By Andrew Dodson on December 19, 2014 at 12:57pm
It's the holidays, and Player Theory has got your back for all your last minute gift-giving needs. For this edition, we will be focusing on tabletop gaming.
Dice are simple little things, but the fate of entire games (and occasionally worlds for tabletop RPG players) can rest of their rolls. Some dice are precision cut, maximizing their balance and accuracy. Others are made out of unique material, giving them a different weight and feel. Some...are just pretty to look at. There is a die for every occasion, and while every tabletop gamer probably has their favorite set of dice, no one should turn down the gift of extra fate.
While there is no inherent advantage to using non-plastic dice, there is a certain power that comes from rolling metal dice. They're heavy, make a lot of noise as they clang on the table and when they finally come to rest, there is a finality that comes to the result. If metal is a bit too industrial for your gamer, you can also find sets of die made out of various kinds of stone.
If accuracy is important, the Dice Shop has a huge variety of precision-cut dice to get that maximum balance and to avoid the 'cursed die' argument that comes with 'lesser grade' die sets.
Personally, I'm a fan of those strange-shaped dice. Everyone has seen a d8 and a d20. But what about a d2 or a d3? Sure, you can use a coin to simulate a two-sided die or a six-sided dice to simulate either, but these are dice and that is much more interesting than some dumb coin.
An extra dice-related piece of gear that fits well with any tabletop game is the dice tower. There are a million versions that you can find online by simply going on Etsy and searching for "dice tower. They are also really easy to make on your own - a dice tower is essentially just a box that you can drop dice into and a tray at the bottom for them to be captured in. You could make and paint your own with some scrap wood, or if you're feeling particularly creative, just make one out of Legos.
Some board games come with a ton of little pieces, and most of the time, these are pieces of cardboard of varying quality (and tend to degrade over time and use). Luckily, an easy gift idea is to find out what their favorite game is and try to find some high-quality bits to purchase for them. Here are some quick links to cool plastic bits for popular games I found while cruising Etsy:
We're going to get a little more complicated with this idea. Cyvasse is the game of the "A Song of Ice and Fire" universe. George RR Martin has said that the Westeros board game was inspired by "a bit of Chess, a bit of Blitzkrieg, a bit of Stratego. Mix well and add imagination." This is an awesome potential gift for any Game of Thrones fans that you're buying for, or really, any fan of abstract, strategic board games. Strangely enough,no publisher has jumped at the chance to capitalize on this aspect of the super popular Game of Thrones series, but that has not stopped a multitude of fans from creating their own rules for the game based on what they could learn from the books.
My favorite fan-made version of the rules for Cyvasse are here. This page provides rules for a Cyvasse on a Chess-like board and for an advanced version that uses a hex-grid board. Cyvasse is a game you could easily make by just using a Chess board, ransacking pieces from various other games to create the ten pieces that you'll need (pieces include: The King, Dragons, Trebuchets, Heavy Horse, Light Horse, Crossbows, Spears, Rabble, Elephants, and Mountains) and then using a piece of poster-board to create the 'wall' for the initial game setup. But the holidays aren't about doing things the easy way - they're about showing the people you care about how much you really care about them.
If I were to make Cyvasse on a budget, I would (for simplicity's sake) create the square-board one. For this, I'd just take a square piece of wood and carefully carve the 8x8 tiles to make up the actual play area - this wouldn't have to be 100% perfect, as any imperfections could be passed off as fantasy flavor. For the pieces, if you want to be really cheap, you could print off tokens on card-stock, or if you have time and patience, get some clay and try your hand at actually making the different units. Remember, Cyvasse at its core is an abstract game, which means that the units you make don't need to look exactly like a dragon or a trebuchet or whatever. Think about the pieces in Chess and how they only kind of look like the units they're suppose to represent. Be creative but also consistent! You can use different colored clay to make the pieces for both sides or just paint them different colors after they've been baked. The final piece of the Cyvasse board is the screen that the players use to conceal how they set up their side of the board - for this, a thin piece of wood is all you really need and then something to make it stand up on it's own.
If you have a little extra to spend or access to a 3D printer, you can just click here and have access to some beautiful models to use to make the board and units. This 3D-printed version uses a 10x10 board, but since all the rules are fan-made and there is no official set out yet, no one can say that 10x10 is wrong. It'll still work as an amazing gift.
Buying actual board games for people can be difficult. They're expensive and it's sometimes hard to know what they have or what they already have ordered. If you're looking for sales, Cool Stuff Inc has a holiday sale that's going on now, and don't neglect to check out their daily deals. Cool Stuff Inc also provides free shipping on orders over $100, which really isn't that hard to achieve when you're buying board games. Need some ideas?
"Imperial Assault" by Fantasy Flight Games is the big-ticket game for this holiday season. Announced at GenCon of this year, "Imperial Assault" uses the same basic game mechanics as Fantasy Flights "Descent" game, but gives it a very obvious Star Wars theme. Players take control of different heroes of the Rebellion and they must work together to achieve an objective. Another single player is put in control of all the Imperial units on the field, and they must work to counter the Rebel players' strategy and stop them from reaching their goals. If whoever you're buying for already has a copy of Imperial Assault, you're still in luck, because already seven reasonably priced expansions to the game that you could snag.
Another interesting game you could look into is "Tammany Hall" by IDW Games. In "Tammany Hall," you're working to become mayor of Manhattan in the 1850s, and you accomplish this by settling immigrants to the city in different places to gain influence of those voting districts. At the end of every round, a new mayor is selected and the other players are given new titles (and powers), and the political landscape shifts. You can choose to gain more influence over one ethnic group, but doing so will lose you influence with another. You can slander your opponents. You become political rivals with certain players as you strive to gain control of different districts. As the game progresses and elections pass, the board becomes much busier and gaining control of different districts become much more exciting. It's a fascinating worker placement/area control game in a very interesting period in American history.
A game that just came back into print (and will probably vanish soon) is "Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective", and while an older game, it is also one that isn't common on people's board game shelves. It is an incredible story-driven game where you compete with Sherlock Holmes to solve various crimes in the city of London. You are given some clues, and using a map and a key, you travel the city and learn more and more about the case. Hopefully by the end, in the grand parlor scene at the end of every Sherlock story, you've gathered enough clues and are able to answer the detective's questions and successfully solve the case. It is a really challenging game that forces you to use your own critical thinking skills to solve complicated mysteries, and it's fun! The only real downside is that it is a story-driven game, and the ability to replay the game diminishes greatly after you've played through each scenario. If you like solving mysteries, interesting stories and running the city of London with Sherlock Holmes, this game is a must.
One of the best gifts you can give any board game enthusiast is a time to come over and actually play some of the games on their shelves. A nice card with the promise of "Give me a time, and I'll come over with some pizza and beer and we'll play something" can be worth more than gold. If you haven't played a lot of tabletop games before, the thought can be kind of overwhelming - all the rules and pieces and time, but right now, we really are in a golden age of board games. There are games to accompany just about any theme or skill level or number of people, and they are such great social experiences - rather than staring at a screen playing a video game, you're sitting at a table and looking at your friends. Simply giving someone the gift of a night of board gaming will not only be something that they appreciate, but it might also spark an appreciation for the hobby in yourself.
Happy Holidays from Player Theory!