Monday, July 16, 2007

Best Game commentary

I've been dreading doing this one, but I'm going to go ahead and get to it.

Best Game is an easy category. Best Game is tough as hell. Both statements are true.

I'm sure that I said Best Game came easily to me at some point along the way, and I meant it at the time, but in retrospect that is a dirty, rotten lie.

I love games. Game systems are perhaps my absolute favorite thing to read, and so most of these entries went right to the top of the list. That made it easy. What made it hard was finalizing the choices.

As a rule most games do things their own way. It makes them interesting to read, but can make them hard to judge against one another. How do you measure the extreme coolness of something like Spirit of the Century against the fabulousness of Burning Empires? How do you measure the high-flying wuxia of Qin against the two-fisted action of Hollow Earth? I'll let you know if I figure it out.

So, failing any kind of objective measure, you go with your gut. Best Game is about the whole package, but focusing more on game play than the little details, that's what Production Values and the Art categories are for. It's easy because, honestly, who doesn't have one or two favorite systems? It's hard because there is just so much that it takes to make a game tick. This is the category where I did by far most of my playtesting, and I still felt like I needed to give things a bit more of a go before I was done. It's... complex.

How complex? Half way through the process I decided I hated a game that I had been advocating for weeks. I still owe the other judges an apology. Every time I played it I fell a little bit more out of love.

Week by week my top list changed. I liked this game, but that game over there has this really cool mechanic... Here's a little secret. See how all the categories have an Honorable Mention? Look at Best Game. It has two. That's right. We simply couldn't narrow it down any further. The only other category allowed two is Product of the Year, and that's only because it represents such a wide assortment of products. Best Game has two because there was no way one more would drop in any kind of timely fashion.

In the end I managed to take a deep breath, compare my notes, and lget down to business. The final list I came up with was strong, and though it was missing some of my favorites, everything on there was a credit to the hobby.

Here's where we get to the dread part, and I know this'll cost me some of the kudos I've gotten from a long time reader, but I feel like I'm partially responsible for Spirit of the Century not quite gaining a nomination. Don't get me wrong, I gave it a much-deserved vote, but I never really backed it the way I should have. It's a great game, brilliant even, but to be honest, I liked Don't Rest Your Head better. It simply fit my personal style more, and I concentrated on it more early on instead of backing the horse with better legs.

I mentioned once before that Paul Tevis made me fall in love with a game. That game was Don't Rest Your Head. I read it the first time at the end of a long night, and thought, "Cool, a game about insomniacs with interesting powers." Then I set it aside. A few weeks later, while working on the Podcast category, I heard Paul talk about a game he participated in, and it sounded incredible. So I sat down and read the whole thing again. I was hooked.

Publishers, never doubt the power of the podcasting community. Have Games, Will travel has sold me an RPG and two board games (and I'm not a board gamer). Godzilla sold me on two more RPGs, and Gamer the Podcasting sold me one. By sold I mean I literally ran out and bought the books as soon as possible. It would probably have been more, but I have a very extensive collection already, and let's face it, I had just gotten 239 of the best products the industry has to offer sent to me.

Ok, so tangent aside, here are my thoughts on a few of my favorite picks that didn't make it. I don't have my books or notes with me, so bear with me if I forget something you want to hear about. Let me know, and I'll be glad to discuss it.

I'll start with Cold City because it was the only game I published a review on with a perfect score. I absolutely loved this book, but it just didn't garner enough support. If you care about my thoughts though, feel free to read my review here. I'd link it, but I can't access my blog at work.

Next, I'll briefly mention Don't Rest Your Head. I already went over my unnatural love of this book, so I won't hit this in any kind of great detail, but it is so much more than I can convey with any kind of simple description. I'm a sucker for neat mechanics, and the system here is simple, but subtly powerful. Tough player choices result in a steady descent toward disaster. Players buy their own doom in the best tension-building mechanic I've ever seen. If you really want something badly enough you have these great little exhaustion dice to give you just the boost you need, but as the number of dice grows you have to wonder, "Is it worth it?" Ok, enough. Great setting, great system, crazy judge, you get the point.

Finally I'm going to touch on Burning Empires. There were a number of really great games entered that didn't get the nod, but this one stands out for so many reasons that I'm just going to take the easy way out and point out the the winner of the Origins award for this category didn't get a nomination from us. That doesn't mean we didn't like it. Far from it really. It was, after all, nominated in two categories, and it received votes in several more. This is one loss that surprised me as much as anyone else. It's a fantastic book, and I think it mostly just suffered at the hands of the other strong competition. I think that, with this being the most competitive category, it got lost as everyone tried to shore up support for their own favorite products. Perhaps more than in any other category this one felt to me like we all had a game or two that we really wanted to succeed, and anything that wasn't someone's absolute favorite just couldn't find room in the top 5. I'll likely touch on this subject again when I go over the Products of the Year, but this is a book very worthy of an award, it just couldn't get in among all the other worthy competition.

8 comments:

Evil Hat Productions said...

Thanks for the insight and all the kind words about Evil Hat's games.

I can't lie and say I'm not saddened that Spirit didn't make it into the Best Game category. I really wanted that, and felt it was a contender.

It's sort of bittersweet that love for Don't Rest Your Head might have weakened support for Spirit of the Century, but hey, both games are going to benefit from the exposure, I hope, and at the end of the day that's really what I like to see as a publisher.

I have to admit, it does make me wonder, if Evil Hat ends up doing more than one product in a year if there wouldn't be some wisdom in only submitting one of them, for a better chance of "backing the winning horse".

Food for thought. Thanks for your support and blogging as always, Jeramy!

rdonoghue said...

Indeed. Thank you, both for this post and all the ones leading up to it.

Anonymous said...

Hey,

I'm really glad you enjoyed Cold City. Even though it didn't get nominated, it's good enough for me that you liked it enough to talk about and review it (especially with the pile of work that judging entailed).

Are you going to be at Gen Con? If so, please do swing by the Play Collective booth so I can give you a free copy of the Cold City Companion as a small token of thanks.

Cheers
Malcolm

Master of the Game said...

Fred,

I thought that you might feel that way. For what it's worth I think it's a good idea to enter everything that might qualify. First, you never know exactly what the judges are going to like better. Spirit of the Century deserved its nod under Best Rules hands down, I just happened to like DRYH a bit better under Best Game. Ideally they would have each received a nomination without actually competing against one another.

Second, it's possible that both could have received a nomination in the same category. Though it's been complained about already this year, obviously it can happen.

Finally, I just thought I'd add that I think a lesson has been learned. It hurts a bit because it was two competing products from the same people, but it's really the nature of the voting process. One thing always has to give way to another.

That's why I suggested that the judges start to pick a product that they feel particularly passionate about. That way the individual tastes of the various judges are better represented from the very beginning.

Even if I don't get elected this year I'll try to work towards that. Another judge and I have discussed trying to put together some resources for future judges so they don't make the same mistakes that we did as first-time judges. This page is a good start, but a wiki was also created by the board, it just needs to be filled out.

Then there's the best resource of all. The judges have access to two forums. One is private for deliberations, and if I understand correctly, the other is available to all the previous judges to discuss the issues of the awards themselves. If that's the case I'll be there to offer what help I can. It's not much, I'm no expert, but I learned a lot while making my own way through the process this year, and I'd be glad to share it.

I hope that nothing I've done here discourages participation. It's a fact that the more high-quality products we receive, the harder the award will be to win, but it also means that those who win, or come very close, can show how they stack up against all that the industry has to offer.

I do promise, for as long as I am a judge, to point out as many great products as possible, even those who don't quite make the list.

Master of the Game said...

Malcolm,

Wow, thanks for the great offer, and I'll be sure to stop by and say hi, but please don't feel the need to offer me anything for doing my job. If I make judge this year you can comp me a review copy if you like, and count that toward your entry requirements, but otherwise I'd rather see your support go to the ENnie Awards themselves, rather than just one judge.

Evil Hat Productions said...

I was more speculating than anything, Jeramy. Knowing me, I'll probably want to submit everything I've got anyway. It's just, y'know. Food for thought. :)

Evil Hat Productions said...

I've had time to mull this one over for a few weeks. At the end of the day, it's pretty clear I should always submit all my games -- honestly it's dumb not to, if I look at the Ennies as a marketing vehicle, but that's not the only reason for it -- and any ponderings about the value of doing so previously were muddled by the emotional dimension of my reaction. I can't help having that reaction, but I can make an effort to filter it out when making plans for Evil Hat. :)

Anyway, thanks again for being straight with the public about how the whole process works, Jeramy. You really are one of my big heroes of the whole Ennie event, and I can't wait to vote for you when it comes time for voting on the judges.

Master of the Game said...

Thanks. I'm glad you decided to enter your stuff, and I'm doubly glad to have your vote still.

Now if only I can tap into that marketing genius for my judging campaign... :)

Good luck. I'm really excited to see who won.