Guest List: Charlene Putney's Favorite Games of 2018

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We invited some creative friends of ours to submit their own top 10 lists for our Game of the Year feature. To close things out for this year’s contributions, we're thrilled to welcome Charlene Putney back to share her favorite games of 2018.

Charlene Putney writes games for Larian Studios, most recently Divinity: Original Sin 2. She regularly speaks on game writing and interactive narrative at international play conferences, and has taught role-playing games and interactive narrative at Trinity College Dublin, Dublin Institute of Technology, and the Irish Writers Centre.

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2018 was a very strange and chaotic year for me. My world collapsed around me, and I built a new world brick by brick. It was a year of high highs and low lows, in which games were the least of my concerns yet often the very thing I needed: to connect with others, to escape, to feel myself being a playful animal in this world.

My games of the year brightened my days. Some taught me valuable lessons. Here they are.

mundgerechte stücke

My favourite game of the year is Schnapsen - a wonderful Austrian card game taught to me by the very best Austrian, Martin. Schnapsen is easy to learn, but reveals more and more possibilities the longer you play it. Needing only a deck of cards and some paper to keep score on, it is the perfect game for airport waiting, pub lounging, pre-dinner battles, or as a break on a long walk.

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chance of vek evolving flight before it hits ground? 0%

Into the Breach is the best strategy game I have ever played. Hands down. I spent a month earlier this year engrossed in becoming The Master of this game. I began playing it because the excellent music was done by my friend Ben and I wanted to hear his tunes, but once I started playing... I couldn’t stop. Challenging and rewarding in equal measure, Into The Breach is absolutely the best value for time and money one can get in a solo digital game.

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pick a card, any card

In the mornings. In the cold times. In the dark times. Sometimes you need a friend to tell you what you need to hear. Enter the beautiful wisdom of Golden Thread. Tarot taught me a lot of lessons this year. And though many of them I pulled from my trusty Thoth deck and many others from the bright mind of Jessica Dore, plenty of others came to me through the Golden Thread app: on buses, in bed, in those precious five-minute moments life gives us each day.

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focus on loving it

I hate the generic, the lowest common denominator, the banal. So when I find things that sing with the pure, unique voice of their creators, they fill me with joy. Such is the case with two games I played this year: Caves of Qud and Cultist Simulator. These creators have made works of art that reflect their individuality, rather than trying to mask their weirdness to appeal to some mass-market audience.

It’s my belief that you can’t make something that everyone will love. Don't even try - that is the road to absolute mediocrity. But I think if you find your niche? If you find the other crazy weirdos who share your special vision of the world and make something for them? They'll love you for it.

And you know something? Yes, you, reader. Your work is important. Your skills are valuable. YOUR ART IS GOD. And your own unique voice? It’s inimitable.

If you doubt this, take a pause. Remember what you know to be true about yourself. Take a deep breath in. Feel your vital, flaring personhood in all its flawed, magnificent glory. You are you - the only you that has ever been or ever will be. So surround yourself with people who reflect your light, who mirror your sunshine. If you are feeling dimmed, take a look around. Where have you planted yourself? Do you need a new patch of soil? Root yourself in a space where you can grow, where you can shine brightly into the world. Then shine. Beam out the rays that only you can make, craft the thing that will make one person’s whole being light up with recognition and joy.

Well. I got a bit carried away there.

It happens.

I hope it happens to you too.

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metanoia

It’s no secret that I love Dark Souls 3. And Dark Souls Remastered is, somehow, just as good. From Software games are astonishingly, powerfully, overwhelmingly brilliant. In my 2016 article on Dark Souls 3 and yoga, I already talked about much of what these games teach me. But playing the first one, I felt those lessons all over again. Felt the truth that we must die in order to live.

As an aficionado of all things esoteric, I once asked a wise friend of mine why so many occultists are such unpleasant individuals. He told me it is due to the eternal pull towards the darkness. But one must, he said, have “an aspiration to the light.” I believe this. An aspiration to the light, even when we are mired in the absolute gloom of the world. An aspiration to the light, even when we feel like the shadows are dragging us down with them. Our aspiration to the light must be stronger than its opposite.

And in Dark Souls, all this dying, and being reborn, and dying, and being reborn, and DYING, and being REBORN, and never once losing our aspiration to the light? This is powerful, cathartic stuff! So, with Dark Souls over, we’re now onto Bloodborne, carving a small, raw, and quivering path through Yharnam. And just like Dark Souls, we don’t need luck. Just determination, indomitable will, and focus.

always be closing

I have a single Bitcoin. I bought it for €100 way, way back in the olden days. I have seen it rise and fall, rise and fall. And watching this happen on Coinbase is a game, like everything is a game.

When I check it, when I look at my Bitcoin’s “worth” - it acts as a memento mori for me. It’s not real. It’s not really worth anything. But my time is. Our time is. We are not here forever. In 2018, my life changed completely, in many ways both good and bad. Death came. One relative and three friends died. Someday I will die too, hopefully not soon, but it is an inevitability.

I have plenty of things to worry about, but when I can sometimes remember to slow down and understand that each moment - every single, solitary, precious individual breath - is all I can truly say I have? It really does help put things in perspective. For me, anyway.

Life isn't money. It's not accolades & achievements. It's that pure heart of yours beating, each pulse filling my own heart with sunshine. Love. Family. Friendship. Fellow travellers. Feel all the brightness for them. The light. Looking up, at something to aspire to.

more on the table

Looking back, I played a lot of great games in the really-real world in 2018. My highlights are Twilight Imperium 4th Edition, Five Tribes, Bohnanza, Bananagrams, Splendour, and a homebrew version of Monikers made with scraps of paper and copious alcohol.

I’ve been a boardgame snob for many years now - raising a few worthy titles high, and denigrating many others to the lowest shelves possible. But I’m thinking about it now. What makes me love a boardgame? Is it the rules, the mechanics, the style? Yes. These things are all the important factors when choosing an individual game to play, but what I really love is the gaming ambience. The real winner for me is spending time with good people. Even a game of Monopoly can be fun when played with the right people. Sitting around a table, sharing laughs, hopes, betrayals, all the ups and downs a good game session can give you.

Some of my favourite games of the year were barely games at all. Every Monday night I meet up with my friends of the Copenhagen Game Collective for pints and chats. And usually, Tim will bring some paper, or dice, or some other little object that can be turned into Pure Fun with the application of enough love and ingenuity. What is the fun? Collaboration. Sharing. Building a new language and rules together with fellow travellers.

You know life's not forever, right? I know, I know I said that before, but I need to keep reminding myself, because sometimes I forget too. And all the little things turn into boulders in a tornado around my head. But it's true. Good people die every day, young people too. We have no idea how long we have. All we know is that it's less time than we had yesterday.

So please.

Today.

Feel your aliveness.

Let your playful soul and loving heart move your animal body.

Make some beer bread. Buy yourself a cheap bunch of flowers. Say no to something. Walk in nature. Read a book by yourself in bed with a big mug of tea and all the blankets cosied up around your precious self. You deserve this. Hop on your bike for half an hour and cycle with ferocity until you can really feel that wind kissing your face, until you can hear it whispering in your ear: "You're alive. Right here, right now, you're ALIVE."

And then? Put down your phone for the evening and pick up some cards. Call your loved ones, see if they want to play with you. Laugh. Scheme. Win. Spend some good time together, the only time we have.

@alphachar