Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Dice Tower Gaming Awards

Let's start with a (sad) admission... I don't listen to The Dice Tower much anymore. My podcast listening time has always been pretty limited anyway & I found that I didn't enjoy it enough to justify the time involved. (No shot at Tom - I consider him a personal friend - and I loved certain elements of the show... but it's kind of the same way I feel about David Letterman. In other words, more icing than cake.)

With that said, I still enjoy reading Tom's reviews online - agree or disagree with him, but he does a bang-up job of describing a game & his opinion of it without being Snarky Snarkerston from Snarkville.

I am excited, however, about The Dice Tower Gaming Awards. Now, I'm not on the awards committee (evidently an oversight on their part - snicker/giggle) but I still have some input for them.

The BEST GAME OF THE YEAR award goes to a game that is the "cream of the crop", the one game which a sense defines the year in gaming.

This is a combined result of the games' physical presentation, strategic choices, and most of all - a sense of fun.

Well, I haven't played Age of Empires III (I'd like to try but I'm guessing I'd be just so-so on it) or Duel in the Dark (which I think I might like if I could find people to play it with)... so my recommendation will go to neither of those games.

My one playing of 1960 left me cold - I liked the historical elements of the game but felt like it was pretty much 2 hours of min-maxing in order to see who got a better draw out of the bag on Election Day. (Granted, this pretty much was the way the actual election went... but it didn't make for a very satisfying gaming experience.)

That leave two of my favorite games from the last year: Race for the Galaxy (which I think packs an amazing wallop for a 30 minute game) and Zooloretto (which deserved the Spiel des Jahres & take the mechanic from the overrated Coloretto and puts it at the center of a very enjoyable game). The production on both games is darn near perfect... so how do I pick?

Well, I can play Race twice as many times as I can play Zooloretto... so I'll give it to Race for the Galaxy in a photo finish.

BEST REPRINT will go the company who has reprinted an older game with the best updated rules and/or components. I'd like to try Fire & Axe - and the reprint is really sweet looking - but I haven't played it. In the same vein, I haven't played Caylus (either edition) but after watching a game, I don't really have any desire to do so.

That leaves three possible choices: a reprint of a card-driven wargame I enjoyed but feel no real need to play again, a reprint of one of my top ten games that I haven't seen yet (the reprint, that is), and a reprint of a small publisher game I fell in love with but couldn't possibly afford.

The award goes to, of course, Thebes, which went from limited edition collectible with so-so components to beautifully produced mass release that took full advantage of the reprint to tighten the game & make it easier to teach and follow.

The MOST INNOVATIVE award goes to the tabletop game that has a fresh, interesting mechanic driving the game. It is a game that will likely have future effects in the industry. I'll leave Cutthroat Caverns aside (not having played it)... but I feel qualified to say that Duel in the Dark (haven't played but read the rules), Galaxy Trucker (the same), and Kingsburg (have played) are not particularly innovative games. Duel in the Dark is a mixture of Euro & wargame - nicely put together but nothing ground-breaking. (I think the stellar production hides its wargamer-y heart.) Galaxy Trucker sounds like my kind of game: real-time spaceship construction followed by a Dungeonquest-like avalanche of random events guaranteed to take some players out in a blaze of glory... but that's not innovative, just cool. Kingsburg uses dice in a new way - but they're still being used to generate resources for a engine-building game, which sounds a lot like Stone Age (which was just released).

That leaves what I think is the only really innovative mechanic out there, the Pathfinder system from Tannhauser. I think it's a great leap forward for individual combat board games & I hope it finds a more balanced game to live in. (I liked Tannhauser - the theme was evocative of Capt. America v. Red Skull or the original Hellboy comics - and the production was really nice - but I didn't think the game that we played actually gave one of the sides a fighting chance.)

The BEST EXPANSION award is given to the add-on to a game that increases variety, fun, and more strategic options. This is one expansion that owners of th original game should rush to buy. I am decidedly NOT a fan of Twilight Imperium, so out the window goes any hope of getting me to play the expansion. Yakuza sounds nifty but nobody in our group has a copy yet. Switzerland is not an essential expansion to the Ticket To Ride series (that honor belongs to 1910).

Which leaves me with two expansions for two different Command & Colors games. Call to Arms is the connective tissue which helps hold the expansion sets together for Battlelore... but I think that the reworking of all the official scenarios of Memoir '44 alone qualifies the Air Pack as the winner - and that doesn't take into account the air rules, the extra pieces, and the summary rules deck!

BEST ARTWORK will go to the artist and game which have best brought the theme to life - via the box and components. All of these games do a great job of "bringing the theme to life" - I guess it's pretty much a toss-up which leaves me to decide my recommendation on other non-artistic factors. I think Colosseum is prettier than it is enjoyable, which takes it out of the running. Duel in the Dark I haven't played... yet - out it goes. Starcraft was enjoyable & nicely done, but a lot of the art design for it came from an existing universe (computer game), so no cigar there.

Between Race for the Galaxy (with an amazing combination of sci-fi art & intricate iconography to make clear all of the powers) and Chateua Roquefort (with a 3-D board that actually makes a difference in game play & looks delightful), I'll have to go with the more oddball of the two:
Chateau Roquefort!

The BEST FAMILY GAME is the one game that can best be used to introduce new folks into the gaming hobby. It is a game with a low barrier to entry, but emphasizes fun and easy strategies. It is not necessarily the most strategic, but emphasizes a game that is fun for the entire family. Game components are of a high quality, and the game should appeal to a wide range of ages. I've actually played all the nominees... and own 3 of them. The two I don't own are NOT bad games (Felix is a fun auction game & Kingsburg does the resource management/vp engine thing nicely) but I don't think either of them are a stand-out game. It's unlikely that the majority of the gaming community (or non-gaming community, for that matter) will be playing either of these much 5 years from now. (It doesn't help that Kingsburg runs just a little long for the family game category.)

I love Chateau Roquefort (I'm currently trying to hunt down copies of the giveaway expansion & the new box expansion) but I don't think it's the best family game - it can be distinctly unfriendly when you find ways to toss your opponents into the dungeons in order to sew up the win. The spatial/memory requirements to play at a high level aren't at the beck & call of most family gamers, either.

The ONLY knock against Thebes in this category is the length of the game - it tends to run 90 minutes or so, which is a tad long for family gaming. Otherwise, the theme & the mechanics work together perfectly to make a wonderful game.

Finally, and (as you've guessed by now), the winner of my recommendation is Zooloretto, which combines a family-friendly theme (building a zoo) with stellar components & quick play. The fact that most of our scores are pretty tight when we play is just another reason to give the nod to Zooloretto.

I'll skip the "Small Publisher" & "New Designer" categories, as I don't know enough about most of the games to comment on them.


Unknown said...

I would give the Best Games award to Zooloretto...i just love the game...its too good...and the most innovative game has to be Tannhauser...gamers can also check out for latest info about games. This was a cool post...cheerz.

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

Thanks for the kind words, Ashi...

ironcates said...

I agree with your thoughts here. I might give Art to STARCRAFT though. We really need to try CUTTHROAT CAVERNS. I was so close to buying it at KublaCon. Though it might not be innovative it's sounds like a lot of fun.

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

Steve (ironcates) said nice things about the art in STARCRAFT - to which I will reply:

a. I didn't say it was bad... they did a nice job with it.
b. The fact that you own the game & really like it is clouding your judgement.

See you at game night!

ironcates said...

Touche, Mark owning Chateau Roquefort has nothing to do with it.

Although the Starcraft universe existed previously. I have to say they've done some amazing original art here. The three dimensional figure scuplt put the mice to shame ;) and the cards, chits, and box art all impress. Roquefort is well done but I think an "impartial" judge would give the nod to Starcraft. :)

See you tonight.