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Christmas Gift Guide 2010 (11/26/10)
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Christmas Gift Guide 2008 (11/27/08)
Screams from the Cave 2008
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Ogres' Choice Awards 2008 (9/12/08)
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GAMA Trade Show 2007 report (4/27/07)
Christmas Gift Guide 2006 (11/30/06)
Ogres' Choice Awards 2006 (7/28/06)
Christmas Gift Guide 2005 (11/29/05)
Christmas Gift Guide 2004 (12/10/04)
Night of the Living Gamer
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(10/22/04)
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12 Games for Over $20 in 2004
 
A Dozen Games Under the Tree
12 Games for Over $20 in 2004

By Matthew Pook & Allan Sugarbaker, with Mike Sugarbaker and Merwin

By now its deep into Christmas day, and already you have had your fill of chocolate and turkey. With luck and the careful waving of the first of our by now traditional Christmas lists under the noses of puzzled relatives, you might just have received one or more of the twelve best, most entertaining little games and books you might want to find in the stocking or pillow at the end of the bed. But little games only take you so far, and now it is time to unwrap something bigger, something interesting, and best of all, something fun! And if you need help with a suggestion or twelve, we follow up that first list with this second one, full of more RPGs, supplements and games, all of which we would like to unwrap in the company of our loved ones.

All Wound Up
Twilight Creations, Inc., $34.99

Christmas just would not be the same without a zombie horde. In the past, we suggested the fine Zombies!!! series, and while we still think Zombies!!! 4: The End is a more than fitting finale to the series, Twilight Creations released something even more absurd in 2004: a zombie racing game! With wind-up zombies that engage in zombie lovin'!!! Wanting to get out through the cemetery gates, up to four players race their zombies from far end of the graveyard to exit, each bidding cards to determine if the zombies will change direction, move forward, or get an opponent to change facing. And to move forward, a player simply winds up his zombie, places it on the board and lets it go! Watch out if they collide, 'cuz then you got some zombie lovin' going down. Simple, fast, and very silly, even the dead will be on their feet for this one.

a|state
Contested Ground Studios, $40

a|state is the best RPG to come out of Scotland since SLA Industries, a Dickensian Science Fiction RPG set in The City, a metropolis of opposites. Hi-tech versus low tech, the relative rich humidity of The City versus the arid wastelands it stands in, and the startling clean world of the rich versus the squalor and grime of the poor. This is a setting to game in and explore, focusing on campaigns set within single neighborhoods (as described in the recently released supplement, The Lostfinder's Guide to Mire End), all supported by a simple set of mechanics and lots and lots of background, plus a few starting adventures. Strong on atmosphere and with a very British feel and tone, a|state provides a fascinating alternative to Victorian steampunk.

Omlevex
Z-Man Games, $22.95

In a fine year for the superhero RPG, one of the best supplements was Omlevex, designed not just for one game system, but three: Mutants & Masterminds, Silver-Age Sentinels, and Champions! Set firmly in the Silver Age of the 1960s, it details the world of the "Omlevex Universe" as described in several titles published by the (fictional) Omlevex Comics Group. Additionally, Omlevex is the name of the super power giving mineral found primarily on the Metazon islands, the superhero capital of the Omelvex setting. With heroes, villains, and background aplenty, plus a decent guide to playing in the Silver Age, this is a slick serving of Sixties goodness in true Marvel Comics style.

For more superhero goodness, have a look at OgreCave's full review.

Tour of Darkness
Pinnacle Entertainment Group, $29.95

A Savage Worlds campaign that takes you beyond the heart of darkness right to the very end by adding a dark streak of horror. What just seems like an ordinary one-year tour in Vietnam at the height of the war turns even nastier when the soldiers start encountering the supernatural. Next thing the soldiers know, they are signed up for the duration in order to fight the dark forces being commanded by some of the Vietcong. Tour of Darkness includes just about everything necessary to play an ordinary military game set in Vietnam from 1950 to 1974, or mix it up with the detailed twenty-part campaign that takes the players from strange encounters to monster hunting deep in the jungles.

Axis & Allies: D-Day
Avalon Hill, $49.95

Until recently, each of the Axis & Allies games covered a theater of operations. For the 60th Anniversary of D-Day, Avalon Hill released a new version of the game that focused on a single campaign: the invasion of Europe in June 1944. Primarily a two-player game, one controlling the invading Allies, the other, the defending Nazis, Axis & Allies: D-Day is finely balanced and controlled through the Order Deck, which determines when the various units move. The Allies have the advantage of air power, while the Nazis have the advantage of anti-aircraft artillery and if they can get reinforcements onto the board, the armor that the Allies lack. Every unit that appeared on the battlefield is included in the game and tactics cards add a random element to normal gameplay. A fine addition to the Axis & Allies family.

30 Years of Adventure: A Celebration of Dungeons & Dragons
Wizards of the Coast, $49.95

As respectable a book as you are going to find on the world's number one RPG, Dungeons & Dragons. This sizable tome takes a look back over the game's history and developments since it first appeared in 1974. Lavishly illustrated with contributions from all and sundry, including Wil Wheaton, Vin Diesel, Peter Adkison, Ryan Dancey, Genndy Tartakovsky, David X. Cohen, and more, this is the ultimate RPG coffee table book! Plus it's the perfect gift to suggest to those relatives that hate giving you geeky gaming books.

Doom: the Boardgame
Fantasy Flight Games, $54.95

The boardgame of the classic first person shooter, Fantasy Flight's latest gives you everything needed to send Union Aerospace Corporation marines up against the Zombies, Imps, Hell Knights, and Cyberdemons spawning through the dimensional gateway. One player controls the invaders, while as many as three players send their marines through the five scenarios included. And though no rules are given for either, it can be played solo or marines against uncontrolled invaders with little difficulty. Feeling not unlike Games Workshop's Space Hulk, the game play is hard and desperate with the chance of ammunition depletion every time a marine blasts away at the swarming bad guys. Easy to learn, fun to play, Doom: the Boardgame comes with lots of map pieces and plastic miniatures, making it both tactile and great looking. The shooter-turned-boardgame is suitable for the young gamer as well as the dedicated hobbyist, both of whom will enjoy designing and playing their own scenarios.

Battlestations
Gorilla Games, $49.95

There is hyperbole and there is Battlestations, a game worth twice the price tag in terms of raw enjoyment. With rules that boil down to just four pages of notes, this game still possesses nearly unlimited potential, has brilliant character design and task division, and it breaks new ground in crossing the lines between a boardgame and an RPG. Grognards might complain that the physics are cinematic rather than real, but who cares when a game is so enjoyable? Forget the rest, this is the desert island game of the decade for any sci-fi fan. Who knew that running a miniatures-based RPG could be so much fun?

Paranoia XP
Mongoose Publishing, $49.95

Even if it were just a straight reprint of Paranoia 2nd Edition, it would still be one of 2004's most essential RPGs. As it is, while the new setting material in the core book is less plentiful or consistent than you might hope, Paranoia XP's new rules engine makes it hands-down the best way to die screaming (with laughter) with your friends. Instead of d20 (which Friend Computer tells us in no uncertain terms is not fun) or the old percentile system, Allen Varney offers up a brilliantly simple, covertly narrativist (!!) system that's perfect for the backstabbing, conniving, and just plain being absurd that makes up life as a Troubleshooter in Alpha Complex. And the busy calendar of supplements is already doing a much better job of making the Cold War-inspired setting relevant to our even-more-paranoid present day. Smile, Citizen! It's mandatory.

Ticket to Ride
Days of Wonder, $39.95

Designed by famed Euro-game specialist Alan Moon, Ticket to Ride lets up to five players compete to travel by train to the most cities in North America. Echoes of Settlers of Catan can be seen in this game, as players gather the proper train car cards to claim each train route, and extra points are garnered through having the longest continuous route, or by connecting two cities on a Destination Ticket card. With fast, strategic gameplay and high quality game components, it's no wonder Ticket to Ride won this year's Spiel Des Jahres award.

Heroes Incorporated
Quest Machine, $39.95

It's hard work being a superhero, and even harder to land a good paid gig defending the innocent. As a duo of randomly selected superheroes, each player tracks down crime within Megalopolis, which is formed with city block tiles. Once a crime is reached, heroes use attempt to defeat them more soundly than any other hero at the scene, thereby gaining Hero Points and becoming more popular with the citizens. The first player to reach 36 Hero Points gets hired as the official defenders of Megalopolis, winning the game. A quick system with single die roll resolution makes for a fast, highly competitive game that's perfect for the supers gamer on your list. An expansion set is on the horizon as well, and updated rules can be downloaded from the Quest Machine website.

Betrayal at House on the Hill
Avalon Hill, $39.95

Hold onto your sanity, this is a Lovecraftian boardgame, to be sure. Players explore an old house (yes, the one on the hill), formed by an assortment of tiles with creepy rooms, like an old library or operating laboratory. As more Omens of impending doom are slowly revealed, and the horrors of the house threaten to drive the characters mad, eventually "The Haunt" begins, forcing one character to betray the rest of the party. As you might expect, monsters surge forth from who-knows-where to assist the betrayer. Both sides - those playing the good guys, and the one playing the betrayer - get a book to refer to, and look up their newly discovered goals to earn victory. Those who enjoy a sense of discovery, or impending doom, would be insane to miss this game.

To risk your sanity even more, have a look at OgreCave's full review.

And because OgreCave's fond of giving you a bonus track...

War of the Ring
Fantasy Flight Games, $59.95

If you judge value for the money by the weight of the box, it's difficult to do better than War of the Ring. If you don't, you might go by the raves of everyone from light-combat Risk-heads to old-school wargamers about this French-produced game's ease of use and flexibility. Gameplay can be quick, or you can revel in the interconnectedness of every part of the game and the tendency of great moments from the books to naturally present themselves in play. And how cool is it that, for crying out loud?

 
That completes our big ticket item selections from 2004. However, we have plenty of other suggestions from the range of fine products that were released this year. Check our other 2004 gift lists for more goodies to give out (or receive).
 

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