It has been vaguely traditional for the past decade that in the first weeks of December, OgreCave.com runs a series lists suggesting not necessarily the best board and roleplaying games of the preceding year, but the titles that you might like to receive and give. Breaking with that tradition – in that the following is just the one list and in that for reasons beyond our control, this list is not appearing at OgreCave.com – Reviews from R’lyeh would like present its own list. Further, as is also traditional, Reviews from R’lyeh has not devolved into the need to cast about “Baleful Blandishments” to all concerned or otherwise based upon the arbitrary organisation of days.
Nevertheless, Happy Gaming and enjoy the suggestions. Consider them perfect for purchase for yourself. If the world is to end in 2012 – and the denizens of Reviews from R’lyeh doubt that the stars have come right as yet – then at least enjoy a few last rolls of the dice with a favourite new game…
Elder Sign (Fantasy Flight Games), $34.95
For its third game of Lovecraftian investigative horror, Fantasy Flight Games brings us a co-operative dice game of battling the Mythos, monsters, and madmen at Arkham Museum where a concentration of eldritch artefacts have weakened the barriers that prevent the return of an Ancient One. Designed for between one and eight investigators, they must make the best use of their tools, allies, spells, and clues to locate Elder Signs if they are to re-seal the barriers between worlds and so prevent the Ancient One’s return. Fail to find the Elder Signs, and the Ancient One and his minions grow stronger until the investigators must face the Ancient One armed only with their stamina and their sanity. With sixteen investigators to choose from and eight different Ancient Ones to face, Elder Sign offers plenty of replay value as well as a challenge every time. Also available as an App.
Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Beginner Box (Paizo Publishing), $35
With this weighty box, Paizo Publishing enables you to get playing one of the most popular and certainly best supported of fantasy RPGs of recent years. Not only is it designed to get you playing quickly by letting you play one of the four pre-generated adventurers and reading up on them while the GM reads the first few encounters, but in the long term, it provides the rules needed to create a human, dwarf, or elf cleric, fighter, rogue, or wizard character and then take that hero from first up to fifth level. The GM gets just as much support, first with an introductory adventure, and then with advice on creating your own in a variety of environments, plus there are maps and tokens for both the characters and the monsters to help bring your adventurers to life on the table. With its slightly streamlined rules and some great art work, the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Beginner Box is an attractively easy way into the hobby.
7 Wonders (Asmodée Éditions), $49.95
If there was one game that deserved to win the “Spiel des Jahres” (German “Game of the Year”) award in 2011, it was 7 Wonders, a civilisation themed card game that can be played with as many as seven players in forty-five minutes. It did not win the “Spiel des Jahres,” but it did win its new bigger brother award, the "Kennerspiel des Jahres" (roughly "Connoisseur-Enthusiast Game of the Year"). Played one card at a time over the course of three ages with players passing their card hands to their neighbour after every turn, 7 Wonders tracks up to seven ancient civilisations as they attempt to establish and trade for resources, build their militaries, enhance their cultures, advance their scientific knowledge, and of course, complete one of the wonders of the age. Not only is 7 Wonders a lovely looking game, its multiple paths to victory give it a high replay value.
Abney Park's Airship Pirates RPG (Cubicle Seven Entertainment), $49.99
In the Neo-Victorian era of 2150 AD, America has become a great wilderness, home to mammoths and sabre-toothed cats, criss-crossed by the tracks of the armoured railroads that connect Emperor Victor III’s walled cities within which nothing ever changes and within which his clockwork policemen ensure nothing ever changes. Freedom can only be found with the Neobedouins who cross the wilderness and aboard the vessels of the airship pirates that sail the skies ready to pounce from behind the clouds. Based on songs of the Seattle Steampunk band, Abney Park, in Airship Pirates the player characters take to the skies in command of a skyship, perhaps as a band or merchants or mercenaries, setting to discover the secrets of this Steampunk, Post-Apocalypse, Pirate, Time Travel RPG!
Paris Connection (Queens Games) $62.99
A surprisingly light game from hard core train game designer/publisher, Winsome Games, Paris Connection has been given an attractive new look by Queen Games. It is a track and share game played across France, the players building six networks out from Paris, connecting to the nation’s various towns, cities, and ports to increase the share value of each network. Every player begins with a hidden allotment of shares, but cannot hide the shares they pick up during the game, often necessary if they are to acquire any shares that are increasing in value. The clever, but still simple aspect of Paris Connection is that its wooden train pieces represent both track pieces and shares in each network, so eventually, every player must ask themselves, at what point do share/track pieces become more valuable as shares than as track? Answering that question will keep this lovely looking, light and quick filler game coming back to the table.
Bookhounds of London (Pelgrane Press), $34.95
The book has always been important to Lovecraftian investigative horror, but Bookhounds of London, written by Ken Hite for Trail of Cthulhu, brings it to the fore like never before. This is a campaign setting in which the investigators are bookhounds in Depression Era London, working the book trade for the “squiz” (an exquisite item in bookseller’s slang) that will keep the doors of their “fine books” shop open. With debts and death duties to pay, England’s finest families have ransacked their extensive libraries leading to the market being flooded with both mundane and esoteric titles. Are the bookhounds willing to make money on these, even if it means selling a copy of Unaussprechlichen Kulten to some all too ambitious occultist? These are the choices faced by the book sellers, all played out against fog bound haze of a city full of ancient secrets behind its bureaucratic indifference and metropolitan façade. Bookhounds of London is another seedily evocative campaign from the pen of Ken Hite and another fine book for Trail of Cthulhu.
Discworld: Ankh-Morkpork (Treefrog Games), $60
Lord Vetinari is dead! Or on holiday. Either way, this is your chance to take control of Ankh-Morkpork in what is Martin Wallace’s most a commercial game yet, being based on Terry Prachett’s Discworld novels. Designed for two to four players each with a secret personality and a secret aim – are they Chrysophrase the troll (who wants money), the Dragon King of Arms (who wants to be king again), Sam Vimes of the Guards (who literally does not want any trouble), or Vetinari himself (secretly returned to sniff out his rivals) – Ankh-Morkpork is an area control game in which every action is card driven with every card and its actions being designed around the Discworld personality on each card. Another great looking game, Discworld: Ankh-Morkpork has enough game play for the dedicated gamer and enough theme without too much complexity to be enjoyed by the Discworld fans too.
The One Ring: Adventures over the Edge of the Wild (Cubicle Seven Entertainment), $59.99
With Smaug and the Battle of Five Armies won, a kind of peace has come to the peoples of Northern Middle Earth. Dangers still lurk beyond the borders of civilisation, whether from the Orc-holds of the mountains or the deepest recesses of Mirkwood where a corrupting foulness resides to reach out again and taint the hearts of the free peoples… This is the setting for The One Ring, the latest RPG based on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien that focuses on character and culture, and on the fellowship that the characters form and becomes a character of its own as they progress. Notably, this is a fantasy RPG that does not include any magic casting player characters, but that is perfectly in keeping with Tolkien’s setting. Lastly, it comes as a beautiful rule set complete with maps and dice, all within a sturdy slipcase.
Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 1 - Team Asia & Legendary Asia (Days of Wonder), $30
It has been a long wait since Switzerland for what the Ticket to Ride fan really wants: more maps with destinations to reach and routes to claim. With Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 1 - Team Asia & Legendary Asia, you get not only two maps – on a double-sided board, but two different ways to play. François Valentyne's Legendary Asia map lets you take the long Silk Road or climb the high passes of the Himalayas with the new mountain routes. With Ticket to Ride’s designer Alan R. Moon's Team Asia map, you can add a sixth player by playing in teams of two working together to claim routes. Neither member of a team is allowed to talk strategy with the other, but they can hint at it by playing destination and train cards from their hands to a wooden card holder that both can see. With six of these card holders in this expansion, they can just easily be used in other Ticket to Ride titles or even other games!
The Legacy of Arrius Lurco (Miskatonic River Press), $29.95
In an age when the appearance of a campaign for Call of Cthulhu is a rare occurrence, 2011 brings us a campaign not for Call of Cthulhu, but for its Ancient Rome setting, Cthulhu Invictus. The investigators are asked to look into why wealthy patrician, Arrius Lurco, went missing in Crete years before and why he cannot recall what he did. Uncovering this mystery and the mystery of Lurco’s strange behaviour will take the investigators across the Empire to reveal an ancient horror behind a creature born of legend and a cult prepared to move against the investigators as they uncover its secrets. This is a very different Call of Cthulhu campaign, involving more classic detective work than sifting through dusty libraries, and some quite, quite horrible moments for investigators and players alike. Not a campaign for the timid or anyone looking for an easy game, The Legacy of Arrius Lurco is not only the best campaign for Call of Cthulhu for years, but it also sets the standard by which all future Cthulhu Invictus titles will be measured.
Stars Without Number Core Edition (Mongoose Publishing), $39.99
One of the very few Science Fiction RPGs to come out of the “Old School Renaissance,” Stars Without Number is far from an old school RPG. Rather it is an “Edition Zero” tool kit that comes with everything necessary to both play and build a campaign of the GM’s creation, whether that is set within one of his devising or the setting provided. This is set in the far future in an age of recovery following a long collapse. There are old worlds to be re-discovered, new dangers that have taken advantage of the chaos to be faced, and secrets of the pre-Scream Golden Age to be revealed. Supported by extensive advice and ideas, Stars Without Number is the perfect RPG for exploring a Science Fiction “sandbox.”
Cosmic Patrol (Catalyst Game Labs), $24.99
Inspired by the Golden Age broadcast Science Fiction of Tom Corbett, Space Cadet and X MINUS ONE as well as the writings of Robert A. Heinlein, Poul Anderson, and E.E. “Doc” Smith, Cosmic Patrol is a light storytelling RPG in which the characters are stalwart members of the Grand Union’s last line of defence against a dangerous universe. As Patrolmen, they crew rocketships sent out to explore the galaxy, to investigate its strange phenomena, protect the Solar System, and respond to emergencies as necessary. The mechanics are kept light with everyone taking it turn to narrate scenes in the current adventure with heroics being encouraged. Plus the little rulebook is a work of art itself, looking exactly like a handbook for the Cosmic Patrol itself.