November 27, 2008

Critical Gamers 2008 Holiday Gift Guide - Board Games, Strategy Games, and Card Games Galore

HolidayBuyersGuide.11.15.06.jpgWe know how important it is to find the right game for the right person - it's hard work. And so once again we've lovingly crafted individual guides chalk full of selections tailored for various specific of gaming styles and genres.

Rest assured that you'll find the right game for the right person for some unwrapping goodness come December. Your anchor is this page. Everything you'll need to shop for a gamer spirals out from here, linking to all of our selections for best-bet titles to gift wrap this holiday season.

And here they are:

Critical Gamers 2008 Holiday Shopping Guides:

If you haven't found exactly what you're looking for then please also check out our 2006 Holiday Gift Guide and our 2007 Holiday Gift Guide. They're both also chalk-full of great game ideas with staying power - we still play many of these games even years later!

Happy Holidays folks!

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November 27, 2008

Carcassonne Catapult Expansion Lobs One Over The Fence

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We've always felt Carcassonne was fun. The only thing that needed spicing-up through expansions were new mechanics that kept the game fun while adding interesting depths to the already fantastically balanced strategy.

Unfortunately unless you're trying to make Caracassonne more approachable for kids, this expansion easily manages to ruin both of those things. Caracssonne: The Catapult [Amazon, Funagain] includes new Fair pieces to mix in with your stock landscape tiles. If a Fair is drawn the player gets to put his meeple on a relatively shodding tiddily winks launcher which tosses him in a tight arc. If any meeple breaks his fall on his way down, the that meeple is carted off board into to the local medieval infirmary. There are a few different modes, too, including one where you shoot chits at each other and score points on catches, or where your meeple replaces the flatted victim on the board.

That's it. It's a randomized aggressive potshot that's fun for the first few random launches, but then gets as tiring as watching Steve Wiebe try to get the kill screen in Circus Atari. Moreover, this expansion flies directly in the face of the interesting - yet light - strategy placement of Carcassonne & expansions that we hold in the highest of regards.

Let's hope this new direction is a short stint. Here's the official word:


It's fair time in Carcassonne. A traveling salesman arrives and brings his newest invention: a wondrous catapult!

His demonstrations amaze the crowds and inspire the creative to find many uses for this new contraption. Of course, not every planned use is well thought out or successful...

Contains:

  • 12 landscape tiles
  • 24 catapult tokens
  • 1 wooden catapult
  • 1 measuring board


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November 24, 2008

Critical Gamers 2008 Holiday Gift Guide - Party Games

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For more great gift ideas across all genres of games please see our
Holiday Gift Guide Index.

Now while we love a board and some strategy in most of our games, they're not the right fit for a social evening. That's where party games come in - they tickle the exhibitionist side of everyone, and promote social elements of gaming in a far stronger light than the cerebral mind-game of positioning and placement. Most importantly, they make us laugh our buttocks off.

We're not going to lie to you; the releases in 2008 weren't very friendly to the party gamer. Sure, you could suck it up and buy the heavily commercialized PartiniTravolta.jpg, but it's just the rehashed/ reboiled essence of decade-old Cranium repackaged under a new publisher, and we simply can't suggest that to anyone.

So for this year's guide we revisit our favorite Party Games. These titles still top our table even after numerous repeat plays, some over the span of years, and that's saying something. So as much as this is a Holiday Shoppers List, also consider these choices our Best of Party Games Eva' list, too.

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November 23, 2008

Critical Gamers 2008 Holiday Gift Guide - Wargame Board Games

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For more great gift ideas across all genres of games please see our
Holiday Gift Guide Index.


In our third volume of our 2008 Holiday Gift Guides we present three substantial wargaming releases that hit store shelves this fall. Not only are these AAA titles, but they spread three levels of complexity and they're so new that not many folks have gotten their grubby mits on them yet.

Let us also say this: 2008 was a great year for revisiting Wargames from our past. Patton.jpgThere are numerous titles that were long lost and forgotten, including two of our selections this year. But now they've not only been reprinted, but in many cases the baseline of the game has deconstructed, revised and rebuilt. While this is often dangerous and sometimes the end product is mired in filth, the titles released in 2008 have been bright shining stars and very successful.

Enough talk, here are our selections for Best Wargming gifts for the 2008 Holidays:

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November 22, 2008

Critical Gamers 2008 Holiday Gift Guide - Strategy Board Games

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For more great gift ideas across all genres of games please see our
Holiday Gift Guide Index.

In part two of our Holiday Shopper Guides we look into gifts for the Strategy Gamer. These are the folks who grew up playing Chess, Stratego, and the classic Diplomacy, and are now ready for evolved games with better themes and potentially deeper gameplay.

Most of these games are for the more serious gamer who in their mid-teens and up. If you're looking for a title to fit the younger generation or pickup a mainstream game then you should checkout our 2008 Family Games Holiday Gift Guide, which lists some greats games that are more relaxed and interest a wide range of player types. For Rodin.jpgthose of you looking for strategy war games: we ask you to checkout our War Game Holiday Gift Guide for 2008 which runs down our list of the best war gaming gifts for this year.

But those who want some great stand up strategy games then look no further. We've got quite a list here, including many critically acclaimed award winners that'll satisfy any strategy gamer when they tear off the wrapping paper come late December.

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November 20, 2008

Critical Gamers 2008 Holiday Gift Guide - Family Games

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For more great gift ideas across all genres of games please see our
Holiday Gift Guide Index.

We once again kick off our annual series of Board Game Holiday Shopper guides with probably the most difficult of gaming archetypes: The Family Gamer. Our goal was to compile a list of fun games that span the disparate interest levels of younger players, teens, and adults where challenge and creativity is more interesting than following the rules.

Here's our most important criteria for the choosing games for our Holiday Board Games Guide for Families:

  1. Games that are interesting for adults, too. Even though we recommend these games to families, we still want play any and all of these games because they're fun for us despite the fact that we're in our 30's.
  2. Games that are simple to learn - but yet interesting and offer a quite a few levels of depth. They have to be rewarding for everyone who comes to the table.CatanMap.jpg
  3. Games that keep everyone involved from the first turn to the last, unlike the traditional family games from our past - like Monopoly.
  4. The games come to a conclusion in about an hour so they're easy to budget time for, and you won't feel that board game hangover as you burn the midnight oil.

There's no surprise that this list jives with many characteristics of Eurogames which came out of Germany in the 1990's - since they were designed for exactly this type of gaming. Also, these games listed here would be great for non families, too, like any social board game group looking to get together a few times a month to play games and just hang out.

And here's our list of Family Games for the 2007 Holiday Season without any further ado:

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Axis & Allies Anniversary Board Game Hits Shelves

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The first major board game release to kick off the 2008 holiday shopping season is here, and it just hit the table like the triumphant bang of an airlifted crate of a frozen K Rations plummeting through a Bastogne church rooftop on Christmas morning.

This year the publisher turned 50, and decided to roll out remakes of their most popular titles. The goal of the Axis and Allies team was to make the Axis & Allies Avalon Hill 50th Anniversary edition [Amazon, Funagain] bigger in every way... and the publisher has succeeded at doing just that. We've check and we've noted that this giant installment is at least 5 hogs' heads bigger than the A&A 2004 Revised Edition. That's 5 hogs' heads of larger boards, more territories, new factions, new refined rules choice-pulled from the latest A&A releases, and 600 pieces of wargaming goodness all under one box cover.

The board is now 2 feet x 4 feet - the biggest yet in an A&A game. It's also gorgeous; instead of the drab and flat-shaded territories of editions past, the board now sports full-colored topographical terrain, faded in just the right way as be interesting but not at all distracting. And now the Cruiser unit has bee introduced to the global A&A cast of military units - A&A aficionados will note this has been pulled from the recent and highly successful Axis & Allies Guadalcanal Edition. Finally, the expansionist nation of Italy has joined the the Axis nations, and China now has it's own turn under USA control.

Very interesting indeed. First Risk is reimagined, and now its natural next step in wargaming evolution leaks from the 20th century and lands smack dab into the 21st. What a fantastic year for gaming.

For more information checkout Axis&Allies.org's coverage of the details, or the official Axis and Allies Anniversary Edition website.

Or, even easier, here are the official details:


Axis & Allies celebrates 50 years of Avalon Hill games with this Anniversary Edition of the classic World War II strategy board game. Designed by Larry Harris, A&A Anniversary Edition will utilize the standard D6 combat system found in Axis & Allies Revised, Europe, & Pacific. Italy will debut as the third Axis nation, China will be operated by the US player, and cruiser class ships will join the naval line-up for the first time. The largest board ever produced for an A&A game, along with deluxe components will ensure this is the granddaddy of all Axis & Allies board games. Deploy your forces and prepare for battle!

Axis & Allies: Anniversary Edition details:

  • Designed by Larry Harris, creator of Axis & Allies
  • Italy introduced as the third Axis nation
  • Two set-up options: Spring 1941 and Spring 1942
  • Cruiser class ships join the naval unit line-up
  • China included as US controlled ally
  • New sculpts for Italy, China, and others
  • Game board measures ~ 24" x 46"
  • Over 600 game pieces
  • 48 page rulebook


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The Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition is now shipping from Amazon and Funagain Games.

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November 18, 2008

Tide of Iron Map Pack Announced for Spring 2009

TideofIronBox.jpgHow odd. Just this Saturday we were slugging it out over the custom Tide or Iron scenario "Blitz" - which we highly recommend for its balanced tank battle slugfest - and now today the ever-vigilant Board Game News has word that Fantasy Flight Games will shortly announce a new Tide of Iron expansion slated for release next March. This new expansion comes hot on the heals of the recent Desert Fox expansion from earlier this year, and the upcoming Tide of Iron: Designer Series [Amazon, Funagain] slated for release in December.

The expansion is the first of what will probably be a series: a Tide of Iron Map Pack. It'll incorporate 'more colorful' replacement pieces for the the set of customizable boards. This will not only replace the base set of boards for standard play - which were quite alright already - but also expands upon the tile set so you can really create some wonderful sprawling battles.

Here's their word:


" Tide of Iron puts players in thick of WWII. The Tide of Iron Map Upgrade Pack lets players update their original map boards with brand new artwork and enhanced colors. Players can also use these with their existing Tide of Iron boards to create epic level battles.

Also included is the cardboard from the base game with upgraded obstacles such as tank traps, bunkers, and hills, giving players much more flexibility when creating custom scenarios and recreating famous battles."


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November 17, 2008

Le Havre Board Game - A Destined Classic

LeHavre.jpgIt seems Lookout Games has another hit on their hands just in time for the fall.

The board game La Havre [Funagain] follows the same theme of its award winning cousin Agricola [Amazon, Funagain], but instead of pulling the strings on an small agricultural farm players serve as tycoons working their strategic magic in the major port city of Normandy, France.

Players will purchase goods, push them through their own processing plants & ships, or pay to use another player's, and attempt to sell their goods for cold hard francs. Players are then evaluated and ranked on their shipping, manufacturing and cash assets at the end of the game, and with random draws and setup there are quite few different avenues and styles to play to get you to the top.

The game is very dynamic, plays fast, is elbow deep in the strategy, and yet pretty darn easy to pickup considering the amount of content. And though it's recommended for 12 & UP, it'd probably work best in the family environment if you have kids in the early-teens at least. Otherwise, this is AAA title for adult gamers and gaming groups.

If you want to read more about the game then we highly recommend this fantastic BGG User Review. You can also read the rules [pdf], and finally here are Le Havre's official details:


"About the Game

Le Havre is a French city, containing France's second largest harbour (after Marseilles). The city is notable not only for its size but also for its unusual name. The Dutch word "Havre", meaning "Harbour", was adopted into French in the 12th century, but these days it is considered archaic and "le port" is used instead.

The principle of the game is simple. A player's turn consists of two parts: First, distribute newly supplied goods onto the Offer spaces; then take an action. As an action, players may choose either to take all goods of one type from an Offer space or to use one of the available buildings. Building actions allow players to upgrade goods, sell them or use them to build their own buildings and ships. Buildings are both an investment opportunity and a revenue stream, as players must pay an entry fee to use buildings that they do not own. Ships, on the other hand, are primarily used to provide the food that is needed to feed the workers.

After every seven turns, the round ends: a Harvest increases players' grain and cattle reserves, and players must feed their workers.After a fixed number of rounds, each player may carry out one final action, and then the game ends. Players add the value of their buildings and ships to their cash reserves. The player who has amassed the largest fortune is the winner." - Le Havre's Official Rules


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November 11, 2008

WoW Minis Launch Hub - Everything You Need to Know

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It's here! The biggest release of the year is here!

World of Warcraft Minis follows hot on the heels of the successful Upper Deck smash-hit World of Warcraft the Trading Card Game, which has impressed us immensely from both a gamer's perspective and from a World of Warcraft fan's perspective.

Now it's time for Upper Deck to bring us into the world of World of Warcraft once again, and this time it's in 3D. WoW Minis sports spacial tactics, rarity scales, collecting, and even 100% cooperative raid content.

Just about every aspect of the game is top notch. We had a chance to put our hands on the game at this years Penny Arcade Expo, and we walked away very, very impressed and more excited than we had ever expected to be.

Today we'll cover all the info you need about WoW Minis to get started, including the various kits, rules, and a listing of all the official feature previews that have been published so far - all in a nice completely page of WoW Mini goodness. Enjoy!

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WizKids Ceases Operations

HaloActionClix.jpgIn a sad bit of news in a downtrodden economy the The Topps Company announced that its gaming division WizKids will no longer be alive to compete with Upper Deck's gaming division. Unless an angelic company swoops down to pickup the orphaned properties, then the Starwars PocketModel TCG, HeroClix, ActionClix (including the Halo series) and Battlestar Galactica TCG series will probably soon go the way of the dodo.

While we commonly regarded WizKids as producing B-Side games when it came to ongoing support, quality and subject matter, they still were an important player in the gamespace. They will be surely missed.

Here's the official WizKids press release pulled from their website:


Announcement

"The Topps Company announced today that WizKids will immediately cease operations and discontinue its product lines.

Scott Silverstein, CEO of Topps, said "This was an extremely difficult decision. While the company will still actively pursue gaming initiatives, we feel it is necessary to align our efforts more closely with Topps current sports and entertainment offerings which are being developed within our New York office."

Upon notifying our partners, Topps will immediately pursue strategic alternatives so that viable brands and properties, including HeroClix, can continue without noticeable disruption. To that end, WizKids will continue supporting Buy it By the Brick redemptions for Arkham Asylum, and the December Organized Play events for HeroClix.

For consumer announcements, please refer to www.wizkidsgames.com over the coming days for further information."


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November 10, 2008

Zooloretto & Aquaretto Expand to XXL Weightclass

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The award winning family oriented collection game Zooloretto, and its expansion Aquaretto, have achieved extra-extra large status with one expansions release. Zooloretto XXL [Amazon, Funagain] includes new animal offspring created from some *elbow elbow* animal zoo animal loving, new animal tiles, vending stalls and the new option to send animals to fictitious off-table zoos. This, of course, nets you more points at the end of the game.

This new animal lending mechanic can be done as a standard turn action and is explained quite clearly in the Zooloretto XXL rules [pdf].

In all the expansion seems to be a nice little spice-up to a family standard. Here is the official info:


  • Number of players: 2-5
  • Age of players: 10++
  • Length: 45-60 minutes

"The zoo grows and prospers: new animals are added regularly and the animals provide offspring from time to time. Once a zoo is full and few new animals are added, it can become boring and customers want something new.
Also, zoo managers find it useful to share their animals by sending them to other zoos. Of course, the new zoos like the additions and reward those who sent them.
Two extra delivery trucks are added for the game for two and bonus material is included for Aquaretto.
This is just what is needed for those who cannot get enough Zooloretto."



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November 7, 2008

Journey to the Center of the Earth Board Game

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We've been covering some pretty heavy board games recently geared toward young adults and adults like oursevles. Oh how we love them so.

We'll now here's one that entire family can enjoy. Journey To the Center of the Earth [Amazon, Funagain] challenges explorers to make the epic quest down a dormant volcano, then board a raft across to cross a subterranean ocean and ride the eruptive lavaflow of an active volcano to the 'safety' of the surface. Along the way players score points by unearthing treasures found within the deep, but they most ensure they keep control of them even through the violent shimmy shake of the lava escape.

The game is on the light side which makes it great for kids - the game says it's for ages 10&Up but you could probably get things rolling even earlier for that. Don't wait too much longer though 'cause the game isn't high on the complexity scale, and there are other games out there that may keep your family more entertained. This isn't a masterpiece like Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne or Settlers of Catan, for instance, but it's definitely a stepping stone for younger kids to get to games of that complexity.

Here are the official details:


Descend deep into the interior of the earth, as you lead the three adventurers from Jules Vernes classic novel: Professor Lidenbrock, his nephew Axel and their guide Hans. Begin your amazing journey with entry through the crater of the dormant Icelandic volcano Snaefells. Explore a dense forest of giant mushrooms, traverse a turbulent underground ocean, before you are hurled out of an Italian volcano to return to the earth's surface. On your journey, collect fossils both small and large, collect gold and overcome obstacles through the prudent acquisition and use of select equipment. Explore the many parts of the subterranean cavern; using equipment and luck are critical to overcoming the obstacles within your path. The player who can escape with the best collection of artifacts is the winner. Will you direct our heroes on a journey of danger, discovery and fortune?

Info:

  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 10+
  • Playing Time: 60-75 minutes
  • Designer: Rüdiger Dorn

Contains:

  • 1 game board
  • 3 adventurer figures
  • 1 raft
  • 20 water stones
  • 80 small cards
  • 120 large cards
  • 1 rulebook

Have a good weekend!

Edit: It looks like Tom Vassal of The Dice Tower fame recently reviewed Journey to the Center of the Earth, along with his 8 year old daughter. It's nice to hear opinions from both sides of the age cusp. Another great review from Tom once again:

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November 3, 2008

Dominion - A Standalone Collectibe Card Game in a Box

Dominion.jpgThose of you looking to get your hands on a TCG or CCG that doesn't require you plop down gobs of cash, then you might have found just what you've been looking for. The new card game Dominion [Amazon, Funagain] has often been lovingly described as a collectible card game in a box, and a good one at that.

The game is being published by Rio Grande Games and designed by Hans im Glück, a pairing that has brought us the delicious Carcassonne series.

Dominion is an entirely card-based game that is played in short spurts ( < 30 minutes ), which is a fantastic amount of time since the game is all about building up a small kingdom from virtual nothing, and doing it in new, unique ways every sessions.

Throughout each round players draw cards from their basic deck to both act against other players, and to aid in the purchase of even more cards to add their deck. Dominion empowers players to construct their own custom dominion (deck) throughout play. A player's decision of which cards to purchase from a set of randomly drawn cards each turn is based on many different factors -the collection of cards that are currently available for purchase (using in game cash), how do the cards complement what the player's current deck is tailored to do, what are your opponents trying to do and how can you stop them, etc. Your deck starts small, and when it's exhausted the discard is shuffled back together into a deck along with all the cards you've purchased, and play continues. Think of it as a snowballing effect - your dominion becomes more powerful as you slide new resources and prized possessions into the fold as play progresses.

The game has been received extraordinarily well by gaming community. For more information checkout this great Dominion user review on BGG. And - as always - here are the game's official details:


" You are a monarch, like your parents before you, a ruler of a small pleasant kingdom of rivers and evergreens. Unlike your parents, however, you have hopes and dreams! You want a bigger and more pleasant kingdom, with more rivers and a wider variety of trees. You want a Dominion! In all directions lie fiefs, freeholds, and feodums. All are small bits of land, controlled by petty lords and verging on anarchy. You will bring civilization to these people, uniting them under your banner. But wait! It must be something in the air; several other monarchs have had the exact same idea. You must race to get as much of the unclaimed land as possible, fending them off along the way. To do this you will hire minions, construct buildings, spruce up your castle, and fill the coffers of your treasury. Your parents wouldn't be proud, but your grandparents, would be delighted. Dominion is not a CCG, but the play of the game is similar to the construction and play of a CCG deck. The game comes complete with roughly 500 cards. You select 10 of the 20+ Kingdom card types to include in any given play -- leading to immense variety."

Dominion is now shipping and available from Amazon and Funagain Games.

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November 2, 2008

Critical Gamers' October 2008 Board Gaming Roundup

RoundUp.jpgOctober was a big month. The mainline eurogame franchise Carassonne received a new installment, D&D's source materials expanded in the slick Adventure's Vault, and the dudtastic Player's Handbook Deluxe Edition. In the World of Warcraft world, local hobby stores received WoW Miniatures Demo Kits so you can check-out what will prove to be the biggest release of the Fall before it hits shelves, and the World of Warcraft TCG started a brand new cycle with the Drums of War which hit shelves just last week.

And though as busy as October was, it's just a prelude to bigger, better things as the holiday release scheudle markes on. On the horizon this month are a slew of hard hitting releases, like the Battlestar Galactica board game, Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition - the largest AA title released yet - a Lost Cities board game, a suite of new D&D 4th Edition source books, and of course the brightest spot on our radar: World of Warcraft Minis. They ship next week.

Hold on to your butts.

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