So you just had a baby. It’s an exciting and joy filled time for sure, but let’s face facts, the stench of sleeplessness hovers over you and you’re constantly covered in spittle and poop. The harsh reality is that your gaming regimen might have to change as you deal with your new responsibilities. No more chain smoking JRPGs or all night LAN parties for you.
The good news is that you don’t have to give up gaming completely. The key is to learn how to cope with your limited time, money, and energy. If you haven’t already I highly suggest you pick up a Nintendo Switch. This hybrid console’s handheld mode is perfect for gaming on the go. When you only have a few minutes to play between naps, playtime, and feedings, convenience is key. Luckily, there’s a growing number of titles in the gamer-verse that are perfect for new parents. Here are five of my favorites.
#5. Into the Breach
Genre: Turn-based tactics
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, macOS, Linux, Switch
Into the Breach is one of my favorite games of all time. I’m glad that I can highly recommend picking it up since so many aspects make it perfect for those of us who are time-starved. One look at the game and you’ll see what I mean. You control a 3 squad team of combat mechs, tasked to go back in time to save the world from giant insects that are emerging from deep underground all over the planet. You’ll need to defend cities in different continents using the hazards in each biome to your advantage. This is supposed to be a clash between titans but the isometric perspective and minimalist pixelated style make it look like miniatures are shooting missiles and filinging shots of acid, which is arguably even more cool.
Turn based battles play out on very small grids but the space is used to the fullest. At the start of each round enemies telegraph their emergence point from underground or their planned attacks. You can place units strategically over breaches to block enemy entry before they even have a chance to pop-in at the cost of your units health. If enemies are about to unleash a crushing blow in the direction of a city full of innocent civilians you can kill the enemy or use a number of actions that move or blowback the enemy so their attack plays out but doesn’t hit anything critical.
If you can’t outmaneuver an enemy you can simply crush and kill using incredibly fun weapons like flamethrowers, laser beams, and an electric whip. Each mech starts with a specific loadout but you can also upgrade and spend energy to equip new armaments. Multiple playthroughs and achieving specific win-conditions are rewarded with squads of brand new mechs with new abilities to send into the fray. If too many cities fall and you fail a run, time resets and in roguelike fashion one of your three mech pilots you’ve leveled can be sent back in time to lead another attempt with their perks intact.
During each battle you ultimately don’t have to kill every enemy, you’re only tasked with surviving and keeping mission objectives safe for a few short rounds. On top of that health pools are very small, so not only are missions quick to play out with so few hitpoints and rounds every move feels meaningful. You’re given a chance to reverse time to reset a turn once per mission if you make a mistake so use it if you’re like me and you wish you could correct your life choices. Into the Breach offers fun combat in perfectly bite-sized morsels. I’m blown away by its perfectly tuned systems and I find myself craving ‘one more run’ every time I get a chance to play. Pick this one up.
#4. Darkest Dungeon
Genre: Roguelike, Dungeon Crawler
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, Xbox One, PS4, PS Vita, iOS, Switch
So you used to be a hard-core gamer. You like games tough as nails and prefer a mature edge in your titles. Well, chances are you’re going to be starved for entertainment that doesn’t feature a bright colored puppet singing to your kids about how there’s no shame in missing the toilet when they potty train. From it’s bleak tone, dark and disturbing mechanics, to its consistently ominous narrator, Darkest Dungeon might be just what you need to break up your new PG lifestyle.
The presentation in Darkest Dungeon is absolutely top-notch. It’s striking crowquill art style is incredible, and even more so in motion during battle. As you search foreboding dungeons in search of valuable loot you’ll clash with disgusting eldritch fairyland creatures. Although the action is 2-D turn-based the game feels more action oriented because, during each attack, the camera quickly shifts parallax, zooming in and working together with the great visual and audio effects to make sure every slash and spell hits with force. You’ll never grow tired of bludgeoning a swine beast to death or taking a hit of destructive vomit to the face in retaliation.
You’ll enter dungeons with a 4 player crew but manage an expendable roster full of interesting classes. Some of my favorites are the poison flask wielding Plague Doctor, the shape shifting Abomination that gains a new set of skills when changing to beast mode, and the Jester that uses a lute to play songs to aid in battle bard style.
In addition to a buffet of diseases and status effects to deal with, seemingly every action from missing an attack to an ally taking damage has a chance to increase your character’s stress meter. If you don’t let them periodically rest in town, at a bar or brothel, they’re bound to have a heart attack and drop dead. And death is permanent. Pro-tip, your characters will fall and when you’ve invested heavily it really feels like a loss. When your legs are taken out you’re forced to hobble along. Use your spoils of war to upgrade the various buildings in town that will help your new recruits and give the fresh meat a fighting chance
Unlocking new skills, and buying new armor and items is addicting, experimenting with new party combinations is fun, and each new trek into procedurally generated dungeons is stress inducing, in a good way. Runs don’t take too long either, you usually have a choice between short, medium, and long dungeons to suit your time and mood, so you can be in and out in 10 minutes or struggle for a good forty. If you’re feeling masochistic you can choose to bring fewer torches with you to light your way, as the light dies in a dungeon enemies are stronger and battle conditions stack against you. This game is as hardcore as you want it to be. Darkest Dungeon is a wonderfully demanding game that can give you a fix for the weird and sinister in-between your equally weird and sinister episodes of Sesame Street.
Genres: Turn-based tactics
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Wargroove is a spiritual successor to Advance Wars. If you’re familiar with that series, or enjoy turn-based tactics, this game is pure joy. It features great music, a colorful cartoony aesthetic and a fun medieval fantasy theme. I was blown away by the lengthy campaign mode and formidable but fair A.I. The game felt perfectly tuned by default but you can adjust incoming damage, resource generation, and your commander unit’s Groove special ability cooldown. Adding a handicap might be just what the doctor ordered when you’re sleep deprived.
You’ll want to gravitate toward games that give you a lot of bang for your buck these days and Wargroove is a super meaty game for the $19.99 price point. Aside from the campaign there’s a puzzle mode, commander unit specific arcade challenges, a map and full campaign editor, and local and online multiplayer modes.
One of my favorite features is Wargroove’s asynchronous multiplayer option. Having a newborn baby puts your daily routine in a blender, leaves the lid off, and turns the power up to crush. There’s just no telling when you and your friends’ schedules will align for online gaming sessions. With Wargroove you can drop into a match and take your turn moving your troops, then leave and come back later after your enemy has moved their forces. Playing out matches one turn at a time is slow going but considering you can keep multiple games going at the same time it’s worth it to keep your social gaming intact.
I could rave about Wargroove all day. I haven’t even begun to mention the fact that there is cross-play between PC, Switch, and Xbox One, or that the game received a big free DLC expansion in February featuring a new co-op campaign, new units, maps, and arcade challenges. If you’re looking for a challenge and a game you can sink your teeth into when you can carve out a free minute Wargroove is for you.
#2. Slay the Spire
Genre: Roguelike, Deck-building game
Platforms: iPhone/iPad, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch
If you’ve played Slay the Spire, you’ve recommended Slay the Spire. This roguelike deck-builder is incredibly addicting and a perfect game for those looking to get in a few quick play sessions while you hide in the toilet from your screaming youngin’. In Slay the Spire you fight your way through branching paths across three progressively challenging levels. Along the way you’ll fight monsters, find healing camps and merchants, and most importantly, grow in strength by adding (or subtracting) cards from your combat deck.
Cards allow you to attack, defend, and cast a wide variety of special abilities in battle. Each card costs energy points to play, and you can only play the cards currently in your hand each turn. Enemies telegraph their next action so you’ll have some information to help you strategize how to spend your limited energy and play your best hand. At the end of your turn the enemy attacks and your hand is swapped out for new cards from your deck and your energy pool refills.
Honestly, it all sounds more complicated than it is. In fact, the game becomes second nature quickly and once you learn the basics, you can fly through runs in no time. I’ve had games last 3 minutes and I’ve climbed high into the third act after a good 20 minutes. With each run you learn more about which cards work well together, what to expect from enemies and end level bosses, and which relic (special items) best compliment different builds. I love that part of the game is the luck of the draw and part is using your noodle to anticipate and adapt to the random elements.
At the start of each run you’ll choose from a few starting characters. Each have their own unique cards, abilities, and play style. After each run you earn experience and can unlock brand new cards that may show up during future runs. I’m addicted to chasing the next unlockable card, trying new builds, and learning the strengths of each character’s deck. There is really no penalty for being reckless or experimenting during a run so you’ll find yourself leaning into that freedom and having a ball. The game feels fresh even after countless hours and thanks to its swift and satisfying gameplay you can jump in and out between temper tantrums
1. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Genre: Life Simulation
If you haven’t experienced Animal Crossing: New Horizon yourself by now, you still might have heard that this adorable life-sim sold 5 million copies in March, making it the highest-selling title for any console in a single month. The game has become a phenomenon, most likely due to the fact that it offers a pleasant and peaceful world to escape to in these trying times.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is my first experience with the franchise and it will always hold a special place in my heart as it came at just the right time, keeping me company through the first days and nights as I kept one watchful eye on our sleeping newborn. It’s a very casual game in many respects in that you are tasked with building up a deserted island into a bustling community but it let’s you progress at your own pace. Don’t feel like collecting resources to construct new buildings? No problem go fishing, collect bugs, have a swim, or dig up fossils. Still too much action? You can literally just sit on the beach and watch the world go by.
The game progresses in real-time meaning if it’s 6am in real-life the in-game clock is 6am as well, so you can literally take in a sunrise in-game as it’s happening out your window. Each hour of the day has its own wonderful unique soundtrack. So if you’re up at all hours thanks to your new bundle of joy, you’ll probably find yourself experiencing sights and sounds that other well rested people might not ever catch. Taking in a starry night sky without a care in the world is a magical experience. You’d be hard pressed to find a game that is more chill.
On the other hand you can choose to be busy as a bee. Capitulate to Tom Nook, the local taskmaster landlord and spend your time completing a seemingly endless supply of objectives. Fill your museum with your hard earned collection of flora and fauna, or try to keep up with the Joneses and let your creativity shine as you build out a unique and impressive island you can show off to visiting friends.
Many are using Animal Crossing to stay connected with friends and deliver some much needed stress relief. Some players are hard at work each day toiling to craft the most breathtaking island destinations possible. The beauty is that there is no wrong way to play the game and it’s always waiting for you to come back to it when you have the time. It’s perfect for new parents. No pressure, no stress, just a wholesome experience whenever you need it.