January 7, 2021
7 min read
It's that time of year to reminisce about some of the games I've played in the past 12 months.
These are the games I remember the most vividly when I think back about what I played this year. I didn't rank the following games against each other, I picked my top 5 most memorable for the year.
I've been playing Magic pretty much every week this year with my friends from back home. We played via webcam at first and then using Tabletop Simulator. (Tabletop Simulator is a secondary recommendation here, it was a big improvement on webcam play.) We used to play the game a lot when we were younger, but I stopped playing once I moved away. It's been a ton of fun to have a recurring time to hangout and catch up a bit.
The Commander Format lends itself particularly well to a casual recurring hangout. The format centers around creating decks built with an interesting identity rather than optimizing for efficiency. A deck is successful if everyone had fun, not just the pilot.
This format came alive once we shifted to an entirely virtual sessions via Tabletop Simulator. Now that we're entirely digital, I'm free to experiment with (almost) the entirety of the 20,000+ cards released in Magic's history.
I played Spelunky 2 with a small group of friends on release. It was a ton of fun to dig deep into the game over a couple of months together. Our participation in the Eggplant Show podcast (formerly the Spelunky Showlike podcast) Discord community also helped this game shine.
Spelunky was another game I enjoyed this year that provided a way for me to discover things with friends. It provided a good framework for exploring mysteries and social performance. This made it an excellent companion during a very online™️ year. There was always some new secret we could chat about or some wild stunt we couldn't believe we got away with.
When I was not playing systems heavy games I was playing short games that were respectful of my time. A Short Hike was far and away the best game I played this in year in that category.
A Short Hike gives you a singular goal as soon as you start the game, reach the top of the mountain. Then it sets you loose to start your ascent. You can dally as long or as little as you want and chat with charming NPCs. Then as soon as you've decided your trip should end soon you can head to the summit.
I would love to play more games like this that deliver on a singular experience rather than trying to deliver too many things. This is the sort of experience I aspire to create in my own work as well.
I played in a multiplayer survival server with friends again for the first time in many years, and I rediscovered my love for the game. I've played Minecraft a ton in the past, and I'm sure I'll return to this game in the future again many times. It's a pretty formative game for me as I'm sure it is for many other folks in my generation.
My enjoyment of Minecraft extends beyond the game itself. I watched a lot of Minecraft speed runs that seem to have become pretty popular again. I also caught up on some of the old lets plays and favorite series I used to watch when I was younger. It's fascinating to see people still doing new things in the game all these years later.
Finally, I started revisiting a genre of custom map that I enjoyed many years ago. It's called "Complete the Monument" and maps feature dramatic scenery and challenges. This genre has a pretty vibrant community and is still publishing new releases regularly. In particular, I played a map called Nova Arcana by RenderXR and it's been a lot of fun thus far.
I did not expect that I would ever be playing RuneScape again in my life. I loved my time with it as a kid; hanging out with friends and sharing our plans to get cool loot. How silly of me to underestimate the power of nostalgia in a year like 2020!
The big thing that brought me back into Old School RuneScape this year was their introduction of the Trailblazer League. This league had you start a new character with locked various regions of the map, gave you game bending powers, and massively increased XP rates. This combination produced a surprisingly fresh way to view the content I thought I knew so well.
This year, Itch.io published a Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality with some 1000+ games included. A group of my friends have been playing through some of these since the bundle came out. Here are some of my favorites!
I put these games in a separate category that those above, because our group focused on covering a lot of these games rather than going deep on any of them. The entries below are generally games I enjoyed and would like to visit again sometime in the future.
I don't play many narrative games, so I was very pleasantly surprised with this one! It's the one game on this list that is not systems driven. I really enjoyed spending an hour camping with these characters. I also admire the development strategy and thrift in how this game was built.
This game was a systems driven game that still managed to deliver a narrative. I thought they did a particularly excellent job of skinning their card game mechanics as narrative tools. I'd like to find more games that directly integrate their mechanics into their stories.
Yet another card game on my list! Can you tell I like them? Fortune 499 does a lot of interesting takes on various deck building mechanics. Each area seemed to deliver some unique spin that was interesting to explore.
What a wild ride! This heist simulator focuses on interesting mechanics and scenarios instead of graphical fidelity. Some levels could be a bit fiddly, but they always highlighted some interesting property of the game.
When it comes to puzzling out systemic interactions, there's nothing quite like playing a roguelike that's entirely in Portuguese. It was a lot of fun to puzzle out spell effects and words based on the effects we were seeing in game.
Was there a game you just couldn't get enough of last year? Some masterpiece you can't stop asking friends to play?