Features// Michael Fox's Tabletop Games Column

Posted 1 Apr 2013 10:00 by
Had enough of chocolate eggs and spending time with your close relations? Why not pass a while in the company of another Column About Boardgames?

Last time round I made a few suggestions about the kinds of games you can those people who refuse to play anything that's not plugged in to a telly (or you, if you're one of those folks who are afraid of looking like a nerd). If you prefer shooters, fighters or the more leisurely pursuits involving city building, you should probably check out that column.

However, as we all know, it takes different strokes to move the world and there are other types of games out there too...

I have never understood those people who like driving games, especially arcade ones. Sure, I like me a bit of MarioKart, but things like F1 or the Forza series leave me a bit cold. Stick the whole format on top of a table though and I'm golden, especially if it's got an element to dexterity about it ? and that's where PitchCar comes in. If you're looking for a game that's both ridiculously fun and incredibly tense, this should be sitting on your shopping list; you build a track as convoluted as you like, give everyone a little round disc that represents their car, then start flicking.

First one to the finish after a designated amount of laps grabs the chequered flag, but it's far from that simple. Keeping your car on the track isn't easy, so you'll need to exert a degree of finesse if you're looking to win but that doesn't mean that you can't go around knocking other people out of the way...

If driving via dice rolls is more your thing, settle in for a few hours with the incredible Formula D. One of the deeper racing games out there, it's not a question of going flat out all the time; you have to consider your speed at all times as well as keep an eye on what gear you're in. The higher the gear, the larger the dice you can roll and the further you could go in a turn, but if you take a corner too fast you could well bone yourself completely.

It's a more thoughtful experience than PitchCar requiring a lot of heavy decision making, but there's also a great push your luck element to it. You you stay in a high gear and attempt that hairpin at full pelt or play more conservatively? Both strategies are totally viable in Formula D, so it's very much a level playing field. There's also a load of extra tracks available, rules for street racing and a huge community making new stuff all the time. Definitely recommended.

Now, let's move onto sporty games. Sadly, it's very difficult indeed to emulate the excitement of sports in a boardgame, but some make a sterling effort at doing so. Some even manage to achieve a decent game, but you'll be looking hard to pick them up. The best of the bunch is probably the classic Blood Bowl, a fantastic take on American Football that drops the sport into a fantasy setting, ramps up the rules with a dash of insanity and chucks in some spectacular violence for good measure.

The only problem? You can only get it on eBay at the moment, and you'll invariably end up paying through the nose for it. The publishers, Games Workshop, have pretty much given up supporting it ? they've actually handed the licence over to Fantasy Flight who are now responsible for the excellent Blood Bowl Team Manager, a great management sim crossed with competitive play ? but rumours are flying about regarding a relaunch sometime soon. In the meantime, there's a thriving community who maintain a Living Rulebook that is constantly updated and suggest ways for new players to get involved.

If you fancy something that you can actually buy at a store, there's always the classic Subbutteo which was rebooted last year. Personally though, I'd recommend a rather splendid but obscure title called Soccero. This one's a lot quicker to play than Blood Bowl and (as you've probably worked out) is based around the noble sport of Association Football. It's got basic rules to ease you into the game, then you can expand how you play by bringing in stuff about free kicks and penalties ? all you need to know is that it's simple to play, there's plenty of chucking dice about and it's a lot of fun, even with the easy rules.

And finally, how about those lovers of MMOs, who adore sprawling worlds and countless options at their fingertips? You, my friends, probably have the widest variety of options open to you. There are plenty of games out there set in the World of Warcraft universe, for example, but they're not exactly amazing. Instead, why not investigate something like Talisman? It's been around for years with good reason ? the latest edition, the fourth, streamlines a few rules and makes it a great entry level game.

Stripped down, it's pretty much a race to take your character, boost their stats and beat up everything in your way ? including your opponents. Sure, it can take a while, but with a good group it's a lot of fun. If science fiction is more your bag, the game has been remixed and transformed using the Warhammer 40K universe, and is now available as Relic. It's the same game at heart, but man... it's very pretty, which is an added bonus.

Another recommendation that can't be passed over is Descent. One player takes the role of the bad guy, spawing monsters and running things for the evil side ? everyone else is a hero, questing through a dungeon in a bid to find treasure and glory. It's another game that has recently seen the launch of a new edition which makes life a little easier on the good guys, but it's still a challenge to get through if you're facing a particularly nasty Dungeon Master. Add in a whole bunch of extremely lovely bits ? again, it's Fantasy Flight behind the production ? and Descent is definitely something you should be trying out.

I could go on. I know that there are countless games out there that, if you were to sit down with them, could easily keep you entertained for hours. Maybe they'll even spark a whole new interest; frankly, you never know until you try. It's a whole new way of playing. Designers and developers talk constantly about how video games are becoming more and more reliant on social interaction, so why not go to the source? Why not meet up with some folks and give analogue gaming a shot? You might well be surprised...

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