Reflections on the 2018 IGA Nominations: A WDYPTW Chat Transcript
Introduction: We’re going to deliver a new type of content: lightly edited transcripts of some of the chats we have on our slack channel. This is a great way to discuss news with different voices in our hobby. Normally we’d do this on a podcast, but sometimes the written word is easier to skim. Plus, Chris is still bemoaning the demise of the written word in board game content creation.
Chris Wray: The nominations for the 2018 International Gamers Awards were announced yesterday. You can find them in a post we did yesterday. We're going to talk about the nominees. But first: who got snubbed? Brandon, what three games did you think you'd see, but didn't?
Brandon Kempf: I think the obvious one in the room is the Kennerspiel des Jahres nominee, Ganz Schön Clever, right? I realize that the IGA committee wants to be a bit “heavier” and more “Gamer-y” than the SDJ jury, but they do have Azul in the nominees.
Chris Wray: Given its enormous popularity, I was very surprised it wasn’t on the list. I could say the same thing about Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg. But the biggest omission to me was Pandemic Legacy Season 2. Any other surprising omissions to you?
Brandon Kempf: I think those are big omissions, especially PLS2. Only other snub I can think of is possibly something like Spirit Island, which is kind of an anti-colonialism cooperative game that has had some fairly critical success. Could it be that they aren’t recognizing co-ops?
Chris Wray: I think you're onto something: I suspect there are several members of that jury that don't like co-ops. I do think they did pretty well with the 2-player category, though. The only real omission I noticed was Lost Cities: To Go, but Lost Cities won the award back in 2000, and To Go was pretty derivative. So let's talk about the nominees, going with that 2-player category first. Three questions: (1) What are your overall thoughts? (2) Which one would you vote for to be the winner? and (3) What do you think is the most likely to win?
Brandon Kempf: (1) Overall thoughts are, I just don't follow the 2-player field as much as I probably should. I don't think any of these games particularly excite me personally. (2) If I were voting here I'd probably lean towards Codenames Duets. Honestly this is my preferred variation of the Codenames lineage and I think it works far better than it has any right to… wonderful job designing that and developing it into a 2-player game. The rest are kind of just there. I think maybe Fox in the Forest deserves some love. (3) As for who I think will win, 13 Days would be a pleasant surprise I think, only based on designer lineage. Asger has been one of those designers who is very quietly building himself a fantastic reputation and an IGA would be something to hang your hat on. But I think that it goes to Codenames Duet. How about you? And we should preface this by saying, you don't know how the committee would vote right now, but you do know a fair number of the voters, right?
Chris Wray: I personally know about 1/3 of the jurors. (1) Overall thoughts: The 2-player award has always been harder for me to predict. And it is especially hard this year, because those games are all quite different from each other, except for Claim and Fox in the Forest, which have the (extremely interesting) distinction of being 2-player trick-taking games. (2) I'd also vote for Codenames Duet, and I hope that is what prevails, because I agree: it is the best version of Codenames. (3) I’m having a hard time predicting, but I’ll go with Codenames Duet. So we’re in agreement, I guess. Turning to the Multi-Player Category, I have the same three questions: (1) What are your overall thoughts? (2) Which one would you vote for to be the winner? and (3) What do you think is the most likely to win?
Brandon Kempf: Claim may have been the most interesting take on the 2-player trick taking genre, but I just think that Fox in the Forest worked a lot better. Turning to multiplayer, (1) of the list, I have played 9 of them and feel like I probably played 10 just judging by lineage. But I think overall this is a pretty solid list of Mid-Heavy Euro Strategy games. Definitely a lot of J.A.S.E. (Just Another Soulless Euro) feeling in here, minus a couple of titles. The two that stand out to me are of course Azul which is just an outstanding game that felt classic from the first play and Decrypto which surprises me to be in here, because one of these games is not like the others. Of the ones that I haven't played yet, only TransAtlantic stands out as something I'd even really look into playing, although I've heard fine things about Agra. (2) Hands down, my vote still goes to Azul, I don't think that there has been a better designed game in the last year or two. It's just an absolutely perfect puzzle to try to solve each and every game. (3) Most likely? I'm just going to go with critical response and say maybe Heaven & Ale gets the recognition it deserves this time around. How about you: those three questions, right back at you.
Chris Wray: (1) It's a good, but not amazing, list of games, and I have a hard time picking a front runner. (2) Remember when we talked about Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 getting snubbed? That's what I think should have won. But of the games on the list, I hope Heaven & Ale wins, as I thought it had a bit more soul than most medium-to-heavy Euros. I like games like Azul, but I also kind of like that the IGA rewards heavier games when other awards don't. (3) I'd predict Heaven & Ale wins. I know a couple of the jurors really like it, and that game seems to get better and better the more you play it. One final thought on the list overall, though: many of these are forgettable. I don't think anybody will be playing Nusfjord or Pulsar 2849 in 5 years. Heck, I don't think many people are playing them now, and they were just released a few months ago. Moreover, some games on that list are in pretty limited edition. Do you agree? Some of these just aren't memorable already?
Brandon Kempf: Yes, I agree, Thus my comment on JASE. This feels like an award for that judging from half the list. Pulsar 2849 was a fine game, it was a convoluted point salad game in space: the Feldiest Feld that ever Felded that isn't by Feld. Nusfjord was forgettable by the second play. Agra (approaching 2100 copies owned on BGG) and Gentes (approaching 1k owned copies on BGG) probably fall into that difficult to get area, but I think that distribution is fine for them and the audience that follows the IGAs will know them. Of the games, I think Santa Maria is my dark horse though here. I don't know how the jurors felt about it, I don't necessarily follow many of them, but I think Santa Maria is pretty good as well. Sad thing is, pretty good gets you forgotten in a couple years now a days. So Chris, what would you like to see in the IGAs in the future? Or do you think that they path they are on is the right path for the award?
Chris Wray: They’re mostly on the right path. As I once explained in my IGA series, they have a remarkable track record of predicting what will be a hot game for years to come. That said, I’d like to see them give more a premium to innovation than they currently do. Perhaps the best way to demonstrate is via example: back in 2009, the award went to Le Havre, a perfectly fine game, but also in many ways just another Euro-style efficiency exercise. That same year, Dominion was nominated, and that game would go on to practically found the deck-building genre. To me — and perhaps with nearly a decade of hindsight — Dominion was the more innovative game, with far more of an impact on the hobby, and with far more popularity and timelessness than Le Havre. I’m not saying that the jury veered this way in 2018, but my biggest criticism of the games they pick is that they don’t seem to put an emphasis on originality. What about you?
Brandon: I’m not sure, in a way I think that they are kind of just doing what their jurors want right? They are awarding the best game to these specific games from critics with a predilection to liking these types of games. I don’t think they are necessarily trying to award genre defining games, just games they will like. I would like for them to branch out a bit, but that seems a lot to ask of an Award jury with this kind of history, right? But I could be 100% incorrect in that assumption.
Chris Wray: I think you're right. But to me, I think award juries should be only somewhat subjective (where they evaluate how much they liked the game) but strongly objective (where they sit outside of their personal preferences and look at the art of the design and how much a game advanced the hobby). The Spiel des Jahres jury does that, and others don’t and that’s why the SdJ is so successful. Any other thoughts?
Brandon Kempf: It has to be difficult for juries to judge games that fall outside of their comfort zones, or even outside of their preferences, but you would almost think that helps the award mean more, right? I mean if there was a big bombastic Ameri-trash game that somehow worked its way into the nominees of the IGAs, I’d take a look for sure, I mean I guess Gloomhaven would qualify as that, but it also had that Euro hand management thing that folks love. But looking at the list of past winners, this committee has a definite way of leaning and a definite style of game that they want to reward for being their “Best”, especially in the multiplayer category, and I think that’s okay. Given some of the members, we probably should give credence to their choices.