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12 Games for $20 or Less in 2004
A Dozen Games At The End Of The Bed
Twelve Games for $20 or Less in 2004

By Matthew Pook & Allan Sugarbaker with Demian Katz, Steve Kani & Mike Sugarbaker

Another year rolls around and here we are again. The season of good will is upon us, and in an effort to make it just as much the season of good gaming, OgreCave once again brings you the first of its annual “Twelve Games” lists. Personally selected by the team here at OgreCave from amongst the many, many releases of the last twelve months, the entries that appear on these lists all offer us something special. They include RPGs, supplements, board games, card games, and even collectible miniature games that are not just special or interesting, but fun as well!

So take the time to read and consider the following, the first of our lists. Not one of the twelve entries will set you back more than $20, making each perfect for a stocking, or pillow case left at the end of the bed, or treasure chest in the basement (hey, we promise not to judge). We are sure that you will find something on this or its upcoming sequels that you would like to receive this Christmas from St. Nicholas. Or more appropriately, as it is a time of giving, something that you know a friend or loved one will enjoy. And of course, once opened, the newly received gift will need a few more players.

Without further ado... let the gift telling begin!

The Big Idea Semideluxe Edition
Cheapass Games, $12

The original Big Idea was a lot of fun, combining an interesting simulation of venture capitalism with a hilarious party game about inventing and selling crazy products. Ever wondered how to sell “Disposable Caffeinated Chainsaws” or “Obedient Gazebos”? In The Big Idea, you might just have to! Unfortunately, because its game play relied on the combination of cards for its humor, the limited number of options possible hurt its replay value. Now available in a new edition, the Semideluxe Edition looks nicer, adds enough cards to extend the fun a long way, and the rules are improved to pick up the pace and further increase the ways in which the cards can be used. There is even an expansion set available!

Reality Storm: When Worlds Collide
Hero Games & Guardians of Order, Inc., $19.99

In another good year for the genre, Reality Storm goes above and beyond to bring two superhero RPGs and their settings together to face an event of cosmic proportions. This is a crossover between the classic Champions RPG powered by the HERO System, and the TriStat-fuelled Silver Age Sentinels, designed to allow the heroes and villains of one setting to interact with the heroes and villains of the other, with the player characters thrown into the mix. Included are the statistics for the major figures of both settings and a complete set of conversion notes between the game systems, but the heart of Reality Storm is the adventure. Inspired by DC’s Crisis on Infinite Worlds and Marvel’s Secret Wars, Reality Storm is big, bold, and easy to use with any superhero campaign.

Spank the Monkey
Gigantoskop, $20

With a title as dodgy as that, you might expect this game to be very rude indeed. Thankfully, this card game of Swedish design is nothing of the sort, being a fast paced race to build stacks of junk high enough to slap and capture an escaped monkey that has got lose in the scrap yard. As the players raise their towers of rubbish, they have the opportunity attack their rival's piles by hand and by missile! If a piece of junk is destroyed it leaves a gap that can only be filled by the scrap it was holding up - and what goes up must come down! When the two crash together there is even more chance for items of rubbish to be destroyed, and all too quickly a player can find his tower cascading to the ground, forcing him to start anew. Fun to play, nicely illustrated, and it even comes with a slight, but subtle ecological message. Though plenty fun, Spank the Monkey is not in distribution stateside yet, so this might be one of the more difficult stocking stuffers to get your hands on.

Wyrd is Bond: a Role Playing Game of Urban Myth and Magic
Key20 Publishing, $20

Written by Jason L. Blair, the designer of Little Fears, Wyrd is Bond takes magic onto the streets and into the ghetto. It casts the players as gangstas who have gained their “mojo,” and can sling or cast magic. This is an exploration of urban street culture and life, using simple-but-effective mechanics for fast gameplay. Although it feels a little like a World of Darkness RPG, this is unique game with a setting entirely its own. Wyrd is Bond is a fresh and energetic take on the urban fantasy genre, one that is more urban than fantasy.

Atlas Games, $19.95

Subtitled “The Game of Inauspicious Incidents & Grave Consequences,” Gloom is the creation of Keith Baker, the designer of the Eberron setting for Dungeons & Dragons. Inspired by the writings of Edward Gorey, the artist the PBS Mystery! series intro, and both author and artist of such titles as The Gashlycrumb Tinies and The Doubtful Guest, this card game tells of the sorry lives, and more particularly, of the endings of four ghastly families. The aim is to inflict as many misfortunes and disasters upon these individuals as to drive their Self-Worth deeply into the negative and thus bring about their passing away. The design is elegant and ingenious, each card being of opaque plastic that allows certain symbols to show through as further cards are laid on top of each other. Further some symbols are Story Icons and these turn Gloom into a story-telling game of mournful, melancholy magnificence.

Meddling Kids
PandaHead Games, $9.95

Few RPGs really try to tap into the younger market, but PandaHead Games, better known for Xcrawl, their “bread & dungeons” d20 System setting, gives it a go with Meddling Kids. The inspiration is obvious, with players taking the roles of teenagers and the GM controlling a quirky sidekick - say, a permanently ravenous great dane or a pirate obsessed lab monkey - to solve mysteries and have adventures. The mechanics are simple and easy, just right for the target audience and if the included adventure is not as exciting as it could be, then the GM just needs to turn on the television on any Saturday morning for inspiration. As good for big kids as it is for little ones, only with greater nostalgia value.

Spacestation Assault
Your Move Games, $14.95

Space... the final battlefield. These are the fast-paced maneuvers of two fleet commanders, each trying to destroy the opposing space station. Ships on both sides of this two player card game do their best to use their Speed, Shields, and Firepower to wipe the vacuum of space clear of the opposing force. The player that vaporizes the enemy space station first, or sixty victory points worth of the enemy fleet, claims victory. Fast playing (30 minutes or less) and easy to learn, the game has multiple levels of strategy and good replay value. And when it comes right down to it, you get to blow up space ships. How cool is that?

Cthulhu 500
Atlas Games, $19.95

Stealing an idea from his own board game, Cults Across America, Jeff Tidball takes the wheel and roars off into the distance with it! This is a racing game, but not as you know it, being deeply inspired and influenced by the Cthulhu Mythos. Players race for position, and instead of the usual race track elements (rubber, oil, fuel, and so on), they need to be amorphous, bilious, fractured, loathsome, octopoid, radiant, tentacled, vile, and zymotic in order to win! Take a Dreamlands Shortcut, put in the Crankcase of Charles Dexter Ward, gain sponsorship from the Sponsor that Must not be Named, and more in this sanity check inducing racing game!

Call of Cthulhu CCG
Fantasy Flight Games, $9.99 (starter)/$3.29 (booster)

If you like your CCGs gorgeous, balanced, complex, and meaner than a byakhee in heat, Fantasy Flight has delivered one for you. No, it ain’t Mythos - it has more in common with FFG’s (excellent) other CCG design, A Game of Thrones. Where that game has three icons that match with three types of challenges and three consequences, CoC has five icons that all fire off whenever the central game-winning story cards get fought over. As you can well imagine, that turns conflicts into a total Monkey Tentacle Fight, but strategy never feels unmanageable. Your best bet for $20 is likely to get two starters, separate out the random cards into their factions, and divvy them back up into two decks that are even more factional. For added spice, the Unspeakable Tales expansion puts some elegant extensions onto the game’s (twisted, unholy) skeleton. Whee!

Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures: Aberrations set
Wizards of the Coast, $19.99 (starter)/$12.99 (booster)

The first set since the game’s launch to offer starter packs (and the all-important rulebook, which wasn’t even online at the time), Aberrations allows a new group of gamers to get into the action. The quality of WotC’s pre-painted figures has only continued to improve, bringing Yuan-Ti, Mind Flayers, and the rest of the 60 figure set to vibrant life right out of the package. For roleplayers, nifty looking beasts like the Chuul and Wyvern add to the menagerie of props for memorable D&D sessions, and numerous Prestige Class or other humanoid figures easily fill out the NPCs a DM might need. Whether for an active roleplayer or a former fan that only has time for the skirmish game, Aberrations set makes the perfect D&D accessory or stand-alone miniatures game.

Star Wars Miniatures Game
Wizards of the Coast, $19.99 (starter)/$12.99 (booster)

The Star Wars Miniatures Game places gamers in the middle of a galaxy far, far away, gives them blasters and lightsabers, and makes them fight each other. The first set, Rebel Storm, focuses on Episodes 4-6, and is quite similar to the D&D Miniatures Game in both form and function. Enough differences exist to create a unique Star Wars experience though, such as Combined Fire, simplified combat rules, and Force Powers. Collectors may have a harder time tracking down all the figures from each set, as it has a “Very Rare” level for the especially cool figures (yes, the Emperor is one of them). But still, leading a squad of stormtroopers in a hunt for rebel scum, or throwing a non-aligned mob of random aliens against whoever gets in your way can be extremely satisfying. Roleplayers are sure to enjoy the Sandtrooper on Dewback, Wampa, and Scout Trooper on Speeder Bike. That, and imitating the Ewok victory dance after successful encounters.

Pirates of the Spanish Main
Wiz Kids, $3.95/pack

Weigh anchor, set sail, and engage in other pirate-related clichés with one of the most innovative games released in 2004. Designed by James Ernest and Mike Selinker, Pirates of the Spanish Main gives players snap-together ships from three different factions punched out of thin PVC cards, as well as islands to plunder, treasure to transport, and a skilled crew. Ship movement and cannon ranges are measured in card lengths, and damage is simple to represent: just remove a mast for each hit, and replace them when repaired. Two or three ships come in each booster, along with crew members, a couple of islands, doubloons, the brief rulebook, and even a tiny six-sided die, all for less than $4 per pack. With four or five packs, you can become the scourge of your tabletop, and the expansion due in February should continue to build on the game’s strong foundation. Demand for this game far exceeded WizKids’ expectations for the first few months, causing a shortage here in the states and near nonexistence abroad until the rush reprint in late September.


That completes our list of twelve selected inexpensive games from 2004. However, sometimes a bit more money is available for that special gift (or Grandma's feeling particularly generous). Check our other 2004 gift lists for more ideas to get your gamer lust going.

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