Hello again. So Card.Board.Box has been MIA for a few months. The store has been busier than ever, and creating original content for the website kinda fell to the bottom of the priority list for a bit. But the good news is that I’ve got a half dozen of these things outlined, so I should be back up and running on a mostly monthly basis. So… onto today’s topic!
Perhaps six months ago, a lot of us were talking about the new high bar in board game prices. The boxed game market had seen a large number of really big and lavishly produced boardgames with a retail price of ninety dollars or more. RUNEWARS, DREADFLEET, SUPER DUNGEON EXPLORE, DESCENT, FORTUNE AND GLORY…the list goes on. And that doesn’t even touch on all the limited collector’s and special editions of games that have come out lately.
With the recent surge of interest in board gaming, a lot of it of the more main-stream variety, there has also been a quiet bubble of smaller, less complicated and less expensive games on the rise. Hell, my boy Bruno Faidutti even touched on this a bit in a recent small editorial at his website. The fact of the matter is that more and more families and casual gamers are getting into hobby board gaming, and not all of them are interested in sitting down for six hours to play TWILIGHT IMPERIUM. Personally, I tend to cringe whenever somebody mentions that their favorite game is something like MUNCHKIN, or ZOMBIES!!! as I don’t have a lot of appreciation for silly, light-hearted fare. I like those big giant monsters of board gaming… I’m the guy that considers twelve hours playing a single game of ADVANCED CIVILIZATION time well spent. But then, I’m also the same guy who would much rather watch a film like “Gandhi” than just about any comedy, ever. YMMV.
Luckily for all of us though, a great many publishers have latched onto this growing trend of inexpensive accessibility, Fantasy Flight Games being chief among them. Long known for massive, epic-length games (they literally invented those big “coffin boxes” that games like RUNEWARS come in), they’ve invested a fair bit of marketing and design muscle into a number of smaller games. I first became aware of FFG in a big way back in the early aughts. Aughts? Two thousands? Is there a consensus on what we’re calling the first decade of this century? Anyway, they had an awesome series of small games called the Silver Line, many of which have since been reprinted in those tiny little CITADELS size boxes. COLOSSAL ARENA, DEATHANGEL, and CONDOTTIERE are all in this line, for only $24.95. FFG has also started cranking out Silver Line games in a slightly larger format, for a $30-$35 price point. THE LORD OF THE RINGS (Reiner Knizia’s co-op from 2000) has been reprinted in such a way, and so has THROUGH THE DESERT. Not to mention a great new edition of KINGDOMS. The old version was just simple cardboard tiles on a tiny board, but the new one has gorgeous art, plastic castles and some new content not in the original. (Does anybody else remember ATLANTEON from FFG’s Silver Line? It was a two-player game not dissimilar to KINGDOMS. I’d love to see a new edition of that.)
And Fantasy Flight isn’t alone. Iello, Foxmind, Asmodee… all of these publishers have brought out some tiny gems recently. Any self-respecting gamer deserves to give them a look.
So here, for your browsing pleasure, the top ten games from the last 18 months that you can pick up for thirty-five bucks or less. In no particular order.
THE DWARF KING (Iello, $19.99): Trick taking, Bruno Faidutti style! With a new scoring condition each round, it’s never the same game twice. Sometimes, it’s simply the player with who doesn’t have a negative score that wins! Dwarfs, Goblins and Humans populate this new spin on the classic French card game of BARBU.
LINJA (Foxmind, $19.95): This is one of those games that is so freaking pretty you just want to leave it set up on your coffee table. And while it looks like some weird bit of wooden abstract art, it is in fact a fascinating two player strategy game.
TIMELINE (Asmodee, $14.99): Which was invented first? Penicillin or Dynamite? Was the Eiffel Tower built before or after the Statue of Liberty? Once you’ve figured that out, where does the Rabies Vaccine fit into that string of events? A great lightweight game for as many as eight players, with a pile of expansion decks in the pipeline for release, including discoveries, historical events, and music.
LOST TEMPLE (Stronghold, $34.95): Bruno Faidutti’s character choosing mechanic from CITADELS applied to a racing game. Who will be the first to the temple? Only judicial use of cards like the Seer, the Elder and the Canoe will ensure your place. Also another game that plays for up to eight!
RUNE AGE (FFG, $34.95): A deck-builder set in Terrinoth (home of RUNEBOUND and DESCENT). The spin here is the four different, asymmetrical factions and a variety of scenarios that range from fully cooperative to empire building to all-out war. (And while I’m here, would FFG please release a Terrinoth RPG? That’s worth a blank check from me, I tell ya. But I digress.)
KINGDOMS (FFG, $29.95): This is designer Reiner Knizia at his elegant, straight-forward best. It is a perfect little analytical brain-burner and one which requires serious tactical sacrifices. Will you devote your resources to the richest kingdoms, despite the presence of terrible monsters, or will you go for the safer kingdom that is devoid of creatures but less rich in valuables?
EXPEDITION ALTIPLANO (Asmodee, $19.99): All your favorite Indiana Jones tropes wrapped around a fun two-player card game. The first player who can secure (and hold onto!) two treasures wins the game. Back stabbing and reversals of loyalty abound. “Again we see there is nothing you can possess that I cannot take away.”
ELDER SIGN (FFG, $34.95): Imagine a nice, leisurely four hour game of Arkham Horror. Now eliminate the board and strip all the elements down to their essential role. Now replace the adventure game element with a push-your-luck dice mechanic that models the perils and terrors of Lovecraftian investigation tales. Don’t worry, you can still play Harvey Walters or Sister Mary – you just won’t have to do it for quite as long.
BLOOD BOWL TEAM MANAGER (FFG, $34.95): The original BLOOD BOWL was my introduction to miniatures gaming, so I perhaps a bit biased here. But BLOOD BOWL TEAM MANAGER manages to distill the insanity of a full season of BLOOD BOWL down to about 45 minutes, with all the grudges, team rivalries and cheating included. Let’s go Cha-Os! Let’s go Cha-Os!
ZOOLORETTO MINI (AbacusSpeile/Fred Distribution, $27.99): It’s ZOOLORETTO stripped down to an easily portable mini version. More of a light snack compared to its older brother’s sandwich. Or something. And it’s got meerkats! All games should have meerkats.
-Paul Alexander Butler is the Store Manager of Games and Stuff and organizes the shop’s Tuesday Board Game Nights. [CARD.BOARD.BOX] is his gaming column for GamesAndStuffOnline.com in which he writes about board gaming and other aspects of our hobby. He’s currently prepping for his yearly pilgrimage to the Origins Game Fair in Columbus, OH. He’ll the be the guy with the blue dreadlocks and antlers tattooed on his head. Say hi if you see him!