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Christmas Gift Guide 2010 (11/26/10)
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Night of the Living Gamer
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12 Downloadable Gift Ideas for 2009
 

An Aetheric Guide for Christmas
A dozen downloadable gift ideas for 2009

By Gerald Cameron, Dennis Hancock, Matthew Pook, Allan Sugarbaker, Mike Sugarbaker, and Lee Valentine

The last minute shopping panic has begun, and you've got no way to get to the store! That gaming buddy of yours has already made it clear you'll love what he got you, but you have nothing to give in return. Fear not, for OgreCave has put together a final gift list for 2009 that, as in previous years, is filled with downloadable games of all sorts. Just hop online, read through our selections, and download a life-saving gift or two. The Cave Dwellers are happy to assist, as always.

 

The Cursed Chateau The Cursed Chateau
Rogue Games, $3.99

In a good year for the "Old School Renaissance" of roleplaying, it is a pleasure to see a contribution from one of the movement's most notable commentators, James Maliszewski. Designed for four to eight characters of fourth to sixth levels, in The Cursed Chateau the adventurers find themselves trapped in a mansion as the playthings of a malicious spirit. As they contend with strange puzzles and traps, the characters must struggle to find a way out. Inspired by the classic adventures Castle Amber and Tegel Manor, with a little touch of the Cthulhu Mythos, The Cursed Chateau can be used with any version of Dungeons & Dragons (aside from the very latest) and is easily adapted to other fantasy RPGs.
 

Death, Frost, Doom Death Frost Doom
LotFP Publishing, $5 (PDF)

Proving that less is more, James Raggi IV gives us a Dungeons & Dragons adventure that has almost no monsters, few traps, plenty of puzzles, one big trap, and tons of atmosphere. Part of the "Old School Renaissance" and designed for character levels one to six, in Death, Frost, Doom the players have the opportunity to explore a hauntingly empty mountain top shrine, full of small details and oddities that build towards a tense and eerie experience. It will ultimately be curiosity that leads to the characters' undoing as it takes them too deep inside the complex and they unleash a torrent of evil. Death, Frost, Doom is a brilliantly dark and gloomy horror scenario, easily adapted to other fantasy RPGs, but perfect for a change of pace from the monster beating, treasure grabbing dungeon bash.

The Cave Dwellers have explored this chilly adventure before. See our full review for more insight.
 

Houses of the Blooded cover Houses of the Blooded
Wicked Dead Brewing Company; $5

Houses of the Blooded is a storytelling game of romance, bloodshed, intrigue, and treachery. As one of a magical race called the Ven, you exist within one of the race's six ruling houses. Each house is out to gain advantage over other Ven, all the while using the rest of the world's inhabitants as pawns in elaborate games of life and death. Houses makes players value facets of play that normally go unnoticed – awarding Style points for each character's fashion choices, for example. The game includes rules for both "friendly" and "cut-throat" modes of play, allowing for all levels of manipulation. A 48-page preview may even convince you to spring for the full print version ($45.00 for the 400+ page book).
 

I, Dungeon I, Dungeon
The Game Crafter; $21.72/
or Free (http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/41567/i-dungeon)

The tower-defense-y thing has been done a number of times now, and done as a dungeon crawl more than once (notably in the still-upcoming-in-the-US Dungeon Lords by Vlaada Chvatil of Space Alert fame), but we wanted to call this one out for a few reasons: first, it's a solitaire game. Second, self-aware dungeons? That's undeniably original. And in addition, this is one of a few print-and-play games highly-rated on BGG that you can also get through the relatively new POD game vendor The Game Crafter. Give the gift of science as you test the quality and durability of this ambitious service, even as you give a fun game and thumb your nose at the format of this all-downloadable list! (Um, or you can just download it.)
 

The Grinding Gear The Grinding Gear
LotFP Publishing, $6 (PDF) / $11.95 (print)

This unassuming adventure module is a spiritual descendant of Tomb of Horrors, designed for old editions of Dungeons & Dragons and modern retro-clones. Low-level PCs discover the ruins of a tavern that was once a waypoint for adventurers headed to the frontier to make their fortune. Now it is a twisted monument to its owner. Can the PCs and (and the players) keep their wits about them, or will they be ground to dust? Delightfully devious and just the right level of deadly, The Grinding Gear is a challenge players will brag about defeating – or lament their losses at its feet.

Deadly traps are a particular favorite at OgreCave. See our full review for disarming product analysis.
 

Beat to Quarters Beat to Quarters
Omnihedron Games, $6.50 (PDF)

We appreciate that we can out do Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe novels with Omnihedron Games' Duty & Honour RPG, which lets the players serve under Wellington in the war against Napoleon Bonaparte in the Iberian Peninsula. So we are just as pleased to be able to serve in Nelson's navy as in the novels of Patrick O'Brian and C.S. Forester with the publisher's second RPG, Beat to Quarters, which enables play as the crew and officers of a ship in His Majesty's Navy (the ship itself a character all its own). Undertaking orders from the Admiralty, crewmembers can expect to face the might of Bonaparte's navy and the navies of his allies, deal with pirates and privateers, curb the power of revolutionary America, but above all, they must ensure England's supremacy over the seas. Just as with Duty & Honour, this is a card-driven RPG played as a series of missions and challenges (both official and personal) that let you run out the guns and stand by for action!
 

Hardboiled Armies Hardboiled Armies
One Bad Egg/Highmoon Media, $5.49

One of the few third-party rules expansions for Dungeons & Dragons: Fourth Edition, Hardboiled Armies lets you tackle military operations as easily as you would any other combat. While the map is at a larger scale, unit stat blocks are very similar to the standard monster stat block. Like its predecessor Hardboiled Cultures, it also explains the logic behind the decisions, and offers some tips on hacking the system to your own ends. A selection of sample military units and a sample mass combat, with tokens and play-size map to try out yourself, rounds things out.
 

Little Fears: Nightmare Edition Little Fears: Nightmare Edition
FunSizedGames, $12

The critically received 2001 RPG of children confronting their fears of something under the bed returns in an all-new edition. This Nightmare Edition casts Little Fears players as young children aged between six and twelve, facing threats and dangers they will no longer believe in once they become teenagers, but while still younger will have the innocence and the Power of Belief to face such fears with a little magic. Such fears might be more "pedestrian" creatures such as ghosts, vampires, and zombies, but they can be more personal fears from the closet, or worse, deep within Closetland itself. Not as edgy or controversial a game as it was in 2001, the new Little Fears presents an expanded, more developed setting in which to explore the fears that we have forgotten.
 

Shotgun Diaries The Shotgun Diaries
Wicked Dead Brewing Company; $5

If award-winning, trail-blazing game designer John Wick ventures into zombie territory, you should follow him. The Shotgun Diaries is a speedy onramp to the world of the fabled undead apocalype, and every session has to deal with survival. To stand and fight eventually means someone will become infected or get eaten – that's what happens in the movies, after all. Instead, The Shotgun Diaries encourages a continuous fighting withdrawal, as the zombies will break in at some point (the Zombie Clock mechanic will see to that). Boasting quick-and-dirty character creation, and all the tropes of the living dead genre, this game will force you to fight for survival every step of the way.
 

Skirmish Wars Skirmish Wars: Advance Tactics
http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/40455/skirmish-wars-advance-tactics, Free

You have to love a game that makes you print it out so you can pretend to be playing with 16-bit graphics... in a light wargame... based on a console strategy title... that was based on tabletop wargaming. It could only be more insane if someone made a Flash version of it. Even if you're not into anything that might be a wargame (give it a chance! Half the numbers are just the hit point track!), the terrain tiles are lip-smackin' good for all sorts of purposes. Show the Advance Wars lover on your list that you care, and print and assemble some of this action.
 

Zooloretto iPhone app Zooloretto for iPhone/iPod Touch
SpinBottle Games, $4.99

If you are a fan of Michael Schacht's acclaimed zoo building game Zooloretto, owners of Apple's higher end portable devices will be pleased to know that they can now carry the game with them on the go. The game features family-friendly, full-color graphics made complete with animal sounds. While the game does not currently allow for internet play against friends, you can either pass your iPhone in a "hot seat" mode against multiple human players, or you can play in a 3-5 player game against AIs. At a price of under $5.00 you can't really argue with this one. You can see a video of the user interface, then download your app copy today.
 

FreeMarket Beta FreeMarket Beta edition
projectdonut.com, Free (limited)

It's the first transhumanist RPG (sorry, Eclipse Phase – we love you, but you didn't commit), and the first game ever to so neatly invert so many of the baseline assumptions of the genre. It's got the most engaging game fiction you could hope for, adorable artwork and just generally great presentation. It's a serious advance in the state of the art of roleplaying, and membership in the beta gets you first crack at the print preorder in March. Get on board the Donut or live to regret it.
 

Let the bonus round begin: here's another brand-new electronic release we recommend...

Dragon Age RPG, set 1 Dragon Age RPG, Set 1 (PDF)
Green Ronin Publishing, $17.50

BioWare created an awesome story line and setting for computer gamers with Dragon Age: Origins, and now Green Ronin has followed it up like a Chuck Norris Approved™ karate chop to a watermelon that'd would make R. Lee Ermey squeal like a school girl. The Dragon Age RPG picks up where BioWare left off and put it all down on paper so all gamers could get in on the action. Set in the world of Ferelden, where Darkspawn lurk beneath the ground waiting for an Archdemon to unite them and take over the continent, Dragon Age is a fantasy setting ripe for questing. The Darkspawn appear ready to strike, so the question is: are you strong enough to unite the Kingdoms of Ferelden against a common enemy? Grab the early release of the Set 1 PDF, and gather 'round the table with your friends – you're going need them!
 

Thus we conclude our fourth and final gift selection list from 2009. We've been doing these list for a while though, so you can get ideas from lists of holidays past or continue looking over our other 2009 gift lists. Our selections for Christmases past will make great gifts, though they may be a bit harder to find than they used to be.
 

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