Award Winners for 2014

I’m still trying to get things back up to speed here at the GamerChris blog and Exploring Games podcast, but in the meantime, a few big awards have been announced recently, and I wanted to give a little commentary about them.  So I’m going to address them chronologically in the order that they were announced.

The Dice Tower Awards

I’m on the jury for the DTA’s, so I’ll get into what had my votes and how I feel about the winners a little on each category:

Best Game Reprint: Ogre
This was definitely my #1 vote, and with the ridiculous production of the game, I can’t imagine anything else challenging it much at all. You also have to have the biggest size (from a few ounces in a 7×4.25×0.1 inch plastic bag to 28+ pounds in a ginormous 24x20x6.75 inch coffin box) and cost ($2.95 to $100+) differential between the original and new versions ever… so much so, in fact, that reproducing the new version will probably never happen due to the price it would have to carry to actually make money. The only other game I voted for was The Downfall of Pompeii, but that’s just because I think it’s a game that needs to be available for people, even if it’s not a particular favorite for me.

Best Party Game: One Night Ultimate Werewolf
I haven’t actually played this, so it could certainly be a great winner.  I get a little frustrated sometimes when hobbyist gamers pick games that aren’t really party games for awards like this, but from what I hear about One Night Ultimate Werewolf, it actually fits the bill pretty well.  My top choice for this was Tapple, which I think fits the mold of a mass-market party game very well and is still a lot of fun for pretty much anyone.

Best Game Artwork: Eldritch Horror
This was my top pick as well.  I’ve had sort of mixed success in playing Eldritch Horror with others (mostly because, regardless of what the box says, playing it with more than 4 people is a really bad idea), but I’ve had a lot of fun with the game myself.  And so both to reward the game in some way and especially to call attention to how fantastic it looks, I was glad to vote for and see the win for it.

Best Game Components: Battlelore (2nd Edition)
Fantasy Flight probably has more resources than any other company out there to produce amazing-looking games. And I’m sure that Battlelore (2nd Edition) was a deserving recipient. But personally, I’m sort of boycotting Battlelore now, mostly because I was almost completely bought in on the old version (originally put out by Days of Wonder), and feel like Fantasy Flight mistreated the property a little bit. My personal choices here were: 1) Forbidden Desert, 2) Rampage, and 3) Relic Runners.

Best Two Player Game: Battlelore (2nd Edition)
Again, people rave about how good this version of Battlelore is, but I play so few 2-player games these days (except for Netrunner, of course), that I didn’t even have a choice in this category at all (mostly because I didn’t play any of them except Tash-Kalar, and playing that didn’t exactly prompt me to vote for it). I suppose I would have liked to see Targi win, though, just because it sounds the most interesting to me.

Best Co-op: Freedom: The Underground Railroad
This was a new category this year, and I feel like it was a really strong year with a very wide variety of coop games. Freedom was definitely my first choice, but I would have also likes to see my other choices (Pathfinder: Adventure Card Game or Eldritch Horror) win, and wouldn’t have been upset if either of the others won either (Police Precinct or Forbidden Desert). As I said about it before, though, Freedom is just more than most other games. The weight of history and atrocity it carries, but still deals with so elegantly, makes it hard to argue against.

Best Strategy Game: Russian Railroads
This was my 2nd choice here (behind only Freedom: The Underground Railroad), but after playing it a little more, I’m already beginning to grow a little tired of Russian Railroads. It’s pretty cool to actually play, but it doesn’t seem to be very deep, and after just a few games, the strategic choices available seem pretty obvious to me.

Best Expansion: Lords of Waterdeep: Scoundrels of Skullport
I wasn’t surprised about this at all, and after finally getting to play with it on the iOS version, I feel like it’s a pretty good choice. For me, though, my top choice was definitely Pandemic: In the Lab, of course.

Best New Designer: Freedom: The Underground Railroad
Again, I was so impressed with how well put-together Freedom is that Brian Mayer definitely got my first choice for Best New Designer. It was actually a pretty hard decision for me, though, with my close second choice being Jamey Stegmaier and Alan Stone for Euphoria.

Best Family Game: Forbidden Desert
My 1st choice as well.

Best Small Publisher: Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia
This was a really hard choice for me as well. Ultimately, I voted for Euphoria as my top pick, but The Great Heartland Hauling Co. was right up there for me as well.

Most Innovative Game: Rampage
Innovative is always such a hard thing to judge. Rampage didn’t make my top three, but I’m not really upset with it or anything. It certainly did some things that I haven’t seen before in boardgames. My choices were: 1) Going, Going, Gone! (for its live-action auction), 2) Pathfinder: Adventure Card Game (for how it does the campaign play/advancement), and 3) Freedom the Underground Railroad (because, well, I don’t know… I just wanted to vote for it for pretty much everything, to be honest).

Best Game Theming: Freedom: The Underground Railroad
Clearly, I was all over Freedom for this category as well. I was happy with my second (Eldritch Horror) and third (Rampage) choices as well, but I’m just thrilled that “Best Theme” basically went to both a historical (not a “geeky”) theme, and that Freedom was specifically rewarded for how well it handled such an emotionally-charged topic.

Game Of The Year: Caverna: The Cave Farmer
If I’m disappointed by any of the choices here, this is probably it. And really, I have absolutely no reason to be, since I haven’t actually played Caverna and cannot judge it in any way. Mostly, I suppose, I’m just disappointed that Freedom: The Underground Railroad (my 1st choice) didn’t win, or that it didn’t go to my other choices (Pathfinder: Adventure Card Game, which I’ve had so much fun with, or Concordia, which is a really great and different euro). I also sort of hate that a redesign of an older game, but by all rights, people seem to love it, so who am I to argue.


Spiel des Jahres

Kennerspiel des Jahres: Istanbul
I was hoping that Concordia would win (mostly because it was the only nominee I had actually played, but also because it’s really good), but after watching the GameNight! analysis of the nominees, I can see why Istanbul would be a good choice. It seems to be more from the old school of euro design, where you have a few simple mechanics that interact in a way that is still pretty light, but also brings a good amount of depth to actual play. And as opposed to how many hardcore, hobbyist gamers feel about the Kennerspiel (that it should be “our” award or something like that), the reality is that the SdJ jury looks at it still as a family game, but just one that requires maybe one or two steps of more complexity than what they would now consider for the “real” SdJ. And being the simplest and most elegant of the nominees (again, from what I’ve heard, anyway), this choice makes a lot of sense. Istanbul was already on my wishlist, but now will jump right to the top!

Spiel des Jahres: Camel Up
I haven’t played any of the nominees for the SdJ, so again, I’ll have to mostly fall back on the discussion from GameNight! for what I know about them. Splendor was definitely the choice from most gamers talking about it, while Concept was sort of the “out of left field” nominee that sometimes might get the nod. But both for its approachable play and its “toy factor”, Camel Up probably has the most universal appeal. And when you’re recommending a game for pretty much any game-buying family in Germany, it probably made the most sense as well.

Image courtesy of Daniel Danzer via BGG

Yes, there are some other awards out there that have been announced recently (most notably the slightly-more-relevant Origins Awards), but to me the Dice Tower Awards and the SdJ are the most important in the hobby. So what do y’all think about the winners, or about the awards in general?