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.
Contested Ground Studios,
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.
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
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.
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?
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
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
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).