- Virgin Queen. Most people here will never be inclined to play VQ, given that a proper game of it lasts anywhere from five to nine hours – I managed to play it three times in 2012 and consider that a mammoth accomplishment. But it is a near-perfect game if you want to do what it does, which is reasonably simulate Elizabethan-era Europe within a not-insanely-complex game structure. It’s still quite complex, of course, because this is a game where all six factions (one of whom isn’t even a country, but simply “the Protestants”) have their own ways to win and their own distinct advantages, and where you can earn victory points in any number of ways – by promoting or crushing Protestantism, by colonizing the Americas, by advancing scientific discoveries or great works of art, by arranging politically-beneficial marriages with other players, or of course by going to war and stomping face. But all of it requires that you delve into truly deep diplomacy on a level that few games ever approach. What an experience.
- The Manhattan Project. Too many new worker placement games just leave me thinking “well, why didn’t I just play Caylus instead of this, because it’s a better game than this was.” TMP bucks that trend by actually doing something very novel and different with worker placement – instead of having organized rounds of “okay, we all place workers – and now we resolve the workers,” TMP goes free-form and makes placement of workers and removal of workers a player choice. This, combined with gameplay that encourages players to metaphorically punch one another in the face, made it a definite favorite for the year. Tzolkin, recently out, does much the same thing but with a giant gimmicky set of plastic gears, and Tzolkin is a fine game, but I still prefer TMP.
- Hanabi. I generally am not interested in most cooperative games because they tend to end up being a thing where the loudest/pushiest player dominates everybody else’s gameplay. Hanabi neatly kills that off by making it impossible: this is a cooperative card-laying game where you never see your hand and where the other players are strictly limited as to what they may tell you. It’s a brilliant little design that rewards ingenuity and deductive skills. Great game.
- Android: Netrunner. Unlike many I am old enough to remember the original Netrunner CCG, which was brilliant in theory but brutally flawed in practice – it arrived at the dawn of CCG design when people still didn’t quite realize how to balance games, so Richard Garfield’s excellent two-player asymmetrical bluffing duel CCG, which was superb right out of the starter deck, collapsed when you started designing actual decks. The modern revamp basically fixes all of that and adds some new, interactive mechanics to up the tension level, but other than that is still the same great game – just better on all counts.
- Love Letter. AEG takes a genius design from Japan – a deduction/bluffing game with only sixteen cards that plays up to four players – and then inexplicably rethemes it to their stupid new pre-made Tempest setting, on the assumption that anybody will care about their stupid new Tempest setting. Whatever, the game is still amazing.
- The Twelve Doctors. A print-and-play asymmetrical two-player dueling game based on Doctor Who where one player is the Doctor and one player is the Master, reaching into every corner of the Who mythos for its cards, and which manages the almost-impossible combination of both being a richly thematic game about Doctor Who while also being a very good game in its own right, a tactical blend of area control and San Juan-style hand management. And yes, there is a Jelly Babies card.
- Colonial. An aggressive 18th-century economic/exploitation game with a lot of clever mechanics. It’s abstract, but the good kind of abstract that exists to simplify rather than make overly simple – and it of course has numerous brutal diplomatic options as well. Terrific fun, with gorgeous components and cheerfully amoral gameplay.
- Skrillex feat. Ellie Goulding, “Summit.” Skrillex gets possibly more undeserved shit than any musical act going, whether it is cheap WUBWUBWUB jokes or stupid gags about his nom de plume, but this is a perfect counter to that – it’s not dubstep at all, but instead a contemplative and somehow epic bit of melodic trance. It’s gorgeous.
- Lumineers, “Ho Hey.” On the non-technological side of things, we have this almost painfully simple and earnest love song, a love song stripped down to bare essentials, if you will – if it were a car, it would be one of those barely-a-cars where you have a seat, an engine, an undercarriage and wheels, and nothing else. But it works. Basically it is like listening to Mumford and Sons except, and this is the key bit, you don’t actually have to listen to Mumford and Sons.
- Pegboard Nerds, “Revenge of the Nerds.” Lovely crossover between 16-bit chiptuning and dubstep. I think that is enough to say right there, except that I will add I first heard this as part of a fake “Wreck-It Ralph” soundtrack and I like this better than anything on the actual soundtrack (which is hardly bad, come to think).
- Florence and the Machine, “Spectrum.” (Also the Calvin Harris remix.) Because every generation gets the Tori Amos it deserves – and every generation deserves a Tori Amos, really – and Florence Welch is apparently proof that this generation is particularly deserving for some reason I do not yet understand, but I’m willing to run with it if I get to snag stuff like this for my iPod on the side.
- July Talk, “Paper Girl.” This song is so. Fucking. Dirty. Loved this Tom Waits-meets-Dido brawler months ago, still love the fuck out of it. Feel like I need a shower after I listen to it, every time, and that is the highest compliment I can pay it.
- Azealia Banks, “1991.” Because it has been too long since I heard a true machine-gun female MC spit out rhymes like that.
- Everything from Madeon’s new album this year but especially “Finale.” Because it’s great. This is what I wanted electronic music to be twenty years ago and it is just getting to doing it now. Took you goddamn enough, you broad musical genre you.
- Japandroids, “The House That Heaven Built.” Because duh.