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
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.
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.
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
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
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?
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.
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
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.
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.