JPJ’s Most Anticipated Board Games – and a few RPGs – of 2015 (Part Two)

We are in the middle of a tabletop gaming renaissance. Kickstarter is a powerful engine churning out innovative independent titles that would’ve seen the light of day in the past. Major companies like Fantasy Flight and Asmodee are becoming unstoppable behemoths, their productivity only rivaled by their creativity. If 2015 is anything like the years leading up to it, it will be a phenomenal year for board gamers, card gamers, miniatures games and roleplayers alike.

This is part one of our twenty most anticipated games of 2015 – in no particular order. As usual, take this list with a grain of salt. For one, we haven’t actually played any of the games. But perhaps more importantly, one should remember that the board game release schedule can be erratic and unpredictable. We hope to see these games this year, but we can’t make any promises.

(Side Note: We’ve covered some of these titles on Can I Kick It? In those cases, we’ve included the video description of the games.)

11. Penny Press

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12. Scythe

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Scythe has such a wild combination of genres and mechanics that I can’t help but be seduced by its pure weirdness. Set in a Steam Punk 1920’s, player’s lead their nations into the future by conquering swaths of territory, gathering troops and soldiers, managing resources, and constructing massive, iron beasts of war. What excites me most is that each country uses distinct and asymmetrical gameplay, which should lead to substantial replayability and a huge range of strategic options. Ultimately, any game that gets compared to both Agricola and Kemet is probably going to be worthy of a playthrough. We’ll see if all these different elements add up to a purchase when Scythe is released later this year.   

13. Seafall

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We’ve already discussed how Risk: Legacy has transformed the board gaming landscape, influencing other titles – like Pandemic – to explore customizable campaigns that are designed to illicit epic stories amongst groups of friends. But it’s creator, Rob Daviau, has been up to something else over the last few years: he’s been building a new game called SeaFall. SeaFall is a game of naval conquering, as intrepid captains explore open seas to discover and colonize islands, designate trading ports, ally with friendly players, and raid enemy supplies. It’s the first original game to use the Legacy system and Daviau has been play testing it for years, ensuring a deep and tactically pleasant experience. Unfortunately, he’s also pushed back its release many, many times. Still, I’m hopeful that we’ll see SeaFall on store shelves at some point in 2015.

14. Spector Ops

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Plaid Hat Games is a publisher that burst onto the scene relatively recently with crazy popular titles like Mice & Mystics and Dead of Winter. They have a reputation for gorgeous components and fluid gameplay, making every new release an exhilarating prospect. Spector Ops is a stealth-based strategy game influenced by the Metal Gear series. It might be the closest you’ll ever get to playing Solid Snake in a board game. In this 1v3 experience, a lone spy infiltrates a top secret facility and must outmaneuver an elite force of super-human guards to retrieve three pieces of important data. His movements are secret and his opponents must use their enhanced abilities to discover his location and take him out. I love games where one player acts in secret (Letters from Whitechapel, anyone?) and this theme is right up my alley. Here’s hoping for another Plaid Hat home run.

15. Star Wars: Armada

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I have played more of Fantasy Flight’s X-Wing Miniatures Game than almost any other tabletop title. The miniatures are addictive to collect and the game itself is so elegantly tactical, that you can really lose yourself in the intergalactic dogfights. But there’s more to Star Wars’ space combat then ship-to-ship conflicts. For as long as I can remember, my X-Wing buddies and I have been discussing how amazing it would be if we could replicate the massive, fleet-centric battles of Return of the Jedi, with Star Destroyers and Mon Calamari Cruisers clashing in colossal fashion. Star Wars: Armada plans to live up to our speculation. It’s a whole new miniatures experience, with a slower, more thoughtful pace; but it continues Fantasy Flight’s perfect marriage of space opera theme and thrilling gameplay. My wallet is going to hurt once this one gets off the boat. Good thing there aren’t any other Star Wars titles coming out this year…

16. Star Wars: Imperial Assault

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…whoops. Fantasy Flight is swinging for the fences with this license, releasing expansions and even new games at a pace that’s almost impossible to keep up with. X-Wing brought us sleek dogfights, Armada – enormous battles between even more enormous capital ships; but with Star Wars: Imperial Assault, players get to take the Galactic Civil War planet-side. You can play as your favorite heroes, or as the grunt forces of the Rebellion and Empire. You can play the game cooperatively with friends, working together in a story-based to repel Imperial troops – or you can compete against each other in fast-paced skirmishes. This is a game with loads of modules and mechanical options, but it will probably be best known for its gorgeous environmental tiles and elaborate (albeit unpainted) miniatures. If your a Star Wars fan, you’re going to drool all over this thing, but even if you aren’t, Fantasy Flight’s patented brand of narrative gameplay will likely leave you satisfied. Imperial Assault is one of the few games on this list that is already on store shelves, so keep your eyes open when your at your FLGS.

17. Train Heist

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The western as a genre has largely faded from popular culture, and that’s a shame, because there are so many fascinating stories to tell in the Old West. Train Heist isn’t the first board game to enter this wild territory, but it does seem to have a firm grasp on its theme that will be translated through gameplay. Working together, up to four players attempt to stop the corrupt Sheriff of Princeton from swindling the people of the town out of their hard-earned cash. Utilizing a unique “open range” board, characters can explore the world of Train Heist freely, going wherever they need to complete their individual goals. There’s even a mechanic that allows the train to move around the board to collect passengers and cargo. Train Heist is still a long way off – it hasn’t even started its Kickstarter – but its ideas are strong enough to peak my attention. Any game that lets me pretend I’m Charles Bronson in Once Upon a Time in the West gets my vote.

18. Cypher System RPG 

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If you’ve been a long time reader of Jetpack Joust, you know how much we adore Monte Cook’s indie RPG, Numenera, and Bruce Cordell’s equally riveting, The Strange. What do these two games have in common? They’re both run using a set of mechanics known as the Cypher System. The Cypher System has earned acclaim for its simplicity, elegance, and focus on narrative over number-crunching, allowing it to compete in the market with huge franchises like Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder. But this year, Monte Cook Games is splitting the ruleset from the campaign worlds, allowing players the ability to customize their own unique settings with the Cypher System Rulebook. This exciting tool will stimulate the creativity of its readers, expanding the rules in any direction imaginable: western noir, gothic science fiction, post-apocalyptic melodrama – your imagination in the limit. Maybe it’s a bit hyperbolic, but I’m expecting this to be one of the most impactful generic RPG texts of all time.

19. Red Aegis

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Red Aegis is a tabletop RPG about lineage and family. With each subsequent session, your gaming group will fast forward the timeline and play as the descendant of their previous character, “leveling up” through genetics. You’ll progress the game world from medieval fantasy to high-octane space opera, intimately forging the history in between. Red Aegis is still largely a mystery, but its release is creeping up quickly. The premise itself is so original, that it’s hard to believe that this won’t shake up the RPG landscape in some interesting ways.

20. Star Wars: Force and Destiny

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Lastly, as if we didn’t have enough Star Wars on this list already, Fantasy Flight is rounding out its innovative, modular RPG system with Force & Destiny. Edge of the Empire let players strap on the boots of the scum of the universe, Age of Rebellion illuminated the military hierarchies of the Galactic civil war, and Force & Destiny will at long last allow for full-fledged Jedi to enter the fray. This is an exciting development, as previous installments of this system only gave brief tastes of what it would be like to be “Force Sensitive”. Players will finally be able to swing their favorite lightsaber into battle. I am a huge fan of this brilliantly cinematic ruleset. It conveys all of the wonderment and thrills of the Star Wars universe without having to fall back on traditional dice rolls and modifiers. Force & Destiny is the final puzzle piece to make this system complete; but with a whole new trilogy around the corner, I’m excited to see what Fantasy Flight will do with the license next.

Late to the Party Video Review: Super Time Force Ultra

JPJ is back, fresh off our three month detour through the many dimensions of time, to bring you this: a silly review of a silly game that we really f$#@in’ love. We might be a bit late to the party on this one, but “Super Time Force Ultra” slayed us with its clever gameplay and gnarly storyline.

JPJ’s Most Anticipated Board Games of 2015 (Part One)

We are in the middle of a tabletop gaming renaissance. Kickstarter is a powerful engine churning out innovative independent titles that would’ve seen the light of day in the past. Major companies like Fantasy Flight and Asmodee are becoming unstoppable behemoths, their productivity only rivaled by their creativity. If 2015 is anything like the years leading up to it, it will be a phenomenal year for board gamers, card gamers, miniatures games and roleplayers alike.

This is part one of our twenty most anticipated games of 2015 – in no particular order. As usual, take this list with a grain of salt. For one, we haven’t actually played any of the games. But perhaps more importantly, one should remember that the board game release schedule can be erratic and unpredictable. We hope to see these games this year, but we can’t make any promises.

(Side Note: We’ve covered some of these titles on Can I Kick It? In those cases, we’ve included the video description of the games.)

  1. Acute Care 

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Cooperative board games are the perfect tools for recruiting new tabletop soldiers into the hobby. They allow for intense strategic gameplay without the intimidation of competition. Acute Care is a cooperative experience in which players take on various medical roles during a particularly busy 12-hour shift at a hospital. Can you maintain quality care as the clock ticks down? Can you handle sudden emergencies without causing a tragic loss of life? These are the kinds of tense questions that Acute Care will force you and your friends to confront, packaged within a perfect marriage of mechanics and theme. There’s still a lot to be learned about this title, but what we know has us excited.

  1. Area 1851

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There aren’t many franchises that can say that they fall within the category of steampunk-sci-fi-western, but Area 1851 is blazing new trails into the genre. Each player is an Emmitt Brown-type, a collection of Wild West scientists emboldened by extraterrestrial friends to build the best gadgets and thus earn the best reputation in the territory. Using combinations of random bits of junk, both mundane and alien, monstrous inventions will begin to take shape and the player who best impresses the town-folk will claim victory. I’m not sure if this game makes the most of its premise, but it seems like a clever and funny title that could be suitable for both families and groups of casual gaming friends.

  1. Black Forest

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  1. Dead Men Tell No Tales

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We’ve already discussed the merits of cooperative games, but perhaps the heroic actions of nurses, doctors, and surgeons just aren’t enough for you. Perhaps you need a bit more high-seas swashbuckling and skullduggery. In Dead Men Tell No Tales, you and your friends play as a team of pirates who’ve taken a valuable vessel full of treasure. You must navigate through the flames, the flooding, and the surviving crew to gather your rightfully swindled assets; working together to battle against the elements and your own limits of exhaustion. This is an interesting, focused twist on the popular pirate genre of board games.

  1. Kaiju Conquest

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If there’s one guilty pleasure that brings me the most joy, it’s giant robots fighting to the death with titanic monsters. Kaiju Conquest is a strategy board game in which the human race must defend itself from massive extraterrestrial horrors, known as the Sazzarran. What I find most interesting about this game is that it takes into account things like world events and shifting alliances and the environment, factors rarely addressed when kaiju collide in other properties. Still, my love for this title could be based entirely on my own rose-colored glasses. I hope Conquest can live up to the depth it promises. I want Axis & Allies with Godzilla and friends.

  1. Lifeform

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Cooperative games are all well and good, but it especially turns up the tension when a team of friends has to take on a singular, living foe. In Lifeform, four players take on the role of the space-weary crew of a massive mining vessel. The fifth player is an alien monstrosity, stalking in the darkness, hoping to keep the survivors from escaping with their lives. If this sounds like Alien: The Board Game, it might as well be; but that’s part of the reason it’s such an exciting prospect. Add in the asymmetrical gameplay and focus on genuine horror and Lifeform has won my attention.

  1. Love Letter: Batman

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Love Letter is one of the best micro-games ever made: easy to learn, compact to carry, and surprisingly tactical. Unfortunately, the theme can be a bit of a buzzkill for some gamers. Know how to solve that problem? Slap Batman’s name on the franchise. I’m betting thousands of gamers are going to give this game a shot now that Bruce Wayne and his Rogue’s Gallery are involved.

  1. Mind: The Fall of Paradise

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The epic space opera is a dime-a-dozen in the board game world, proliferating entire bookshelves at some gaming shops. Mind: The Fall of Paradise manages to stand out in a crowded genre, as players struggle to survive on a war-torn Earth only to be ejected into space to be cared for by a player-driven AI known as MIND. I love the idea that the destruction of the world is only the beginning of the game, as this emphasizes the true scale of this 4X strategy experience. The rebel politicians rally fleets and armies to combat the dreamscapes of the AI’s “paradise”; but can the frail remains of humanity defeat this ever-expanding machine? It’s a question that I can’t wait to answer.

  1. Mission: Red Planet (Reprint)

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Mission: Red Planet is a cult classic that’s been talked about, but rarely seen since its last printing several years ago. It’s nearly impossible to get a hold of without paying an arm and a leg; such is the popularity of its steampunk-space exploration theme. In Mission: Red Planet, players become representatives for Victorian-era mining companies that, using the most advanced steam technology, race to fill their rockets with enough men to mine the new-found extraterrestrial ore. Simultaneously, they seek to sabotage their opponent’s efforts. While balancing this strategy would normally be difficult enough, once players arrive on the Red Planet, they have to find the perfect location to place their mines. It’s a thrilling, critically-acclaimed game, and with a shiny new reprint from Fantasy Flight Games, Mission: Red Planet is poised to win-over some new hearts.

  1. Pandemic Legacy

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Risk: Legacy transformed the board gaming landscape by offering a charming narrative layer to an already classic experience. Players could watch as the borders of the world’s great civilizations shifted over the course of multiple gaming sessions, telling their own stories of feeble victory and valiant loss. Now, we can expect the same from Pandemic, a modern classic that is getting its own Legacy interpretation. Pandemic is perhaps the greatest cooperative game ever made, a title that has brought thousands of people into the hobby with its phenomenal rendering of the spread of disease and those who seek to contain it. Pandemic: Legacy will extend the threat over the course of multiple game sessions; one might end in the death of millions, the other with the eradication of a great disease. This is a title with a built-in stress factor that’s almost addictive. I can only imagine the tension expanded into campaign form.

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More to come by the end of the week. Stay tuned!

Twenty-Two Indie Games We’re Excited for in 2015

No Man’s Sky

Firewatch

Witness

Inside

Mighty No. 9

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That Dragon, Cancer

Hyper Light Drifter

Cuphead

Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

SOMA

Apotheon

Below

Darkest Dungeon

Chromo Squad

Shelter 2

Convoy

Dollhouse

Mushroom 11

Chasm

Distance

 

 

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The 2014 Platinum Jetpack Awards

2014 was a wild year for the gaming industry. So-called “Next-Gen” consoles floundered with a lack of quality content, while the previously maligned Nintendo offering, the Wii U, rose like a phoenix with maddeningly awesome first party titles. PC sales continued to grow – Steam posted a record 8.5 million concurrent users – strengthened by an indie scene that at times felt stretched thin. More games were released in the first three months of 2014 than in all of 2013 combined and many journalists began to ponder if we were on the precipice of an indie crash. That never happened, and if anything, the opposite was proven true. Independent creators are as innovative and resilient as ever.

Collectively, we also strode through the bullshit of GamerGate. It’s not over by any means, but things do seem to be quieting down. It’s time to refocus our attention to building a better gaming community, inclusive of everyone and free of the kind of sickening threats we saw throughout the autumn and beyond.

Regardless of trends and controversies, regardless of internet drama and negativity, there were tons of great games to be celebrated this year. As such, we present the second annual Platinum Jetpack Awards.

Here’s a reminder of what they are:

“We like to do things a little differently at Jetpack Joust. We question the status quo. As we started to peak into the New Year, websites across the internet began to post their yearly “Top 5” or “Top 10” Games of the Year. People love lists. They especially love lists that are ranked; because it inspires competition. But gaming has grown to a point where experiences are so varied that stacking one next to another feels dishonest and insincere. Instead, we want to celebrate the previous year’s accomplishments; not by how much better a game is than its compatriots, but by what it added to the culture and to the discussion of games’ as art.

Keep in mind that though our focus is on the independent experience, these awards encompass the industry as a whole. We aren’t indie fundamentalists and 2013’s enormous cache of titles is a great argument of every type of release. We should also note that though we made attempts to play as many games as possible, we weren’t able to fit all of them into our schedules. So if there’s a game that you think deserves to be on this list, comment down below.”

Drum roll, please. Here are our winners.

Best Use of Music in a Surreal Adventure Game
Kentucky Route Zero: Act III (Cardboard Computer)

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I can’t bring myself to spoil the specifics of such a beautiful moment, but the instant that “Too Late to Love You” began to play in a dingy bar off the highway, I had a true revelation about Kentucky Route Zero. The game is a tough nut to crack – and seems to release at a snail’s pace – but it’s just as capable of profound wonder as it is existential confusion. If this title isn’t on your radar, it should be for this scene alone. It’s far and away the best dramatic moment in a game all year.

“What Would You Give” is just as amazing.

Best Mass Starvation Simulation
Banished (Shining Rock Software)

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Banished is the first game I played in 2014, and it’s one that I wish I would’ve had more time to revisit. It’s an incredibly robust simulation, especially considering that it was made on the cheap by one ambitious guy. Though the endgame leaves a bit to be desired, few titles evoked such a sense of desperation as Banished in the moments when the player’s villagers began to starve. Winter is the enemy and you have to prepare a significant harvest to make it through the season without casualties. It’s a more difficult prospect than it sounds and the game might just give you a new found respect for the ancestors who lived on the brink of wild disaster.

Best First-Half of a Double Fine Adventure Adventure
Broken Age: Act One (Double Fine)

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It’s become a bit of a trend to casually bash Double Fine on the internet; and though they’ve certainly made a few crucial PR mistakes in 2014, there is no denying the brilliance of their Kickstarter flagship, Broken Age. This game offered what it promised: Tim Schaefer’s nostalgic return to a classic point-and-click adventure format. There is so much imagination here; it’s bursting at the seams, like a children’s book that’s come to life. I ate it up, flaws and all. And though the second act seems forever delayed, I bet we’ll see it before we see Act IV of Kentucky Route Zero.

I can’t fucking wait to see what happens next.

Best Competitive Multiplayer in Which the Victor is Eaten by a Giant Snake
Nidhogg (Messhof)

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Some people would say that Super Smash Bros is the best fighting game of the year, but Nidhogg manages to take everything that’s great about Nintendo’s flagship franchise and package it into a fresh, minimalistic take on the genre. There are only two characters, only four stages to choose from, only broken, dirty pixels as a visual palette, yet every battle in Nidhogg feels clean and frantic and fun. It somehow turns fencing into the coolest, most surreal sport in the world.

Nidhogg was a severe candidate for game of the year. Pick it up and get some friends and room with a couple of controllers. I guarantee it’s one of the best local multiplayer experiences you’ll ever have.

Best Unfinished Early-Access Game
Rust (Facepunch Studios)

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Oh Rust, what a weary road you’ve travelled this year. From Early Access darling, to a shining example of the excesses of the program, it’s still impossible to deny how much time this game sucked out of the Jetpack Joust “offices”. We played it more than any other title; except for maybe Hearthstone, but we’ll get to that later. Though Facepunch is still busy updating their graphically upgraded version of the game, Rust’s legacy will be its emphasis on crazy, collaborative experimentation.

“How high can we build this tower?”

“How much C4 do we need to blow through twelve layers of metal walls?”

“How can we one-up the crazy faction on the other side of the map who always seems to pick up the best equipment and air drops?”

These kinds of questions, and the answers they wrought, were what made Rust such a huge part of my gaming year. I only hope they can bring the same joyous experience to the new edition.

Best Reason to Hate the Blue Shell
Mario Kart 8 (Nintendo)

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Until Mario Kart 8, I had no interest in owning a Nintendo Wii U. Suddenly; it became a must-own console. I felt like the same kid who demanded that his parents buy him a Nintendo 64 for Christmas because it was just so cool. This is the best Mario Kart ever made, not just because of the gorgeously colorful graphics or the brilliantly smooth gameplay, but because it reminded me why I love Nintendo so much. These are characters that are engrained in my psyche, that I adore as much as Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny or any other character that spikes childhood wonder and awe. Mario Kart 8 brought that feeling back without relying too heavily on nostalgia; a crowning achievement for a franchise and a company that I thought was dead to me.

Best First-Person Tear Jerker
Ether One (White Paper Games)

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Ether One is all at once a riddle and a puzzle and a logic problem; each within the other, spiraling together until the mysteries and their answers can’t be separated. It’s not so much a game as it is a deeply emotional experience. All of this language may seem cryptic and unspecific, but that’s because it is truly hard to describe the lasting impact that Ether One has had on me. I’ve had a few days to separate myself from it, but still my mind wanders to the peaceful village of Pinwheel and the journey contained within. It’s an experience that I am still deciphering, but one that I’m sure I enjoyed.”

Best Digital Equivalent to Addiction
Hearthstone (Blizzard)

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On any given night in 2014, if I had to guess blindly what Billy or Matt were doing with their free time, I’d probably say, “Playing Hearthstone.” They certainly weren’t the only one’s to be seduced by Blizzard’s lightning fast, effortlessly fun digital card game; the community is growing bigger with each passing day. What’s particularly brilliant about Hearthstone is its stream-lined approach to the CCG. Few games juggle simplicity of gameplay and strategic possibility with such poise. It’s easy to pick up and play, but incredibly difficult to master.

It’s also free – probably the best free-to-play game released this year – which is a damn good reason to give it a shot.

Best Verisimilitude (Big Words, People!)
Transistor (Supergiant Games)

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Stunning imagery. Air-tight gameplay. Stellar sound design. What else have we come to expect from Supergiant Games? Transistor continues the work they started with Bastion, creating a lush, thriving, colorful environment for Red – a phenomenal female protagonist – to explore and engage with. Cloudbank is a gorgeous city to battle through. The mechanics are a bit intimidating at first, but they repay persistence with their depth and flexibility, allowing the player to truly customize their experience. Transistor looks and feels entirely unique and further cements the future of this brilliant indie company. I can’t wait to see what they do next.

Best Jokes at the Expense of Old-School RPGs
South Park: The Stick of Truth (Obsidian)

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I love South Park with the burning passion of a Chipotle-burdened asshole, so Obsidian announced they’d be adapting it into a video game, I was rightfully skeptical. South Park: The Stick of Truth perfectly translates the humor of Matt and Trey’s long-running animated series into a surprisingly thorough recreation of an old-school RPG. From anally probing aliens to underpants gnomes and Man-Bear-Pig, this game might be the most reverent we’ll ever see to its source material; yet never seems to rely on the nostalgia to propel its hilarious story. Instead, this is the most epic, surreal, and glorious episode the dynamic duo have ever written; and as the player, you get to impact its outcome. Infinitely enjoyable and side-splittingly humorous, South Park: The Stick of Truth may be the greatest satirical game ever made.

Best Reason to Tear Your Hair Out in Joyous Frustration
Luftrausers (Vlambeer)

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Luftrausers is a nearly flawless experience. It’s an adrenaline pumping, action-packed shooter that is unabashedly about raw entertainment. There’s nothing to think deeply about, you just have to learn be dexterous enough with your fingers to accomplish the maneuvers that will help you survive. I felt like an ace pilot playing Luftrausers and that was purely exhilarating.”

Best RPG to Conquer Your Life
Dragon Age: Inquisition (BioWare)

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Dragon Age is not a franchise that I’ve loved in the past. I found Origins to be too strictly contained by its influences and Dragon Age II to be too excited by its own advances. Inquisition strikes the perfect balance, and even if its story isn’t particularly fresh, it allows the player freedom and influence over a world that’s as boundless as it is culturally complex. In some ways, its side quests are more interesting than the over-arching plot, because every NPC has some interesting observation or opinion. Like Mass Effect, Inquisition is a game that’s more concerned with the relationships between its characters than the epic conflict their involved in. This is a good thing and it makes for one of the most profound RPG experiences I’ve had in years.

Best Game With the Lowest Score, But The Longest Impact
Always Sometimes Monsters (Vagabond Dog)

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I loved this game’s innovative approach to storytelling and its attempts to dig deeper for meaning. I was enamored by its climax and the emotional devastation that followed. But I strongly disliked the extraordinarily tedious gameplay and the equally burdensome lead character. It was almost enough to force me to give up; but I’m so glad that I didn’t.

Always Sometimes Monsters is not a game that is easy to classify or categorize or rate. It’s a prime example of why not to use a numeric system for game reviews. Overall, I had a positive experience, but I’m not sure that everyone else would. That’s why I’ll remind you what a 6 out of 10 score means at Jetpack Joust: ‘Imperfect, but maybe you should play this if it sounds interesting to you.’ This sums up Always Sometimes Monsters perfectly in my mind. It’s a divisive game, but perhaps you’ll lean in my direction.”

Best Heart-Rending Choice-Making
The Walking Dead: Season Two (Telltale Games)
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“The Walking Dead: Season Two has been a powerhouse of video game storytelling. ‘No Going Back’ is a perfectly bittersweet finale that pounds the player with heartbreak after heartbreak, but gives them just enough hope to keep them pressing forward. Few games are capable of the complex emotional depth that is evoked in the final moments of this harrowing episode. I laughed, I cried, and I lost a good friend; but I loved every single moment of it.”

Best Criminally Underrated Game
The Floor is Jelly (Ian Snyder)

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“Everyone once and a while, a game comes along that is magical in its simplicity, inspiring the imagination of the player without burdening them with complex mechanics. It’s rare to see the right ingredients come together to create this kind of experience, but when they do, it’s a glorious reminder of why we play video games in the first place…

The Floor is Jelly is a joyful, beautiful, and perpetually entertaining experience that will hearken back to the days when you sat mystified by the sprites on your television screen. It has that unspeakable quality that transforms a good game into a great game and it’s almost certainly the best platformer I’ve played all year.”

Best Games We’re Looking Forward to Playing Still

Super Time Force (CAPY)

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Shovel Knight (Yacht Club Games)

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Talos Principle (Croteam)

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2014 Platinum Jetpack Game of the Year
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (The Astronauts)

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The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is the culminating masterpiece of a genre that’s been spreading its wings in the last few years: the first-person adventure. There is no combat to speak of, no blockbuster action pieces. Instead, the game weighs on your soul and worms its way into your mind. Like Gone Home and Ether One, the joy is in exploration and discovery; in finding that final clue to solve the case. But this game is superior in its execution and surmounts its predecessors in nearly every category. It will likely leave you feeling a bit hollow and disturbed, but it will also provoke hidden thoughts buried in the back of your head. This is the first game to perfect the essence of the natural world in digital form, but it won’t be the last. In all of its bleakness, there is a bit of light; at least for games of its kind.”

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My Month Without Games: An Open Letter to the Small, but Mighty Jetpack Joust Community

I wanted to write a book. I love games criticism, but there’s a segment of my heart that has always longed for the rigors of storytelling. And so, I went off, jettisoning my duties as the chief jetpack jouster, to write a novel with countless other aspiring authors. National Novel Writing Month has been an amazing learning experience, with practical teachings that I’ll certainly apply to my work here; but perhaps most interestingly, it taught me as much about my approach to discussing video games as it did my approach to building fictional worlds.

What follows might be considered a revision of our mission statement, but hopefully it won’t be quite as boring.

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This summer, the internet gaming community was torn asunder. We all know by what. I won’t bother to mention its name, because frankly, I’m not interested in stirring up any controversy and it’s been talked about much more eloquently in other corners of the web. What I do want to talk about is its effect on me personally; a syndrome that came in contact with a large number of my good friends.

It bummed us out. The yelling between the two sides became little more than white noise, containing almost no real meaning. The death threats, the trolling, the finger-pointing, the misogyny, the harassment; it soiled much of my enthusiasm for my favorite art form and for the community that’s gathered around it. I’m aware that it was a small minority participating in the more heinous activities, but the spillover into news outlets ranging from Kotaku to MSNBC was a kind of cultural saturation that made me sick to my stomach every time I thought about picking up a controller. That sucked. Lots of great games came out this year.

But one night, after a particularly harrowing session of Dungeons & Dragons, several members of the Jetpack Joust team stood together outside my house and proclaimed that we were so exhausted by all the infighting that we’d largely stopped playing anything. We were a bunch of wannabe games journalists who didn’t want to have anything to do with the format. Video games were tainted.

We knew our ambivalence wouldn’t be especially good for business or for traffic, but we plugged along anyway, largely shifting our focus towards tabletop roleplaying games and unsung indie heroes. However, there came a point when even that wasn’t enough to alleviate the stress and the burden that I was feeling. I needed to make an escape run. Distance makes the heart grow fonder, after all, and I knew that if I took a well deserved break, it would put the whole thing into perspective; I would reassess my relationship with video games and with the website.

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So I wrote a novel, or rather, the better part of a novel, which I’ll be finishing over the next few weeks. I left behind the complex universe of gaming for something far simpler; for a girl, and a town, and a little bit of existential mystery.

For some time, I was quite happy. But I slowly grew to miss all the pixels and menus and belligerent online competitors and quirky indie soundtracks. I especially missed the small, yet mighty community that’s grown around Jetpack Joust over the last year. I like writing for you. I like making videos for you. I think I bring a unique, philosophical view to the discussion of interactive media, and as a man with a keyboard and a long history with both games and criticism, I’m happy to have my voice heard.

This year, we were just putting our feelers out, experimenting, and attempting to find our niche. Our Word Press was supposed to be a temporary skeleton site for us to practice and refine our craft, whilst gathering an audience. It became a bit more permanent than we’d predicted. Eventually, we will migrate to something prettier and more useful, but we’ve gathered plenty of experience and have grown to understand what Jetpack Joust is, at its core. November taught me just as much as the previous ten months.

As such, here’s what you can expect from us as we continue down our road of discovery:

Jetpack Joust is not a news outlet. We do dabble in the stories of the day, but always with an editorial edge. This means we’re subjective. Our opinions are our own and they should not be taken as objective fact. We value the interpretation of media through the personal lens of our writers. Our reviews are about more than whether or not a game is fun. We analyze their value to the medium and to society as a whole, because we believe that like all art, games can be powerful emotional tools that change the inner lives of people and thus, change the world. It’s a lofty goal, but one that we think is fitting with the strong traditions of academic and social criticism in film, literature, theater and art.

I’m not disparaging the entertainment value of video games, that’s a huge part of their appeal, but it’s not something we’re terribly interested in exploring with JPJ. There are other places to find that particular brand of review and if you’re not a fan of our approach, we happily understand if you don’t want to be a regular visitor. What we can promise is engaging material that will likely reflect our open-minded, progressive, humorous and intellectual approach to criticism. And sometimes, when a game is just a bundle of joy, we’ll talk about how fucking fun it is too. See: Hypership Out of Control.

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We hope, regardless of your politics or personal opinions, that you’ll be a part of the discussion as well. There’s nothing that we enjoy more than a rousing debate, as long as that debate is friendly, humane, and informative. There will be zero tolerance for harassment and hate speech – and there has never been any, as far as I know – because we want to foster a positive environment, where everyone feels welcome. Gaming is awesome and we want to spread it as far and wide as we possibly can.

Our other goal is to focus on quality instead of quantity. Jetpack Joust is an incredibly small operation, and I do much of the creative work alone. I started with the relatively ambitious aspiration of producing five pieces of content a week, but that was quickly derailed by my day job and by my desire to remain somewhat sane. Instead, you can look forward to a combination of three solid articles and videos week-in and week-out. This will give us an opportunity to actually play the games we’re writing about with a greater attention to detail and will hopefully lead to a better product in the long-run. With any luck, we’ll also add some new contributors that will assist us in filling in those blank spots in the schedule. This is a process that’s already begun.

It’s also likely that you’ll see a greater emphasis on tabletop experiences. We love our little indie gems, and even some of our big, explosive corporate behemoths, but the fact is that our readers adore board games, card games, miniatures games, and roleplaying games just as much as the digital stuff. It’s the topic that seems to have gained the most traction, if our metrics are to be believed, and we are here to give you what you want and sometimes what you need. If that means more dice talk, than we’re excited to deliver it to you.

Ultimately, little at Jetpack Joust has changed. This is more of an affirmation than a transformation. It’s important to remember that it’s still the best time ever to be a gamer. We have access to more content than I could have ever imagined as a kid playing my Sega Genesis in the early ‘90’s. And though things got dark, and there’s still some healing to do, the controversies of this summer have largely faded away and it’s okay to peak out your head and take a look around at all of the new goodies. There’s been enough division. It’s time to come back together in solidarity, for a better future for all gamers.

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December is a month for playing catch up. There are plenty of games left to be played before we construct our “Best of” lists for 2014, so we’ll be digging into our backlogs and reviewing some titles that passed us by. I’ll also be finishing that novel, so bare with me if we’re a little slow.

Thank you so much for letting us take the last thirty days to clear our heads. We’re back, and we’re going to be better than ever, with podcasts, new episodes of fan favorite web series, and a renewed passion for the gaming medium. We love stuff and we hope that comes through in our writing.

Until next time, Bill Murray to you.

—Cory Stine, Editor in Chief

Hit the Table: The Coup Review!

“The Coup” is a micro-game that takes place in the world of The Resistance. Players take on the role of petty bureaucrats who hope to wield their power to assume absolute control. It’s a short, fun, strategic game that everyone should have in their repertoire. Watch the video for further analysis!

You can pick up “The Coup” at your Friendly Local Game Store!