2014 was a fun year, and I thought I'd summarise it by reviewing some of my favourite products of the year. These products fall into a few categories.
Overcast - by Marco Arment
As you'll see in the podcast section, this really was the year of the podcast for me. I started picking up podcasts before Marco Arment finished Overcast. However, when it came out with its groundbreaking features of smart speed and voice boost, Overcast quickly become my podcast listening app of choice. Smart speed really is the killer feature of this app: it strips out a portion of gaps in the audio. Over the course of a couple hour podcast, this feature can save a very significant amount of time. At the time of writing, Overcast has saved me 61 hours of dead air. I may have gone a bit crazy listening to podcasts ...
Monument Valley - by Ustwo Games
This combination game and art piece launched on iOS on the 3rd of April this year. It's fairly short, with none of the ten levels in the original game being particularly time consuming or challenging. This continues through the nine additional levels added later in the year. But each level is a masterpiece. I spent my playthroughs of the game oohing and aahing as each level progressed.
One of the big reasons I loved this game as much as I did was the obvious inspiration from the art of MC Escher who happens to be my longstanding favourite artist (ever since I read Gödel, Escher, Bach). This game is definitely worth the few dollars it costs for both the main game and its expansions. I fully expect to return to this masterpiece of a game over and over again.
Threes - by Asher Vollmer, Greg Wohwend, and Jimmy Hinson
This game was released on iOS way back in February this year, and is still a huge goto game for me. As a mobile game, it is a great way to kill a few minutes here or there. The game has a simple mechanic to push squares around the board, and quickly became very addictive to me. Both Diane and I have spent an inordinate amount of time playing this game, and it might very well continue to be the game I keep playing through next year.
My high score so far is 79,167 which I'm fairly happy with. But it sure would be nice to get that 3072 and then that 6144 tile ...
Not all these games may have come out in 2014, but instead have some association with the year for me.
This was a game recommended by my favourite board game review site Shut up and Sit Down. This game has both a very simple mechanic as well as being subtly deep. The game can be taught to anyone, and is a fascinating game to play and strategise over. Just about everyone who I've played a game of this with has enjoyed it so far, so it has also played very well with my group of friends.
Another recommendation for Shut up and Sit Down, this game has you competing to climb K2 - the second highest mountain in the world. The game has you managing your acclimatisation to the elevation and does a really good job of making you feel like this is a tough thing that you're doing! The mechanics are nice and easy to understand so you can jump past those quickly to playing the game with your friends.
This is not a new game - in fact I played it for the first time a few years ago on a visit back to Edmonton. But this year my Kickstarter copy of the game finally shipped. This is a great cooperative board game where the players are attempting to assemble dishes in a Chinese kitchen in real time. What follows is a chaos filled period that is pretty tough to describe.
This is a game I heard about before but didn't actually play until this year. It is a cooperative game where players do not know the cards that they hold but instead can see the cards everyone else has. The game has some mechanics to let players indicate facts about each other's hands. The game is a fun cooperative puzzle to play.
This was the year of podcasts for me. Prior to this year, I only really listened to the 2+2 pokercast to keep in touch with the changes in the poker industry. This year though, I've listened to hundreds of podcast episodes from a couple dozen different shows. Listening to podcasts has nearly completely replaced listening to music for me. So with so listening to podcasts, which shows are the highlights of the year for me?
Accidental Tech Podcast (ATP) - Casey Liss, John Siracusa, and Marco Arment
ATP is a very enjoyable listen on almost any episode. The three hosts put together a weekly show that entertains while they analyse tech industry news and trends and discuss topics that are of interest in the tech. Beware that the show has a fairly Apple-centric bias since all three are Apple converts - so if that is likely to annoy you then you may want to look elsewhere. But they often to not talk about Apple as well.
Analog(ue) - Casey Liss and Myke Hurley
Myke Hurley is a prolific podcaster that just started his own podcast network called Relay.fm. Of the new crop of shows, Analogue surprised me the most. On each episode, Myke and Casey explore topics that are often not talked about. They explore life changing decisions such as Myke leaving his job to go self-employed, as well how it feels to be relatively famous (for podcasters). They put themselves out there, which cannot be an easy thing to do, and as a result you get a pretty interesting listen every week.
Designer Notes - Soren Johnson
There are only two episodes of this podcast out so far, but both have been fascinating. Soren Johnson is a game designer who was lead designer on Civ IV, which I probably sunk too many hours into. His first two podcasts involve chatting with Rob Pardo who was until recently involved with game design at Blizzard: working on StarCraft on through the World of Warcraft and everything in between. The podcasts are a fascinating listen on the world of video game game design.
Hello Internet - Brady Haran and CGP Grey
One of my absolute favourite YouTube creators is CGP Grey, so as soon as I saw him launch a podcast I jumped on immediately. This show is entertaining every single time and cover a wide variety of topics. When this show is released it bubbles quickly to the top of my queue to listen to.
Isometric - Brianna Wu, Georgia Dow, Maddy Myers, and Steve Lubitz
This is a latecomer to my podcast listening in 2014. I listened to the episode where John Siracusa joined them to talk about Nintendo, and then started listening to the show as it came out ... and then decided to go back and listen to all the old episodes which I did over the course of a couple of weeks. This is a video game podcast that is really entertaining - the hosts have a great sense of humour. At the same time, they cover a lot of serious topics like the lack of diversity (both in gender and race) in video games. Some of the episodes from around the time that gamergate was exploding are a bit hard to listen to since a couple of the hosts were among those getting death threats. They did a very good job explaining what was going on and how it was personally affecting them.
Serial - Sarah Koenig
Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you've probably heard of Serial the podcast. It was a very interesting listen - particularly at the start. Sarah Koenig explores a particular real-life murder case where a high school student is convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend. What's crazy is that the prosecution case seems extremely thin, and it is a bit scary that he was jailed on such a light set of evidence. However, throughout the show you are left wondering whether the guy actually committed the crime or not. The only thing that I didn't really like about the show was that I felt a bit bad that there are so many people listening to the fates of real people - and it sort of feels a bit like none of our business. However, if Adnan is actually innocent and gets out of his life sentence over this then I suppose that's worth a fair amount.
Tools and Gadgets
These are some of the Kickstarter projects that came in for me recently that I want to share.
These fantastic silicone spatulas are extremely useful in the kitchen. Originally a Kickstarter project I backed, I loved the ones I got so much that I ordered some more and then backed their silicone lids Kickstarter as well. For anyone who likes to spend any time in the kitchen, these are great - and would make a great gift as well!
There are two docks that I've backed by this company. One is a dock to plugin your smartphone that sticks to your table with a microsuction grip. The dock accepts a wide variety of charging cables making it suitable for most smartphones. It is a lovely piece of design and I really like my dock. This year I received my Everdock Go Dash, which is a car dock for smartphones. I've only been using it for a couple weeks, but it is already one of my favourite products from Kickstarter.
I like keeping my pockets organised, and I've long hated the ordinary keychain for being annoying in my pocket. This Kickstarter has done very well for me - my keys are always in the same configuration and no longer painfully dig into my thigh.