|Photo by Ray on boardgamegeek|
White Bear, Red Moon (1975; reprinted as Dragon Pass, 1981)
Designed by Greg Stafford, this is the original entry in the genre, although the roleplaying game that came out soon after - you may have heard of Runequest? - was what really brought attention to his world of Glorantha. In both incarnations, the game is a royal rumble of factions, one-of-a-kind characters, and monsters vying to control the Dragon Pass area on the edge of the Lunar Empire. Very memorable creatures and characters just this side of gonzo, and wild swingy magic effects.
Nomad Gods (1977)
The Gloranthan sequel to White Bear, set further south among the beast-riding tribes of the Plaines of Prax - and "beast" means llamas, impalas and stranger stuff yet. I've never seen this game but the few counters on Boardgame Geek look to continue in the trippy ways of the first game. As usual, the cryptic silhouettes and numbers on the chits hid a raftload of special rules which had to be diligently looked up, and one play aid was - I kid you not - a guide to inscribing the appropriate rules page on the back of each counter.
|Photo by Mike R., on boardgamegeek|
SPI's authorized tie-in with box graphics inspired by the Ralph Bakshi cartoon, not to be confused with Fantasy Flight's post-Peter-Jackson figure-heavy epic. There was a huge map in the usual SPI style, over which you could fight a pure wargame, a character-based game of Sauron's search for the Ring and the Fellowship's quest, or a campaign game combining the two. Event cards, and limited logistics forcing Sauron to choose between all-out war and all-out Ring searching, added to the fun.
Once Chaosium acquired the Michael Moorcock license, Greg Stafford turned his hand to a larger-scale game about the epic conflicts in the Young Kingdoms leading to the apocalyptic war between Law and Chaos chronicled in the novel Stormbringer. Human armies are pitifully weak, but the real stars of the show are the heroes, sorcerers, monsters and of course Elric, who can be controlled (up to a certain point) by various players. Using sorcery can alter the Cosmic Balance, tracked on the side of the map. If the scales tip too far one way the End of the World is brought about.
Swords and Sorcery (1978)
|Photo by Alex H, boardgamegeek|
Divine Right (1979)
TSR's entry into the sweepstakes has become legendary on the strength of excellent support assets. One, the vivid calligraphic map by Dave Trampier; what a contrast to SPI's press-apply forests! Two, the world background write-ups in Dragon magazine that I still remember, possessed of a weird vigor that the contemporaneous World of Greyhawk somehow lacked. Although there were plenty of magic items and locations, an unusual amount of attention was also lavished on the diplomatic game, including the personalities of neutral kings and emissaries.
John Carter: Warlord of Mars (1979)
Once we've accepted that Burroughs' Mars is fantasy - and yes, I will fight on this - this memorable SPI game just about qualifies, due to its inclusion of a somewhat bland military game. The real spotlight, though, was on the heroes. A skirmish combat system fought out on graph paper was embedded within a heroic quest game which brilliantly embodied and sent-up the conventions of the pulp adventure romance.