The two of you that listen to the Of Garnet and Black podcast that I co-host have already heard what my top 5 non-video games are so this post is no surprise. I just wanted to take a moment to flesh out and explain why I picked these games out of the huge stack that I have played over the years. If you're ever in the mind to shut down your game system and try some traditional gaming fare, I offer my 100% geek guarantee that you absolutely can't go wrong with any of the games on this list. Hell! I play a few of these even more than I play my Xbox 360!
5. Munchkin (Steve Jackson Games)
Like Apples to Apples and a few other games that didn't quite make this list, Munchkin is one of those games that you pick up out of mere curiosity and are just floored with how fun it is! The basic premise of Munchkin is deceptively simple. It's a parody of the fantasy RPG genre played with cards (all drawn by Dork Tower's own John Kovalic). Each player has a character that they arm with weapons and gear and try to accumulate as many levels and as much loot as they can. The winner is the first person to get their character to level 10 (or level 20 if you're playing with the epic rules). The fun comes in with the fact that the gear ranges from things like a broad sword that can only be used by female characters to the infamous boots of butt-kicking. Fantasy humor not your thing? That's okay because Munchkin comes in various flavors! There's Star Munchkin (sci-fi), Munchkin-Fu (kung-fu), Munchkin Cthulhu (Lovecraftian), Super Munchkin (comic books), Munchkin Impossible (spies), The Good the Bad and the Munchkin (western), Munchkin Bites (goth/vampire) and Munchkin Booty (pirates). And once you get 'em all you get Munchkin Blender and mix the rules up for all out chaos!
Check out the official Munchkin site and get your copy now!
4. Hero Quest (Milton Bradley)
This game came out in the very early '90s during my high school years and, to this day, I can't think of any game that kept me up so late on the first night of play. Me and a couple of friends picked this one up on a whim at Toys 'R' Us and opened the game right after dinner. The next thing we knew, the sun was rising and we took a breakfast break before digging back into the game. The brief description is that it's Dungeons & Dragons: the board game. It's a simple set of rules in which each player controls a generic fantasy character of the barbarian, wizard, dwarf or elf and another takes on the role of the Dungeon Mast... er... the evil Lord Zargon. It's all played on a single board with interchangeable pieces including doors, treasure chests, furniture and the like. The basic set includes a book of 14 scenarios and rules to create your own. There were several expansions that included new quests and new monsters but I only ever stuck to the core set. This games no longer being made, but if you ever run across it at a swap meet or somewhere online, it's definitely a keeper!
3. Magic: The Gathering (Wizards of the Coast)
The reason games like chess, checkers, and other classics stick around is that they are based on a simple premise but can be developed into include complex strategy. That's why Magic: The Gathering is still near the top of the heap when it comes to CCGs (collectible card games). The basis is deceptively simple. You collect lands which in turn power spells. Spells are played to reduce your opponent's life points to zero before he does the same to you. I've taught others to play this game in less than half an hour but after 16 years of playing, I can still learn a new strategies and ideas. Since I picked up an early beta deck back in 1993, there have been 10 revised core sets and 50 expansion sets (with more already planned). It's that kind of expansion and flexibility that makes Magic: The Gathering the one CCG that's going to be around when all the imitators that have come since are long forgotten.
The official Magic Experience website
2. Netrunner (Wizards of the Coast)
Speaking of CCGs that have been forgotten, Netrunner is a game from the creators of Magic: The Gathering that came and went back in 1996. Like Magic, the principle of Netrunner is simple. One player takes the role of a "runner" (translated computer hacker) and the other "the corp" (i.e. corporation). The hacker uses his deck to try and hack the corporations systems to steal data before he is killed by the security measures (dubbed ICE) within the corp's network. What I loved about Netrunner is the nature of the game itself. The runner and the corp both used entirely different sets of cards which allows for some amazing and fun strategies to develop. But the best part was that the corp plays it's ICE cards face-down so there is an element of bluffing involved. The runner doesn't know if the ICE he's about to attack will set off a minor alarm or fry his brain. Netrunner, while forgotten now, won all sorts of awards and accolades when it was released and I'll give it another now by announcing it as my favorite CCG of all time.
1. Dungeons and Dragons (TSR/Wizards of the Coast)
The granddaddy of all modern RPGs (role playing games), Dungeons and Dragons, was released by a small company called TSR (best known for making tactical miniatures games) back in 1974. At that time, I was still in diapers and more interested in sticking dice in my mouth than rolling them. It took nearly 10 years before I picked up my first d20 (that's a 20-sided die for the uninitiated) and graph paper but I've not been without them since. In the 35 years since it's inception, D&D has undergone a lot of changes. It became Advanced Dungeons and Dragons for a while. There have been multiple editions. Hell, the game itself was bought from TSR by Wizards of the Coast (the creators of Magic: The Gathering). To this day, avid players debate over which edition is the "best" but at heart I think they'll all agree when I say that D&D's central idea of some friends gathering around a table, rolling dice and creating their own tales of heroism with what I refer to as "collaborative storytelling" has never wavered. It is for that reason that D&D holds the top spot in my gaming heart and likely always will.
Visit the official Dungeons and Dragons website.
Man! Writing this list has made me want to play some games? Anyone up for Magic: The Gathering on Xbox Live Arcade?