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Multimedia Gift Guide - BOARD GAMES 

by TED S. McGREGOR JR. and DOUG NADVORNICK & r & & r & Heroclix & r & & r & Created by the Seattle-based WizKids, Heroclix is as cool to look at as it is to play. Anybody who loves comic books is a potential player, since you get to use -- potentially -- every superhero and villain in the entire Marvel and DC universes. Each character is an original sculpture on a round base -- and that's where you find the "clix" part of the equation. The base holds each character's combat dial, which shows his or her strengths, weaknesses and special abilities. As you battle it out with rolls of the dice, you turn the dial with a special Heroclix ring and your hero gets weaker (or, in the case of Hulk, stronger).





Each character is assigned a point total, and you choose your team with a predetermined set of points -- as many characters as you want that add up to, say, 300 points. (Superman can set you back 200 points or more.) Picking your team is where the strategy comes in, as some heroes can attack from far away (like Green Goblin), others get more than one attack per turn (Batman) and some can even mind-control other characters (Professor Xavier). Picking teams is the fun part, as the combinations are endless. You need a starter set to begin, but then you'll want booster packs with new characters -- careful, it can get pretty spendy as you keep buying packs in hopes of finding that Thor who can do 5 damage. You can find Heroclix at Merlyn's or at the Comic Book Shop, where they also have information about weekly Heroclix battles for all you vicarious warriors out there.





BloKus


Created by a French artist/engineer, this is one elegant, simple game. Designed for four players, each person gets 21 color tiles of various, square-based sizes that must be placed in turn on the grid. The trick is your tile can only touch your other tiles on the corners. The goal is to use all your tiles, which rarely happens; if no one uses them all, everyone counts up the number of squares left and whoever has the fewest wins. The game is challenging because there are so many different strategies to try -- some like to send their tiles like tendrils out quickly into the center of the board, while others build a fortress of tiles in their corner. Another charming aspect of Blokus is that it truly is an all-ages game-- you can just as easily lose to your PhD cousin as you can to his 8-year-old daughter.





Monopoly Electronic Banking Edition


I have never really understood the charm of Monopoly, the classic board game that dates back to the Depression. But that hasn't stopped Parker Brothers from creating endless variations, from NFL Monopoly to Disney Monopoly. Now they've come out with the Electronic Banking Edition, perhaps to combat the fact that, as a people, we're not all that good at math. I'm not sure counting money is Monopoly's big problem, but it's a pretty cool innovation all the same (and expensive, as the new game goes for around $100). The bank is a kind of all-knowing ATM, keeping track of your stash via a debit card. The rest of the game is updated to reflect modern times, too, with ISPs instead of those quaint old utilities and even a Segway instead of a racecar for your game piece. The most telling sign of the times, however, is that now you start out with a cool $15 million. (TSM)





Clue


Books are made into films all the time, but not many board games get that honor. In 1985 Clue the game was made into Clue the movie. It was a tribute to the popularity of a game that debuted in England in 1949 as one of the first games that required players to solve a mystery. Players take the identities of one of six now well-known characters -- Colonel Mustard, Miss Scarlet, Professor Plum, Mrs. Peacock, Mr. Green and Mrs. White. Players work their way around the board, visiting rooms and making guesses as to who killed Mr. Boddy, the owner of the mansion in which the game is set. The winner is the person who first guesses the killer, the room where the murder occurred and the weapon.





Clue has been judged as one of "the 50 most historically and culturally significant games published since 1800" by About.com. The original version has been supplemented by a DVD edition, a children's edition, a Simpson's edition -- yes, really -- and even a library edition. And if you really want to splurge, Restoration Hardware has a couple versions of the classic game. One's a vintage '60s edition, while the other features a 3-D gameboard in which you look down into detailed rooms through glass ceilings.





I remember getting hooked on Clue while playing it during lunchtime in middle school. More than 30 years later, it's still one of my favorite board games.





Dominoes


Once or twice a year when my family borrows a cabin near Lake Roosevelt, we sit at a big wooden table and play dominoes for hours at a time. The dominoes we play with aren't the little black plastic pieces that we used when I was small. Our set has white tiles with brightly colored dots, up to 24 a side. You can buy games with up to 36 dots per tile. You can even play dominoes online.





Over at Uncle's Games, they've got a wide selection of dominoes sets, including a giant one made of foam, with pieces that are seven inches long.





The games are the most fun when several people are involved. Playing dominoes doesn't take a lot of skill, but it's a great social game.





Chinese Checkers


Chinese checkers isn't a Chinese game at all. It was invented in Germany in the 1890s -- adapted from an English game called Halma. It became popular in the U.S. in the 1930s. It's still popular -- though not at the same level.





It's more fun than regular checkers -- players control ten marbles, moving them across a board that's like a six-sided star, jumping their own marbles and their opponents'. The fun is in trying to line up triple, quadruple, even quintuple (!) jumps. The first player to put his/her marbles in a triangle on the other side wins.





You can buy Chinese checker sets in stores, but, if you can't find a partner, you can still play it online for free. (DN)

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