Game, n., an activity that one engages in for amusement.
2013 has been an odd year gamewise for this old ‘Wulf. The number of role-playing games I have played – indeed, the amount of game sessions I’ve been privileged enough to take part in – has reduced dramatically for one reason or another, while at the same time the wargaming side of my brain has been pleasantly tickled throughout the year. Over on the computer game side of things I have settled into certain games like an old glove; most of the ‘puter games in the list aren’t particularly new, but these are the ones that have consumed my free time like a free time eating monster from the planet Freetime.
So, without more ado, I give you…
The game that ate up so much of my life in previous years is still every inch the fantastic time-sink I know and love, and each update through 2013 has brought terrific new shiny things to experiment with and blow up. There’s something deeply cathartic about creating a beautiful stained-glass window then destroying it with TNT. Make of that what you will.
Minecraft’s supported platforms (PC, Console and Pocket) have all matured to a point where it’s great fun whether playing on a mutliplayer server at 3am on my PC or quickly building a watchtower on my iPad Mini while sat in a car park. The promise of the new official Realms service all-but-guarantees that Minecraft will remain in my top ten list for many years to come.
9. Saints Row IV & V
It might be cheating to put Saints Row IV and V together in the coveted 9th slot, but the fifth title in the Saints Row series began life as a DLC pack for the fourth, and uses much of the game art and assets of the previous title. The key difference between the two titles is in V you have superpowers and in IV you don’t, but there’s so much more to both of these titles than just that simple distinction.
Saints Row IV & V are funny stupid chaos simulators. They are the bastard love-children of GTA, Just Cause 2 and Postal 2 all wrapped up in surprisingly tight plotlines and lots of purple. What other games let you run your your own gang, be the President of the USA, possess super-speed, fight aliens from within the Matrix and hit random strangers with giant dildos? Not many, I’ll warrant. These games are as crass and gross as you want them to be, and a perfect antidote to every Bad Day ever.
I can’t wait for VI.
8. Warhammer 40,000
The first tabletop wargame on the list, but certainly not the last. I love me some 40k, but what I don’t really enjoy are 2,000+ point battles that demand many shiny pennies of investment and hours of time to play.
I like my Warhammer small, fast and personal. Give me 200, 400 or 500 point battles that take less than an hour to setup & play and let me experiment with different troops types and armies. I own a decent range of Tyranids, Imperial Guards, Chaos Space Marines and a couple of Chapters of Space Marines (Iron Hands, Ultramarines and Dark Angels), and that’s enough to host a Battleforce Recon tournament all on my own – perfect for introducing new players to the hobby without them having to mortgage their souls beforehand. My goal is to add Tau, Necrons and Orks to that list in 2014.
Expect future blogposts about playing Warhammer 40k!
7. DOTA 2
Don’t be fooled. DOTA 2 is not a computer game. It 3 parts obsession to 2 parts religion where fanaticism and skill can – just occasionally – be beaten by incompetence and blind luck.
I am cheerfully rubbish at DOTA 2, but that doesn’t stop me playing. This is a game where I can have no bloody idea what’s going on and still be grinning like a loon. Every game update brings new characters, variants and rules to add to the overall complexity of the game, and even attempts to make the game more accessible to new players just add to the overall content info-dump, thereby defeating its purpose. DOTA 2 is like drowning in jelly babies. Overwhelming, but oh so much fun.
6. Fate Accelerated
A dirt cheap role-playing engine that’s easy to read in a single sitting and even easier to play. Fate Core is equally awesome, but FAE is easier to get into and makes a perfect grab-and-go system for those times when you just want to sit down and play. If you want a rules light system for low-powered fantasy, historical, modern or far future gaming, FAE hits the mark. Fate Core gives you more knobs and dials to play with, and the System Toolkit offers even more but the lightness of Fate Accelerated has a purity and charm all of its own.
Definitely one of the surprise RPG hits of the year, and deservedly so.
5. Flames of War
Flames of War is my World War II wargame of 2013, period. The Open Fire! boxed set (pictured above) is £50 (or regional equivalent), so for about the same price as a single Space Marine Centurion Squad you get:
- Complete 296 page rulebook
- 52 page quick start guide
- Cardboard terrain, tokens, objectives, markers, army lists & dice
- 6 Sherman V tanks
- 2 Firefly VC tanks
- Complete US Parachute Rifle Platoon
- 3 StugG tanks
- 2 PAK40 anti-tank guns
- Complete German Grenadierkompanie
- V1 flying bomb
That’s a total of one hundred and eighteen miniatures and two complete forces with which to play. This isn’t some cut-down starter set with simplified rules but the real deal with everything you need to play a reasonably large-scale battle right from the start.
Flames of War is a superb game, and the Open Fire! set stands head and shoulders above any other starter set out there. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
If it weren’t for Starbound, Terraria would be my number 4 as that’s what I would have been playing instead.
Starbound takes Terraria and asks “what if that’s just one world?” and makes an infinite number of new worlds for you to explore. There’s creatures to fight, aliens to befriend, dungeons and prisons to explore and they’re all procedurally generated in such a way that you are unlikely to see the same thing twice. It’s all done with such a style and inventiveness that you will be saying “Oh! That’s new.” every thirty minutes for the rest of your life.
3. Memoir ’44
Memoir ’44 is a sophisticated and beautifully designed wargame cunningly disguised as a boardgame. It is a gateway drug and the final solution, all rolled into one. It is also available as a Free-To-Play online version so there is no excuse not to play.
The tactile (as opposed to online) version of Memoir ’44 costs about £40 and includes a load of fully replayable scenarios with hundreds more online (and you are free to make your own, of course) along with even more miniatures, counters and terrain pieces that you get with the Flames of War Open Fire! boxed set listed above. The base game is focused on the D-Day landings and the fields of Normandy while further expansions move the game to the Eastern Front, the Mediterranean and the Pacific.
Unlike other wargames (including Warhammer & Flames of War) the base game contains all the minis you ever need to play in that setting, with the additional expansions also including full armies (Soviet, British and Japan) so this isn’t a game that will suck your money forever more.
The twist that makes Memoir ’44 stand out from any other hex-based wargame is the tactical use of cards that dictate which part of the board the player can control action. This simulates the lines of communication and operation in the field in a way full blown wargames rarely even consider. It does add a degree of randomness and luck into the game which both manages to make it as accessible as a boardgame and engrossing for skilful players, both at the same time.
I am quite completely addicted.
2. D&D Next
It has been an honour and an privilege to be a part of the D&D Next Playtest, and I have loved every minute of it. Thank you, my fellow playtesters.
Don’t be fooled by the idiots on twitter who can’t see beyond their oh-so-clever short-sighted snarks and edition-war fuelling vitriol; D&D Next is a truly wonderful thing. Let’s face it, the alternative is “No D&D” and that is far too sad a thing to contemplate, both on a personal level and as a consequence for the industry as a whole.
I can’t over-stress this enough: the role-playing hobby needs there to be a living, actively published and supported edition of Dungeons & Dragons because that inspires new growth in the industry. Wizards of the Coast is more than “just another rpg company”. It is an academy where new content creators cut their teeth publishing new adventures, submitting art and inventing new rules, and new players are introduced to the hobby through the D&D brand. Whether you like the direction D&D is taking or not, the importance of D&D shouldn’t be under-estimated.
But on to D&D Next itself. I love it.
It’s not perfect, but it hasn’t been released yet, so that’s ok. It probably won’t be perfect when it’s released either, and that’s ok too. I like my D&D to be an evolving thing where each supplement, campaign setting and adventure adds something new to the game. The teased promise of Modules that provide optional rules and tweaks that can allow us to tailor the style of play mean this could well be a version of D&D that can by enjoyed by old schoolers and 4e-style gamers alike. It’s certainly shaping up that way, and I’m eager to see how the Tactical Grid Module looks when it’s finally released.
Roll on Summer 2014!
1. The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim
What can I say about Skyrim that hasn’t been said before? Sure, it’s a buggy mess of a game that is only truly fully playable thanks to the thousands of dedicated fans who have produced unofficial patches and fixes to the base game and expansions. Sure, there are arguably finer open world games out there with better graphics and more immersive gameplay.
But they are not the games which keep me playing until 4am. Skyrim is.
Skyrim is a realm where you can forge your own personal narrative. Thanks to mods such as Alternate Start you can bypass the core questline entirely and play as a humble blacksmith, trader, bard or mercenary. Every playthrough is a different experience and is entirely down to what you want as a player. This is a game that will suck hundreds – if not thousands – of hours of your life, and will give you as many stories to tell as any true pen and paper RPG.
The key to Skyrim’s success has to be the mods. Want better graphics? You got it. Want a more immersive experience? Sure. Want new quests, lands, armour, weapons, followers, equipment or anything else up to and including Space Marine armour? No problem. Skyrim can be as silly or realistic as you want, and every single day new and amazing mods are released by a community that shows no sign of slowing down. More on the mods of Skyrim, another time.
Playing Skyrim is like playing in your own personal MMORPG without any of the other assholes who screw it up. There is no finer game.
Coming in 2014: The Elder Scrolls Online, where they add the assholes back. I can’t wait.
Happy Christmas, y’all.