A lot of awesome people made a lot of awesome lists about the best things created in 2016. That’s not what this is.
I’m not giving big awards, I’m not really worried about exact release dates. I just want to share some of the things that influenced me in a positive way this past year.
So, relax and enjoy this simple list of things I fell in love with this year that I think you might enjoy checking out too. Tell me some of your favorites in the comment section!
My Favorite Game – HEX
2016 was year foretold in ancient prophecy (AKA the game’s 2013 Kickstarter campaign promises) to unleash the long-touted PVE campaigns of Entrath! Both campaigns have clever mechancics, interesting stories, and lots of surprises. Exploring the fog-filled war and unlocking waypoints felt like old Super Mario Brothers worlds.
Some quirks aside, I loved everything about the flavor and content of the PVE campaign — it was exactly what I was looking for and I’ve already dumped 100+ hours into them. But the biggest benefit to me wasn’t actually in the campaigns themselves — the huge range of class and racial talents, combined with limitations on what cards you can put into your deck based on your level and race created a massive playground for deckbuilding. I’ve never had more fun experimenting with new decks and trying out new strategies.
I’ve been coming up with new decks to try all year long, and still don’t feel like I’ve even scratched the surface of what I could make. I’ll be covering this game on the podcast soon, and there’ll be a livestream too!
My Favorite Indie Game – Subnautica
I didn’t actually put tons of hours into Subnautica in 2016. There are certainly other games that I played more (Darkest Dungeon, Guild of Dungeoneering). But Subnautica is completely intoxicating. It immediately captured my imagination and I can’t stop thinking about it and telling people about it.
Its world is beautiful — its perfectly nails the exotic and dangerous feeling of underwater adventures! I haven’t felt this strong of an instinctual urge to just explore and learn since the first Mass Effect or Dragon Age. Normally, it’s the story of a game that pulls me in, but Subnautica’s colors and landscapes and flora demand your attention. It’s everything I love about scuba diving cranked up to 500, and without any of the anxiety of potentially drowning or getting bit in half.
My Favorite Story – Defender’s Quest: Valley of the Forgotten
You can check out my podcast on the game to see why I love this tower-defense-RPG hybrid so much, but a big part of it was the irreverent story. It was genuinely funny all the time, and gave me serious Monkey Island humor deja vu on several occasions — one of the highest praises for game humor, in my opinion. That crazy bersker in the screenshot above was just the right mix of awkward and crazy to keep me laughing every time he came on screen. It didn’t take itself seriously and just went for pure fun.
My Favorite Music – Folk
I tried to just pick one band, but it just wasn’t working. I’m sorry. I fell in love with a lot of different folk and bluegrass bands this year and I think you should give ’em a shot, so I included two songs for each band that you should listen to!
- Arcadian Wild: Rain Clouds, If You’re The Coffee (perhaps the cutest love song ever recorded)
- Crooked Still: Orphan Girl, Ain’t No Grave
- Paper Bird: I Don’t Mind, Hold It Down
- Pokey LaFarge: Good Country Girls, Mr. Nobody
- Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellies: Pass Me the Whiskey, Lemon Squeezy
- Connie Converse: Father Neptune, Roving Woman
- The Deadly Gentlemen: Working, Slaughter Me Baby
- Mungo Jerry: Shadow of the Trees, In the Summertime (You’ve probably heard this one)
- Punch Brothers: This Girl, O Come O Come Emmanuel
My Favorite TV Show – It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
2016 didn’t give us amazing new episodes of Always Sunny. But you know what? I watched all 11 seasons of the show three times last year (thanks, Netflix!). That’s over 300 episode viewings or ~130 hours of my life and I loved every second of it!
Also, I’m ready to declare that Mac’s evolution trial scene in Season 8 is officially my favorite scene in the whole show. There’s so many great small touches like Charlie’s reactions, the gong sound, and Mac’s outrageous phrasing.
So thanks for the laughs all year-round, gang!
My Favorite Movie – St Vincent
I found this one 3 years late, but absolutely love it. A simple comedy/drama about a boy who bonds with the angry neighbor he’s forced to stay with while his mom works. It’s about finding the good in people, and cherishing each other despite our imperfections. Bill Murray’s callous crudeness is often funny, and it’s pretty light-hearted until it makes you cry. It’s just life.
My Favorite Podcast – Adam Ruins Everything
I talked about the Adam Ruins Everything TV show in my list of favorite things last year, and now he’s launched a spin-off podcast! The premise of the show is timeless: Adam and friends dig into the uncomfortable/forgotten history/truth of things that we take for granted in society and culture. He brings experts onto the show to help unravel the reveals, but they only get to talk for a couple minutes each on the show.
Enter the podcast, where Adam (funny, smart, friendly) sits down and chats with the guests about their area of expertise for an hour, letting them guide the conversation and share their findings/research. I particularly love the variety — every episode is a completely different topic with a completely different expert.
If you’re just getting started, I particularly enjoyed the episodes on death (#2) and voting (#7).
My Favorite Comic – Giant Days
I spent most of my comic-reading time last year looking for non-violent, kid-friendly comics that I’ll be able to share with Gideon when he gets a bit older. It was a really fun change of pace from the usual superhero or violent dark comics that I’ve been reading for years. I found a lot of great options for sharing with Gideon, but Giant Days was my absolute favorite. It’s about a group of friends at college – plus plenty of goofy scenarios and over-the-top coincidences to keep it interesting.
The group isn’t on an epic quest — there’s no real objective for them to “win” or anything in most issues. Sometimes they’re looking for an apartment to rent, sometimes they’re trying to pass a test, sometimes they’re dealing with running into an ex on campus. That simplicity works great because of how entertaining the characters are, how over-the-top silly the creators are willing to go with their reactions, and the gorgeous art.
This one’s good, clean fun.
My Favorite Beer – Lomaland by Modern Times
Really, I love anything by Modern Times, but their simple saison is so drinkable it’s a little scary. I feel like I could drink it non-stop for days and never even notice. It’s basically the Cheez-Its of beer for me, apparently. Delicious and a local San Diego brew!
My Favorite Dev Project – Ancients in Frontier Mountains
When I found out that I was going to be remaking Frontier Mountains in last year’s EverQuest expansion, I really wanted to put something in the zone that felt old school and encouraged players across the whole zone to team up and work towards a mutual, big goal. I always loved the idea of hidden quests that you could discover by doing things out in the world. As a player, they always feel more special — like I’d discovered a secret that most players would overlook and never even know about. And it felt natural in EQ. In the beginning of the game, there weren’t any explicit quests like we have now — you usually had to put together the pieces and solve the puzzle yourself.
So, after talking with some fellow devs, I settled on a plan to allow players to summon different ancient beasts up in the wild mountains, but didn’t create any official quests or breadcrumbs for it. The only hint at all was an Achievement for summoning them and some vague dialogue on a merchant that travels through the zone a couple times an hour and get ambushed and killed if you don’t protect him. Only one player figured out how to summon the Ancients during the entire beta, and it took more than a week for someone to get the ultimate achievement (summon all of the Ancients at the same time) on Live servers after launch.
I got a lot of positive feedback on the events, and I was really happy with the depth that it added to the zone. I wish I’d had time to do more events like that in the zone before launch, so that players felt incentivized to explore the zones and not just slam through the main storyline quests and bail ASAP. I’m really looking forward to encouraging players to step off the beaten path, and reward them for being creative while adventuring through the open-world zones in my future content.
My Favorite Hearthstone Card – Onyx Bishop
I always loved this effect in Priest, but you couldn’t really build a deck around it before this year, because there was only one card with it. When Onyx Bishop showed up, the Resurrect Priest deck was a real thing for awhile and it was some of the most fun and interesting Priest games I’ve played. It wasn’t just about playing things on curve or vanilla value. It was about tricks, thinking long-term and sacrificing some things now for a bigger payoff later. There was a lot of freedom in the deckbuilding, and it really felt like you could think outside the box and still compete.
I hope we get to see more resurrect tricks in the future (and more minions that benefit from being resurrected like the Injured Blademaster does).
My Favorite Hex Card – Daarmak, the Avatar of Balance
I fell in love with my five-color deck in Hex. It takes forever to win but has infinite value and always eventually overwhelms the enemy (I think I’ve lost ~10 PVE matches in the past 6 months with the deck). And, most importantly, it’s incredibly fun! And the big bad dragon here is a big part of the reason why: he’ll just start flooding your hand with random cards from the game. And when Hex says “random”, it means RANDOM. You can even get super-OP cards from dungeon bosses, which players can normally never play!
All the early game set up and stalling with the deck is totally redeemed once you get this guy on the board and start machine-gunning infinite cards every turn. It’s incredibly fun and a big part of why the deck never loses.
My Favorite Plants vs. Zombies: Heroes Card – Soul Patch
I’ve had so much fun playing Plants vs Zombies: Heroes since it came out this Summer. It’s my first lane-based combat TCG and that alone made me appreciate new types of cards like the Sumo Wrestler that moves an enemy unit. But, in the end, I had to go with my OP hippie buddy, Soul Patch. The flavor for this card is off the charts and it’s absolutely OP – 15 stats for 7 mana, PLUS it has Armor 1 (prevents the first damage of every hit taken) PLUS it takes all damage meant for your hero.
It’s flown in to save me from death countless times and is a big part of the reason why Guardian is my new favorite type for all my plant decks.
P.S. When he diverts damage, he straightens up, spreads his arms, and shoots rainbows out of his hands across the entire screen. It’s amazing!
My Favorite Discord Group – Ours, of course!
Discord is yet another thing on this list that I was WAY late on discovering. Discord is incredible and I’ve had a blast discovering new communities to hang out with. If you enjoy talking about games, come give ours a try — we’re friendly and have the best emojis around, GUARANTEED!