Matt Forbeck chimes in with his answer to this week’s Mind Meld question:
I’ve been fortunate enough to work on many different fantasy and science fiction games over the years, and I’ve played even more of them. My favorites, in no particular order, are:
1. Space Hulk: This tactical board game from Games Workshop (designed by Richard Halliwell) pits Space Marines vs. Genestealers battling it out in the cramped rooms and corridors of an abandoned starship. Thematically, it’s Aliens on cardboard with snazzy miniatures to represent the doomed Space Marines and the nasty and never-ended Genestealers. The mechanices are as elegant as they come. (I worked on two supplements for the game: Deathwing and Genestealer.)
2. Blood Bowl: Another tactical board game from GW (designed this time by Jervis Johnson), this one focuses on fantasy football, but the fantasy comes from the elves, dwarves, ogres, vampires, orcs, and so on that storm the field. The players hail from teams like the Orcland Raiders, and they drink beers like Bloodweiser and Killer Genuine Draft. It’s also been made into a snazzy video game for most platforms. (I worked on the Blood Bowl Player’s Companion and wrote four novels and a graphic novel for this game.)
3. Silent Death: In space, no one can heard you go boom! In this fast-paced game (by Kevin Barrett, now of Bioware) of starship combat, players battle it out with metal miniatures on a hexagon-covered starfield. You use a single dice roll for both attack and damage, and the innovative damage track mimics the deterioration of a ship as you pummel it to pieces. Fast and fun. (I was the line developer and designer for the second edition.)
4. The Lord of the Rings RPG: Nothing beats The Lord of the Rings (by Steve Long, Christian Moore, Owen Seyler, Ross Isaacs, and me) for sheer epic scale, and the same is true of the two RPGs based on it. I liked the first, Middle-earth Roleplaying, but I prefer the second for the updated system mechanics. (I wrote some material for the first game and served as line developer for the second.)
5. Guild Wars: I don’t play too many MMOs because they’re such a time sink and the subscription fees really add up. Guild Wars broke the sub-fee mold by being free to play after you bought the initial disc. It also features an amazing backstory molded by some of the best talespinners in the business. (I wrote Ghosts of Ascalon, the novel that bridges the gap between the original game and the upcoming Guild Wars 2).
6. Mutant Chronicles: Imagine a solar system in which the megacorps leave behind a dying Earth and colonize the inner planets but then have to face a demonic invasion from the 10th planet. That’s Mutant Chronicles in a nutshell: dirty, nasty, and full of hard-bitten action. Written by a cast of Swedes, including Nils Gullikson, Michael Stenmark, Henrik Strandberg [now with Turbine], Magnus Seter, Jerker Sojdelius, Stefan Thulin, Fredrik Malmberg [now producing the new Conan film], it made for great RPG, CCG, board games, and minis games. (I worked on many MC products and wrote the novelization of last year’s Mutant Chronicles film.)
7. Traveller: The original SF RPG (by Marc Miller) featured a character generation system that could literally kill your hero before he saw his first second of play. The best part though was the way it opened up the entire galaxy for RPGs and thrust us out into it.
8. Dungeons & Dragons: The original RPG period (by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson) is still one of the greatest. Just about anyone who’s played an RPG has kicked down the door, killed the monsters, and taken their stuff. That all started with D&D, and every edition of the game gives you a new and fun way to do it. (I wrote a lot of D&D material over the years.)
9. Drakon: My favorite little board game for getting people into dungeon exploration for a fast round of fun. The players wander through a dungeon, trying to grab the most treasure first — and maybe get out alive. Tom Jolly’s mechanics really shine, and the later editions get even better.
10. Castle Ravenloft: This D&D board game (by Mike Mearls) features the best parts of the RPG with barely any of the effort you need to put into the full game. It’s fast, easy to play, and it pits the players against the game, so you all get to work together and never have to grumble about the DM’s decisions.
Honorable Mentions: Freemarket, Burning Empires, Sorcerer, Pokémon (possibly the most popular fantasy game of all time), Bakugan, Descent, Mag Blast, Munchkin, and many, many more. Seriously, I could write a book. If you’d like to read such books (of which I wrote less than 1% each), check out Hobby Games: The 100 Best and Family Games: The 100 Best.