Back to Posts

The Best Whatever of 2012

Posted in Thinking, Reviews

Just slightly late I’m weighing in with my Best Whatever of 2012 list (as is traditional), where the categories are made up and the points don’t matter.

Best Album: Celebration Rock by Japandroids

I’m going to do the unexpected here. In the year of a new Titus Andronicus album, my album of the year is by Japandroids. It’s not that I don’t love the new Titus album, but Celebration Rock has quickly become one of my go-to albums. It’s exciting without being obtrusive, raw without being rough, and celebratory without being sappy.

A lot of that rides on The House That Heaven Built, one of my favorite songs of all time. It simply rocks. The frantic energy and careless attitude have a wondrous effect on my mood. I can’t listen to the thundering opening and sing-along chorus without smiling a bit.

And, speaking of thunderous, the closer Continuous Thunder is no slouch either. With a bear reminiscent of, of all things, Metric, it manages to close out the album on a perfect note. Or, more accurately, the perfect explosion: the album opens and closes with the sound of fireworks, a literal celebration.

Best Videogame: XCom

The win here is mostly on time played. FTL might be the better game overall, but XCOM stole my heart in a way that FTL didn’t quite manage.

The turning point, where the game clicked for me, was actually when I realized how much like FTL XCOM is. At first I played XCOM like I’d play, say, Halo: one playthrough to see the sights, maybe another on a high difficulty. Then I didn’t get sattelites in the air fast enough and the aliens were everywhere and before I knew it I started another game.

XCOM, like FTL or Civilization, is a complex system to explore. There are lynchpin missions that play out as a bit of a story, but the game is really built on managing both the strategy and tactics of your war with the aliens. Like Civ I find myself wanting to start over to try a different direction that might make a difference and saving compulsively in case I make the wrong choice. That’s a good thing.

I also deeply enjoy naming my squad after people I know and then having to break the news that they died. Again.

Best Book: The Drunkard’s Walk

I’m a little surprised that I loved this book so much. It was up against some tough competition as my Kindle lead me to plow through books at a rate I don’t think I’ve hit before. The math side of it was nothing new to me and lightly explained at best. But it’s the book this year that I dove into with the most abandon (closely followed by David Foster Wallace’s Both Flesh and Not), and that means a lot. It’s a book that I find myself thinking back to in a lot of ways. It recasts the way I look at a lot of aspects of the world. I think about it at work, when designing games, when playing games, when watching sports. It’s just enough pop science, with clear mathematical support, to make me apply facts I already knew.

Best Comic: Saga

This should come as no surprise at all, since I’ve raved about it before, but: Saga is the best comic of the year. There’s really not much to add to my previous review except that it’s somehow managed to maintain that quality. The letter column even makes it the rare comic that’s better in single issues.

Not to take away from Saga, but the real story here is how many other great comics there were to contend with. Hawkeye, Wolverine and the X-Men, Invincible Iron Man, Swamp Thing, Animal Man. In a different year all of those, especially Hawkeye, could have been my best comic of the year. Unfortunately they were up against Saga, which thus far is looking to be one of my top comics of all time.

Best Single Issue: Wolverine and the X-Men #17

This is what happens when the categories are made up: I find ways to include all the good stuff.

What makes this single issue better than a single issue of the best comic of the year? Doop.

I’m not a long term Doop fan, but I know just enough of his deal to laugh my ass off with every page of this issue. It doesn’t have the personal resonance of Saga or the surprise concept of Hawkeye, but it probably made me smile more than any single issue this year.

Sage LaTorra is a game designer and engineering manager at Google. You may know him from Dungeon World.

Read Next

The Problem With "The Problem With Editions"