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  • Writer's pictureShannon Rampe

Books & Games Year in Review

Friends, it's that goodly time of year again... no, not the time where we drink all the bubbly things... okay, well, yes, it is that too. BUT, I was referring to that most wonderful time of the spreadsheet year! That magical time where I analyse and categorize all the lists I made and data I tracked about my entertainments throughout 2023. It's the most trivial and silly of activities and I enjoy it immensely.

Games in Review

We'll kick this one off with video games. Long-time readers of my blog and newsletter know that for the past four years, I've used an Excel spreadsheet to log my time played on each video game I play and then analyze the data at the end of the year. What was fun this year was to see so many other companies getting in on the act. Now instead of ruthlessly selling off your personal data to the highest third-party bidder, Steam, Sony, Microsoft, and others will take that data and regurgitate it back at you in a delightful, colorful infographic.

Steam's in particular is catchy and packed with interesting data. You can view your own here:

But simply sharing Steam's infographic with you would do a disservice to the mountain of data I logged in my spreadsheet, and would fail to include games from platforms other than Steam PC games. So I hastily modified Steam's graphic to incorporate some additional highlights. Here it is!

Baldur's Gate 3, as I've discussed previously, is without a doubt my game of the year. But I want to give a shout-out to a few other top-notch games I played this year that didn't get as much love:

Marvel's Midnight Suns is a fantastic hybrid of role-playing game and tactical strategy game. The closest thing I would compare it to is Nintendo's Fire Emblem series. The relationships you build and nurture between your superhero team are critical to developing an effective team. What's more, the stories of these characters getting to know one another are funny, heartfelt, and compelling, far more so than the main plot of the game. I never got tired of Tony Stark and Stephen Strange picking on one another or Blade being too shy to ask Captain Marvel on a date. All of that balances nicely against tight, well-constructed tactical combat missions that play out very differently depending on which superheroes join you as their powers are interesting and varied. The game is also wonderfully voice acted by such talented performers as Michael Jai White, Matt Mercer, Laura Bailey, Lyrica Okano, and Steve Blum among many others. Maybe it was because it released in December 2022, but this was a game that was criminally under-marketed and under-recognized.

Wartales is a brutal mercenary band simulator that released this year. This is a small subgenre and while it won't be for everyone, it will appeal to anyone who enjoys challenging strategy sims like Hairbrained Schemes' excellent game BattleTech. Wartales, from Shiro Games, puts you in command of a small band of mercenaries in a cruel, gritty low-magic world. Forget about heroic quests and magic swords. In this game, you're just trying to make sure you earn enough food to eat and that you don't get devoured by a pack of hungry wolves or murdered by brigands on the road. You go from town to town performing quests and attempting to grow your company, facing increasingly dangerous foes and eventually venturing into dungeons or crypts. The game alternates between an overland map where you slowly travel around, searching for or avoiding hazards, and the tactical battle map where you play out extremely challenging fights where it is not uncommon for your mercenaries to die. To make this increasingly punishing on yourself, make sure you name your mercs after friends and loved ones, so that when they inevitably bite it from disease or a cold blade through the gut, you'll truly mourn their loss.

Dyson Sphere Program is a deep and challenging factory management game in the same vein as the masterpiece Factorio. Technically still in early access, the game is fully featured and recently added combat and base defense mechanics that will be familiar to anyone who has played Factorio. What sets Dyson Sphere Program apart from its better-known cousin is the setting is more sci-fi and allows you to travel around planets in a solar system, eventually setting up interplanetary logistics systems with the goal of eventually building a Dyson Sphere around the local star. I find factory games like this to be the ultimate sort of puzzle game. Most puzzle games feature one or maybe two solutions, and there is a certain pleasure to be had in figuring out what the solution is. But factory games are more like a puzzle sandbox. There's not one solution to the puzzle - many different solutions will work and no one way will look the same as another. Be forewarned, play this and you will find yourself dreaming about conveyor belts!

Books in Review

I read a lot of great books this year and read all over the sci-fi and fantasy genres. While in past years, I read a lot of older stuff, this year I made a concerted effort to read more contemporary novels released in recent years. This meant that I read the first books of a lot of series, including Steven Erikson's notoriously challenging Gardens of the Moon, Jay Kristoff's Empire of the Vampire, Christopher Ruocchio's Empire of Silence, Pierce Brown's Red Rising, and more. I was also making an effort to read epic dark fantasy, which is why you see many of those titles. One of my reading goals next year is to pick one of these series and read through it. Currently I'm leaning towards Erickson's Mazatlan books since I grabbed them all in a Humble Bundle a few months ago for a steal.

In the sci-fi realm, Ray Nayler's Nebula-nominated The Mountain in the Sea was a standout title. It reminded me of Adrian Tchaikovsky's books in the depth of imagination that went into considering the ecological and social impacts and the way an alien mind might actually work. Nayler's book is wrenching, well-researched, thoughtful, insightful, and ultimately tragic in many ways. Speaking of sci-fi, M.V. Melcer's Refractions was another great read that I've discussed in previous blogs.

A pleasant surprise in the fantasy genre was Travis Baldree's Legends & Lattes. This "cozy fantasy" about a middle-aged adventurer who hangs up her battle axe to start a coffee shop and struggles with internal anxieties about starting her life over resonated with me in a lot of ways as someone trying to build a creative path myself. It was charming, easy to read, heartfelt, and overall just a delight. And I got the sequel (or prequel) Bookshops & Bonedust for Christmas, so I'll be reading that shortly!

Continuing on my dark fantasy research, I read eighteen volumes of the famous manga series BERSERK. While I appreciate the art style and Kintaro Muira's ability to build compelling characters, particularly in the early volumes, any recommendation of this work has to come with the caveat that it is extremely brutal and violent and contains particularly graphic scenes of sexual violence. After 18 volumes, I'm not sure I want to continue!

In the non-fiction realm, I really loved Ben Riggs' well-researched and fascinating book Slaying the Dragon: A Secret History of Dungeons & Dragons. Riggs did extensive research and interviews of the early days of the creation of D&D, the founding of TSR, the creative figures involved in the growth and evolution of the game, and the staggeringly poor business decisions that ultimately brought the company and the brand to the brink of bankruptcy. Riggs manages to weave in the story of internecine business politics with personal stories of those who were living and working there at the time to create a really compelling book. For anyone who lived through that time and grew up playing D&D, this book is a big recommend.

Final Thoughts

Now for some of my writing stats. Zing!

Including this one, I published 18 blog posts this year. My series on the Dragon of Icespire Peak D&D campaign was far and away the most popular, so expect more D&D and TTRPG content next year. If there's one I hope more people read, it's my thought experiment on generative AI run amok.

Discounting the blog posts I shared with you on the mailing list, I sent you seven newsletters this year. I found this a great way to keep in touch and to recap on blog posts and news that you may have otherwise missed.

My website had over 2,300 visits this year, an increase of 1000% over 2022. Wow! And 29 of you joined the mailing list this year. Thank you!

Word counts can be a hard thing to track precisely, particularly because of rewriting and editing and tossing out whole chapters, but I can safely say I wrote more than 100,000 words on my current novel-in-progress, The Radiant and the Corrupt. I'll finish it in 2024 and hopefully move onto the sequel.

Finally, of course, I released two books this year in print: Assistant to a Judge of Hell & Other Stories and When Stars Move & Other Stories. It has been an absolute delight to hold these books in my hand and to be able to share them with others.

I have truly appreciated and enjoyed the feedback that you all have shared on these books and on my writing this year. Thank you so much for reading and for supporting my creative work.

And, you know, do the things: share, comment, subscribe.

See you in 2024!

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