well made components, this plays almost like the original -- you place tiles to try and complete rivers and forests, place tribesmen to control the supply of nuts, berries, game and fish, and thus score points. Some tiles give you special bonuses, but in the end every player needs to watch out for the sabre-toothed tiger, which is as hungry as their tribe! The result is a slightly rougher game, but one that can be enjoyed by the whole family or just between two players.

MechWarrior: Dark Age
WizKids, $19.95/starter

After the huge success of Mage Knight, applying the Collectible Miniatures Game concept other genres was a natural choice. First came the superhero CMG HeroClix, and then CMGs came to the Battletech setting with MechWarrior: Dark Age. A MechWarrior starter gives the player everything he needs (except another player with their own Starter Set). Pit a combined force of tanks, infantry and 'mechs (giant robot weapon platforms) against that of an opponent's. Every figure is sturdy, lightweight plastic and given a good paint job, so don't worry about breaking out the brushes. Like the other WizKids CMGs, all the stats for each figure are in the click-dial built into each figure's base, so once you get the basics down, you're good to go. After the Starter set, players can freely add and mix their armies with more figures from the Booster Packs.

Monster Island: The Game of Giant Monster Combat
Firefly Games, $9.95

A tabletop game that can be played using the plastic monster toys right out of your old toy box, Monster Island is a throw-down of epic proportions. It's fast and furious action as the worst of Earth's nightmares enter the biggest face-off of them all! Giant radioactive beasts like Gamera, Godzilla, and King Kong are all stuck on an island where the United Nations Science Alert Corps put them for Earth's safety. The game combines the WWF with rubber monster movies two by having players create and design their own giant monster or kaiju -- Japanese for "monster" -- and then pit them against each other to see which one is "King of Monster Island"!

For a longer look and the flora and fauna of Monster Island, be sure to read our full review.

Kingdoms
Fantasy Flight Games, $19.95

In Kingdoms, players assume the role of rival lords, establishing castles near gold-providing resources and away from gold-stealing hazards. Each turn, a player can either place a castle, a resource tile, or hazard tile on the grid-like board, facing many considerations in the process. Do they place a castle near a moderate resource and risk their opponent placing a destructive hazard next to it? Or play a wealthy resource, only to have their opponents place their castles beside it first? Created by award-winning games designer Reiner Knizia, Kingdoms is a fantasy boardgame accessible by all gaming audiences - the casual gamer will enjoy this game's strong replay value; parents and children will appreciate the simple rules and mathematical strategy; and fans of German games will, of course, recognize the Reiner Knizia name.

Epic Duels
Hasbro, $19.99

Ever wondered if Mace Windu could take Darth Vader? Not willing to wait for Episode 3 to see if they throw down? Well, there's a better, cheaper option than spending wads of cash on CCG boosters: Epic Duels. The boardgame provides twelve teams to pit against each other on four different battlefields. Each 2-3 character team has a special deck of cards for movement, combat, and unique special maneuvers as try to be the last team standing. Players will be so busy watching the Emperor's Throne Room free-for-all between Yoda, Vader, Luke, and Boba Fett, they won't have time to realize they're playing the best introduction to minis combat games yet. If Hasbro doesn't follow up on this game with an expansion or three (extra teams, boards, "quest" rules, etc), it will have missed a great opportunity.

A Game of Thrones CCG
Fantasy Flight, $9.95/starter

If you like elegant game designs in the German tradition, there's a CCG you might like. Seriously. This game based on the dark, Machiavellian fantasy novels of George R.R. Martin has simple rules that get you plenty of emergent nastiness, even without buying any more cards. The Plot deck mechanic, a small set of advantages you choose once per turn, lends particularly yummy strategy. And of all the recent CCGs, this one has the best, most consistent array of card art and flavor text.

Star Wars TCG: A New Hope expansion
Wizards of the Coast, $9.99/starter

A new hope, indeed! Now you can play this elegant, cinematic design without having to look at damned Anakin. The new Star Wars CCG plays a bit like Fight City crossed with The Queen's Gambit in miniature, with three fronts and delicate timing choices. If we've got a complaint, it's that the flavor text and card titles can be a little static or just random: X-Wing Red One's text reads, "Stay there; I just lost my starboard engine." Okay. Um... keep us posted?

Agora
Cheapass Games, $5

It doesn't get more stocking-stuffer than this, folks. While most of Cheapass' Hip Pocket line is worth your attention, this pretty little economic simulation, where cards fit together - or just barely apart, or diagonal, or wherever (really! it's in the rules!) - to make shops that obey simple economic laws, gives rise to both short- and long-range tactics and some truly impressive backstabbing. We had plenty of fun with this one, and at $5, you can throw plenty of them around.

Donjon
anvilwerks.com, $10

Of all the downloadable RPGs I've seen in the last year, this one stands head and shoulders above the rest. It's just a dungeon crawl... with mechanics that bounce narrative control back and forth between players and the GM like magic missiles off a drunk barbarian's breastplate. You'll laugh, you'll die, you'll hurl, and you just might glimpse the real future of roleplaying games.

OgreCave has delved into the depths of Donjon in a full review if you're looking for more on this great game.

Dirt Cheap Cityscapes: City Blocks
MicroTactix, $10

For print-and-play game props, MicroTactix takes the cake. Case in point: the City Blocks set from the company's Dirt Cheap Cityscapes line. Customize and print out entire city layouts, from streets, parks, and construction zones to 3D mailboxes and streetlights. This is best way to quickly throw together a great-looking modern city for gaming, bar-none. Buying the Skyscrapers set (also $10) to compliment your city takes your setup to a whole new level, literally. The Dirt Cheap Cityscapes page has excellent pictures of the entire line in use.

Strange Adventures in Infinite Space
Digital Eel/Cheapass Games

Did you ever play "expand, explore, exploit, exterminate" space games on your old PC back in the day? Me neither, because they took too damn long. No such problems with SAIS, a funny, stylish and uncannily table-top-like space exploration game for Windows PCs. You'll get halfway around the galaxy, through those damned slow-ass nebulas, picking up booty, making friends and enemies, and having the occasional surprisingly rich tactical space battle in weird animated 2D, all in the space of a coffee break. If you dig around in the (easily tweakable and expandable) data files, they even call the random events "cards." Can't front on that, yo.

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And so we come to the end of our first twelve picks, and with luck - not to mention our exquisite taste for such things - there is something among this list that has your gaming taste buds watering. If not, have a look at our other lists for 2002, or play some of our suggestions from 2001. Be sure to check back with us then.


 

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