2023 is dying, and 2024 struggles to be born. It continues to be a time of monsters.
Er, apologies to paraphrase Gramsci and then to roll straight into a 2023 round-up post. If it’s any consolation, these things are hard to think up openings for.
Looking back over this here site, it seems I wrote little to nothing for the first half of the year. In fact I went nearly a full year before I wrote about Warhammer 40,000’s 10th edition, specifically the Leviathan launch box set, in mid-July. This post, and those that followed soon after, indicated a shift in tone for the site: relaxing into a more bloggish, writing-for-oneself mode. This includes being permissive with my natural verbosity… aka. not editing aggressively! This was a good decision to encourage myself to keep writing, which is the point far more than actually being read. (I trust that a small number of friends and acquaintances, and a much smaller number of randoms stumbling by, might read this. That’s enough for me.)
The post on playing Gladius as Tyranids was an experiment in a different form of games writing; somewhere between a game guide and a diary of my own learning process with the mechanics. I’ve ended up irregularly playing Gladius in multiplayer and it’s very challenging, so developing a deeper understanding of the factions is well worth it. Similarly, the board game roundups were an effort to write a little more frequently about board games, as they take up a larger proportional share of my gaming time than they used to. I have no expertise in or particular insight into board games, so keeping my opinions short in round-up posts feels appropriate.
In contrast, my post on Pikmin 4 was more of an effort at a concise and focused game review. I don’t often write these any more, but I enjoyed Pikmin 4 so much I wanted to do it. And then I wrote about Starfield, a game I did not enjoy. Whilst I don’t want to engage in too much schadenfreude over this, particularly in the context of a very bad year for game industry workers in terms of mass layoffs, it has been vindicating to see the feeling that Bethesda is not addressing any of the issues with their games’ core loops, or their engine’s idiosyncrasies, becoming more widespread.
There were plenty of games I did not write about. I played Dredge intensively, and have also spent a lot of time with Dave the Diver. These are both wonderful games and to some extent are about fishing. Some Dredge DLC was released for Dave the Diver, so I shall have to dive back into that soon. Dredge excels, particularly in its opening hours, with its atmosphere and sense of brooding threat, and a nice little Lovecraftian story. Dave the Diver is warm and funny, and mechanically just shines.
I returned once more to Stellaris, dabbling with the newer DLC and trying some new forms of empire. I love the game deeply, but still I feel that playing a game through to the end takes too long, and the endgame can be a slog.
Other highlights this year were Cyberpunk 2077 (skipped it on release due more to the reports of crunch culture than the parlous state it arrived in; as of the beginning of this year it was a fantastic experience), revisiting the Heroes of Might and Magic series (and some related titles like Songs of Conquest and Warlords III), Xenonauts 2 (still in early access more than five years since their Kickstarter, but I’ve twice started campaigns in the last 18 months and I really like where it’s headed), Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous and more recently Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader (both deep RPGs from Owlcat games and both excellent), Cult of the Lamb, Against the Storm, Empires of the Undergrowth, Aliens: Dark Descent, Phantom Brigade, Remnant II and Exoprimal.
I’ve also had more fun than I could ever have expected playing Insurgency: Sandstorm, a somewhat realistic military sim shooter game than is one of the few Xbox titles that supports more than 5 players in a party playing on the same side. The game’s team have also done a great job spicing things up with some very entertaining seasonal game modes.
In cardboard-based gaming, Twilight Imperium was a clear highlight – we played two games with six players and it was a lot of fun, but maybe a bit much to pack into a single day – as was the evergreen Terraforming Mars, which we played more than any other game combined. At Christmas my partner and I both bought one another the improved player cards; that was a good laugh. We’ve also played a few games of eurogame Beer and Bread, and it’s a concise, focused and bread/beer/beard-stroking 1v1 competitive game.
Squeaking in right at the end of the year was Cat in the Box, a trick-taking game with a few twists. It was quick to learn, great fun with four players, and I’m excited to play it again. I’ve had mixed feelings about the other trick-taking games I’ve played but after playing Cat in the Box I’m more open to the genre.
2023 was a fairly quiet year for hobbying, all told. As mentioned above I was excited for the release of 10th edition 40K, and ended up building the entire complement of miniatures across one very intense weekend, and played a couple of games with my partner soon afterwards at the 500 and 1000-point marks. I then proceeded to not paint many of the miniatures for a very long time. I now have about 30 of the Tyranid models painted, and I’ve committed to an online March of Armies event which I hope will see me through to having all 55-60 or so painted by April next year.
A major highlight in my year of painting was the retro 1990s Squighog Boy who won me a runner-up prize in a Midwinter Minis Halloween painting competition. The runner-up spot was a massive booster to both my confidence in my painting and to my enthusiasm for painting more. It was just so much fun to paint!
That aside, I painted a Kill Team of Plague Marines, four Blood Bowl undead players, a couple of Bloodletters, worked on a few other unfinished minis, and built a few random things. It’s not much, but it has been a busy year that has frequently left me feeling quite drained.
I am currently working on a now-traditional post-Christmas paintjob: my partner and I both paint a Christmas “commemorative” Games Workshop model. I spent 3 or 4 hours just working on the skin for the Squig here, and I’m really pleased with how it’s shaping up. I’m attempting to learn to push my highlights high, to shade with different colours, to better control my brush strokes, and to get my paint dilution correct. This more focused painting has been enabled to a great extent by investing in some pricy sable-hair paintbrushes. It is amazing how much precision you can get with a size 2 brush that has a good point.
A few final thoughts on a personal and work-related note. I stepped into a new role in the 4th quarter of the year, and have found myself becoming one of the more senior members of a team I feel like I only just joined (in reality it has been almost two years since I joined, and time just seems to pass faster because I am definitely middle aged now). I’ve put a lot of energy in and I’ve certainly gotten a lot back too – the team is amazing to work with, our game is genuinely great, our players mostly like what we do, and I’m financially comfortable – but I do need to take better care of myself and keep trying to find a better balance.
I was gifted an Oura ring last year, and have now been using it for, well, twelve months. If you’re unfamiliar, Oura is a Finnish company that makes rings which tracks your heart rate and perhaps some other biometric data, and derives from that your sleep phase, sleep quality, and other metrics like activity and estimated calorie usage. I’m most interested in the sleep data, as I’m traditionally a bad sleeper who struggles to nod off. After a year of use I have to say the ring and its app have become regular parts of my daily routine, and I have a much better understanding of how much – and how – alcohol affects my sleep quality, and that my main issues with sleep are more psychological than physiological. Interesting stuff.
On politics I shall not dwell long. Back home in Britain it feels like the post-2010 trend of going from bad to worse continues, and the trends of my entire lifetime – a political and media class that talk a lot of bullshit just to keep things as they are, the bashing of migrants to distract and deflect from real issues, obstinate refusal to engage with realities around climate change, the pursuit of economic and profit growth at any cost, a bloodthirstiness in war and arms deals that marches in subservient lockstep with US foreign policy, and an assumption that the standard British voter is a parochial racist with a borderline fetishistic relationship with their car. For most people, life just gets harder and more expensive.
Here in Finland things are better on the baseline. A functional democratic state with well-financed and largely effective public services and low levels of corruption! High progressive taxes to fund said services! Unfortunately this year saw a government elected including those who associate – at least! – with neo-Nazis, and which is attempting to discipline labour and leverage anti-immigration policies to energise and consolidate their political base.
The extreme right is on the rise in many countries, the brief resurgence of parliamentary social democracy in the most neoliberal states has petered out, and it feels as if we are living through a shift from the era of globalised liberal capital to a more protectionist and authoritarian Cold War 2 paradigm. We are not without hope anywhere, but as fascists grow in numbers and confidence Arendt’s old adage about socialism or barbarism feels relevant once again.
So what do I hope for 2024? Let’s rewind through what I wrote, and which you perhaps read. I’d like to get a little more involved politically, where and when I can. I want to continue learning Finnish so I can eventually apply for citizenship (even if our friendly right-wing government wants to increase the requirement from 5 to 10 years of permanent residence to do so). I want to sleep better, specifically by getting to bed sooner. I want to experience less stress at work, and have richer personal time as a result. I want to keep painting, both faster army painting projects and the occasional one-off miniatures into which I invest more time and effort. I’d love to finish more projects so I can play more fully-painted games. I’d like to play more miniature wargaming, period. I’d like to keep writing occasionally, just to flex these creative mental muscles. And, of course, I’d like to continue my lifelong love affair with games and the joy of play.
The featured image was nabbed via Google. It is a photograph taken by Markus Watkins.