This was, seriously, the only image I could find for this list.

Stately Selections: Best Video Games of 2016 #2

[Insert witty opening]

That’s all I got today, folks. I was doing my dadly duties today and looked at my watch realizing it was 4pm and I’d forgotten all about today’s countdown. No time to mess around! Head after the break to see our #2 picks for best of 2016.

Ladykiller in a Bind

Like Christine Love’s previous games, Digital: A Love Story, Analogue: A Hate Story, Hate+, and Don’t Take it Personally, Babe, It’s Just Not Your Story, Ladykiller in a Bind is intellectually and emotionally mature. Unlike her previous work, Ladykiller in a Bind is also “mature” in the sense that it contains s-e-x. You’ve been warned.

Catharine Brillet’s Romance is one of my favorite films, and not just because of the references to French occultism. Brillet is one of a very few directors who have ever been been able to deal with human sexuality as something difficult and awkward without playing it for laughs. Ladykiller in a Bind has fewer sharp edges and is much gayer than Romance, but both are stories about complicated, motivated, sharp-witted women. Both also deal with BDSM.

The Beast (no-one uses their real names in Ladykiller) has a cool facade… almost everyone in the game has a false front of some sort, as an unflappable “ladykiller,” a diesel-dyke who gives no fucks. The Beast has two false fronts, as on top of that, she’s pretending to be the Prince, her Machiavellian asshole of a twin brother, on a cruise full his prep-school future power dealers, a life she had actively opted out of.

The Beast finds herself embroiled in two games, one of collecting and trading votes with her shipmates, the other of figuring out her role in her brother’s machinations. She has two allies, the Beauty (it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out the reference), and the Maid, a cagey but likable mastermind with the perfect disguise: she’s a black woman posing as “the help” on ship. No-one but the Beast even notices her.

Ladykiller makes decisions in conversation it’s central mechanic, and makes much more of a game of them than most visual novels. Gathering votes, not drawing suspicion, and deciding when to stick to her role and when to break out all have scoring and narrative consequences. In most situations, you can choose to speak up or let others keep talking, with your options for interjection remaining on-screen as long as they’re relevant, a system that is clever precisely because it is not on a Telltale-style g-d timer. Even better, every line of conversation is tagged with a mood or tone, a combination that makes it infinitely easier to understand what your options mean.Going forward, I want to see interactive dialogue adopt this system as a universal standard.

Then there’s the BDSM. There are two primary relationships and a couple of flings you can choose to pursue in the game, and while they are explicit and erotic, the primary focus is on the central role of trust and emotional intimacy in BDSM relationships, something that people in the lifestyle will greatly appreciate. One of my favorite moments in the game is when, after a scene, a domme asks if she uses the word “slut” too much during sex. That moment says it all: real, healthy BDSM creates a safe space for honesty and fantasy through communication and trust. Love isn’t afraid to be a total buzzkill for anyone looking for a 50 Shades-style abuse fantasy. Ladykiller literally opens by marking the difference between bondage and being held against one’s will in absolute oil-and-water terms.

The other side of that coin is that the fetish scenes are completely integral to the plot and character development: fans of Love’s games who are uncomfortable with PG-13 art and completely explicit writing will be caught in a bind of a different sort, and anyone who finds BDSM squicky really should just give this one a pass. For everyone else, Ladykiller is not only Love’s latest, it is also the best game yet from a visionary creator with a singular voice.

– Tof Eklund

Battlefleet Gothic: Armada

I have communed with the machine spirits. Heard the snarl of commissar and the bark of his bolter. I have tactically cogitated at great length. Battlefleet Gothic: Armada does right by the Emperor. No heresy here.

Tindalos have crafted a very focused tactical naval game in Battlefleet Gothic: Armada. Relative small maps, conservative but gorgeous number of furnishes, few modes. But who wouldn’t want to rake those ornate battle cathedrals about, loosing torp and broadside? You come to Armada because it’s a parcelled piece of super-condensed strategy. The limited number of ships keeps the fights lean, which is certainly my preference in 2016.

Each of the six factions now available plays quite differently, even if they all share a number of ship upgrade technologies. Imperium — why play anything else, bar revealing your heretical dalliances? — slaked my thirst for heavy broadsides and a courage for cleaving enemy vessels in twain with their armoured prows. Chaos, their fetid corruption befouling the Gothic sector like a lanced boil, compliment their speed with long-range lances. The Tau are short on sensor range and speed, but more than account for it by brutal railgun barrages. Boarding action, thy name is Adeptus Astartes.

The campaign is the most surprising element. It’s a dynamic affair, with the push-and-pull of side missions nested around the main plot devices as you flush Ork pirates and Eldar corsairs from forge worlds and crucial systems, amid the onslaught of Abaddon and his abominable retinue. Armada’s single player should be celebrated, given how dreary most RTS campaigns are. The presentation itself is possibly the most bombastic a Games Workshop title has ever been, which is saying something. Every inch thick with overwrought dialogue and the act of a billion tons of armour and cannon being shunted through the void feels very much the Emperor’s will. Or some other heretical calf, idolator.

In short, Battlefleet Gothic: Armada is exactly what you want from a game about gargantuan gun pontoons burning through the cosmos.

– Alex Connolly

Lost Portal

Lost Portal is what happens with Magic: The Gathering meets Dungeons & Dragons and it’s all kinds of awesome. You create a character and go adventuring through the world, encountering NPCs, accepting quests, and taking on monsters and other magi. Battle comes in the form of a spell-slinging duel that will be very familiar to fans of M:TG. Lost Portal is a premium game so all of the game’s cards are available through regular play and there’s a lot of gaming to be had for one low price. This one really scratches the deck-building and Magic-playing itch and is well worth your time.

– Nick Vigdahl

Civilization VI

It astonishes me that I have to put Civ VI anywhere but the top slot. This is a series which launched a genre, cost me countless hours in college, and which I’ve been unable to effectively play for years due to inadequate silicon. Now, I finally have a Mac which can run it, the newest iteration is superb, and I feel like an inspirational poster of a dog bounding through sunny fields of beautiful flowers.

Let me explain–no, there is too much. Let me sum up: Civ is a game about writing a new history of civilization. It’s so flexible that it feels more like a toybox full of neat and important stuff from world history than a traditional game. Partly, that’s because there are so many ways to win: you can dominate the other Civs militarily, you can go to Mars, you can convert everyone to the one true religion (yours), you can use National Parks and great works of art to attract tourists and become the world’s pre-eminent culture. Your world can be a tiny archipelago, a single massive world-spanning continent, or a barbarian-infested desert which resembles a post-apocalyptic dystopia before the apocalypse even happened. You might be neighbors with Qin Shi Huang, who’ll get jealous of you for having more Wonders than him and repeatedly start wars, or you might be alone on your continent with just a few friendly city-states. Maybe you’ll be surrounded by spices, cows, sugar, and bananas (presumably then going on to introduce the world to bananas foster), or perhaps you’ll find yourself coveting the oil of a neighbor.

Because of that variability, Civ has always been more like the highlighter than the history textbook. But these little snippets of history’s bold type give the game an intertextuality which freights it with meaning and makes it easier to grapple with the absurd amount of information available. The abilities of Norway’s Viking Longships suggest a strategy, and that strategy largely mirrors the actual behavior of the Vikings in the middle ages (perhaps without the mercenary stint in the Mediterranean by your leader). Knowledge of the history makes it easier to understand the game, and vice versa. For a person who never really got that into history in school, it’s a marvelous way to feel like you’re getting your intellectual vegetables, and, for those who did, it helps you feel like that was time well spent.

– Kelsey Rinella

Imbroglio

Michael Brough is one of my favorite game designers, and the release of Imbroglio, his follow-up to the masterful 868-HACK, was easily my most anticipated iOS game of the year. I reviewed it elsewhere, and it earned every one of the five stars I gave it.

Imbroglio is the game I learned the most about as I played this year. To be honest, I haven’t played it much in the past few months, but I still check in on the leaderboards occasionally just to see how “the meta” has evolved. And it does evolve! The release of an expansion early last month shook things up a fair bit, but the wealth of new weapons overwhelmed me when I first fired it up. I plan on sinking my teeth into that soon, probably after scanning the leaderboards for some ideas. It’s funny; I remember expressing some reservations about the feature of showing the layouts of top leaderboard entries, but it’s easily one of the game’s best features. I was worried that the metagame might stagnate, but instead it allowed players to discover and iterate upon new strategies through the easy sharing of information. Just another reason why Brough is one of the best designers around and I’m not, I suppose!

Brough’s detailed online journal entries are another one of my favorite things about Imbroglio, even if they aren’t really part of the game itself. He’s been doing a sort of running post-mortem on the game that provides all sorts of insights into his approach to game balance, art, interface design, and general life philosophy. It’s required reading if you’ve enjoyed any of his games, really. Fingers crossed that we’ll see another game from him in 2017, but if I’m going to have to play a game of his for a couple of years again, I’m glad it’s Imbroglio.

– Tanner Hendrickson

Pathfinder Adventures

Not to spoil anything about my upcoming #1 game, but Pathfinder Adventures from Obsidian and Paizo is my top mobile game of 2016. No other game on my iPad has gained and held my attention like this one. They managed to take a board game that was unwieldy and somewhat themeless on the tabletop and turn it into one of the best RPG experiences on mobile. Choices matter, characters feel more powerful as the campaign advances, and everything about the game just works. On the down side, it’s probably the buggiest game of 2016 as well. That hasn’t stopped me from playing it nearly every single day and I’ll continue to play it for as long as Obsidian keeps adding more content.

– Dave Neumann

Summary:

Tof Eklund

  • #5. Severed
  • #4. SteamWorld Heist
  • #3. Battlefleet Gothic: Leviathan
  • #2. Ladykiller in a Bind
  • #1. ?

Alex Connolly

  • #5. Darkest Dungeon
  • #4. House of the Dying Sun
  • #3. Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak
  • #2. Battlefleet Gothic: Armada
  • #1. ?

Nick Vigdahl

  • #5. Solitairica
  • #4. The Battle of Polytopia
  • #3. Warbits
  • #2. Lost Portal CCG
  • #1. ?

Kelsey Rinella

  • #5. Patchwork The Game
  • #4. Pathfinder Adventures
  • #3. XCOM 2
  • #2. Civilization VI
  • #1. ?

Tanner Hendrickson

  • #5. Pokémon Moon
  • #4. Stephen’s Sausage Roll
  • #3. Snakebird
  • #2. Imbroglio
  • #1. ?

Dave Neumann

  • #5. Guild of Dungeoneering
  • #4. XCOM 2
  • #3. Twilight Struggle
  • #2. Pathfinder Adventures
  • #1. ?

Notable Replies

  1. Interesting... XCOM 2 is mentioned twice..

    It was the game I was most hyped about this year, sometime since 2015. I bought it even per-release and upgraded my old PC, just to play it in all it's glory. In the end though, I did not find myself playing it much. Pretty frustrating. I thought about why that happened and I came up with those explanations.

    First: there were many other games with new interesting ideas that took hold of my gaming time this year. It was a good year for gaming and I had little time.

    Second: Even in the core, I felt myself overwhelmed with the options in XCOM 2 (the same goes for Civ-6 btw). Too many options, too much of everything. On top of that I just hate how the new soldiers look like and their customization options; they just look stupid with their weird masks and hats. So when I itched for a tactical squad based game, I found myself firing up "Invisible" instead. Neat, clear, easy to grasp and still hard to master, somehow like "purified XCOM". I could stay away for weeks and still pick it up where I left without scratching my head for an hour or two just to remember what I had done last.

    Third and equally important is that I saw lot's of coverage about it in the famous websites, with different conclusion, they weren't all praises. The Steam rating is pretty low compared to the first XCOM, validating me in my opinion. Unfortunately "our group" did not talk about it this year (or not that I know of) like we talked about the first title. The odds are very high when I see your judgment about the game, that I will give XCOM-2 yet another go, just to see, if I had missed anything about it. Yes, that is how love must feel like...

    Anyway guys, keep up the great work!

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