The Golden Wingspan...errrrr...Geek Awards were just announced, and while there are some good games in the mix I think that I'd like to take a swing at my own choices -- yet once again. Therefore, I present my highly-scientific, totally made-up, categories and choices below.
Pencil art by Cindy Chinn
Heavy Game of the Year: Westphalia
I've said it once and I'll say it again:
People are the ultimate in depth.
Adhering to that dictum is seems Westphalia, a game for exactly six players. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic I had an opportunity to play a regular game of a Sidereal Confluence with five other players. When I learned of Westphalia I thought that group would be a perfect fit for such a game. I was not wrong. Indeed, the game was an instant hit and we managed to get into it a couple of times before circumstances forced us to part ways. However, in that time it seemed that the game provides a very nice opportunity for interesting and elusive partnerships. Like, Sidereal Confluence the game fosters an opportunity for the maximal honing of one's negotiation skills over time. Certainly there seem to exist optimal alliances and strategies in the game, but I think there is a lot of room to explore other avenues and ways to break the intuitively ideal arrangements. I hope that I'll have the opportunity to explore this game more in the currently uncertain future.
Phileas Fogg Card Game of the Year Award: The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine
The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine is a breakthrough title in a very interesting new category of game - the cooperative trick-taking game. Perhaps the world didn't realize that it wanted co-op trick-takers, but thanks to The Crew it sure knows now. Certainly there are other co-op trick-taking games like Familiar's Trouble and Fox in the Forest: Duet and even solo-trick-takers that could be played cooperatively like Gongor Whist, but The Crew is king of them all so far. I welcome new entries in this wild new genre.
Commercially-available Abstract of the Year: Shobu
Shobu is a refreshing new abstract that hit a few of my touch-points for joyful gaming. First, the game is a two-player combinatorial abstract of perfect information, which I'm all about. Next, the game can be assembled from common pieces, which has been helpful in trying before buying. Third, the game (to me) is non-obvious in how to play well, though this might clarify with more plays. Finally, the actual production is charming with its lovely wooden boards and stone pieces. The past few years have been bereft of quality commerical combinatorial abstracts and Shobu is the first to even earn a Lead Geek award since Tak a few years ago. As a fan of abstracts I would like to be hopeful that Shobu will open some doors, but I'll remain cautious about putting too much hope in that happening.
Common Components Abstract of the Year: Keil
There are few bigger names in modern combinatorial abstracts than Luis Bolaños Mures -- a man who secretes sharp blue. As is his wont, Luis finds elegant mechanics and solutions to sticky problems in abstract design. One such sticky design problem is that of the play of Go on a hexagonal field. The problem inherant in this is that a hexagonal board has more points of connection from one cell to its neighboring cells, therefore eliminating the essential cross-cut tactic so important in Go. With Keil, I believe Luis has found an elegant solution to the cross-cut problem in hexagonal Go. This alone would be enough to warrant a Lead Geek award, but in fact the game is interesting and tense and a joy to play. That seals the deal in my opinion.
Fogus Children Seal of Ultimate Approval: Star Trek: Chrono-Trek
Star Trek: Chrono-Trek is the clear winner for my kids in 2019. Granted, me and my boys were part of a playtest group for the game, so that experience was instrumental in provoking a particular excitement for the game in them. However, the game itself is an entry in the Chrononauts-family and so its pedigree is solid. As a fan of Star Trek I especially enjoy talking to them about the references in the game and the episodes that they refer to -- they indulge me in this geekiness. I suspect the game has some solo potential but I haven't taken the dive yet.
The Casey Jones Excellence in Train Gaming Award: Across the United States
While I got in quite a bit of train gaming in 2019 and early 2020, most of the titles that I played were pre-2019 releases. However, while in Japan over the X-Mas holiday I managed to grab a copy of Across the United States. The game loosely reminds me of Ticket to Ride with the Pennsylvania expansion with a little more meat on the bone. That said, it's completely obviated my desire to play that all-star level TtR setup.
The Sublime Solitairy Experience of the Year: Top 10 Games You Can Play In Your Head By Yourself
I came across the book "Top 10 Games You Can Play In Your Head By Yourself" by J. Theophrastus Bartholomew (a Discordian name if I've ever heard one) via Nick Bentley and the premise attracted me enough to give it a try. The idea is that it layouts the parameters for various RPG-like scenarios that require no materials save for your gray matter. Your goal is to work through the sceanrios in your head, at your leisure, and devise the way that the stories play out. This is the best game to play in the shower that I've ever found.
The Fighting Joe Wargame of the Year: Brave Little Belgium
Previously I've avoided giving Lead Geek awards to wargames because of my relative unfamiliarity of the genre. However, while my experience is still quite limited, I've come to experience the genre enough to get a feel for the kind of games that I like. Therefore, the inaugural "Fighting Joe" award goes to the fantastic little Brave Little Belgium. The game is a 2-player affair playing two sides of an early conflict in WWI but I've found it to be a very good solo game also. It's of the variety where the underdog side can't possibly "win" except to prevent certain objectives and/or slow the more powerful force. While I would hesitate to call this a gateway-wargame, it's simple enough that it could be an entry-level design for people hoping to dive deeper into the genre.
Excellence in Multimedia Game Love: No Enemies Here
No Enemies Here is a wargame-centric podcast by Dan Pancaldi that runs through the weekly wargame news, offers reviews, and even has the occassional interview with industry luminaries. As someone not terribly connected to the wargamer community, NEH gives me a high-level view of the genre which allows me to dig deeper whenever something strikes me as interesting. Mr. Pancaldi is a charater and definitely injects his unique personality into each episode -- this is a good thing IMO. It's rare to find a podcast/videocast that nicely balances the information part with the naval-gazing part but NEH pulls it off masterfully.
Designer of the Year: Thomas Sing
For this year's designer of the year award I'd like to recognize Thomas Sing. More so than creating a great game (The Crew) Mr. Sing has given life and credibility to the promising Cooperative Trick-taking genre. If the genre opens up, as I hope that it will, then he deserves recognition as the person who made it happen. If not, well... he still deserves recognition for showing the world the promise in this quirky genre. It's on the world to take that lesson and make great games.
That ends this year's Lead Geek Awards. It was a highly unusual award year given that the ongoing pandemic has cut deeply into the weeks and months that I would have devoted to playing 2019 games with game groups. Therefore, this years group was narrower than previous years and had fewer categories. I hope that 2021 brings better luck in getting this year's games to the table but I suspect I may be in the soup once again.
One final note. I don't want to disparage The Golden Geek awards because it's a contest of the most played and popular games (or game in this case). The award is an interesting way to take the pulse of BGG along some narrow vector but it's in no way a tool for discovery. This is a primary goal in the Lead Geek awards so I hope you discovered an interesting game today.
A gaming blog about nothing in particular -- disjointed -- although there will be much about abstract strategy, pyramid games, and Euro-abstracts.
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