There are more tabletop gaming awards than you would think out there, but when it comes to board and card games, I believe that the premier awards for the hobby gamer (well, other than us saying what we think the game of the year is, anyway) are BGG‘s Golden Geek Awards and the Dice Tower Awards. The 2015 nominees are now available, so let’s take a look at the nominees, what might win, and what (if anything) got snubbed.
Game of the Year
What Will Win: Pandemic Legacy
What Should Win: Pandemic Legacy
I know you’re supposed to save “X of the Year” for the end of the article/show/whatever, so you can build up tension and excitement, but let’s face it – Pandemic Legacy is a prohibitive favorite here, and for any category that it’s in contention, the real question for me is “what’s the next best after Pandemic Legacy?” So let’s just get this one out of the way. When we did out preliminary best of 2015 in Episode 184 I ranked T.I.M.E. Stories as my best game of the year so far. Well, now I’ve played Pandemic Legacy, and T.I.M.E. Stories has been displaced (all the way down to #2).
What the two share in common is narrative. Pandemic is a very popular game, but one that I personally would classify as good, but not great (I prefer Flash Point, which is kind of the same game but feels more thematic). But Pandemic Legacy, with its changing board and rules, its plot twists (the simple fact that it has a plot), and the joy of opening more little boxes and stickers as the games progress, just elevates it to another level. For both T.I.M.E. Stories and Pandemic Legacy, the story of the thing provides a real extra hook for that cooperative gameplay, not simply whether you’re going to win random board game #327.
Not only is Pandemic Legacy amazing, but it’s widely hailed as amazing, and rapidly ascended to the #1 slot on the BGG rankings. It should win, and it will win.
The best few games of the year are already included, and there are some Euros that one might argue should make the list (such as Signorie), but for snub here I’ll go with the small box card game duo of The Grizzled (yet another cooperative game, this one about trying to survive World War I) and Dead Drop (a deduction game). Codenames is on the list, so lighter games aren’t entirely off the list, but these small box games deserve some love.
Note that five of these ten games (Blood Rage, Elysium, Pandemic Legacy, Roll for the Galaxy, and the Voyages of Marco Polo) were the five nominees for Best Strategy Game. As Pandemic Legacy will and should prevail for Game of the Year, it also will and should prevail in Best Strategy Game.
Best Co-Op Game
Let’s just assume that I cut and paste everything from above about what will will and what should win, except there are no snubs here. Pandemic Legacy is the best game of 2015, and it’s a co-op game, so it’s the best co-op game of 2015. Likewise, T.I.M.E. Stories would be my runner-up choice here. The presence here of three of the Dice Tower’s Game of the Year nominee’s, plus one of my “snubs,” is indicative of the growing strength of co-op board game design.
Best Party Game
Nominees: Codenames, Mafia de Cuba, CS-Files, Mysterium, Two Rooms and a Boom
What Will Win: Codenames
What Should Win: Codenames
OK, maybe this what will win/what should win dichotomy isn’t going to play that well this year, since the wisdom of crowds is strong with this one again. Codenames is, hands down, the best party game of the year, and arguably one of the best party games period (you can already pick it up in mass market stores). In Codenames, the players (preferably at least 6) are divided into two teams, each with a single spymaster giving clues to the rest of the team. The spymaster tries to provide clues that will enable the team to guess which words on a grid belong to the team. If spymaster has to balance clarity of clues with the need to score multiple words per turn to keep up with the opponent. Codenames really brought something new and clever to an often-stagnant segment of the hobby. Something like Mysterium, for example, isn’t even a party game (it’s a fun game, just not a party game), and there are some years where I might wonder if there is a true “party game” worthy of a game of the year award. This is not one of those years.
Best Two-Player Game
What Will Win: 7 Wonders: Duel
What Should Win: 7 Wonders: Duel
Snubbed: Star Wars: Armada
With all those colons in the titles, I’m going to nominate Best Two-Player Game for “Awards Category Most Likely to Give Me White Wolf Flashbacks.” Not that they don’t serve a purpose (except for Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn, which just has two different titles smushed together), but that’s a lot of colons. 7 Wonders: Duel, is a fantastic two-player version of a fantastic many-player game. It captures (light) civilization-building feel of the original game, while trading a drafting mechanic that works poorly for two players and trading it for semi-open drafting that works great.
Most Innovative Game
Who Will Win: Mysterium
Who Should Win: 504
Most Innovative Game is an interesting category, in some ways more like Best Components or Best Art than Best Strategy Game or Best Party Game. In something like Best Strategy Game or Best Party Game, once you’ve overcome the hurdle of “does this game fall into this category,” the question is really just which game is best – if a game is the best game, and it’s also a strategy game, then it’s the best strategy game (for example, Pandemic Legacy). But something that is worse as a game can still have great artwork or great components (I don’t like Blood Rage, but the miniatures are still great). Most innovative isn’t quite that distinct – being most innovative in gameplay requires some real gameplay success, but a game can be most innovative while not being the best game.
With that in mind my nod for the game that should win this category is 504, even though (as you can tell from my prior statements about T.I.M.E. Stories) I would not say it is the best game of these five (it might not even be the fourth-best game out of these five). But, while all of these game are operating in new space, the entire concept of 504 is new and bold. The game includes nine modules (pick up and deliver, racing, privileges, military, exploration, roads, majorities, production, and shares), three of which are used each game (and in three different roles), for a total of 504 different permutations. The rulebook even includes a breakdown of which percentage of the combinations use which of the components included in the game. Ultimately, meshing all of this together interchangeably makes for some combinations that are better, and some that are worse, but not many that are really great – as neat as the concept is, I can’t see myself sitting down and trying to work through all 504 combinations (or even a modest percentage of them) – although my wallet would certainly appreciate if I bought one copy of 504 and then little else for the next 5 years. While the gameplay is not as masterful as its competitors, 504 deserves recognition as Most Innovative Game of the Year.
Note that there are 14 categories for the Dice Tower Awards, most of which are covered above. The other categories are Best Components (answer: Star Wars Armada), Best Family Game, Best Game Artwork (take your pick of CCG expansions), Best Game Expansion (Ticket to Ride UK/Pennsylvania), Best Game from a New Designer (T.I.M.E. Stories, although this is a pretty deep category too), Best Game Reprint (answer: Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization), Best Game Theming (anything but Blood Rage) and Best Small Publisher Game (Champions of Midgard, with Stockpile as runner-up).