Best Week 2018: The Hilarious!
It isn’t exactly rare that I’ll laugh while playing a game. But that’s usually because Geoff made a mistake, not at the game itself.
Which is why today is about the year’s five most hilarious games. These are the titles that will likely prompt a smile, extract a bellyful of laughter, or provide an amusing anecdote that nobody will understand when you try to tell it at a family dinner. They’re silly, they’re amusing, they’re not about clowns.
#5. Temporal Odyssey
Leave it to Level 99 to publish such an oddity. You’re a time traveler. There are other time travelers. There can only be one time traveler. You do the math. Time (ah-ha!) to start winnowing the field.
The time travel in Temporal Odyssey exists for two reasons. First, it’s basically a way to track your extra lives. When your traveler gets killed, or loses too many helpers, or a special artifact is arrayed against them, they ostensibly take a jaunt backward through time and pop back whole and unaffected. There isn’t anything inherently special about this. The game doesn’t use time trackers or anything. You die, you come back. Like spending a video game one-up.
But the second way that Temporal Odyssey uses time travel is both far weirder and twice as satisfying. As you play, cards are drafted from three decks, representing the past, present, and future. More than anything, these are an excuse to throw anything and everything into the game. Mechanized soldiers, chthonic monsters, cutesy robo-helpers, day-glo spirit animals… the variety isn’t endless, nor is it trying to be. Instead, it’s setting you up with ironclad defenses and the combos you need to bust through them — and looking ridiculously incoherent in the process.
The real focus, though, is on those combos, and how broken they can seem once you get them running. There’s nothing quite like two preposterous decks slapping away at each other. That’s when the disbelieving laughter starts.
My review was written in the past, but maybe also in the future?
Solipsism sure is funny, isn’t it? Not only as a philosophy, but as an epistemological reality. Here we are, flapping meat at each other, going to such effort, and still we kind of stink at communicating. If you don’t laugh about it, you might go mad.
Insider is one of many games to weaponize the existential horror of communication. This time, it does so by repurposing Twenty Questions. But rather than being the sort of activity only suitable for driving across the Midwest, it’s a madcap race to guess the correct word. The titular insider is there to guide you, but like some rejected biblical prophet, your goal also includes outing the insider and robbing them of their win. Why? Because the human heart is blacker than the void, that’s why.
It’s the perfect activity to say you’ll play “just once,” then play all evening. Equal parts whimsical and competitive, there aren’t many games with such a strong replay factor.
And I reviewed it!
Yeah, yeah, another communication game. It’s not like I’m the one who decided that we’d all spend our lives quailing at the prospect of being misunderstood.
Decrypto, though, is something truly special. Not only because you get to play with those red-lens decoders, although that’s pretty nifty, but also because it’s about communicating information to your team while giving bupkis to the other side. Both teams possess four hidden words, and each round is about signaling to your fellows which sequence of those words you’re hunting for. Meanwhile, the other side is busy piecing together your code, and as multiple turns provide clue after clue, it isn’t long before they can start to approximate the sequence.
Think of it like a team of decryptionists listening in on one of those mysterious numbers channels and you won’t be too far off. Except rather than sitting in some frigid Alaskan bunker, you’re nestled comfortably around the kitchen table, trying like mad to put sense to the words you’re hearing. “Durian? Which of our previous clues match a durian?”
You can decode my review right here.
#2. Pantone™: The Game
Pantone is a corporation that claims to own color. Which is a bit insidious. I’m putting you on call, Pantone: bring a lawsuit against me for finger painting and I’ll show you what a riot looks like. By the time they drag me into the paddy wagon, there won’t be a single trash can upright within a block of your HQ.
Ahem. Pantone™: The Game, on the other hand, is about using those colors to create images of characters in ever-more-abstract ways. At first you can use as many cards as you like; later, only one of each color; and lastly, only three at all. Because you start with four characters in hand, the challenge lies in finding the right representation for each character. Distinctive colors might mean you can get away with only three cards, while a more robust character may require a fuller treatment.
But even when you find the best way to illustrate your characters to everyone else, there’s no telling whether anybody will comprehend your genius. Once, I made a three-card representation of Fred Flintstone. It was uncanny — the orange shirt, the turquoise kerchief, the blocky noggin. And nobody got it. Probably because Fred Flintstone was a thing when my parents were young.
Don’t fret it. When a game is as laid back as Pantone™, it’s easy to sit back and laugh.
You can see some more examples of my artistic brilliance in my review.
#1. SEAL Team Flix
There’s a moment of perfect incongruity that occurs perhaps a dozen times in each play of SEAL Team Flix. For the past few minutes you’ve been playing this very serious grid shooter. You picked your squad’s loadout, all submachineguns and flashbangs and silencers. You studied the briefing, and actually paid attention to its hints about where a hostage might be stashed. You crept into the warehouse, checking corners and watching your LOS — line-of-sight, for those who haven’t yet joined the cult — and hugging cover like it’s your grandma on her deathbed. Two tangos down the hall, another behind a door. You know because you peeked underneath with an optical camera. Time to take them down. You lean out, level your rifle, and—
Flick some discs. Hopefully you’ll land a hit. Ideally it’ll rebound into a second tango.
Switching between serious grid movement to giddy dexterity is brilliant in that Why hasn’t this been done before? sort of way. Far more importantly, it’s also one of the funniest things to happen to cardboard in 2018.
Why? Well, there’s the tendency toward error. Sometimes a mistake can save your butt, like when you accidentally roll a grenade down the hall, around a corner, and behind the box where two tangos were waiting to blast you in the face. Other times you’ll catch yourself in the face with a bad ricochet. Sometimes a patrol will march straight into a flanking opportunity, or you’ll fumble the sniping or bomb defusing minigames. And when something like that happens, the mistake is all your own. It didn’t happen because the dice said so. It happened because you were thinking too hard about how much pressure to put behind the extension of your finger. It happened because you suck.
It’ll have you groaning and grinning at the same missed shot. That’s the beauty of SEAL Team Flix. Serious and silly in equal measures, and often at the same time.
Don’t believe me? Maybe I can persuade you right here.