If you’ve been following my blog posts it will come as no surprise that my gaming preferences tend toward large, immersive, heavily themed games. These games also tend to come with equally heavy price tags running somewhere in the $40 to $60 range. However, you don’t have to spend a fortune to find an interesting game with plenty of theme. In honor of Cyber Monday I’ve created this list of 10 games, each with a strong science fiction or fantasy theme that retail for $20.00 or less.
Command a combat team of Warhammer 40K Space Marines and join a Blood Angel assault squad as they fight deck by deck through a derelict space hulk attempting to eradicate the Genestealer infestation. Space Hulk: Death Angel - The Card Game is a cooperative game for 1 to 6 players designed by Corey Konieczka for Fantasy Flight Games that miraculously distills much of the brutal full-sized Space Hulk game into a challenging, compact, fast playing, 30 minute game. $16.71 - $19.95 in-store and online at Borders, Barnes & Noble, Boards & Bits (online only).
Join a team of adventurers attempting to recover four sacred treasures from a sinking island paradise. Forbidden Island is a cooperative game for 2 to 4 players. Each player chooses one of six available specialists; pilot, engineer, diver etc... Players then race between beautifully illustrated island tiles attempting to recover the relics and escape in the waiting helicopter before the island is completely engulfed by water. Forbidden Island is simple to learn yet challenging to beat with absolutely wonderful components for a game in this price range. Forbidden Island plays in about 30 minutes and is the perfect light game for casual players or an introductory game for younger teens. $14.07 - $15.95 at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Borders (in-store only), and other online sources.
Pocket Rockets is a clever rocket-building card game for 2 to 4 players with fun, quirky artwork that plays in about 20 minutes. Players move around a circular assembly line gathering new rocket parts, recycling old parts, picking up fuel, or reversing movement of the line. Game play is quick but surprisingly satisfying with a push-your-luck feel. Bigger rockets score better but risk ending the game unfinished, some rocket capsules provide additional scoring or other play benefits for increased strategy. $8.31 - $10.50 at various online specialty stores.
Onirim is a 15 minute, solo or two player cooperative card game where the players take the roles of Dreamwalkers lost in a mysterious labyrinth looking for the 8 oneiric doors to the waking world before dreamtime expires and they become trapped. This game features highly stylized, abstract watercolor art in keeping with its theme. Onirim game play is also somewhat abstract and puzzle-like, players lay out cards in a dreampath following simple rules for placement while trying to avoid nightmares and the penalties they produce. Play the correct sequence of cards and one of the doors may be found. Three mini-expansions are included in the box to provide variety in game play. $6.00 - $7.99 at various online specialty stores.
The Stars are Right is a Cthulhu themed puzzle game played with tiles and cards for 2 to 4 players that can be completed in about one hour. Players are cultists attempting to summon Great Old Ones by rearranging the night sky. The sky is a 5 x 5 grid of tiles, each printed with constellations, comets, solar eclipses or other celestial symbols. Cards allow players to shift rows, columns, exchange or flip tiles in an attempt to match specific patterns required for summoning. Early in the game players focus on summoning lesser minions with easy to match patterns, when properly played these minions may assist in summoning mythos creatures of increasing strength by chaining together moves or simplifying the patterns required. The Stars are Right is an interesting game for players good at pattern recognition and with the ability to visualize how moving tiles will affect those patterns. For players without those strengths this game may feel like torture. $17.99 at CoolStuffInc.com and various other online specialty stores.
Dungeoneer: Tomb of the Lich Lord is a neat little dungeon crawl for 2 to 4 players that plays in about an hour. Each player is dealt one of four fantasy heroes, each with their own specific stats. The object is to be the first to complete three quests, two specific to each player, one all players are competing to complete. Cardboard counters representing the heroes are moved over dungeon cards that are laid out each turn. A player’s hand may contain spells and items to benefit their hero as well as monsters to challenge and stall the progress of other players. To keep costs to a minimum, Dungeoneer does not include the required 6-sided dice (one or two per player) and game markers other than the heroes (pennies would suffice). Dungeoneer: Tomb of the Lich Lord is just one in an entire series of Dungeoneer games including Vault of the Fiends, Haunted Woods of Malthorin, Den of the Wererats, and Dragons of the Forsaken Desert. Each of these games are complete and do not require other sets for play. $13.95 - $15.95 at Amazon.com and various other online specialty stores.
Zombie Fluxx, Martian Fluxx—the Fluxx series of games from Loony Labs have become a bit of a phenomenon. Each of these games follow the same general mechanics—they are card games that begin with two very simple rules; draw one card, play one card. Each card played then adds, subtracts, or modifies existing rules including creating or changing victory conditions. Fluxx games support 2 to 6 players and play in about 30 minutes. Fluxx games are also excellent cross-over games, easy enough to teach casual gamers yet interesting enough to hold the attention of most experienced gamers. Zombie Fluxx: $12.99 at Amazon.com and various other online specialty stores. Martian Fluxx: $12.79 at Amazon.com and various other online specialty stores.
Perry Rhodan: The Cosmic League is a two player card game set in the Perry Rhodan universe and illustrated by Swen Papenbrock, a contributing artist to the Perry Rhodan series. Perry Rhodan: The Cosmic League is an economic/transport game. Each player starts with a basic spacecraft that can transport only one commodity at a time. Delivery of these commodities between planets rewards victory points which may be saved or spent on ship upgrades. Perry Rhodan: The Cosmic League is simple and elegant and may be played in about 60 minutes. $15.49 - $19.99 at various online specialty stores.
Citadels is a card game for 2 to 7 players in which each player is attempting to build 8 city districts by paying gold to play cards in their hands. At the start of each turn players are randomly dealt one of 8 role cards. These role cards are initially held in secret and are revealed in a specific order. Some role cards, such as the thief, allow you to steal gold from other players, other role cards like the Bishop and Merchant earn gold from city districts in play, while Architect has an advantage in laying down new city districts. $15.47 - $19.99 at various online specialty stores.
I’m cheating a bit with this one, technically this game only qualifies for the list because Fantasy Flight Games has made it a part of their holiday sale for $20 but it’s too good a game to pass up. Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation Deluxe Edition is a two player game created by acclaimed game designer Reiner Knizia, with character and card illustration by famed artist John Howe. Game play is vaguely similar to the classic game Stratego, one player controls the Free Peoples of Middle Earth, the other player commands Sauron’s forces. The Free Peoples must drive the ring to Mordor on Sauron’s side of the board while Sauron must either capture the ring or drive three dark creatures into the Shire on the Free People’s side. Each piece/character possesses special abilities, strategy is further deepened through the play of cards. $20 from Fantasy Flight Games.
When not playing games, Bob Gallo is a computer programmer specializing in Flash and interactive application design living in the Charlotte, NC area. Bob got his gaming start in the mid 1970s with traditional hex-and-counter war games and has played nearly all types of games including role playing games, miniatures, collectible card games, video/PC games as well as traditional board and card games.