Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Origins Awards Winners and Commentary

Those of you who wander into this blog from time to time know that I was one of the finalists for the position of Program Director of the Game Manufacturer's Association (GAMA). One of the duties of that job would have been the organization and running of their annual Origins Game Fair where the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design annual awards are announced. It looks like John Ward's first convention for GAMA was a success, especially given the state of the economy.

The Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design awards are the American gaming hobby equivalent to the Oscars, as opposed to the Spiele des Jahres which is the European board gaming version of the Oscars. Over the years, the award's prestige has fluctuated in the minds of consumers but it is now pretty clear that the Origins Awards are the industry standard and that other awards -- while worthy of note -- hold places similar to the People's Choice award. The one exception is the Diana Jones Award which is more like the MacArthur Genius Award of Gaming -- without the money.

This year's Origins Awards had an exciting list of nominees and as a devoted gaming fan who "came this close" to running the con (only the board knows how close I actually came, which might not actually be that close -- but I was in the finals dammit, so I'll claim that I only "missed it by that much") I have some strong opinions about a number of the nominees and the eventual winners. The net was a buzz over the weekend after Critical Hits shared the list of winners, but I wanted to have my say -- especially after having a brief twitter conversation with Ron Blessing about the controversial Best Role Playing Game selection.

Play By Mail

* Atlas Games Play by Post Forums by Atlas Games
* Heldenwelt by SSV Klapf-Bachler OEG. (Austria)
* Hyborian War by Reality Simulations Inc.
* Starweb by Flying Buffalo Inc.
* The One Ring Legends Module by Harlequin Games

WINNER: Hyborian War


Of the games listed above, I have only ever played Hyborian War. It is one of the classics of the Play by Mail medium and is very deserving of accolades. It should be noted that Hyborian War has never won an Origins Award before, unlike the multi-year winner Starweb. The fact that a prior winner (or a long standing game for that matter) was nominated in this category is not surprising, especially given the small number of participants in the medium. Play by Mail's heyday was in many ways the 1980s and very early 90s, but Play by Post and other internet transformations of the format are clearly enabling a transition into new technologies. Do yourself a favor and try a few months of Hyborian War. Me? I'm going to try Starweb. I've never played it before, but after checking out the website and seeing that it has won the Origins Award multiple times has sparked my curiosity.

The subject of what constitutes "new" and what should be nominated will come up again later, but let it be said that I don't think the same criteria for what is nominated should be used for all Award categories.


Collectible Card Game Rules or Expansion

* Chaotic: M’arrillian Invasion Beyond the Doors Booster Pack 8 TC Digital Games LLC MRN, To Be Continued LLC, Sam Murakami, and David Baumgartner
* Highlander the Card Game: Search for Vengeance 11 HighlanderTGC
Mike Sager
* Magic the Gathering: Shards of Alara 1 Wizards of the Coast
Bill Rose and Devin Low
* Portal Score Entertainment
Aik Tongtharadol, Josh Morris, Dan Posey, and Carl Braun
* World of Warcraft the Trading Card Game: Servants of the Betrayer 2 Upper Deck
Mike Hummel, Antonio DeRosa, Ken Ho, Jeff Liu, and Patrick Sullivan

WINNER: Magic the Gathering: Shards of Alara 1


The fact that Magic the Gathering won in this category should be of little surprise. Magic is the giant among Trading/Collectible Card Games. I would have liked to see some representation from the "Living Card Game" class of games. I am a fan of the modular, but not random, nature of the LCG which allows players who do not have trust funds to put together effective decks for play. I now prefer to leave the "random assortment booster pack" in the 90s when I was younger and had more disposable income to spend on multiple packs to get one card. I understand the financial model and why it works, but I am outside the demographic. I like to play a wide variety of games -- and am an insane completist when it comes to needing to "have 'em all" -- so the CCG model isn't one that I fit in with.

As an aside, I also think that the tournament play of various trading card games needs to better educate judges regarding the various types of "card manipulation" that is possible. It is very easy to stack a deck while appearing to be randomizing. Professional card tournaments would do well to have "dealers" who shuffle the decks. There's a reason they do it for poker, this game class would do well to follow suit.

Magic and World of Warcraft are strong games that are very fun to play at the casual level. Aside from the "collectible" aspect of the game, they can be affordable if you are only interested in casual play. I haven't played the others and was surprised to see that Highlander was still in print. Good for you Highlander, I might just have to pick up a couple of decks now.


Children’s, Family, and Party Games

* Backseat Drawing
Out of the Box Publishing
Peggy Brown
* duck! duck! Go!
APE Games
Kevin G. Nunn
* Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The
Mongoose Publishing
James Wallis
* Living Labyrinth
Bucephalus Games
Julie Haehn
* Rorschach: The Inkbot Party Game
Bucephalus Games
Dan Tibbles, Jeremy Holcomb, Joe Huber, and Stephen McLaughlin
* Say Anything
North Star Games
Dominic Craphuchettes and Satish Pillalamarri

WINNER: Say Anything


It's nice to see the Origins Awards nominating and awarding games that are targeted more at the general market, rather than the "gaming" market. There are some strong games in this category and one of the companies nominated is a brand new gaming company (Bucephalus Games).

Out of the Box Publishing makes a number of wonderful games (Apples to Apples and Ninja vs. Ninja jump quickly to mind) and I will certainly be running out to purchase Backseat Drawing for my twin daughters before the year is out.

duck! duck! go! looks and sounds remarkable, but the fact that it is collectible, you only get 6 out of 100 rubber duckies in any pack, is a major drawback for me. I would much rather have clear packages where I can know what ducks I am buying. My twin daughters are at an age where they like duckies, but the random assortment here makes me less likely to buy many packs. The fact that I can "make a set" at the Ape Games website makes me more likely to buy them direct, which isn't the best business model. One should either have a model that encourages small retailers to support you, or one where the big box stores want to carry you, and not a model which makes the customer avoid the retailer. Your store front is still the best place for word of mouth, especially with a family game.

James Wallis' Munchausen is one of the most entertaining role playing games written to date and can be played in a manner appropriate for all ages. One can play it as an evening storytelling game with their children, as it provides wonderful story ideas to spark a night's bedtime story. One can also play it with adult friends and listen as the stories get bawdier as the participants get drunker. Good times for all.

I eagerly await my copies of the two Bucephalus games above. They are a new company, but I am very excited about many of their games. As for Say Anything, I can't say anything. I don't usually buy the "party game" as I already own enough of them and find that Scene It! is one of the best to play with my groups of friends.

[EDIT -- added 7/01] One of the thing that frustrates me about the internet is when people make flippant comments and then when "called" on them proceed down the path of snark and venom fueled by an inability to admit error. I try to not be one of those people. So when Dominic Craphuchettes posted a comment on this blog regarding my dismissive comments about Say Anything, I figured I should review what I wrote. Dominic was right, I was too dismissive and didn't actually write what I meant to write. So here is another try at what I intended.

"I haven't had a chance to play Say Anything, so I cannot comment about it. I haven't purchased it yet because I own a lot of party games and am currently in a phase where I try to purchase games by smaller companies, older games I missed out on, and obscure war games. Bucephalus games caught my attention because they are a brand new company and the fact that I've had the opportunity to meet their Sales VP. I'll likely pick up Say Anything around the Christmas season when my purchasing habits gravitate back to party games."

At least that's what I should have written. After having Dominic comment on the blog, I'm going to buy the game today on the way home from work. I'll try it out with friends at my annual 4th of July BBQ and hopefully review it next week.



Historical Miniature Figure or Line

* 28mm Imperial Romans
WARLORD GAMES
* King Philips War 28MM
Brigade Games Inc.
* SS-Panzerdivision ‘Das Reich’ Panzerkompanie (GEAB06) [15mm Line]
Battlefront Games
* 28mm Celts
WARLORD GAMES
* 15mm Ancient Saxons
Splintered Light

WINNER: SS-Panzerdivision ‘Das Reich’ Panzerkompanie



Flames of War is one of the great miniatures war games and consistently has some of the best looking miniatures, the SS-Panzerdivision is no exception. If I had time to paint, I could easily become obsessed with the Flames of War line.


Historical Miniature Figure Game Rules Supplement

* RISE OF ROME (Fields of Glory Supplement)
Osprey Publishing
* Operation Cobra, The Normandy Breakout –FW206 Cobra FLAMES OF WAR
Battlefront Games
* WWII Eastern Front Skirmish Scenarios
Britton Publishers
* STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER
Test of Battle Games
* AGE OF EAGLES: Napoleon Vs Europe 1813 – 14, AOE Scenario Book
Quantum Printing

WINNER: Rise of Rome Fields of Glory


Osprey Publishing has long been the go to publisher for the historical wargamer -- whether miniature or counter based wargaming. Osprey's publications are well researched and accessible. Their books are great touchstones for researching a particular time or place and are often written by renowned scholars of the given area. It was a long time coming for Osprey to release their own miniatures war game rules, but it was worth the wait.


Historical Miniature Figure Game Rules

* Fields of Glory Miniature Rules
Osprey Publishing / Slitherine Software
Richard Bodley-Scott
* Volley & Bayonet: Road To Glory
Test of Battle Games
Frank Chadwick and Greg Novak
* Cold Steel and Canister
Decker Game Company
Jack Decker
* Song of Drums and Shakos
Ganesha Games
Andrea Sfiligoi
* Chevauchee: Rules for Battles with Medieval Miniatures
Skirmisher Publishing LLC
Michael J. Varhola, Robert “Mac” McLaughlin, and the Skirmisher Games Development Group

WINNER: TIE between Fields of Glory and Songs of Drums and Shakos


It's nice to see both a small publisher -- who sells strictly through Print on Demand and PDF -- as well as a long time historical book publisher -- who just made the jump into gaming -- both receive recognition. I was impressed with Osprey's Fields of Glory, but the Origins nomination is going to get me to purchase a copy of Songs of Drums and Shakos in the next month.



Historical Board Games

* Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear
Academy Games
Uwe Eickert
* Espana 1936
DEVIR US LLC / Phalanx
Antonio Catalain
* The Battle of Monmouth
Clash of Arms Games
Rich Kane
* The Campaigns of King David
Clash of Arms Games
Robert Markham
* Pursuit of Glory
GMT Games
Brad Stock and Brian Stock

WINNER: Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear


Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear is that rarest of creatures in the war gaming hobby. It is a game that is easy enough to teach the novice, but complex enough to challenge the war game veteran. The game combines eurogaming sensibilities with traditional war gaming depth. I can hardly wait for the sequel. Shoot me an email and I'll play a game anytime.


Non-Fiction

* KOBOLD Guide to Game Design, Vol. 1
by Wolfgang Baur, Nicolas Logue
Open Design
* Lost Leaves From the Inn of the Last Home
by Margaret Weis
Margaret Weis Productions
* No Quarter Magazine
editor-in-chief Nathan Letsinger
Privateer Press
* Things We Think About Games
by Will Hindmarch & Jeff Tidball
Gameplaywright Press
* Tour de Lovecraft: the Tales
by Ken Hite
Atomic Overmind Press

WINNER: Tour de Lovecraft: The Tale


This is both a great category and a sad one. It's sad in that one of the entries is a gaming related magazine. There was a time when gaming related magazines had their own category and including the category in "nonfiction" might lead one to believe that gaming magazines are dead. They aren't. Some of the best, like Dungeon and Dragon are gone, but others like Strategy and Tactics, Fire and Movement and Knights of the Dinner Table are going strong in print. This is not to mention those magazines that have transformed into wonderful online publications, including magazines like Pyramid and the aforementioned Dungeon and Dragon. There are even new magazines like Battles, Level Up, and Kobold Quarterly cropping up to fill in the gaps.

I also question having Lost Leaves from the Inn of the Last Home in a non-fiction category. Certainly it is a quality publication, especially for Dragonlance fans, and it doesn't quite fit in as fiction since it isn't a piece of narrative fiction. But I think that "almanacs of fictional worlds" still count as fiction, even if the recipes are real.

Other than these two quibbles, this is a very strong category. Wolfgang Baur's Open Design project has turned out some wonderful products and I am proud to have been a patron on all of them.

Hindmarch's and Tidball's book about gaming is thought provoking and entertaining and is one of the better books that discuss what gaming is about. One could easily do a series of articles with each article being based on one of the thoughts from the book. It's not quite child friendly as it contains a little profanity, but that's expected from a book with any writing from Wil Wheaton. Wheaton may always let the wookie win, but he can't seem to write a paragraph without an f-bomb -- a well timed comic f-bomb, but an f-bomb none the less. Thing We Think About Games is a MUST own.

Ken Hite's Tour de Lovecraft isn't an essential addition to the gamer/gaming library. This is an essential addition to ANYONE's library. While there has been a lot of scholarship (and "scholarship") about and around H.P. Lovecraft's fiction, this is the first "reading companion" that I have found and it is a wonderful reading companion. Just pick a story, or use the order Ken Hite uses, read it and read Ken Hite's commentary, it is very much worth the time. It's like being able to discuss the stories with my friend J within moments of finishing a tale. That's something special. Ken Hite very much deserves the Origin, too bad more than one couldn't have been given out in this category.



Fiction

* Hungerblade
by Robin D Laws
Red Juggernaut Inc.
* Infernal Sorceress
by Gary Gygax
Paizo Publishing
* Killing Ground, The
by Graham McNeill
Black Library
* Pirate King, The
by R.A. Salvatore
Wizards of the Coast
* Worlds of Dungeons & Dragons Volume 2
edited by James Lowder & Mike O’Sullivan
Devil’s Due

WINNER: Worlds of Dungeons & Dragons Volume 2


This category has a diversity of medium and of genre. The selections range from e-published to comic books and they contain Gary Gygax's last story. The gamer in me wishes that they had given the award to the father of gaming and his Fafhrd and Grey Mauser pastiche. As much as I respect James Lowder, and I do, I cannot disagree more with the selection of a collection of 3 issues of a very good comic book as the best gaming related fiction of the year. James Wyatt's Eberron fiction was very strong last year, not to mention some of the weird fiction collections being released by Chaosium. I am excited to see the world of Robin Laws' Hungerblade as a Savage Worlds supplement as Robin is a creative genius, but I was unfamiliar with it prior to the Origins Awards so I cannot speak for or against its merits.

All I can say is that I strongly feel that Gygax should have won the award. He is not only the father of modern gaming, but in some ways is the father of gaming fiction.


Miniature Figure or Line of Miniature Figures

* Monsterpocalypse Collectible Miniature Game
Privateer Press, Inc.
Matt Wilson, Bryan Cutler, Jason Soles, Rob Stoddard, and Kevin Clark
* Star Wars Miniatures: The Clone Wars
Wizards of the Coast
* WARMACHINE Steam-Powered Miniatures Combat
Privateer Press, Inc.
Matt Wilson, Ron Kruzie, and Chris Walton
* WH40K: Space Marines
Games Workshop
* World of Warcraft Miniatures Game
Upper Deck Company
Justin Gary, David Baumgartner, John Fiorillo, Matt Hyra, and Anthony Shaheen

WINNER: Star Wars Miniatures: The Clone Wars


There are some very strong miniatures sets here. All of them deserve the nomination, but Monsterpocalypse was one of the most exciting new games I have seen in years and I think that it deserved to win the category. It's rare that a new game, not attached to any other IP, makes gamers go giddy, but that's what Monsterpocalypse did. It's giant monsters vs. giant robots for God's sake! The only thing that could make it better would be a manga license...oh, wait they have one in the pipeline. Sweet!


Miniature Figure Game Rules

* Classic Battletech: Tactical Operations
Catalyst Game Labs
Randall N. Bills and Herbert A Beas II
* Monsterpocalypse Collectible Miniature Game
Privateer Press, Inc.
Matt Wilson, Bryan Cutler, Jason Soles, Rob Stoddard, and Kevin Clark
* WARMACHINE: Legends
Privateer Press, Inc.
Matt Wilson, Jason Soles, and Rob Stoddard
* WH40K: 5th Edition
Games Workshop
Alessio Cavatore
* World of Warcraft Miniatures Game
Upper Deck Company
Justin Gary, David Baumgartner, John Fiorillo, Matt Hyra, and Anthony Shaheen

WINNER: Classic Battletech: Tactical Operations


The voters gave the award to the most detailed rules set. The Classic Battletech game is an enjoyable system that has been ruggedly playtested and refined into a fairly balanced system that doesn't suffer as badly as Warhammer 40k when it comes to "power creep." Most of the games in this category can be learned in detail rather quickly, not so for Classic Battletech. You can learn the basic rules quickly, but there is a lot of depth to the rules. A game like 40k has depth of play and is a fun experience, but Classic Battletech has a depth to its rules and is the only property to rival 40k when it comes to depth of narrative. The voting in this category was definitely dominated by the die hard grognard gamer and not the newb friendly one. I would have voted for Monsterpocalypse as it is fun, easy to learn, and actually new -- as promised more on the "new" criteria later.



Game Accessories

* Chibithulhu
Steve Jackson Games
* Classic Battletech: Record Sheets 3039
Catalyst Game Labs
Randall N. Bills, Bjorn Schmidt, and David L. McCulloch
* D-Total
Gamescience
Dr. A. F. Simkin, Frank Dutrain, and Louis Zocchi
* Duel Decks: Jace vs Chandra
Wizards of the Coast
Erik Lauer and Ken Nagle
* Living Arcanis T-Shirt
Paradigm Concepts, Inc
Pedro Barrenechea, Henry Lopez, Nelson Rodriguez, and Eric Weiner
* Wicked Munchkin Bag & Die
Q-Workshop
John Kovalic and Patryk Strzelewicz

WINNER: D-Total


This is an odd category. Personally, I like the Chibithulhu. I don't know how it will help my game, but it will entertain my twin daughters while I game -- and that is the definition of a useful accessory. Apparently, cute wasn't enough to win...it seems nothing can overcome the gamer obsession with strange dice.





Role-Playing Game Supplements

* Buccaneers of Freeport
Green Ronin Publishing
Ari Marmell, Anthony Pryor, Rodney Thompson, and Robert Vaughn
* Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide
Wizards of the Coast
Bruce Cordell, Ed Greenwood, and Chris Sims
* Hero Lab
Lone Wolf Development
Rob Bowes and Colen McAlister
* Serenity Adventures
Margaret Weis Productions
Alana Abbot, Billy Aguiar, James Davenport, Ted Reed, and James M. Ward
* Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Wizards of the Coast
Rodney Thompson, Sterling Hershey, John Jackson Miller, and Abel Pena

WINNER: Serenity Adventures


This is one of those categories where the voters and I are very much in disagreement. First, Hero Lab belongs under accessories and not supplements as it isn't a rules supplement or expansion of an existing game. Hero Lab is a character creation accessory. Second, I think this is the first category where we are beginning to see the "intra-gamer" squabble between the anti-Wizards of the Coast crowd and the anti-3.5 crowd. Both Buccaneers of Freeport and The Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide are very strong products. The Forgotten Realms book is so strong that for the first time since high school I have thought about playing in a Forgotten Realms game. The old Forgotten Realms books suffered from an over abundance of deus ex machina style characters, so many it made me wonder as a player just how heroic my own characters can be. This isn't true in the new Forgotten Realms as all the old heroes are either dead or unable to help.

It seems to me that the Serenity Adventures vote was a vote to be non-controversial. It is a very good product, Jamie Chambers is the second friendliest person in the gaming hobby -- Matt Forbeck is the friendliest -- and a lot of gamers are big Joss Whedon fans. You can include present company under Joss Whedon fan -- especially when he and Tim Minear team up. I am such a big fan that I actually watched every episode of Dollhouse and kept making excuses for how it is almost entertaining and so should be renewed. I'll still make excuses for it, but that doesn't mean that the Serenity Adventures book is the best role playing supplement of the prior year. It isn't. My vote would have gone to the inspired Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide and if those old fans of the FR, who felt betrayed when they changed so much, would actually read the book they would likely agree.


Role-Playing Games

* Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Players Handbook
Wizards of the Coast
Rob Heinsoo, Andy Collins, and James Wyatt
* Mouseguard Role-Playing Game
Archaia Studios Press
Luke Crane and David Petersen
* Trail of Cthulhu, The
Pelgrane Press Ltd
Kenneth Hite, Robin D Laws, Jerome Huegenin, and Simon Rogers

WINNER: Mouseguard


This is the category where I am most disappointed with the voters and with GAMA. Let me state for the record that I believe that all of these are excellent products, but Mouseguard is not the best role playing game of 2008 -- not by a long shot. Before I go into why I believe that the Player's Handbook should have won, let me say that my vote would have gone to Trail of Cthulhu as it is the most brilliant game design to come through the pipeline for some time. But I can only explain the fact that the Player's Handbook didn't win by pointing at the politics of the gaming industry where there is a huge, and I mean HUGE anti-Wizards of the Coast bias. It's a bias rooted in a selfish "I want stuff for free and for big companies to fail" mentality and it is total crap.

This is the game that brought about a discussion between me and Ron Blessing on twitter yesterday. I have a lot of respect for Ron. We both love Savage Worlds -- deeply -- and I recommend his podcast unreservedly. Before I continue with why I think D&D should have won -- even without my vote -- here's the brief conversation between me and Ron:


CINERATI: Mouse Guard, which uses a retread rules system, beat D&D 4E for the Origins award. Stupid anti-Wotc bias.

CINERATI: Oh, and for you haters. I own Mouse Guard, Burning Wheel, Burning Empires, and Jihad.

TGTT_RON: @cinerati 4E didn't belong in the awards because it is a new edition of an old game. MG belonged because regardless of system, it was new.

CINERATI: Couldn't disagree more @TGTT_Ron Mouse Guard is Burning Wheel. It deserves to be awarded as much as 3.5. 4e was a major shift in design.

TGTT_RON: @cinerati Origins' rules state a new edition of a game doesn't qualify. It's clear they made an exception due to the changes in 4E.

CINERATI: @TTGT_Ron I consider a change in setting to be a new edition as well. Oh, and Mouse Guard is awesome, just really impressed with 4e.

TGTT_RON: @cinerati That said, I think Mouse Guard is a better game. 4E is a fine game, which many I respect enjoy, but I agree with the award to MG.

TGTT_RON: @cinerati I agree with you about much of the WotC hate going around, but in this case I think the games were judged on their merit by fans.

TGTT_RON: @cinerati And if WotC cared about the Origins Award, they would have been at the con promoting their game. That snub didn't help, I think.

CINERATI: @TGTT_Ron I think we can agree that WotC PR doesn't deserve any awards.


First, Ron is incorrect that the "rules state a new edition of a game doesn't qualify." Specifically, the rules state, "If a product is a new release of an older product version, the new version must have been changed over 50 percent from the old version (including artwork, packaging, and design—design is given the most weight) as determined by the jury." Re-releases of products are officially allowed, as are repeat winners as the Play-by-Mail and Trading Card Game categories (among others) demonstrate. A product need not be new to be considered, it must merely be "released" during the 2008 calendar year.

Second, as I wrote above Mouseguard is as guilty as Dungeons and Dragons of being a re-release. It is the application of an existing rules set -- in this case the excellent Burning Wheel System -- to a new setting. This is as much an original role playing game as the Steve Jackson Games Hellboy and Discworld role playing games were -- which is to say, "not much of an ORIGINAL role playing game." There are fewer systematic changes to the Burning Wheel engine in Mouseguard than there were changes to the underlying Dungeons and Dragons engine in 4th edition. 4th edition, which is the first edition of D&D to be denied an Origins award -- even the unpopular 2nd edition won for its year -- is a radical shift in game design and deserves to be rewarded.

It is true that the Burning Wheel engine's focus on narrativist gaming was a significant shift when that systems revised edition was released in 2005, but it is also true that the Burning Wheel engine was an influence on 4e. The skill challenge system in 4e is a direct descendant of the system in Burning Wheel -- a game half a decade old. Mouseguard represents a simplification and new presentation of an older system -- and is awesome -- but it isn't anywhere near as innovative as 4e. Burning Wheel on its own was that innovative, but its first release was five years ago. One might ask which is a better descendant of Burning Wheel? Luke Crane is a great designer, and deserves recognition for all of his influences which include 4e's design, but I cannot see Mouseguard beating 4e without the huge levels of hate among a certain contingent in the gaming community.

I write all this even though I believe that Hite and Laws created the most exciting role playing game I have seen in some time. Not since Feng Shui -- another Laws project by the way -- have I been so amazed by a game. It is true that like Mouseguard the Trail of Cthulhu game uses an existing system (in this case the Gumshoe system) and uses that system as a framework to emulate an existing intellectual property (in this case the writings of H.P. Lovecraft). Two things set it apart from Mouseguard. First, Trail of Cthulhu's system is a "complication" of an existing system and not a simplification. Second, Kenneth Hite managed to make a better version of one of the best role playing games ever made. Kenneth Hite and Robin Laws managed to out Call of Cthulhu Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu role playing game. They made a better emulation of the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft. I cannot imagine using the Basic Role Play system to run Cthulhu after reading Trail of Cthulhu. After reading Mouseguard, I'm still not convinced that Ironclaw wouldn't work better.

When the Burning Wheel engine was converted to SF with the Burning Empires game, I pretty much wrote off any other system for running science fiction -- at least until Thousand Suns came out. I didn't experience that with Mouseguard.

I also think that these awards should take into consideration impact on the hobby. Not many people will be playing Mouseguard in five years, but a lot will be playing 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons and a lot of future games will be influenced by its system. While Burning Wheel will still be influential in 5 years, I doubt this particular version will be. Mouseguard seems to me to be an excellent product based on a hot "indie" comic and won more on "cool" factor than on its merits as a game.

Just how many people are actually going to play this game?

I think that question matters most of all. In fact, it is the answer to that question that makes me believe that 4e deserves the award over Trail of Cthulhu even if ToC is a better game design.


Card Games

* Dominion
Rio Grande Games
Donald X Vaccarino
* Monty Python Fluxx
Looney Labs
Andrew Looney
* Red Dragon Inn 2
Slugfest Games
Geoff Bottone, Colleen Skadl, and Cliff Bohm
* Ticket to Ride Card Game
Days of Wonder
Alan R. Moon
* Trailer Park Wars
Gut Bustin’ Games
Lisa Steenson

WINNER: Dominion


I'll just say that as good as all the games on this list are, Dominion is a remarkable game. Oh, and it won the Spiele des Jahres too.



Board Games

* Agricola
Z-Man Games, Inc.
Uwe Rosenberg
* Ninja vs. Ninja
Out of the Box Publishing
Tushar Gheewala
* Pandemic
Z-Man Games, Inc.
Matt Leacock
* TOMB
Alderac Entertainment Group
John Zinser
* Wealth of Nations
TableStar Games
Nico Carroll

WINNER: Pandemic


All of the games nominated are very good games. I particularly like Agricola and Tomb, but I agree that Pandemic should have won. The thing that truly sets Pandemic apart from the other games, other than its topicality, is the fact that the game is cooperative in nature. It is rare to have an exciting and challenging cooperative game. Sometimes its better to play a game where everyone wins or everyone loses. If you want a game with super viruses and one winner, there's always Nuclear War.


VANGUARD AWARD

WINNER: Flames of War Firestorm Campaign


The Vanguard award is supposed to go to something truly innovative, unique, or in a class of its own. Looking over the Firestorm Campaign system, I have to agree that Battlefront have done exactly that. Games Workshop has been creating campaign systems for its various miniatures games for some time, but none have managed to integrate strategic representations -- that a traditional counter based war game would use -- with the tactical action of a miniatures battle as smoothly as the Firestorm campaign system. The most remarkable aspect is that you can run the entire campaign in four to six weeks, a relatively easy commitment for the father of twins or the busy professional.
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