And we’re back with our countdown, nearing Friday’s reveal of our #1 games of the year. I’m sure the suspense is killing you! Or not. I can dream.
Arkham Horror: The Card Game – The Dunwich Legacy cycle
I was steadfast in my resistance to Arkham Horror: The Card Game until The Dunwich Legacy was released, bringing with it Jenny Barnes’ Phryne Fisher impersonation. That first full-length campaign earned its spot among my top five games this year by doing everything it attempted better than I’d have expected. Gameplay and brief text reinforced one another to allow an engagingly creepy tale to emerge. Deck-building offered a brain-inflaming tiller in the stormy seas of random violence to a player’s plans. Tactical decisions during play evoked more tension than anything else I’ve played this year. Even the bits I don’t care for, like the apparent superiority of a two-person team specialized in combat and research, seem like a reflection of my preferences and a challenge to grow as a player.
The game I played most this year, hands down, was sci-fi mobile MMO Hades’ Star. It’s a strong mix of 4x elements—you balance the expansion of a star system with economic optimization and military might. Players can join corporations and run red stars—a real-time, raid-style attack against AI opponents to grab some loot—as well as recently added white stars which offer corporation-versus-corporation contests. Hades’ Star is heavy on the grinding, but if that doesn’t turn you off there’s a lot to like about the game.
Super Mario Odyssey
Super Mario Odyssey is a game about the joy of movement, whether you’re controlling Mario or one of the dozens of creatures he can now possess. No other game I played this year—perhaps ever—felt as good to play. It’s also a triumph of level design, with each level bursting with new ideas and challenges that encourage experimentation and expression through movement. Much like the next game on my list (The suspense!), Super Mario Odyssey largely does away with arbitrary restrictions on the player. And like West of Loathing, I was consistently rewarded for trying to break the game and get to places I shouldn’t, often with coins or even moons! To officially acknowledge these borderline-exploits is a huge change for traditionally conservative Nintendo, and I am so here for it.
Jack King-Spooner’s Dujanah is hard to describe, even if you’ve played some of his other games, like Beeswing or Blues for Mittavinda. Of course, if you’ve played those games, you’ll know why it’s hard to describe and whether you can handle the emotional intensity and surreal imagery of a King-Spooner game. Dujanah is about living in a middle-eastern nation occupied by a foreign military power, about loss and the price of revenge, about receiving extended personal confessions from strangers, about parodying RPG conventions, not for laughs so much as out of frustration with their reductive narratives of heroism and progress, about stopping to admire claymation bands, wishing that their fuzzpunk samples (all composed and performed by King-Spooner) were longer, about people who chose to mutate into malformed spider-creatures, about games literally and metaphorically embedded in games… look, by now you’re either itching to play Dujanah or wondering why I’m wasting your time, so what’s left for me to say? Oh yeah, Jack also made a (free) Christmas game last year, but you can play it now and pretend it’s new and was made just for you (hat tip to RPS for that one).
Darkest Dungeon: Tablet Edition
Darkest Dungeon is one of those games that shouldn’t really work on a tablet, but does. I put it up there with longer strategy games like FTL and XCOM that managed to succeed on a tablet even though we usually think of the platform for more quick-hit style gaming. I logged a ton of hours playing the tablet version of DD, more than the Steam version, mainly because it was so easy to lay on the couch and watch my dear, sweet adventurers get their limbs removed. It’s a hard game, and I have yet to crack the secrets of the Darkest Dungeon, but I’m going to keep trying. Yes, there are some awkward UI choices from Blitworks, but once you get around the small font it plays exceptionally well on a tablet. Now if I could just get it to work on my iPhone +.
- Darkest Dungeon for iPad, $5
- Darkest Dungeon for PC/Mac/Linux via Steam, $25
- Darkest Dungeon for PC/Mac/Linux via GoG, $10 (on sale)