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The Simple Pleasures

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It's easy enough to get sucked in. The graphics on the new games do look better. But just because you can count the pores on the hero's face doesn't necessarily mean you'll enjoy blowing away yet another robotic army of malevolent space beasties.

Sometimes the games that get you going leave behind the fanfare in a single-minded search for fun.

GameTable Online provides online versions of classic underground board games. Unless you grew up in one of those musty and dusty old game stores tucked into the local strip mall, you might not recognize titles such as "Lemmings in Space," "Cosmic Wimpout" or "Nuclear War." And that's too bad. These card and dice games remain as fun today as they were when they first delighted college freaks and high school geeks 20 years ago. The reason then as now boils down to simple visuals and rules that provide devilishly entertaining game play.

You can find a perfect example of this formula in the latest GTO offering, "10 Days in Africa." Mirroring the popular tabletop game, online players gather around a map of Africa and collect cards showing countries. Play consists of trying to string together a "trip" by connecting contiguous nations. Sounds easy enough? On the surface it is, and that's why you find yourself coming back for round after round of competition, as if each game were a fresh bag of potato chips to munch.

But play a few turns and you'll discover that the continent's convoluted political history has resulted in a challenging bric-a-brac collection of big and small countries with wandering borders and mystifying locations. Sure, you've heard of Rwanda. The question is, should you choose this tiny nation stuck in the heart of Africa as a starting point for a trip? Maybe not. It's small and hard to connect with other places. So even though you might think of this as a simple building-block card game not much different from "Mille Bournes" or "Solitaire," this underlying bit of social geography ends up creeping into the strategic maneuvering required to puzzle out a win.

And did I mention the other players?

Board games exist to get people to sit down and talk. GTO gets this and provides an easy-to-use, Web-based platform that allows Macs, PCs and even Linux users to get together over a virtual kitchen table for a few rounds.

Some of the games also provide a single-player option. And in the case of a title such as the dice-and-odds-driven "Cosmic Wimpout," the solo play gives you a chance to sort out the purposely strange rules before embarrassing yourself in public. Even when a single-player option isn't available, friendly GTO gamers usually enjoy coaching a newbie in hopes of generating more opponents.

Best of all, because GTO doesn't break the bank with Hollywood blockbuster visuals, they can offer their titles cheap. A $5.99 monthly subscription gets you all the online play you can stand. And a free, two-week trial makes it easy to get hooked.

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