Giant Bomb News

33 Comments

Casey Malone's Top 10 Games of 2020

What does making an exotic sandwich have to do with the best games of 2020? Nothing, really, but Casey would like to tell you about it anyway.

No Caption Provided

Casey Malone is a professional comedian and game designer. You can follow him on Twitter.

Good riddance! Right? I don’t have anything profound or inspiring to say about 2020 here, but that seems ok. We’re all sick of talking about it. I consider myself exceptionally lucky, in that I’m safe and stable during an age of pure catastrophe, and even I’m drained thinking about the past 12 months. I mean, remember when Josh Gad became completely inescapable as soon as we went into lockdown? God knows that’s been taxing for us all.

But let’s focus on the good stuff. Did the chance of a hot person seeing the inside of my apartment this year drop to 0%? Sure, I could dwell on that. But did that free me up to finally get a gamer chair? You bet my sweet ass it did. So, for a few hundred words, here’s a list of things that brought me joy last year. Who knows, you might even be on it.

10. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2

No Caption Provided

Activision finally let Vicarious Visions loose and they gave everyone exactly the Tony Hawk game we’ve been demanding. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 is the platonic ideal of a remaster, where every addition--new progression systems, tweaks in art direction, new skaters--channels and amplifies the spirit of the original. I mean, thank god they got the soundtrack right. This game rules, and if I was 17 again, it would be much higher on my list. But that’s not Vicarious Visions’ fault. Unless… they can’t remaster me can they? I need to make some calls.

9. Cribbage with Grandpas

No Caption Provided

So long, Hearts! Take a hike, Bridge! Eat shit, Canasta! Cribbage is the king of casual classic card games, and it’s back, baby.

Cribbage is a favorite card game of mine, ideally played in the summertime, on a porch, with someone who’s temporarily out of things to talk about. Cribbage with Grandpas captures that spirit--instead of playing against a faceless AI, you build your grandpa with their own skills and personality, and just have a nice afternoon with him.

Maybe he’s crabby. Maybe he’s encouraging. Maybe he tries to convince you to let him cheat. But no one’s having any heavy conversations, and there’s just enough chatter to make you feel connected to the man across the table from you for a relaxing few rounds before Grandpa needs his nap.

8. Tabletop Simulator

No Caption Provided

God, I love playing board games. Setting up all those little bits and bobs and doing a quick rules refresher before spending three hours hunting down Dracula with friends, or just pulling out a hidden role game and watching friends break into a cold sweat while we figure out who was lying (or how to lie to each other). It’s not the thing I miss most about pre-pandemic life--leaving my apartment literally at all currently tops that list--but it’s up there, and until I can gather with friends again, Tabletop Simulator is putting in work.

Tabletop Simulator is mostly just a robust physics simulator--i’s users create the (dubiously legal) adaptations of existing board games for people to download. And while it’s a bit of a jalopy--it’s clunky, finicky, and occasionally unstable--I’ve logged over 80 hours playing it since May, and any recap of my 2020 in gaming wouldn’t be complete without it.

7. Paper Mario: The Origami King

No Caption Provided

Let’s talk about Toads. There are 135 hidden Toads in Paper Mario: The Origami King, and when you find every one of them, you’re met with an absolutely perfect one-liner. Each one spits out a quick joke that’s so funny it would often make me mad! Most modern games that want to be funny do so by giving the player space to find and make something funny happen--games like Quiplash, or even Gang Beasts. Paper Mario: Origami King scraps that and goes back to an old-school joke parade, where every new environment and NPC is an attempt to get a laugh out of you. And it does, a lot! Which is really hard! I mean, look at this paragraph you’re reading right now. I tried to find a way to work a joke into it and failed. Which, I think we can all agree, proves how hard comedy is and not that I should have worked harder while writing this.

6. skribbl.io

Illustration by Kevin Budnik
Illustration by Kevin Budnik

We were trying to guess which word my friend Kevin was drawing.

The word was ‘Homer Simpson’.

5. Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales

No Caption Provided

I fully admit that I’m biased when it comes to Marvel games. Working on a Marvel game keeps the lights on around here, and what’s more, almost everyone in the Marvel Universe has been my close personal friend for many years. Yes, even D-Man. Regardless of that bias, I feel confident when I say that Spider-Man: Miles Morales is an improvement on is predecessor in almost every way.

Focusing on Miles lets Insomniac jettison decades of Peter Parker’s baggage and supporting characters to tell a story that feels brand new, rather than just a new version of one we’ve heard before. And the story they tell is personal, heart-wrenching, funny, and surprising. Little moments like picking which of your late father’s records to listen to at Christmas dinner were touching, on par with the larger more directly emotional moments of the game’s climax.

It’s not just the story that gets updated, though. Miles’ venom blasts are a whole new power set that Insomniac uses to add depth and dazzling visual punch to the combat. We’ve played games with this Arkham Asylum style combat dozens of times at this point, and the venom blasts truly made it feel fresh. I do wish the game were longer, but I suspect it’s the exact right length for most people. I only find myself wanting more because what’s there is so, so good.

4. SpellTable

No Caption Provided

Anyone forced to speak to me (through either social or legal contract) has probably heard me talk about how Magic: The Gathering is my favorite game. And, most years, a digital version of Magic would make it onto this list. But a big part of what I love about playing Magic isn’t just the gameplay, it’s the social element. With the pandemic, that was gone, and I found playing Magic: The Gathering Arena exclusively against faceless, wordless opponents to be profoundly depressing*. Luckily, someone invented SpellTable.

SpellTable is a Magic: The Gathering browser app that lets you play with your physical cards against other people via webcam. It tracks your life total, whose turn it is, granular detail like poison counters and Commander damage, and, most importantly, uses image recognition software to let you to click on blurry webcam footage of your friends’ cards to tell you in plain text what the hell they do.

Why it’s so high on my list, though, is that SpellTable allowed me to regularly play Commander--a wildly popular 4-player variant of Magic--with people from the Discord community for The Commander Sphere, an extremely funny podcast hosted by comedians Dan Sheehan and Rachel Weeks. Part of playing Magic at a local game store is getting to know a group of regulars, developing a little bit of a rapport and eventual friendship or rivalries over a shared passion. SpellTable helped turn The Commander Sphere Discord from just a cool chatroom into a replacement for something that otherwise would have just been lost to me in the last year.

* Note to self, game idea: “Magic with Grandpas” ™™™

3. Animal Crossing: New Horizons

No Caption Provided

Around mid April, I had the thought: “Wow, it seems like this pandemic might stretch through to my birthday at the end of May,” which seems impossibly quaint now. Of course, it stretched to May and well beyond, and as I’m sure you can attest from likely having your own quarantine birthday, it felt leaden and dour. And while it’s been a struggle to mark any occasion this year, birthdays feel different. We were all miserable together on major holidays this year, but on your birthday, it’s just you feeling it. That added layer of loneliness turned out to be surprisingly hard to shake. Then I opened up Animal Crossing.

There’s no way Nintendo could have possibly known how badly I needed Animal Crossing to provide a pick-me-up when they poured all that care and detail into the game’s birthday celebration. But I opened my gates, my friends Abby, Debbey and Kevin came over, and we spent hours doing the birthday specific activities, talking to every animal on my island, and listening to K.K. Slider’s Casey-specific song. And I felt that weight start to lift, far higher than I expected it to.

Written out like that, it feels profoundly silly to get so emotional about this experience, but I’m beyond grateful that Nintendo made sure it wasn’t just another random day on my island, and that Animal Crossing provided a lovely memory and a way for me to spend time with people I badly wanted to be with.

2. Fortnite

No Caption Provided

And for every day that it wasn’t my birthday… there was Fortnite. Actually, wait… after we left my Animal Crossing Island we played Fortnite that day, too. Fortnite has been the cornerstone of my social life for 2020, and I don’t know what I would have done without it. I’ve spent almost every night wandering around the game’s island with my old friends, opening up about feelings, our fears, big life changes or just creating irritating running gags and inside jokes. Beyond those old friends, though, I’ve developed new, real friendships with people I didn’t know well--or even at all!--before playing Fortnite together.

That’s a lot of words about my friends and not Fortnite, but I truly think that we’d stop playing if there weren’t a staggering, constantly changing amount of things to do in the game. And we did it ALL. We infiltrated spy strongholds, murdered Tonus Stark (I told you the inside jokes were irritating) dozens of times, caught every fish, watched a mind-blowing interactive Travis Scott concert at a time when I thought I’d never see live music ever again, cursed the names of players who could build defensively, and spend an embarrassing amount of VBucks on skins of genderless blobs and Food Based Freaks. Looking back over the seasons, I think the only thing we DIDN’T do in Fortnite was watch Christopher Nolan’s Inception, but it’s absolutely bonkers that was even an option. Fortnite continues to defy reason, and I’m thrilled to have a social space that can still surprise me going into the new year.

No Caption Provided

1. Taskmaster

But nothing brought me as much joy this year as the British game show Taskmaster. This might shock the people I mentioned above--the ones I cherished connecting with this via games this year--but they suffered through months of me telling them about it non-stop, so probably not. And you might say, “Casey, that’s not a game. You’re just watching people play a game.” to which I ask... how many Twitch channels are you subbed to right now? If Twitch is gaming, so is Taskmaster. Not just because it’s people playing games, but also because creator and “Taskmaster’s Assistant” Alex Horne is doing some of the best game design I’ve ever seen.

If you haven’t seen the show, five comedians get an envelope with simple instructions on it. The instructions are sometimes highly specific, like “Get this potato into the golf hole. You may not touch the red green.” Sometimes they’re wildly open ended, as in the case of “Make the best thing to engage a toddler. Most engaged Toddler wins.” There’s a time limit, and after they’re done, the players are evaluated (and roasted) by the Taskmaster, Greg Davies, and points are awarded.

But the beauty of the game is in the open endedness either in or around the design of the tasks themselves. You can’t touch the red green, but does that mean other things can touch it? Does that mean you can ask someone else to touch it for you? Can you roll the potato into the golf hole? What happens if you just throw it? Horne leaves so much room for the players to express themselves, to panic and let their id take over, to make big, bold choices when the most obvious path to the goal is even slightly altered. And that’s a key lesson for great game design - you can create the space for players to do what you hope, but you can never tell what they’re going to do. Except sometimes... once in a while… if you’re very, very clever… you can.

My very favorite Taskmaster task is called “Make an Exotic Sandwich”. Horne gives his players a ludicrous yet simple task, they behave exactly as rowdy as he’s expecting and then… he changes the rules midway. He does this brilliantly throughout the show--just enough that players don’t expect it for every task, often in ways that players would be able to use to their advantage if they just paid a little more attention. It only occasionally feels unfair, but it always makes for an amazing game. But! Even in the case of “Make an Exotic Sandwich”, where Horne’s stroke of genius design messed with four of his players perfectly, one of them still managed to do something completely unpredictable. And it only made the game better.

on Google+

33 Comments

Avatar image for quasisamurai
QuasiSamurai

13

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

YES!! I discovered Taskmaster this year too when they started to put it all out on YouTube and I was hooked. Totally qualifies as a game and now I (an American) have an addiction to British panel shows.

Avatar image for smeddly
smeddly

71

Forum Posts

2

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

Taskmaster is AMAZING. I've followed it from the beginning over here in Scotland. If you like Alex horne then give his podcast a listen, The Horne Section Podcast, where he and his actual band interview celebrities while performing comedy songs

Avatar image for digthedoug
digthedoug

206

Forum Posts

83

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 10

+1 to the "Discovered Taskmaster in 2020" crew. Watching Taskmaster with my significant other was (and still is) one of the highlights and sanity saviors of the year for us.

Avatar image for knightdehumidifier
KnightDehumidifier

272

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

Please look up if you haven't the potato in the golf hole challenge because I have never seen what started as jubilation turn so quickly into heartbreaking tragedy so quick.

Avatar image for digthedoug
digthedoug

206

Forum Posts

83

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 10

Please look up if you haven't the potato in the golf hole challenge because I have never seen what started as jubilation turn so quickly into heartbreaking tragedy so quick.

Utter heartbreak.

Avatar image for brackstone
Brackstone

1041

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

I had a similar with Taskmaster. Discovered it a couple years ago and was hooked, told friends about it but they didn't care. This year, they all got into it.

It's really the perfect distraction, a great show to just unwind and have some fun with.

Avatar image for singing_pigs
singing_pigs

152

Forum Posts

2

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

When I discovered Taskmaster somewhat accidentally a couple years ago I remember looking around thinking "why the hell hasn't this blown up and gotten huge yet?". I'm so happy to see it happening now.

Avatar image for finaldasa
FinalDasa

3579

Forum Posts

9867

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 9

User Lists: 14

FinalDasa  Moderator  Online

Taskmaster has no right to be as good as it is.

Avatar image for ratamero
ratamero

415

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

What I love the most about Taskmaster is that it clearly costs about $200 to make and it still is the best game show on TV anywhere ever, possibly.

Avatar image for therizzle
TheRizzle

153

Forum Posts

43

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 2

thanks little casey malone

Avatar image for fox318
fox318

104

Forum Posts

6

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 3

Taskmaster is amazing.

Avatar image for ollieg_94
ollieg_94

211

Forum Posts

226

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

To any Taskmaster fans, I would highly recommend Alex Horne’s Youtube game show “No More Jockeys” costarring former TM contestants Tim Key and Mark Watson. Series 3 kicks of tomorrow.

Avatar image for sirdesmond
sirdesmond

1518

Forum Posts

1672

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 3

Yeeessss! Taskmaster! I watched ALL OF THIS in 2020 (and the New Year's Special since) and it is absolutely the best thing I did with my time too! It gave my wife and I joy amid caring for our dying cat. Gave us a treat at the end of the days in the shadow after putting her to sleep. We are rewatching some of those seasons now and it's nearly just as good the second time. Extreme recommend.

Avatar image for exiledvip3r
ExiledVip3r

160

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

Discovering Taskmaster in 2020 was by far the best thing to happen to me all year.

Avatar image for alistercat
alistercat

8335

Forum Posts

7444

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 2

User Lists: 19

Edited By alistercat

I discovered Task Master last year as well, and I'm English. I cannot get enough of it. Alex Horne's whole comic style is subverting expectation and conventions and that extends to his game design.

Look up the clip of him singing the spice girls and it's so funny and painful because he doesn't so what you expect or want him to do.

Avatar image for pikapomelo
pikapomelo

58

Forum Posts

2

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

The potato in the hole is so so so so so good.

Avatar image for aevovle
Aevovle

16

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

Woohoo Taskmaster article...I'm confused because I'm on GB but hey I love that show, went to a couple of recordings back in the olden times when studio audiences existed. I've heard the New Zealand version is rather good as well.

Avatar image for schlagwerk
Schlagwerk

10

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

It's LITTLE ALEX HORNEEEEE

Avatar image for clockface
clockface

4

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

I would have not survived 2020 without Taskmaster.

Avatar image for bisonhero
BisonHero

12229

Forum Posts

625

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 1

User Lists: 2

Edited By BisonHero

I really appreciate that every comment on this list is about Taskmaster, and who am I to break that trend?

Avatar image for bingbong
BingBong

1

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

Bastard's cryin, innit



(do give this show a big ol' watch, it's thoroughly entertaining with occasional moments where you will die laughing, I think seasons 1-6 are all on their Youtube channel)

Avatar image for unsolvedparadox
unsolvedparadox

2289

Forum Posts

31

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 1

User Lists: 2

Earmuffs made of bread is peak 2020.

Avatar image for frymillstrum
frymillstrum

1346

Forum Posts

1

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 1

Huge Taskmaster fan since it first aired like 6 years ago. The Hometasking stuff they did during lockdown was inspired and just really nice. Great to see it get a mention on here.

Avatar image for ronindrummer200
ronindrummer200

152

Forum Posts

218

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 2

User Lists: 9

Casey, I found taskmaster this year due to you on twitter and my partner and I say thank you.

Avatar image for lghthd
LGHTHD

12

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

I too discovered the best game show ever made in 2020

Avatar image for singing_pigs
singing_pigs

152

Forum Posts

2

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

@bingbong said:

(do give this show a big ol' watch, it's thoroughly entertaining with occasional moments where you will die laughing, I think seasons 1-6 are all on their Youtube channel)

1-7, and 8 is coming out now! (Also 10 if you're willing to do a little bit of location-faking magic.)

Avatar image for acetken
AceTKen

25

Forum Posts

10

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

I love Taskmaster too, but it's not gaming and neither is watching Twitch. It's no more gaming than watching football is playing in the NFL.

Avatar image for genji-gloves
Genji-Gloves

243

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

Taskmaster has been great from series 1 on Dave and its fantastic that across the pond its getting the love it deserves.

Avatar image for heatdrive88
heatDrive88

3567

Forum Posts

529

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 3

User Lists: 2

Edited By heatDrive88

YESSS SKRIBBLIO!

I loved watching that Homer come to life.

https://youtu.be/wbCu6Fa0Zus

(also separately... cum lol)

Avatar image for ratamero
ratamero

415

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

Edited By ratamero
Avatar image for aside6
aside6

2

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

My wife and I tore through Taskmaster recently, all 10 series, and then discovered 8 out of 10 Cats does Countdown (many of the same people, very similar comedy) and we're loving that now. It's not as easy to find on Youtube, but there are some decent playlists..

Avatar image for ramsden
Ramsden

3

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

Avatar image for eddiephlash
eddiephlash

355

Forum Posts

16

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

I'm just going to imagine every opponent in MtGA is a grumpy octogenarian and start enjoying it better.