On February 13, 2011 BGG's GrEEK Guild held its 2nd Boardgame Design Contest in Athens.
For those of you who don't know us, the GrEEK Guild is one of the largest guilds on BoardGameGeek. It was created in June 2007 right after the feature was added on the site, and it has been growing ever since. It has united all the Greek users of the site and we have formed a community where any of our countrymen can talk (in our native language) about board games, ask questions, discuss strategies and meet other people with similar gaming interests. During all these years our little community has evolved and we now regularly meet in a monthly basis (in more than one city!), organize trips, place group orders from online websites, have our own contests, etc.
In 2010, our Guild's creator (ManOfSorrows) had the idea of a boardgame design contest. Without a lot of organization but mostly in a friendly mood, we held the contest with four games participating. (You can find some details here but keep in mind the report is in Greek.) The event was a big success; everyone loved it and almost immediately we announced a second game design contest for one year later! The success of that initial contest was made even bigger when a few months later, the game that won – Souvlaki Wars – was accepted by the biggest Greek company in boardgaming, Kaissa Chess & Games, for publication. (The game will hit the shelves sometime within the next few months.)
As the deadline for the second contest approached, it was obvious that there was more interest this year and more willing participants. Moreover, from the sneak peeks that we were getting it was obvious that the level of the games — both in quality and gameplay value — would be higher than before. We realized then that we should organize the whole event better to make it a nice opportunity not only for the designers to show their creations to more gamers, but for new people to learn about our hobby and our online community. We started looking for sponsors and right from the start, Kaissa Chess and Games offered to help us. With their help, we reserved a hall in a well-known Greek hotel and we printed posters which were displayed in their retail stores. The posters were also displayed in other boardgame stores around Athens, like Fantasy Shop and Playscape.
Another thing that we realized had to change was the process of choosing the winner. In the first year, whoever had played all the games during the contest would vote for his favourite in four different categories, such as best game and most original theme. This year, after lengthy discussions we decided to have a jury which would play all the games and give an award for just a single category: Best Game. However, since we wanted the public to participate more actively in the whole event we decided to have another award, this time for the game that was most appreciated by the visitors of the event.
Initially we had eight games participating. However, a few days before the contest two of them had to drop out since they realized they weren't ready and more work needed to be done on their games. Thus, six games ended up competing for the award of the best game:
In Astrologica, Tony Cimino (BGG user: Diogenis) has the players trying to put some order in the Zodiac Circle, the planets' positions and the Zodiac Houses. A fast and easy game requiring good observations skills and smart combinations, with the art of Bruce Salter.
In Autokrator, a medieval wargame by Lefteris Iroglidis (BGG user: GREEK GAMES), the players take the role of the Holy Roman Empire, the Moors, the Saracens and the East Roman Empire (Byzantines) trying to expand their territories. Emphasis is given to historical accuracy while also having an interesting and original combat mechanic.
Briefcase is an economic deck-building game created by Sotirios Tsantilas (BGG user: sot07) and Nikolas Sakaloglou (BGG user: sakal). The players try to build their own business empires by acquiring various small companies and using them to acquire even bigger ones. A key-characteristic that separates it from all the other deck-building games is that here, with the "Buy" action, the players don't buy cards that go into their deck. They buy resources and companies that they place in front of them. When they activate those companies (using cards in their deck and resources they have acquired) they generate new cards for their deck, which later allows them to buy even bigger companies. It is an interesting variation and the end-result is a fast and addictive game that you will keep wanting to play again and again.
Drum Roll is a Eurogame designed by Konstantinos Kokkinis (BGG user: 3pod) and Dimitris Drakopoulos (BGG user: geremes) and it takes us to a circus during the middle of the last century. Actually not in only one circus, but in many since each player tries to manage his own! In order to achieve that he will have to hire the best performers (jugglers, animal trainers, magicians etc) but also try to equip them accordingly so that when the time for the show comes, they perform to the best of their ability! After three shows in cities around Europe, the player with the highest Prestige ( = victory points) is the winner. A very interesting game, rich in theme and with amazing artwork!
In George Zotos' (BGG user: GeorgeZzzz) Home Sweet Home we get to build the house of our dreams! Starting with just four rooms and with frequent visits to plumbers, builders, decorators etc we get to build new rooms, install central heating or alarm systems, buy appliances or participate in auctions for rare antiques. And what better way to enjoy our accomplishments than to throw receptions and make our neighbours (co-players) jealous??? (Also scoring us some VP in the process.) We have to be careful, though, as their jealousy will lead to accidents happening to us, capable of destroying what we worked so hard to build. The better house we have, the more bad things will happen, from burglars to short-circuits or even earthquakes! Undeniably the most thematically original game in the competition which led to a lot of funny moments during plays!
Finally, in Hunt for the Crown, a card game by Aggelos Vazaios (BGG user: aggelos), we go to medieval Italy and we take the role of noblemen. The king is about to die and soon one of us will be his successor. To ensure that the crown is ours we will have to convince lesser noblemen of various Houses to support us in our attempt. The main mechanism is bidding but apart from money the nobles can also be persuaded with titles, estates or even promises of convenient marriages! However there is a lot of intrigue in the court and the alliances shift constantly ensuring that nothing is certain up to the very end!
When the 13th of February came, we were very pleasantly surprised. The hall was full of people coming to try the games, most of them new faces that we hadn't seen before! Many of them told us that they were unaware that such a community existed, and they became members themselves the very next day! There were also many people who wanted to participate in the contest with their own games. Unfortunately, since we were informed at the last moment, it wasn't possible for them to be included. However we will be more than happy to see their games next year at the next competition!
In the end of the day, the winners were announced. The big "battle" was between Briefcase and Drum Roll, the two games that were considered to be the top contenders for the award. It was hard to select one out of them since both games' designers had done a very good job. In the end, after counting all the votes, the big winner in both categories (jury + public) was Drum Roll but with a very small lead over Briefcase, showing that both games were of almost equal value. (In fact, for the public award it went down to the last two votes since it was a tie between them at that point.) Luckily, both games' designers are planning to publish the titles before the end of 2011, so we will get to play many more games out of each one!
We would like to thank everyone who helped this contest take place, especially our sponsor Kaissa Chess & Games, the gaming club Espairos for the hospitality during the jury's test of the games, the coffee shop Playce where the first competition was held last year and whose owner provided us this time with the big prize for the winner, the online shop Boardgameguru.co.uk for also providing a prize, and the stores Fantasy Shop and Playscape for displaying our posters. Thanks must of course go to Fidel Lainez as well for letting us use his beautiful image in our poster.
We would also like to thank everyone who came by, played the games, talked with the designers and gave them valuable feedback. The feeling of seeing people having fun with something you have created is priceless and we can only feel it thanks to you.
Last but not least, we would like to thank BoardGameGeek without which none of this would have ever been made. Thanks to a feature that many users may not even be aware of (guilds) a community was built, has evolved, and now has managed to change many people's lives forever.
Stay tuned for the next competition, this time next year! We will try to be even better both in organizing the event and in game quality!
Oh, and for those planning to go to Essen in 2011, keep your eyes open! From what I hear, most of the designers plan to appear at the fair and if everything goes well, some of them will even have copies of their creations for sale!