I’m going to talk about two games here, for two reasons.
My favorite game that might be new in the last 12 months (I honestly can’t remember when I received it, though I suspect it’s more than a year ago) is Golden Sky Stories. It is an RPG very much in the style of the Miyazaki films for the younger set—think more My Neighbor Totoro or Ponyo than Princess Mononoke. Sure, there are conflicts, but the important part isn’t so much overcoming obstacles as it is improving yourself and growing. It’s for telling stories that aren’t so much about the results as they are about the means you choose to get them. And you get to play cute anthropomorphic spirit-animals that are entertainingly naive about human society. I’ve only played it a couple times, but I certainly look forward to playing it again. It’s so refreshing to tell “heartwarming stories”, to quote the back-cover copy, and to play a game where scoring social points at the table comes from being cute and helpful rather than scoring an amazing hit or blowing something up.
Golden Sky Stories really helps to facilitate this with its structure. In particular it is a game that will break if you try to min-max. You simply can’t play it that way without the game falling apart. You have to play it right, or not at all. And when you do, there is a virtuous cycle built in to the mechanics that rewards you the more you play to tropes, thus making it easier both to continue playing to those tropes, and to succeed at your goals.
My other favorite new game is The Gaean Reach. This one is technically just over a year old—I know because I bought it as a new release at Gen Con 2014. And I haven’t actually had a chance to play it yet, which is why it has to share this essay with another game. In The Gaean Reach, you play people with a vendetta to execute (and I use that word advisedly) against Quandos Vorn. It’s pulpy action that makes me think of Kill Bill, Unforgiven, Payback, or any number of samurai/ronin movies or Westerns—not to mention The Count of Monty Cristo, the best revenge story ever told. It’s set in a lightly-sketched space opera universe based on the works of Jack Vance.
Mechanically, it has two tricks up its sleeve. First, you create Quandos Vorn by reference, both as you create your characters and as the game proceeds. We initially know about him only by what he has done to the PCs, and why he is impossible to visit revenge upon. Second, the mechanics are a delightful merging of Gumshoe and The Dying Earth, taking the wordplay and social combat of The Dying Earth and the investigative mechanics of Gumshoe. It looks great on paper (and both of those games are great in practice), so I’m really looking forward to finally getting to play this.