As Christmas approaches and another year comes to a close, I reflect back on my favorite standout games of 2016. This is not a top 10 list of new games this year, nor my all-time favorite games list. These are games that personally impacted me this year, no matter when they were original published. Why did these games impact and thus standout for the year? As I share about my standout games of 2016, I hope you will gain some insights into why I am so passionate about freelancing and gaming.
After playing this a few times at work late last year, I drove to Indianapolis to purchase a copy for my family in early 2016. This quickly became our “go to” large group game. So easy to teach and works well with huge groups of people. During our family lake trip, it was fun to pull the entire family together for games of Codenames. From my young nieces to my wife’s parents, everyone was having a wonderful time. One of the most fun elements is hearing the conversations in large groups arguing over how to interpret the various clues by other family members. Then, once a round is done here the clue giver get all flustered with their team asking how they possibly could have interpreted the clue in that manner. Lots of creative ideas, hard thinking, laughing, consternation, silly arguments, and family fun all wrapped up small and simple game. It has been so much fun to play with co-workers, neighbors, game group, and visitors this year. I don’t see me tiring of this game any time soon. Codenames is definitely a keeper on our shelf.
I have been gaming for a long time, but for some reason just never played Dominion until this year. I have watched others play but was never drawn to this game. That changed when my brother-in-law asked if we could try playing Dominion during our family lake trip. So, I borrowed a friend’s copy, and my brother-in-law and nephew played quite a few games over the vacation. I now can see why people have been so drawn to this game for so long. Learning the game was easy, but developing strategies will take a while. I really enjoy how the game changes so much each time you play depending on what card sets you utilize. I am really looking forward to picking up the second edition of Dominion and starting to play this game more seriously with my family and friends.
One of our big purchases at Gen Con this year was Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle. This is one of only two games we stood in line for because we were super excited to play it (Legendary Encounters: Firefly being the other. Jury is still out on whether that will be a standout game or not). We even took time to sit in on a demo play to better understand how the game played and to get the promo cards. My family really enjoys the Harry Potter books and movies, and I really enjoy deckbuilders. So, being able to play a game in the world of Harry Potter and teach my wife and daughters how to play a deckbuilder really excited me. And this game did not disappoint! The deckbuilding mechanics start out simple with more rules added as the game progresses, which really helped me wife and daughters learn and grasp the concept over time. The package and the game components really help with the Potter theme and help immerse you into the world. It is not the best deckbuilder out there, but the entire experience was wonderful. That is the first game I can think of that we sat down to play it and continued to play it every evening or two until we finished the entire storyline. We were having that much fun and wanted to see where the game would go. Since then, we have loaned the game out to multiple people who have also enjoyed it. Now I am hoping for some expansions to the game that add more story elements or the ability to play members of the Order of the Phoenix rather than just the four original characters.
Soon as I heard that Stronghold Games was going to publish Sola Fide: The Reformation, I reached out to Stephen Buonocore and asked if I could work on this project. I had studied the Reformation in college and in a men’s study group at church, so I knew the potential of this historical event as a game theme. I also knew how controversial this game could be if not done respectfully. When Stephen heard I was interested and learned about my background, he offered to let me be lead editor on this game, which was so exciting. I had proofread and edited board games before that, but working so closely with the publisher, designers, and layout on a game I was passionate about was a new and wonderful experience. This game focused on the historical aspects of the Reformation, with the designers really doing their research. They even managed to slip in a little humor at times while remaining accurate and true to the individuals involved in the event. If you like historical gaming and/or games about influencing various factions, then Sola Fide is one to check out.
The Chronicles of Darkness RPG became a standout for me this year for freelancing and personal reasons even more than gaming. Chronicles of Darkness was the first project I did for Onyx Path and my first paid indexing job. This has led to ongoing work as an indexer for Onyx Path, which I really enjoy. I know many find indexing mind numbing, but I find the meticulous research and organization of content fascinating. I also personally really appreciate a well written index, so I passionately work on these indexing projects as my tribute to the other storytellers and players out there who appreciate them as much as I do. The other reason Chronicles stands out so much for me is the history the world of darkness has had on my personal life. I wrote about it in detail earlier this week. The Vampire and Hunters Hunted games in World of Darkness are what introduced me to most of my current gaming group and some of my closest friends for the past twenty years. Now to be able to work on books in the modern Chronicles of Darkness, I have so many memories coming back to me of those early days of gaming with my new-to-me-then friends.
I know, I know. Roll20 is not a game, but hear me out. Roll20 stands out to me because it introduced me through games to new gamers, who have become new friends. I participated in two summer one shots on Roll20, hosted by Jeff Romo of InnRoads Ministries. These RPG one shots of Stars Without Number and D&D 5e were both wonderful, fun, and learning game nights for me. I got to do some roleplaying, where most often I am the GM/DM/Storyteller for my games, so it was great fun to be a player for a change. I got to meet some amazing new people who I can’t want to play more games with and hopefully meet face-to-face soon. And I also got to experience a new gaming platform that I definitely will use again as a player and hope to learn well enough to perhaps run some games myself in the near future. I have former gaming group members all over the world that I would love to game with again. I am hoping my experiences with Roll20 lead to more standout gaming experiences in the future.
So how does a game I have been playing for over thirty years become a standout in 2016? Well, I am as surprised as you are. The reason is, I have had more opportunities to talk about, experience, and enjoy AD&D first edition this over the past few months than I have had in years. It all started when friends of mine had guest spots on a podcast being put on by the Mad Cleric. Apparently this crazy pastor was going to delve into the past and run classic first ed AD&D and some of the original Gary Gygax modules in a series called Chasing the Dragon. Through association and some comments I might have made on the blog, I was asked to be a guest on podcast to ramble on about my AD&D experiences as a DM. This has led to me getting to know Jason Wood (The Mad Cleric) and having numerous blog comment, Facebook, and Twitter conversations on AD&D first edition, classic AD&D modules, DMing tips, and other random nerdy rpg conversations. If it ended there, this might have been enough to consider AD&D 1e a standout for 2016 but it didn’t end there. What iced the cake was my brother-in-law giving me as a Christmas gift a box full of classic D&D and AD&D books, old adventure modules, and other rpg books he no longer wanted. I was overwhelmed and in awe of the gift as I kept pulling more and more classic RPG goodness out of the box. So, December is being spent perusing and enjoying all these classic books and contemplating what fun I will have with them in the coming years as AD&D 1e is back on my mind again. Definitely a standout game for me in 2016!
What games stood out for you in 2016, and what made them stand out? I am curious what makes games special to you.