Showing posts with label Origin Awards. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Origin Awards. Show all posts

Friday, August 28, 2015

My Proposed Rules Changes for Future WorldCon

Prior to this year, I had never voted for a Hugo Award. To tell the truth, I didn't know that I could. I had believed that the Hugos were selected by professionals acknowledging excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy writing. Due to the recent controversies around the event, I learned that participation was open to all of fandom. In this way, it is similar to the way that the Origins Awards were run in their early days when fans nominated (often by turning in ballots they photocopied/mimeographed in Space Gamer Magazine). They differ from the early Origins in that only people actually attending the Origins Convention get to vote for the winner. I imagine that the similarities between the two are not accidental and that the Hugos informed the way that the Origins Awards were run early on. The Origins Awards have evolved over time, but mostly in the nomination process. It's still attendees at the Origins Convention who get to vote on the award winner. This is not without its controversy, but I'm not here to criticize that process which I think is fine for what it is.

Awards have no value in themselves, unless they come with a cash prize, and as one of my favorite authors (David Gerrold) describes it, "The credential of an award -- any award -- is not the award itself, nor even who bestows it. The credential of the award is a cumulative one, created by the quality of the previous nominees and winners." In the case of the Origins Award, a lot of wonderful and groundbreaking games have won the award. Savage Worlds won in 2003, Dungeons and Dragons won in 1977, and many more have won over time. When someone wins the award, they are winning the same award as these excellent predecessors and the prestige of the honor is in those prior winners. This is one of the reasons that the rules of the Origins Award are constantly debated and discussed and why the Award evolves over time.

The same is true of the Hugo Awards. The prestige of the Hugo is in prior winners, and that is why there was such an uproar this year. Those who regularly participate in the Conference that determines the Hugo pushed back against those they believed had advocated a process that could lessen that historical prestige. Let us set aside arguments about whether the contributions on this year's various slates were actually Hugo worthy. That is a distraction from what the real underlying question is. That question is whether slates, qua slates, especially when combined with voting blocs threaten the prestige of the Award. Over time, in repeated games, the answer is likely "yes." Not in who wins. Repeated games will mean that there will be an equilibrium of sorts around the winners that approximates what the community as a whole really values, but it will mean that the prestige of being nominated will likely diminish - at least for a protracted period of time. To be honest, that period of time need not be long to do damage to the prestige of being nominated. I would argue that the mere taint of the existence of slates damaged the prestige of being nominated this year. This is too bad, because some worthy nominees were punished by this process.

Who's "right" is it to determine the rules and the how the Hugo is distributed? This is a simple answer, one that is once again provided by David Gerrold. The Hugo Awards "are a gift from the membership of the World Science Fiction Convention." You have to be a paying member, supporting or attending, to vote on the Hugo. I was a supporting member this year and I voted. I will continue to vote and support the Hugo because I really liked getting the nomination packet. I think that the World Science Fiction Convention community was well within their rights to protect their award. I don't think they handled it perfectly, but I have read accounts of interactions between Puppies and Presenters that occurred outside the Awards Ceremony that lead me to have a great deal of hope for the future of the WorldCon community. As tendentious as this year's Hugo Awards were, I think that some new friends were made and some great material for bridging the gap to a community that felt excluded has been produced. This will require work on both sides of the gap, but I see enough people making efforts. I also see people attempting to blow up the bridges as they are being built, but that is some people's nature. If we can learn to ignore the sowers of chaos and focus on our shared love of the genres, we will all be better for it.

Given the conflict, there has been a lot of talk about a need to reform the rules of how things are nominated and voted on. I'm one who is skeptical of most efforts of this kind in general as they tend to lead to unintended consequences. Take California's implementation of Term Limits after the 1990 passage of Proposition 140. The results of that law have been to create a new kind of career politician who constantly aims to jump from job to job, a lack of issue experience among legislators, an empowering of the lobbyist class due to the lack of issue experience and institutional memory in the legislature. Some people predicted these outcomes, but not many. These were all unintended consequences of a law intended to stop "career" politicians that only rerouted that career and made it less accountable to the people because we don't elect lobbyists and that's what many former legislators become after they have earned expertise.

So...I'm resistant to changing institutions for the sake of changing institutions. That said, I do think that one category - actually two but I'm going to focus on one - demonstrates that there is some need for a change in the process. This is a change that I believe should be implemented across the award categories and will enable fans to have significant input, take advantage of recent growth in the pool, and lead to better nominations in some categories.

I believe that the Hugo Awards should take "Open List" open nominations from fans as they do now. That these long lists should then be transformed into 15 item "Long Lists" by committees made up of people who have expertise within a category. These Long Lists are then voted on by members who register as supporting/nominating/attending members and turned into 5 item short lists that are the final nominees. This model is a combination of the current way of doing things with the way that the Oscars handle Sound Mixing and Sound Editing (Design) Oscars.

Quick, tell me the difference between Sound Mixing and Sound Editing? I'm going to bet that most of the Academy couldn't answer that question in any meaningful way. Let's just say that films like Whiplash tend to win the Mixing Award (and get nominated) and films like Top Gun tend to get Editing Awards. As I bluntly described it to my wife Jody today. Sound Editing Oscars reward people who create innovative and immersive experiences that allow us to hear explosions as unique occurrences. Sound Mixing allows us to hear the score and the actors while the world is exploding. That's a glib way of saying that one is about sculpting individual sounds and the other is about creating an aesthetic whole or "euphonic" experience. I'm sure that David Bondelevich could do a much better job at explaining the differences, but that's because he works in Sound and teaches Sound for a living. He has expertise. That's why the Oscars, in their great wisdom, allow David and people like Don Hall to vote on the final nominees who will be submitted to the Academy at large...and that's after their committee has selected what they believe to be the best. Sound Editors have a wonderful event called the "Bake Off" where they view highlights of the competition. These editors understand the value of the Award and there have been years without a nominee in the category, and that's without politics entering the picture.

That's a lot of background leading into one of the two areas I've noticed that have led me to think that this is a change that is NEEDED by the Hugos. Those areas are the Best Dramatic Production (both Short and Long Form) categories. The nominations of the past few years have been non-representative of the genre as it is being Dramatically Presented. It is as if WorldCon nominators and voters don't watch movies and shows at the same clip that they read. This is likely a true observation, and isn't even a "critical" one in as much as reading is likely a better activity to stimulate the mind than the passive viewing of another's creation.

What prompted my sentiment in this area was that as a new Hugo voter, I decided to look at past nominees in this area. When the Hugo nominees were compared to the Saturn nominees (the Saturn being the Hollywood Hugo) there was too little overlap in my opinion. When the 2014 Hugo Nominees didn't include About Time in the Long Form category I was baffled. I was even more baffled when I shared my befuddlement in the SF/F reading fandom I knew and none had heard of the film. This demonstrated to me that there was a disconnect between the Dramatic Form genre and the World Con exposure to it. That and the fact that BBC titles are so dominant as to make it possible to create a parody list that fairly emulates the actual list. Let me give you a couple of examples.

In 2014, the following new SF/F television shows aired.

New Science Fiction and Fantasy Series for 2014 

  1. Ascension
  2. Constantine
  3. Flash
  4. Gotham
  5. Z-Nation
  6. Outlander
  7. The Strain
  8. Extant
  9. The Last Ship
  10. Dominion
  11. Salem
  12. The 100
  13. Believe
  14. Resurrection
  15. Bitten
  16. Helix
  17. Intelligence
All of these shows meet the criteria to be considered as nominees for the Short Form Hugo. After the 938 nominating ballots were counted  the nominees were:

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form (4705 final ballots, 938 nominating ballots, 470 entries, range 71-170)
  • Orphan Black: “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried”, ” written by Graham Manson, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions, Space/BBC America)
  • Doctor Who: “Listen”, written by Steven Moffat, directed by Douglas Mackinnon (BBC Television)
  • Game of Thrones: “The Mountain and the Viper”, written by David Benioff & D. B. Weiss, directed by Alex Graves ((HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)
  • The Flash: “Pilot”, teleplay by Andrew Kreisberg & Geoff Johns, story by Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg & Geoff Johns, directed by David Nutter (The CW) (Berlanti Productions, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Television)
  • Grimm: “Once We Were Gods”, written by Alan DiFiore, directed by Steven DePaul (NBC) (GK Productions, Hazy Mills Productions, Universal TV)
The thought of Grimm (of which I am a big fan) receiving nominations, for an episode that was pretty cool, over The 100 or The Strain or Sleepy Hollow is kind of baffling to me. Let's have a look at the Saturn Award Nominees for 2014.

Best Network Television Series:

The Blacklist
The Following
Hannibal  (winner)
Person of Interest
Sleepy Hollow

Best Syndicated / Cable Television Series:

12 Monkeys
American Horror Story: Freak Show
Falling Skies
The Strain
The Walking Dead  (winner)

Best Limited Run Television Series:

Bates Motel
From Dusk Till Dawn
Game of Thrones  (winner)
The Last Ship
The Librarians

Best Superhero Adaptation Television Series:

Agent Carter
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The Flash  (winner)

Best Youth-Oriented Television Series:

The 100  (winner)
Doctor Who
Pretty Little Liars
Teen Wolf
The Vampire Diaries

There are more categories, to be sure and to be expected from an award dedicated to the media, but there is also a wider representation of the genre. The 2014 Hugos have three shows of what I would call the "arty" SF variety and 2 from the "pulpy" variety, signalling that the struggle of the year was echoed in even the TV nominations. So...let's look back one more year. The year where the Hugos failed to nominate the very "literate" About Time in the Long Form category. What new shows were released in 2013? 

New Science Fiction and Fantasy Series for 2013

  1. Almost Human
  2. Dracula
  3. The Tomorrow People
  4. Witches of East End
  5. The Originals
  6. Atlantis
  7. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
  8. Sleepy Hollow
  9. Under the Dome
  10. Defiance
  11. Orphan Black
  12. Utopia
What was nominated?

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form (760 nominating ballots)
  • Game of Thrones: “The Rains of Castamere”, written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, directed by David Nutter (HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)
  • Doctor Who: “The Day of the Doctor”, written by Steven Moffat, directed by Nick Hurran (BBC Television)
  • Orphan Black: “Variations under Domestication” written by Will Pascoe, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions; Space/BBC America)
  • An Adventure in Space and Time, written by Mark Gatiss, directed by Terry McDonough (BBC Television)
  • The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, written & directed by Peter Davison (BBC Television)
  • Doctor Who: “The Name of the Doctor”, written by Steven Moffat, directed by Saul Metzstein (BBC Televison)
 Let's see...Game of Thrones because social phenomenon, BBC, BBC, BBC, BBC. Wow! Almost Human had some flawed episodes, but it had episodes that are among the best ever made in SF TV. "The Day of the Doctor" was pretty badass, but "The Name of the Doctor" is the weakest of the 2013 nominees. What did the Saturn Awards Nominate?

Best Network Television Series Best Syndicated/Cable Television Series
Best Television Presentation Best Youth-Oriented Television Series
Well...shit...American Horror Story and Hannibal kick ass. We can write off some as not fitting the Hugos, like Hannibal, but American Horror Story is some of the best Fantasy on TV and Falling Skies is a solid show that is worthy of consideration for a category that awarded Gollum's Acceptance Speech during a year that the Saturn was considering Dead Like Me and Carnivale. Let's just say that a "literary" award got out "literaried" in the nominee category in 2004.

I understand that the Dramatic Presentation being two awards is new, and I understand that World Con is first and foremost a celebration of print. Having said that, I think that the Hugo would benefit by creating Juries that winnow the infinite to the Long, then having voters narrow the long to the nominees, and have those nominees voted on. I think that this would expose the SF/F community to a lot of great genre entertainment they might be overlooking.

I also think they might be well served by opening up the categories a bit like the Saturn and asking if there aren't some subgenre's that should have their own awards.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Evil Hat to Publish 'Race to Adventure' Board Game

Our friend's over at Evil Hat have an annoncement about a new board game designed by a member of this blog, Eric Lytle. The game is called Race to Adventure! Check it out over at Deadly Fredly. I designed this game with my design partners Chris Ruggiero and Evan Denbaum.

The game is a pulp themed adventure game about a global race. It's highly thematic and I'm really excited to be working with Evil Hat on this new venture. They are the publisher of one of my favorite new role-playing games, The Dresden Files Role Playing Game. Congratulations to them on their two shiny-new Origins Awards for Best RPG and Best RPG Supplement.

Evil Hat is also announcing the much anticipated Zeppelin Armada game designed by Jeff Tidball , half of gameplaywright. Zeppelin Armada is a card game set in the world of Spirit of the Century about Zeppelin aerial combat.

More information to follow.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

37th Annual Origins Award Nominees Announced

The Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design Announces 37th Annual Origins Awards Nominees

COLUMBUS, OH (April 13, 2011) The Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design is proud to announce the nominees for the 37th Annual Origins Awards.

The Origins Awards are presented annually by the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design to recognize outstanding achievement in design and production of games and game related products.

The nominees were voted on by hobby game retailers at the GAMA Trade Show in March 2011 from a short list in each category determined by a jury of hobby game professionals and knowledgeable enthusiasts. The winner of each category will be determined by the votes of attendees at the Origins Game Fair in Columbus OH, June 22nd-26th. The winners will be announced and the coveted Calliope statues presented at the Origins Awards Ceremony on the evening of Saturday June 25th. Submitted games that were not nominated will be available to play in the Open Gaming Area at the Origins Game Fair.

In the next couple of days, I'll be providing descriptions and reviews of the products that received nominations this year as well as making some comments regarding those who opted not to submit their products for consideration. For example...Black Gate Magazine has published media tie-in stories and regularly publishes reviews. Why didn't they submit for game related publication? Let the retailers decide if you warrant a nomination, but submit for goodness' sake.

This year's nominees are quite strong. For the first time ever, I think that every nominee in the best RPG category deserves to win an award. As I wrote earlier, there will be more praise lavished upon the nominees in the days to come. For now, let's just have a look at that list.


DC Adventures - Green Ronin Publishing
Designer: Steve Kenson

Dragon Age, Set 1 - Green Ronin Publishing
Designer: Chris Pramas

The Dresden Files RPG: Your Story - Evil Hat Productions
Designers: Leonard Balsera, Jim Butcher, Genevieve Cogman, Robert Donoghue, Fred Hicks, Kenneth Hite, Ryan Macklin, Chad Underkoffler, Clark Valentine

Fiasco - Bully Pulpit Games
Designer: Jason Morningstar

Gamma World RPG - Wizards of the Coast
Designers: Rich Baker, Bruce Cordell


A Song of Ice and Fire Campaign Guide (A Song of Ice and Fire RPG) - Green Ronin Publishing
Designers: David Chart, Joshua Frost, Brian Kirby, Jon Leitheusser, Anthony Pryor, Robert J. Schwalb, Owen K.C. Stephens

Our World (The Dresden Files RPG) - Evil Hat Productions
Designers: Leonard Balsera, Jim Butcher, Genevieve Cogman, Robert Donoghue, Fred Hicks, Kenneth Hite, Ryan Macklin, Chad Underkoffler, Clark Valentine

Advanced Player's Guide (Pathfinder RPG) - Paizo Publishing
Designers: Judy Bauer, Jason Bulmahn, Christopher Carey, James Jacobs, Steve Kenson, Hal Maclean, Rob McCreary, Erik Mona, Jason Nelson, Stephen Radney-MacFarland, Sean K. Reynolds, F. Wesley Schneider, Owen K.C. Stephens, Lisa Stevens, James L. Sutter, Russ Taylor, Vic Wertz

Sixth World Almanac (Shadowrun RPG)- Catalyst Game Labs
Designers: Jason Hardy, John Heifers, John Dunn

Sunward: The Inner System (Eclipse Phase RPG) - Posthuman Studios
Designers: Rob Boyle, Brian Cross, Adam Jury


Castle Ravenloft - Wizards of the Coast
Designer: Bill Slaviciek, Mike Mearls

Defenders of the Realm - Eagle Games
Designer: Richard Launius

Fresco - Queen Games
Designer: Wolfgang Panning, Marco Ruskowski, Marcel Süßelbeck

Lords of Vegas - Mayfair Games
Designer: James Ernest, Mike Selinker

Nuns on the Run - Mayfair Games
Designer: Fréderic Moyersoen


Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer - Gary Games
Designer: Justin Gary

Back to the Future: The Card Game - Looney Labs, Inc.
Designer: Andrew Looney

Hecho - Glowfly Games
Designers: Brian Knudsen, Brent Knudsen

Hex Hex XL - Smirk & Dagger Games
Designers: Curt Covert, Justin Brunetto

Railways of the World: The Card Game - Eagle Games
Designer: James Eastham, Steve Ellis


Ligretto Dice - Playroom Entertainment
Designers: Inka Brand, Markus Brand

Telestrations - USAopoly, Inc.
Designer: USAopoly

Wits and Wagers Family Edition - North Star Games
Designer: Dominic Crapuchettes

Word on the Street Junior - Out of the Box Publishing
Designer: Jack Degnan

Zombie Dice - Steve Jackson Games
Designer: Steve Jackson


Color Primer: Dragon Red - The Army Painter
Designer: Bo Penstoft, Jonas Faering

Adventurers Tiles - Battle Bunker Games
Designer: Tony Ironmonger, Daniel Hinkle

Battlefield XP Swamp Tufts - The Army Painter
Designer: Bo Penstoft, Jonas Faering

Cthulhu Dice Bag - Steve Jackson Games
Designer: Alex Fernandez

BattleTech Hex Pack: Lakes & Rivers - Catalyst Game Labs
Designer: Randall N. Bills


Adventures in the Lost Lands - Two Hour Wargames
Designer: Ed Teixeira

BattleTech Technical Readout: 3085 - Catalyst Game Labs
Designer: Joel Bancroft-Conners

DC HeroClix Blackest Knight Starter Game - WizKids/NECA
Designers: Eric Engelhard, Jake Theis, Norman Barth, Drew Nolosco

Hordes: Primal MK2 - Privateer Press
Designer: Matt Wilson

MERCS Games Rule - MERCS Miniatures, LLC
Designer: Brian Shotton


Warlords of Europe - GameBuilders
Designers: Ken Griffin, Kyle Battle, Russ Rupe

Conflict of Heroes: Price of Honour Poland 1939 - Academy Games
Designer: Uwe Eickect

Catan Histories - Settlers of America: Trails to Rails - Mayfair Games
Designer: Klaus Teuber

Panzer General: Allied Assault - Petroglyph Games, Inc.
Designers: Chuck Kroegel, George Chastain


No Quarter Magazine - Privateer Press
Editors: Matt Wilson, Aeryn Rudel, Privateer Press

Hamlet's Hit Points - Gameplaywright
Author: Robin Laws

Family Games: The 100 Best - Green Ronin Publishing
Editor: James Lowder

Shadowrun: Spells and Chrome - Catalyst Game Labs
Editor: John Helfers

World at War: Revelation - Lock ‘n Load Publishing
Author: Mark H. Walker

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Origins RPG Submissions?

Have Wizards of the Coast, Fantasy Flight Games, and Paizo submitted RPG entries for the Origins Awards? If not, why not?

Are they boycotting the Oscars of the gaming community in favor of the Ennies in order to promote their products at GenCon rather than at Origins?

What is the status of their submissions?

I ask, but don't know.

What I do know is that it would be a travesty if none of these companies submitted their excellent products from last year for consideration.

D&D Essentials was remarkable, Deathwatch is great, and Paizo's Advanced Player's Guide is inspiring.

What's going on here?

Friday, April 02, 2010

The 2010 Origins Awards Examined Part 2 -- Children's, Family, or Party Game

Tuesday, I gave a list of all the nominees for this year's Origin Awards -- the Hobby Gaming Oscars -- and included some closer examination of two of the categories. I was impressed with all the Card Game and Board Game nominees, but it was probably pretty clear that a couple of them held particularly special places in my heart. As I mentioned in the previous post, the Origin Awards (Awarded in June at GAMA's Origins gaming convention) are the gaming hobby equivalent of the Academy Award. Technically, the Origins award is the official award of the "Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design." The Academy is made up of both professional and hobbyists, and the nominee selection process has participation at the hobbyist, professional designer, and retail distribution levels.

This has been true for quite some time, and the public/industry nature of the award is one of its great strengths. Looking back at a February 1982 issue of The Space Gamer (one of the leading gaming hobby magazines of the 1980s) one finds a nomination ballot soliciting nominations from fandom at large -- a process that is not longer followed for a variety of reasons. In that ballot, the selection committee is described as follows, "An international Awards Committee of 25 hobbyists (some professionals, but primarily independents) directs and administers the awards system." I'll write more about the process in my post regarding the failure of some publishers to properly promote their work by submitting to the Juries this year in a future post. Suffice to say that the Academy is, and has always been, an organization of professionals and amateurs working together to ensure that the best in the hobby get proper consideration.

Today I'd like to take a look at another category. I'll be providing information about the Children's, Family, or Party Game nominees.

Children’s, Family, or Party Game

As the Dice Tower review makes clear this game is a faster and more chaotic version of the traditional game Werewolf, a version that is significantly removed from the traditional game that inspired it. This is a game that has great potential for fun, or great potential for boredom depending on the group it is played with. One can imagine dynamic games where long conversation periods precede the accusation process, but one can also picture games where the accusations come so swiftly as to undermine the game play value. Typical of Looney Labs creations this game is very loose in structure and you need to consider the playing group that you are with before considering playing this game. One advantage this game has over traditional Werewolf games is that no players are ever eliminated from play. The winners of a round receive points and play moves on to the next round. This prevents any players from feeling left out as the game continues and is one of the great innovations in this adaptation.

Duck! Duck! SAFARI! is the latest in Ape Games duck! duck! series of games featuring a broad array of rubber ducky themed toys. SAFARI contains the rules and pieces for five different games, the rules for a sixth game have been added on the website, for players ages 6 and up. I am a fan of games like this, and Stonehenge, that offer gamers a decent bang for their gaming dollar. The package includes traditional race games and memory based games with excellent components. Besides, who isn't a sucker for things this cute?

Do you want all the panic and chaos of moving day, including wondering just how you are going to fit your giant library of games into the moving truck, without any of the back ache? Then Pack and Stack is the game for you. Mayfair Games has made a business of importing entertaining family games from Germany to the United States and this is yet another feather in their cap.

A few years back, Atlas Games released a wonderful little card game by the title Gloom which featured two wonderful game play innovations -- a requirement that to win you had to make the life of your opponent better than your own, and the use of translucent cards that layered effects on your base playing card. With Ren Faire designers Michelle Nephew and Wendy Wyman have found another way to create competitive play that doesn't feel competitive. Ren Faire is a game of Ren Faire noobs who are desperate to garb themselves in appropriate attire in order to fit in with the rest of the crowd. The game uses transparent cards to represent the clothing that will go upon your avatar, but to get those clothes you must play performance cards to earn the money to buy the clothes. This is where Nephew and Wyman's innovation comes in. Players must actually perform the actions described on the performance cards. This can lead to mayhem and amusement. Mechanically, this game is a perfect fit in Atlas Games line of non-rpgs. I have long considered their Once Upon a Time to be among the best games with regard to combining card games with performance, and now they have added another game to the list.

Ever since Out of the Box Games release their excellent Apples to Apples game, the company has been a leader in the independent Children's and Family game market. With Cineplexity, they demonstrated that they could make a movie trivia game with extraordinarily high replayability. Last year's release of Word on the Street once again demonstrates the company's ability to create trivia games with tremendous replay value. The goal of the game is to bring all of the letter tiles onto your side of the board by selecting a word based upon a category card, think Fact in Five, and pulling over every letter tile that the word contains one lane closer to your side. One twist, you have a time limit and when time is up you can no longer move tiles. You and your team must choose words that move the most tiles, but you must do so quickly and as the other team tries to distract you -- possibly by claiming that your word doesn't fit the category. Spend to much time defending the "legality" of your word and you might no move any tiles. The game combines elements of Scrabble, Boggle, and Apples to Apples to create an entertaining experience.

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

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design Announces Origin Awards Nominees (Part One)

Last 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.

Below is the list of nominees followed by my own commentary regarding the individual products:

The first category this year is MINIATURE OR MINIATURES LINE. As one might guess, miniatures can be an important component of the adventure gaming hobby. There are those who prefer to play "merely in the minds of the players," and that works very well for many games. But as someone who has gamed for over 25 years, there are times -- surprising as it may seem to say -- when using miniatures can add a wonderful narrative component to an evening's play. A picture can be worth a thousand words after all.


Having limited talents in the painting of figures, and even less time to develop an talents I do have, my unpainted miniatures purchases have always been limited. Add to that the creation of the D&D Miniatures pre-painted line and my purchase of unpainted miniatures has completely died off. This being the case, I'll leave opinions of which line/individual miniature deserves this year's award up to you the reader. Following each nominee I am providing a representative image provided by the manufacturer of the line/individual miniature. Some of these are particularly nice.

Skarrd Raze #2
by Dark Age Games

George R.R. Martin Masterworks - Premium Miniature Line
by Dark Sword Miniatures, Inc.

Titanius Fury
by Dragonfire Laser Crafts Inc.

Apparently this is a typo at the GAMA site. According to the Dragonfire site, it should be Titania's Fury. If this is indeed the product in question, it gets my vote hands down as a useful and innovative product.

Bronzeback Titan, HORDES: Evolution Miniatures Line
by Privateer Press

Dark Heaven Legends Fantasy Miniatures
by Reaper Miniatures

You really need to click on the link above to get a sense of the entire Dark Heaven line produced by Reaper Miniatures. It is the last of the old school lines of RPG miniatures and is a very good, and very deep, product line. Below is a sample of one of the figures in the line.

Following the MINIATURE or MINIATURES LINE award comes the award for best MINIATURES RULES. It should be noted that this award is central to the adventure gaming hobby. Were it not for H.G. Wells' book Little Wars or for Gary Gygax and Jeff Perrin's CHAINMAIL, the adventure gaming hobby would not exist as it does today.


Classic Battletech

Published by Catalyst Game Labs
Created by Jordan Weisman
Edited by Michelle Lyons, Diane Piron-Gelman

In an era of click based miniature games and collectible card games, it is heartwarming to see that one of the great miniature games of the past continues to perform strongly and receive the recognition it is due. Classic Battletech is one of the few games that truly deserves to have the word "classic" attached to it. The latest version of the rules updates battlemech construction to ensure more balanced encounters and has been well supported by the fine folks at Catalyst Game Labs.

Saganami Island Tactical Simulator, Second Edition
Published by Ad Astra Games
Created by Ken Burnside and Thomas Pope

While my friends might believe that I own every game actually in print, I don't own a copy of this space combat miniatures simulation. The game is inspired by Baen Books' Honor Harrington military SF fiction series. When it comes to ship to ship space combat games, I tend to stick with SILENT DEATH and BATTLEFLEET GOTHIC or RENEGADE LEGION. When it comes to fun and games, I tend to avoid those that require the use of 3D vector space. I'm chicken. I admit it.

Forces of WARMACHINE: Pirates of the Broken Coast

Published by Privateer Press
Created by Brian Snoddy and Matt Wilson

Pirates, Steam Powered Magical Robots, and a coherent rules set...what's not to love. Privateer Press' WARMACHINE line is a great product line that rivals Rackham for the quality of sculpts. Unlike Rackham's games, one doesn't have to read awkwardly translated French to learn the rules. This is a great addition to a great game. Privateer Press is an exciting gaming company. From their first module for 3rd edition D&D to their card games, they strive for quality.

Published by Rackham
Created by Arnaud Cuidet, Jean-Baptiste Lullien, Nicolas Raoult, and Jerome Rigal

Having been a WARHAMMER 40K player for over 15 years, it would have taken something pretty special to get me to pack up my Eldar and Space Marines in favor of another game system. AT-43 is that system. As a Rackham game, it has simply some of the best sculpting I have ever seen in the gaming industry. Rackham miniatures are beautiful, and AT-43's are pre-painted. Add to this a good list of affordable terrain features that can be used in other games as well, and I didn't mind having to read poorly translated French in order to learn how to play this game. This is a fun game with beautiful components and an interesting backstory which, like many games coming out of Europe today, has some salient things to say about modern international politics.

Song of Blades and Heroes
Published by Andrea Sfiligoi
Created by Andrea Sfiligoi

It's quite the honor for a "independent" game to be nominated for an Origin award. I haven't play tested this game, but at $15 with an Origin nomination this game is on my short list of games to buy and try.

MY PICK: AT-43 -- It's a great addition to the French invasion in adventure gaming. If only I could find a copy of Asmodee Games' C.O.P.S. roleplaying game. I'd be a happy man.

There's more to adventure gaming than the games. Many gaming companies publish non-fiction and fiction books in support of their product lines, the hobby, or topics related to the hobby. TSR was the first company to publish media tie-in fiction with their roleplaying game, but many have followed and some companies publish non-media tie-in fiction as well.

Astounding Hero Tales
Published by Hero Games
Edited by James Lowder

While related to Hero Games' PULP HERO sourcebook in theme, this anthology of pulp fiction is a worthy addition to any pulp fans bookshelf. Edited by James Lowder this anthology includes stories by Hugh B. Cave and Lester Dent in addition to pulp tales written by veterans of the game industry. Cinerati's companion podcast Geekerati had an interview with editor James Lowder last year where discussion of this book came up.

Dragons of the Highlord Skies
Published by Wizards of the Coast
Written by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

The line of books that established that rpg media tie-in books could be profitable continues with this bestselling novel. With this book, readers learn what happened "between the lines" of the original trilogy.

Frontier Cthulhu

Published by Chaosium
Edited by William Jones

In BLACK STRANGER, Robert E. Howard spun a yarn simulating what might have happened if Conan had lived among the native Americans. The Picts of that tale were closer to the Sioux than the historic Picts. With the Frontier Cthulhu anthology, Chaosium Games gives us 14 tales of what might have happened as people explored American frontiers.

The Orc King
Published by Wizards of the Coast
Written by R.A. Salvatore

Who says archetypal pulp adventurers are dead? In THE ORC KING, R.A. Salvatore shares with us the continuing saga of one of the most popular characters in fantasy fiction Drizzt Do'Urden. Where Elric was the anti-Conan, Drizzt is in many ways the anti-Elric.

The Time Curse

Published by Margaret Weis Productions
Written by James M. Ward

Last year saw a return of the Endless Quest/Choose Your Own Adventure style books of my childhood and Margaret Weis Productions were at the forefront of that wave. James Ward's THE TIME CURSE is a fun jaunt and a good representation of the genre. And while the book is still available, it is sad to see that the Weis Productions website is downplaying the Paths of Doom line of books.

MY PICK: ASTOUNDING HERO TALES, but you should really pick up THE TIME CURSE as well. It's only $4.50, and it's fun.

Last year was a big year in non-fiction publication for the adventure gaming hobby. Some great books came out last year, and the list of nominees shows that strength.


40 Years of Gen Con
Published by Atlas Games
Written by Robin D. Laws

Long gone are the days when Gen Con, the largest gaming convention in America, was held in Milwaukee, WI. I attended the con the final year it was held in that fine city and I had a great time. In this volume, edited by Robin D. Laws, several gaming luminaries -- including the now deceased creator of the D&D game Gary Gygax -- share their thoughts on the first 40 years of this conventions history. Given that the company who currently hosts the con is having some legal troubles with Lucas, let's hope that this doesn't become the definitive complete history of the con.

Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress: A Girl's Guide to the Dungeons & Dragons Game
Published by Wizards of the Coast
Written by Shelly Mazzanoble

This book, by Shelly Mazzanoble, was aimed at informing women about roleplaying games in general and D&D in particular. Shelly succeeds masterfully at this task. And though she has received some minor criticism from some members of the the "He Man Women Hater's Club," she has also managed to write what might be the best introduction to the D&D game published to date...regardless of sex. While it's true that male readers will have to tolerate side comments about Sex in the City and trips to the mall, it is also true that Shelly has captured the essence of what makes this hobby so much fun for me.

Shelly was recently a guest on the Geekerati Podcast.

Grand History of the Realms

Published by Wizards of the Coast
Written by Brian R. James and Ed Greenwood

While the Forgotten Realms isn't the first world setting for a roleplaying game, it is one of the best selling...if not the best selling. This non-fiction -- and rules free -- book is a must have for any long time fan of the Realms, whether in its game of fiction form. This book gives a good overview of the history of the Realms and gives some glimpses at what the future holds in store as well.

Hobby Games: The 100 Best
Published by Green Ronin
Edited by James Lowder

In HOBBY GAMES: THE 100 BEST, James Lowder brings together 100 essays written by the cream of the crop of the gaming industry to write about their favorite hobby game. Over the years there have been too few books about the gaming hobby, but books of this quality fill quite the gap in quantity. Most of the 100 essays in this book are insightful and well written. In fact, I'll bet you that if you buy this book you will buy no fewer than 5 new games based on the stories/recommendations herein. You might even spend a month on Ebay looking for a good copy of an out of print game. Lord knows I did. James Lowder discussed this book in detail during our podcast interview last year.

No Quarter Magazine
Published by Privateer Press
Nathan Letsinger, editor-in-chief
Eric Cagle, editor
Josh Manderville, art director

NO QUARTER seems to have taken this year's slot as "token gaming magazine" in this category after the death of the physical DRAGON magazine this past year. It will be interesting to see if next year's awards include Wolfgang Baur's KOBOLD QUARTERLY or the online editions of the DUNGEON and DRAGON magazines.

MY PICK: It's a tough toss up between Shelly Mazzanoble's book and the James Lowder Collection, but I'm going to have to cast my vote for CONFESSIONS. If you want a copy, let me know and I'll mail you one (only applies to the first few requests).

Tomorrow, I'll cover part two of this list...The actual games.