Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Multiplayer IGA Nominees

There are, over the gaming year, five different major awards. The first two are the German awards, the SdJ and the DSP. Then there's the RPG industry award, the Origins, and finally the American mass-market award, the Games 100. It's pretty easy to pigeon-hole each of these:
  • The SdJ is a German award for a casual or family game.
  • The DSP is likewise a German award for more serious games, though the results have been getting more casual as they've started to let the masses vote.
  • The Origins board & card game awards are, first of all, more beauty contests than anything else, where people vote on companies as much as products. In addition they tend to award American take-that style play. If you're looking for a new Munchkin, look here. (Since splitting into the Origins award & Choice awards, Origins proper has gotten somewhat better, while the Choice awards continue to be about what you'd expect.)
  • The Games 100 are a very eclectic mix, centering on ultra-casual strategy-light games that'll appeal to the (American) mass market, but extending somewhat to more gamist games, thanks primarily to the fact that they get to name 100 picks.
... and then there's the IGA, the International Gamer Awards.

I don't say that out of any disrespect, but rather because I have no idea what they stand for. Chris Farrell made the same comment last year, but based on that year's nominations suggested that there was a "new emphasis on some decent, off-mainstream games". Of course, Ticket to Ride: Europe won, and it was one of the two most mainstream games on the list.

I think part of the reason that the IGA continues to confuse me is because they insist on being international. Of this year's 11 multiplayer nominations, five don't have any real English-world distribution--Antike, Das Ende Des Triumvirats, Indonesia, Jenseits von Theban, and Un Krone und Kragen--though Antike, Das Ende Des Triumvirats, and Un Krone und Kragen are scheduled for September while Indonesia was published in a bilingual edition and has us much distribution as you'd expect for an indie game from Netherlands that's at least trying to get into the U.S. A sixth game, Blue Moon City, is just two weeks' old is in US printing. I honestly can't see how nominating games not particularly available to their primarily English-speaking audience is that helpful to anyone but the most diehard grognards, and I can see how it makes the IGA awards fade right into the spectrum between the SDJ and the DSP--which explains why I don't know what they stand for, because as far as I can tell they're just a second edition of the DSP.

If I ruled the world, the IGAs would explicitly and specifically give awards to gamers' games available to the English-speaking American public, because neither the Origins Awards nor the Games 100 go for that demographic. You could thus use American publication dates rather than German publication dates, differentiating the IGA even further from its German brethren. But I don't run the world, and so I'm afraid that in another year the IGA is going to be even more confused, given the entry of another (as if we needed that) gaming award on the scene, the Geekies.

Enough rant, I want to talk more about the games up for this year's multiplayer IGA.

(If you want to know about the two-player IGA, look to tomorrow's post.)

The Multiplayer IGA Nominees

The IGA put up 11 nominees for this year's awards. Despite the fact that I usually try and get to the new games as fast as I can, I've only played five of them. (Though I probably would have gotten to Blue Moon City last week if Tempus hadn't been available for play too.) Here's my general thoughts on everything I can talk about to any extent, with a bonus comment from Coldfoot, who played one of the six I hadn't.

Antike is a new entrant into the Civ Light category, and its a pretty good contender for that Holy Grail in pure scope of gameplay. You have your technology, your warfare, and your resource management; the only thing really missing from the old Civ formula is trade. On the downside it's a poorly developed game with issues with both combat and victory, where things can go badly if you play "wrong". I've ranted more than once about OK games that could have been truly great if an external developer had gotten to them. This is another, and I doubt it'll win the IGA for reason of these sharp edges.

Blue Moon City is a game that I haven't gotten to play, but that I'm looking forward to. As a Knizian resource-management game I think it's going to be fine release, but the hype I've heard thus far is pretty low key, which suggests to me that this is going to fit right into Knizia's more recent category of strategic games like Tower of Babel that are nonetheless very light weight.

Caylus is pretty clearly the most strategic game on this list among those that I've played. It's Puerto Rico for people who think that Puerto Rico is too simple and short. Like Antike I think it could have been a truly great game if it had some outside development, but unlike Antike I think it's already a pretty fine game (though again it has gameplay problems if you play it "wrong", a recurring theme among indies). If the IGA judges decide on a heavy-weight game, I have faith that it'll be this one.

Des Endes des Triumvirats is a game that I feel is just wasting space on the IGA nominations list, along with Indonesia, and Jenseits von Theban. These games have gotten so little buzz that they're going to be pretty unknown to most anyone who looks at the awards, and I think the public and the awards would have been better served by these games actually showing up in the awards during a year in which they'd seen American publication. And I can't see any of these winning an IGA award as a result.

Hacienda is a decent tile-laying game by Wolfgang Kramer that reminds me a bit of Through the Desert with a lot more complexity. You score points by building sets of land and in the process must manage funds through the placement of animals. It's got a lot of interconnected systems that work together decently well, but never click as a whole. It's a good game that I've played 5 times since its release and that I'd give a solid "B" to, but I don't think it's award-winning material.

Coldfoot offers the following on Indonesia:
Indonesia is clearly the best game among the handful of nominees I have played (Caylus, RR Tycoon, Hacienda, and Thurn and Taxis), although I have high hopes for Antike. There are some production gaffes, which is not that uncommon for these small-publisher games, and there are a jillion cardboard chits, both of which will weigh heavily against Indonesia in the final balloting. Indonesia is a game of production, distribution, business mergers, and expansion. It is almost an exercise in book keeping, still it is less book keeping intensive than some other fine Splotter-Spellen games. There is some hubbub on the net about the so called "shipping strategy", but I'm here to tell you that the shipping strategy is much more viable as the number of players increases. Keep that in mind and don't let the shipping companies go for less than they are worth, which will change with the number of players.

Mykerinos is the one game that I'd previously heard of and was surprised to see on this list. It's a recent Ystari release that had none of the sturm und drang of Ys or Caylus. (Would you look at that ... every one of their games has a "Y", then a "S" in it.) Further, I've heard some concerns about degenerate play. So, I think this one is a pretty longshot for the IGA, but that's spoken from a position of ignorance as I've never played it. (I really should.)

Railroad Tycoon was a game that I was surprised didn't show up in the Origins awards. It wasn't even nominated. (But then, that's always been a problem with the Origins; great games sometimes randomly don't win because they weren't submitted.) In the landscape of American games, I can see Railroad Tycoon as a great contender. It's a great Eurostyle game with some pretty random cards, some kick-ass pieces, and a very long playing time, and thus it should really become the King of the American Games. Among Eurogames, it's a photocopy of Age of Steam with some systems improved, some not, and I can't see the IGA being awarded to a photocopy: if they'd wanted to highlight this game, the publication of Age of Steam was the right time. (But then I would have offered the same argument after last year's nomination of Ticket to Ride Europe.)

Thurn und Taxis is what I see as the other strongest contender for the IGA, with the difference between it and Caylus mainly being whether they decide to honor a light game or a heavy one. T&T is a connection game with aspects of card management, brinkmanship, and role selection. It all fits together into a superb harmonious whole that's enjoyable to play. In many ways it feels like an attempt to create an entirely new and original Ticket to Ride and in that it succeeds, except for the fact that it's a bit more shallow in replayability. I had no doubt that T&T would win the SdJ due to its German theming. That's not going to help in the IGA, which drops it down a little in my handicapping.

Um Krone und Kragen I haven't played due to its lack of release in the U.S. However, it's gotten some nice hype due to its design by Tom Lehmann and its description as "Super Yahtzee". I've heard enough about the game that it's interesting me much more than it originally did, and I'd place it as a dark-horse third-best contender for the IGA, after Caylus and Thurn & Taxis.


That it's for my thoughts on the IGA. I like and respect a lot of people involved in the award, and I have no doubt that a bunch of good games were put up, but I'm still confused as to its reason for existence. The schizophrenic split between the sorts of games you'd see in the main German awards, and the indie games that aren't available in the U.S. anyway confuses me, and so I'm still not sure what the IGA offers that other awards don't. However, I'll keep an eye out for the results, and if the winner is something I haven't played, I'll inevitably make an attempt to try and play it.

For more on the IGA watch for tomorrow's Gone Gaming when Kris Hall will talk about the 2-player nominees with some help from myself.


Greg J. Schloesser said...

Hey, Shannon! Thanks for discussing the IGA and the finalists in your column.

Let me try to dispel your confusion. The purpose of the IGA is simple: to recogize the best game of the year ... period. The game can come from ANY country, and the size of its print-run matters not. We simply aim to recognize the best game.

The committee is comprised of respected gamers from around the world, not just one country. As such, we hope to offer a broader perspective than simply choosing representatives from one country.

In those two respects, we differ greatly from the aims of the Spiel des Jahre or the Deutsche Spiel Preis committees.

Shannon Appelcline said...

I guess I've never seen the SDJ and the DSP as German-specific, given winners like _Ticket to Ride_, but that's indeed a meaningful difference.


Greg J. Schloesser said...

Chris Farrell writes:
This year, I think they've nominated small-press stuff just to nominate small-press stuff: Jenseits, Antike, Mykerinos, and Des Endes des Triumvirats have no business being nominated.


No business being nominated? Considering all of these games are being heralded as excellent games by a considerable number of gamers, I think they are, indeed, worthy nominees.

Further, there is no mechanism or procedure to insure games from small companies are nominated. We simply vote on what we feel are the best games of the year. Each committee member prepares his list, and the voting method is used to determine the finalists. We don't nominate games "just because", as you seem to imply.

huzonfirst said...

Shannon, I know you don't mean any harm with your comments, but to say that ANY award (be it the IGA or whatever) should only nominate games with English language editions is provincialism of the worst sort. This has always been an international hobby and particularly for the last 25 years, with the rise of the German gaming industry. Some awfully good games were produced prior to the efforts of Jay Tummelson & Co. and they sold just fine, thank you. Moreover, every single one of the nominated games this year comes with English rules and language independent components. Most are readily available from domestic online stores and ordering from Germany is pretty easy. They are all easy to obtain and easy to learn. What possible reason could anyone have for excluding them?

The fact that the awards are international is very clearly a strength, not a weakness. In order to even be eligible for an SdJ, a game needs to have strong representation in Germany. Ticket to Ride won due to Days of Wonder's European ties. I'm not sure if a game from, say, FFG could ever qualify. Moreover, TtR is the ONLY game from a non-European publisher ever to win the award. There are no such rules for the DSP, but since most of the voting is centered in Germany, it turns out to be the same. I also feel that the IGA's lack of prejudice against indie games is a major feature, highlighting worthy games that might otherwise escape notice. Because of these two features, suffice it to say that there won't be any other award this year which nominates BOTH Railroad Tycoon and Indonesia.

If I were to choose one award to go away, my decision would be an easy one: the Origins. As you say, it's a beauty contest whose bizarre category choices traditionally make it a laughingstock among knowledgeable gamers. To me, it has no more legitimacy than the Mensa awards, where members are given an hour or so to play each game. I have no problem with the existence of the Origins awards, but I surely wouldn't miss it if it should fade away.

The Games 100 serves a good purpose, but they really aren't awards. They're just a list of the games the publishers liked the most last year. They do a good job promoting gaming in general, but their parameters are just as fuzzy as the IGA's (more so, I'd say).

This is the first I've heard about degenerate play in Mykerinos. I found it to be a very nice game and worthy of nomination and it seemed that most of the buzz I'd heard was quite positive.

Finally, despite coming at this award from different angles, we come to the same conclusions. I also think it will come down to a battle between Caylus and Thurn und Taxis. I'm leaning toward Caylus, but we'll just have to see what the committee decides on.

Anonymous said...

Further, there is no mechanism or procedure to insure games from small companies are nominated. We simply vote on what we feel are the best games of the year. Each committee member prepares his list, and the voting method is used to determine the finalists. We don't nominate games "just because", as you seem to imply.

I agree! If the best game ever made only printed 100 copies, I would still want that game nominated. I want an award that awards the "best" games, not just the "best of the commonly available".

I think out of all the awards for the mainstream available game, I like the DSP the best. But for best "critically acclaimed" games, I like the IGA the best.

They miss some of "my" favorites sometimes, but overall, pretty close(Elasund!)

Anonymous said...

Chris wrote:

This year, I think they've nominated small-press stuff just to nominate small-press stuff: Jenseits, Antike, Mykerinos, and Des Endes des Triumvirats have no business being nominated.

Greg responded:

No business being nominated? Considering all of these games are being heralded as excellent games by a considerable number of gamers, I think they are, indeed, worthy nominees.

An interesting philosophical question here, indeed. I love Jenseits von Theben and Indonesia both, and am glad to see them included. But I'm not certain they're among the "best" games. That really depends upon what is being looked for. When I say that I really enjoy Jenseits von Theben and Indonesia, that doesn't make them "good" any moreso than the fact that I disliked Hacienda makes it "bad". But from what I can tell, the IGAs still ask for subjective rather than objective opinions, so what's going to come out are the joint favorites among a small but diverse set of gamers.

Which, to Greg's point, suggests that there's not really any game that has no business being included; it's a popularity contest - just with a small populace.

Joe (who enjoys seeing all such lists - the IGAs, Chris' end of the year list, and so on - though he rarely agrees with >50% of any of them...)

Anonymous said...

I've never seen a more detailed post on gaming. Gee, thanks for taking the effort and time to do all these. We gaming enthusiasts have a lot to be gratful for.

Shannon Appelcline said...

I don't consider it provincial to say that it's substantially less useful for an American-speaking audience to nominate games that aren't available to them.

Moreso, given that the vast majority of international games are still coming from Germany, it makes the awards look a lot more like the DSP.

That's all I'm saying.

Fraser said...

Shannon said I don't consider it provincial to say that it's substantially less useful for an American-speaking audience to nominate games that aren't available to them.

Given a) that is is the IGA and not the AGA and b) coming from an English (which is mostly the same as American) speaking country with similar albeit slower and more expensive game distribution, I think it useful for the IGA to do what it does. There are, or could be, other awards to cater for what is available in any given country.

Shannon Appelcline said...

I'm curious, in Australia do you mostly get the English and American games, or do you actually see a broad selection of foreign titles equally available, because most things have to be imported anyway?