It’s a well-documented fact here at RPS that I love a good spreadsheet. Specifically, my spreadsheet that lists all the lovely games I manage to play each year. I’ve been looking at that spreadsheet a lot in recent weeks, and I’m pleased to report that most of my top game picks from this year have successfully made their way into the RPS Advent Calendar. There were plenty that didn’t, of course (pouring one out for you, Dorfromantik, Flat Eye, Dome Keeper and Lost In Play), but such is the way of things when your current list of completed games for the year is teetering on the verge of 50.
No word of a lie, I would probably be here all day if I laid out my entire long list of honourable mentions for 2022 (additional shoutouts to Railbound, Cursed To Golf, God Of War, Weird West, Jack Move, Hard West 2 and The Kids We Were), but for the sake of all involved (and poor Alice Bee’s editing pencil), I’ve narrowed it down to a shortlist of three. (Do still go and check out those other games, though. They’re all absolutely rad).
Marvel’s Midnight Suns
Had Marvel’s Midnight Suns released in October as originally intended, I have no doubt this would have been an instant Advent Calendar contender. Several members of the RPS Treehouse have been talking non-stop about Firaxis’ excellent superhero deckbuilder since I reviewed it right at the end of November, and were I more flexible in my own Advent Calendar ruleset, I’d have probably bent them to sneak this in under the radar. In the end, though, I decided against it, and instead birthed the RPS Selection Box instead, so really, it’s a win-win for everyone. I get to shout about how brilliant Midnight Suns is, and you get almost a dozen more personal highlight lists to read over the holidays. You’re very welcome.
But! Enough behind the scenes chat. If you haven’t yet dipped your toe into this turn-based strategy epic, Marvel’s Midnight Suns is just such a joyous, infectious delight. I’m no Marvel apologist, but even I was swept up by its witty superhero drama, and its endlessly fun card battles. I love seeing how far I can stretch a single turn before calling it a day, twisting its rules to my advantage and revelling in the powerful biffs and pows delivered by my trio of radioactive lycra pals. There’s so much welly in each and every animation, and it really delivers on the fantasy of being a superhero.
More than that, though, I love that Firaxis have been able to do something different with Midnight Suns, stretching themselves as storytellers and mutating their traditional XCOM-style strategic meta layer to successfully turn themselves into budding RPG makers. Your relationships with these characters may not be quite the same as the ones you formed in XCOM, but there’s still so much to hold onto here. Listen, Blade starts a book club for the sole purpose of impressing Captain Marvel when you’re back at your Abbey HQ, Spider-Man and Ghost Rider have their own geeky Shop club that gets gate-crashed by Iron Man, and Doctor Strange allows himself to be called an EMO-KID (all-caps, very important) as he, Magik and Nico investigate The Hunter’s supernatural origins and lost memories. It’s wonderful fun, and the writers have clearly had a grand old time with it all, to the point where I’m now more emotionally invested in this cast of supes than the Hollywood MCU-niverse that’s been shoved down my throat for the past 15 goddamn years. I love it to bits, and it’s hands down one of the best games I’ve played all year.
I still haven’t been able to play a huge amount of Triangle Strategy since it came out in the middle of October, but what I have managed to get through has gripped me much, much harder than many of its other Square Enix bedfellows. I still found plenty to like about both Tactics Ogre Reborn and The Diofield Chronicle (at least when the latter wasn’t being weirdly anti-democratic), for example, but it’s old Triangle that’s ended up standing the test of time – or at least is the one I want to go back to most in a year of very large, time-consuming strategy games.
A big part of that, I’m not gonna lie, is just how well it plays on my Steam Deck. Tactics Ogre Reborn is a great Steam Deck game as well for what it’s worth, but it’s the way it lets me play it, and actually fit it into my life, that’s the real kicker here – because, let’s face it, Triangle Strategy is more cutscene than combat a lot of the time, which I’d rather not be tied to my desk for. I’ll be the first to admit that I wish its turn-based strategy battles were more frequent than they actually are, but man alive, I find I can absorb its story of warring nations and political backstabbing SO. MUCH. BETTER when I can just let it run in the background while I’m making dinner or doing the washing up. I appreciate not everyone’s in the same boat here, but cor, it sure does make it a whole lot more digestible.
Even if you are chained to your desk while playing Triangle Strategy, though, I do also think its grid-based battles are more enjoyable than yer Tactics Ogres and the like, and that’s mostly down to lots of little modernisations that help you read the battlefield and make better, more informed decisions. There’s so much to dig into with its classes, varied terrain and position-based weaknesses (you don’t want to leave yourself open for a critical back-attack here, no sir), and manoeuvring your units round each of its tactical chessboards is a real, brain-teasing thrill. It’s a lot more energetic than Tactics Ogre, and I can’t wait to dig into it properly over the Christmas break (and by dig into, I mean dig into the leftover chocolate box while I prop my Steam Deck up on my turkey-filled belly and occasional prod the A button when I’m finally treated to a proper scrap).
Another card game with turn-based strategy elements? Surely not! Yep, 2022 has definitely been a year of strategy games for yours truly, and I wanted to give my final honorable mention shoutout to Alkemi’s Foretales, a story-driven deckbuilder that’s probably the closest thing we’ll ever get to another Hand Of Fate-alike.
In case you missed my review of it earlier in the year, Foretales is much more of a traditional tabletop game than yer Marvel’s Midnight Suns and co, with characters, locations and puzzle items all represented by digital cardboard. Indeed, it may not be as flashy or visually impressive as other deckbuilders out there, but it does a fantastic job of conjuring its whimsical, medieval fantasy world from just a handful of hand-drawn images. The table itself also deserves special mention, as it subtly adapts to reflect your current environment with a host of convincing sound and light effects.
And what places you’ll go during your adventures with Volepain and his motley crew of anthropormorphic animal buds. With their world under threat from a series of prophesised disasters, you’ll need to decide who to help and where to concentrate your efforts as you pick through its branching storyline, and one minute you’ll be crawling through sewers tracking down a plague-ridden ne’er-do-well, and the next you’ll be on the high seas dodging pirate ships and seeking out a idden, mystical island that will only reveal itself when you’ve got exactly the right combination of cards on the table in the correct locations. And when battles do occur, brute force isn’t always the answer, resulting in some devious mind games you can play with your enemies to get them to flee of their own accord. It’s a brilliantly conceived little game (I say ‘little’, it’s actually surprisingly substantial), and I cannot recommend it enough.