Friday, December 09, 2005

On Spiel des Geek

The Boardgamegeek administrators are kicking around the idea of presenting boardgame awards. I've read the comments. I've given it some thought. Here are my two cents, which are soon to be the most widely ignored two cents ever offered.


Quick Run Down of Some of the Major Boardgame Awards.

The Spiel des Jahres names the best game to be released in the previous year. It is an industry award with the goal of promoting and selling games.

The International Gamers Awards names the best game to be released in the previous year. The goal is to name the best game from a gamer's perspective.

The Deutscher Spiel Preis names the best game to be released in German speaking countries in the previous year. The goal is to name the best game from that year from a gamer's perspective. The DSP is sponsored by a game magazine.

Games Magazine names the best game released (usually) in the previous year. It purports to serve as a buyer's guide for current games.

Mensa... ah... who cares.

What all these major boardgame awards have in common is that they limit themselves to games from the previous year, other than Games Magazine which mostly names games from the previous year. (Games has the added burden of naming 100 games to their list, so there is often a need to overlap from various years in order to meet that goal.)

The boardgame world does not need another award for games released in the previous year. There are already numerous such awards.

What the boardgame world needs is a game award that reflects the enjoyment gamers got from a game over the previous year. That would be a meaningful award, especially when polling a population that isn't watered down with a lot of people who are only familiar with games available at the "box stores". Such an award would be more meaningful than an award to the best game to be released in a particular time frame.

Here's how it would work. Every game in the BGG database could be voted on. No limits based upon pre-selected nominees. No limits based upon the release date. The only criteria being the game you enjoyed most, or thought was the best game you encountered that year.

Who cares if Puerto Rico wins the Spiel des Geek (SdG) 3 years in a row? It is a very good game, and has staying power. The BGG award would simply recognize that the majority of voters (who would comprise the largest group of voting boardgamers in the world, BTW) think that Puerto Rico is the best game available for 3 years running. (I am not claiming Puerto Rico would win, nor that there has been nothing better for the last 3 years, I'm simply using it as an example of a game that could be the most-loved game for several years running.)

By opening up the voting to every game in the Boardgamegeek database, small print-run games that get all the buzz in Essen will be effectively out of the running for a SdG. So what? They tend to win or be nominated for other awards already. Only a few elite and otherwise lucky gamers will ever get a chance to play small print-run games unless a large company picks up the title for a subsequent release.

BGG does not need to focus on games released in a certain time period any more than a pollster needs to have an agenda when taking a poll. The very nature of BGG would ensure a fairly recent game would come out on top, except in the most extraordinary of circumstances. If some small "indie" game that was the toast of Essen fails to win, so what? It simply means that it garnered lots of press, but was impractical for most gamers to play.

Voting for the Boardgamegeek award should simply be based on the following criteria: What boardgame gave you the most enjoyment in the last year? Or something close to that. That criteria coupled with a broad audience would eliminate the "elite" nature of awards such as the IGA, eliminate the "lowest-common-denominator factor" of the SdJ and bring an accessible, yet enjoyable, game to the forefront.

The hype associated with newly released games would be mitigated, unlike other game awards. Game hype is usually generated by a small number of gamers who have either not played the game or only played a couple times. It is not unusual for hyped games to win awards and then fade into obscurity due to the elite nature and artificial time constraints of most game awards. By specifying that your SdG vote be for a game you have played, the hype would be drowned out by the general gaming public. If the hype pans out, the game might win the award in the next year once the game is widely released and gamers have had a chance to play a few times.

If the powers that be deem that there is a need for a nominating process, that process should be as I just described, with a subsequent round of voting. I.e. Let all BGGers vote on any game they choose, take the top 10 as the nominees, and have a second round of voting limited to the nominees.

Just let me make one more comparison and you can sleep on my idea before totally discarding it. Consider music awards. Every year there are numerous music awards presented, all of them recognize music and musicians that were prominent in the previous year. How often are music awards handed out to mediocre talents? Quite a few, to say the least. You can win a music award simply by being controversial and getting some press. The key to winning most major music awards is to stay in the public eye for the 6 months prior to the award ceremony.

How many mediocre talents get into a music hall-of-fame? A few, no doubt. But by and large, when voters aren't limited to the previous 12 months and have a chance to look back on the impact a musician had on the industry the cream will tend to rise.

The Spiel des Geek would not be a hall-of-fame type award. There would be no requirement that a game be released at least 10 year previous before it could be voted on, but without the constraints of an artificial time limit, superior games would tend to receive the award.

And just to nip it in the bud, the Games Magazine Hall-of-Fame is not a hall-of-fame. It is simply a list of games that have been in print for a long time.

Good Gaming,
Brian "Coldfoot" Waters

Note: I will be out of town for the next few weeks. Look for guest bloggers to be covering for me on "Gone Gaming" until January. Until I get back, I wish you and yours a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy New Year


huzonfirst said...

I think this is a fine idea, Brian. I don't see it as any better or worse than any of the other GotY awards, but the fact that it would have a different focus is reason enough to do it. It's essentially an extension of the 5 and 10 lists that Mark Jackson collects and summarizes every year, but with the emphasis on game enjoyment, rather than just number of times played. However, the award could be done on any forum. Limiting it to Geek users gives you a nice wide audience, but that, in and of itself, isn't necessary to give the award some meaning. It could be done with Spielfrieks users, or the Gone Gaming readership, for that matter. My point is that this *could* be the way to do a Spiele des Geek, but it certainly doesn't have to be.

Derk and Aldie, for better or worse, want this award to be the American version of the SdJ and to use it to expand gaming as a hobby in the U.S. I've expressed some reservations with their proposed methodology (in a column I wrote for Boardgame News last week), but it's their award and they can do it however they please. Plus, the objective is a very worthy one. So even though I think your idea is a sound one, it won't ever be the way the SdG will be carried out.

But that shouldn't stop you. Just do it yourself (or find some gamers to help you out). If you want to involve the Geek readership, announce it in a forum (preferably pinned) and have people email you their votes (I can't think of any other way of carrying out the wide ranging vote you want this to be). It'll be a logistical nightmare, and the first year will probably be a mess, but it's still probably doable and succeeding years will be much smoother. Call it the Spiele des Tundra or something. I'd vote in it. Hell, I may even help you out!

By the way, you say that the Games Magazine Hall-of-Fame is not a hall-of-fame, but simply a list of games that have been in print for a long time. It's actually both (a floor wax AND a dessert topping!). GM requires that the games be in print for at least 10 years (at least, I think that's the requirement), but then they select from the qualified games the ones they think are truly excellent. The interesting thing about this (and the thing that you may have been thinking of) is that this means that games can fall OUT of the Hall, if they stop being published. This makes it different than any other HoF I've ever heard of.

Chris Farrell said...

Hey ... you forgot the Origins awards :)

I think you may be approaching this the wrong way. The question is: "why would I, as a consumer, want to consult this award"? That, and "who is the consumer?".

The reason all these awards are for stuff released in the previous year is because people want to use awards to make buying decisions. In our niche of highly-disposable games, limiting things to the last year makes a lot of sense. An award that had been handed out to Puerto Rico the last three years running would not be very useful to people in making a buying decision for 2 of those 3 years.

My main question for a BGG award is who is going to be buying. I mean, BGG is awash in statistics about what the readership thinks the best games are. That's good, and raises the question of why an award is needed. The problem is, of course, that these people have currently picked Caylus as #2, which is not going to cut much ice for any but the already seriously-invested gamer.

The way a new award is going to become meaningful is through marketing and presentation, not through better selection. Here in the US we already have plenty of awards that nobody pays attention to but that pretty well identify good games. If a smart and PR-savvy team can get an award publicized and on the road to general acceptance, like the Spiel des Jahre, that would be worth something (although I can pretty much guarentee that such an award will not have "BoardGameGeek" in the title).

But in my opinion, another boardgame award from another bunch of niche gamers that identifies games that are epsilon different from what all the other niche gamers have already identified is not.

Fellonmyhead said...

I take your point; but I have to be convinced there is any need for another award before I'll cast my vote.

I think you're right about basing the award on the ongoing popularity of a game. There's only one snag - it's already being done on the Geek in the form of the ratings and their associated statistics.

And why can't I rate a game after one play? Chances are I won't see it again for at least three months. I really don't believe I'm part of the hype, especially since a lot of those single plays occur on games declared "classic" ten, twenty or thirty years ago.

Anonymous said...

It's all good as long as the award isn't actually called "Spiel des Geek"

It's not going to be called that, is it?