A Dozen Stocking Fillers
12 Games each $20 or less
By Matthew Pook, Cedric Chin, Merwin, & Mike Sugarbaker
Christmas is full of traditions, and here at OgreCave we have our very own -- a dozen or so games to open and devour, all as part of the festivities. At this time of the year, we take a look back at the releases for the last twelve months and sift through them to not only pick the best, but also divide them up into particular categories. And having done so, we then present each category as a handy list -- a list that works as a handy guide to the gifts that you or I would like to find at the end of the bed on Christmas morning or under the tree later in the day. So take each one of these lists and pass them on to your loved ones, and then on the special day, remember who it was that guided their hands toward that perfect present from one of our forthcoming lists. Of course, if you are feeling extra generous, the OgreCave staff like presents just as much as the next cave dweller…
So we come to the first of our lists, A Dozen Stocking Fillers: 12 Games each $20 or less. Every one of these is what we believe to be the finest little game or book that two ten-dollar bills (or less) will get you. And if you can double those ten-dollar bills to four, we will return in a few days with A Dozen Games Under the Tree: 12 Games each $40 or less, to be followed in another few by with A d20 Dozen Games Under the Tree: 12 Games for the d20 System. And finally we will return with a surprise to tempt you to spend your cash just before Christmas.
Onward, to the list!
Nobody But Us Chickens
Diet Evil Games, $14.99
The first of two entries on our list suitable for the whole family, this is a well-appointed, lovely little card game that comes with everything you need to play (even a pencil and scoring pad). Its theme is simple: the foxes and rats are trying to get into the chicken coop and out again with their dinner, but if the farmer can send in his guard dog to catch them in the act, the chickens will be safe. Well, at least for an hour. Play is just as simple: seed the coop with chickens, send in foxes or rats to grab their dinner, or the guard dog to stop them, but keep an eye on what your opponents have played, and you will score more points. It's a game of card counting at heart, but Nobody But Us Chickens still contains some pleasing little strategies.
James Ernest Games, $15.95
Last year's Diceland: Deep White Sea reinvented the dice combat game, providing five teams of five combatants, each one in the form of a brightly colored, sturdy cardboard eight-sided die. Fast paced and fun, the core concept returns once again, this time with its first license: Steve Jackson Games' Ogre/G.E.V. OgreCave heartily approves! In that game, a handful of tank, infantry, artillery and G.E.V. (or hovercraft) units must stop the unstoppable, a gigantic, relentless, cybernetic tank known as an Ogre, before it can steamroller over them and their Command Post. In Diceland: Ogre, one player gets dice representing the tanks, infantry, artillery and G.E.V. units, while the other gets the giant Ogre die! This is a different type of Diceland game needing only two players, but it can be combined with the other Diceland sets to get something really different. Never has one eight-sided die been so scary!
Fantasy Flight Games, $6.95
Play a card, and then take a chip. Famed hobby game designer Reiner Knizia brings us an easy, quick-playing family card game with a taste of German strategy. The components consist of five suits of cards, numbered from one to five, and chips in colors that match the card suits, six chips apiece. The 0 card is called the Loco card. Two cards are taken out of the game, and the rest are shuffled. The entire deck is dealt out. On each player's turn, the current player plays a card onto a stack of the matching color, and takes a chip of any color. The game ends when the sixth card of a suit is played. Each chip is worth the last played card of the suit's value. As the game progresses, players must make sure their game-breaking cards are played last on the stacks, but make sure these cards are played before someone ends the game. Loco captures the tense strategy of a German game, with mechanics easy enough for casual gamers.
Todd Gamble's Cartographica
Green Ronin Publishing, $16.95
Nobody does maps like Todd Gamble, whose work graces the pages of d20 classics such as Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, Manual of the Planes and Freeport: City of Adventure. But here, he gets a whole book of his very own, containing some 62 pages of gloriously full-color maps. While many of the maps have an Italianate feel to them, they can be used with almost any fantasy RPG. Containing almost no text, this collection can inspire you to draw your own maps, run adventures based on Todd's works, or just be a pretty book to look at.
Dungeoneer: Tomb of the Lich Lord/Dungeoneer: Vault of the Fiends
Atlas Games, $19.95 each
Want a game you can teach in less than 10 minutes, takes about a half hour to play per participant, bridges the gap between roleplaying and boardgaming, and above all, ensures balanced play as an inherent part of the game design? Look no farther than Dungeoneer, formerly of Citizen Games, and now revised, repackaged, republished, and expanded by Atlas Games. Each player manages a character wandering through a build-as-you-play dungeon, and strives to complete a variety of quests without getting killed by the other characters or wandering monsters. Each Dungeoneer set stands alone, but the two decks can be combined and there are rules for campaign play in which one player actually takes the role of the Gamemaster. Both options extend playing time. Though the art's theme is grim, the game's suitable for youngsters, and can be competitive without deteriorating into the "leader-bashing" tactic common to many games. Two more expansions, Wilderness and City, are due soon, and you can be sure they'll be considered as entries for next year's lists.
Baby's First Mythos
Z-Man Games, $4.95
Better known for their card games (Shadowfist and Grave Robbers from Outer Space), Z-Man Games strikes out in a different direction with its first collection of poetry. An A-Z primer not of the alphabet, but of the works of H.P.Lovecraft, Baby's First Mythos contains 26 simple verses, each one about an aspect of the Cthulhu Mythos. Each verse comes fully illustrated and is sure to delight any fan of the Mythos, H.P.Lovecraft, or Call of Cthulhu.
For a longer look into the madness of Baby's First Mythos, be sure to read our full review.
Milton Bradley, $19.95 (at large retail stores)
This is indeed this year's Star Wars: Epic Duels, a game so good we put it on last year's list. BattleBall may not compatible with Duels the way Transformers: Battle for Cybertron is, but it is a similarly priced, similarly light-yet-elegant and fun-as-hell game. This time the game is combat football for two players, and you will need to both balance board position and dice odds in your head while you try to get your big, brutish robot dudes into the end zone. Honestly, this is seriously addictive, gorgeously produced brain candy that you might just find yourself craving to play. With so few two-player board games released this year, BattleBall is clearly the best and the one that we can recommend highly.
Cheapass Games, $5.00
By the time you've read this review, you could have played a game of Light Speed. The concept is simple: play or drop your spaceships as fast as you can on the table. Each spaceship is a small card, with shields on one or more sides of the card, and lasers "shooting" out from one or more sides. Position the lasers to hit your opponent's ships, but make sure your shields protect you from your opponent's lasers. Be careful how you position your spaceships! If one of your lasers points towards an opponent's shield, their shields block your hit. If one of your lasers points towards your own ships, you've just destroyed part of your fleet! Quick thinking, novel mechanics, and colorful components make this an excellent "game you play while waiting for the game to start."
Lashings of Ginger Beer
Beyond Belief RPGs, $6
This little game takes you back to an age of innocence, when the world was clearly drawn in black and white, England had won the War and still had something of an Empire. Idyllic England is a time when children were left to their devices and allowed to go off on camping trips free from adult supervision; when bicycles were something you rode rather than performed tricks upon; and trains ran on time and were yet to be blighted by the diesel engines that would take away the romance of steam. This is the world of author Enid Blyton's Famous Five and Secret Seven adventures, in which players take the role of children whose curiosity is aroused the strange goings on of nefarious adults, each bent on some criminal deed. A very English game, this is sure to tweak the nostalgia of many a gamer, and comes complete with simple rules and six ready-to-play adventures. Lashings of Ginger Beer also comes in a PDF version for those so inclined.
Shriek/Bloode Island 1PG Double Feature
Though neither of these games is exactly new, this is the first time that either has been available as a printed book. Originally these two 1PG titles could only be obtained from the publisher's website as PDF documents. But now both have been collected into a double front cover book and given proper distribution so that even more people can enjoy all of that 1PG-goodness we at OgreCave have come to love. Each game comes with a page of rules for the player, another for the GM, then several page-long adventures, making for exceptionally fast preparation time. In Shriek, the players are teenagers all ready to suffer the nightmarish attacks of some psychopathic slasher, while in Bloode Island, they are pirates sailing the Caribbean. Both are simple to play, easy to grasp, and with six adventures apiece will provide plenty of entertainment.
Initial D CCG
Every year around this time, we go looking for the most isolatable CCG, the one that you really can just pretend is a standalone card game and never have to own the boosters to play. In all of 2003, Initial D was the best example of this. So grab a Trueno '86 deck and get someone with another deck, and floor it! The game's anime racing theme is so strong you can almost hear the tires squealing and stereo thumping. The result is fast, tactical racing action with hints of Cheapass Games' Button Men once you get deeply into it. And, of course, occasionally head-tweaking Japanese translations in the flavor text.
Two Fisted Tales Roleplaying Game
Published by Spectre Press, $16
Also available in PDF format from RPGnow, Two Fisted Tales takes a broad approach to the Pulp genre, touching upon its many elements rather going into any great depth. The quirky rules let you play in the gritty setting of a Chandler-style mystery right up to the perfect heroics of Tarzan and Doc Savage, and even beyond to portray low-powered super heroes. The mechanics emphasise the special nature of a character's schticks, whether they be martial arts, gadgeteering, magic or hypnotism, and the lethality of the combat system encourages players to think, rather than fight, themselves out of dangerous situations. With a dearth of Pulp genre games available, this is an all-encompassing treatment with an old fashioned ambience that feels just right.
Still not enough ideas for you? There are always the lists from last year or even from 2001! Of course, we can't promise all
the games will still be in print, but us Cave Dwellers feel that every
entry is still worthy of your time and pocket change. In the meantime, our
other 2003 Gift Lists are ready
to assist you in your holiday game shopping needs.