Best of 2017!
Published 1 Jan 2018 / Updated 30 Jan 2018
2017 was (politically) a stressful waking nightmare and (personally) a good year for stability and personal strength. I'll leave it there.
This year's Best Of list is accompanied by the following Tiny Review Lists! Inspired by Draknek's annual undertakings, these chronicle my first encounters with media with a (usually) short description of my impression.
It's my third Best Of and it's my third format, but I really like this one. Without further ado, let's get to it.
At the very end of the year, we got Movie Pass, so prepare for a barrage of reviews in 2018!
Movie of the Year
Best Release of 2017
Edgar Wright has my full and undivided attention. Wright commands the full orchestra of sights, sounds, music, and movement and Baby Driver is the latest and greatest in a long line of movies that prove it. It's a more serious venture for Wright, known for the comedy gold of the Cornetto Trilogy, but he nails it down in every way. It's one of the few movies I saw in the theater twice and was thoroughly disappointed that my drive-in third viewing was rained out. It will be the second Blu-Ray I own, because I need the extra features.
Obsessed? Yes. I obsessed over both of my Movies of the Year, but while The Thing captured me with its mystery, everything about Baby Driver captured me. All of the driving scenes are done for real with the lead actors being thrown around the car. The synchronization of music and picture is so pervasive and important that the movie contains a tutorial on how to watch it within its first few scenes. All of the performances are riveting and build to solid jokes and intense action. This movie needs to be seen and studied wherever it can be played loud.
Movie of the Year
The Thing (1982)
This movie hits my top list because it scratched an itch I didn't know I had. We watched it as part of our self-inflicted horror-movie tolerance training, and I loved every second of it. I need more movies of characters being smart and succeeding what they attempt yet being matched by a horrible force. The mystery of The Thing is so compelling and unshakable that all my flow-charts and rewatches left me short of an answer, but no less awestruck at its mastery.
On top of that, the movie uses all practical effects and real sets, which really shows. The effects aren't always convincing, but they are horrible and imaginative and engrossing. I need this movie to be my Movie of the Year so that I can retain hope that there will be more like it.
Must Watch List
The World's End (2013)
Edgar Wright at his comic finest. The crowning achievement of the Cornetto Trilogy.
A movie remarkable for its constraints. Notice how the camera never leaves the car.
We have a very close tie this year, but only because I've had the great fortune of having a spectacular year of board games. Both of my top choices are insanely good and were pure joy from start to finish. Consider my Board Game of the Year and my Puzzle of the Year on equal footing. They are both sensational.
Puzzle of the Year
Manifold is a work of pure genius. It's an origami puzzle game (yes) that challenges you to fold each of the squares into a 4x4 square with all the white tiles on one side and all of the black tiles on the other. The game itself is simply 100 sheets of paper like those above ordered by difficulty.
I have a hard time comprehending how each of these puzzles was conceived. Each is so unique and perfectly ordered. Early puzzles wordlessly teaching you the folds you'll need to complete later puzzles. It's stupendous from start to finish and made a cold winter taking the train to work enjoyable and all too brief. As my progress slowed from five puzzles per sitting to one every three days, I realized very early this year I had my Game of the Year in my hands. I am thoroughly in love.
If you're looking for a portable puzzle game, stop and buy Manifold. Buy two copies like I did: one to share and one to hoard until you've conquered each of the 100 brilliant puzzles.
Board Game of the Year
Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective
SH:CD is a masterpiece. I have the updated and slightly corrected Thames Murders & Other Cases versions which has 10 complete mysteries in the box! The writing and the mysteries are so good I actually pop open the box in my spare time to read the very authentic newspapers that are included in the box. With a set of rules that can fit in a tweet and a design that truly throws open the gates of 1888 London, SH:CD is a must-have game. Every afternoon I've spent with my friends (up to 6 of them) hunched over this map has been satisfying and delightful.
Best Party Game
Since Cards Against Humanity emerged as the dominant please-the-judge game years ago, I've been a big fan. I was a fan originally of the game's approachability and humour, but lately I'm playing the game less and watching the company's funny, human, and surprisingly altruistic movements more. This left a hole in my collection for a comedy game that I can teach in ten seconds and play for hours with 4+ people.
Along comes Utter Nonsense, in a please-the-judge format familiar to CAH fans and with a hilarious performance twist. Your hand of terrible cards is the same, but you're trying to please with a performance of one of them in a ridiculous accent. It's funny and informative at once. I love listening for people's "accent primers" like softly saying "mmmmmmmm" to get into a particularly sassy German accent or shouting "awl-rite" to get into a down-under performance.
It's only downside is that not everyone wants to perform, but just watching a round is enough to convince people to join the trusted circle where embarrassment earns you points and mimicking the person to your right is just as valid as being a six-year French student.
Must Play List
An ingenious combination of ideas that leads to an incredibly rich group game.
The revolutionary micro-game, believe the hype. Just buy this game, it's only $8.
A free one-page RPG. Super fun.
I've only played a few hours of Breath of the Wild but I can tell that game is solid gold to the core. Actually I haven't played a lot of AAA games this year so a lot of Top 10 lists I've seen don't have my games on them. Also, I played a lot of mobile games this year.
Video Game of the Year
Night In The Woods by Infinite Fall
THIS. GAME. I have never been transported like this game. The mood and feelings of this game are so authentic that we had to play it in bursts because it occasionally got too real for both of us. It's human and hysterical and we couldn't put it down. I loved bouncing around this sleepy "own, trapped in time, and unraveling all of its mysteries: intentional, imagined, and mundane.
Haven't played the Weird Autumn update yet, but more of this game just sounds like a dream it will be my fourth play-through.
Puzzle Game of the Year
Oxygen Not Included by Klei Studios
I only started to play this game on December 28th but I had high hopes and was immediately transfixed. ONI is a colony simulation game from Klei Studios, who have graced my GOTY lists (twice this year) since the superb Mark of the Ninja. The simulation of the colonies in ONI is just astounding. Pressure, different gases, breathing, temperature, germ level, pollution, breathability, and density just describe the air in ONI. It's ambitious, to say the least, and demands that its players are equally ambitious.
Stability and comfort in a colony are hard-won and nearly impossible to attain on your first go. It's a miracle my colonists made it to see their 100th day because I ran out of coal to power the generators and my hydrogen power replacements aren't cutting it because the gas pumps need residual power to run and the batteries and the electrolizers creating the hydrogen are both too few and too far away. If that sentence made you salivate, buy a copy today, watch nothing, dive in.
I didn't play that many puzzle games this year, which is surprising since they're usually all I play. ONI stole the top spot from the few mobile contenders I had, namely Cosmic Express from one of my favorite designers which I found too hard to learn from and Linelight which I felt nominating would go against my... journalistic integrity.
Best Multiplayer Game
Don't Starve Together by Klei Studios
I only played this game a few times because I've had crushing network issues with it, like hilarious 12-second lag. When we could play, I found the game fascinating and deep. Walking around always felt dangerous and mysterious and I always ran into something I didn't expect. It was always funny and punishing in the best ways. I'll dive in any time.
Mobile Game of the Year
Zip-Zap by Kamibox
This gem of a game popped onto my radar very early this year, but I loved it. It's the simplest physics puzzler you can imagine and it's so joyful. It's the only game I think I've every played that I got my dad to play, had my niece and nephew fight over it, and completed it 100%. It's so very good and will bring you more than $2 worth of joy. Turns out this developer also made Burger and Pancake, which I got way too into last year.
Must Play List
I may be biased, but it's superbly good.
A really, really smart puzzle game that will knock your puzzle brain's socks off, but could use some graphical polish and better controls.
Triple Agent (mobile)
A fun and quick hidden role game that delivers twists and gameplay through passing one phone around.
Most Anticipated of 2018
It's been a lighter year for music discovery for me, partially because I stuck to what I loved and partially because my wife filled nearly 25% of 2017 with Christmas music.
Album of the Year
Mashup Manifesto V by Isosine
THIS ALBUM IS UNBELIEVABLE AND IT'S FREE! I played it at least weekly all year and I still love it so much. The song choices and the language involved might not be everyone's cup of tea (mostly rap and hip-hop) but the mastery that went into creating this album is undeniable. It's a show-stopper from an artist I've respected for a long time. Anticipated and still devastatingly good.
Mainstream Album of the Year
Beast Epic by Iron and Wine
I am amazed at how consistent and solid a staple Iron and Wine continues to be in my diet, with a solid release almost every year. Beast Epic kept drawing me back with its simplicity and melodic strength.
Song of the Year
Sax by Fleur East
The Apple Music description nails it: "Resistance is futile." Just very silly and upbeat. Super dance-y. Discovered in the best way.
Soundtrack of the Year
Breath of the Wild (OST)
As I said, I haven't played more than three hours of BotW, but the soundtrack immediately struck me as ingenious and important. The space in the album is unbelievable and let's the world of BotW stand on its own. The spare and hidden use of the classic Legend of Zelda themes shows remarkable restraint exactly where it's needed. For much, much more, see Mark Brown's great Game Maker's Toolkit video on the topic.
Podcasts have always been hard to review, so here's all the podcasts that I'm actively listening to going into 2018:
Fun (Added 2017)
- My Brother, My Brother, and Me - New to my feed! Great improv comedy from three witty brothers.
- Not Each Other - Nicole has a podcast!
- One Perfect Pod - After the credits is a great format with a diverse range of reviewers.
- Podcastle - Shut Up and Sit Down - A rambling pile of game reviews. Like, 8 in an hour sometimes.
- Radiolab Presents: More Perfect - IT'S BACK!!
- What Can Trump Teach Us About Con Law - Always on point, good lectures, and Roman Mars.
- Science VS - Still great! Edgier topics! Worse puns!
- A Storm of Spoilers - Really great media discussions going on in the long off-season.
- the memory palace will always have a place in my heart.
- Tiny Desk Concerts is always a joy.
- Up First - NPR 10 minute news summary, has become my priority news.
- The Daily - Great audio stories from the New York Times, usually with interviews with the writers of the stories and raw audio when available.
- WTF Just Happened Today - A snappy run down of the website. Quick and direct.
- Vox's The Weeds - Deep dives into topics and research papers. Always an good, if biased listen.
- NPR Politics Podcast - Good, unbiased opinions, positive mood. Correct me if I'm wrong.
- The New Washington - Good interviews with the playmakers on the Hill, tends to overlap with The Daily.
- The Impact - Another deeper dive from Vox, each season focusing on one topic, season 1 was health care.
These finished or didn't update in 2017, but I really want more and recommend the back-catalog: Crimetown, Somebody Knows Something, Serial.
PS. I used the Castro podcast app and it's pretty good: 8/10.
Edits: - 3 Jan 2018 - Removed links from headers since they don't work with the section soft-links. - 19 Jan 2018 - Fixed typos. - 30 Jan 2018 - Added most antipicated games. - 9 May 2018 - Fixed typos, moved tiny reviews to top.