Friday, December 19, 2014

Best of 2014: Part Four

I was trying to come up with a fancy little rhyme to kick off Part Four of my Best of 2014 list but I suck at poetry so I decided to stop trying and just stick to prose. So here's Part Four!

Missed any entries, or want to skip ahead? Check out the whole list here:


And now: on with the countdown!

14. Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game (Fantasy Flight)
A long, long time ago in a galaxy far away...
We rolled dice to kill each other. It was a good time.
Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures is one of the most entertaining tabletop games I've played this year, and certainly one of the best miniatures games I've ever played. (For those not familiar with miniatures games as a concept, each player comes to the table with miniature models representing their forces and is forced to use their own tactics and cunning to defeat their opponent. This is all done on a tabletop surface usually 4' x 4' in size.)

Where other miniatures games (Warhammer and Malifaux, for example) find themselves lost in a mire of minute detail and math, X-Wing distills the experience to its core components and thrives because of it. Instead of measuring distance with a tape measure (and arguing over every millimeter), you are given sticks with set distances that the units must obey. For combat: instead of comparing dice results against a huge chart to determine the outcome, each player rolls dice and certain results cancel each other out. It's all very intuitive and extraordinarily fun.

Heck, Fantasy Flight even managed to eliminate the component of miniatures gaming that stops most people from ever trying it: the painting. Most miniatures you buy are unpainted (and sometimes even unconstructed) so the hobby is generally seen as much an art thing as it is for the gameplay. It’s a hurdle that I still have yet to fully get over: as much as I love the tactical gameplay, having to glue together and paint my own models in order to play is simply not for me. Luckily, all X-Wing miniatures are prepainted and assembled – and let’s not understate the collector itch that having the models scratches! Each of them are wonderful recreations of spaceships found in the Star Wars franchise and would look at home on any Star Wars fan’s bookcase!

It is obvious that Fantasy Flight came into this project with the intent of creating a streamlined experience while trying not to sacrifice depth, and they have certainly succeeded. Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures is an intuitive and easy-to-learn game that rewards strategic thinking as much as the more granular experiences, while also managing to streamline things into a more digestible format. I wholeheartedly suggest checking it out!

13. Banished (Shining Rock Software)
Winter: beautiful and dangerous.
The real-time strategy genre is one that runs deep and gets increasingly more murky the more you search around inside. There are classic RTS titles (Age of Empires), turn-based strategy games (Civilization), MOBA titles (League of Legends), city-builders (SimCity) and even the rare FPS/RTS hybrids (Natural Selection). There are games that span entire ages of existence (Rise of Nations) and there are games that focus on very specific gameplay (Diablo).

And then there's Banished.

I guess Banished could most easily be lumped in with the city-building games -- the entire conceit of the game is building a settlement from scratch, helping the population survive and thrive, without ever really having a win condition beyond "have fun". But where its peers focus on the grand scope of such accomplishments, Banished focuses on the minutiae of building a medieval town from scratch and sustaining the people therein.

You start with a very small group of people that must be assigned jobs but, with such a limited number of people, you have to be smart about what you tell them to do -- and the danger always seems to be surviving through the cold winter months. It's good to have farmers in order to harvest food for the winter but you also want to have tailors making winter clothes because food is only so good if you freeze to death. It's good to have lots of builders to make homes for people to stay in but make sure you don't use too much lumber or you might not have firewood to burn. Mining for stone is lucrative and helpful but is also dangerous and can kill unwary townsfolk, thus reducing your working population.

Town hall and sheep. Fun fact: sheep are incredibly useful!
Banished is a game about risk and reward, and about doing things at the right time and in the right order, but that is not to say that it is stressful or even that difficult. The aesthetic of the game is beautiful, the sound direction is serene and the pace of the game is slow, allowing you to digest things at your own pace. Banished presents a challenge to be overcome, certainly, but never one that feels out of your reach -- and is always entertaining, if for no other reason than the narratives that emerge as you watch your town develop. Definitely play this indie darling!

(If you are at all interested in seeing what this game is like, you should really check out my video series: with seven whole videos devoted to the town of Bondsbriar, you get a really good idea of what Banished has to offer.)

Part Four
And there you have it! Part Four of my Best of 2014, and the first entry to showcase a non-video game title! Next entry will be a return to the more common ground of digital media but may have some surprises regardless. Stay tuned, my friends!

1 comment:

  1. BANISHED, OMG, that game owned me for several months if I recall, then it stopped working on my work computer and my poor settlements were left to fend for themselves. Good times. Your description actually reminds me of "This War of Mine" except less depressing. Still, I became weirdly attached to my little settlers and cried real tears over their demise from starvation or freezing to death or being crushed by a rock. Wanna go play that now...


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