MRFH-Approved Geek Games, Or: How to Get Your Cult On When the Television Breaks

Grave Robbers From Outer Space

$19.95, 2-6 players
Rated PG-13
Designed by Stephen Tassie
Published by Z-Man Games

If you’re reading MRFH, you can probably appreciate a good B-Movie.

I mean a bad B-Movie.

I mean… well, you know what I mean.  Grave Robbers from Outer Space is “a sci-fi/horror B-movie card game,” where you and each of your friends will create your own bad horror or science fiction movie and see who has the best luck in keeping your cast alive.

In cult classic style, you’ll see Nymphomaniac Cheerleaders, Creepy Old Innkeepers, Big Dumb Jocks, The Guy Everyone Knows Will Get Killed, and, of course, The Bookish Girl With No Boyfriend.  They all have special traits (such as young, female, smart, dumb, large, etc) that let you add props—everything from Flashlights to Chainsaws—that will help keep them alive.

And you want your cast to be as defended as possible, because your opponents will be throwing ghoulies and ghosties at them in an attempt to kill them off one at a time.  Bloodsucking Fiends, Mad Scientists, Carnivore Slugs, and the always-terrifying Gym Teacher will be gunning for the young, the slow, the nubile, and anyone else who gets in their way.

Also in the mix are location cards, which stick your cast anywhere from Alien Spaceships to Cabins in the Woods, and incredibly funny Special Effects cards that can influence the outcome of an attack or simply mess with the other players.

The other cool thing about Grave Robbers is that it has a ton of expansions. Grave Robbers II: Skippy’s Revenge and Grave Robbers III: Suburban Slashers from Sunnydale Street both continue the sci-fi/horror theme, but there’s a half-dozen others from different movie genres that are combinable with the original deck, meaning there are dozens of variations and combinations that keep things interesting no matter how many times you play.

Chrononauts

$20, 1-6 players
Ages 11 to adult
Designed by Andrew Looney
Published by Looney Labs

We all want a time machine. There’s no use denying it.  All the stuff you could see and all the things you might change.  Of course, everyone knows you can’t go back in time without screwing something up, and that’s the fun of Chrononauts.

In Chrononauts, you and your friends are time travelers, who were sent back to the past on an assignment but are now lost in a world you don’t recognize.  You all have different Identities and different Missions, but, more importantly, you all come from different futures, meaning only one of you gets to go home.  Instead of a physical board, the game is played on an 8×4 grid of cards called The Timeline.  It starts out looking like our own history, counting significant events from the end of the American Civil War up until the publishing date, 1999.  As you attempt to collect the items needed to complete your mission, you will flip Lynchpin cards that rearrange history and then need to clean up your mess.

For example, you may change the ‘1980’ Lynchpin card from “John Lennon Murdered” to “John Lennon Nearly Killed.”  Flipping this Lynchpin causes the cards “1986 – Challenger Explodes” and “1999 – Columbine Massacre” to disappear, which then creates Paradoxes that need to be closed (too many Paradoxes will destroy the Timeline and end the game).  Depending on what your Identity card tells you to do, you can fix the Paradoxes by re-killing John Lennon or playing the proper patch (in this case “1986- Lennon Protest Disrupts Shuttle Launch” and “1999 – Senator Lennon Bans Guns”).  Sound confusing? Time travel usually is.

Admittedly, Chrononauts only covers a very small sliver of history and might be too USA-centric for those outside of North America, but the good folks at Looney Labs have hinted at other possible expansions in the future that cover other places and other eras (they already have two, Early American Chrononauts and and the alt-history expansion The Gore Years that covers 2000-2008).  The game is a heck of a lot of fun, though, and one of my absolute personal favorites.

Talisman

$59.95, 2-8 players
Ages 9 to adult
Designed by John Goodenough and Robert Harris
Published by Fantasy Flight Games

Talisman, for some of you, will need no introduction.  A good portion of my middle school years were spent circling this board, fighting dragons and bandits, rescuing maidens, and being inexplicably turned into a toad.  It’s a game that is thoroughly involving and yet completely asinine.  I love it, even all these years later.

For those who don’t know, Talisman is a “high-fantasy” D&D-style adventure game where you traverse the magical world (called Talisman), questing for the mythic Crown of Command.  You assume the role of a randomly drawn hero or villain, who may be strong (like Warriors and Trolls), smart (like Wizards and Priests), or skilled (like Minstrels and Assassins). As you advance through the world’s three regions, you will bulk up your stats by encountering creatures, visiting towns, finding new equipment, and acquiring followers. You may shift your alignment from good to evil (or vice versa), you may gain spells and potions that affect your abilities, and, yes, you may get turned into a toad for a little while.

What makes Talisman so much fun and yet so completely infuriating is its incredible randomness.  The cards you draw are random. Your character choice is random (and some are much better than others).  Most events are settled by nothing more than a die roll, which is, of course, random.  Movement can be done in either direction, but you must move the full number of spaces you roll, no matter what you may pass by and how much you might want to stop and pick it up.  I’ve seen people nearly go insane trying to land on one particular space to pick up a Holy Lance or visit the Magic Stream.

It is the epitome of what is known as a “Beer & Pretzels” game: there’s no strategy, no skill, and almost no way to truly influence the outcome.  You roll and move; you play and drink; and you always make sure there are enough Doritos to go around.  It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but, with the right group of friends, Talisman is an absolute blast.

Zombietown

3-6 players, $39.99
Ages 12 and up
Designed by Kerry Brightenstein
Published by Twilight Creations, Inc

There are a couple of zombie games on the market right now, and I like them all for one reason or another.  The thing that I enjoy about Zombietown, though, is that it recognizes that the deadheads themselves aren’t really the biggest threat.  As any zombie movie worth its salt will tell you, the living dead may eat your brains but it’s the other humans that will really screw you.

The game takes place in a pleasant little suburb with the misfortune of having a really big cemetery smack in the center of town.  Each turn, the undead creep out of the graveyard (there are 100 in all) and slowly begin advancing towards your neighborhood.  Each player has ten turns to locate survivors, weapons, and as many supplies as possible before the streets are completely overrun and the game ends.

There are twelve houses to explore and they all contain useful items, but not all of them are created equal: the Gun Collector’s house allows you to reload a weapon and the Nurses’ house lets you heal a wound, making them (and others with special traits) highly valued territory for everyone.  To keep the zombies and the other players at bay, you can erect barricades and arm other survivors to watch your houses while you run around town, raiding other homes and dodging the legions of the undead.

It’s a game that’s slow to start, but Zombietown is all about buildup. Eventually, resources become scarce and houses become battlegrounds, usually right around the time that the zombie horde starts becoming too close for comfort.  The pressure ratchets up with each turn until players are at each others throats, barely noticing what’s been moving their way all this time, intent on brains and not about to be denied.

Zombietown really can be a ton of fun, but the one thing it requires more than any other game on this list is a decent number of friends.  You can technically play a game with three, but, since each player can control four houses, you’ll want at least four players (and preferably five or six) to encourage the infighting and backstabbing that really makes Zombietown tick.

It’s also a game that thrives on theme.  The more into it your group is, the more fun it becomes.  So, throw on a George Romero movie, maybe turn down the lights just a bit, and, as long as you can get enough people in the room, Zombietown is a excellent way to spend a rainy Sunday.

Pictures courtesy of Z-Man games, Looney Labs, Fantasy Flight games, Twilight Creations, Inc. and http://www.boardgamegeek.com

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9 Comments

  1. Pingback: More MRFH-Approved Geek Games: Four More Ways to Let Your Cult Shine Through « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

  2. Pingback: MRFH-Approved Geek Games III: Ways To Live Out Your Movie Fantasies Without Leaving the Kitchen Table « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

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