Todd Grotenhuis

30 Dec 2020

2020: 🃏, 🎲, & 🕹 Review

To view other 2020 review posts, visit the main post here.


As you may already know, I enjoy games. Especially ones with a social element, or where we get to create some sort of emergent story together. In the year of the pandemic, a lot of traditional card and board games were harder to play (unless you took them digital or used tabletop simulation software).

Pandemic Gaming

For a handful of pandemic get-togethers, we played some Jackbox Party Pack games over Discord. Ones I particularly enjoyed include:

  • Bidiots: where you create “fine art” and then bid on art at auction
  • Push the Button: where you have to figure out who the aliens are on the ship

On that note, Among Us became another hit this year, with not too dissimilar play. I played this with some groups online, as well.

At home, we played some classic Hand & Foot, a rummy-like game where you have two hands (a hand and a foot, get it?). I’d link to rules, but like many of these classic card games, it seems like every family has their own version, and ours doesn’t match the varieties I’ve seen online.

Role-Playing Games

On the role-playing games front, I played a variety of things this year, as online games continued to work well. We typically play online with just a video conferencing tool and then Rolz for our chat & rolling.

My local game participated in a playtest for Torchbearer 2nd Edition. Torchbearer and Mouse Guard are a tight version of the Burning Wheel engine. I had not played very much of Torchbearer 1st edition, because our group is often playing different kinds of adventures than what it was best suited for. But 2nd edition is honing many things and introducing tools to facilitate more types of playstyles. I’m very excited about what Luke & Thor have created and am looking forward to this release. (Watch for our names in the credits!)

When the playtest was over, we took our setting (Mauragaaqtuq) back to core Burning Wheel, starting our 4th game in the setting (the 4 being: a long BW campaign, a one-shot LARP, the TB playtest campaign, and now another BW campaign). I’m really impressed by the richness that the players (aided by system components such as Wises, Circles, and Beliefs) have added to the setting. We just started Season 2 of Mauragaaqtuq: Murder of Crows.

My already-online game group with friends from Puerto Rico and Chicago (which also got our start years ago, playing Burning Wheel in the Wheel of Time setting….yes, of course we called it “Burning Wheel of Time”) has tried a few things this year.

First, we had a game set in Shadows of Esteren but using the Blood & Bone system. This was tough, as we were trying to simplify and not do a lot of homework, but it was tough to do in practice. The game engine took a lot of nods from things that worked in other games, but IMO failed to deliver them as a cohesive set.

Next, we went on to playing a fantasy-historical game set in a mythic version of Tyre. We used the hidden gem of a game engine Dominion Rules, with some added house rules. This is my favorite open source game, and still feel like it has a lot of potential many years after its release. Alas, this did not last as there was some COVID burnout.

Now, we are on to something new…err old. We’re using Palladium 1st edition and engaging classic dungeon-delving in a published module. Palladium Fantasy is new to me (though I’ve done a little Rifting back in the day), and I’m not big on the “old school” nostalgia (partially because “old school” for me isn’t Palladium and original D&D but West End Games’ Star Wars, and partially because the “scene” is rife with miscreants and vice-signalling), but I’m having fun because the group is fun and I’m leaning into the randomness and weirdness of the setting and system.

Over break, I got to play the Labyrinth Adventure Game with my niece and nephew, and this was a blast. It’s a beautifully produced product with a simple system & great scenes that offer a lot of replayability for zany adventures to get back things stolen by the Goblin King. In contrast to many RPGs, there is plenty of excitement and adventure without having to focus on fighting.

As for live action games (or LARPs), those were mostly cancelled this year (and for good reason), but some communities continued to get together in chat and audio events. I played in a handful of these events on Discord, with my One World by Night main character, but obviously it is not the same.

Video Games

I tend to play non-twitchy open world-type games. This is both so that I can listen to podcasts or audiobooks while I play, and because I don’t need the adrenaline from twitchy games. (I get enough of that working in cybersecurity, TYVM.)

As in years past, most of my video game time was spent in the Bethesdaverse (e.g. Elder Scrolls and Fallout games, particularly, the “online” varieties this year) and the Borderlands franchise. I’m mostly on Elder Scrolls Online recently (add me for Mac/PC/Stadia: @groten), as I’ve got some family and friends who are playing, too.

I played some Disgaea as well, and though I love this game, the menus and repetitive motion mean that I can’t play very much at a time without sore hands/wrists, so I end up quitting before getting through the postgame fun. I hope they will come up with some improvements on that for future games.


What did you play this year? Any recommendations?