End of Year 2019: Exceptional Experiences: Favorite Tabletop/RPG/Experiential Play

Exceptional Experiences (Favorite Tabletop/RPG/Experiential Play)

When I think back on 2019, amid the many issues of the wider world, what kept me going was the experiences I had, especially with friends. Being able to create spaces where I could find joy and transcend the normal sphere of interaction if even for a moment, was something hugely important to me.

There’s the over $150,000 we as a community raised for Trans Lifeline with Save Point 2019 by playing games and spending time together. There’s also ARGs, installation games, and escape rooms, which aim to create incredible experiences of play with a physical or community-based component. So many tabletop games were released, providing ways to tell stories together about community, collaboration, and togetherness. Even more than that, there were itch.io game jams with amazing creative output throughout the year, focused on thinking outside of the box of game design in both theme and tone.

I know these categories are just touching the tip of the iceberg.

What are your favorite play experiences outside of “traditional” video games in 2019?


Discussion Thread

This thread is all about discussing your favorites! The end of the year is always a great opportunity to look back and reflect on what we loved, but it’s also a great time to remind ourselves of what we missed and want to come back to next year. So give a recommendation, get a recommendation, and above all please be respectful and have a good time!

Be sure to check the Q&A section below if you have questions, otherwise feel free to reach out to one of us! We hope you enjoy this event and we’re excited to see what sorts of discussion each category inspires!

Please Note: We’re planning to write-up a summary thread at the end of the event and include various members’ quotes from the discussion threads, just like last year. The quotes that we select will be attributed to their authors and only posted on this forum (forum.waypoint.vice.com). If you would prefer to not be quoted in the summary thread, please indicate this in your posts.


Q&A

Q: End of Year? What's that?

A: I’m glad you asked! Just head over to our pinned topic if you need a catch up! You can also find details on the process for the event here.

Q: What can I discuss in this thread?

A: Anything that you think fits the topic! Feel free to share your favorite experiences of 2019, whether they occurred in media that released in 2019 or media from a previous year.

Q: Where are the nominations?

A: This year we’re structuring things a little differently: we’ll be posting discussion threads over the second half of December, and nominations won’t begin until January. This will give you a few more weeks to play more games before you’ll need to lock in your votes. We also hope that by focusing on open discussion threads, the event will be more inclusive of folks who haven’t been able to play many games from this year.

Credits

For me, first off there is #sadmechjam hosted by John Harness and Takuma Okada at the beginning of the year, which was a largely tabletop game jam focused on making emotional games about mecha and their pilots. This kicked off the game jam trend that would continue throughout the year and produce so many amazing games. I also got my first official graphic design commission in this jam, for the cover of DC’s plot ARMOR!

I also had the opportunity to go to MAGfest and experience their iteration of Death By Audio Arcade and #eCheeseZone, which was just a phenomenal and incredibly weird collective game experience. I was up until 4am with my friends trying to beat this game that didn’t want to be beat, and we did it! And now it’s coming out on Steam for everyone to experience which is RAD.

I also remember SmileBot, the deceptively-simple Discord chatbot and ARG by James Lantz. Its conclusion featured insightful commentary on capitalism and community co-modification, which became strangely prophetic when Discord later implemented Nitro Boosts. I was lucky enough to play it in a group with my fellow Waypoint mods and it was just so bizarre and delightful the way it unfolded and we solved the mysteries together.

Finally, I feel like I can’t post this without mentioning the indie tabletop games Stewpot, For the Queen, and Songs for the Dusk, which are just aces at creating incredible experiences. These games–playing them, talking about them–made my year all the richer!

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Participating in game jams this year was great, with a lot of amazing titles getting made by a lot of people. In no particular order and as I remember them, there are titles like
ech0, where children and a mech’s black box find the destroyed mech
Signal To Noise, an amazing mech game where one player tries to guide a nearly destroyed mech and dying pilot to safety
i’m sorry did you say street magic, a cool as heck city building game
MR. HAWK, Four Tony Hawks and a Skeleton (Who Is Also One of the Aforementioned Tony Hawks), and everything made for the excellent Tony Hawk Jam

This was a good year for tabletop game jams.

PS: Everyone check out the still ongoing Carly Rae Jepcember
PPS: And the concluded @badttrpgs “Change your name” Jam

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I’m just going to go with: i’m grateful for my own tabletop game. My friend has been running this current one for a few months, but we’ve been playing as a group for a few years now with the previous game lasting over a year and a half. It’s the only regular social interaction I have, and while i’m terrible at it i’m glad it is there on my weekly schedule. Roleplaying games are pretty great, y’all.

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That’s awesome! Roleplaying games ARE great!

I didn’t have as much opportunity for tabletop games as usual this year, but I finally was able to bring Above and Below to the table this year and it was lovely. It’s a great mixture of worker placement thinking with some light storytelling and absolutely gorgeous art. If you’re into puzzley, minimal conflict games, I’d recommend picking up a copy of the game!

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The save point incentive game of Interstitial I ran was a lot of fun! I was happy it came out how it did and just, floored that promising it helped raise money for Trans Lifeline.

@quantumdot ran a Scum and Villainy game for some other mods over the summer and I got to play an Eco-Anarchist Mystic AKA Jedi named Delivery T, who dressed like/was Bad Bunny, and in the final session we blew up an Arm’s Dealer’s whole shit, largely by accident.

Shoutouts to everyone involved with both!

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I played DnD and DM’d for the first time this year which was my first foray into Tabletop/RPG gaming and it rules

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All of my experiences of tabletop RPGs have been second-hand this year [although, really, given that all but 2 of my experiences of tabletop RPGs have been second-hand, that’s not surprising].

I guess the only thing that counts is the yearly games-night we have with friends, which is mostly playing interesting boardgames [one of the attendees actually lectures/researches in game-related fields, so he’s very on top of new things, mechanically or otherwise].

I just wish I had more time/energy/social connections with the right people/all of the above to actually have any more things to say here.

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Been playing a lot of Lancer this year and I gotta say, I’m incredibly impressed at Masif press has made. The world and lore makes for a fantastic setting to inhabit, while leaving more than enough flexibility for your DM and players to insert their own flavor or invent settings in the universe and have them fit like a glove. I love the modular nature of the mechs. Each different mech feels unique and fun to pilot, but getting to mash all the parts you want into your own personal mech really tips it over the edge.

If you want to give it a go, most of it is free in PDF form on their itch page. https://massif-press.itch.io/

(also during Holiday hot takes when the gang got asked what the coolest Mech is, my brain kept jumping between different Lancer mechs)

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For me 2019 was largely defined by tabletop games. From discovering new solo games through itch.io, participating in game jams, and finding my way through making my own tabletop games. I have hosted and participated in video game jams in the past, and while those are often a great way of exercising creative muscles, I am often acutely aware that I am a small part in a much larger and complex machine. One that often feels like it doesn’t need me.

I’m a writer, I don’t have much experience with visual art or design, and I have learned little patience for coding. But with tabletop games I feel like I am in control. I’ve been telling stories all my life, and tabletop games let me define rules that let other people tell those stories.

But let’s talk about the games I’ve played first.

BEST SOLO RPG EXPERIENCE
I usually game once a week with people I met on the internet. Meeting with my local friends often feels like an impossible task. We have jobs and partners and families and no time. This year I started working a job that occupies many of my evenings. If I want to experience that ttrpg high, that feeling of spontaneous genesis of story and characters and stakes, I’ve gotta do it myself. In 2019 I was overjoyed to discover that many single player RPGs exist to address this specific problem.

I played a lot of these this year, so I’ve got a few I want to talk about.

1. Dungeon Solitaire: Labyrinth of Souls
I have spent several nights recovering from my day job by spelunking in all manner of dungeons and towers, using a deck of playing cards. That’s all you need to play Matthew Lowes’ Dungeon Solitaire: Tomb of Four Kings. This free game provides you with all the rules you need to turn a deck of cards into a solitary dungeon crawl full of monsters, locked doors, traps, and treasure hoards. The game is based on a point system tied to how much treasure you have when you escape the dungeon. Like some of my favourite cooperative board games there are several ways for you to lose. You could get trapped behind a locked door, killed by a monster, or run out of light and be lost in the dungeon forever.

The rules are easy to internalize and the mechanics are light enough that I could imagine myself struggling through a tower that defies the laws of time and space, or a group of kobolds on a daring heist, or just tried to min-max my way to the best high score possible.

But the game really shines as Labyrinth of Souls, a version of the game that uses tarot cards and comes with its own custom tarot card deck with extra arcana. In this version of the game the basic mechanics are augmented with companions, dragons, litches, and cards that represent the soul-crushing despair of the dungeon. I picked up my copy earlier this year and I still take the cards out for a quick dungeon run every once in a while.

2. plot ARMOR
This deceptively simple 1 page solo RPG can let you spin incredible tales of mechs, war, and destiny. This was the game that really showed me what solo RPGs could be. I will admit that I don’t quite know enough about mech anime to appreciate all the tropes the game calls upon, but its still a revelation.

plot ARMOR by DC is a game where you play out your own multi-episode mech anime. Your character, through whatever means, figures out that they and their mechanized armor are immortal, and you play to find out what happens.

My first experience with this game involved expanding empires, betrayal, ontological destruction, and death by hubris. I was surprised by how easily I could envision the events of each episode after each die roll, as well as the logical, inescapable final episode. It was beautiful.

3. Gentleman Bandit

I fear my mother’s kind rebuke
I hear my father’s deathly knell
I search for that distant sunrise
Running from what? I do not know

I could have picked one better life
But I do love this Devil’s Dance
From train car theif, to drink, and back
To filling life and eyes with sin

Far distant from rebukes and bells
Distant from all kith and kin
I’ll never leave this Devil’s Dance
No miracle can clean spent brass
No prayer can rest this weary head

Gentleman Bandit lets you write poetry based on poker hands about a verbose bandit in the Old West. That’s it. That’s the game.

Runners Up: Ironsworn, REDACTED

BEST GAME THAT EVOKED THOSE CLASS WAR FEELS

“And, for an instant, she stared directly into those soft blue eyes and knew, with an instinctive mammalian certainty, that the exceedingly rich were no longer even remotely human.” – William Gibson, Count Zero

My new day job, the one that takes away my evenings, is the first one I’ve had in the restaurant business. I’m a host at a pizza place. It sucks. So when I do have free time I often want to spend it stealing from the rich, tipping the scales of the world against those who don’t tip the people I work with.

Winner: The Sprawl
This is the game that let me imagine myself as a get-away driver, jacked with silicone chips that let me drive my car like a second skin as I evaded autonomous tanks and drones, chasing me and my crew through the streets. The Sprawl let me and my friends imagine our own cyberpunk dystopia and how exactly we wanted to save ourselves from it. We risked all our cred for better rewards, we abandoned our hacker friend to a criminal syndicate, and we got catharsis.

Runners Up: Hack the Planet, Blades in the Dark

BEST FORGED IN THE DARK GAME
Blades in the Dark has become my favourite RPG system this year. It doesn’t put pressure on the GM to do hours of prep before each game, it ensures that the game is a conversation between all the players, and it creates a world unique to every group. Games based on BitD are called Forged in the Dark and I got to play and read a few this year.

Winner: Antiquarian Adventures
I love treasure hunting dramas. I watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade on VHS over and over as a kid. I love the Uncharted Games and stories that pull on the marginalia of history and ask “what if?” What if the holy grail was real, and it wound up in San Diego? What if El Dorado was real? What if… fish people?

Antiquarian Adventures by Ashton McAllan is everything I want in a pulpy adventure RPG. The rules are light, the character archetypes are perfectly on point, and it effortlessly leads you towards familiar tropes and stories. The big bruiser can use a gun to just end a sword fight. You have stats like BIFF!, SCHWING!, and BANG! And yes, there is always an enemy organization with more assets and goons than you do, always hunting the same thing.

Best of all, there is one of those rare, perfect let’s play videos of the game run by Ashton herself. I’ve watched it at least 3 times and the American accents, incomprehensible Welsh, and bumbling acts of daring-do only get better.

Runners Up: Hack the Planet, Scum & Villainy (Special shout-out to Jet, my Jedi-school drop out character from Scum & Villainy. Godspeed you incredible gay disaster. I hope I get a chance to party with you again soon.)

BEST GAME I JUST WANT TO TALK ABOUT TO ANYONE WHO WILL LISTEN
Look. Sometimes you just can’t find people to play a game, but you’re still blown away by its design and the experiences it can promise and this is my list and you can’t stop me.

Winner: Abkronos
Holy shit. HOLY. SHIT. Hey, do you like weird time travel stories? Did you watch Primer? Did you get it, like really get it? How about Looper? Yeah, well how about Timecrimes? Really? Well have I got a game for you.

I found Abkronos because of my own work in amateur tabletop game design. I have found so many creators I respect and follow because of my increasing interest in this hobby, finding creators on itch, and new servers to silently occupy on discord. Calum Grace is one such person I have come to admire and he did something amazing with Abkronos.

It fits on 3 pages but it will let you create stories that threaten to go off the rails in paradoxes, time loops, and contradictions almost immediately. I played this game once by myself and realized after the very first move that I had to figure out how I imagined time travel working else be lost in open loops that would unravel these poor characters I had created. Abkronos is an engine for novel experiences in a pure and concise way that still leaves me shaking my head in wonder.

Runners Up: PLAY ABKRONOS!

This year I processed a lot about the world through RPGs, especially the ones I have made myself.

I finally closed dozens of tabs about the incoming climate apocalypse by making a game about rising sea levels. I got to evoke 90’s hacker aesthetics and give homage to some of my favourite solitaire games. I made a hopeful but difficult game about the distant future of humanity. I built a game about telling stories about first contact by analyzing my favorites like Contact and A Story of your Life. I put my foot down about how characters define the world in tabletop RPGs, and not the GM. I made a game about how the Fast & Furious movies are ridiculous and amazing.

And I found a way that I can spend my nights imagining a world where me and my friends can rob banks and kill rich people, rather than spending them trapped at a pizza place.

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So, I was trying to think of what I considered stand-out tabletop RPG/story games I played this year, and as I was struggling, I realized that part of the reason was that this was the first year I had ever really played any at all. Like, in a very real way, I started the year only having played two in my life, and I’m about to end the year having dozens of experiences under my belt, and literally designing my own games.

A massive part of this is the fact that there’s a significant story game community (yes, specifically story game!) community in my college town. I participated in weekly game nights, micro-cons, playtests, and even workshopped my own games with designers I respect deeply. Biggest of all, I made friends through these games, made real, meaningful connections with others through these games.

So here’s to all those games I played. Here’s to Trashkin. Here’s to Stewpot. Here’s to Waiting for the End. Here’s to Blades in the Dark. Here’s to Carolina Death Crawl. Here’s to The Shab Al-Hiri Roach. Here’s to Sword Loser. Here’s to Tool User. Here’s to The Quiet Year. Here’s to Did You Say Street Magic?. Here’s to The Companion’s Tale. Here’s to Ghost Court. Here’s to The Wizard’s Grimoire. Here’s to All My Exes Are in Mech Suits. Here’s to Dog Eat Dog. Here’s to Monument. Here’s to Legend of Aesthetic. Here’s to Eden. Here’s to Dialect.

But most of all, here’s to all the people I had the pleasure of playing with. It really wouldn’t have been the same without you. Truly and deeply. Here’s looking at you.

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This year I got really into boardgames, after having a friend drag me along to his D&D group’s boardgame night. My love of RPGs still persists. I wouldn’t say I played any new games this year, mostly just sharing previous favourites with groups IRL, at cons and in the waypoint discord. I also created my first RPG adjacent thing, The Cook playbook for Dungeon World (which I’m very proud of).

Favourite Boardgames I played this year: Oink Games (especially A Fake Artist Goes to New York and Startups) have become firm favorites due to their low price, portability, quality and easiness to teach. Also had an amazing (if knackering) time playing Space Cadets with friends over 3 hours. I also had a fantastic time being the Master of Ceremonies for a few games of Two Rooms and a Boom at my uni society’s boardgames night. I enjoy shouting and being dramatic so I had a great time.

Favourite RPGs I played this year: I played in a fabulous few sessions of Blades in the Dark with some of the folks in the waypoint discord but I think my favourite, just for how much it blew my mind, has to be the session of Lady Blackbird I played at Dublin Worldcon. In terms of systems I also got to try Zombie World this year, and very much enjoyed its condensing of PbtA into a much shorter, more lethal play experience without losing the heart, as well as the single player version of Ironsworn - which is a delight and a lovely way to pass a few hours in ones own company.

Favourite RPGs I acquired and pined over this year: A real hodgepodge of stuff from waypoint adjacent communities and beyond. Stewpot, Under Hollow Hills, Fellowship 2e, Legacy: Life Among the Ruins…the list goes on. I even, anticipating certain calamitous foreign policy mistakes in the UK, threw too much money for my empty student wallet at the big scroll version of Fall of Magic (which I don’t regret). But I think the one I loved most has to be Riley Rethal’s Venture, a fantasy playset for Belonging Outside Belonging, which captures everything I love about good epic fantasy. It feels like Friends at the Table: Seasons in Hieron in a box, ready for you to start telling amazing stories in minutes.

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