Today I want to give you some suggestions for Christmas board game gifts for the more hardcore members of your family. By “hardcore” I mean “hardcore geek”. It's not a sexual thing. A board game would be a terrible gift for a sexually liberated person. It'd be like saying “I thought you might, I dunno... play some board games instead?” I'm not saying that sexually liberated people don't play board games, by the way. They do! Board games are hugely sexual. Eyes meeting over a table, hands touching hands, feet brushing feet. Damn. Give me a second here.
SHOPPING IDEAS FOR THE HARDCORE
So, you have this friend or relative or sexual partner and they are into some seriously heavy weird shit. Maybe you walked in on them some night and they were painting a tiny miniature elf. Maybe you've seen them spend weeks cutting foam and sewing lycra so they can pose in costume for creepy people's cameras at comic conventions. Maybe.
Well, you can't buy Settlers of Catan for that person. They're going to have that, or at least know about it, and it's going to be CHILD'S PLAY to that person. No, you have to go deeper and weirder. You need to impress them with a hardcore, heavy nerd GEEKOPACOPALYPSE of a gift. And that brings us straight down the throat of -
What can you possibly say about High Frontier? I touched upon it in places in the past (as in the weirdest column I ever wrote) but I've never really told you how great it is in plain language. It's a game about space travel and it's a beautiful, breathtakingly intelligent design. The prospect of learning how to play this game will terrify you. Phil Eklund, the designer, always seems to treat game design as an art form and speaks to you about some big ideas through his mechanics. In the game you have to manage a personal economy, send rockets into space, work out how to manage the space trajectories or whatever and the fuel burn and the thingies – it's hard to even explain, never mind play. The game isn't impossible to learn, but it is DAUNTING. The rule book is a good one, but hard to digest. The board looks gorgeous, but incredibly cryptic. I mean LOOK AT IT.
A normal person would run a mile from it. But a hardcore geek in your life? They will LOVE this game.
Please buy it for someone. Get someone into it. I have no-one to play it with.
This game is really something. Your hardcore geek person will probably have played Magic: The Gathering. I mean, who hasn't, right? RIGHT? Well, what if you told this hardcore geek person that Mage Wars was like a Magic: The Gathering that lets you use all your cards right from the start of the game. Seriously. Each player has a card binder full of cards, a spell book, and can cast any of them from the get go, pretty much. It's a game about duelling wizards (sorry, MAGES), you play it on a big board, and it's just a high-action slammin' jammin' rammin' card-crammin' bit of (I'm all out of things that rhyme with “slammin”) magic.
BANG! You summon some bats.
BLAST! Your opponent fires a big fireball at them.
SKRUNKKKKK! You create a wall of ice.
KADOOOOM! Dunno what that noise is.
There are lots of new expansions too. New wizards (sorry, MAGES) and spell binders and so on and so forth. And there is just so much cool shit in the box, and that's always good. Geeks love opening boxes full of cool shit that will just be burned in an incinerator when they die. You can read former RPSer Quinns talking about Mage Wars on his cool as shit board game site, by the way, so do that.
It's still great. New cards rolling out. Growing. Being brilliant. A game of hackers and corporate bad guys. The hackers poking at the corporations' cards, the corporations trapping the hell out of the hackers' decks. Bluff, counter-bluff, hand management. Brilliant.
There's a chance your hardcore geek might already have Netrunner. But I'm a little bit surprised at how slow people have been to pick it up. I mean, I KNOW it is selling like crazy, but I know a fair few Magic players and GEEKS IN GENERAL who just haven't taken the plunge yet. Take the plunge for them. Buy them Netrunner and watch their wee eyes light up when they realise how much gameplay you can pull out of a couple of decks of cards.
I covered this a couple of years ago.
It's been expanded since, and the expansion is great (though not essential). This is one of the greatest board games EVER designed. This is a MASTERPIECE. It can be played solo too, so you're giving a gift that will definitely be played by your geek friend or lover. I can't recommend this one enough.
Look, I'm going to put this game on every recommendation list I ever make. It's not even a hardcore, complex game. I'm just putting it here because it's the COOLEST. This is probably Top Five Of All Time material for me. Cut-throat, nasty, brilliant. Different every time you play. The recent expansion brings the player count up to 6, and adds some amazing new cards into the mix. And in this game, amazing new cards mean amazing new ways to make your opponents want to punch you square in the jaw. It's also INEXPENSIVE, unlike most board games. Just BUY IT. In fact, buy this one for yourself. READ ALL ABOUT IT.
And finally (running out of space)
Buy this for your favourite geek before it vanishes, possibly forever. Earth Reborn is a scenario-based miniatures skirmish game. It features a board that you build out of Tetris-style pieces, allowing for different map set-ups. It features some brilliant combat mechanics, and a ridiculously deep and elegant orders system. It's a game that allows you to interrupt your opponent's actions with prepared actions of your own. It also has a multitude of rules I would file under “cool rules”, allowing you to search rooms, fuck around with equipment, scramble radio transmissions to mess up your opponent's orders...
Why did this game not take off in a big way?
It's a brilliant design, and a beautiful production. It's deep, pretty complex, but teaches players how to play through a succession of tutorial scenarios.
I think the game might just be TOO good. And now it's kinda sorta forgotten, despite being the ultimate geek miniature fighty storytelling scenario-based battle HEAVEN GAME OF GEEK PARADISE.
This is your final warning. Grab the final copies. Don't say your auld da didn't tell you.