The Spiel des Jahres & The Dice Tower Gaming Awards: The winners

Back in April I posted about the announcement of the The Dice Tower Awards and this month the winners have finally been announced.

I don’t say that as a bad thing: I think it’s good that a large team of experienced gamers have been putting the nominees through their paces for months – it certainly adds some weight to their attempt to become a rival to the revered German Spiel De Jahres awards – which, funnily enough, were also announced this month.

While I love playing new games, the main group I play in is quite small and I’m the only one who buys a lot of games – which means I don’t get to play nearly as many new games as I’d like. I’ll comment on a few of these, but in most cases I can only comment on the overall vibe I’ve had from reading about these games, rather than playing them.

The Spiel des Jahres Awards go to the best family, advanced and children’s game that have been released in Germany in the last year. This year’s winners were Kingdom Builder, Village and Schnappt Hubi! respectively.

I’d say that both Kingdom Builder and Village have generally been well received by the gaming community, without either one setting it on fire. Other notable nominees and recommended titles worth checking out were climbing themed board game K2, two-player worker placement game Targi and the fantastic solo deck building game Friday.

The Dice Tower Awards have a much more Oscars or Grammys feel to them, in that they hand out gongs in all kinds of categories. I also like the fast they are deliberately a year behind, so these celebrate the best games of 2011 – again, giving as much chance as possible for those taking part in the judging process to play as many titles as they can, so nominees don’t slip through the net.

It’s interesting to note that of the three games I listed in my previous post on the Dice Tower Awards that I suggested should’ve been nominated, two of them (Friday and Ora et Labora) were ‘Recommended’ in the Spiel des Jahres lists. Why they weren’t included here still baffles me.

That said, overall winner Eclipse was a great choice and a worthy winner. A sprawling space exploration game, it combines the best elements of conquering and economic/technological engine building into a game that doesn’t last five hours (well, it does when we play it, but that’s us).

Other notable winners were fun, light manga monsters dice game King of Tokyo in the Family Game category; co-operative fire fighting game Flashpoint: Fire Rescue taking a bow in multiple categories; fantastic two-player card combat game Summoner Wars: Master Set taking best expansion, and Risk: Legacy winning Most Innovative Game for its board altering and card ripping antics. Head over to the Dice Tower site to see all the winners (linked in the first paragraph).

Of the massive list of nominees for the main award I said it would be one of three (Eclipse, Mage Knight and Die Burgen von Burgund), and it was. I would probably have gone with Mage Knight, but Eclipse is a worthy winner. I thought the new maps for Ticket to Ride should’ve won Best Expansion, but having seen the value packed into the Summoner Wars box it’s hard to argue with that choice either. I also called Risk: Legacy for most innovative, but that was a shoe-in.

Overall I think this is a good list of games but at the same time, beyond Eclipse, Friday and Mage Knight, I don’t think there are too many that will stand the test of time and become counted as ‘classics’. what do you think?

Getting back into board and card games: helpful links

I’ve put a new ‘page’ up, where I’ll be linking a series of posts about how to get back into the board and card game hobby. I’ve posted it here.

Over the coming weeks I’ll be linking a group of posts to it, which I’ve listed by title below. I’m also adding a few links here now so that if you find this post before I’ve got round to writing the full article for each section, you’ve got a head start.

  • Where to buy (on and offline)
    Online, my first port of call tends to be Board Game Guru. I will also check Amazon, mainly for special offers, and The Works as it has had some fine games at crazy cheap prices of late (but also some tat – check reviews first!).
  • Websites (to play on)
    My absolute favourite is Yucata, a play-by-mail style site where you take your turns in as many games as it’s your turn in, then log off again (or you can stay online and try to play someone real time, if they hang around long enough). Boite Jeux does the same thing just as well, but with less games and a slightly less friendly interface. Both are FREE and I’m ‘hairyarsenal’ on both.
  • Websites (for research)
    There is one ahead of al others in terms of depth of content and that’s the not helpfully titled Board Game Geek. However, it’s ridiculously daunting for a new visitor and not very user friendly (there is  revamp of the site ongoing though – fingers crossed).
  • Podcasts
    There is a surprisingly large amount of good board game podcasts, but I think two stand out for newer gamers because they tend to talk a lot about simpler and popular/newer titles in an accessible way. These are The Dice Tower and The Spiel. Both are also on iTunes.
  • Smartphone, console and tablet apps
    Some of the bigger games that are great for getting people back into playing tabletop games have amazing online versions and apps. Whatever your console, phone or home computer you should be able to find Settles of CatanCarcassonne, or Ticket to Ride. All on on Xbox, Apple and Android devices for a small fee, while Catan and Carcassonne are both on BlackBerry too.
  • Video channels
    Definitely check out the new premium (but free) YouTube show TableTop, with Wil Wheaton. For individual game reviews, once again The Dice Tower is great has it seems to review the most games; but my favourite are the reviews of UvulaBob are my favourite, as they’re always genuinely funny.
  • A great game to start with per genre
    I won’t go here yet, although the three titles above under ‘Smartphone, console and tablet apps’ are a good starting point for the hobby in general: they’re really big sellers, have stood the test of time and I’d expect the majority of board gamers had one of these help them get back into the hobby.

If you found a particular game or resource helped get you back into the hobby, I’d love to hear about it.

The Dice Tower Gaming Awards 2011

(NOTE: Awards now announced here)

While there are quite a few different annual gaming awards, The Dice Tower Awards could (and I would argue should) become one of the most prominent ones in the industry. So what makes them stand out?

Now in their fifth year, the previous ‘Game of the Year’ award winners have been 7 Wonders, Small Worlds, Dominion and Race for the Galaxy. If you know anything about board games, this represents four games that are very much considered classics already, showing that the main award has gone to a very worthy winner every year so far.

Three are in the Board Game Geek Top 20 list of all time games, while Small World is a very creditable 58th right now (to give it some perspective, there are more than 50,000 games listed on Board Game Geek (BGG)). They may not to be to everyone’s tastes (what is?), but they certainly represent the cream of the crop from recent years in a way many other awards fail to do.

I think the list of categories is good too. Alongside best game there are categories for family games, new designers, theme and production values. I’d like to see an accolade for best new gateway game, as the awards are meant to, “Promote board and card games to a larger audience”, but it’s a minor quibble.

All the nominees are listed below. Sorry, I’m not going to make them all links (life’s too short!) – instead, simply head over to The Dice Tower Awards page for links galore. I’m also not going to ramble on about all of the categories; there are a hell of a lot of games I haven’t played on the list and many I have no personal interest in either. But there are a couple of categories I’d like to make a few comments on (see below). I’ll put up a short extra post when the winners are announced.

Just before we continue, here are my top three games that didn’t make any of the lists that really probably should have:

  • Ora et Labora: In the BGG Top 20, but nowhere here
  • Airlines Europe: The great gateway game of the year
  • Friday: A highly rated and original solo deck building game

Best Game of the Year 2011

Listening to the latest Dice Tower podcast, it was said that this category was extended to games this year because of blah blah blah. Frankly it really wasn’t needed, as if this award follows form the winner will (and certainly should) come from a much shorter list of real contenders: Eclipse, Mage Knight The Board Game and Die Burgen von Burgund.

These three are all already right up in the BGG Top 50 (6th, 22nd and 38th respectively), while A Few Acres of Snow and The Lord of the Rings card game are also in the top 100 but perhaps a little too niche to take the top award. The others, while good games in their own rights, really aren’t ‘game of the year’ material.

Unfortunately I’m yet to have a chance to play Die Burgen, but I’d happily get behind a win for either Eclipse or Mage Knight. I’ve played them several times and while they’re both pretty long games, they’re wonderfully produced, thematic, streamlined and, most importantly, fun. I’d give it to Mage Knight, but I expect Eclipse will take the award.

Of the others, I really didn’t like A Few Acres (essentially a dry, dull and limited war game dressed in deck builder’s clothing), while I had fun with both Star Trek and Tokyo without being compelled to buy them. Both good games, but ones that wouldn’t replace something else in my collection. Here’s the full list:

  • Eclipse
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game
  • Quarriors!
  • Risk Legacy
  • Star Trek: Fleet Captains
  • King of Tokyo
  • Die Burgen von Burgund
  • Mage Knight Board Game
  • A Few Acres of Snow
  • The Ares Project

Best Family Game Nominees

  • Flash Point: Fire Rescue
  • Kingdom Builder
  • King of Tokyo
  • Quarriors!
  • Say Anything Family Edition

Best New Game Designer Nominees

It’s great to see this award on the list, especially with funding sites such as Kickstarter giving a lot of new designers a viable route to market. Quite how good a thing that will be in the long run remains to be seen, but it’s nice to see a mix of traditionally published and kick-started games on the list.

All five have had mixed reviews but are ranking very well at BGG. They’re actually all on list of games I’d like to play too, so good luck to one and all.

  • Jason Little (Blood Bowl: Team Manager – The Card Game)
  • Kevin Lanzing (Flash Point: Fire Rescue)
  • Brian & Geoff Engelstein (Ares Project)
  • Christopher Badell, Paul Bender (Sentinels of the Multiverse)
  • David Gregg (Nightfall)

Best Game Reprint Nominees

  • Can’t Stop
  • Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War
  • Evo
  • A Game of Thrones: The Board Game (Second Edition)
  • Puerto Rico: Anniversary Edition

Best Production Values Nominees

  • Dungeons & Dragons: The Legend of Drizzt Board Game
  • Mansions of Madness
  • Risk Legacy
  • Super Dungeon Explore
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of Ashardalon Board Game

Best Small Publisher Nominees

  • Flash Point: Fire Rescue
  • Dungeon Run
  • Rallyman
  • Sentinels of the Multiverse
  • Bears!

Best Party Game Nominees

  • Crappy Birthday
  • Dixit Odyssey
  • Reverse Charades Junior Edition
  • Faux•Cabulary
  • Train of Thought

Best Game Expansion Nominees

For me, this should be an absolute walk over for Ticket to Ride. If it doesn’t win the award, it’ll be a travesty!

While it’s very popular, I don’t think 7 Wonders is much of a game and this expansion doesn’t change that. SW Underground and SW Master Set are little more than re-themes, while Dragonspire is simply putting a playable version of a poor game out (the original Thunderstone was so crap it was practically a beta test).

In comparison, Team Asia  adds an extra player and co-operative team play to one of the most popular and highly regarded board games in existence. Legendary Asia also adds a new way to think about carriage use, making this a fantastic expansion for Ticket to Ride. Seriously, how is this even a competition?

  • Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 1 – Team Asia & Legendary Asia
  • Thunderstone: Dragonspire
  • Small World Underground
  • 7 Wonders: Leaders
  • Summoner Wars: Master Set

Most Innovative Game Nominees

Again, this is a category that I can only see one winner in. No matter what you think of the original game, or the company that makes it, Hasbro has really come up with something original with Risk Legacy.

While for the most part you’re buying Risk, you’ll play a series of games (preferably with the same players each time) and the outcome of each game will have direct – and permanent – outcome on the board. You’ll be putting stickers actually onto the board, as well as writing on it, giving you  unique board with a different set of rules.

While it’s not an idea that appeals to everyone, and some see it simply as a great marketing ploy to shift more units, either way it’s an ingenious and original game design mechanism. It appeals to me – but it’s still Risk…

  • The Ares Project
  • Ascending Empires
  • Paperclip Railways
  • Quarriors!
  • Risk Legacy

Best Game Artwork Nominees

  • Dixit Odyssey
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game
  • Mansions of Madness
  • Flash Point: Fire Rescue
  • A Game of Thrones: The Board Game (Second Edition)

Best War Games Nominees

  • Sekigahara: Unification of Japan
  • Band of Brothers
  • A Few Acres of Snow
  • Julius Caesar
  • Sergeants Miniatures Game

Best Game Theme Nominees

  • Dungeon Petz
  • Flash Point: Fire Rescue
  • Last Will
  • Yggdrasil
  • Takenoko

Best Digital Boardgame Nominees

This is a slightly odd list of titles, but I guess that’s the nature of the app market. Ticket to Ride is the stand-out game on the list and has a very good app, but it all depends on what is really being judged. Unfortunately the Dice Tower Awards page doesn’t list the criteria for how this one will be judged.

I thought Ascension was a pretty poor deck building game, while reviews of Elder Sign were very mixed. However, I’ve heard good reports of both apps, which is interesting. Ghost Stories and Forbidden Island are pretty highly rated co-operative games that I haven’t played, but if these apps give a good solo experience I can see them being very popular. So what will be judged here? Improving on the original, a successful port, types of play available? It would be interesting to know.

  • Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer
  • Ticket to Ride
  • Forbidden Island
  • Ghost Stories
  • Elder Sign