2023 Game of the Year

In my 2022 year-end blog post, I thought I was going to focus more on finishing up the narrative video games I started in the prior years. I definitely made some good progress on Disco Elysium, but not nearly as much as I wanted. I didn’t finish any of the narrative games. In January, I didn’t play any video games as I worked on my end of the year blog posts. In February I got re-obsessed with Monster Train and spent a good chunk of my free time trying to unlock all the boss characters.  In March and April I tried to get a little more consistent about my gaming and also started trying to take advantage of all the extra buttons in the gaming mouse that Dan got me for Christmas. In June we took a bunch of family vacations and so I got back into Gwent, which I could play on my phone and my non-gaming laptop. In July I was back to Monster Train. In August, as the advertising hype started picking up on Cities: Skylines II, I started spending a lot of time playing the original game. Once the game came out in October, I spent nearly all of the next two months playing it. Then, out of nowhere, I heard just enough about Against the Storm to buy it and it was all I could do, almost to the exclusion of all else.

Top Games 2023

1. Cities: Skylines II (1 day, 16:17:44): After about 10 hours into my first city, I started watching City Planner Plays and wanted to have more of a story-based, natural evolution to my city. It made me start thinking a bit more about what I wanted to do rather than just creating more and more square or rectangular blocks. His Magnolia County playlist is an excellent example of how he uses a backstory and his previous job as a planner to make organic looking and feeling cities.

It’s no secret that City: Skylines II was launched in an extremely buggy state. Early game bugs kept me from being able to do exactly what I wanted while developing my first city – especially the garbage truck bug. But I decided this would be my learner city. I would use my lessons learned with the new simulation engine to make my future cities look and work better.

Eventually I used up almost all the land on the map with a relatively low population in the 100ks, but was having trouble with folks complaining that the housing was too expensive. I found out that next time around I need to purposely make some neighborhoods with mixed lots or smaller lots. 

Eventually I decided I would wait for the first round of DLC (which I pre-paid as part of the Ultimate Edition) before starting my next city since it would come with new assets for Beach Properties. One of the things I got slightly annoyed with in Cities Skylines 1 was getting a city built up and then needing to accommodate the new assets from the latest DLC. So I want to build a new city with the new assets as a focus. It was originally supposed to be out by the end of 2023, but the horrifically buggy game meant things got pushed back. I think they’re currently targeting Feb or March for the beach assets to come out. I’m also excited to see what the Bridges and Ports expansion gives us next summer. 

Because of all the detailing you can do now with the vanilla game (like assigning specific turn lanes), I’m taking more notice of the way my hometown is designed. I also paid a lot of attention when I was in Brooklyn.

2. Against the Storm (22:03:40): I had this game on my wishlist (I think because it’s in the rogue-lite camp), but what got me over the hump to buy this game in 2023 was an Ars Technica review that described it as the base-building aspects of games like Warcraft, Command and Conqure, and Age of Empires. Those were always my favorite parts of those types of games. I would try and build all my buildings and get them upgraded before trying to fight the enemy. So this seemed the perfect game for me. 

Because this game is focused on the city building aspect, the economy is vastly more complex than the usual strategy game. The tutorial is vastly misleading about how tough things will get, because they provide you with the resources needed to complete the tutorial. The first time I was left to my own devices went disastrously and I lost. The best testament to how good this game is designed is that the loss didn’t make me give up or put the game away for another day. Instead, what I originally intended to be a couple of half hours of gameplay turned into 2+ hour marathon games. And after those first two play sessions I still had many systems still unexplored – like trade routes. 

Finally, the rogue aspects of the game (like a randomness that governs which buildings become available and the resources you have) make each playthrough a unique challenge. The rogue-lite aspects also mean that the game doesn’t have to have a linear progression in order for the game to dole out new features. Instead, the player buys the features with points and so expands the feature set without necessarily making it too much easier. 

I could be wrong, but I predict this will be a big addiction for me in 2024.

3. Gwent (20:17:22): I’ve spoken in previous years about how addictive Gwent has been. It’s one of those games that when the bug bites me, I just can’t get enough of it for days or weeks at a time. Eventually I move on to something else and I’m OK until Gwent calls to me again.

This year it was June when my addiction hit. I started playing on my phone during a vacation and ended up playing a bunch on my laptop as well. It was interesting seeing how the gameplay began to change as CD Projekt Red announced that they were done developing the game and that the community would end up governing new changes.

4. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (17:22:00): The new track DLC continued to release throughout the year this year. Each time the new tracks would come out, we’d play as a family and experience all the tracks. The wife and I would also try to get perfect scores in each cup. I would like to try and master all the cups at all the different speeds and the mirror mode, but I don’t know if I’m going to actually dedicate the time to it this year.

5. Monster Train (10:32:10): Like Gwent, this game tends to get me addicted when I intend to play for just one play session. I find it a little more addictive than Slay the Spire and I’m not sure if that’s because I have a bunch of characters and multiple levels at once or something else, but I could think of nothing else but finding excuses to play once I got re-addicted.

This year I focused on trying to unlock each hero character and modifier item. I made some very good progress on that. I didn’t have very much luck getting to the final boss, especially when I tried to wage bets and enact a difficulty modifier in hopes of greater rewards.

6. Civ VI (10:03:41.262000): This year I mostly played multiplayer games, including losing in one of the games against my brothers. My 19th solo game was as the Mongolians. I was too much of a generalist for too long and lost the game.

7. Puyo Puyo Tetris (6:57:22): There are basically 2 video games I play with my wife right now. One is Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. The other is Puyo Puyo Tetris. They’re both games that use skills we’ve honed since we were young. They’re both games that can be played in half an hour or less. And they’re both games where I have to work hard not to lose to my wife.

8. Castle Crashers (6:50:30): When I was growing up, the “beat ‘em up” was a very vibrant video game genre with classics like Double Dragon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Streets of Rage, and others. I don’t tend to see new ones all that often. I remember seeing this game on the XBox 360 when I went to visit Dan some 15 years ago. Some time in the last couple years I ended up with the game because of a Humble Bundle. I thought the game was silly enough that the kids would probably enjoy it and boy was I right! They found the game incredibly hilarious and we played together at every available chance until we had beaten the game. 

9. Cities: Skylines (6:20:11): When the pre-release hype train started for Cities: Skylines II, reading about the upcoming release got me excited about playing this first game again. When I got back to my cities, I started to look at them with a new eye. I had given up on Danville because I ended up in a situation where I was broke without an ability to build a new power plant. Luckily I got enough people to move in to get access to a loan. After that I was able to revitalize it and use everything I’ve learned about how to set up a City (and having all my DLCs from the beginning) to make the best city I’ve made so far. I popped back into Ericville to see what I could do with that city because I had started construction before most of my DLC and so had tried to stuff it into wherever it might fit. I tried to also work on Daville, but it was flooded and I couldn’t figure out how to fix the flooding.

10. Surviving Mars (5:31:16): In a way, the min-addiction I had to Surviving Mars was a preview of what would happen when I got Against the Storm near the end of 2023. What killed the game for me is that there was just too much micromanaging involved. I was constantly having to keep an eye on where resources were piling up vs where they needed to be. Against the Storm (at least as far as I’ve played) streamlines this a lot more and makes it a much more enjoyable game as a result. I may still return to this game and give it another shot.

11. Disco Elysium (5:15:34): Cuno…what more is there to say? This game, along with my other story-based games, was starting to suffer from me bouncing around different games, so I decided to just keep playing Disco Elysium until I reached the resolution. Unfortunately, a few real life things got in the way and then I got addicted to Cities: Skylines II and Against the Storm, but I am planning to prioritize this game early in 2023. The story of this game started off as bonkers, but turned out to be a story about capitalism vs communism and unions? Unlike most RPGs I’ve played, this one seems most like a videogame of DnD – but set in a retro-futuristic world instead of fantasy. (I haven’t played Baldur’s Gate – the ACTUAL D&D video game) Based on where I left off with the plot in 2023, I’m very curious to find out how it ends up resolved.

12. Core Keeper (3:09:06): I decided that if I ever play this game on my own, I’m going to wait until it comes out of Early Access because the developers keep adding new features and gameplay changes. In 2023 I played with the kids to defeat some of the larger baddies and explore new biomes. This was the biggest addiction for the kids until Scarlett discovered Rimworld which seems to align even better with the types of games she likes to play.

13. Darkest Dungeon (2:24:48): When I had surgery and got stuck at home, I started blazing through my video games rotation list and got back to Darkest Dungeon for the first time in a couple years. I got re-addicted to the challenges and the risk-taking involved in a perma-death game. This game continues to be quite a fresh challenge. I know I’m tempting fate by saying this, but I could see this game continuing to appear every year or every other year for a long time. (Or until I get the sequel)

14. Dirt3 (2:02:16): I continued to use my ill-advised purchase of a racing wheel to have a lot of fun with this game. I haven’t quite gotten the hang of the drifting, though. I haven’t fully decided if I’m done with Dirt3, but I’ve been considering playing one of the more traditional racers that doesn’t focus on stunts and drifting since those parts of this game tend to take me many, many tries to get right.

15. Super Mario Bros. Wonder (1:44:00): The kids got the latest 2D Mario game as a gift this year. I was a little skeptical at first when I saw the trailer and the weird scenes where Mario is trippin’ (I guess they finally leaned into the “Mario does mushrooms” jokes). But after playing a few levels, I realized that this may be one of the most creative 2D Mario games since Yoshi’s Island.

16. Hitman: Absolution (1:43:35): I continued my role as the assassin everyone is afraid of, but shouldn’t be. Although I’m doing better than I was when I first started this game, I still find myself exposing my identity a little too often and ending up in crazy gunfights. Since I’m going to focus on finishing Disco Elysium in 2024 and will have new Cities: Skylines II DLC to play with, I don’t know if I’m going to get back to this game in 2024. But I do want to eventually finish it.

17. Spelunky 2 (1:28:09): As I’ve said before, since I beat the game with Dan a few times, I don’t get the urge to play this game all that often, but occasionally the kids will ask me to play. In 2023 we mostly played multiplayer arena matches. Sam is the only one who enjoys the regular levels. He asked me to play with him a few times and we got surprisingly far! At least once we got as far as the Egyptian level before the enemies took us out.

18. The Witcher 2 (1:21:56): Partway through the year, I intended to commit myself to getting through this game, Disco Elysium, and Hitman. However, I’d bitten off more than I could chew with 3 narrative games. I kept forgetting the point of what I was doing by the time I got back to it. But then I got distracted with a few things and never got back to these games. This may be a repeat of what I’ve said for the past couple years, but I’d like to finally finish this game in 2024. I may put it ahead of finishing Hitman, but we’ll have to see when the time comes to decide.

19. Vertical Drop Heroes HD (1:18:05): Just like with Spelunky 2, Sam surprised me with how great he’d become in this game. When he asked me to play, we were able to make it all the way to the final boss twice. The second time we were even able to defeat the final boss. 

20. Spelunky (1:15:29): I gave myself a challenge to try and get further than usual in the original Spelunky….and with Scarlett I was indeed able to get further than I’d ever gone on the original Spelunky.

21. Team Fortress 2 (0:57:47): I usually only play Team Fortress 2 on Halloween in order to play the chaotic Halloween maps, but this year I actually ended up playing on a different day and was too busy on Halloween to play. It was still a bunch of fun.

22. Slay the Spire (0:49:50): After playing Monster Train, I thought I would see if I could either beat this game with the last unlockable character or just see how far I could get with the others. I still enjoy Monster Train more, but I won’t lie and say I didn’t get re-addicted to the game a bit.

23. Dicey Dungeons (0:48:06): Once again I tried to get caught up with my wife, who beat teh game in 2022, but I was unable to do so.

24. FTL (0:37:40): Every year I try and see if it will be the year I can win at least one run in FTL. And every year I meet disaster somewhere in space, sometimes ridiculously early on in the game. I still love the roleplay aspect of it and I think it was brilliant of the developers to allow for naming the characters and the ships. They’re just little pixel graphics, but I still feel a connection to them.

25. Rocket League (0:33:01): I’ve said this for a few years now, but the kids were taking a break from watching actual YouTubers and decided to watch my end of year videos. This reminded them that they liked Rocket League. Another thing I’ve said before which also held true this year was that the kids continue to get better at this game the older they get. 

26. Super Smash Bros Ultimate (0:26:00): I don’t know what it is about Smash for the Switch, but I just find the controls to be much harder than the Gamecube or Wii version. I did a passable job against the computer or my family on the older versions, but in this version I just feel like my character isn’t responding the way I want it to.

27. Stardew Valley (0:22:48): Before the kids became obsessed with other games, they started a new multiplayer farm on Stardew Valley. They asked me to join them and so I did. But after that one play session, they never really played Stardew Valley again in 2023 and so they never invited me back to the farm.

Total Time for 2023: 7 days, 4:34:06.

2023 Game of The Year

Just like last year, Disco Elysium is a contender for Game of the Year. Getting deeper into it has revealed the systems at work in the game. It made me laugh more than almost anything this year – whether movies, tv shows, books, or games. It has also become clear that there is more to the main character than a silly joke. But, I haven’t finished it so I’ll save it for another year.

As my most played game this year, Cities: Skylines II is also a great contender. I had a ton of fun playing the game. I am not faulting the game for the bugs it launched with, but those bugs did stand in my way at times and also kept the first DLC and built-in mod support from working. As I write this blog post in Jan 2024, I loaded the game up once, but it didn’t rekindle my addiction.

Speaking of addiction, I think the best contender for Game of the Year for 2023 is Against the Storm. It’s on the same level of addiction for me as Gwent or Monster Train. When I started playing it, I gave up everything else – programming, blogging, reading, etc just to play more of the game. I couldn’t get enough of it. It’s extremely well designed. As the year ended, I started understanding how to do well and I know I still have a long way to go. 

It was really a tough choice for a bit between Cities: Skylines II and Against the Storm. In fact, in November, I was almost certain I was going to end up choosing Cities: Skylines II. But I could not ignore the fact that once Against the Storm came into my life, it was all I could think about as I was trying to close the seal. So 2024’s game of the year is Against the Storm.

Top 20 Overall (since 2011)

Starting this year I’ll be keeping track of my top 20 most played (since I started tracking in 2011) There isn’t too much of a difference from last year, but it did get a slight shake up and has the potential to evolve over time.

1. Civ V (13 days, 14:43:00) (no change in position): The fact that Civ VI hasn’t been able to topple Civ V from the top shows that it just wasn’t as addictive for me as Civ V was.

2. Civ VI (7 days, 22:21:41.26) (no change): I could see Civ VI falling to TF2 and Gwent as I’m mostly only playing multiplayer games right now.

3. Team Fortress 2 (5 days, 17:04:47) (no change): This is a tough one to predict. I continue to play each year, but I only play a bit at a time. I think it could very easily fall to Gwent in 2024.

4. Gwent (5 days, 4:10:22): (no change): I will almost certainly end up playing the game again in 2024 and I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up in the third position.

5. Stardew Valley (4 days, 0:42:48) (no change): I’ll be surprised if I play Stardew Valley in 2024.

6. Spelunky 2 (2 days, 21:05:09) (no change): Just like TF2, I continue to play the game, but play in small chunks so I don’t know if it will beat Stardew Valley.

7. Final Fantasy X (2 days, 9:00:00) (no change)

8. Saint’s Row: The Third (2 days, 2:00:00) (no change) 

9. The Witcher (1 day, 23:00:00) (no change) 

10. Darkest Dungeon (1 day, 21:47:48) (no change): If I play at all in 2024, it should end up going past The Witcher and maybe even Saint’s Row: The Third.

11. Cities: Skylines (1 day, 17:02:11) (up from 12): Some youtubers out there are still playing their CS1 cities along with C:S II because they have put many real life years into their cities. I don’t think I’ll do that, since I don’t have forever to play, but I might.

12. Cities: Skylines II (1 day, 16:17:44) (new to list): If the DLC comes out this year and is good, I could see this game rising up to 4th or 5th place. I certainly plan to play it a lot.

13. Plants vs Zombies (1 day, 11:23:00) (dropped from 11)

14. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (1 day, 4:30:00) (dropped from 13)

15. Assassin’s Creed II (1 day, 3:30:00) (dropped from 14)

16. Overcooked 2 (1 day, 2:30:00) (dropped from 15): now that the kids are older and better at video games, I should revisit this game and see if we can finish off the other levels. 

17. The Baconing (1 day, 2:13:00) (dropped form 16) 

18. XCOM: Enemy Unknown (1 day, 2:00:00) (dropped from 17)

19. Mass Effect 2 (1 day, 2:00:00) (dropped from 18)

20. XCOM: Enemy Within (1 day, 1:00:00) (dropped from 19) 

Off the list since last year:

  • Cities XL – it makes sense, I don’t have any reason to go back to this game with both C:S (with all the DLC) and C:S II with the new systems.

Potentially Making it onto the list next year:

  • Monster Train (currently 22 – 23:27:10): With only 2 more hours to get onto the list and the fact that the last 7 games on the list are games I don’t play anymore, it could easily make it into the top 20.
  • Dicey Dungeons (currently 24 – 22:36:06): This is a tough one. I might come back to this game to see if I can finish it, but I might fail quickly in my attempt and, therefore, not play too much.
  • Against the Storm (currently 27 – 22:03:40): Based on how addicted I have become to the game and how much I know I’ve already played in 2024, it is surely making it to the list.
  • Vertical Drop Heroes HD (currently 30 – 18:12:05) – this one is a long shot. I’m not really playing Vertical Drop Heroes HD anymore on my own initiative. But Sam periodically asks me to play. 
  • The Witcher 2 (currently 42 – 12:14:56) – if I play the game in 2024, it will at least get into the lower 20 games just because it’s an RPG and those take forever.
  • Disco Elysium (currently 58 – 5:54:34) – same as above with The Witcher 2, except more certain since I’m planning on finishing Disco Elysium in 2024.

Here are images from my Steam Year in Review: