Tuesday, March 30, 2010

GAMA Announces 2010 Origins Awards Nominees

This week the Game Manufacturer's Association (GAMA) announced their annual list of Origins Award Nominees. The Origins Awards are the most prestigious award in the Adventure Gaming hobby and the winners are determined by the members of the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design, a committee of GAMA. This year's list contains a wide variety of nominees, covering many genres within the gaming hobby. The nominees themselves are selected by retailers and industry professionals at the Game Trade Show based upon a selection of recommendations from category juries. The juries are made up, as they have been since the early 1980s, of a combination of industry professionals and serious hobby enthusiasts. This ensures that the Origins nominations have input from fans, retailers, and creators which helps give the awards their well deserved prestige.

I will have some more comments regarding this year's nomination process and my disappointment with some of the publishers who failed to submit their products for consideration, but I wanted to take the time today to congratulate this year's nominees and to provide my input regarding the games and books that have been nominated.

Here is the list of nominees for the 36th Annual Origin Awards followed by my own commentary regarding the individual products:

Today, I'll be commenting on the first two award categories and will comment on the remaining categories throughout the week.

We begin with card games.

Card Game

The Isle of Dr. Necreaux – Alderac Entertainment Group

The Isle of Doctor Necreaux is a cooperative card game where the players attempt to rescue some of the worlds top scientists from the nefarious Doctor Necreaux. This game combines several features I find almost irresistible -- Pulp Villains, Gargantuan Reanimated Cyborg Apes (Julius Schwartz would be happy to see this too), and cooperative play. Alderac Entertainment Group has made a real push to move into the non-collectible, non-rpg, hobby game market over the past few years and it is really paying off with games like Necreaux.

Looney Labs Fluxx card game engine is one of the great underlying mechanical systems in modern card gaming. The game starts with only two rules -- draw one card, play one card -- and from there anything can happen as each card play modifies the rules of the game. These modifications can be anything from altering the number of cards drawn to establishing the terms by which a player can win the game. The Fluxx engine is a perfect example of how to utilize exceptions based rules mechanics to create interesting play. The first game in the series Fluxx was an abstract card game, in the sense that it had no theme, but Looney Labs eventually expanded the line with themed versions of the game where the cards featured their own twists on game play. Martian Fluxx is the latest entry in the series and uses the classic 50s style martian invasion as the basis for playing mayhem.

Okay, how had I not heard of this game. A card game described as, "The Game of Monkeys and Poo Flinging" would quickly be added to my gaming shelf. This is especially true when the publisher responsible for the game is a company I trust for good game design and high quality components. It is also a company I hope will survive the year. Catalyst recently discovered, "that business funds had been co-mingled with the personal funds of one of the owners. We believe the missing funds were the result of bad habits that began alongside the creation of the company, which was initially a small hobby group. Upon further investigation, in which the owner has willingly participated, the owner in question now owes the company a significant balance and is working to help rectify the situation." This is a cautious way of stating that an owner/employee took money that belonged to the company for personal use, an occurrence that is all to common in the gaming industry. Catalyst assures its customers that the problem has been rectified. I hope so and I hope that the situation is handled in a way that prevents future damage to Catalyst.

Any time that Steve Jackson Games releases a game that isn't another in the long line of Munchkin related merchandise, it warms my heart and gives me hope that the company will continue to thrive. The fact that The Stars are Right is a fun game that whimsically plays around with eldritch horror is icing on he cake. SJG is currently suffering from what is often called the 80/20 rule where 80% of the company's revenue comes from one product line. Hopefully people will check out the great products that SJG has been producing over the past few years and realize that GURPS isn't dead and that SJG -- who started out as a hobby game company -- is producing great non-Munchkin games as well. While you're buying a copy of The Stars are Right, which you should, check out the new Pyramid online, Revolution, and the awesome new edition of Frag.

Thunderstone is AEG's second nomination in this category, a fact demonstrating their smooth transition into the broader hobby game field. The game follows the recent trend of games like Dominion and Fantasy Flight Games Living Game System in that it combines the customization of deck building with the non-collectible nature of a traditional game. For many gamers, I count myself among them, this is an ideal combination. Players can construct unique playing experiences and combine card abilities in interesting ways without having to take a second mortgage on the home in order to afford the ultra powerful "rare" cards in the Collectible Card Game secondary market.

While I have played, and still play, a wide variety of role playing games, my favorite segment of the gaming hobby is the board game sector. Like the card game sector, it includes great games that can be gateway games to other aspects of the hobby. How many Talisman players went on to become roleplayers or miniatures aficionados? How many people became D&D players after playing Heroquest or The Dungeon? I imagine quite a few. The post "German-Invasion" years have seen the quality of components increase in the hobby as a whole. Where one might once have found that the hobby industry production standards were often lower than those of mainstream games, that isn't true for the modern hobby game. Gone are the days where games as fun and worthy of replay as The Creature that Ate Sheboygan are released by major hobby manufacturers with second class components like "die cut counters" and a poorly produced map. If that game were to be produced today, it would be a lavish affair with sculpted minis for the monster and sturdy components representing the defenders of the city. To be fair, the Charles Vess cover on the original game couldn't be much improved upon, but the rest of the games components would be vastly improved.

Board Game

Castle Panic follows the recent trend toward collaborative/competitive games. The players of Castle Panic must work together to defend the castle from the invading armies of orcs, trolls, and goblins that besiege it. A player can only become the victor of the game if the players succeed at their goal of defending the castle -- the winner is the player with the most victory points after a successful defense. Castle Panic is coming close to displacing one of my two favorite cooperative boardgames (Lord of the Rings and Ghost Stories) as a game that stays on the bookshelf in the "game room" rather than being relegated to the closet of gaming goodness or the storage pit of doom.

Z-Man games is a company who has made the transition from small press company, whose games had nominal component quality, to one of the leading hobby game companies in the United States. Endeavor is a perfect example of why this company has been so successful in the past few years. The game features all of the desirable qualities of a Eurogame. It features an interesting premise, players of the game set out in search of new lands and new civilizations in an attempt to expand their trading empire. The game plays easily, has high quality components, and only takes about an hour and a half to play a full game.

Days of Wonder doesn't release a lot of games, but every game they have released to date has been a winner. From Memoir '44 and Battlelore to Ticket to Ride and Mystery of the Abbey all this company has done is release playable and high quality games for hobbyists to enjoy. Small World is a fantasy reworking of the classic game Vinci. Both games are about expanding civilizations, but Vinci featured a larger map that enabled some players to avoid conflict during game play -- especially during 3 player sessions. The game is similar to Brittania in that players civilizations change over the course of play as their old civilizations fall into decline and they need to adopt new civilizations to keep generating points for victory.

When Games Workshop announced that they were re-releasing an updated version of Space Hulk with a limited production run, the young child in me screamed with giddy joy. When I found out that the release would be an update of the first edition rules, that Matt Forbeck lauded in Hobby Games: The 100 Best, my heart nearly exploded from excitement. I have always enjoyed the first edition and its mechanics and preferred them to the second edition (I own both). This version of the game incorporates rules from the original game and the Genestealer expansion and contains some of the most beautiful plastic playing pieces of any Games Workshop game to date -- and that is saying something. These miniatures are awesome. If you love the idea of playing a game inspired by Alien this is the game to play.

Martin Wallace's series of train games are some of the best games in the genre and Mayfair games is the leading manufacturer of train themed board games. With Steam they have a game that demonstrates why the genre is so popular. Players of prior Wallace train games will recognize the mechanics of the game, but this package has a lot to offer with its depth of play and quality of components. If you have never played a train game before, this is a great place to start.

While that completes the analysis for today's post, here is a list of the remaining nominees.

Children’s, Family, or Party Game
Are You The Traitor? – Looney Labs
Duck! Duck! SAFARI! – APE Games
Pack and Stack – Mayfair Games
Ren Faire – Atlas Games
Word on the Street – Out of the Box Publishing

Roleplaying Game
Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space – Cubicle 7 Entertainment
Eclipse Phase – Catalyst Game Labs
FantasyCraft – Crafty Games
A Song of Ice And Fire – Green Ronin Publishing
Supernatural Roleplaying Game – Margaret Weis Productions

Roleplaying Game Supplement
Big Damn Heroes Handbook – Margaret Weis Productions
The Day After Ragnarok – Atomic Overmind Press
Seattle 2072 – Catalyst Game Labs
Warriors & Warlocks – Green Ronin Publishing
Weird War II – Pinnacle Entertainment Group

Miniatures Figure or Line of Figures
Duke Rathar, Dragon Lord – Fantization Miniatures
Kings of War: Elves – Mantic Games
Marvel HeroClix: Hammer of Thor Expansion – WizKids
Monsterpocalypse Series 4 – Privateer Press
Warhammer Armies: Skaven – Games Workshop

Miniatures Rules
BattleTech: Strategic Operations – Catalyst Game Labs
HAVOC: Tactical Miniatures Warfare – Voodoo Ink Publishing
Larger Than Life – Two Hour Wargames
Warhammer 40K: Planetstrike – Games Workshop
Warmachine Prime Mk II – Privateer Press

Game Accessory
Arkham Horror Dice Set – Q-Workshop/Fantasy Flight Games
d20Pro – Mindgene, LLC
Forsaken Lands Poster Map – Maps of Mystery
Fortress of Redemption – Games Workshop
Knights of the Dinner Table – Kenzer and Company

Game-Related Book
BattleTech: 25 Years of Art and Fiction – Catalyst Game Labs
The Best of All Flesh – Elder Signs Press
Cthulhu 101 – Atomic Overmind Press
Deluge – Pinacle Entertainment Group
Legend of the Five Rings: Death at Koten – Alderac Entertainment Group

Historical Board Game or Expansion
The Hell of Stalingrad – Clash of Arms Games
Richard III: War of the Roses – Columbia Games
Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel – Academy Games
D-Day at Omaha Beach – Decision Games
Unhappy King Charles – GMT Games

Historical Miniatures Figure or Line of Figures
Wings of War Albatross D.III – Fantasy Flight Games
15mm Parachute Rifle Company – Battlefront Miniatures
15mm Ming Chinese – Old Glory Miniatures
28mm British Napoleonic Infantry – Victrix Miniatures
28mm World War I: Great War in Africa – Brigade Games

Historical Miniatures Rules
Flames of War: Open Fire – Battlefront Miniatures
Wings of War: World War II, Deluxe Edition – Fantasy Flight Games
Napoleon’s Battles, 3rd Edition – Lost Battalion Games
“La Salle” Napoleonic Tactical Wargame Rules – Sam Mustafa
Warlord Games Black Powder Rulebook – Warlord Games

Historical Miniatures Rules Supplement
Flames of War: North Africa – Battlefront Miniatures
Eternal Empire: The Ottomans at War – Osprey Publishing
Battles of the Seven Years War: Austria vs. Prussia – Test of Battle Games
Fields of Battle: Atacar es Vencer! – Spanish Civil War 1936 – Iron Ivan Games
Commonwealth Skirmish Scenarios – Southern Maryland Press

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