Best of 2018
Published 02 Jan 2019 / Updated 03 Jan 2019
As always, I will be breaking down the best media that I experienced for the first time in 2019 and an-awful-lot of that was BOARD GAMES. I hit the board games hard this year and barely touched anything else after about June.
If you want my opinion of everything I "enjoyed" this year, click the Tiny Review links at the start of each section. These micro-reviews chronicle my first impressions throughout the year.
All two books I read this year were amazing, so The Underground Railroad (2017) and Strong Female Protagonist both win!
Let's do this!
I fell head-over-heels into board games this year, shunning almost all other forms of media. So much so that I need to slow down and re-evaluate. I'm doing a Year of Depth in 2019. More on that later.
Game of the Year
Santorini created a situation I have never been in before: universal, spontaneous, passionate interest. When I first played Santorini I loved its simple and elegant game play. The box doesn't lie when it says 30 seconds to learn! I scored it at a 9. The friend I played it with (Vince) bought it right away but I held out. Then I showed it to my friend Brett, and he bought it right away. It was now odd that I didn't own it.
I borrowed the game from Vince for Thanksgiving and my sister (for the first time I can remember) asked about it. She didn't stop playing it for the rest of the night. I showed my niece (9) and nephew (6) and they played it (correctly) all night! My friends asked about it. I brought a gift copy home for family Christmas and my dad and uncle and I played it for hours.
I have now bought multiple copies now as gifts and finally own a copy myself (Christmas present!). I am so happy to have been proved wrong by an overwhelming enthusiasm around me. Every game after Santorini feels dull in comparison. It is raucous, tense, and snappy. Don't wait to buy it like I did.
Deception Murder in Hong Kong
I'm very impressed by this game. It is a hidden role game without intense accusing. It is a deduction game with a twist. It can support an unbelievable 4 to 12 players. Every game I've played, large and small, has been fun and interesting. If you're a fan of Mysterium or hidden role games, you will definitely want to check this game out.
Just missing the cut this year is Flamme Rouge. I love this game so much. It's simple and beautiful and always such a close finish but it doesn't always hit with the people I play. The base game is likely too slow in the middle compared to games like Santorini. I think the hills will remedy this. I still really love it and recommend it but it does not classify as a must own for these reasons and a pretty dang high price.
Bargain Quest (pre-ordered)
Game of the Year
Return of the Obra Dinn
There is so much to love about this game. It is a true deduction game that gives you the freedom to solve everything. It doesn't tip its hand easily and that's what drew Nicole and I in for a great week of evenings. The mystery and story are absolutely incredible. A tale with a cast of 60 could really only have been told this way.
I give a lot of respect to Lucas Pope for crafting such a gripping story. I thought the graphics were beautiful but it obscures some important details. That's great when it's intentional but I don't feel like it always is. That's really my only nit-pick. This game is a must-play.
Favorite Game of the Past
I was completely enraptured by this game for a long time. I played it through many times. I went ahead and did extra things in the world like collect every book. I even researched and performed an easter egg tour of the game for a friend who had just finished it. I enjoyed this game about 3 times more than the content would normally provide.
And that content. Holy smokes. The story and the voice acting have ruined me for most other games. The world and the art are so charming. I occasionally had a hard time finding my way around but I always found the destinations to be worthwhile. Even walking around was worthwhile! This is rightfully go down as an indie classic and I'd be personally upset if this game didn't stay relevant longer than most from this decade.
I've always enjoyed the Uncharted games. Each chapter is a great ride but what I enjoy most is that each game improves on the last. Naughty Dog clearly cares about feedback and regularly fix the biggest issues with each chapter in the next. In Uncharted 4, they finally fixed my biggest issue with the series: fake stealth. Previous games tried to get you to stealth mostly for mood without a genuine mechanic to facilitate it. In A Thief's End they added an honest stealth system and it is so much fun to play. It's also perfectly balanced: the last stealth section in the game was the only one I executed perfectly.
All games of this scope seem to have a problem with way-finding but having played Rise of the Tomb Raider, I can say that Uncharted does the best job. The addition of Nathan's brother as a character makes for an amazing story and brings two giants of video game voice acting together. It's a really fun ride and I recommend you jump right in and get the best of what Uncharted has to offer. No previous chapters required. Except for the horseback chase in Uncharted 3. That just completely owns.
In the Valley of Gods
Tiny Movie Reviews (switched to Letterboxd later in the year)
Movies of the Year
Baahubali 1 & 2
The most fitting quote about it comes from Nicole: "this movie has no chill". There is just nothing like Baahubali: The Beginning and Baahubali 2: The Conclusion. These Bollywood masterpieces are everything we expected them to be and more. These movies start as the wild and campy Bollywood you expect but somewhere along the way they transitioned into a genuinely amazing action movie, then a tense political thriller, then it's back to silly Bollywood action.
- A flashback to the main characters' parents played by the same actors? Check.
- Kick-ass women playing queens and resistance assassins? Check.
Every second of these films hits somewhere on the enjoyable spectrum.
It's so rare for me to recommend a movie that doesn't demand a particular mood. This should really be the next movie you watch, no matter what kind of experience you're craving. It's on Netflix.
Best 2018 Release
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Buzzer beater for 2018, this film is astounding. The art style is obviously incredible but you could write theses about just how the characters move. This is not style over substance, this is personality over all. This movie has a rythym, momentum, and humor all of its own. At the end of the movie all I could think was "they had an opportunity and they nailed it" and how badly I wanted to see it again.
Best Theater Experience
Ghibli Fest 2018 was very good to me this year. I got to enjoy many a beautiful film on the big screen but nothing came close to watching Princess Mononoke. This film transforms at scale. As beautiful in the theater as The Revenant. Don't miss the chance if it comes around again.
I got to experience a midnight showing of The Room with Tommy Wiseau in attendance and it may be the most fun thing I did this year. Just saying.
A Quiet Place
It's been a slow year for me for music, so I want to highlight three albums I just couldn't get enough of:
Album of the Year
Lost On You by LP (2017)
So unique and replayable. It's everything I wanted from the latest Halsey releases and more. Such a unique voice and tribal tone to the sound. Super good. Found via the trailer for In The Valley of Gods.
Soundtrack of the Year
The Flame in the Flood
by Chuck Ragan (2016)
This doesn't sound like a video game soundtrack, and I'm not sure when I first heard it but I couldn't stop listening to it all year.
A recommendation from a co-worker (thanks Deborah!) that I loved more than my most anticipated album of the year (Birdtalker's One). One was good but mosty for the songs they previewed on their LP already.
Front Porch by Joy Williams (you must see her live)
Here's what survived 2018 to remain on my subscribed list. There was a huge news purge at the end of the year when I decided not to feel obligated to listen to all the news for hours every day.
Fun: Who Made 'The Wave' a Thing? from Every Little Thing
News: Monumental Lies from Reveal
Up First (NPR) - 10 minute neutral news summary, covers all the bases that the other ones went into detail on.
Reveal (The Center for Investigative Reporting) - New for 2018. Super deep dives into incredible topics. Always gripping and wide in its net. I especially appreciate the diversity of voices, including their work with minorities in their native languages.
WTFJHT - Short (and biased) evening update. Only listen occasionally if I can sense something big happened during the day.
Every Little Thing - A great little fun-fact show with a sharp and curious host. Always fascinating and funny.
Life After - A gripping fictional podcast, the best I've heard since We're Alive (which is coming back next year!)
Critical Role - The legendary DND podcast comes to my feed and it's just as good as you think it is. Jump into Season 2 like I did!
The Broadswords - Another DND podcast with an all-female cast. Very good players and editing. Don't listen as often as I'd like.
Backstory - A game design deep-dive interview. The host asks amazing questions, the guest always have fun, and it's very interesting.
Planet Money - There's a reason this always hits the top lists. What a unique format and voice! Good stuff.
Future Perfect - A limited run podcast about effective altruism that was eye-opening. Very good call-to-action beyond giving to GiveWell.
the memory palace - All-time favorite outlasts 99% Invisible by over a year.
Science VS - Still great.
The Impact - Fascinating season.
Shut Up & Sit Down - Gotta have my boardgames! Starting to lose interest, except for the live shows.
What Can Trump Teach Us About Con Law - In frequent updates but interesting.
I used Castro almost all year for my app before switching to RSSRadio7Lite, which just works? Castro didn't really work for me. RSSRadio treats podscasts like the RSS feeds they are and always downloads correctly? Desperately needs a Play Next option.
Year of Depth
The last few months of this year have been hard: I was not allowed to buy any new board games. It's the usual deal I have with my wife and my mom that I stop buying things for myself before Christmas because I do spontaneously purchase things within my means before I express my desire for them. And board games are very reasonably priced. I don't think I have ever bought a game costing over $40.
This small break helped me realize how many new games I had aquired in the past year. I certainly wasn't trying to chase the next new thing but my habits said otherwise. I was spending a lot of time, money, and energy rounding out my collection with the best games of each genre. My curation became an obsession.
That's when I read about Depth Years. In short: stop expanding your circle and enjoy the goods and talents you already have. It seemed like just the remedy for what I was experiencing: buying too many games while not making the time to enjoy them. It was time to give myself some space. Here's what I'm committing to:
- None of the following rules will get in the way of enjoying media with my friends, family, and wife.
- I will not purchase any new board games in 2019. Any games that I decide I must own must be traded for and they must be games I have already played.
- No new video games until I play all the games in my Humble Bundle-expanded Steam collection that interest me.
- Read some books. I don't buy a lot of books but I am way behind. I'm counting any reading as a win.
- No new movies until I have removed the shrink-wrap from every DVD on my shelf. This isn't many though.
- Focus on my talents, especially my attrofeed ones: cooking, game design, guitar, drawing.
- Spend more time in silence. Stop filling my day with noise and challenge.
Thinking about my Depth Year reminded me why I got into board games in the first place: to have more fun. I was stuck in a Cards Against Humanity loop and needed to find different games to play that were more engaging and personal while being just as easy to teach. These French Fries Are Terrible Hot Dogs was my ticket out of there. From there I found better entries in my favorite genre, hidden role games, before starting to round out my collection and getting obsessed with the medium.
It's good to remember that I was always in this to make sure everyone was having as much fun as possible. Now it's time to enjoy what I've built and remind myself what makes me happy. I'm excited!
Best in 2019!
Edits: - 03 Jan 2019 - Added links to previous years, added edit footer - 11 Jan 2019 - Added images - 22 Jan 2019 - Updated text of Year of Depth - 25 Feb 2019 - Reorganized Tiny Reviews - 05 Sep 2019 - Reformat to new theme