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Christmas Gift Guide 2006 (11/30/06)
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Night of the Living Gamer
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12 Games for Over $20 in 2006
Twelve Games Under the Tree
A Dozen Games for Over $20 in 2006

By Matthew Pook, Allan Sugarbaker, Mike Sugarbaker, and Steve Kani

The season of cheerful gift giving is upon us again, and as we have for years now, OgreCave has brought together a list of the naughty or nice games we recommend as Christmas goodies. This second list features our 2006 selections with somewhat larger pricetags, the gifts that will hold a place of honor this holiday season. Each item has been screened by OgreCave to insure proper levels of gaming comfort and joy, so rest easy in the fact that your gift giving (or receiving) will be jolly.

Atlas Games, $29.95

Fans of the Carcassonne boardgames should take a close look at Seismic, which, put simply, is Carcassonne with earthquakes. Players each assume the role of a paving company road crew in the town of San Andreas, CA (named after the earthquake fault that's supposed to dump us Californians into the Pacific someday). Each crew builds roads out from the central hub of San Andreas with the hexagonal tiles, building up potential points according to road length and the value of connected intersections. But why are the points only potential points? Other players can claim more of a road's segments than you, making it theirs in the final tabulation. The other reason for potential points: acts of God, baby. The points aren't scored until the last tile is played, and before then, multiple earthquake tiles of varying magnitude will turn up at random, ripping outward from San Andreas in whichever direction has the most development. This quick tile-laying title has deeper strategy than you might guess, and with its multiple game variants and easy gameplay, Seismic shakes up a classic boardgame style to create plenty of replay value.

Spirit of the Century
Evil Hat Productions, $30

Warning: this game will make you want to run pulp. It doesn't matter if you hate pulp; you're going to want to run it when you read this. SotC takes a state-of-the-art roleplaying system with one foot in the old school and one foot in the new, and mounts it over an armored-dirigible-load of skills, vaguely feat-like "stunts," mad-science devices and generally awesome '30s adventure flavor. Throw in a little bit of plot spice influenced by the great comic book Planetary and you have a complete package that puts even the old Nile Empire TORG setting to shame. (Oh, Dr. Mobius, how we miss you.) Don't be put off by the book's considerable girth - it is indeed playable as a pickup game with as near to zero prep as you're comfortable with. That other half of the book is just GM advice... that is, just GM advice for nearly every skill, and some of the best general advice that's ever seen print.

Days of Wonder, $70

There's plenty gamers who became firmly entrenched in the WWII scenarios of Memoir '44, but even so, some wished the system could be applied to medieval fantasy. Days of Wonder listened, and Battlelore takes the miniatures boardgame to a new level of paradise. Filled with pre-assembled and pre-punched parts, over 200 miniatures, and a full-color rulebook, this satisfyingly weighty title should be enough to keep any warmonger busy. Gameplay is accelerated by unit banners that can be read at a glance, which will let players get used to the system in time for the game's epic rules to come out (the gameboard's reverse side will slide together with another player's board for battles of a grand scope). Add in access to an online adventure editor, and tabletop tacticians have no excuse for not grabbing a copy of this game. As we've suggested in an episode of the OgreCave Audio Report, the potential for combining Battlelore with other terrain props (the hexes from HeroScape being the obvious choice) is undeniable, and we fully expect to see massive battlefield set-ups at upcoming conventions. Get to work, people!

Blue Moon City
Fantasy Flight, $39.95

Reiner Knizia has cranked out dozens of great game designs over the years, on a variety of subjects. (or the subjects were selected to fit the designs. Whichever.) Boardgamers won't need any experience with the Blue Moon card game to become engrossed by the strategy and maneuvering of Blue Moon City. If you really want to know, the city has been ruined, and the players need to work together to rebuild it. Of course, if you can be the one to contribute the most to a building, you benefit more than your rivals, and if you can impress the elemental dragons that roam the city, you'll benefit even more. The game gives players two ways to spend their resource cards, the ability for random set-up of the building tiles, and at-a-glance summaries of costs and rewards. If nothing else, Blue Moon City lends proof to the saying that real estate is all about location... well, that and strategic gameplay.

Kill Doctor Lucky: Deluxe Edition
Titanic Games, $34.95

The Cheapass classic returns in a slightly updated format from Titanic Games. Three to seven players race to kill Doctor Lucky as he wanders around the board on a predetermined path. This newly revised edition replaces the continental drift-prone gameboard with a full-color, folding, one piece board. Two other minor changes were applied to this updated version. In the past, it was possible to position your pawn and move in such a way that other players did not get a turn for a while. In the Titanic version, this can no longer happen: everyone gets at least one turn before the Doctor Lucky detemines the turn order. Second is the addition of something called the spite token, a mechanic that speeds the game up. Every time a player's attempt on Doctor Lucky's life fails, he receives a spite token. These tokens can be used to add strength to subsequent attempts on Doctor Lucky's life, or used to foil other players' attempts on the good doctor. The Titanic Games edition of Kill Doctor Lucky brings this classic game to a whole new audience while repairing the only minor annoyances in its design, making this an excellent gift for even the most casual gamer.

Rio Grande Games, $54.95

You know a game is popular if people who can't read the language it's published in are buying it by the truckload. That's exactly the level of excitement Caylus created prior to Rio Grande publishing an english version, which was in such demand when it finally arrived, it sold out right away. Now that more copies are in circulation again, the boardgamer on your list can join in the city building, castle building, and detailed strategy of not just resource management, but the timing of that management. As the craftsmen in the village of Caylus, players have to decide which building opportunites to go after, as there are multiple valid approaches to victory. The OgreCave crew likes Caylus so much, we also awarded it Best Boardgame in our Ogres' Choice Awards 2006.

Hollow Earth Expedition
Exile Games, $39.99

Many pulp era RPGs cast too wide a net for their inspiration. Costumed adventurers, men of science, private eyes, barnstorming aviators, big game hunters, all taken from the Pulps, but not all suited to work together. Hollow Earth Expedition sidesteps this issue by concentrating upon the one pulp sub-genre, that of lost worlds. Inspired by Jules Verne, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and even a little Doug McClure, this RPG explores a lost world of 1936, right inside our planet. Accessed only from certain secret points - the North and South Poles, the Bermuda Triangle, and even on Mysterious Island - the adventurers will discover Hollow Earth plays host to dinosaurs, 18th century pirates, amazon warriors, and the vestiges of Atlantis. Naturally, the Nazis want the secrets the Hollow Earth; conversely, the Terra Arcanum want them kept secret. The characters can become involved in this feud, hunt big game, explore, and even discover ancient secrets themselves within in this RPG of high adventure.

Dungeons & Dragons: The Complete Animated Series DVD set
BCI Eclipse, $54.99

Some of us remember back in 1983 when the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon was on CBS. It seems that a group of young friends rode the new Dungeons & Dragons ride at their local amusement park, and something went very wrong, causing them to get sucked into an actual world of monsters and magic. Perhaps it sounds like a bad Tom Hanks movie, but no, this cartoon series actually lasted three seasons, collected in this DVD set. All your favorite characters are here: Hank, thrust into the role of Ranger; Sheila, forced to don the mantle of Thief; Diana, the Acrobat; Eric the Cavalier; Presto the Wizard; Bobby the Barbarian... and unfortunately, Uni. Still, silly Frank Welker-voiced critters or no, there's no better official D&D DVD release out there. We still get nausea from stray thoughts of Marlon Wayons in a medieval-themed movie. Or any movie, for that matter. Try Amazon.com or your local game store for better prices.

RuneQuest Main Rulebook
Mongoose Publishing, $24.99

Better known for shovelling out numerous d20 System supplements, as of last year Mongoose Publishing was the last publisher you would pick to bring out a new version of a 30 year old RPG classic and not make it d20. Yet this new version has been tidied up and made more accessible to present a pleasingly detailed (but not crunchy) fantasy RPG. Its mechanics are still old school, but work: combat is as deadly as ever, with characters in danger of having limbs lopped off; and magic is cast through attuned Runes, the finding of which is part of playing the game. On the downside, the main rulebook only provides the basics: characters can only be humans, there are few monsters, and no setting. Fortunately, Mongoose has brought out support for the game with numerous supplements and setting books, including the classic world of Glorantha, enabling the GM to pick and choose what he adds to his game. The Main Rulebook nevertheless provides a lean set of mechanics that are easy to play and easy to run.

Tatters of the King
Chaosium, $27.95

As Aldebaran rises in the night sky, those of the artistic set drift into madness and tension as they fall prey to dreams of Carcosa and under the influence of King in Yellow. Cultists devoted Hastur work to bring He Who Is Not To Be Named to Earth, but all feel the lure of the stars. Where most campaigns for Call of Cthulhu start in the USA and have the investigators confront the major figures of the Mythos such as Cthulhu or Nyarlathotep, Tatters of the King begins in London and heads East, never going near the USA. This is a well crafted campaign that takes the investigators to Italy and India before ascending to Leng in the attempt to foil the cultists. The emphasis is on stopping these cultists and not facing the Mythos in all its sanity shredding glory, in a welcomed change of epic quest for Cthulhu fans.

Burning Empires
Luke Crane, $45

In 2003 Luke Crane self-published The Burning Wheel, a character focused and highly detailed fantasy RPG. Now he brings that degree of focus and level of detail to a Science Fiction setting based on the Iron Empires graphic novels by Christopher Moeller. In a far future, the remnant feudal states of a once great interstellar nation are all that stand between civilization and a galaxy dominated by the Vaylen, alien parasites that ride their hosts. The focus though is not on a star spanning society, but upon defending a single world, its features and problems co-designed by the GM and the players, with the characters leading its defense. Not only does the RPG bring a wealth of detail from the comic series, it presents it in a professional, high-end manner, effectively setting a new standard for the self-published indie RPG. White Wolf and Wizards of the Coast, beware: the indie RPGs are coming for you.

The Art of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos
Fantasy Flight Games, $29.95

Nothing to read. Nothing to play. Just something to look at. Drawn from 25 years of the roleplaying game and just a few years of Fantasy Flight Games' Call of Cthulhu Collectible Card Game, this collection of art celebrates the Mythos and the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. Unshackled from the CCG format, we get to see just how good much of the game's artwork really is: fantastic, magical, astounding, scary, and even truly desperate. Use it as inspiration for the RPG, as a visual aid, but above all, appreciate the visions into a darker, uncaring universe.

Let's take this list into bonus rounds. Here's an extra gift suggestion we'd recommend for all the roleplayers out there...

Shock: Social Science Fiction
glyphpress, $23

This slim, striking book goes right next to Primetime Adventures in the pantheon of tightly focused RPG rulesets you could nonetheless use to tell an almost infinite variety of stories. That's because, like PTA, Shock: focuses on structure - in this case, the structure of classic science fiction stories, which relate social issues with shocking changes in technology and reality. Draw up a grid of shocks and issues, and you get a protagonist and an antagonist for each combo. Each player takes control of one of each kind of -tagonist, plus a shock or issue; throw around a few more numbers and a wonderfully elegant conflict resolution system, and you've got this year's New Hotness in collaborative-setting RPGs. Plus there's a short story with critters reminiscent of the stalengers from TORG, and who didn't love them?


That brings OgreCave's second 2006 gift list to a close, offering suggestions of a bit higher price. Whether through gift certificates or the kindness of relatives, owning these products will lead to a jolly holiday of gaming. But there were other excellent titles we noticed since last year's gift-giving season, so be sure to look over our other 2006 gift lists for more great games to give or receive. After all, 'tis the holiday of gaming - er, giving.

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