Twelve Games Under The Tree
A Dozen Games for over $20 in 2005
By Matthew Pook & Allan Sugarbaker with Mike Sugarbaker, Steve Kani &
Every family has their Christmas traditions, such as when exactly they open
those big gifts under the tree. As soon as everyone's awake? Before or after
dinner? Whenever it is, the gamer in us surely wants to unwrap that big game
to keep us and our gaming group happy right through the New Year and beyond.
If you were lucky, you already found something in the traditional stocking,
pillow, or deep wooden chest at the end of the bed, that little game - maybe
even one from this year's OgreCave list of Twelve Games At The End Of The Bed - but as good as those selections are, a gamer always wants something bigger, something meatier, something to really get his teeth into.
And thus we come to OgreCave's second list, Twelve Games Under the Tree,
detailing the best, the most interesting, the most significant titles of
2005. These are games that the OgreCave dwellers enjoyed from the last
twelve months, and recommend as holiday gifts, either to give or receive.
Looking back, this year has been one of nostalgia, with a multitude of old
games returning in all new formats and editions, giving veteran gamers a
warm fuzzy feeling, and those with less experience a chance to look at old
Paranoia Mandatory Bonus Fun Card Game
Mongoose Publishing, $24.95
When Friend Computer tells us to buy a card game for some mandatory fun,
we smile politely at the Troubleshooter's glowing laser pistol and allow
ourselves to be quickly escorted to the nearest retail game store. Then
we rapidly learn that the Paranoia experience has been neatly
boiled down to this 3-8 player backstab-fest, which pits Troubleshooters
against each other while they simultaneously work together to complete
missions for the Computer. Players can apply their cards toward
completing the group's mission, or frame, betray, and outright attack
their "teammates", keeping an eye on their own Treason level at all
times. Death is certain: your fellow Troubleshooters will do you in (and
your next few clones) for a promotion, and at the same time, failing a
mission can bring summary executions all around. As soon as a player
loses his last clone, the Troubleshooter with the highest security
clearance wins. This is a sick, humorous, potentially manic game that's
certainly more fun than actually keeping the Computer happy and
keeping secrets from it... not that we mind at all, or have any.
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay
Black Industries & Green Ronin Publishing, $39.99
Perhaps the most highly anticipated return of the year was Warhammer
Fantasy Roleplay, marking not only the game's second edition (two
editions of a game in nineteen years, who'd a thunkit!?!), but also the
reappearance of Games Workshop in the roleplaying hobby. Designed by Green
Ronin, the new Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is a slimmed down, tidied up,
crisply presented game that presents a world of grim and perilous adventure
reminiscent of 16th century Europe. Add in magic, Elves, and Dwarves, and
the recent ravage by a Chaos horde, and the time is right for stalwart
adventurers to make their names. This is also a heavily supported game, with
scenarios, a campaign, and supplements aplenty available to add depth to a
Tékumel: Empire of the Petal Throne
Guardians of Order,
The oldest game on this list to make its return this year is Tékumel:
Empire of the Petal Throne, a game first seen back in 1975. The original
niche gamer's niche game, Tékumel is a culture game unlike any other.
Drawn from Mesoamerican and Southeast Asian cultures, it is set on a
metal-poor world millennia into the future in which highly advanced stone
age societies vie for dominance and survival. Developed by a linguist,
Tékumel possesses at least five fully developed languages, and a
little knowledge of one, Tsolyánu, will add mood and flavor to a game. A
humanocentric setting, its societies are ones of strict hierarchies and
social organizations, which present plenty of roleplaying opportunity. If
all of this sounds like a daunting prospect, then set your mind at rest, as
this new edition - designed using a non-cinematic version of the TriStat
game engine - has made the rich, ornate, baroque, and deeply developed
setting that is Tékumel more accessible than ever.
Hero Games; $26.99
We deal with clichés every day. Sometimes they even turn up in our gaming
campaigns, which can be fun. But use them too often, and they turn back into
clichés, which is where Villainy Amok should prove useful. Written
for the classic superhero RPG Champions, this hefty supplement
explores situations commonly found in both comics and games before
presenting ways in which they can be approached and run in a fresh light.
Bank robberies, scouts for an alien invasion, super drugs, rescuing babies
from a burning building, super science, and being shrunk to microscopic size
are all covered in the pages of Villainy Amok. This book is useful
not just for Champions, but for any good superhero RPG.
Avalon Hill/Wizards of the Coast, $40
Our regular readers will have noted by now the Cave's affection (well,
really Mike's affection) for the special genre known as the "Risk-like"
game. Risk-likes typically offer a variety of tasty plastic unit types,
a roomy but not overwhelming playing field, and (last but certainly not
least) a blend of luck and strategy as subtle as a classic cocktail.
Like cocktails, a good one keeps you on your toes, but doesn't put you
out of control. Nexus Ops is like a Cosmopolitan: it's got flash and
trendiness to spare, but it's refreshing as hell, and deep down, it's
got a soul like some of the all-time classics. Also, it will have you
seeing giant spiders and mounted dragonflies in neon colors.
Descent: Journey Into The Dark
Fantasy Flight Games, $80
This fantasy spin on last year's Doom: The Boardgame is dangerously
close to the sweet spot for dungeon crawling - good old-fashioned
read-the-boxed-text GMing, wedded to a board gaming core that strips
away everything but the essentials. What else could it need to be at the
top of every gamer's wish list? Why, an extremely large amount of
extremely large plastic monsters, of course! Any more gamer-y goodness
than this weighty package, and Santa'd just tell you that you'd put an
eye out. If Nexus Ops doesn't satisfy your loved one's jones for
plastic, whip this one out and watch their eyes light up.
Werewolf: The Forsaken
White Wolf, $34.99
The new World of Darkness, White Wolf's horror setting that has dominated
gaming for the last thirteen years, continued to expand in 2005. Reworked
with a core book that lets you play a normal horror game under the new
Storyteller Engine, each of the old monsters - vampires, werewolves, and
mages, so far - returned in separate books and game lines that have seen a
scaling down in scope. Perhaps the best is Werewolf: The Forsaken,
replacing Werewolf: the Apocalypse and dropping its holy crusade to
save Gaia from the ravages of the Wyrm. The new werewolves are no
eco-warriors, but creatures threatened by their own inner rage, tasked to
protect a pack territory from Spirit World incursions, and the Spirit World
from the effects of mankind.
White Wolf, $24.99
White Wolf's new World of Darkness is not only a dark playground for
vampires, werewolves, and mages, but is designed to support a more normal
roleplaying of horror of mere mortals against the unknown. Thus we have
Mysterious Places, which serves up nine slices of rich, thick, dark
Americana. The nonet includes classics such as a care home, a crematorium,
and a junkyard, each with its own secrets to be explored and revealed.
American Gothic by way of The X-Files, The Monkey's Paw, and
A Nightmare Before Christmas, each of the entries here is so superbly
described that they deserve to find their way into any horror game.
RoboRally, Third Edition
Avalon Hill/Wizards of the Coast, $40
Do you know a gamer who's suffered through the tragedy of being taught
RoboRally by someone whose idea of fun was a massive board layout with
too many flags and a four-hour death march through winner-gets-ahead
world? This holiday season, rescue a gamer you love from having to hate
a great game. The new RoboRally finally gives well-meaning players the
tools to shape the game into a tense, chaotic and fun battle of wits
instead of a frustrating, detail-addled grind. No one should die without
accepting Twonky into their heart! Even long-time converts will love the
"starting gate" and new components added to Richard Garfield's classic.
Fantasy Flight Games, $49.95
If you have any interest in the Cthulhu mythos, you already know
and love this game. The new edition of Arkham Horror is a
cooperative boardgame based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft, wherein each
player takes the role of an intrepid investigator of the unknown. The
huge board represents many of the more interesting locations of Arkham,
including Akham Asylum and Miskatonic University. Extradimensional
locations such as R'Lyeh and the Dreamlands are also included. The
gameplay is rich, giving players many different choices during each
turn, as well as a wide assortment of hideous fates. One word of
caution: don't plan on finishing this one in an hour.
When you hear WizKids, the last thing you think about is boardgames. That's
because, up until now, they hadn't made any. Tsuro, the first boardgame from
WizKids, may turn out to be the surprise hit of the holiday season. Tsuro is
a beautifully produced boardgame that features an attractive board, sturdy
tiles with a variety of crisscrossing paths, and unique pawns that players
maneuver around the paths as they play the tiles. The object is to play your
tiles in such a way as to keep your pawn on the board while forcing the
other players' pawns off. The game is stylish, easy to learn, quick to
play and can accommodate up to eight players. Fun for adults and kids alike.
At first glance, this two-player boardgame may have you thinking of
Wiz War, with its square dungeon sections and doors to open. But
in Dungeon Twister, you have more than just a lone wizard trying
to find treasure - this time around, you have an entire team of eight
explorers working together against an identical enemy team. Players work
to be the first with five victory points, gained by getting an explorer
all the way across the board or by slaying one of the opponent's
explorers. Naturally, the loss of a character can really hurt: each
character has a unique ability, such as healing, disarming traps,
walking through walls, or even rotating a dungeon section (which, as you
can tell by its name, is fairly common in this game). Through strategic
use of character abilities, treasure abilities, and a limited set of
combat cards, explorer teams work to be the best dungeon delving squad
they can be, torching the opposition with fireballs should the
And as always, we're fond of throwing in a bonus selection. This bonus was just too good to pass up...
Secrets of Japan
This Call of Cthulhu supplement brings the land of the Rising Sun
under the shadow of the Great Old Ones. Wonder no longer why freakish
tentacled beasts appear in many an anime program - now you'll know why.
Even putting aside the new beasts, spells, and character types, and
disregarding the three adventure scenarios and pair of short stories,
the book makes a useful tool for understanding Japanese culture, as well
as how otherworldly mysteries might affect them. From corporate labs to
ancient shrines, the stage is set for horrors to come play with the
fragile minds of Japanese investigators. Years in the making, Secrets
of Japan is a 360-page must-have for every Cthulhu fan, and a
harbinger of gruesome things to come for a gaming group.
For more horrific insight on Secrets of Japan, be sure to read OgreCave's full review.
So there you have it: our list of twelve (plus a bonus) slightly-more-pricey game
products from 2005. Save up those gift certificates, cash in the checks
from relatives, and buy your way to a happy holiday of gaming. Or give
them as gifts, of course, 'cuz it's better to give than receive... yeah,
that's what we meant. Be sure to look over our other 2005 gift lists for
more great games to pick up. For others, of course.