My top games (mostly iOS) of 2012

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The end of the year is the time when lots of enthusiasts and games journalists come out with their coveted “Game of the Year Awards.” As I see the posts pop up, it only makes me jealous and a little ashamed that I haven’t been able to enjoy most of the titles mentioned. I’ve had a lot of my mind this year between a new job and a baby on the way in January, pretty much the only games I’ve played have been on iOS. Then I realized, “Hey, I’ve played a lot of great games on iOS this year!” So here’s my list.

My top games of 2012:

Broze Tier – Punch QuestiOS

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Punch Quest isn’t very complicated and it’s not incredibly novel, but it’s got a lot of heart. The gameplay is pretty basic, run, punch, punch, punch, punch but there are some RPG elements and powerups that kept me coming back for more. Perfect for the toilet!

Bronze Tier – Hero AcademyiOS

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We all want to play asynchronous turn based chess on our phones right? Wrong! That’s a total snorefest. Hero Academy, on the other hand, with its guilds of wiggly characters, feels like a strategy board game but with a lot more pizzaz. In fact, it’s very similar to the card game cum iOS port, Summoner Wars (but in my opinion, more fun). The variety of different teams keeps things fresh.

Silver Tier – Lost CitiesiOS

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Lost Cities is a classic card game designed by famous board game designer, Reiner Knizia. It’s simple yet challenging and has very little “theme” to hide it’s mathy, set collection mechanic. But despite being fairly dry, the iOS port built by German developer, The Coding Monkeys, makers of the exceptional Carcassonne port, is a beautiful and rich experience. Gameplay goes fast, the interface is very intuitive, and the computer AI have a lot of personality.

Silver Tier – FezXBLA

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I feel a little weird about putting Fez on the list for two reasons. One, I never got far enough in the game to experience the best features of the game, namely the puzzles that force the player to leave the experience of the XBox and interact with other people to be solved. And Two, I didn’t enjoy the game enough to be compelled to get farther. That being said, it’s hard to argue that Fez is not one of the best games of the year in terms of innovation not to mention it’s sheer 8-bitsy beauty.

Gold Tier – LetterPressiOS

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Letterpress is an asynchronous turn-based word game that at first glance resembles a very stylish Boggle or Scrabble, but upon closer inspection is more like a game of Go). Instead of looking for higher-scoring words, the real goal is to capture territory from your opponent. The result is a surprisingly sophisticated instant classic.

Bonus points for being a game I happen to be very good at.

Minecraft Award for Excellence in Alpha – Sol Forge (Demo)iPad

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SolForge is a digital card game created by Gary Games (now StoneBlade) and Richard Garfield and a successfully funded Kickstarter campaign. The game is similar to Magic the Gathering but with a distinctive feature in which cards become more powerful over time (think MTG meets Pokemon). It’s not officially out yet, but the team did release a free demo of the game in December. Despite being very limited in scope, I have enjoyed playing it very much and look forward to the final version.

The Game Made Just for Me Award – Super HexagoniOS

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When I first saw the video for Super Hexagon, I felt like Terry Cavanaugh monitored my dreams made a game just for me. It’s a beautiful, minimalist, geometric hyper-maze and it’s hard-as-fuck. Hexagon has all the appeal of a Ms. PacMan cocktail cabinet in that any layman can try to play but when someone actually doesn’t suck, it’s downright impressive. I also LOVE the fact that Cavanaugh himself is consistently on the top ten list in the leaderboards.

Best Single Experience Award – JourneyPS3

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Journey is a beautiful, two to three hour long, minimally interactive program which feels “gamish” but only barely could be called one. And yet, it stands out above everything else that I played this year as a perfect entertainment experience. Like a great film, Jaws or the Shining or The Big Lebowski for example, not a moment of it is wasted on something that doesn’t progress your story or enhance your emotional connection to it.

In the tradition of Joseph Campbell, the player has a need, to go towards the mountain, and he will be changed by the experience. Without any dialogue or instruction, the game guides the player through an exhaustive range of emotions from excitement through darkness and out the other side on the verge of tears. The interaction with other players was an interesting side feature that I could take or leave; just walking towards the light was enough to satisfy me. Although it sounds corny, Journey is all about the journey.

Game of the Year Award – Magic The Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013iPad

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Magic is not a new game. In fact, I played my first game of it in 1994 when I was a freshman in high school. Video game versions of Magic are not new; I played the first videogame version by Microprose) in 1997. Even the Deuls of the Planeswalkers series is not new; I played it on XBLA in 2009. But this year’s entry, MTG:DOTP2013 for iPad, has brought me back to the franchise because it’s finally the right level of detail on the right platform. Magic is fantastic on a tablet!

Playing the game with touch just makes a lot of sense. The interface is beautiful and very intuitive. It guides you through the more tricky aspects of the system. A lot of care was taken to show off the art and really bring you into the universe.

The game features a substantial number of highly polished decks, each one allows the player to try a new strategy. Much of the credit should really go to Wizards of the Coast for creating a very nice 2013 series. I’m sure a lot of more hardcore player wish there was a more robust deck building system. That would be great, but I don’t see how that would be possible without opening the floodgates of collectible card microtransactions so I’m happy with the decks I have. Besides, the developers have been good about keeping the updates and new decks coming.

The different gameplay styles show off the different strengths of the game. The AI is on point and the online connectivity opens the playfield up to additional challenges.

In short, DotP2013 breathes new life into a great but inaccessible old game.

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