- Chris "Entweichen" Brown
Full Tilt Poker is my best game of the year. Basically, all online poker programs are kinda lame in one way or another, but Full Tilt has done a good job of fixing problems, adding features, and generally keeping the site and program running smoothly. And they have a wide variety of games to play, and usually plenty of people to play against. The biggest problem, other than being Java and eating up most of my CPU, is that it pretends to need a password to install, and doesn't even tell you why. That's very lame. And no, I don't play in the "real money" games. Because that is a felony according to both state and federal law, and I would never do such a thing, even though it's perfectly legal for me to go a few miles down the street, never leave my own residential neighborhood, and play poker for real money in an Indian casino.
- Chris "Pudge" Nandor
This year there were quite a few games to snag my interest, however, the one that was the most surprising to me was the MMOG, Eve Online. The game has been around since 2003, but I had always resisted since it looked like another time sink a la World of Warcraft, but a friend finally talked me into playing. While at first the game seemed like nothing more than a passing novelty I promised to give it 6 months, even if all I did was skill train and log out (unlike most MMOs skills can be trained while offline). However, once I had a better handle on all the nuances of the interface and a few skills under my belt the game started to unfold into this vast universe of possibilities unlike any game I had ever played before. The game starts off slow, very slow in fact, but if you have the patience to make it through the tutorials (dear god do NOT skip the tutorials unless you have your own personal guide) then there is plenty to keep you busy for months at a time. Of all the things that make Eve great, the skill system is certainly the most unique. Only being able to train one skill at a time and having a fixed time until it is done, you know exactly when it will finish (whether you are online or not). This allows people with real lives to at least keep up with the power curve in terms of skills, but ensures that the "veterans" will always have the edge. Many people complain about this fact, but I think it adds to the realism that pilots who have been doing it for years get to be the ace while you, the new pilot, get to play the rookie for a while. It doesn't take long (in terms of most MMOs) to at least be a contributing member of a large corporation (Eve's guild equivalent) and really get in on the fun. With all of the different possibilities in Eve it is no wonder that it is the only MMO still growing (and has been steadily since 2003 from what I hear). Whether you are a fan of casual solo play and just want to be the captain of a mining ship or are a meticulous power gamer who craves vast space battles and PvP, Eve has something for everyone, just give it a few months to grow on you.
- Patrick "Scuttlemonkey" McGarry
What can I say? I'm a Final Fantasy junkie- I even liked X-2, so take me with a grain of salt. Final Fantasy XII's new gambit system takes the tedium out of the game but still lets me control what I want. The ability to see mobs and avoid random encounters is fantastic. The graphics, the story, the gameplay. You don't often see a game worth of any sort of perfect rating but this one is it. My only complaint is that the traditional FF victory theme music plays only over the larger fights... but the other occupant of my living room would tell you that this fact makes this game an upgrade (as she humms the tune over and over again, each time with more fury). I'm not the sort of person who needs to go collect every last esper, so I guess my only complaint is that it's over, and it'll be awhile before I get to see a Final Fantasy on the PS3, which is probably what it will take for me to buy the damn thing.
- Rob "CmdrTaco" Malda
From the moment the soaring orchestral theme to Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion began playing, I was hooked. Bethesda landed me like a gaffed fish, and while I've played a lot of games this year, Oblivion is always going to be my 2006 game of the year. As I said lo these many months ago in March, the story is great, the graphics are amazing ... but what made Oblivion special then and has kept it special all the way through to December is the trust the developers have put into the player. They don't put you in a little car, lower the safety bar, and make you ride through their experience the way they intended. You're at the controls, and they've made the effort to make every nook and cranny worthwhile to explore. Part of what has made Oblivion so compelling is that my preferred character from Morrowind has finally gotten his full due. Playing a stealthy character in Elder Scrolls III was fun, but in battle it was often quite a challenge. Oblivion's critical system has allowed my Khajit Assassin the punch he needed to make battles turn his way. A character now an embarrassing 75 hours old, I've run him through the main quest, the Thieves guild, the Dark Brotherhood, the Arena, 'The Collector' chain, and dozens of smaller quests. I've been across the length and breadth of Cyrodil, and in all of those 75 hours I have never, not once, found myself bored. It's hard to find the words to give a game higher praise than that.
I also want to give Half-Life 2: Episode One a quick nod of the head. For a little slip of a game that only lasted a few hours of my life, the time players spent with Alyx Vance this year will (I think) weigh heavily on gaming as a whole for the near future. Her wit, charm, and intensely personable nature are a high water mark that every other NPC now has to live up to. The promise of Episode Two has made PC gamers more than a bit cranky at Valve for the constant delays. It's not just the humor of Team Fortress 2 or the brain-bending of Portal that has us looking forward to Valve's next release; Half-Life players are very much looking forward to the next time we can have real backup in an FPS.
- Michael "Zonk" Zenke