I know we finished the top 100 games countdown, but it’s already time to look at the best games of 2015. It’s just a week before Christmas, so most of the new games I’m going to try in 2015 have already been played. So I’m ready to start looking back at the best and worst of the year with the second annual “Board No Longer Awards!”

As with the previous year’s awards, this will be a Two Part Series.  This first entry will look at the best and worst of the year in different categories.  Part II will provide lists of the best games of the year, in a format similar to my Top 100.

But first, the rules!

Rule 1: The awards are decided after careful evaluation by a committee consisting of one member: me!

Rule 2: Board games do not come out on an annual basis; the season is a little off from the calendar year.  In many cases, a game may have debuted in Europe in October of 2014 but not actually made it to my table until sometime in 2015. These games are considered 2015 games for this purpose. Similarly, games that came out in October 2015 but didn’t make it to me until by the time I am writing this are going to be 2016 games. Also, games that were considered last year will generally not be considered again this year, with the exception of the Pavlov Award if the games still have not been released.

With that, let’s begin!

Part I – Individual Awards

(1) Steve Austin Award

The Steve Austin Award is given to the game that rebuilds a tired old genre and makes it stronger and better. 

This year, the nominees are:

  • Steampunk Rally
  • Blood Rage
  • Super Motherload
  • Orleans
  • Stockpile

Several great games are on the nomination list this year.  Steampunk Rally and Blood Rage re-do tired card drafting with style and flare, while Super Motherload and Orleans offer a 2015 take on deckbuilding.  Finally, Stockpile revises stock games and makes them playable.

For me, though, the winner is Stockpile.  I do not like stock market games very much, and auction games are also something I tend to find unappealing.  So a stock market game with auction mechanisms should be anathema for me, but this one is very much the opposite.  Stockpile is a clean, simple design that takes these themes and mechanisms, improves them, and makes them into something faster, stronger, and better in true Steve Austin fashion.

(2)  The Veruka Salt Award

The Veruka Salt Award is given to the game or reprint that I simply could not wait for.  The nominees are:

  • Catacombs
  • Blood Rage
  • Champions of Midgard
  • Pixel Tactics Deluxe
  • Orleans

This one was a tough call.  All five were the kind of thing I checked my email every day to see if there was any news.  But in the end it was Blood Rage that was the most eagerly anticipated for me.

After hearing all the hype, watching videos, seeing the components, and reading and re-reading the rulebook, Blood Rage got me to the point where I didn’t care how, I wanted it NOW!

(3) Sharry Bobbins Award

The Sharry Bobbins Award is given to the game that cut the most corners in production, resulting in the shoddiest game components.  This doesn’t mean the game is bad, just that every expense was spared in producing it.  The Nominees are:

  • Smash Monster Rampage
  • Champions of Midgard
  • 504
  • Versus System
  • Inhabit the Earth
  • Deus
  • The Golden Ages

This was unfortunately a hard call!  All five games set new standards for cheap and flimsy production.  These games featured all the hallmarks of cut corners; typos, misprints, thin cardboard, and flimsy cards.

But after careful consideration, it is Deus that makes Sharry Bobbins proud this year!   It’s delightful combination of an awful rulebook, misprinted cards, and the wrong color of components push it ahead of its competition.  Sharry Bobbins would approve of the half-assed job that went into getting this game ready for production.

(4) The Pushmi-pullyu Award:

The Pushmi-pullyu Award is given to the game with the most original, never-before-seen theme in a game.  Since there are games about almost everything in the world, this is a hard category to corner!  The nominees are:

  • The Bloody Inn
  • …And then we Held Hands!
  • Baseball Highlights 2045

This is a very small category, but the winner for me was clear from the moment I heard about it.

The Bloody Inn is a game in which players try to make money by killing their guests, picking their pockets, and then trying to hide the bodies. Gruesome though the concept may be, it is “executed” tastefully in a clever hand management game. Much more original than shipping cloth and gold around Italy! I’ve never seen anything like it in all my life!

(5)  Fragor Games Award:

The Fragor Games Award is given to the game with the most over-produced components.  This is not just quality, this is beyond, to the point that perhaps more went into the game than it actually needed.  The Nominees are:

  • A Game of Gnomes
  • Cthulhu Wars
  • Ticket to Ride: Deluxe Edition
  • Small World Designers Edition

While this may be somewhat of a cheat since the game is not new, the Small World Designers Edition is one of the most over-the-top productions of a game ever to come out.

pic2270432_mdWeighing over 30 pounds, the game goes over the top on all points, whether it be the heavy, engraved wooden storage chest, the painted wooden race tiles, the thick, heavy metal coins, the assorted resin sculpts, or the hard-bound encyclopedia to explain the rules. Love and care were put into this design, and although Days of Wonder did disappoint by not painting the figures, the game is nonetheless a stunning production. This edition takes an already excellent game to a whole new level, and sets a new standard for game production!

(6)  Ralph Kramden Award 

The Ralph Kramden Award is given to the game with stellar components.  Not overproduced like the prior award, these are games where no expense was spared to produce a high-quality game.  The Nominees are:

  • Blood Rage
  • Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn
  • Orleans: Deluxe Edition
  • Rum & Bones
  • Mysterium

Despite the large number of games nominated for the Sharry Bobbins Award, 2015 was a great year for high-quality components.  But when all is said and done, the winner for me is Rum & Bones.

Just edging out the others, Rum & Bones is gives me a delightful combination of excellent art work, fantastic figures, superb and intuitive graphic design, and an overall amazing looking game.  This is more than just miniatures; Rum & Bones has it all!  No corners were cut here (other than not painting the figures, sadly) and everything about this game is lovingly done in great detail.  In Rum & Bones, publisher Cool Mini or Not has knocked it Bang!  Zoom!  To the Moon!

(7) The IKEA Award:

The IKEA award is given to the game with the worst rulebook.  One would think that, after years of game production, a good rulebook could be expected, but these games prove that horrible rules writing is still alive and well today!

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The Nominees are:

  • Churchill
  • Steam Works
  • 504
  • Baseball Highlights 2045
  • Inhabit the Earth
  • The Gallerist

This was a hard category… there were some pretty terrible rulebooks this year!  However, considering all aspects, including form, presentation, and quality control, the winner, by only a small margin, is Inhabit the Earth.

If the way you want to learn rules is through a book of 8.5×11″ paper filled with walls of text, this is the rulebook for you!  And if you add in the fact that about 30% of the pages were randomly printed in German, this makes it even more difficult for your average, non-German-speaking player to handle.  Fortunately I can read German, though.  On the whole, the game was a pretty shoddy production, but the rulebook is where it shines.  Even to see the presentation makes you want to put the game away and try something else.

(8) Refrigerator Hanging Award:

This award is given to the game or expansion with the best artwork.  Games often come with exceptional artwork, so this is often a very tough category.  The Nominees are:

  • Abyss: The Kraken
  • Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn
  • Tail Feathers
  • Rum & Bones
  • Above and Below
  • Catacombs

I had a little bit of trouble thinking of nominees for this category, because really, when I thought about art in games this year, only one game came to mind immediately.  Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn has some of the best game artwork ever.

Each card is a masterpiece.  Plaid Hat Games has found an absolute treasure in artist Fernanda Suarez.  I hope an artbook is forthcoming for this game.  The amount of love and effort that has gone in to each of the game’s pieces is instantly visible from the moment you look at any piece of the game.  Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn is a game in which artwork is used to enhance gameplay and take it to a whole new level.  Too bad I can’t put the game on my refrigerator!

(9) The Celia Gimenez

This is a new category this year.  Named after the Spanish octogenarian ‎ who infamously “restored” an old Fresco in her own unique style, the Celia Gimenez award is given to the game with the worst artwork.  Nowadays there are many great artists who contribute to board games, yet some designers and publishers decide instead to scrape the bottom of the barrel and fill their games with just awful artwork.  This year, there are several games to choose from.  The nominees are:

  • The Golden Ages
  • Automania
  • Inhabit the Earth
  • Blood Rage
  • The Bloody Inn
  • The Gallerist

This was a tough choice, though The Golden Ages was leading the pack for most of the year.  However, then I opened up Inhabit the Earth and I was … shocked.  The artwork in this game is some of the worst I have ever seen in a game.

Somehow, game artist Juliet Breese, who usually produces charming and delightful illustrations, decided to fill a game with some of the worst looking animals ever drawn.  Each character stares into your soul with creepy eyes, and whether it’s the lion who looks like he had way too much coffee, the seal who looks a little too eager to be on land, or the elephant who looks like he stayed up all night watching porn, each and every drawing in this game is horrible.  Congratulations on a job poorly done!

(10)  The Fibber McGee Award

The Fibber McGee Award goes to the game with the worst storage system.  Often, publishers simply don’t care about how you are ever going to fit their games back into the box, keep the pieces separate, and otherwise keep the game in any state other than on the table.  This is always a major disappointment to me.  This year, several games followed this tradition, but the following Nominees rose above the rest in terms of utterly horrid storage solutions:

  • BattleCon: War of Indines Remastered Edition
  • Rum & Bones
  • Steam Works
  • Forbidden Stars

And the winner is Rum & Bones.  With hundreds of oddly-shaped plastic figures, multiple game boards, numerous counters and tokens, and at least 10 different decks of cards, this game is a nightmare to take out and put away.  No thought was put into creating any kind of meaningful storage system, so you are either left bagging the factions (which are all carrying swords, spears, and the like and will perforate any bag they touch) or spending a ton of money on a battlefoam insert which only holds the figures and leaves you to figure out how to store the boards and rules yourself.  This is a fantastic game that is severely handicapped by how hard it is to transport, set up, and put away.  Fibber’s closet would be proud!

(11) The Sweathog Award:

The Sweathog Award is given to the best reprint of they year.  Whether a simple re-release or a full-on reskin, with this award we say “Welcome Back” to the following excellent Nominees:

  • War of Indines Remastered
  • Fury of Dracula
  • Dragon’s Gold
  • Mission: Red Planet
  • Favor of the Pharaoh
  • Catacombs
  • Zombicide: Black Plague
  • Traders of Osaka

It was a great year for reprints.  However, after looking at them all, for me the winner is Mission: Red Planet.

A fine game in its own right, the  reprinted, streamlined version takes the old classic out of the closet and puts it back on the table where it belongs.  The component changes, rules tweaks, and graphic design update are excellent changes.  Nothing was lost in the reprint, but so much was gained.  Welcome Back, Mission: Red Planet!

(12) [Insert your least-favorite politician here] Award

This award, conveniently named so as not to be controversial, is given to the game that proved to be the biggest disappointment this year.  The Nominees are:

  • 504
  • Porta Nigra
  • Firefly: Shiny Dice
  • Floating Market
  • Pandemic Legacy
  • Versus System

Probably a victim of its own hype, when I heard about Friedmann Friese’s project to create an interlocking game system with 504 unique games in one box, I was intrigued.

While the project sounded ambitious, this is a designer who routinely does the unexpected.  However, 504 is really just a book of variant modules for an unremarkable game.  Component quality is somewhat poor and the rulebook was only just beaten out in the IKEA award category, so it leaves lots of unanswered questions.  The real problem is that the games aren’t really anything that spectacular.  504 was overall quite a disappointment.

(13) The Monty Nevarro Award

This award is given to the game that proved to be the biggest surprise this year.  The Nominees are:

  • Tiny Epic Galaxies
  • Gold West
  • Automania
  • The Golden Ages
  • Steampunk Rally
  • Rum & Bones
  • Letter Tycoon

And the winner, by a just a short margin, is Gold West.

I was poised not to like the game from the start.  The graphic design is very simplistic and not engaging at all.  The theme is also somewhat uninteresting, and the game has effectively no artwork at all.  I first heard of the game on the Watch It Played playthrough, and even after watching that, I was not intrigued at all.  However, when I finally actually tried the game, I was pleasantly surprised.  Gold West is fast and easy to play, not complicated but quite enjoyable.  This game was the last one I expected to be great!

(14) The Softengine Award

The Softengine award is given to the game that has found “something better” – a new or unique game mechanism that really has not been done before or done correctly in a long time.  Innovation is not common in the game world, so there aren’t many entries in this category.  The Nominees are

  • Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn (first five)
  • Deus (tableau activation)
  • Pandemic Legacy (Legacy deck)

The obvious winner here is Pandemic Legacy.  The use of the legacy deck allows for an interesting story and allows the game to introduce new rules gradually.  Unfortunately, it does make gameplay feel a bit scripted, but this is by design.  It also hurts replayability, but it does deliver a fascinating and engaging gameplay experience.  Much like a tv series on Netflix, Pandemic Legacy’s legacy deck makes it perfect for binge-playing and the first two nights after I acquired it were spent shotgunning the game to find out what happens.  This legacy deck mechanism is something new and innovative, something that is certainly worth trying!

(15) Mormon Standard Time Award

This award is given to an older game that I discovered for the first time in 2015.

  • Russian Railroads
  • Queen’s Necklace
  • Pie Face
  • Nyet!

The winner here is Russian Railroads.

This is a gem of a game that I am sad I took so long to try out.  The game looked as dull as can be, and this is why I avoided it for so long.  However, it delivers a thrilling gameplay experience that I am sad I missed out on for so long.  And with its new German Railroads expansion, the game has even more potential.

(16)  The Pavlov Award

This award is given to the most anticipated new game or expansion.  The difference between this and the Veruka Salt Award announced earlier is that this award is looking forward at games that are not yet available, games I am salivating over based on the discussion of others.  These are games that have been announced but are not yet available (at least to me).  The Nominees are:

  • Caravan (Plaid Hat Games)
  • SeaFall (Plaid Hat Games)
  • CityMania (Days of Wonder)
  • Inis (Matagot)

And the winner is SeaFall.

With all the hype about legacy games this year, including Pandemic Legacy and TIME Stories, this game is obviously on everyone’s mind.  I have heard nothing but good about it from the Plaid Hat Podcast, and as the first true legacy game with a unique game system, this one has plenty of promise!

Well that’s it for this post.  Check Part II for a list of the top 20 games of the year, as well as other honorable mentions.

 

 

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