Twelve Games At The End Of The Bed
A Dozen Games for $20 or Less in 2005
By Matthew Pook & Allan Sugarbaker with Mike Sugarbaker
Once again we find ourselves facing the season of good will, Christmas, and cheer, and here at OgreCave, the cave dwellers like to adhere to a tradition or two. The first of which is to make this the season of good gaming once again. Thus we bring you the first of our annual quartet of "Twelve Games ofÖ" lists. As ever the OgreCave dwellers have combed through the many releases from the last twelve months to bring you the best, the most interesting, and above all, the most fun for your delight and delectation. Of course they come from the usual mix of RPGs, supplements, board games, card games, collectible miniature games, and even the PDF format, such that there has to be something for everyone from amongst the almost fifty - yes fifty! - entries across all four lists.
And since these are lists, they are useful not just to highlight what we liked from 2005, but also to help you with your shopping, or even your own suggestions of what you might like to find in your stocking or pillow case at the end of the bed on Christmas morn. As ever this first list covers all of the little games, none more than $20, and will still offer you plenty of gaming fun while remaining budget friendly. Once unwrapped, gather a few friends, pour a mug of holiday punch (or merry drink of choice) and start gaming!
Battleground: Fantasy Warfare
Your Move Games, $15 (starter or reinforcement pack)
A card-based wargame without overly complex rules, Battleground plays fast and makes notetaking unnecessary. How? With dry erase cards, of course, which each represent an army unit. Unit cards have boxes to mark off health when units are injured, a spot to write the unit's standing orders, and other temporary conditions. Three different armies (Men, Orcs, or Undead) are available to march upon each other, measuring their steps and weapon ranges in card lengths. One 48-card starter of this non-collectible game provides enough combatants for two players, and each faction also has a 50-card reinforcement pack available. Why it took this long for warfare to evolve into a higher lifeform of card game, we may never know. But we like it.
Race Day Constructible Racing Game
WizKids, $9.99 (two-player starter); $3.99 (booster)
Normally if gamers want to get their gear grinding on, expensive boardgames like Formula De are the recommended tool of choice. WizKids challenges this notion with Race Day, a collectible NASCAR licensed game using constructible plastic cars that come assemble far more easily than the cars in White Wolf's Racer Knights (and without breakage, too). Streamlined rules cover drafting, bumping damage, tire wear, pit stops, and basic racing movement while still remaining a five minute read. Five cars are included in the Limited Edition Bonus Box (currently the game's best buy) along with a pair of regular sized dice for those who dislike squinting at, misplacing, or accidentally inhaling the usual tiny CSG dice. There's also a rulesheet, three punch cards full of vehicle damage "overlay" pieces (streaming smoke to attach to the hood is a great touch), and two full-color play mats that form a gorgeous 40" x 30" race track. Boosters provide two cars each, damage pieces, a tiny die, rules, and part of a superspeedway track. At the checkered flag, Race Day is the racing game to test drive this year.
Noise Monster Productions, $15
If there's anything these lists have missed on occasion, it's something for your listening pleasure. And for that, there was nothing finer in 2005 for a gamer's ears than Red Devils, the first of a trilogy of audio adventures set in the 19th Century as described by the classic RPG, Space 1889. This is the Victorian-era science fiction game inspired by the works of H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, and Arthur Conan-Doyle, that cast the imperialism, colonialism and attitudes of the late 19th-century across the inner solar system. Red Devils brings the game and time alive in a superbly executed story and adventure, all combined with high production values.
Rocketmen: Axis of Evil
WizKids, $3.99 (booster)
Last year we liked Pirates of the Spanish Main, so when we heard that WizKids was doing a pulp Sci-Fi game along similar lines, we were really looking forward to the end result. It certainly screams pulp Sci-Fi goodness, with players controlling factions vying for dominance and survival in a retro future ala Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers.
In Rocketmen, an Axis of Evil of the Legion of Terra, under Lord Invictus with King Krillra of Mars, is trying to conquer the Solar System. Standing against them is the Alliance of Free Planets - Mercury and Venus along with Earth's Rebels. But what really matters is that each ship in the game is easy to assemble and can be customized with crew tokens before blasting forth to take on the enemy, raid the asteroid belt for resources, and rocket to glory. Care must to be taken as the ships are a little flimsy, but this is a nice, simple skirmish game that is easy to pick up and play.
Breaking the Ice, A Game about Love, for Two.
Black & Green Games, $14
Love, girls, and all that ickiness. Which is exactly what this little RPG is all about, as two players play out the ups and downs of a couple's first three dates, exploring the initial attraction right through to the stirrings of trust and desire when the curtains close. Breaking the Ice can be played in one sitting, from character creation through each date with players alternately taking the roles of player and referee as they explore the best game of all! There is an element of cross-gender play as the players swap aspects of their characters during the creation process, but the game can be as mature as both players want. Of course, you would think that this game would be perfect for February 14th, but why not get started on your romance now?
Atlas Games, $19
Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill. And then do it some more, all from the comfort and safety of your home, and without all that unnecessary stabbing, cutting, slashing, bludgeoning, shredding, and all too messy bodily fluids. Never one to get you doing something physical, the gaming industry lets slaughter folks every week with almost every game, but Atlas Games has boiled it down to a clear simple card game... and then illustrated it with stick figures doing horrible things to each other. Which as always say, "Stick Figure death is cool." Let's Kill is a murderous little card game, full of gruesome humor, that lets you vent your deathly urges on those that deserve it, including Mimes. The Sancho Games classic gets a wider release and overall update, making it a great gift for the sicko on your list.
Kobolds Ate My Baby! Super Deluxx Edition
Dork Storm Press & 9th Level Games, $14.99
The original "beer 'n' pretzels" RPG is back, with a glorious color
illustrated by the fine pen and inks of Mr. John Kovalic... and in hardback! Hungry, fearless, and rambunctious little Kobolds, their mouths full of teeth and their brains with one thing on their teeny weeny tiny little walnut-sized noodles: food. That and getting it for their Lord and Master, King Torg (ALL HAIL KING TORG!). Well, actually that's two things, but King Torg (ALL HAIL KING TORG!) needs feeding too, and bored with Orcloaf Surprise, sends his minions out to find fresh supplies of tender young baby flesh of Humans. But beware the Kobold that gets above his lowlier-than-low status and tries to be clever, for then he risks a roll on "The Kobold Horrible Death Chart"! Sure, there's the possibility of success and bringing home the baby, but a horrible death is never far away in this silly affair that calls for lots of acting out and up.
D&D Miniatures: Underdark
Wizards of the Coast, $12.99 (booster box)
The Underdark set is being praised by roleplayers and miniatures players alike, and not just for the requisite drow figures it supplies. A number of nasty fellows fill out the set's ranks, including the Ankheg, a Large Deep Dragon, an Iron Golem, the mighty Balor, and Elminster himself. Some figures gain added power in the Miniatures game, which provides Epic stats for the chosen few (9 of the 60 figure set) on separate Epic cards. The Miniatures power jump may be in preparation for next year's War Drums set, which will update the rules and allow for figures larger than Huge. Against larger beasts than huge, we'd definitely accept some extra firepower.
Primetime Adventures, 2nd Edition
Dog Eared Designs, $20
It is one of the most played, and most praised, games at the indie-RPG design forum The Forge, and one of the easiest-to-try introductions to new-style roleplaying - and no, it's not at all like Now Playing from a couple years back. Primetime Adventures is a stripped-down, bare-metal engine for creating intimately metaphorical TV shows like those from Joss Whedon and Lost creator J.J. Abrams. But the creation happens through story-centered gaming that gives each player a turn at narrating, featuring a brilliant "Screen Presence" mechanic that guides dramatic decisions about each character through five- to six-episode mini-campaigns. This new edition features elegant playing-card-based conflict resolution to replace the old fistfuls of ten-siders, and loads more examples of play to keep you on steady footing as you march into the narrativist-revolution-or-something - all wrapped in sleek, genre-assumption-free digest-sized covers. Buy it now before it's in retail, and your recipient will feel that much cooler down the line.
Dungeons & Dragons for Dummies
Wiley Publishing, $19.99
Ever had a non-roleplayer ask what the hobby is all about? Someone who wasn't willing to actually sit down and play, but was curious enough to ask a few questions? Dungeons & Dragons for Dummies may be the way to clue that person in on the wacky world of D&D. Yes, it's one of those yellow books, and reduces everything sword and wizardry down to their base components, then builds understanding of the game from the ground up. Written by Bill Slavicsek and Richard Baker, both intimately familiar with D&D from working on numerous official game products, Dungeons & Dragons for Dummies even walks newbies through strategic decisions in combat, and provides a small battle grid fold-out. Who knows: maybe this book will help you create a new player. Every little bit helps.
Secret Tijuana Deathmatch
Cheapass Games, $7.50
The best answer we've heard to recent economic woes comes from James Ernest, designer of Secret Tijuana Deathmatch: to him, an economic downturn means "a quick trip to Tijuana where smooth-talking wrestling promoters offer big bucks to any fool desperate enough to risk his life in the ring." Sounds good to us. This card game puts players in the shoes of the aforementioned Mexican wrestling promoters, each wrangling a set of five bankrupt, suicidal American businessmen in battles to the death. Wagers are made over several rounds of business class clashes, making this game best when played by four to six people to get the sidebets flying as fast as the roundhouse kicks.
Winx Club Circle of Power Game
Upper Deck, $14.99 (starter tin); $3.99 (booster)
This one goes out to all the ladies... well, the really young ladies, actually. If there's a 5-12 year old girl on your holiday gift list, there's a good chance she's seen the Winx Club anime cartoon a few times, which combines fairies and Hogwart's School of Magic with teen angst and fashion to create every girl's dream-come-true. Upper Deck's card game gets players working cooperatively to defeat the witches, building groups of Winx Club characters together before sending them into non-lethal battle. Adding to the fun are numerous glitter, holograph, and scratch-and-sniff cards, many with a truth-or-dare style challenge on them that further evokes the game's slumber party feel. The game makes use of a toy ring to keep track of game length (boosters provide another collectible ring along with 6 cards), a special hair band scoring device to track the collective score the girls achieve, a single custom die, a play mat, and 60 cards. All the right ingredients make this game a great gift idea for any little lady on your list.
That completes our list of twelve quality-yet-inexpensive game products from 2005. However, sometimes a windfall comes along and more cash is available for that special gift (or you've convinced someone else to buy the more expensive items for you). Check our other 2005 gift lists for other great objects of gamer desire.