Tavener's Treasure Trove

This column, I thought I'd write about some old fantasy board games… looking through my shelves, I have more fantasy themed games than any other category. I'm not sure why, but fantasy themes have always appealed to me, whether in fiction, board games, or roleplaying. Looks like a lot of games designers feel similarly, because there are a lot of original games in this genre.

Tales of the Arabian Nights (West End Games)

This is one of my favourite games. Tales of the Arabian Nights is a paragraph-driven game. That is, a typical turn consists of a player moving to a place on the map, and turning over a card. This tells the player what kind of encounter they will get… for example, an encounter with a wicked vizier. The player is then presented with a range of options - do they attack him, help him, attempt to trick him, … the list is a long one, and the exact options available depend on the nature of the encounter. Once the player has chosen, a roll of the die, plus any skills that the player has picked up in his travels, lead to a paragraph which tells the player what has happened to them.

This is not a game of great skill, but the paragraphs do a great job of capturing the atmosphere of the stories, and the end of the game usually comes as an anticlimax.

Castle of Magic (Riddlemaster/Cloud Kingdoms)

A curious game, this. In the castle is a terrible monster, three treasures (a crown, an amulet, and a sceptre, each of which will grant control of a kingdom to whoever has it at the end of the game), and three artifacts (a bell, a book, and a candle). At the end of the game, a spell will be cast, which will destroy the monster, free the monster, or cause the monster to come under one player's control. Each player belongs to one of three factions, and has differing goals, both regarding what happens to the monster, and also who controls the various kingdoms at the end of the game. Hidden characters and various other hidden tiles mean that at the start of the game, players don't know what the goals of the other characters are, or what they have to do to achieve their goals, and the first stage of the game is to try to discover how to achieve your goals, and to gain information about the other players. Each player may call for a round of negotiations once during the game, when players can move away from the table, and plot and scheme. At this point, players can form alliances with others who have similar goals.

Once players have figured out what they're meant to be doing, they can attempt to manipulate the three artifacts so that the spell will bring about the result that they want. As I say, a curious game; players have little control over individual moves, and the game seems a trifle long, but players have to balance gaining knowledge against character development, negotiate with their allies, and even compromise on occasion, when a goal becomes untenable. Fun, and well worth finding if you can.

Chill: Black Morn Manor (Pacesetter)

This is another game that calls for some deduction; at the start of the game, one player is designated as a minion. They choose their master randomly (there are 10 possible masters), and set up the card deck accordingly. The other players are envoys, and start with 6 willpower (if their willpower is reduced to 0, they become a minion - there are also a couple of ways for minions to be 'cured'). The playing area is a 7x7 grid of tiles; at the start of the game, the minion starts at the crypt, in one corner of the board, and the other players at the gate at the opposite corner. The other tiles are placed so as to form two draw decks… one for the grounds, which are built up from the gate outwards, and one from the manor, which is built around the crypt. Each turn, players get to place 3 tiles onto the board, move, and possibly draw event cards; event cards are usually bad for the envoys and good for the minions, but it is through these event cards that players can find weapons which might help them in their quest.

At the start of the game, the players have no idea how to kill the fiend; only the original minion knows that. Each fiend has one weakness, which is related to one item (for example, the werewolf must be shot with a silver bullet in the Music Room) , so players must find the right item, and carry out the instructions on it. Since the envoys don't know which item will be effective at the start of the game, a fair amount of trial and error is involved (though experienced players can gain some clues to the fiend from the cards that are - or aren't - in the encounter deck). The minions have a different mission - to win the game, they just need to find the appropriate item, and throw it out of the gate. Again, only the original minion knows which item is required, so any other minions will be throwing anything they can get their hands on out of the gate!

A fun game, especially with a bit of role-playing thrown in, and one which does call for a fair amount of sneakiness from time to time.

Talisman (Games Workshop)

This is in many ways the archetypal fantasy board game. Each player has a different character, with some special ability. Each turn, players roll a die to move, choose a direction, and draw one or more adventure cards for the space in which they land. These may result in changes to a player's abilities, in the player gaining a follower, or in a fight. On the whole, there is little interaction between players, except for the occasional spell, and little in the way of decisionmaking, but… there is something very compelling in the game nonetheless, and many's the time when I have played Talisman until 3 or 4 in the morning This is also the runner up to Eon's Cosmic encounter in the competition to create the most expansions… the original version of the game had no less than six, plus some 68 distinct miniatures!

Spellmaker (Heritage)

Honorable mention goes to Spellmaker; this is a great idea for a game, where four players are competing wizards, each trying to capture a princess and get her back to their castle. A clever spell system allows players to play one or more cards from their hands to create spells - these spells can summon minions, move minions around the board, or banish opponents' minions. There's just one problem; the game is too well balanced, and can go on for several hours longer than it should, especially if the players are playing defensively.