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12 Games for $20 or Less in 2006
 
Twelve Stocking Stuffer Games
A Dozen Games for $20 or Less in 2006

By Allan Sugarbaker, Mike Sugarbaker, and Matthew Pook

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. The first of our "Twelve Games of" lists for 2006 is below, featuring an assortment of twelve gaming treasures on the smaller side, so that they might fit in a stocking, or a smaller budget. So whether you have to march through ten feet of snow to get to your local game store (uphill, at night, barefoot, etc) or have a personal shopper you call "Mom", following these suggestions for gaming giftage will insure a happy holiday season for all.

As always, the cave dwellers of OgreCave have appraised the enjoyability and pure gift potential of the numerous releases from the last twelve months to point out the best choices for the season's recreational rewards. Scroll down to browse the RPGs, board games, card games, miniature games, and whatever else we found exciting-yet-inexpensive in 2006.

Enemy Chocolatier
Cheapass Games, $6

It's wonderful when we can put a white-envelope Cheapass game on our list... feels like old times. There's certainly no better value this year for the hardcore boardgamer on your shopping list, who will lick his chops at this game's nearly luck-free blend of resource management, economic pacing, and set building. Not to forget the sheer pulse-pounding excitement of buying up whole neighborhoods to turn them into your own private, sprawling confectionery fiefdom! One caveat is the relatively high amount of bits needed to play, unless the gift recipient already invested in poker chips... which a boardgamer probably has by now. If not, throw in chips, counters and Cheapass Money and you actually have quite the gift package.

Ticket to Ride: USA 1910 Expansion
Days of Wonder, $15

The only thing that might be detract from your enjoyment of the original Ticket to Ride (which appeared in our 2004 Gift Guide) was that the cards were smaller than those in both sequels. The USA 1910 set solves that problem, upgrading all the destination tickets and train cards to widescreen while adjusting some trip values here and there. Nearly three dozen new tickets are thrown in as well, along with a Globetrotter card for whoever completes the most routes. As if that wasn't enough, the four tickets from the Mystery Train expansion are included (though not the character cards from same), and two new ways to separate the available routes are built into the tickets' design. Contained in a svelte tin, this expansion brings new fuel to a modern classic.

Shooting the Moon
Black & Green Games, $14

Last year we picked Emily Care Boss' Breaking the Ice for our stocking-stuffer list, based as much on its sheer audacity as anything else. BtI was a two-player game about a couple's first three dates; Shooting the Moon is a sequel that adds a third player to the mix (or is playable with two) and is not only written more clearly but is even more amenable to play that doesn't have a straight-up romance theme. (A number of the example scenarios in the book entail fantasy themes and goals that aren't terribly romantic in nature.) A clever word-opposition chargen system gets you two champions who compete for the favor of the Beloved, who has goals and obstacles of his or her own... and all three share what amount to GM duties in a way that makes total sense. This is a tight, dense little booklet perfect for those who have no trouble finding their own setting details and want to explore an excitingly collaborative, interpersonal side of roleplaying.

World of Warcraft TCG
Upper Deck, $3.99 (booster)/ $16.99 (starter)

Give the gift of that good old-fashioned beatdown - if you can find it, that is. The OgreCave brain trust has long complained of the forbiddingly top-heavy nature of the Magic: the Gathering card base, but there haven't been any collectible card games that have scratched the same itch well enough to get over our resistance to buying boosters. If you know someone with a similar yen, the starter is an admirable package of well-balanced, straightforward beat-on-the-other-guy's-guys CCG play. On top of that, the upcoming Raid Packs will enable co-op play against a GM, Dungeoneer-style, which hasn't ever been attempted in a CCG to our knowledge... so, innovation! The warning here is of course that, as we go to press, starter decks are harder to find than PS3s (but considerably more affordable), though another shipment is expected mid-December. If your gifting target plays WoW online, however, a passel of boosters might be appreciated for the chance that they contain those uber-rare online item cards. This may be like giving someone lottery tickets, though; be advised.

Faery's Tale
Firefly Games, $14.95

Most games about faeries drop them into a modern or urban setting, but this little (64 page) RPG takes them back to the faery tales of our childhood to face the nasty goblins, help lost children, awaken slumbering princesses, and so on. Playing as Brownies, Pixies, Pooka, and Sprites, the emphasis in this game is on the players working together to overcome problems big and small using brains and faery magic, and roleplaying good faeries, lest they commit bad acts that will turn into dark faeries. With this emphasis in mind, the game is designed to be run for children, with advice throughout to help run the game and use it as a teaching tool. There isn't quite as much advice as you might want, but it's a good start (and applicable to any other RPG being run for children). Older players will enjoy the rewards received for adding plot twists and complications to the story. Faery's Tale is a charming little game of innocence, and a great first roleplaying experience for kids.

To look more deeply into the faery realm, check out OgreCave's full review.

Treehouse
Looney Labs, $9

Over the years Looney Labs has designed a huge range of games using just sets of colored transparent pyramids, right up to the acclaimed Icehouse, The Martian Chess. Unfortunately, some of these games require lots of pyramids, which do not come cheap and at times were only available direct from the publisher's website. Treehouse is designed as an introduction to the Icehouse family, available in two sets of colors and presented as a quick pick-up-n-play game of pattern matching for two to five players. Simple to both learn and play, Treehouse is an attractive game - plus, Looney gives rules on its website for another five games that can be played just using these sets. Buying more Treehouse sets opens up numerous other games, but the basic tube is a pleasing little start, and a perfect fit for stockings.

Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures: Blood War
Wizards of the Coast, $14.99 (booster)

It was only a matter of time before demons and devils were the featured entrée in a D&D Miniatures set. Blood War brings some truly gorgeous, and for players, exceptionally frightening creatures to the table, with dark plans that far outreach the mortal mindset. As with other recent sets, several figures include a second, epic-level stat card, giving high-powered options to the miniatures gamer. Roleplayers will have the easiest time putting new monsters into play, though; the true draw of Blood War is the assortment of terrifying prepainted beasts. Sure, sure, some of the miniatures can be used as character figures too, and Santa will be happy to hear that elves are well represented. Now that WotC is clear of the collating problems from Dragon Queen, a few boosters of Blood War will recruit a wide range of versatile miniatures any fantasy GM will enjoy.

Letter Hold'em
On the Spot Games, $9.99

A Loneshark design (and therefore the second title on this list that James Ernest has had a hand in creating), Letter Hold'em falls under the popular category of the Poker variant. This is far from unfamiliar territory for the Loneshark guys (Mike Selinker being the other half of Loneshark), as they authored an entire book on the subject in early 2005. But this game is no mere set of drinking rules or special wild card conditions; no, Letter Hold'em forces players to spell. That's right, each card has a letter on it, and before any player can make a solid Poker hand, he must spell a word with the cards he wants to use. No word, no Poker hand. This extra level of strategic planning may throw some Poker fans for a loop, but unless they've had too much holiday egg nog, a few rounds of practice will let folks determine if they have the skills to pay the reraises. Letter Hold'em provides a different-yet-nifty take on Poker that some gamers may like better than the original.

Mag•Blast: Third Edition
Fantasy Flight Games, $19.95

If fast, wild games appeal to someone on your list, we've got 'em covered. Mag•Blast gives 2-8 gamers the chance to apply a laser-infused beat-down on all who oppose them, as they each take command of a fleet of starships from one of ten races. These races add their special talents to the flow of combat, easily displayed by John Kovalic's illustrations and FFG's updated, streamlined rules. Mag•Blast will appeal to younger players as well, especially due to the requirement of making a silly laser noise during each attack or else your weapon will miss. Not so clumsy or random as some starship combat games, Mag•Blast could become a staple of any family's game collection.

Hero's Banner
TCK Roleplaying, $16

This slim, attractive book may be the perfect gateway drug into focused, new-style RPGs for fans of old-school fantasy... but that's not why it's a great gift. Hero's Banner is a great gift because it focuses on the melodramatic side of the Knights of the Round Table, where passions, honor and bloodlines get everyone all worked up as much as a good battle does. Indeed, you could very nearly take all the rules in this volume and bolt them onto a system you're already playing. But what are those rules, you ask? Simple - build your character, give him three incredibly important and valuable things, and then, over a series of die rolls (and yes, the actual roleplaying that goes with them), force him to sacrifice one. Then tell the story of the end of his life, and create a new character who idolizes him, thereby creating a multigenerational epic. Hero's Banner does come with a few pages of setting, and as sketchy as it is, it supports the kind of tightly meshed personal conflict the game thrives on. And the cover art is worth half the cost of the book on its own.

GameMastery Map Pack: Haunted Mansion
Paizo Publishing, $12.95

Few things make a gamemaster's life easier than plopping down a professionally detailed map for his roleplayers to march figures upon. The GameMastery Map Pack line is full of sets that fill this need admirably, each set themed around a certain type of setting. For our money, OgreCave likes the Haunted Mansion set, perfect for crumbling old buildings or thieves' dens. Areas like the Root Cellar, Attic, Sitting Room, and Rickety Wooden Staircase cover the basics of a creepy residence, while the Hedge Maze adds something special for GMs to play with, even lending a hand to Call of Cthulhu GMs in a pinch. Try the Village and Countryside sets for more general-use map tiles when characters hit the road. Through the use of the Map Pack sets, GMs are free to spend more time on plot ideas, and less on set dressing.

Dead Money
Cheapass Games, $14.95

Another Poker game James Ernest has had his hands in, Dead Money combines Poker with the classic Cheapass title Give Me the Brain. The poor zombie crew of Friedey's (that's you) is in the Old West, and instead of serving food or cleaning up the place, they have to play Poker and be sure not to win. Since the cards have the dual purpose of representing your remaining money, your goal is to run out of cards - easier said than done. Two full Poker decks and eight Brain cards stand between you and emptying your pockets, though you'll need Brains for certain tasks and good Poker hands to bid for dropped Brains. And don't forget, you only have two hands (zombie hands, not Poker hands). Overall, Dead Money is a well-balanced Poker-themed game, and a great addition to the library of any Cheapass fan.

 

So ends our first list of twelve less expensive game items released in 2006. But perhaps you have a Christmas bonus to splurge with, found more change under the couch cushions, or better yet, have someone else planning to buy the pricier items for you. Whatever the case, check our other 2006 gift lists for more great items gamers lust after.
 

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