First, let me apologize for my long absence. It’s been a busy few months, and I’ve let my blog slip a bit. I will, as Warren Beatty once said to the Academy while receiving a lifetime achievement award, try to do better.
This has probably been the busiest four months of gaming and gaming-related activity of my life. In addition to our “regular” groups on Saturday night and Wednesday night, and my online game alternate Mondays, I have been running a game on the other Mondays with players who mostly aren’t part of my usual gaming troupe. We’ve had some great games, but it’s also worn me down. All this on top of the burdens of full-time employment and the release of our podcast, Shake, Rattle & Roleplay, have been keeping me away from the keyboard. (Oh yes, and I’ve been working on my own storygame, Lost Pines, which I promise to tell you more about at a later date.)
After some soul-searching, I’ve made some changes to my schedule which I think will give me a little more me-time and relieve some of my obligations so that I can do stuff like write blog entries and storygames. I already feel less like I’m about to blow a mental gasket, and that’s good for everyone who’s had to put up with my craziness over the past couple months. Again, I will try to do better.
I thought a good way to get back in the swing of things was to write a little wrap-up – a Gaming Year in Review, to go along with so many other columns out there in the blogosphere summing up the best movies, books, and embarrassing political gaffes and scandals of 2013. My wonderful wife Megan is producing a series where she pits the books she’s read this year in gladiatorial combat against one another to decide the best book of the year. There aren’t enough strained analogies to combat featuring gladiators, road warriors in the Thunderdome, kaiju, Pokemon, or martial arts masters for my liking, but you should totally check that out.
So, without further yap-flapping…
High Trust, High Drama
2013 Year in Review
I think the most sensible way to go about this is in two parts, the first addressing general trends in gaming, products I’ve liked, and such, and the second part will reflect on some stuff that’s happened at my own game table.
Most Game-able Movie of 2013 (Tie) – PACIFIC RIM / THOR
There were some duds in the “nerd movie” sweepstakes this year, with Man of Steel and Iron Man 3 both underwhelming me thoroughly. But Guillermo Del Toro’s robust PACIFIC RIM more than made up for a dull summer, and as I’ve already observed, it provides a model of a very gamable mecha universe.
I have to say that I was quite surprised by how much I enjoyed THOR: THE DARK WORLD, but it managed to improve on the first film in almost every way. Asgard was full of rollicking action and derring-do, much closer to the high adventure exploits we expect from a superhero comic book than dour fare like Zack Snyder’s take on Superman. Is this so hard, people?
Gaming Thing Most Likely to Suck My Wallet Dry – BUNDLE OF HOLDING
Just in case you haven’t already discovered it and seen your bank account depleted mightily because of it, Bundle of Holding puts together themed packages of indie RPGs and sells them at a pay-what-you-want price. The spoils are divided up between the bundlers, creators and the charity of their choice, and if you pledge more than the average you get bonus games. Not only is this a great way to check out a bunch of new games, it’s a great way to spread around some money in the industry and support good causes.
Shiny New Game System We’re Digging the Heck Out Of – DRAMASYSTEM
I bought in to the Kickstarter for HILLFOLK, the new game from Robin Laws that acts as the flagship title for his new DRAMASYSTEM line. It’s a very sleek system that feels very close to Primetime Adventures, with a few extra bells and whistles attached (the procedural system, which gives a little more mechanical heft to things like combat or investigations). It’s also got a very insightful character creation method that builds characters who not only have strong relationships with one another, but fraught relationships. If you read Hamlet’s Hit Points, this is the game application of those ideas. It’s really nifty stuff, and we’re enjoying it.
Kickstarter Most Jam-Packed With Gaming Goodness – FATE CORE
Evil Hat really knocked it out of the park with their Fate Core Kickstarter, which provided so much gaming goodness it’s absurd. Not only did it fund the core game rules, but a light version (Fate Accelerated), two books full of ready-to-run settings (Fate Worlds), a Fate System Toolkit, supplements for FC versions of Freeport and The Day After Ragnarok, and a totally awesome new Spirit of the Century supplement (Strange Tales of the Century) by epic nerd scholar Jess Nevins. Right now, Fate Accelerated is my go-to game, but with all this stuff you could build pretty much any version of Fate you like.
Indie HTHD Game of the Year – MONSTERHEARTS
I am a latecomer to the *World line, but Joe McDaldno really produced what is for me the definitive HTHD version of that ruleset in MONSTERHEARTS. It refines the basics of the system down to focus tightly on high school drama with lots of sex and angst and bad behaviour. With apologies to Vincent Baker, this spoke to me in ways that Apocalypse World did not. If you’re interested in games with lots of drama and high emotional stakes, this is the place.
Most Game-worthy Game of the Year – FATE ACCELERATED EDITION
FAE strips down the Fate Core engine to its sleekest, sweetest stuff and wraps it all up in a tiny $5.00 package that should be in every gamer’s bag. It’s clearly aimed as an entry level product, but for those of us who have been playing Fate for a while and like the game sleek, this is just what we’ve been dreaming of for a long, long time. If you don’t own a copy of this, you mustn’t have any interest in narrative and character-centric gaming. It’s boss, applesauce.
Coolest Monthly Injection of Awesome – KEN WRITES ABOUT STUFF
I was lucky enough to get a subscription to Ken Hite’s superlative series of articles through a Bundle of Holding. Each month, Ken takes a topic, monster, or setting and writes 8-10 pages of material jammed with the wild ideas and historical awesome that Ken does best. Absolutely unmissable for anyone who loves Mr. Hite or plays a game with the word “Cthulhu” in the title.
Most Awesome Game My Players Would Never Agree To Play – DARK STREETS
Another goodie that came in a Bundle of Holding. This is a game where players play the Bow Street Runners in Georgian London, with a Lovecraftian twist. Definitely not an era that I’ve seen Cthulhued before, and one that sounds like a lot of fun. Kudos for Peter Cakebread and Ken Walton for finding a small corner of the world that hadn’t already been overstuffed with tentacles.
My players: NEIN.
Coolest Free Thing of the Year – MYTHENDER
Ryan Macklin is a guy who doesn’t get nearly enough love and respect in the gaming industry. This year, he released a game he’d been working on for a very long time – MYTHENDER – for free. It’s a big, ambitious game about wailing the hell out of gods, and it’s well worth a look. It was an amazing and humbling gesture for the esteemed Mr. Macklin to release a game this amazing for free, and he deserves to be lauded for such a generous contribution to the gaming community. Also, he’s on his way to being married in the near future – so congratulations, Ryan!
Biggest Gaming Nuisance of the Year – GOOGLE+
Most of these are raves, because nobody really wants to see any more bandwidth wasted on bitching about something that I don’t like. However, Google+ has been on my shitlist for a long time. I use Google Hangouts to run an online game, and Google+ does its very best to make it impossible for me to find a simple button that will take me into this feature. Although its online performance has improved over the last year, it’s still buggy and frustrating. The apps sometimes work and sometimes don’t, for no discernable reason. Players are kicked out of the Hangout or don’t receive an invite to begin with, entirely at random.
It’s a little like being close enough that you can see the Dazzling Future World, just over the next hill, but for now you’re stuck in Sean Connery’s musty old red shorts from Zardoz. And they itch.
(To be continued)