Sure, you could watch the Winter Olympics, but wouldn’t you rather be testing your own limits? And, more important, proving your superiority against family and friends?
We thought so. This year’s winter games list has something for everyone: generational angst among animals, magic cups that give advice, the economics of terraforming, crossword puzzles that make you feel under-educated … you name it.
We are big fans of Firewatch and Kentucky Route Zero, so we’re the prime audience for Edith Finch. The game’s Tennenbaum / Faulkner / Flannery O’Connor vibe is ported to the Pacific Northwest for a story that quickly, and often, shifts from macabre to funny and back again.
You play Edith in what’s essentially a haunted house mystery, played out over a collection of short stories spanning the 20th century. The whole thing looks fantastic, and running time is a light but very satisfying 2-4 hours. Oh, did we mention you’re the only member of the family who’s still alive?
Available for Windows, PlayStation, Xbox.
Night in the Woods is just … wow. The writing is brilliant and full of poignant moments. Though the characters are all animals, this is a refreshingly nuanced look at very human struggles. The dialog you share with the game’s varied cast of characters will go from making you laugh, to making you seriously reflect on the state of the world — or yourself.
In this story-based adventure, you control the protagonist Mae upon her return to her hometown Possum Springs. The term “control” may be too generous, as Mae’s life is really defined by routine as the world around her slowly but surely changes. Don’t worry, the heavy narrative also has whimsy and great art design, plus a solid soundtrack to boot.
Available for Windows, OS X, Linux, PlayStation. iOS, Android, Switch scheduled for release in 2018.
The spiritual successor to Terra Mystica throws a lot of ingredients into the pot: AI, terraforming, economics, even a dash of Battlestar Galactica. It’s never the same game twice in big, meaningful ways.
This board game is practically devoid of luck, so you are in control of your strategy as much as your opponents allow, and vice versa. As one of those brain-crunching exercises where you never have enough resources (or enough time) to get everything done, it becomes the best kind of puzzle: one in which you have to make the most of what you have.
A great way to play a game with high school / college friends you only get so see every once in a while. Straight-up, plain ol’ fun, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is very accessible for players who haven’t always been the best at shooters. And it offers the option to avoid firefights and play stealth, if you so choose.
You find yourself surprisingly okay with dying at any point in the game. If you go out early it’s usually because you weren’t able to get a good gun (or any gun at all). Died in the middle of the game? Usually the adrenaline of risk got the better of common sense. If you punch out late in PUBG, a philosophical attitude takes hold: you made it this far, be happy about it!
We’re obsessed. Often our good intentions of getting the NYT print edition and doing the crossword daily (okay, at least on Sundays) go by the wayside. Then they’re gone!
There’s a yearly subscription to the app ($39.99) but you get unlimited access to the daily puzzles in the print editions, plus all kinds of mini-puzzles, themed puzzle packs, and archived puzzles from the last 20 years. Perfect for travel and commuting.
Available for iOS and Android.
First off, Liberty Puzzles smell really nice because they are hand-cut from wood. “Quarter-inch maple plywood & the finest archival paper & inks” to be exact. Also, you can send them a picture and they’ll customize a puzzle for you, which makes for awesome gifts.
Each puzzle contains what the creators call “Whimsy” pieces, which are cut in the shapes of animals, symbols, characters, animals, or other unique shapes. Liberty Puzzles are made in the USA too, the operation is based in Boulder, Colorado.
A Kickstarter success story from a few years ago, Massive Chalice is a fun single-player game with RPG elements, combining long-term strategy with in-the-moment battle tactics.
Your life starts off simply enough: you’re an easygoing immortal who has to defend your city-state from an evil force. You get an assist from the magical Massive Chalice as you build your forces, resources, and abilities over the decades, so you end up invested in long-term bloodlines and narrative threads. In other hands that scenario could drift toward meaningless complication, but Chalice’s gameplay is elegant and refreshingly simple.
Available for Xbox, OS X, Windows, and Linux.
Tengami has been out for four years now on iOS, but we recently got back into it. As an interactive pop-up book crossed with a graphic novel, this modern classic from indie developer Nyamyam is dream-like and gorgeous.
A few caveats. Tengami is essentially an art book in drag as a puzzle game, so no fast-paced thrills. It’s slow and complentative, and probably best played on a tablet. It doesn’t take too long to play, either, which makes for an excellent winter afternoon excursion.
Available for OS X, iOS, Wii U, and Windows.
A big award winner last year, Old Man’s Journey is the perfect hand-painted companion piece to Tengami.
There’s truth in labeling here, since you do indeed play an old man on a journey in a wordless, moving postcard. Ostensibly a puzzle game, OMJ is at heart a classic road movie with shades of Jim Jarmusch, David Lynch, Pixar, and yes, Hemingway. Gameplay is short, so once you’re done also check out the “Scandinavian minimalist folk-tale” Burly Men at Sea.
Available for iOS, Android, Windows, and OS X.
Another Kickstarter success story, For the King is a questing game that’s easy to play solo, but things really take off when you play cooperatively. The combination of hex-based exploration, RPG elements, and turn-based combat keeps things moving.
The maps are colorful and inventive, and moves are influenced by the environment in unexpected ways (for instance, bad weather hampers you and good weather gives you additional moves).
Available for OS and Windows.
Plus: Our Favorite Coming Attractions
Sea of Thieves
In the Valley of Gods
Red Dead Redemption 2