A year. 365 days of work and family and games, of work and family and work, of work and family and work and games. Some of that work was playing and writing about these games–experiences I cherish as well as regret. Foisting bad games upon a group of amiable souls can feel Faustian, trading the precious time of friends and family to meet a commitment and explore the depths of the inane. It’s not always fun.
Keeping up with this industry requires some fortitude. Packages arriving weekly with more poorly written rulebooks and a clock that’s ticking. There’s an element of pressure in that evaluation needs to be timely, not simply because I’ve committed so to the publisher but also because I’ve committed myself to this gig, a job whose primary offering is traffic. Web traffic is sensitive to new releases in this hobby and it’s always a bit of a race. Quantifying reward is a funny thing, as there is a definite satisfaction with thousands of souls interested in my tale of Arrakis or holding Mansions of Madness accountable for its failures. Sometimes that reward is a hole and I receive less hits than words in a review.
This has been an odd year. I started Player Elimination in March and I feel as though it’s been somewhat successful. It started off with a bit of a bang, much like the year of 2018 with the release of Eric Lang’s Rising Sun. Then everything slowed after a few months. I wondered if this home had a place and I wondered if 2018 would fade in the annals of cardboard history as nothing came close to the presence of that Rising Sun.
While I was busy shrugging and worrying, the world kept moving. John Company finally hit my table in the summer. I didn’t want to pack it up or put the game back on the shelf, it deserved better. I’ve only played it twice at this point, two glorious experiences of shoving fingers into each other’s eyes and gnashing our teeth. It’s wonderful and I may some day write about it. It deserves better.
Then Root happened. At this point 15 year old Charlie would tear down the Rage Against the Machine poster and make some room for the newcomer, Cole Wehrle.
I have this eternal soft spot for meaningful asymmetry in games. I want to feel special and I want to explore. I’m a human after all.
Root is asymmetric, it’s combative and interactive, and it’s got this Redwall aesthetic that has my nostalgic receptors twisted every which way.
This little bugger did not go back on the shelf. I played it and I played it and I played it. Others obliged in partaking in the holy Root and I did not feel bad because this game wasn’t shit and it wasn’t wasting their time.
SEAL Team Flix arrived and kicked me in the groin with a steel toe. It may just be the best dexterity game ever designed. Not trailing far behind, however, is Mars Open: Tabletop Golf. While not quite as engrossing or rich as the military tactical thrill-ride of Flix, this silly game immediately worked its way into my heart and has a permanent residence on my shelf.
The Mind is one of the most enthralling little tricks I’ve ever experienced. It has a Ouija board quality where participants are asked to buy-in to the trick, and it’s a masterful one at that. Not to be outdone, Street Masters, Lords of Hellas, and Nyctophobia all present worthy line items on one of those top 10 lists everyone loves.
It was also a year of returning to the past. Reiner Knizia surprised with Yellow & Yangtze, his spiritual successor to Tigris & Euphrates. The re-release of High Society also struck a particular chord with me, inspiring a cogent bit of writing I’m very proud of.
Condottiere also received a gorgeous new printing courtesy of Z-Man Games. This small area control-ish card game is one of the best, not just among small footprint designs lacking a board, but when standing tall against the entirety of the hobby. It’s an experience of brinksmanship and swagger, outwitting other players and pushing your luck with high stakes. It’s delightful in every sense of the word.
I can’t pronounce it but I can play it.
Independent developers continue to find their way with Jim Felli releasing Duhr, a brilliant re-working of 2017’s Bemused. I also spent meaningful time with Dungeon Degenerates, a small press psychedelic fantasy adventure like none other. These two rose above their peers, offering a quality experience that is both singular and wildly entertaining.
Lastly, it’s been the year of Games Workshop. Blackstone Fortress is absolutely killer; top shelf in every sense of the word. The new version of Age of Sigmar was very impressive, and I even fell for the shiny new Kill Team. While I was originally quite excited for the new release of Necromunda in 2017, its trickle of expansion content across multiple purchases and lack of coherent vision really soured me. Kill Team has completely replaced it in my household.
So it’s been the year of Eric Lang, the year of dexterity, card, and miniatures games. It’s been the year of re-releases, and indies, and Games Workshop. It’s been a year.
And I’m still discovering. We just played Marvel Strike Teams from Wizkids hotshot Andrew Parks, and it was a doozy. Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr is on my solo table and I’m full of pain, sympathy, and confusion. I even got a touch of the lunacy and bought Axis & Allies & Zombies. What the hell am I thinking?
There are more games out there I need to play and experience and write about so that you can determine whether they are worth playing and experiencing. We’ll get there.
2018 was one of innovation. Don’t let anyone tell you that new games are simply derivative or stale or that we constantly shovel mediocrity down our throats in order to support disorders of consumerism. This year, like every other, has featured a bevy of new releases that offer an experience that is new and fresh. 2018 is the type of year that validates our connection to this hobby and why we do what we do.
Following that rising trend of latter-day releases, at least a smidge, was the success of my writing. I had my first piece published at PC Gamer. I continue to heavily contribute at Ars Technica, my articles on KeyForge and Arkham Horror Third edition doing quite well. And I also hit a banner month in December with three pieces and six pages of my words published in Tabletop Gaming Magazine. Geek & Sundry is Geek & Sundry, while my volume has slowed compared to years past, I’m still cranking out sans-serif characters at a robot-like pace.
Then there’s Player Elimination.
I’ve had doubts. I think my best writing can be found here, but it can be a bit of a grind. I made a commitment to new content every single Monday when I launched this site, a commitment I broke after eight straight months of running on caffeine and enthusiasm. Shifting to every other week has been the right move as I think my quality has improved and the pressure has eased a bit. This is good for both of us.
It’s a difficult proposition. Spending hours crafting and revising an important piece and then publishing it to the open world, only to see the majority of days consisting of 40 such individuals stopping aside the road and taking a gander.
So I begin to question. Is it simply the fact that video killed written word? Is it what I write about or how I write about it?
I wonder if the vast amounts of time I’m sinking into gaming is really what I’m meant to do. Years from now how will I view all of this? Does this matter and is there purpose?
As I push deeper and deeper time goes faster and faster.
Somehow, I haven’t burned out yet. I’ve felt fatigue of course, but I’ve been writing about games for five years and I’m still passionate. I’m writing now but I will be playing later, and I’m excited and nervous and all of those things I should be. So I’m not done.
When I started this I didn’t know where it would go. I wanted to share some thoughts on the year and avoid a top 10 list because lists are the type of content that pecks at a writer’s soul.
So now it’s as if I’ve taken a stroll down the pavement and ended up lost in the woods. At least you’re there with me and we have the games to keep us company.