This is the last of my three lists of my favourite games in 2019. The first was about my favourite MMOs. The second was about my favourite games that I discovered this year that were published before 2019 – and now it’s time for my favourite games that were also released this year.
My Top Games launched in 2019
Together with Equilinox, Islanders is one of the exceptions of my usual rule of not liking puzzle-like games much. Maybe it’s a certain kind of puzzle game that I do like, after all. Islanders released on April 4, 2019. It was developed and published by GrizzlyGames. They introduce themselves as “a small, Berlin based indie team making short & sweet games”. Islanders is their second game and it got an “overwhelmingly positive” rating on Steam. This has never influenced my own opinion, but I think getting such a high rating is quite an achievement, so it should be mentioned here.
I’ve done a first impression blog post about this game in July. Altogether, I have only played the game for eight hours. But it was enough to leave a lasting impression! For me, it’s just not a game that I play for hours and hours. It’s a game that I start up to play one map and then close it again. A time-filling game once in a while, but a relaxing one that still offers a challenge – in the way that the better you put the buildings you get, the higher your score will be. I had one really good run and after that – well, I haven’t been that motivated to continue anymore, because I know it’ll be hard to beat my own highscore. But when I play it just for the relaxation and fun factor, it’s an amazing game. Also, since it’s 4.99 € (when it’s not on sale), I think it’s money well spent.
Altogether, it’s definitely earned its spot here on my list. As I said, I actually don’t like puzzle games too much. But I love city-builders and this one combines everything beautifully. There is no time pressure. You can think as long as you want where to put which piece next and how to combine and place buildings to get the most bonus points! Perfectly recommended as a relaxing after-work game.
4. Sid Meier’s Civilization VI: Gathering Storm
Obviously, Gathering Storm is not a game, but an expansion to Civilization VI. This one’s got a “mostly positive” on Steam, by the way, and released on February 14, 2019. It costs 39.99 €, but you obviously need the base game as well. It still made it to my list of “top games”, because it added some features to Civ VI which made me like the game so much more! I like the environmental effects that they added as it gives an element of chaos. Also, Grievances instead of the Warmongering system seem like a good improvement to me. In combination with the previous expansion’s loyalty system which makes it possible to get cities without fighting over them, I feel that I can play the game more in a way that I like it. In CIV IV I mostly played by having a huge army while creating enough culture to turn over cities and expand peacefully that way.
So basically, the expansion itself adds a few nice features, but taken on its own, it would rather be number 5 on my list. Since it acts to complete the base game and its previous expansion, as a whole package, it’s number 4.
3. Foundation (Early Access)
Just as with my list of top games I discovered in 2019, this list also includes an early access game. Technically, it hasn’t released yet, so it shouldn’t count. But it’s very much playable already – that is, I haven’t encountered any crashes or bugs that prevented me from playing the game and it has enough features to keep me occupied! It released into Early Access on February 1, 2019. It is developed and published by Polymorph Games. They’re based in Quebec City, Canada, and haven’t developed any other game before, apparently. At least, I couldn’t find anything other than them staying they’re veterans. So individually, they probably worked on other games before. Also, they made their own game engine for Foundation. The game currently costs 29.99 €, so it’s a full-priced city-building game*. Foundation reminds me of the Cultures series (the GOG website is probably more informative than the Wiki entry) – only that there are no cute Vikings, but huge-eyed medieval villagers. Cute is cute, though.
If I had to say what exactly makes this game stand out from other similar city builders, I couldn’t really say. It just does! It has lots of production chains, it has the Wuselfaktor. And – well, actually, a city builder that reminds me of Cultures that works well with a good user interface and has the Wuselfaktor is all I need to love a game! I wrote a first impressions piece about this game as well, but since it is still in development, several features have been added since then. Still, the overall impression still stands! I’ve played this game for only 21 hours, by the way, because I wanted to wait for its full release – until I decided to give it a go again in the meantime, because waiting is boring and the game is too much fun!
*As Foundation is in Early Access, a word of warning as I always like to give: Do not buy this game if you’re uncertain about it! You never know if the game will be fully released even if the developers are as active as these ones are. If you like the game as it currently is, with its current features, and you feel that you get enough entertainment out of the game right now, then go get it!
Unheard is one of two games that I put on spot no. 2. I tried really hard to decide between Unheard and Tropico 6, but no matter how I looked at it, both games deserve this spot on my list. Unheard is another game with an “overwhelmingly positive” on Steam. It released on March 29, 2019 and was developed by NEXT Studios and published by NEXT Studios as well as bilibili. NEXT Studios are based in Shanghai, China. The game costs 5.69 €, so it’s one of the cheaper games on my list. It is a detective game which is a genre I also really like. But they do it differently than other games. You see a map and need to listen to the audio recordings of every room before the incident you’re looking into happened. Then you need to figure out which voice belongs to which character name and answer the questions – most of the time: Who did what? – e. g., who brought the bomb? Who had the original artwork in the end?
I haven’t played a game like this before and given my tendency to mute games or have them on a very low audio setting, so I can watch a stream while gaming or chat with bookahnerk, it is one of the rare games where audio is this important. I mainly play it when I’m on my own because of that. But it’s fascinating and interesting in that you can only rely on what you can hear. Well, you can see who’s talking at which point when your own avatar is in the room. The circles represent the characters present and you can see it when they’re speaking. But other than that, there’s only the audio. And I think the voice actors did a really good job!
The reason it deserves number 2 on my list is that it’s very well done with cases that aren’t too easy to solve. At least not without listening to several audio recordings in the various rooms. Obviously, the game has no replay value, because once you’ve solved a case, that’s it. But since it’s rather cheap, I don’t mind that at all.
2. Tropico 6
As I said, Unheard shares the second space with Tropico 6. Tropico 6 was not developed by the same company that developed the previous Tropico games. The first two games of the series were done by PopTop Software. After that, Haemimont Games developed Tropico 3 to 5. Limbic Entertainment took over the development of Tropico 6. On Steam, Tropico 4 received 91 % positive reviews, Tropico 5 got 77 % and Tropico 6 got 86 %. Altogether, I have seen a lot of complaints about Tropico 5 and I can personally share a lot of them. I had even stopped playing Tropico 5 in favour of Tropico 4. So when Tropico 6 released (on March 29, 2019), expectations and hopes from Tropico fans were especially high! Add to that the fact that it’s not cheap either (49.99 €). And I’ve got to say the new developers did a great job. It is essentially Tropico and I was happy about that from the beginning, but for a long time, I wasn’t sure if it was actually better than or at least equal to Tropico 4. My main problem was that in Tropico 4, I concentrated on farms and ranches with only a bit of industry. I never had issues with happiness or money. In Tropico 6, I failed the later missions (after writing my first impressions about the game) and I knew I had to change my approach, but I didn’t know how. I did my internet research and am now playing on easy setting (which slightly annoys me), but if I take care not to build too many new buildings without having the workforce to fill the places and if I concentrate on industry chains from early on instead of placing lots of farms with different “basic” components (sugar, coffee, tobacco), I am doing much better.
I love the tropical setting and the tongue-in-cheek dictator playstyle. The soundtrack is also amazing with music fitting to the game’s setting. How about dancing some merengue or salsa while playing the game? The developers added islands and means to reach them by building bridges. You can also build tunnels now to have your Tropicans reach hilly parts of the islands as well. So now, with quite a bit of confidence, I can say that I like it better than Tropico 4. But even if it was worse, it would still get placed number 2 on my list!
1. Planet Zoo
Planet Zoo has twice the Wuselfaktor: Both for the visitors and for the animals! It is also highly educational as the attached zoopedia tells you where the animals come from, what they need to be happy and if they’re an endangered species. The latter is also eye-opening in some cases as you can see the beautifully animated animals and then realize that at one point, these animated pixels may be all that we have left of that particular species. The game released on November 5, 2019, so it’s the youngest game on my list. And yet, I did not hesitate a second to place it as my number 1 this year! I hadn’t even thought of or wanted to buy it for its full price, 44.99 €, which makes it the second most expensive game on my list. But when I saw people stream it and I saw the animals and their animations, I knew I really wanted it. So much, actually, that bookahnerk went and bought it for me!
The developers (and publishers) are Frontier Developments, who also made Planet Coaster and Jurassic World Evolution. Steam shows 87 % positive reviews for Planet Zoo. I still think that Planet Zoo needs some more polishing, but they’re working on it. With the latest patches, some things were changed that had been annoying me earlier. For example, you can now have slower ageing for your animals which also results in a slower reproduction rate and thus, a less hectic game. And parent wolves are no longer attacking their children – or vice versa – once the children grow up. They also reduced the habitat size requirements for ice bears after players’ feedback that the land was too small to add them comfortably. But they did so mentioning that ice bears really need that much space in reality. I, personally, would prefer they added larger maps to accomodate for ice bears instead. But I like that they stick close-ish to real world requirements and if they change something because of playability, then they mention that it’s not how it works in reality. You actually do learn a lot about animals with this game which is amazing and makes it a great game for adults and kids alike!
Altogether, this was a very good gaming year for me! I wouldn’t have thought that something like Unheard would end up on my list of top games while I would have definitely expected a game like Tropico 6 or Planet Zoo to end up here. But it’s always good to discover completely new games that aren’t part of an already existing franchise!