2014 GOTY List

Welcome to my very first top of the year list! This list will be more focused on games. If you want to know what I did in 2014, in terms of writing and other stuff, you can find that here. For this unnumbered, unfiltered, RAW OFF THE CHAIN list, you will find games that I played and enjoyed, even if they weren’t necessarily released in 2014. So! Off we go! Spoiler: there are only five, because thinking of ten was too hard.

Threes!

What can be said about Threes! that hasn’t already been said? Not much, but I’ll try. Threes! is a mobile puzzle game, made by a team of three (hah). The music is undeniably catchy and whimsical. The look is pastel and pleasing and the voice work is so satisfyingly on point. Really, what else can I say about Threes!? Threes! reinvented mobile gaming for me. I’ve always been picky about what games I have on my phone, because I don’t use my time on just anything, and Threes! opened my eyes to what mobile gaming can and should be.

Desert Golfing

Desert Golfing showed up relatively late on my consideration for this list; that is to say, about a week ago, when it first started showing up on GOTY lists across gaming sites. I downloaded it and blew through to hole 200 immediately. I like Leigh Alexander’s piece on it quite a bit, which you can check out here. Like Threes!, Desert Golfing is mobile and simplistic in its design. My partner prefers to chart out his moves, while I prefer to blast through each hole, my score for each hole repeatedly in the double digits. And I don’t care. If I randomly get a hole-in-one, I’m ecstatic and pumping my fist in the air. If I miss it, it ain’t no thing. And I like that. There is no fanfare except what I abscribe to a hole-in-one. There is no punishment, except a seemingly arbitrary score ticking away at the top of the screen. But in this game, it’s just you and the sand and the hole and the ball. You are your worst enemy. You are your best friend. Sometimes there’s a cactus, but mostly it’s just you. I’m obsessed; I’ve started writing fanfiction. I haven’t written fanfiction about a game in years. Thanks, Desert Golfing, I thought I was finally clean.

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft

Hearthstone introduced me to CCG’s. I’ve written previously about Magic the Gathering, and how Hearthstone eased my way into it, with a softer landing than I would have experienced had I gone in with zero CCG experience. Hearthstone is an experience all on its own – its presentation is sleek, on both mobile and desktop, the art is stunning as always, and the core game mechanics are as brilliant as anything Blizzard has ever done. I haven’t played Hearthstone in a few months, but I’ve given it up in favor of Magic, and its more intense gameplay and human interaction. I have grown to love Magic in a way I didn’t think was possible and I owe some of those feelings to the gentle way paving of Hearthstone.

Quing’s Quest VII: The Death of Videogames

This is a game made by Deirdre”Squinky” Kiai, who brought us the unique Dominique Pamplemousse. Quing’s Quest is made in Twine and in a few words: it is a sparkly ball of light, with feelings of intense joy and lots of glitter. This is the only game this year where I romanced anyone – sorry, Dragon Age: Inquisition. Nero, you foxy, smart, wondrous thing, you, I will romance you every day if you let me. Anyway. 2014 was an ugly, ugly year for gaming culture, with the rise of Gamergate and all the awfulness it entailed. It was easy to feel hopeless; frankly, it’s still easy to feel hopeless and frustrated about video games, to wonder why I even care about advancing this medium of art. Quing’s Quest took those feelings and personified them, literally. I don’t want to give away the ending, because this game is an utter delight that you need to play immediately if you haven’t. Seriously. Stop reading this and go play it.

Smite

Smite is my GOTY. I’ve written about Smite before, and a little about why I love it, and the problems that I feel it has too. Those problems haven’t gone away; if anything, it’s even more of a glaring offense now, with the addition of gods that continue to fit the mold of Nearly Naked Lady Syndrome, culminating with Awilix, a Mayan god who, when she dances, leans forward and wiggles her chest. Hi-Rez, PLS. It’s extremely aggravating, considering the time I put into Smite. So, then, why is this my GOTY? Let’s say you’re a girl who played baseball when she was younger, but was never any good. Or really, felt any good at anything. Even video games. I wrote a little about that before, that Smite makes me feel like I can play video games, and that I can be good at them. That feeling as only intensified. My favorite game of all time is Kingdom Hearts 2, and the feelings I feel when I play Kingdom Hearts 2 all come down to happiness and love and connection, and when I play Smite, the feelings more boil down to adequate and self confidence and good enough. Have I felt those in other games? I think so, but never do I consistently feel them as I do in Smite. Other than that, I’ve simply spent more time in Smite than I have in any other game this year. It’s awoken me to an interest in e-sports, a career path, something to strive for.

Just fix your goddamn ladies Smite, and we’ll be peachy as all get out.

So that’s my 2014. A lot of small games, and mostly mobile. I had a lot of things happen in 2014, and I wonder if that’s why most of these games are repetitive and able to be played on the go, without the use of my main rig. For 2015, I hope to play “bigger” games – games like No Man’s Sky and Night in the Woods, games that have an end. I’d like that. And maybe I’ll even take a crack at Dragon Age: Inquisition, and romance someone other than Nero for the whole year.

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First Impressions: Duels of the Planeswalkers

Magic: The Gathering was always something that I wanted to play. Out of all the nerdy things I found in high school to love, MTG seemed like the most nerdy of them all. Naturally I was fascinated, but never took my fascination to the level of actually playing the game. I had a few friends who played, frequently at our underage drinking parties (oh, to be young again). I would watch with avid interest and once or twice they asked me to play, painstakingly trying to teach me how, and I would inevitably get flustered and lose and quit.

I’m in my mid-20s now with more confidence, so when I went to the Games Developers Conference as a volunteer and there was a group teaching Magic, I decided to stick around and learn. And it was excellent. I had already played Blizzard’s card game, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, and so had some of the fundamentals of a game with mana and beasts and spells under my belt. After leaving GDC, I was lucky enough to chance upon The Lady Planeswalkers Society, a group dedicated to creating a safe, friendly environment for women to play Magic in. Sign me up!

It’s been about three months since I started playing regularly and I’m still learning – which brings me finally to Duels of the Planeswalkers. I had dabbled in Magic Online but when I first tried it, the terms still flew over my head. Haste? Trample? Vigilance? I have a better understanding of these things now, though I still consider myself very new and liable to mess things up at any given time (I always preface my in-person matches with “I’m still new, please let me know if I mess up!” I also use this tactic in Smite when I play a new character and surprisingly, it somehow works better IRL. Who knew that people are less likely to be assholes when I’m actually staring them in the face? Such a mystery). Duels of the Planeswalker sees my trepidation as new Magic player, nods, and then goes wild with making sure that nothing goes over my head.

“You’re confused about haste, new player? Let me pop up a window and explain it to you every single time you get a card with haste.”

“Oh, this is your COMBAT stage. I will remind you of this every single time you COMBAT.”

“Oh myyy, that’s a mighty big creature he’s got there, panic!” 

Okay, that last one isn’t true. But good lord, do some of the beginning tutorials last forever and throw big creatures at you without the ability to return battle in a proper way. Deck building at first seems nonexistent and you have to earn cards through the campaign play, winning booster packs for the AIs you defeat. You choose your starter colors – I originally chose the blue-white combo, as that’s what I used in the physical Magic 15 pre-release and won handily with, but ended up switching to black-red, my old standby – and are handed pre-chosen cards in that color to play with. I’m disappointed that a lot of the cards appear to be called “premium cards,” meaning that you have to purchase them to play with them and they can’t be gotten through simple grinding.

I guess that’s the nature of the beast, but I still find it disappointing.

Duels of the Planeswalkers also suffers from some technical mishaps. I have the game on my Kindle Fire, my partner has it on his iPad, and I have it on Steam as well. All three versions suffer from non-responsiveness to touch and click and while I understand why the game tries to be meticulous, the excessive need to confirm and re-confirm your choices wears me out. It doesn’t feel good to play, especially compared to the smooth sailing of Hearthstone, which is extremely responsive both on iPad and online.

With all that negative stuff out there, I still am enjoying Duels of the Planeswalkers so far. I appreciate the care it takes to coach new players through – if I’d had this tool back in high school, maybe I’d have actually played with people I knew and made new friends. The art is superb, as it always is, and the core game is still the same timeless, nearly flawless game. I find it a fantastic tool to keep learning more about Magic, so that when I play in-person, which is still my favorite way to play, I’m a better, tougher competitor. Maybe it’s working – last night I won two more physical booster packs at an event with my white-black deck. It felt good.