2014 Box of Delights Game Awards

For the first time I figured it would be a good opportunity, with the website being created, that I create a list of awards for the best games of 2014 for Box of Delights, reflecting the games we love to see and play on the channel. So, here we are, with 10 categories including “Box of Delights Game of the Year”. Read on to find out who wins the Box of Delights Awards for:

  • Best Children’s Game
  • Artwork & Presentation
  • Design & Originality
  • Best Expansion
  • Best Gateway Game
  • Best Thematic Game
  • Best 2-Player Game
  • Best Solo Game
  • Publisher of the Year
  • Game of the Year

Best Children’s Game
pic1964253_mdTo kick things off, and because we’re a family here at Box of Delights, who love to game with kids, we’re delighted to award best children’s game to the fabulous Dino Race from Ares Games. The baby dinosaurs are cute, the rules are simple, it’s a step up into the hobby-games genre for our children, and it’s fun and fast to play. What more could you want when you want to get the kids away from the TV and have fun yourself ?

Artwork & Presentation
pic1906718_mdThis award goes to the game with the most luxurious artwork, quality components, playability and a feeling that you have got a great deal of game in the box. This award goes to artists Lucas Graciano, Jon Hodgson, Fabio Maiorana, Francesco Mattioli and Ben Wootten, designers Roberto Di Meglio, Marco Maggi, and Francesco Nepitello, and Ares Games for The Battle of Five Armies.

Design & Originality
GreenlandThis award goes to the game which has mechanics, depth of play, wrapped with theme and playability, as well as originality and genius in the design. This is one of the areas we love at Box of Delights – reading the rulebook, appreciation of the elegance and interplay of the rules, and seeing new ideas mixed with old in new and fascinating ways. We love showing complex games on Box of Delights and so picking the winner for this category was a special joy. This award goes to a game which fits more design in such a small box as ever I have seen. With a richness of theme, and originality in its treatment of climate across the biomes that make up north and south of Greenland, and its use of dice-play and the so many ways you can influence the rolls, go together to create a great little card game. Of course, it’s Greenland from Sierra Madre Games by Phil Eklund and Philipp Klarmann.

Best Expansion
pic2247632_mdThere has been an explosion of expansions for all sorts of games, escalated by the emergence of Kickstarter games in recent years, and the idea of buying an expansion alongside, or shortly after, the base game. But there are good arguments for expansions: in particular, ignoring CCGs, TCGs and LCGS, expansions are good for a person on a smaller budget, has few games, and is looking for a cheaper alternative to get more game-play out of their existing collection. Not only that, for those of us who have the privilege to play lots of games, expansions give us a new way to enjoy a game we already love playing. In particular thematic games get a new freshness with a well developed expansion. And this year, with new locations, more variety and some great “more of the same” additions, the most well-rounded and fulfilling expansion for Box of Delights was Mountains of Madness for Eldritch Horror from Fantasy Flight Games. This expansion took the game to Antarctica, and gave us new adventures to complete. Great stuff !

Best Gateway Game
pic1904079_mdThis next award goes to a great Euro-game, and a great Family game. The mechanisms feel fresh and familiar, so picking up the rules and developing strategies gives a great sense of accomplishment with such immediacy – a great asset for strong gateway game. The game is so well balanced, so playable, and has that magic je n’sais quoi that has you asking, “shall we play again?!” Not only that, it has some terrific tactile, and great looking, poker chips that new players will love getting their hands on. I’m talking about Splendor from Space Cowboys and designed by Marc André.

Best Thematic Game
coverThis award goes to the game that not only falls into the category “thematic” but also the game that best evokes the theme of the game, transporting players to the world in which the game is played. With a great story, great tension, and a set of innovative game mechanics that reflect the theme of the game, the award goes to Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game from Plaid Hat Games. This is the closest thing you’ll get to actually being bitten by a zombie.

Best 2-Player Game
Battle of Five ArmiesThere’s nothing like a duel of wits and minds across a table to get the board-gamer’s adrenalin flowing, and their competitive spirit raging. 2-player games deserve a category of their own for Box of Delights, not only because we enjoy the head-to-head battle, but because 2-player games feature so much on our channel, and you want to know which are the best of the best. This award goes to a thematic wargame, that gives you everything you need from a 2-player face-off: conflict, sculduggery, intrigue and mastery. With its asymmetrical play, strongly linked to its theme, it’s like two games in one. You will find depths playing either side, and it will keep you awake at night as you figure out a new strategy or counter-strategy with which to outwit your opponent. The award for best 2-player game goes to a game that was made for two players, and had a tough act to follow (the modern classic that is War of the Ring). It is, of course, The Battle of Five Armies by ARES Games, designed by Roberto Di Meglio, Marco Maggi, and Francesco Nepitello. Great job guys !

Best Solitaire Game
pic1728715_mdThis was a very tough decision for 2014. So many great solo games. A special highlight, ever so close to being the final winner, and therefore our runner-up, is DVG’s The Cards of Cthulhu. A great theme, and great fun solo. It doesn’t have a wide distribution, but with an expansion in the works, this should be a big hit in 2015. It cites 1-4, but for me this will always be best solo. I liken it to Ghost Stories, but simpler to manage, and for me, more fun. It does not have the depth of some of the other solo games from 2014, but it sure has playability.

pic2225180_mdIn the end, though, the award for Best Solitaire Game goes to Upper Deck’s Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game. The theme is a hit, the story is gripping, the tension is dramatic, and it delivers what  you need that from a solo game – something that is   challenging,  fast-paced, and gives you an opportunity to make some clever decisions and satisfying card plays. The game is a little hard to get hold of, but with plenty of room for expansions, remember 2014 as the year it started. Thanks to designers Ben Cichoski and Danny Mandel for a great game, and I’m looking forward to the first expansion !

Publisher of the Year
This ended up being an easy choice. In 2014, as well as two games already on this list  (The Battle of FIve Armies and Dino Race) they gave us the co-operative game and soliaire favourite Galaxy Defenders. pic1166301We saw the original game and two expansions fund through Kickstarter, and a new game system that is sure to continue. Next year we expect more as they pick up the license for FFG’s Conan game. imageThis publisher, founded relatively recently in 2011, is building up a great library of quality games, with quality components and top quality rulebooks. If you haven’t already got an eye on what this Italian publisher is doing, you should do. The Box of Delights publisher of the year award goes to Ares Games. Thank you for the great games !

Game of the Year
And this brings us to the Box of Delights Game of the Year award. It was highly anticipated, we’ve seen it on the list twice already, and is from our publisher of the year. The Battle of Five Armies is our Game of the Year. It’s one that will stay in the collection and exceeded all expectations. This game is a heavy-weight, but wonderfully stream-lined, making it more accessible than War of the Ring. Ares have done a wonderful job on every aspect of the game. There is something in this game for every kind of gamer: war-gamer, strategist, card-player or dice-roller. Pick a game to have in your collection for 2014 and this would be my choice. I hope you love it too! pic1886964_md

The Witcher … a Review

I don’t do reviews. I do demonstrations, presentations, instructionals and play-throughs. Until now. This is the first self-confessed “review” out of the Box of Delights studio. It’s by one of my favourite designers and brought to life by one of my favourite publishers: The Witcher Adventure Game by Ignacy Trzewiczek, published by Fantasy Flight Games. Let me start by saying I’ve only played about a half-dozen times, and that includes a couple of games testing out a self-penned solo variant.

image

The game is basically a race between players to complete three missions and in doing say claim the most victory points. Your route to completing missions is normally by collecting resources, typically a collection of 3-6 of a single colour. You collect these resources by moving around a map of inter-connecting fictional towns in a world of fantastical monsters. But, the trick is to find effective ways of gaining those resources more quickly than your opponents. Aside from automatically claiming a new resource when you travel to a new town (though some provide none), you can push your luck by instead drawing an Investigation card, in the hope of gaining more resources more quicky. The catch is that these investigations often result in no resources at all, but instead you are hit by some negative effect or monster to fight. These investigation cards are so so tempting when you see your opponents edging ahead!

My first impressions were, “it’s a cross between Lords of Waterdeep and Tales of the Arabian Nights.” Like Lords of Waterdeep you are dealt quest cards. Those quests ask for resources, and completing those quests gives you victory points. But, like Arabian Nights, the game has you moving around the map and skilling up your character to enable you to perform better, and the game tells a story as you play. Ignacy is all about games that tell stories! Now that I have gone beyond first impressions, I can tell you the The Witcher feels very different to both those games in the playing. It is perhaps more akin to Eldritch Horror, which compared to its big daddy “Arkham Horror”, has players feeling like they have more control over their fate but still fate plays a big part (AH versus EH is a whole separate discussion!) You are seeking clues to complete objectives, encountering obstacles and collecting skills along the way.

The strategy in The Witcher comes from knowing when to make the right move. I guess there is very little in terms of long-term strategy, but instead being very aware of the game state and where your quickest returns (in terms of resources and victory points) can be found. One delight is that you are not competing over resources with your opponents – resources are in infinite supply. There is no worker placement or limited resources, and this means you are spending less time trying to punch your opponents in the face, and more time trying to outwit them.

imageThe stand-out design element for me is the quest cards. Firstly, they are thematically rich. They set the scene and explain why your warrior, your dwarf, your sorceress or bard is intent on travelling to a given location to fight a guardian of some treasure or other. But secondly, because each quest card, as well as offering a “main quest” that brings in the big points, each offers a number of side quests, which you may or may not choose to complete. Therein lays more decisions. Do you go for the big points and complete the main quest, or net in the smaller side-quests first ? You are also distracted by “support” quests. These are quests which appear on other players’ cards but which you can complete to both the benefit of you and your opponent. If you do want to mess with your opponent, there is an opportunity to complete your main quest and deny them being able to complete your support quest. Those are big rewards more easily gained, and those will surely play a big part in 3 or 4-player games (I’ve only played 2-player).

A nice piece of design work. The idea of multiple quests per card, none of which are mandatory, giving you that goal-driven “open world” feel that Arabian Nights gave us. And the idea of playing off other people’s quests that allows for some interplay and scheming in 3+ player games.

The main quests are guarded by strong foes (yes there are rules for combat) and that introduces another dimension to the game – a dimension that distracts you from the main quest but is vital to your success: Developmemt cards. Development cards will allow you to skill up your character, without which you will be continually pounded by the enemies that surround you. At the end of each turn, or in trying to complete a quest, you will face a monster or fate that will not always be easy to beat unless you have skilled up. Acquiring these developments cards is quick and easy – there is no long road of earning experience. Rather, you can upgrade your character every turn if you choose. But that’s the key: it’s if you choose. This is a fast game played quickly. Your characters beef up pretty smartly if you want them to, but of course, since you are limited to a number of actions each turn, in doing so you are spending less time seeking resources and earning VPs.

imageThese development cards are the small, half-sized cards you see in lots of FFG games. This economy has paid off though, because each of the four available characters has its own unique deck of development cards, so each character will develop in very different ways, with differing skills and spells.

I like the game. I wouldn’t say it’s Ignacy’s finest work, but it is certainly good fun and good value, and is ripe for expansions. [Paradoxically, I think if you are on a tight budget, a game that is ripe for expansions is a good choice for you, as it means you can potentially get more game at less cost, by adding to your one or two games, when compared to folks who are able to access lots of new games all the time.]

There are a few little issues. For example, when you are faced with both a monster to fight and a fate to befall you, you get to chose which you wish to face. This, for me, is a big disconnect from the theme, and instead is a mechanism that is purely there for the sake of gaming the play. I found this unusual and a surprising compromise from Ignacy (I am assuming this is a compromise, perhaps to playability or streamlining, as it was a design point that did not feel it had Ignacy’s signature upon it).

This is a medium-weight game, can be played pretty quickly, with a playtime directly related to the number of players. There is continual development of both your characters, and the enemies that await you. Since the quests themselves do not get any more difficult, on the contrary, they get easier as the game progresses (except that you are in a race with other players who are also skilling up), instead you will find the towns increasingly populated with Gold monsters, which are much tougher to beat and thereby act as obstacles to your progress.

In addition, you are likely to draw more fate cards as the game goes on, though I found that after a while, as characters got stronger, these cards were little more than an “annoyance”, like having to swat flies to get to the real prize.

imageThen there are familiar and gamer pleasing mechanics like the battle dice. I always love throwing dice in a game, and this one has the main mechanism of Elder Sign, where you can roll, push your luck, keep some dice, re-roll others, earn skills that allow you to alter die roll results, all in an attempt to get a certain number of swords, shield, or hit successes on your dice. Those are the moments that deliver tension and delight.

But there are also the seemingly small, and easily played, mechanisms that do have the inspired Ignacy touch. We saw in Robinson Crusoe how the game “remembers” decisions you make and pays them back later (by embedding cards in an event deck, in direct response to a decision the players have made, ready to reappear later in the game). This ‘deterministic randomness’ makes you feel like the game is playing with you, that the decisions you make matter. It tells the players that if they lose it is because of the actions they took. You can see if you are playing well or poorly because the game state is giving you that feedback. These are the touches that give The Witcher the “Ignacy” feel. Where monsters are placed, the way fate will trigger only when you take a certain chosen action (that you know is going to deal you something rotten!), the development arc you choose to have your character take. All these little touches, all these little decision points, all determined by the player actions alone, tell the players that fate was in their hands.

This is a game that has to be played quickly, otherwise it would become unweildy – many development cards, many skills to remember to trigger at the right time, an expanding footprint on your table-space. But the developers got it right. The game is timed to finish when it does. It’s no Tallisman, with players on a never ending progression of skilling up for hours upon hours…… To this end it fills a niche – a thematic, story-driven game, that feels like an RPG and is easy to set up, quick to learn and quick to play. And there falls my final comparison. If you wanted to like Talisman, but couldn’t get past its short-comings, you may well enjoy the goal-driven, fate dealing mechanisms of The Witcher, which push the players along and punishes those that stand still. It’s a keeper !

http://thewitcher.com/adventuregame

Learn to Play

The Next Great American Game … A Review

Randall Hoyt is not a board game designer. He’s a just a regular guy who designed a board game. Actually, he designed two. One is gold-dust and one is…. ? Let’s just say it’s not quite “The Next Great American Game.”

In this documentary, funded on Kickstarter, filmmaker Douglas Morse follows Randall on his mission to find a publisher for his game, Turnpike. It’s a game about being stuck in a traffic jam. That’s right, a traffic jam. Excited ? If you are an aspiring game designer, then you should be. Because in this film, Morse takes a sympathetic look at the first-time designer’s initial dive into the hobby-board-game world. Randall will make all the mistakes a designer makes, so you can learn from them; Randall will inspire you with his dogged determination, and charm you with his stories. Because this is not just a film about board game design, it’s a film about Randall.

The film begins by showing us Randall completing the fifth cut of his prototype, in preparation for Gen Con, Indianapolis, ready to hand it out to “whoever looks like they know what they are talking about.”

We are introduced to Randall wearing a black T-shirt with one word in stark white contrast: “Bipolar”. We’ll learn the significance of this later in the film, when we follow Randall to a pharmacy to pick up his meds to help manage his bipolar disorder, and we hear how it has affected his life. Randall is candid about his illness, how it manifests, about his time in a psych-ward, and he embraces the positives that he attributes to it: his creativity, his energy. It’s clear Randall and Douglas share an understanding about bipolar, because as it takes centre-stage in the film,  alongside the adventure in board-game design, it does so delicately and coincidentally. It seems to be what defines Randall, but by the end of the film Randall has rebranded himself “board game designer”. A much more positive tag.

But by the time Morse reveals Randall’s inner demons, the film has already charmed us with Randall, as he pitches his game to some of the biggest names in board-gaming, at one of the world’s biggest board-gaming conventions, Gen-Con in Indianapolis.  We are endeared to this charismatic designer, a man who is made comfortable in front of the camera. There is no awkwardness. The film is totally watchable from beginning to end, taking us on this journey from the excited naivety of a man convinced his game is the best in the world, to moments when he realises his game won’t sell a single copy. Was there a tear forming in the eye when we hear Randall reflecting on what he might need to do to make his game “more palatable” ?

It was a harsh lesson. And this is why the film is a must-see for budding game-designers. We are given free access to men and women who know the industry, the people who decide if a game is worth looking at or not, and what they are looking for in a game submission. Randall begins to listen. But he can’t let go. This game is a part of him, and Morse shows us this with great artistry.

At one point we go on a car journey with Randall. We find that a car ride with him is not a regular experience, but is a projection of the man. He doesn’t just see it as a car ride. It’s the inspiration for America’s next great game. The filmmaker show us that Turnpike is not just a game. It is an expression of Randall’s view of the world, of his bipolar disorder, of Randall. It is frustrating and humorous. It is a long road filled with aggressors and confrontation. It’s optimistic, but going nowhere.

So what about that “gold-dust” game ? This is the incidental game that Randall has designed, and which comes from his heart. This is the game people will want to play. This is the game that is not therapy for Randall, but therapy for everyone else. Randall describes “Talk+Listen” as the ice-breaker dice game that “encapsulates his experience from going to therapy group sessions.” I’ll leave you to watch the film to find out more. This, for me, was the most engaging part of the film. When Randall introduces us to his game, it asks that he try to find three words to describe himself. Creative, energetic, and either “troubled or inspired” he tells us (he is bipolar after all!). He finally settles on “inspired”. The optimist wins the day. Later, a moment that grabs the viewers, is the final realisation that Turnpike just wasn’t going to cut it when retired Hasbro buyer, Mike Gray, shares his experience – every minute is priceless.

Go watch the film. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Both for its lessons in board-game design (who is Randall marketing his game to ? “Everyone!” he tells us), and for its insight into the creative mind of an interesting and likeable man. Board game fans will enjoy seeing familiar faces at Gen Con and Origins, from the Dice Tower and Tabletop, to household names in design – Steve Jackson, Eric Lang, Matt Leacock.

But, as a conclusion, full credit to Douglas Morse for delivering a well produced and thoughtful documentary. Alex Yeagar (Mayfair Games) tells us that a fun game is a game that delivers a series of small victories. In this film, Morse gives us just that – a story that delivers a series of small victories.

What’s more, it leaves me wanting to play a game of Turnpike (or possibly “Pandas on the River”) !

TRAILER:

 

You can watch the film, and extras, here: www.tabletopmovie.com.

Director PortraitDouglas Morse has adapted and directed several medieval and Renaissance plays for the screen: The Summoning of Everyman, Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta, and Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. These videos are used at universities around the world and are distributed by Films for the Humanities and Sciences (http://www.films.com). He is currently in pre-production on The Second Shepherd’s Play.

He has also made a documentary about hikers on the Appalachian Trail, a docu-drama about Manhattan parents searching for an appropriate kindergarten for their gifted child, and the quintessential indie feature The Adulterer starring Tony Award winner Alice Ripley (Next to Normal) and Chris Diamantopoulos (The Office, 24, The Three Stooges Movie). Trailers and clips can be viewed at www.grandfatherfilms.com.

Doug has taught Screenwriting, Script Analysis, Producing the Low Budget Feature, and Shakespeare on Stage and Screen at the New School and New York University. He served as head juror for The International Film Festival Manhattan for two years. He holds an MFA in Film Production from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and a BA in Cinema Studies from the University of Pennsylvania.

Randall Hoyt is a designer/educator currently teaching at Keene State College. Randall’s award-winning studio practice encompasses screen-based and environmental design projects for national and international clients including The Museum of Money and Financial Institutions, American International Schools, American Institute of Architects and Yale University. Randall received his MFA from the Yale School of Art Graphic Design Program www.randallhoytdesign.com

One Mans Quest