The Paris Fashion Week of Fantasy Games

Monday, October 15th, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

empires-of-the-voidSix months ago, I attended the Spring Games Auction at Games Plus in Mount Prospect, Illinois, the premiere auction in the country for serious game collectors. Last Friday, I was checking the calendar. They occur every six months, which meant the next one was… holy cats! Saturday morning. I packed up my rental car the next morning and headed out, after making a blood oath to my wife Alice that I would be fiscally responsible this year. Or at least act within the bounds of forgiveness, I told myself.

The auction did not disappoint. The Saturday auction focuses on science fiction and fantasy board games, as well as role-playing games of all kinds. They start promptly at 10:00 am and run for the next seven hours, rattling off about ten games per minute; hundreds every hour, and thousands over the course of the day. For me, it’s the Paris Fashion Week of games — my chance to see all the latest and greatest in new games without having to leave the comfort of my metal folding chair.

Just as last time, the real wonders weren’t dusty artifacts from the early days of gaming, but a panorama of gorgeous and enticing new titles. And again, my knowledge of modern science fiction and fantasy gaming proved woefully inadequate, as time after time, games I’d never seen before made their way to the auction block.

Now, it’s dangerous to be ignorant at an auction. It’s easy to overbid on an item that looks expensive and rare, only to find Amazon has it on clearance for ten bucks. It’s even easier to drop out of the bidding when the going gets tough, confident you can find it cheaper online — only to find copies commanding outrageous prices on eBay. I’ve done both, and while most collectors agree that the greater pain is the memory of that rare item that got away, that’s because they haven’t met Alice and her corrective-therapy broomstick of agony.

So I played it safe this time. I watched a lot of marvelous games go to other bidders, jotting down the titles as they did. I gave up on a used copy of Fantasy Flight Games’ Sky Traders, a game of intrigue and trading in an era of skyships, when bidding shot past $27; it’s in stock at Amazon for $35. Same with Guards! Guards!, a fabulous-looking Discworld game from Z-Man Games, which sold for $40 (new for $57 online), and — perhaps the hardest to let go — a magnificent space combat game based on David Weber’s bestselling series, Honor Harrington: Saganami Island Tactical Simulator, which the fellow next to me bought for $40 (cheapest copy I can find online is $75). And plenty of others, including Zombietown, Dark Minions, Peregrine Games’ Prince of Chaos, and the curious Gnomes of Zavandor.

Later this week, I’ll talk about those items I did bring home, including Empires of the Void, a terrific-looking space exploration game from Red Raven Games. That post will be much more cheerful, I promise.


Spring in Illinois brings… Auction Fever

Friday, March 16th, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

Some of the science fiction and fantasy games up for bid at the Spring Games Plus auction (click for humungous version)

Some of the science fiction and fantasy games up for bid at the Spring Games Plus auction (click for supersize version).

Games Plus in Mount Prospect, IL, is the finest games store in the Chicago area. Every spring and fall they hold a fabulous games auction.

Now, I don’t use that word lightly. I’ve been to some terrific games auctions in my time, starting with CanGames in Ottawa in the early 80s, then the friendly auctions at WinterWar in Champaign, IL where I was a grad student in the 90s.

And of course, for sheer quantity of items on offer, nothing beats the legendary GenCon auction, held over multiple days in Indianapolis every August.

But if you really, really want that rare gaming item, bidding against hundreds of hard core gaming fans from across the country at GenCon is a sure way to pay top dollar for it.

For real bargains, you need a small local auction. And I’ve never found one friendlier or more rewarding than the twice-a-year event at Games Plus, which is attended by perhaps a hundred gamers and collectors from the Chicago area.

It’s spread across four days and includes thousands of games of virtually every vintage and description, sorted into four categories. Occasionally I drop by Friday night for the Historical Games, especially when I’m on the hunt for hard-to-find Avalon Hill or SPI titles. But usually I save up for the main event: the Saturday Fantasy and Science Fiction auction, which starts at 10:00 a.m. and runs until early evening.

Knowing my lack of control in the past, my wife Alice gave me a strict budget this year. I was not to return home with more than $200 of auction loot. So you can imagine my measured apprehension when my winnings were totaled and the auctioneer handed me a bill for $1,667.75.

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Giant Samurai Mechs Belong in Space: Starship Samurai

Saturday, June 27th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Starship Samurai-small

On Saturday March 7th, as Illinois was just starting to wake up to the severity of what would soon be a full-blown coronavirus pandemic, I joined about 150 other local gamers in a tightly packed back room in Mount Prospect for the 2020 Spring Games Plus Auction. Looking back, it was probably a dumb thing to do. But although I didn’t know it then, it was the last time I’d be able to walk through the doors of a games store — or retail store of almost any kind. And I’m not sorry I did it.

Of course, I brought a lot of games home. I spent over a thousand bucks, but is the man without a full library of board games really ready for a global pandemic? I don’t think so. You can’t put a price on true readiness, I always say. Well, that’s what came out of my mouth when Alice found out, anyway. It was the best I could come up with.

What was I looking for at the auction? Bargains! And cool discoveries, and I found plenty of both. I promised in my first write-up on the auction back in March that I’d say a few words about some of my more interesting finds, and I take these promises seriously. So today we’re going to talk about Starship Samurai. Mostly because it has giant Samurai Mechs in it. And if you don’t understand what’s exciting about that, you’re at the wrong website, bud.

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Raiders and Rogues in a Cursed World: Forbidden Lands by Modiphius

Saturday, June 1st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Forbidden Lands Modiphius-small Forbidden Lands Modiphius -back-small

While I was at the Spring 2019 Games Plus Auction, I took the time to shop around in the New Arrivals section, since Games Plus is probably the best-stocked games store I’ve ever visited. As usual, I picked up a few magazines and the latest issues of Jolly Blackburn’s excellent Knights of the Dinner Table comic. But there was another game that caught my eye: Forbidden Lands, a boxed RPG developed by accomplished Swedish development house Fria Ligan (Free League in English), makers of the excellent Coriolis science fiction game, as well as the acclaimed Tales from the Loop and the upcoming Alien Roleplaying Game, and distributed in the US by Modiphius.

What drew me to Forbidden Lands? Truthfully it was the cover art by Simon Stålenhag, and the impressively sized (and heavy!) box. Once I picked it up however, it was the back-cover text that fired my imagination.

In this open-world survival roleplaying game, you’re not heroes sent on missions dictated by others — instead, you are raiders and rogues bent on making your own mark on a cursed world. You will discover lost tombs, fight terrible monsters, wander the wild lands and, if you live long enough, build your own stronghold to defend.

Last thing I need is another fantasy RPG crowding my shelves, especially one in a generic fantasy setting. But the evocative text sold me on the promise of a dark world far-removed from routine high fantasy tropes, and characters that sounded a lot closer to sword & sorcery archetypes than I’m used to. The price on the box was $49.99, and I decided to take a chance.

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Looting is Better With Friends: Dungeon Dwellers

Sunday, November 26th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Dungeon Dwellers-small

I’m still unpacking the boxes I brought home from the Fall 2017 Games Plus auction. There’s so many SF and fantasy board games being published these days that it’s impossible to keep up. But you know, I do my best.

A week after the auction, I dropped by Games Plus in Mount Prospect to grab a handful of new releases I had my eye on. There in the sale bin was Dungeon Dwellers, a “cooperative card game for 2 or more players” released in 2014. Now, I still have a stack of unopened auction games in my living room, slowly collecting dust and making my wife cranky. But I love dungeon games, and I especially love cooperative dungeon games. And the thing that especially makes me weak in the knees is a deep discount. Ten minutes later I left the store with Dungeon Dwellers, wrapped in a paper bag so I could stealthily sneak it into the house.

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The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in October

Saturday, November 25th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Tales from the Magician's Skull-small

Sword and Sorcery dominated the stage at Black Gate last month. The most popular topic in October was the new S&S magazine from industry pioneers Joseph Goodman and Howard Andrew Jones, Tales From the Magician’s Skull, which showed up twice in the Top Ten, first with a far-ranging interview with Joseph and Howard (and their undead overlord, the Talking Skull), followed by a report on the blockbuster Kickstarter that funded the first two issues.

Gaming and game news were definitely popular as well. The #1 article for the month was M. Harold Page’s review of Starfinder Alien Archive, followed by our look at the top-sellers at the semi-annual Games Plus auction in Mount Prospect. Goth Chick came in third with her trip report on the Cedar Point HalloWeekends event, featuring Midnight Syndicate’s 20th anniversary concert. Rounding out the Top Five were Elizabeth Crowens’ interview with horror master Nancy Kilpatrick, and M. Harold Page’s advance peek at the Elite Dangerous Role Playing Game.

Coming in at #7 for the month was Fletcher Vredenburgh’s touching reminiscence of his long-time gaming circle, “The Past Remembered.” Ninth was our feature on the very first piece of Greyhawk fiction, Gygax’s 1974 article “The Expedition Into the Black Reservoir: A Dungeon Adventure at Greyhawk Castle.” And closing out the Top Ten was our look at the popular Corpse-Rat King novels by Lee Battersby

The complete list of Top Articles for October follows. Below that, I’ve also broken out the most popular overall articles, online fiction, and blog categories for the month.

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The Subtle Art of Game Speculation

Saturday, October 7th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Starcraft the Board Game-small

I collect a lot of games. They’re not all winners. For example, I stupidly purchased not one but two copies of the massive StarCraft: The Board Game from the clearance section of a toy store in 2007. I thought my kids — who were gonzo for the Blizzard computer game at the time — would show a least a little interest, but they never did. Just because a game is heavily discounted doesn’t mean it’s a good buy. I kicked myself for making a dumb impulse purchase, and stashed the games in my basement.

Flash forward a decade to today, as I’m sitting in the front row of the Games Plus Fall auction in Mount Prospect, Illinois. It runs over four days, but the Saturday auction is reserved for science fiction games and RPGs. There are thousands sold to collectors and enthusiasts from all over the Midwest. And what to my astonished eyes was one of the most hotly sought-after items? StarCraft: The Board Game, which is apparently both rare and highly desirable, at least in good shape. The first copy to be offered up, a perfect copy still in the shrinkwrap, caused a frenzy of bidding, and sold for $112. Not bad for a game I paid $30 for in a discount bin ten years ago.

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Modular: Dungeons That Fight Back: 13th Age: Bestiary and Eyes of the Stone Thief from Pelgrane Press

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

13th Age Bestiary-small Eyes of the Stone Thief-small

This past Saturday was the bi-annual Games Plus auction in Mount Prospect, Illinois, an event I celebrate every year (usually by massively blowing my budget in a prolonged bout of auction fever). A lot of folks attend looking for collectible vintage SF & fantasy games, and there’s certainly plenty of those to be had. But the chief reason I go is to find bargains, and especially bargains on new games. Heck, the big reason I sit in an uncomfortable metal chair for seven hours is just to see all the new games that flash by (and to see which ones the crowd goes nuts for). It’s sort of like attending a Paris fashion show for games, a comparison I’ve made previously.

When you’re sitting in the front row and the auctioneer starts fast-talking about a fascinating new game you’ve never seen before, you need to be ready to make a quick assessment. Is it a rare out-of-print title, like that copy of Victory Point Games’ Darkest Night I foolishly let get away for $40? Or are copies still available on Amazon for 20 bucks, like that Star Trek: Five Year Mission from Mayfair Games I agonized over? I kept my smartphone handy, and got pretty adept at fast-thumbing online prices as the auction progressed.

I made out pretty well this year, carting home seven big boxes of games — including plenty that fell into both categories. Some of my most intriguing purchases included Krosmaster Arena (for $20), Z-man Games Tragedy Looper ($10), City of Horror ($12), a shrinkwrapped copy of SoulJar Games’ Torn Amor ($15), and even an unread copy of KenzerCo’s Cattlepunk Chronicles ($5). But when I got home, there was one item I wanted to get my hands on immediately, and I dug through all seven boxes until I found it (nestled at the bottom of the seventh box, naturally): Eyes of the Stone Thief, a massive adventure supplement for the popular 13th Age RPG from Pelgrane Press. Along with it I won a copy of the 13th Age Bestiary, a full color monster compendium for the same system.

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Step into a Dark Alternative London in Unhallowed Metropolis Revised

Saturday, November 15th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Unhallowed Metropolis-smallThe dark fantasy role-playing game Unhallowed Metropolis was published by Eos Press in December 2007. I never got a copy, but I sure heard about it.

Set in an alternative London of 2105, two hundred years after a zombie apocalypse very nearly destroyed civilization, the game included ghosts, psychic powers, failed supersoldier experiments, zeppelins, ghoul colonies, vampires, and darker things. The futuristic dark-age London was made real with a well-conceived historical timeline, fascinating detail, and some terrific art.

The game was updated in 2011 with Unhallowed Metropolis Revised, which features new art, a foreword by Kenneth Hite (Trail of Cthulhu), streamlined rules, complete rules for volatile psychics and spectral entities, details on the wonders of aether technology, and much more. I bought a copy last month at the Fall Games Plus auction, and settled in for a read through today.

So far, I’ve been very impressed. The world building is strong indeed, and the setting splendidly realized. The art is a mix of pen and ink work and black & white photos of some very talented cosplay (the credits list 37 models, two make-up artists, and four photo manipulation artists… a pretty major production, no matter how you look at it).

All that effort has paid off. Unhallowed Metropolis Revised sucks you into the game world in a way I haven’t experienced since Ashen Stars. This is a game that makes you ache to play it.

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Can You Really Role Play on a Board?: Pathfinder: Rise of the Runelords

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Pathfinder Rise of the Runelords-smallFantasy board games have tried to capture the addictive nature of role playing for decades, but without much real success. In the past few years though, a number of dungeon-delving games have come close, including Descent, Talisman Fourth EditionCastle RavenloftLegend of DrizztClaustrophobia, and a few others. In his recent review of Paizo’s second Adventure Card Game Base Set, Skull & Shackles, Scott Taylor fingered another contender, this one from Paizo:

Of late Paizo had expanded their market with several new product lines, the most intriguing of which are their Boxed Set Card Games. These sets ingeniously combine card building with role-playing with table-top (Think D&D meets Magic the Gathering meets anything done by Fantasy Flight!) Indeed, it is an amazing breakthrough by the Paizo design team, and guess what, it actually works!

Bob Byrne was even more positive in his assessment of the first title in the series, Rise of the Runelords, in his August article on “RPGing with a board

By far, the best board/card game I’ve found that emulates the role-playing experience is the Pathfinder Rise of the Runelords Adventure Card Game. The adventures get more difficult, you level up and the gear gets better. You maintain your items, spells, and levels from scenario to scenario through an entire Adventure Path, rather than start over each game play session. I’m sure I’ll post on that excellent game in the future.

While I wait impatiently for Bob’s full review, I went ahead and ordered a copy. It arrived a few days ago and, while I haven’t had a chance to play a full game yet (mostly because I haven’t figured out how to do that without tearing the shrinkwrap), it looks very promising indeed.

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