It's been a heck of a year. People moan about 2016 for various reasons, but instead of looking back at any negatives of the year, here are the things that I enjoyed out of 2016. Instead of posting several different lists for movies, tv shows, board games, etc, I decided to just combine them all together! Let me clarify - some of these items have been around for awhile, but 2016 was the year I was introduced to them. And for me, whenever the year would get me down in one way or another, it was these 10 things (among others) that would lift my spirits.
10. Star Wars Roleplaying Game
Although Rogue One was a close contender for this list, I'll kick off this list with the Star Wars Roleplaying Game from Fantasy Flight Games. At this point, I have 4 different versions of a Star Wars RPG on my shelf, but the FFG version is by far my favorite. I had run Edge of the Empire in a previous year, so putting it on this list might be cheating, but this year was the year that I actually got to fully explore the game. Previously, I didn't understand completely how the system worked and was figuring out pieces of the game on the fly. This year, not only did I get the chance to figure out how the game was played (more on that in a bit), but I sat down with my friends and recorded an excellent campaign for The Dirtbags of Holding podcast. If you haven't heard that series please go listen now! Of the campaigns we have done so far, it has to be my favorite. The pilot I came up with, Scratch, has to be the most fun character I have ever role played, and I know for a fact I'll be dusting off that character sheet at some point in the future. If you've ever wanted to explore the Star Wars universe, even if you've never played a roleplaying game before, this game is worth taking for a spin.
9. The Campaign Podcast
How did I learn to play the Star Wars RPG? Well, 2 of my fellow Dirtbags, Cory and Jimmy, introduced me this year to a podcast called Campaign. The Campaign Podcast on the One Shot Network is an actual play podcast that features Kat Kuhl as game master along with a cast of awesome characters playing through FFG's Star Wars game. It has action, comedy, drama, and a crap ton of Star Wars. Once I gave this podcast a try, I quickly burned through the 70+ episode backlog in order to get caught up with the story. If you want to get a feel for how good (or bad) this system could be used, then you need to give this podcast a shout.
This year was also the year I figured out what the heck this Numenera game that I kept hearing about was. Starting out as a Kickstarter in 2013 that raised over half a million dollars, Numenera is a science fantasy Role Playing Game that takes place in a billion years into the future. Eight great civilizations have come and gone on Earth, and now you play as characters in the Ninth World, exploring the world and finding remnants of the previous civilizations. The line between technology and magic is very thin in this game, as players get "Cyphers" - one use bits of technology (called Numenera in the setting) that can do all sorts of mysterious things. This game, and the Cypher System that powers it, intrigues me so much. It revolves around letting the GM easily make adventures and stories, while not being completely light on mechanics like other narrative focused games. In fact, Monte Cook Games, the company that produces Numenera, touts that you can use the Cypher System to create adventures right on spot. Here's an example of one of these instant adventures, hosted by the company at Gen Con this year (see if you can hear me in the audience shouting suggestions!).
If you had told me at Gen Con that the board game Scythe by Stonemaier Games would end up on my Top list of 2016, I never would have believed you. Scythe is a resource management/area control game set in an alternate World War I era….with giant mechs. Yeah, sounds like it would be right up my alley right? However, when I gave this game a try at Gen Con, it seemed very complicated and too complex for me. Fast forward a few months, and I decided to pick up a retail copy of the game at a nearby store. Since I had played with the Kickstarter version, I *had* to of course pick up the metal coins and realistic tokens. Then, the game seemed complex to set up so I *really* needed to get The Broken Token insert. Makes total sense….. By this point I had gotten a few plays in of the game and was completely sold in. The components, the artwork, the strategy, all of it just hits me right in the sweet spot. I even took it home for Christmas and taught my dad how to play - and he normally is not much for very complicated games. Yet we played the game multiple times together over the break - and had a blast doing it! This is a game I can't wait to take out again, and I feel that purchasing the expansion for the game is in my near future.
6. Legends of Tomorrow
I love the DC Comics TV shows that are on the CW network. So when I heard about "Legends of Tomorrow", a show where some of the characters spun off from previous shows "The Flash" and "Arrow" time travel to stop a massive plot, I was sold. Featuring characters such as Captain Cold, Firestorm, The Atom, and Rip Hunter, the first season of the show had its problems but was still enjoyable to watch. If that was all that I had seen, however, it would not have been enough to end up on this list. Luckily, the first half of the second season has come out, and has made this show a part of my "must watch" TV each week. Now, I can not stand to be behind in this show, for they have taken out what didn't work in the first season and cranked up what did work to 11. Not to mention, the huge crossover episode "Heroes vs. Aliens" between Supergirl/The Flash/Arrow/Legions of Tomorrow put together is easily the best live action work that DC has put out in years (sorry Batman v. Superman, but you had some serious problems). With drawing in at least 3.3 million viewers each night, I'm probably not the only one who felt this way.
5. Ice Cool
This game completely caught me by surprise. Ice Cool, by Brain Games, is a dexterity game where you flick penguins around a school trying to score fish before the hall monitor hits you. The penguins are weighted like "weeble-wobbles" so that they are always wobbling around and can result in some special trick shot maneuvers. Here is a play through of the game, if you want to see the game at work. It is such a simple game that was sold to me as a kid's game but I've had more fun playing this with adults than I have kids. You can get some really ridiculous shots in some times, which makes the game more than a straight skill game. One randomly good move can get you caught up, and is hilarious to watch someone try and repeat the same shot. This game is a ton of fun that you can play with all of your friends and family, so I encourage you to give it a try.
Anyone who truly knows me will not be surprised to find a Blizzard video game on this list. Overwatch is the company's latest game, a team based first person shooter that plays a lot like Team Fortress 2. Players take on different roles and try and score objectives instead of a traditional "deathmatch" style game. These traits that make the game different from classical shooters like Call of Duty are exactly why the game appeals to me so much. In this game, I don't have to be the best crack shot, as I can help my team by shielding them from damage or healing them instead. There's a whole layer of strategy that you don't get in other games. Not only that, but Blizzard puts their heart and soul into everything that they do, which means that you get a game with all different kind of characters. Each character has a detailed backstory that builds to the overall lore of the game. Playing this game with my friends has become a big thrill for me over the past few months.
3. Pokémon Trading Card Game
For a reason you will find out soon enough, I have gotten really back into Pokémon this year. Like, in a big way. I've been playing through different versions of the video games, buying up related shirts, artwork, etc. However, the biggest way I've been "catching them all" is through the Pokémon TCG. All of us here at the Renshaw house have jumped on the bandwagon of the game, at the right time it seems as Pokémon celebrated it's 20th anniversary last year. All through the year, The Pokémon Company did several events to get people back to that 90s nostalgia, including releasing a set featuring artwork from the original version of the game. Suffice to say, every time we go to the store now, we are picking up booster packs of the card game and enjoy opening them to see what we've "caught". We don't get to play the game too much but we still have plenty of fun collecting the cards together.
2. Pokémon Go
I've been an off and on Pokémon fan since the 90s, but what sparked this most recent bout of Poke-mania? Oh, you know, just a tiny mobile game called Pokémon Go. Taking the world of Pokémon and fusing it with our own, Pokémon Go was an unstoppable force during the summer. Oh, and Pokémon Go is still a thing, despite what some would lead you to think. From a peak of 40 million players, less than 15 million people still play the game as of October 2016. That's still more people than the population of Illinois! My wife, daughter, and I all play Pokémon Go, and we love going out to places and walking (or driving in this colder weather) around catching various Pokémon. Ashley and I will have dates where we go out and just sit around at a popular place for Pokémon and catch as many as we can together. People scoff when they hear that I've actually spent money in the game for items and such, but spending $5-10 for an hour or more of entertainment together is a pretty cheap date, in my opinion.
If you are reading this blog, chances are you've already seen Deadpool, the movie about the violent and vulgar Marvel comic mercenary . You might know how great it is. Why do I think it is better than everything else on this list? Typically, when I enjoy a movie a movie in the theater, I can't wait to purchase it on DVD/Bluray/iTunes. If I really like a movie, I'll even rewatch it a couple of times after it releases. I've probably watched Deadpool over 10 times by the this point, and it hasn't even been a whole year since its theatrical release. This movie is perfect for me in so many ways - the superhero genre, the humor, and the way it doesn't take itself serious at all. Every time that I watch the movie, I laugh at the same parts. It never gets old! Granted, this is not a family movie, nor even a movie I would ever think about showing Chloe. Still, the enjoyment I have gotten from this movie definitely solidifies its place here on the top of my list.
What About 2017?
Now that we've talked about last year, let's look ahead and briefly see a couple of things that I'm looking forward to this year.
(Movies) Superheroes. More superheroes. And did I mention superheroes? There's a lot of comic book based movies coming out this year that I am really looking forward to. I don't even have to wait very long, as The LEGO Batman Movie (probably the one I want to see the most) comes out February 10th. On the opposite side of the year, we get to see if Batman v. Superman will redeem itself as Justice League opens in November. Inside of those layers of DC bread, we have lots of Marvel goodness that will be drawing people into the theaters. Between Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, and Logan, Some are predicting that Marvel will rake in over 3 BILLION dollars. That's a lot of dough - I hope the movies turn out to be good!
(TV Shows) DC is already killing it with all of their CW shows, but in addition to more episodes of my favorites, the show I'm really intrigued about is DC's latest attempt. Powerless is a new comedy debuting on NBC that features goofy scientists making all the high tech gadgets that the world needs when superheroes fighting supervillains is an everyday occurrence. I thought the idea of a comedy in the DC universe was a weird idea, until I saw the promo. The show reminds me a lot of another show I enjoyed, Better Off Ted. If it can be even half as good as that show, and with the talent that is behind the show, it may turn out to be a real winner.
(Games) This year, I'll have many Role Playing Games that I'll be trying out for The Dirtbags of Holding podcast, but I think the one new game that I'm the most curious about is Starfinder by Paizo. Taking the Pathfinder ruleset and throwing it into science fiction, Starfinder releases during Gen Con this year. If you want more information about this game, I did an interview with James Sutter, the Creative Director behind the game. Paizo has a radical fanbase and I'm sure the game will sell very well, but the real reason I'm curious about the game is that Paizo has a great staff of creators who weave together awesome adventures and gameplay. Thus, Starfinder is bound to be a very interesting RPG experience.
So there you have it. What tickled my fancy in 2016 and what I'm anxiously awaiting in 2017. What about you? What did you enjoy last year, and what are you looking forward to this year?