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What I Played in 2023

March 10, 2024

27 min read

Welcome to The Goaties! ๐Ÿ

I logged around 123 games last year. ๐Ÿค”

I did a mid year check-in on what I played. It's interesting to see what carried through and what didn't. I didn't get around to publishing my GOTY post last year ๐Ÿค”, my most recent is from 2021.

I split the notable games from my plays into a few categories:

#My Favorites

#Hitman World of Assassination - Freelancer Mode

Systemic Sandbox I

I've heard stories about the emergent game play in Hitman from various people over the years. The common thread is always the game's immersive systems. I've played before and had a good enough time, but I never really got immersed in Hitman's systems.

With the release of Freelancer Mode, I decided to give Hitman another shot and I finally get it. I was too focused on reloading saves every time I goofed trying to finish story missions previously. Freelancer mode encouraged me to keep playing through my mistakes and deeply engage with the game's systems in order to survive.

I finally get it; Hitman is awesome. It is my most played game this year by far. ๐ŸŽฎ


Pair Programming for Aliens

Inspiring Indie

Gestalt_OS by Increpare is my favorite puzzler of the year and one of my favorite puzzlers of all time.

The game is presented as a cryptic Windows 95 application from another planet. It has a tool bar of abstract icons and none of them make any sense. The main pane is a grid you drag the icons onto and then they do seemingly random things. Sometimes.

You experiment your way through the game by combining the symbols and learning their rules. I love the feeling of deciphering a system that initially seems utterly nonsensical.

Gestalt_OS was great fun to co-play on Discord with my friend Brendan. We've had a lot of fun co-playing other cryptic games in the past. Cinco Paus and "Xโ€™BPGH: The Forbidden Path" in Last Call BBS really remind me of this experience.

#The Roottrees are Dead

Amazing Deduction Game

Inspiring Indie

The Roottrees are Dead by jjohnstongames is one of the best deduction games ๐Ÿค” I've ever played.

Finally playing Outer Wilds a couple years back taught me I might be into investigative deduction games. Then playing Return of the Obra Dinn and The Case of the Golden Idol last year confirmed that I'm super into this genre.

The Roottrees are Dead is the perfect dosage of this deduction formula. It took me about six hours to complete which I, perhaps irresponsibly, binged in one session.

I love the game's early nineties Internet aesthetic. I'm a sucker for fake computers in games. The different types of media you engage with are super compelling too. There are photos, books, magazines, websites, songs, newspapers, and probably other things I'm forgetting. This all combines to create a super immersive slice of fake reality.

It's the best version of Obra Dinn since Obra Dinn! AND It's playable free in the browser, so you should go play it right now!

#Mosa Lina

Systemic Sandbox II

Couch Play I

Inspiring Indie

Mosa Lina is a "hostile interpretation of the immersive sim" by Stuffed Wombat.

I really like how Mosa Lina plays with mixing designed and randomly assembled elements. There's something like 30 wacky tools, including everything from frog guns to anti gravity field generators. The levels are little sandboxes with some amount of intention from the designer, but no specific solution in mind. Then the game shuffles all of this up and gives you a totally random combination that might be solveable.

I've been discovering I'm really into systemic games lately. I originally thought I was into "roguelikes", but have been finding a lot of games lately that play with systems in more interesting ways. The rogueike formula is just one method I'm less into these days.

I find Stuffed Wombat's claim of the "hostility" of Mosa Lina to be very interesting as well. When I hear hostility, I find myself picturing hostile architecture elements like bird spikes or anti-homeless benches.

Mosa Lina's hostility feels a lot more like an indifference to me as a player than an active hostility. The tools and levels still feel designed to be useful and/or interesting. The particular combination might not be solveable and I just won't know until I try (a lot). And I still might not know when I give up and reset anyway. The game doesn't even know if the seed was solveable! I still feel like Mosa Lina wants me to keep playing though.

I love how this game makes an artistic statement I got to explore via gameplay. Super super fun and interesting!

Mosa Lina also has an amazing pass the controller setup. It's great fun to play with a few friends. It's set up as competetive, but you still work together to clear a set of levels. Cheering for your friends to pull off a wacky combo and clear a particularly hard level is a ton of fun.

#Doing Poorly and Living with Myself

Relatable Content

Inspiring Indie

Doing Poorly and Living with Myself (DPALM) by NoahKittelson is a very personal and well-written visual novel.

I don't have the words to properly express my admiration of this project, but here's Noah's description of the game:

Doing Poorly and Living with Myself is a short semi-autobiographical Visual Novel about work, stress, imposter syndrome and burnout. I started writing it after quitting my own job, to help relieve & explore the guilt of having given up on a job I worked so hard to get, and so hard to keep. For anyone else who has also done poorly, I hope this can help you live with it.

It's about an hour to play and free to download. If anything in that description resonates with you, please play the game. Then, kick Noah a few bucks if you feel it was a good use of your time.

I played DPALM after being laid off earlier last year. ๐Ÿค” The situation Noah goes through is not identical to mine, but many elements resonated with me. Playing it was a great use of my time.

#Honorable Mentions


Best Arcade Game

Couch Play II

Inspiring Indie

Pigments is a free arcade game originally made by Benjamin Soulรฉ as part of the Disc Room Game Jam.

This year, Pigments had a commercial re-release as part of PUNKCAKE Delicieux with new levels and content. I don't think this was a dramatic upgrade over the original free version. However, both versions of Pigments are amazing and I'm very happy to be able to kick them some dollars for this game.

I played this as a couch co-op with my partner and her brother. Passing the controller around to try and 100% some of the harder levels was a blast.

#Old School RuneScape - Trailblazer Reloaded League

Comfort Food

Old School RuneScape keeps showing up in my game posts. The common thread in my writing on RuneScape is nostalgia and chilled out gameplay pace. It is apparently my go to "turn brain off" game. ๐Ÿค”

I stand by Trailblazer Reloaded League being a cool, meaningful iteration on the original game though. Every few years, Old School RuneScape does a league where you start a new character for a month with up to x12 experience gain and a bunch of game breaking items.

MMOs have super deep game worlds filled to the brim with content, but players ignore 90% of it since it's "not optimal". I find it fascinating how these league type modes can totally recontextulize your relationship with that content and have you going deep into something you'd written off long ago.

#Invisible Inc

Tactical Innovation

Invisible Inc. is a stealth tactics game by Klei from a few years back.

I used to be way more into tactics games, but I find them hard to enjoy these days. There are a lot of common flaws that grate on me in the standard grid based tactics formula. ๐Ÿค”

Invisible Inc's stealth and objective oriented game play instead of "kill all the enemies" oriented gameplay fixed a lot of these flaws for me. Most moves feels significant and the game rolls forward in failure states.

#Terra Nil

Conflicted Feelings

Terra Nil by Free Lives is described as a "reverse city builder", but I think it's something more like a narrative focused puzzle game.

This was a weird game for me. Playing the first two levels, it felt like there was no way for me to lose. So, I thought the game was mostly about just building a pretty world. I thought this lined up with the "city building" genre label.

Then, in level three, I was deep into building my pretty world and suddenly realized I was totally stuck and had to throw away everything. I found this really frustrating and quit the game forever. Or that's what I thought at the time anyway.

Later, I watched some other people enjoying Terra Nil which convinced me to give it a second try - what was I missing? On this replay, I tried thinking about it as more of a light puzzle game. You don't get to play around in a pretty sandbox, you need to solve the scenario. This new frame of mind carried me to 100%ing the game.

In the end, I did enjoy Terra Nil. I love the game's aesthetic style. The isometric viewpoint reminds me of some of my favorites like Zoo Tycoon and Age of Empires. I think less puzzling and more sandboxy systems could've made Terra Nil one of my favorite games of all time.


Cool Piece of History

Subnautica by Unknown Worlds is a survival adventure crafting game set on an ocean planet.

Playing Subnautica felt like jumping in a time machine back to the "every game is a survival crafting game" era.

Subnautica is very intersting to compare to Outer Wilds (a game I really love). It feels like a lot of what Subnautica was doing narratively is refined in Outer Wilds. In both games you get dumped in a new mysterious world with little explanation and need to piece the story together of what happened all by yourself.

Also, being lost in an ocean is truly wild. I really cannot overstate how unique and interesting that experience feels. It's hard to describe, but it's totally alien not being able to see dry land anywhere.


Almost Amazing

Inspiring Indie

Moonring by Fluttermind is a "retro-fusion" of classic turn based RPG experiences with a pretty, modern presentation.

I've always been interested in old school RPGs, but when I've tried one I bounce off. I love Moonring for presenting these game concepts in a WAY more palatable package.

Moonring has SO MANY super cool moments and mechanics. There's a fog that flows across the entire world map driving people insane. You can hear enemies through walls, outide of your line of sight. And you can get a skill that lets you shoot arrows through walls to actually hit them. There were giant monsters in the woods, unique boss fights, sea monsters, ancient temples, and more.

My favorite feeling in Moonring was exploring this rich world, I really never knew what we might find around the next corner.

If Moonring lasted half as long, I think it might've made it into my favorites list. As it is, there was just a bit too much time in between the cool parts. However, the game seems to still be in active development and I'm optimistic it'll become truly amazing as it gets filled out.

#Board Games

#Cosmic Encounter

Simply the Best

At first glance, Cosmic Encounter by Bill Eberle, Jack Kittredge, Bill Norton, Peter Olotka, and Kevin Wilson appears to be a war game about conquering your opponents' planets. In reality, it is about becoming a nonsensical alien with game breaking abilities, politicking, and so much drama.

I misplayed this as a cutthroat war game for my first play and had a bad time taking it too seriously. On subsequent plays, I've really embraced doing dramatic, fun, and stupid stuff and had a blast playing Cosmic Encounters.

I cannot wait to play again and see what ridiculous alien hijinks we get up to next time.

#Caesar! Sieze Rome in Twenty Minutes

Chess + Go, but better?

Caesar! is a lightly Roman themed board game by Paolo Mori. You place tokens on regional borders that influence each side of the border with different weight, and try to win more regions than your opponent.

It turns out that I really enjoy abstract strategy games. I'm just not into the "homeworkification" of popular lifestyle abstract strategy games like Chess and Go.

Caesar! has a lot of the same feelings I've found in Go and Chess. Offering exchanges you think will be advantageous to your opponent, but more advantageous to you. Trying to surround their territory so that you can prevent their growth. That feeling where instead of just doing move A, you do move D that'll force my opponent to do C, which leads to me doing B and NOW I can force them to do A.

I talked about Hive in my mid year check in and I think it fills a similar role to Ceasar! I think Hive might be a more timeless game, but I played Caesar! much more this year so I put it on this list instead. Both games do have interesting appreciable differences too - plenty of room for both! ๐Ÿค”


Best Game Night

Earlier in the year, I watched a bunch of really engaging playthroughs of Dune by Bill Eberle, Jack Kittredge, Peter Olotka (these are the game designers, not the playthrouh-ers).

I thought Dune would be way too involved of a game for me to actually ever get to play myself. I'm so glad to have been wrong about this. Getting Dune as a figt from my partner, forced my hand in finally planning an awesome 6 hour game night with dinner ๐Ÿ˜‹ and snacks ๐Ÿ˜‹.

I love so much about this game. I've very rarely played board games that are this wild and epic in scope. It's even less common for me to find the time these days. I'm super happy to have been able to get my friends together to battle for Arrakis.

#Cat in the Box

Good Clean Fun

Cat in the Box by Muneyuki Yokouchi (ๆจชๅ†…ๅฎ—ๅนธ) is a quantum trick taking game, where you declare the suits of your cards as you play them.

I've never really played trick takers much before outside of The Crew. This was a big eye opener for me on this awesome, relatively simple mechanic. ๐Ÿค”

I'm starting to understand why half of the card games you can learn with traditional card games are trick takers. There's a ton of room for compelling twists on this formula... Like quantum mechanics!

#For Northwood

Solo board games are good, actually!

For Northwood by Wilhelm Su is a solo trick taking game.

I'm fascinated with the design of solo board games. It's interesting to see what affordances they gain and lose when compared to singpleplayer video games. There's a lot of inspiration to draw from their physicality as a video game creator.

Most solo games I've tried don't really click for me though. ๐Ÿค”

I feel the rules overhead of solo games A LOT more than I do in a multiplayer board game setting. It's a lot of work to teach yourself all of a game's rules before playing. There's a reason I love video games without tutorials that just dump you in and let you start experimenting and learning at your own pace.

For Northwood is brilliant though. It was surprisingly easy to start playing with a smartly designed intro ruleset. I think the design benefits a lot by piggy backing on how interesting trick taking is as a base mechanic.

#More new-to-me board games I enjoyed this year



Best RTS Since Sliced Bread

Mechabellum by Game River is the best new RTS I've seen in a long time. It's also technically an autobattler and not an RTS... But I feel like it captures something great about RTS games I can only scratch the surface of in traditional RTS games.

Mechabellum highlights the deep strategical counter and positioning systems in RTS games while removing base building and the need for real time execution.

I never thought a game with this structure would feel like an RTS, but it really does. It also lets me think about this deep area of RTS games that newbies like me never get a chance to think about.

#Decked Out 2

Most Impressive

Decked Out 2 by TangoTek is a push-your-luck deck-building dungeon-crawling game built entirely in survival Minecraft.๐Ÿค”

It blows my mind the scope of this project. Decked Out 2 was built over a year and a half with millions of individual blocks placed by hand. It's not just an awesome game built in Minecraft. It's an awesome game.

Decked Out 2 is an adaptation of the board game Clank to a real time 3D environment. It's fascinating to explore the design choices needed to translate a board game's gameplay into Minecraft. Decked Out makes deep use of Minecraft mechanics to do this too. There's an in-game "HUD". You need to sneak and watch how much noise you make. There are keys and treasures to collect. A deck building system. And there's a mountain of redstone powering it.

There's an interesting "league" system around Decked Out 2 since it's on an ongoing Minecraft content creator server. Throughout the season, the game evolves in response to its players. There is a metaprogression system where your deck improves over the weeks you play too. In some ways this game is sort of like a season of a reality TV show.

#Games I'm looking forward to playing

Some games I've got in my backlog or coming out next year I want to play!

#Video games

#Board games