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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Six Colors Staff

Our favorites of 2018

As 2018 draws to a close, it’s a time for looking back at all the various things that we saw and did over the last twelve months. We’ve gone ahead and picked our favorites of the year, whether they be books, board games, TV shows, music, or otherwise, in order to share them with you, dear readers. (Bear in mind that not all of these things necessarily came out in 2018, but this was at least the year that we experienced them.) And for more picks from Jason and Myke Hurley, be sure to listen to today’s awards episode of Upgrade.

Board/Tabletop Games

Captain Sonar - Imagine a team version of Battleship with a dose of The Hunt for Red October, where you’re working together with the rest of your submarine crew to track down a rival submarine and sink them. That, in a nutshell, is Asmodee’s Captain Sonar which sees you take one of four positions—Captain, Radio Operator, First Mate, and Engineer—as you attempt to locate the other sub, crewed by its own four-person team. It’s fun and frenetic and plays well with a large group, which is often a tough niche to fill.—Dan Moren

Codenames Duet - Codenames has been one of my favorite board games of recent years, and if I had one complaint about it, it’s that it doesn’t play well with fewer than four players. Fortunately, that’s solved in Codenames Duet, a two-player co-op variant of the game. The premise is the same: you’re trying to identify certain agents in the field by giving clues to their codenames. But now you’re working together with your partner, switching off turns in giving and guessing clues. It also scales up to a larger group, which is nice. —DM

Just One - This cooperative word game requires one player to guess a word based on clue words provided by the rest of the players. The twist is that if any clues are repeated, they’re not presented to the guesser—which tends to make the clues far less obvious and the guessing and clue-crafting harder. It’s less competitive than Codenames, but depending on who is playing, sometimes that’s all for the best.—Jason Snell

Video Games

Red Dead Redemption 2 - One of my most anticipated games of the last several years arrived this fall, and I’m still working my way through its epic, expansive world. It’s a game that embraces the best elements of its predecessor, itself one of my favorite games of all time, and not only broadens its horizons, but also takes a surprisingly different turn. While it’s not without the hard edges of the previous entry in the series, RDR2 presents a story that is surprisingly more touching and less bleak, living up to the “redemption” angle. But mostly it’s about enjoying the beautiful scenery while riding around on your horse. —DM

Sea of Thieves - My main regret with Sea of Thieves is that I didn’t get to play it more. When the game first launched, it was a fun romp but in a world that felt a bit empty. In the intervening months, Rare has amped up the available tasks and storylines, adding more to do and fleshing out the world. But at its core, this remains a game about teaming up with your friends to sail a pirate ship, collect loot, and occasionally battle other pirates as well. With a full complement of four players, it is a rambunctious good time, puncutated with moments of heart-pounding adventure. Just like all pirate adventures should be! —DM

Alto’s Odyssey - This is quite simply the best game I’ve played on any platform in recent years. A sequel to the snowboarding game Alto’s Adventure, this one switches in sand for snow, adds a bunch of additional tricks and accomplishments, and provides even more beautiful backgrounds and music. Can a game be tense and soothing at the same time? This one can. I am not a person who invests huge hours in individual games, but I found myself launching Alto’s Odyssey on my iPad again and again until I had finished every accomplishment, unlocked every character, and mastered every bit of tricky desert terrain. And immensely satisfying and beautiful game. —JS

Books

The Consuming Fire - I’ve long been a fan of John Scalzi’s work, and so it really wasn’t a surprise when I devoured his latest sci-fi series, The Interdepency. I read the first book, The Collapsing Empire, over the summer, and was happy that the second book came out later in the year. Scalzi’s books are page turners, and the complicated web of intrigue and politics that he weaves throughout these books, set in a galactic empire that is facing an existential crisis, is a lot of fun. There’s plenty of humor and some colorful characters along the way, and my only disappointment is that it’ll be another year before the conclusion arrives. —DM

Typeset in the Future - Dave Addey’s web essays about the design and typography of fictional future worlds in film have always captivated me. This hardcover book is a lavish production, a coffee-table book of design and art direction that takes you into the worlds of classic movies from “2001: A Space Odyssey” to “Wall•E”. If you love design and type and science fiction films—and I do—this is a surefire winner. —JS

Flowers of Vashnoi - A new Vorkosigan story by Lois McMaster Bujold is always a treat, especially when it arrives unexpectedly, as this novella did. 1 The story mainly follows Miles’s wife Ekaterin as she makes a suprising discovery amidst the radiation-fueled landscape of Vorkosigan Vashnoi. If you’re already a Vorkosigan fan, you’ll definitely want to pick this up—and if you’re not, might I suggest that it’s time to jump in? —DM

The Calculating Stars - Mary Robinette Kowal’s story of a woman who is dedicated to being the first female astronaut, set in an alternate-history version of the early space race, is my favorite book of the year. It’s got great characters, a fun setting, and appropriately depicts both the marvels and societal ills of the mid-20th century. There’s also a sequel, released a couple of months later, The Fated Sky, about a mission to Mars, that’s also excellent.—JS

The Exphoria Code - While I try not to write too much about the works of friends, I would be remiss if I did not point you towards our good pal Antony Johnston’s latest novel. Shocking as it may be to you, I love spy novels, and Antony has written a great one. Brigitte Sharp is an engaging and clever heroine, who uncovers a mysterious plot that seemed prescient when I read it earlier this year, and had, by the end of the year, become all too real. If you like a good technothriller that you can’t put down, definitely find yourself a copy. —DM

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter - This was my surprising discovery of the year. I don’t know if I would ever have picked up Theodora Goss’s novel if it weren’t nominated for a few awards, but I loved it. It’s a story set in 19th century London featuring a bunch of women from literature who are traditionally portrayed as, or related to, monsters. The main character is Dr. Jekyll’s daughter, and she’s joined by Mr. Hyde’s daughter (her sister), the Bride of Frankenstein, Rapaccini’s Daughter, a puma woman uplifted by Dr. Moreau, and several more! In style it’s very much like a Sherlock Holmes mystery, which is why it’s only appropriate that the great detective and Dr. Watson are also characters in this novel. It’s fun and fantastic and I couldn’t put it down. —JS

Invincible - I can’t let this year go without tipping my cap to my favorite comic of the last decade, Robert Kirkman’s Invincible. It’s a celebration of the classic comic-book teen superhero, with the twist being that the story never, ever hits the reset button like other comics do. The comic’s lead character grows up and has a family and deals with his changing relationship with his parents… and also has to fight alien invaders, deal with galactic politics, and fend off would-be cyborg dictators back on Earth. It’s wide-screen and ridiculous and human and I loved every one of its 144 issues. I’ll miss it, but what a satisfying ride. —JS

TV Shows

Counterpart - This show is on a network you’ve probably never watched and don’t have access to (though now the first season’s on Blu-Ray and iTunes), and it’s a shame because this is my favorite TV show on the air right now. Starring J.K. Simmons in a spectacular acting performance, this is a show that’s a cold-war-style spy drama mixed with a science fictional element that transforms it into something more philosophical, confronting its characters with the sum of the choices they’ve made in their lives. And if you can manage to avoid the premise going into the first episode, you will be rewarded with a surprising twist.—JS

The Good Place - This half-hour comedy from Michael Schur is the best show on network TV (it’s on Netflix elsewhere). Every time you think you’ve figured out what the show’s central plot and premise are, it throws you a curveball. It’s funny and stupid and at the same time, one of the most profound shows on television. In three short seasons it has risen high on my list of the best TV shows of all time. This is a hall of famer. —JS

Legends of Tomorrow - Who would have thought a TV show that was this bad in its first season would turn out to be such a delight a few years down the road? And yet, Legends has become one of my most anticipated shows each week. Somehow, they’ve managed to nail the madcap adventures, build a rapport between the characters that is truly delightful, and just embrace an off-the-wall wackiness that deems nothing—murderous unicorns, giant plush doll gods, and serial killer puppets—too weird to try. If you gave up back in the dour Hawkpeople days, you owe it to yourself to check it out from season two (it really amps up about halfway through there). —DM

Patriot - What a bad title for such a great show. I tell everyone who will listen that the real title of this show should be “Sad Spies.” It’s about a man who has to do any number of awful things in the course of his job as an American covert operative, and while he performs admirably at the tasks set out for him, it’s destroying him inside. So he (inappropriately) makes up folk songs about his missions. He’s falling apart and getting stoned in Amsterdam when his dad calls him back to perform a new mission, involving industrial piping and an attempt by Iran to gain a nuclear weapon. Though the spies are sad, the show is hilarious, too. It’s one of the strangest shows I’ve ever watched, but I loved both seasons, which are available on Amazon Prime Video. —JS

Star Trek: Discovery - It took the latest entry in the storied sci-fi franchise a while to find its, er, space legs, but it managed to get there. This is truly a modern Star Trek in every way, shape, and form, and while it may not be everybody’s cup of Earl Grey, hot, I think it’s done a great job of not only bringing it back to the medium that best serves it, but also telling a very different kind of story than the ones we’ve seen so far. Season 2’s premiere is right around the corner, so if you’re going to catch up on Season 1, you better dive in right quick. —DM

Detectorists - A gentle and lovely British comedy that just completed its third and final season. (All three are on Hulu and Acorn; the first two are also on Amazon Prime Video.) Toby Jones and Mackenzie Crook play Lance and Andy, two average guys who spend their off hours wandering through fields with their metal detectors, looking for treasure. The stakes are low, or at least they’re real-life stakes—jobs, family, friends, frenemies—with the occasional hope of finding a gold coin. This show is pure comfort television. I don’t re-watch a lot of TV, and I’ve re-watched Detectorists twice. (It helps that there are only 19 episodes.) —JS

The Expanse - What a wealth of riches when we have more than one great sci-fi series out there. I have rapidly digested every Expanse novel as it came out, and while it took me a little while to warm up to the TV show, by the time this year’s season 3 came out, I was all in. (It helped that it covered one of my favorite parts of the books.) Thankfully, Amazon stepped in to save the show when Syfy cancelled it, which means that a Season 4 should come out in the not too distant future, fingers crossed. —DM

The Magicians - I liked the first two seasons of this series, based on the books by Lev Grossman, but the show made a quantum leap in quality in its third season, with three or four of the best single TV episodes I saw all year. It’s a ridiculous fantasy story about a world in which magic is real and the students of a mythical magic academy are extremely screwed up young adults. Imagine “Harry Potter: The College Years”, except something has gone horribly wrong. In season three, there’s a quest for seven magical keys that drags the characters into a sentient sailing ship, a dormitory that’s simultaneously hell and the stage of a musical production number, and a side quest into living a good life and building a home and family and getting old and dying. Seriously. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a TV show get this much better this fast. —JS

Movies

Ant-Man and the Wasp - Black Panther got more (well deserved) critical attention and Infinity War sucked more of the air out of the room, but for my money, Ant-Man and the Wasp was the most fun MCU movie of 2018. Evangeline Lilly’s Hope van Dyne finally gets the leading role she deserves, Paul Rudd’s hapless Scott Lang is note perfect, and Michael Peña’s Luis deserves an Oscar. But my favorite thing about this movie was showing how well small stakes stories can work, presenting another truly compelling and yet totally distinct villain from Michael B. Jordan’s performance as Killmonger in Black Panther, and giving an opportunity for the hero to truly be heroic. —DM

Black Panther - What a spectacular achievement. It’s hard to simultaneously be a ridiculous superhero epic and engage in serious questioning of global power systems, and “Black Panther” does it. Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger is probably the best Marvel movie villain, not because of flashy powers or costumes—he doesn’t have them—but because his ideas challenge the assumptions of the hero, are not wrong, and ultimately change the hero’s path. Oh, and amid all that it’s a largely nonwhite cast with heavy and deep African influences in art direction and design, and Wakanda’s Afro-Futurist capital may be my favorite sci-fi film city in years, and it was an enormous hit worldwide. Wakanda Forever? Yeah. Sounds about right. —JS

Crazy Rich Asians - Probably the surprise sleeper hit of the year, and one of the few movies I saw in the theater that didn’t have superheroics. But it’s cute! It’s fun! The main characters have a ton of chemistry, and even if it does turn to cliché at some points, you’ll still come out of it having had a good time. Plus, it’s one of two things on my list that has a prominent role for Michelle Yeoh, who is having a year. (Also, between Ocean’s 8 and this, a good year for Awkwafina.) —DM

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse - A lot has been said about how good this movie is. It’s really good. Especially so for die-hard Spidey fans, but honestly, I think good for anybody who wants a refreshing take on superhero stories. In particular, I love how it’s an origin story that doesn’t feel like an origin story. Absolutely beautiful art, a kickass soundtrack, and plenty of laughs. Plus, so many easter eggs that I need to go back and watch it really really soon. —DM

Music

A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships - The 1975 is an English alt-pop band that heavily mixes 1980s music styles into a modern context. Their latest album is ridiculously all over the place stylistically and I love the ride. The despondent “Love It If We Made It” fits 2018 like George Michael’s “Praying For Time” fit 1990. —JS

Solo: A Star Wars Story - Shocking! Dan likes a Star Wars score. But the entry for this year’s film isn’t by the venerable John Williams, though it does have a central score that he composed. John Powell does a great job of taking Williams’s themes, building on and enhancing them, and turning them into a rollicking great score. If you do not want to commit some sort of space heist after listening to this, then you may be dead inside. —DM

Love Is Dead - Scottish band CHVRCHES has a completely different sound from The 1975, but what they have in common is an 80s sensibility applied to modern music. The tracks on their new album got the most plays of anything I listened to this year. I won’t dive deeper than this, but if you’re interested you can always check out my favorite songs of 2018 Apple Music playlist.

Tech

Apple Watch Series 4 - Probably my favorite Apple device of the year. The larger screen and thinner profile really do make a significant difference, I really like the amount of information that gets packed into the new watchfaces, and it’s got an ECG built in, which is a little nuts. That’s not to say it’s perfect: the weird way that Apple has fragmented complications is frustrating, third party apps still feel a little like second class citizens, and why oh why can’t we have the time always show up on the display? Still, it’s clearly the best Apple Watch yet by a big margin. —DM

TCL 65R617 - This year I bought a 65-inch 4K HDR television, and you know what? I have no regrets. It is big and beautiful and 4K HDR movies look fantastic and even non-4K stuff just looks great on this screen. The built-in Roku software plays nice with my Logitech Harmony remote system, so I can pop over to TiVo or Apple TV or a game console with one button press. —JS

WeMo Mini Smart Plug - I’m not sure I could advocate for any other smart home switch. It’s compact, it works with HomeKit and the Amazon Echo, and lets you monitor power consumption in addition to remotely turning it on and off. Perfect for an air conditioner, lights, or a Christmas tree. Plus, did I mention it’s cheap? —DM

Miscellaneous

HeroForge - After backing this service’s Kickstarter way back in 2014, I finally ordered a couple of these 3D-printed custom minis, and I am delighted. The company has continued to add customizable options for its figures, as well as improving their materials, and the result is that you can legit get miniatures of your game characters, designed just the way you want them. If I told 12-year-old me this, he would definitely have freaked out, and that’s a win in and of itself. (Some day I have no doubt you’ll be able to get these custom minis in color, and that will be truly fantastic, but it’s probably a few years off.) —DM

Iceland - I got to spend ten days or so in Iceland this year, and it was amazing. Beautiful, desolate landscapes; amazing glaciers; and fascinating culture and history. I can’t recommend it enough. We couldn’t go the whole way around the island, which I regret, and I didn’t manage to catch sight of the auroras, so, well, I guess I’ve got to go back. —DM

Tea - I drank a lot of tea this year, and while some steadfast favorites stay in the mix, I discovered a couple new ones that I thought I’d pass along. Firstly, my go-to cup for the mornings is Kenya Lelsa tea, which is a mild, malty black tea that I find eminently drinkable. (Also it didn’t hurt that my first bag arrived with Star Trek: Discovery-themed labeling; thanks, New Mexico Tea Company!) Secondly, my fiancée is fond of Rooibos herbal tea in the evenings, and I’ve developed an appreciation for it as well—to my palate, it’s the closest herbal tea to black tea. New Mexico Tea’s Root Beer Rooibos is particularly good and yes, it really does have a (not overpowering) root beer flavor to it! —DM


  1. Jason and I even did a short podcast on it!  ↩

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