Well, International Year of the Potato (I kid you not) almost draws to a close, so what better time to look at the best role-playing games that 2008 has had to offer. In traditional counting-down-from-10 tradition, I’m going to count down from ten.
Without further ado……….
It might be nepotism to put my own humble contribution to the role-playing world in my Game of the Year list, but this isn’t for me. This goes out to all the utterly brilliant contributors over at the Microlite20 Forums who have pushed the game into weird and wonderful directions through 2008. We’ve had Zombies, entire campaigns where the players are Rats (no, really) and more post-apocalypse goodness than you can shake a tacnuke at. All for a system that you can fold up and put in your back pocket. I’m seriously looking forward to 2009 and what the contributors surprise me with next year! I thank you, all.
9: Dogs in the Vineyard
Indie role-playing game at it’s finest presenting a setting and premise that, if you’re willing to buy into it, offers terrific opportunity to actually role-play rather than push little pieces of plastic around a board and call it role-playing. This is a game which presents the lawless West with an undercurrent of evil that could easily range from gentle soap opera to demonic horror – and anything in between. Your heroes are Mormonesque preacher/gunmen/lawmen/Paladin/monk/whatevers whose job is to visit settlements, find the nest of evil and put things to rights. This is a game which will set your mind spinning and change the way you run your other games with everything from the Initiation generation/mini-game to the Conflict system sneaking it’s way into other systems.
8: GURPS 4e
The latest edition of the much vaunted Generic Universal Role Playing System released in 2004, GURPS 4e is a revision done right, fixing pretty much all the problems in Third Edition without significantly changing the core. It’s pure simulationist role-playing at its best, and the perfect antidote to D&D if you want something that’s both crunchy but has a smooth inner filling. Does this make GURPS 4e the Oreo of role-playing games? Probably. Full kudos goes to SJ Games for churning out high quality supplement after supplement this year, with their Dungeon Fantasy line (GURPS for D&D players!) heading up my list of favourites.
7: Primetime Adventures
Don’t you just love indie? Released in 2004 this has rapidly become the go-to game for running TV-style serialized games, and for good reason. Primetime Adventures is completely geared toward the TV meta-genre with creating the premise and setting being a central part of the whole shared narrative experience. It’s a looser, less GM-centric style of play that can be pretty intimidating for your average control-freak GM, but once you give it a try, you’ll be hooked.
6: Alpha Omega
A very recent entrant to the list, and one that I’m really looking forward to reading, playing and seeing more of in 2009. Alpha Omega takes post-apocalypse (post-everything, for that matter) gaming and turns the volume up to 23. It’s drop-dead gorgeous, beautifully polished and destined for greatness. The rules fit the setting like a glove, and already I’m planning to write a full review and use the words “Rifts, done right” a lot. I’m pretty sure that this one will go far and become one of my Top Five games of 2009.
5: d20/D&D 3rd Edition
It might seem strange to feature an “obsolete” eight-year old game in the list, but 3rd Edition D&D underwent a MASSIVE change in 2008 thanks to the release of 4e. With Wizards’ of the Coast effectively dropping support for the entire product line down the pan, 3e went from being corporate whore to indie love-child overnight. Perhaps as a result of the backlash to the playstyle of 4e, Third Edition has undergone something of a renaissance with many folks looking at it again and discovering that’s it’s actually a really damn good rule system. Add in the miracle that is the OGL, and 3e D&D isn’t going to go away any time soon. Quite right too!
4: Pathfinder RPG
Paizo takes 3e D&D and produces their own edition that does a credible job of fixing the problems without rocking the boat. This is an evolution rather than a complete new system that, like 3e D&D itself, looks set to draw more folks to the fold as time marches on. Add in Paizo’s wonderful artwork and style, and this is a system well deserving of the name Dungeons & Dragons, even though you won’t find those words emblazoned on the cover.
On to the top three!
3: D&D 4th Edition
The latest edition merits it’s entry into the top three for many reasons. The designers deserve full credit for creating a game that’s designed to appeal to old-school gamers and WoW-playing newcomers alike. The Powers system is nothing short of brilliant, and they’ve totally nailed the problems that 3e had with GM preparation time. Creating your own scenarios, encounters and custom Monsters is now the work of moments rather than hours or days.
There are flaws, of course, otherwise it would have made the number one spot. It’s an edition of D&D that’s polarised the role-playing crowd who either love it or hate it, and Wizards’ hamfisted handling of licensing has earned it little love (so far!) from third party publishers. D&D’s usual obsession with balance means that for everything to like about the system there’s an equal and opposite thing to dislike, and issues ranging from the PHB’s poor layout to Wizards’ inability to put a halfway decent index or glossary in any book they’ve released for 4e to date does little to curry favour with new gamers. There’s a slew of lesser issues too (Skill Challenges, Stealth, the lack of Warlord powers at low level based on anything other than Strength, Eladrin’s Fey Step, halfling Wizards & staffs, etc) that should really have been resolved well before the release date. Compared to 3e’s prep-time, CR/EL/LA system and the rules for Attacks of Opportunity though, that’s a small price to pay.
Well done, Wizards of the Coast!
2: Mutants & Masterminds
Green Ronin & Co. have turned out some excellent quality goodies this year with the Hero Lab character generator from Lone Wolf showing just how it should be done, and not a .NET Framework, dropped deadline or broken promise in sight. Add in terrific supplements such as Wild Cards and the unending enthusiasm for the system at Atomic Think Tank and it’s easy to see why this deserves to be on everyone’s top three list, every year.
And the winner is………..
1: 3:16 Carnage Among the Stars
Is 3:16 a perfect game? Well, no, as it’s not got….. ummmm…… then there’s…… errrrrr…….. OK, I’ll admit it; I can’t think of a damned thing to add or take away from 3:16 that would make it a better game. So I guess it must be perfect after all.
3:16 is a stupidly simple beer-and-pretzels game and a deeply complex moralistic one, all at the same time. The players’ characters are members of the elite 3:16th Expeditionary Force who’s task it is to rid the universe of alien scum to keep the Utopian Earth a safe and wholesome place to be. It’s Starship Troopers, Those Guys from Alien II and every dumb Space Marine movie all rolled into one. Add in rules which perfectly fit the tone and setting, the utterly brilliant Flashbacks concept, the promise of Starkiller missiles and the lightest touch of moral decay and you’ve got a system that everyone should be legally mandated to play at least once in their life.
A $10 PDF as my Game of the Year?
Without a doubt.
Here’s to what 2009 brings!