Games Under the Tree
12 Games each $40 or less
By Matthew Pook, Allan Sugarbaker & Mike Sugarbaker
Just a few days ago, OgreCave offered up the first of its traditional Christmas lists, the twelve best, most entertaining little games and books of 2003 you might want to find in your stocking on that special holiday morning. As promised, we now follow up with our second list, recommending tweleve games of $40 or less. This list is full of more RPGs, supplements and games, all of which we would like to unwrap in the company of our loved ones. Or our fellow gamers. Or both.
Spaceship Zero: The Sci-Fi Serial Roleplaying Game
Green Ronin Publishing, $24.95
Going where no RPG has gone before, into the 21st century of the universe next door by way of a German radio series of the fifties, a TV series of the seventies and the never released Spaceship Zero motion picture, Spaceship Zero is the sci-fi RPG set in the future by way of the past and shot through with a dark humour, a twist of the Cthulhu Mythos and that all important retro feel of a universe of tomorrow. You are the crew of the Spaceship Zero, sent out to test Spacecorp's new BTL or Better-Than-Light drive, which works, but not in the way that was intended... because it destroys the universe as the crew knows it! That's okay, though: if they get bored with this new universe, they can just activate the BTL drive and start over again, and again, and again. As a bonus, you can play the ship's Super Intelligent Cat (Mr. Tiddles, to you) and even better, the Mythos inspired band The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets have done the soundtrack!
Strange Synergy: The Game of Bizarre Battles
Steve Jackson Games, $24.95
With Frag! Steve Jackson Games made a boardgame out of the First-Person-Shooter, but with Strange Synergy, they take it one step further. Forget big guns, flame-throwers, big guns, rocket launchers and really big guns, because Strange Synergy lets players equip their teams with super-powers, magic, gadgets, skills and mutations, before going toe-to-toe to see who can grab the enemy flag and win! Each team of three – Orcs, Goths, Cats and Mad Scientists – receives nine Power Cards to divide between them, and getting the combination (or "synergy") of Power Cards is the key to winning the game. With a total of a hundred cards to play with, the combinations are almost endless, and since game play is fast and furious, another game, and thus a whole new set of combinations, can be going in half an hour. Ten years in the design, Strange Synergy can be played on any map you want -- from the HeroClix games, to Steve Jackson Games’ Floor Plan sets (well, not the one of the Salt Flats) and yes, even Frag!
WarCraft: The Board Game
Fantasy Flight Games, $39.95
The spirit of the WarCraft PC games has been captured on the tabletop for the first time in this beautifully produced set. Fans of lighter, yet time-devouring combat games like Risk or Axis & Allies are a good fit for this game, which combines a simple, elegant positional game with a not-too-maddening resource management element and just enough exception-based wackiness in the cards to keep things tasty. Plus the extra scenarios that keep popping up on FFG's web site will guarantee that this is one gift on our list that will keep on giving.
Terra Primate: Savage Roleplaying In A World Where Man Is The Missing Link
Eden Studios, Inc., $30
This is the first of two monkey related books on this year's list, this one doing exactly for all things ape what the publisher's All Flesh Must Be Eaten did for zombies! The cleverness of this RPG is that it examines why we hold the Gorilla, the Chimpanzee, the Orangutan and the Gibbon so close to our hearts, before presenting some nine Apeworlds. These different takes on ape-themed roleplaying were inspired by a plethora of culture references, such as Planet of the Apes, Mad Max, The Island of Doctor Moreau and Michael Crichton's Congo. With the same simple mechanics used in all of Eden's RPGs, this is as interesting to read as it is to play.
White Wolf Publishing, Inc., $34.95
As White Wolf draws the World of Darkness to a close, they resurrect ideas from their fourth core game, Wraith: the Oblivion, for what may be the very last World of Darkness RPG. Set in the here and now, Orpheus casts the characters as employees of the Orpheus Group, recruited for their ability to project their souls and perform incorporeal tasks both mundane and malign. What kind of tasks? How about acts such as corporate espionage or scaring a politician through poltergeist activity. Though set firmly in the World of Darkness, this RPG very much stands apart from it with none of the usual supernatural entities making an appearance. Further, the Orpheus line runs to a total of only six books and that will be it, so expect a detailed storyline with a lot of surprises and all of its secrets revealed by book number six.
Crimson Skies: Collectible Miniatures Game
WizKids, Rules Pack: $7.95, Aces Pack: $15.95, Squadron Pack: $15.95
The second FASA property to receive the Clix-based treatment, Crimson Skies turns the old boardgame into a tabletop wargame using squadron packs of nicely detailed and painted plastic miniatures. With these, players can battle for control of the skies over the shattered United States of America of 1937, using some of the decade's most famous and infamous aeroplanes and pilots. Meanwhile on the ground, each squadron's leader or Ace can duke it out with fists and bullets, against other Aces and lesser characters. Each squadron pack provides four of the slightly fantastical planes available in this alternate 1930s, allowing players to pick a favorite set of flyers, each available as a Squadron Pack, and duel it out across the wild blue yonder.
Warmachine Battle Group sets
Privateer Press/Rivet Head Studios, $34.95 per faction
The miniatures fan on your list probably already has some of these big boys, given that Warmachine's hulking Steampunk gladiators have a reputation for being some of the best-made miniatures out there. If they have some already, just pick another faction and get them some more painting fodder. Beauty of the figures aside, the game of Warmachine is drawing just as many raves for its balance and its amazing grasp of what's fun about skirmish gaming. So if you're shopping for a more casual gamer or just a WizKids fan, you can always buy a box for them and a box for you, and enjoy the stellar two-player experience of the first credible stateside challenge to Games Workshop's hegemony in... well, pretty much ever.
Gorilla Warfare - The Jammers Sourcebook
Atlas Games, $29.95
The second monkey book on our list, this one's a supplement for Atlas Games' RPG of Hong Kong martial arts action, Feng Shui. Gorilla Warfare details the cyborg simians and their allies known as the Jammers, the one faction in Feng Shui that wants to bring all of reality down and blow-up every feng shui site (areas of power). In this way they can destroy the future and erase their own existence! A monkey scream to read, Gorilla Warfare is packed to the gills with more primate puns than you will ever read anywhere. What do you expect from a faction led by Battlechimp Potemkin, along with the fully submersible Jammer Navy, the Sea Monkeys, commanded by Swimpanzee and the fashion conscious Gorilla-ess Koko "Does this missile launcher make me look fat?" Chanel.
(Of course, we would have liked to include Green Ronin Publishing's Cosmo, the Blue Monkey plush, on our list, but that was one primate too far. Enough monkey business. On with the list.)
A Game Of Thrones Board Game
Fantasy Flight Games, $49.95
As is traditional with OgreCave's lists, we like to deviate from the rules we set for each list, and this game certainly breaks the $40 limit! But for the Vinci or Diplomacy fan still on your list of gifts to get, nothing less will do. This game is basically Diplomacy with car crashes and explosions, but while the extra order types and details make the game light enough for the less hardcore, they also nicely capture the dark, epic flavor of George R.R. Martin's novel series. In addition, they add plenty of replay value. And, naturally, the game is as lavishly produced as we've come to expect from FFG.
Cartoon Action Hour - The 1980's Action Cartoon RPG
Z-Man Games, $24.95
Z-Man Games' first RPG takes you back to Saturday mornings and all the cartoon goodness that the TV could deliver while you sat and watched, still dressed in your pajamas and ate your way through a big bowl of sugar laden cereal. With plenty of advice on running a game that keeps to the conventions of the genre, Cartoon Action Hour can handle any of format's favourites, from Bravestarr and G.I. Joe to Transformers. Supported with five sample backgrounds and a handful of adventure seeds, the game is nearly 100 pages longer than its earlier PDF version, and comes with a complete setting and series similar to He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. If you want to play while still in your bunny-jammies - or whatever you wear to bed - well, we won't judge.
GURPS World War II: Weird War II - Secret Weapons and Twisted History
Steve Jackson Games, $24.95
We Cave dwellers believe that the two volumes of Ken Hite's collected Suppressed Transmissions are worth every penny, so the news that he would be co-authoring Weird War II, a companion volume to the GURPS World War II line was music to our ears. Out of all the World War II inspired RPGs of 2001, only the GURPS series played it straight. This supplement is anything but! This is an examination of everything they did not want to tell you about mankind's greatest conflict: alternative events, occult influences, dark science, giant monsters and devices at science's cutting edge and beyond, ghastly creatures and creations, unfamiliar battlefields and suggestions for combining this book's setting with those of other GURPS supplements, are all detailed in this one tome. For non-GURPS fans, the stats and stuff are kept to a minimum, leaving room for some excellent writing and inspiring ideas.
Red Dwarf: The Roleplaying Game
Fans of the sci-fi comedy TV series will confirm that you missed a true classic by not getting Red Dwarf. Find yourself lost in deep space in the company of losers, madmen, or complete idiots, and add in a good helping of mechanoids, holograms, and genetic mutants ("Jenny who?"). Play as a human, artificial simulant of Elvis, or a sentient humanoid that evolved from someone's iguana. Exploring the universe takes teamwork, luck, determination, and an ample supply of curry, and you're just the right gamer to stomach it. This gorgeous book spares no effort, with loads of adventure ideas and material to make cruising through the universe into a wild, hilarious romp. What the smeg are you waiting for?! Pick up Red Dwarf for any sci-fi or BBC fan on your list, gamer or not.
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.