Name & Position: Kristofer Poland, Gaming Associate Editor
Best Album (tie): The Men, Open Your Heart, and Torche, Harmonicraft
This year’s best album is too close to call for me. Both these album blew me away in completely different ways. Open Your Heart had me from my first listen. It’s pretty much perfect from beginning to end, as it seamlessly transitions from hard and fast rock bangers to heady, spacey jams. “Ex-Dreams” is a better Sonic Youth song than most of what Sonic Youth has done in the last decade. While The Men win because of their eclecticism, Torche kick ass when it comes to consistency. Harmonicraft is as beautiful as it is brutal. It’s heavy and chunky while expressing a sincere emotional vulnerability. No other band sounds quite like Torche (except maybe Floor, for obvious reasons), and 2012 gave me another reason to love what they do.
Best Drumming: High on Fire’s Des Kensel on De Vermis Mysteriis
Holy fuck. This is nonstop awesomeness. The first five seconds of this record tells you everything you need to know. Kensel is god damn animal behind the kit. He blasts out a more compelling beat in the intro of “Fertile Green” than most drummers can muster in an entire song. If you’re into metal and drums, you can do no better.
Best Highly Anticipated Album That Didn’t Come Out: Math Squad, Takes the Cake
Maybe 2013 will be the year math rap takes over the world. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed. This is a call to action for MC Trig and killaHurtz. Make it happen!
Best Freshman Comedy Album: James Adomian, Low Hangin Fruit
I must admit a certain weakness for James Adomian. The first podcast I ever heard was a best-of Comedy Death Ray featuring him as both Huell Howser and Jesse Venture. I cheered for him during the only season of Last Comic Standing I ever watched. I’ve loved listening to his myriad impressions on a number of podcasts. Needless to say, I was excited at the announcement of his first stand-up album. I’m happy to report that it’s solid through-and-through. He has good bits covering sexuality, politics, animatronic prospectors, and more. The best comes at the end with his exploration of gay villains throughout history. It’s not to be missed.
Best Emotionally Wrenching Comedy Album: Tig Notaro, LIVE
What we have here is just over 30 minutes of… You know what? Just buy it. Don’t steal it. Don’t watch it on YouTube. Be an adult, and buy it. You won’t regret it.
Best Video Podcast: Old School Wrestling Review
I love wrestling, but not as much as these three guys from the British Isles. Beginning with the very first Wrestlemania, they’re covering every Pay-Per-View in WWF history. They started by chronicling the Hulkamania era and are already well into the early ‘90s in their first 23 episodes. They’re smart marks, well-schooled in wrestling history, and endlessly entertaining to listen to. Watch them all as quickly as possible before Vince sends his dogs after them. You know, the ones that shoot bees out of their mouths.
Best Podcast: Gelmania
There are a boatload of great podcasts out there. Most of the podcasts I listen to are comedy related. Gelmania is no exception. However, Brett Gelman seems to revel in his own listeners’ discomfort. Gelmania is a podcasts that fucks with the podcasting format. He regularly comes off as mean and self-centered. He raps about pussy. He’s brilliant. Trust me. He’s figured it out. As cliched as it sounds, he really is pushing the limits of the medium. I can’t wait to see where he takes it in 2013.
Best New Comic: Saga by Brian K. Vaughan (writer) and Fiona Staples (artist)
Saga is what happens when a skilled storyteller and a masterful visual artist work together to create something they can stand behind. It’s a space opera that focuses on intimacy. Human moments abound (even though none of the characters are technically human) amidst interplanetary warfare. Saga doesn’t have years of some comic universe’s backstory or continuity to contend with. It’s not based on someone else’s intellectual property. It’s just independent creators being creative and making something great. I hope this one continues for a long, long run.
Best Ongoing Superhero Comic: Batman by Scott Snyder (writer) and Greg Capullo (artist)
I almost went with Aquaman here. Yeah. Really. It’s that good. Batman, however, is even better. The whole Court of Owls thing was a head trip. Batman is such a genius that it’s nice when he’s thrown a serious curveball. We’re so used to him thinking ten steps ahead, that it’s great to see him slip and fall. Of course, he always gets back up. Now that a grotesque Joker’s back and threatening the stability of the entire Bat-family, I find it more and more difficult to wait for next month’s issue.
Worst Trend in Comics: Marvel’s Augmented Reality
The last thing I want to do while reading a comic is scan it with my phone to get some sort of backstory or creator commentary or exclusive video. Just let me read my god damn comic in peace without the interference of modern technology. If I wanted a multimedia experience, I wouldn’t be reading a physical copy of a comic book in the first place.
Best Magic: The Gathering Card (Creature): Vexing Devil
I’ve only been playing Magic regularly since the M12 Core set was released about a year and a half ago. I’ve quickly grown to love its mechanics, artwork, and the community of people who get together to play. Vexing Devil is just plain great. For the price of tapping a single mountain you get either a 4/3 creature or immediately deal 4 damage to an opponent if that opponent forces you to sacrifice it. Red decks were an early draw for me, as direct damage is very easy to wrap one’s head around. Plus, forcing difficult choices on opponents is always fun. Combine Vexing Devil with Undying Evil or Disentomb to anger opponents even more.
Best Magic: The Gathering Card (Non-creature): Murder
I learned about the importance of removal spells fairly quickly in my orientation to Magic. The problem with most black removal spells was that they had some sort of limitation. Doom Blade only destroys nonblack creatures. Terror had the same disadvantage and couldn’t kill artifact creatures. Murder changed that. Two swamps and a colorless mana can kill anything (that doesn’t have hexproof or protection from black). The text on the card says it all: “Destroy target creature.” Plain and simple. Black on black murder again.
Best Magic: The Gathering Mechanic to Leave Standard Play: Infect
Seriously, fuck Infect and fuck your Poison counters too.
Best Non-collectible Card Game: Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Duel at Mt. Skullzfyre
Cryptozoic have been on fire of late, releasing great games through 2012. My favorite, however, is easily Epic Spell Wars. It’s is fast, fun and hilarious. Card artwork is top notch and revels in superfluous, cartoony violence. Mechanics are very easy to pick up, and there is a decent depth of combos as well. Two to six players of all experience levels of gaming proficiency can have a blast firing off spells at each other for a brief, silly, albeit tactical game.
Best Trend in Gaming: Crowdfunding
Let’s all say it together, “Kickstarter has changed things in a profound way.” It’s true. From the mad genius in her garage to wizened industry veterans, game developers learned in 2012 that going straight to the people who will buy their games is becoming one of the best avenues to getting their products made. This holds true for video games, card games, RPGs and more. Are EA, Activision and Wizards of the Coast going to disappear? Of course not! However, there are other incredibly viable options now. And that’s good news for gamers and game-makers alike.
Worst Trend in Gaming: Retailer exclusive pre-order bonuses
Really? I can still only get this gun if I pre-order from Gamestop and that armor if I pre-order from Amazon? Fuck that noise. 2013 will be the year that I stop buying consoles (except maybe the Ouya) and fully invest in the Steam model. Yeah, I’m behind the curve. It took me three dead PS3s and four dead Xbox 360s to get here. But I’m here now, speeding into the present.
Best RPG Adventure Repackaging: Rise of the Runelords Deluxe Collector’s Edition Hardcover
Have you seen this thing? It’s beautiful! Additionally, Rise of the Runelords is one of the highest-acclaimed and most beloved adventure paths in Pathfinder history. Kudos to Paizo for giving their hardcore fans just what they wanted for Christmas!
Best Video Game Reboot Most Faithful to the Original: XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Firaxis Games
Anyone who loved the punishing gameplay of the first couple of XCOM games from the ‘90s cringed upon discovering that Irrational and 2K’s new XCOM game was going to be a tactical FPS. Thankfully, Firaxis shone like a beacon of light with their announcement that their completely unrelated new XCOM game would be much more faithful to the series’ predecessors. XCOM: Enemy Unknown does it right. It’s exactly what a remake should be. It offers up the nostalgia we long for and the gameplay we love while throwing some cool new things into the mix. Plus, it looks and sounds absolutely gorgeous. This is 2012’s must-have game for fans of tactical and strategic gameplay.
Best Video Game that Surprised the Hell Out of Me: The Walking Dead, Telltale Games
I love The Walking Dead comic book and have been reading it since it first hit comic store shelves. I have my issues with the often nonsensical TV show, but that’s fodder for an entirely separate story. The game, however, is near perfect. Telltale blew me out of the water with this one. I remembered them from making sweet Sam & Max graphic adventures long after the LucasArts original. Then, they started developing games based on CSI, Jurassic Park, Law & Order, and other stuff I don’t care about. They then made The Walking Dead and absolutely nailed it. Although the characters are different, it nails the art style, setting, tone, and feel of The Walking Dead comics in a way the televised version fails at on almost every level. The graphic adventure is back, and The Walking Dead is its herald.
Best Games I Didn’t Get to this Year but Can’t Wait to Play: Hotline Miami, Dishonored, Far Cry 3, Persona 4: Golden, Unfinished Swan, DayZ
We’ve reached a point in video games when it’s nearly impossible to play every title that could be considered worth playing. There are too many games on too many platforms for all but the richest and least busy amongst us to play them all. I remember a time when I could easily play every good game that came out in a year. It seems so long, long ago. Ah well. Too many stellar video games is a great problem to have.
Best 2012 Wrap Up: Mine. Duh.