Twelve Games of Christmas Day
One dozen games, each $40 or less
By Matthew Pook, Cedric Chin, Mike Sugarbaker, and Allan Sugarbaker
Half of Christmas Day already over and done with. You are full of turkey or some other fowl beast, and with luck, some Christmas cheer. The morning was spent plundering the family tin of chocolates and amusing yourself with the smaller games that found their way into the stocking or pillow at the end of your bed. But now comes the big event and perhaps, your fingers crossed, there might something just as good -- or even better! -- under the tree. So gather 'round one and all to join the OgreCave family as we predict this year’s best gifts!
This portion of our Christmas suggestions comes in under the $40 or less category. You've already seen our $20 or less suggestions, and in another few days we'll spring our d20 suggestions on you. So read on, and be sure to check back soon.
Let the unwrapping commence!
Hogshead Publishing, $42.95
Probably the most interesting game of 2002, this is a beautifully produced RPG that looks better on your coffee table than it does on your shelf. In this expanded and improved edition of the Pharos Press original, players take the role of Nobles, each embodying and personifying a single word or concept. They are beings of great power and responsibility, able to bring down mountains and wound the sun with an arrow shot, tasked to protect all creation from those that would tear it down and replace it with something more terrible and more beautiful. The rules are simple and diceless, but the game is not, relying more on social interaction and subtlety than displays of raw ability.
It was with heavy hearts that we learned of Hogshead Publishing closing its doors, but at least Nobilis has found a home with Guardians of Order. OgreCave has a full review of Nobilis, as well as the exclusive interview with James Wallis on the closing of Hogshead Publishing.
Steve Jackson Games, $24.95
Open the airlock! Kill the alien! Steal the gadgets! Stab your buddy! The
Origins GAMA Award-winning Munchkin returns to the final frontier as the Star
Munchkin card game. Mutants, Cyborgs, and Cat People fight off Fanged
Fuzzballs, Bionic Bimbos, and the Brain in the Jar, with Lasers, Vibroswords,
and Nova Grenades. The rules and cards are clearer than Munchkin, the cards
are all in color, and Star Munchkin introduces Sidekicks (including the "Red
Shirt"). More powergaming mayhem by designer Steve Jackson and artist John
Godlike: Superhero Roleplaying in a World on Fire, 1936-1946
Hobgoblynn Press & Pagan Publishing, $39.95
Of all the World War 2 games of late, Godlike is the most interesting. The idea is simple: just before and during the war, mankind began exhibiting amazing, supernatural abilities. Some Talents, as people with these abilities came to be known, could fly; others were indestructible, swim the depths or open one door to any other in Europe. Although a Talent could easily defeat ordinary men, against other Talents, it could become a contest of wills. For a Talent, a loss of will means the abilities go away. The players are ordinary soldiers, except for their Talent ability, re-assigned as commandos to face down the Nazi Ubermenschen! Using an innovative dice pool mechanic, Godlike is an extremely gritty supers game that really focuses on the desperation of the war years.
Lord of the Rings: Sauron Expansion
Fantasy Flight Games, $24.95
Master game designer Reiner Knizia turned his attention to Middle Earth once again for the Sauron Expansion to the Lord of the Rings boardgame. With this second add-on, the game's minimum player requirement increases by one as a player takes on the role of Sauron himself. That's right: you aren't just playing against the game anymore, you're playing against a friend. The Sauron player uses both Nazgul and Sauron cards to take out the Fellowship of the Ring, as well as a Black Rider figure that chases them up and down the Corruption line. A new set of deadlier event tiles is also provided, making doom seem the obvious conclusion. Of course, the Fellowship gets new resources as well, including more types of help from Gandalf, new abilities for the hobbits, and new item cards. Make no mistake, though: Sauron changes the game's balance dramatically, making the experience far more challenging and deadly.
Silver Age Sentinels
Guardians of Order, $39.95
A comicbook lover's dream, Silver Age Sentinels brings the world of supers gaming to your roleplaying in a flexible, utilitarian package. An easily adjustable level of play allows for any superhero setting or storyline. SAS brings loads of crunchy goodness to the Tri-Stat System, while also doing justice to the comicbook medium as a whole. In fact, a nine page history of the comic industry serves as the book's introduction. Guardians of Order also released a full d20 version of the game, with a different cover and everything, so you can pick either flavor for your gaming. But we'll get into our d20 gift suggestions in our next list.
Lord of the Rings RPG
Using a revised version of the CODA system, the core rules of the Star Trek RPG, the Decipher roleplaying department (formerly Last Unicorn Games) brought forth the Lord of the Rings RPG. The game manages to capture the feel of Tolkien's classic, by way of the recent movies, with its interrelating skills and lush presentation. Even if you don't plan to play, this book's gorgeous, and worthy of a spot on the shelf. Of particular interest are some of the color photos, which include several selections from the director's edition of the first movie, and a good shot of the weapons made for the film, like Elrond's wicked spear-sword.
Alea/Rio Grande Games, $40
For those who like 'em big, meaty, long-lasting and German, Puerto Rico
was this year's smash hit. Winner of the Deutschen SpielePries and
shortlisted for the prestigious Spiel des Jahres award, Puerto Rico
makes you a commodities baron on a certain little island, growing
indigo, coffee and corn, refining it, and exporting it. What makes the
game special is the limited resources you work with to sow fields, hire
workers, build refineries, and get goods onto crowded boats. The
buildings you build, in particular, lead many to compare this game with
real-time strategy PC games like WarCraft. Puerto Rico feels both
traditional and new, and is a great way to spend two hours and forty
bucks. Don't be fooled by the box picture - the components are in English.
Marvel HeroClix Premier Edition
It's the simplest, fastest WizKids game - like Mage Knight Dungeons, it's played
on a grid to speed things up, and unlike Dungeons, you stand a chance of
someone winning before everyone dies. With this fixed set of ten figures
(including the damn Spiderman everyone wants) and two nice big tasty
maps, you and a friend can deliver the beatdown without having to do the
booster-buying thing. The box can also store additional figures
comfortably. Given its free-for-all nature and level of luck (or, at
least, complexity of powers that's somewhat out of player control), this
actually feels a lot like Epic Duels. Meaning: worth a try.
Unknown Armies, Second Edition
Atlas Games, $39.95
Are you ready to rethink magic in your role-playing? Are you ready to
get the jitters when the GM starts talking about "spell costs"? Do you
think Call of Cthulhu has gotten a little tame? UA puts contemporary
mages and occultists in the raw, stylish atmosphere of a Hong Kong
gangster movie, and the expanded second edition adds more schools of
magic, more campaign options, and a unique book structure that lets you
dial your game to the level of cosmic depth you prefer, pull it back,
and let it rip. If this were to go down as John Tynes' last testament to the
field of role-playing, a great one it is.
FVLMINATA: Earth Armed With Lightning
Thyrsus Games, $29.95
The idea of combining Roman legionaries and gun powder sounds absurd, but this is what Thyrsus Games have done in this look at an alternative Rome in AD 248. "Fvlminata" or "earth armed with lightning," along with a bit of subtle magic, is what has kept the Empire strong and able to expand slowly. In the West, Britannia is theirs and both Caledonia and Hibernia are under military governorship, and in the East, a secure route has been secured for Indian spices and Chinese silks, but the Parthians are the feared enemy. Exquisitely produced in black and white, FVLMINATA is an exciting and fascinating exploration of Roman culture with some interesting mechanics for social interaction. The game does require its own "Roman" dice, but these should be available wherever you can find this game, or through the website.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG
Eden Studios, $40.00
If Decipher got the top licence of 2002 with The Lord of the Rings RPG, Eden Studios got the hippest in this RPG of everyone's favourite Slayer and her Scooby gang. Using fast and simple mechanics, players can take the roles of Buffy, Willow, Xander, Giles or other characters from the TV show to fight the evil that comes to Sunnydale. Alternatively, they can create their own characters and series, which could be set in their hometown or even in another time period -- Wild West or Victorian Buffy, anyone? Of course, the Slayer is going to be the most powerful character, but the game compensates for this by giving members of the Slayerette fan club lots of Hero Points to help them soak up the damage dealt out by the pointy teethed ones and in return batter them until they can take a staking!
Steve Jackson Games, $24.95
Alien invaders and Cold War tensions meet tiddlywinks -- yes tiddlywinks --
in the arthropodic X-Bugs game. Each player fields an army of bugs, each
represented by a chip, and each type of bug has a special ability. Capture
resources, your opponent's bugs, and your opponent's bases -- if your
chip-flipping skills are as good as your strategy. Each army has its own
strengths and weaknesses, and each set comes with two armies. Designed by Marco
Maggi and Francesco Nepitello, X-Bugs was originally printed in Italy by Nexus Games.
That's all twelve of our slightly-more-expensive Christmas picks. Hopefully you'll be seeing some of them under your tree this season. Check out our other lists for 2002 while you're in the holiday mood.