2017 Best Australian Game Winner

The Judging Panel has announced the winner of the 2017 Best Australian Game Winner

Imhotep: Builder of Egypt

Designed by Phil Walker-Harding, Artwork by Miguel Coimbra and Michaela Kienle,  published by Kosmos

Imhotep box cover, from publisher Kosmos.

This game combines simplicity, an intriguing theme, beautiful components, with just a smidgin of nastiness to make a package of great gaming fun.

You are a master builder working for Imhotep. You have a number of things to manage: cutting stone at the quarry, getting it loaded onto barges for delivery down the Nile, and then determining which monuments to deliver the stone blocks to. You should also keep an eye on the market to see whether any useful tools become available.

This sounds complicated, but is easily managed in each case by moving one or more of your large blocks: from the quarry to your sled, from your sled to a barge, or by moving a barge to a monument and then unloading the blocks.

The challenge is choosing when to do each of these things: getting your block onto a barge early lets you determine whether it will be unloaded first or last, but wait too long and another player may choose to dock the barge at a different monument from the one you were planning on and so mess up your plans!

The monuments: pyramid, obelisks, temple and burial chamber are all constructed from many blocks. As the game goes on, they grow bigger and bigger and become more impressive. The way you earn points is completely different at each monument site: each player builds their own obelisk with the tallest reaping the greatest reward; the temple is built in layers, and only the stones visible from above score points, and so on.

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A Quick Quiz

A Quick Quiz

A Quick Quiz.

a) What are the last three board games or card games that you played?
b) Was everyone playing over the age of 16?

If you’re like most Australians your answers might be:

a) Monopoly, 500, and some game the kids had that you can’t remember. Or maybe Chess, Scrabble and Cluedo.

b) No – aren’t there better things for a group of adults to do?

 

Now the two questions are not as disconnected as they might seem…. all of the games ‘you’ answered in (a) are more than 50 years old! In fact the youngest of the five is Cluedo from 1949.

Like everything else in life, board games have developed a lot over the last fifty years.Although some of us may be familiar with music and films made before 1950, for most of us the vast majority of our viewing and listening time is spent with more recent material. For various reasons this has not held true for board games, where many of us are caught in a time warp.

 

Two more questions:

c) Did you know that the “Hollywood” for modern board games is Germany, where family gaming is very popular and there are “Oscars” of boardgaming are awarded with big fanfare and called the Spiel des Jahres?

d) Have you heard of two or more of these blockbuster games: Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, Alhambra, Dixit, Bohnanza, Pandemic, Zooloretto or Dominion?

 

If you answered “yes”, you can pat yourself on the back, but you’re probably already feeling good because you’ve enjoyed many wonderful hours with family and friends playing some of these games.

If you answered “no”, don’t feel bad, you are certainly in the unlucky majority. Unlucky!? What does that mean? Well what these modern games share in common is that they:

  • are easy to learn and play,
  • generally last less than an hour,
  • almost never reduce anyone to tears or provoke a family fight!
  • generally favour strategy over chance,
  • encourage social interaction with friends and family,
  • give everyone the chance to work towards a positive goal rather than just aiming to wipe out the opposition,
  • offer a lot of variety each time you replay them.

Where these games differ is in nearly everything else! Some are based on team-work like Pandemic, some on trading like Bohnanza, some on puzzle-like tile laying like Carcassonne. Some are about buildings zoos (Zooloretto) or railroads (Ticket to Ride) or developing an Island (Settlers of Catan). Although many of the games are designed in Europe, they are all available in English.

 

Boardgames Australia is a group of people who all stumbled onto this treasure-trove of fun, and want more Australians to be able to pass the quiz on this page! Each year we shortlist and award the best games from the world and from Australia – with an eye for the sort of game that an average Aussie family (who may not have done too well in our quiz) can enjoy after dinner, or at the holiday house, or whenever a group of friends gets together.

A Perspective on Game Awards

A Perspective on Game Awards

A Perspective of Game Awards.

While we would like to think that the Boardgames Australia awards are the greatest thing since someone decided to take a slicer to a loaf of bread, we of course acknowledge the many other game awards out there, all catering for different needs and different target markets. The Spiel des Jahres award from Germany was announced recently, and the winner Keltis should make for a great family game when the English-language version reaches Australia. The Spiel des Jahres (the German Game of the Year award) is an award that specifically picks games best suited to German families, and the games selected are widely regarded as of the highest quality in the light/middle-weight Designer style of game (also known in the hobby as German or Euro games).

 

Some of you reading this may be asking what is meant by the term ‘light/middle-weight’, let alone by ‘Designer game’? The ‘Designer’ label is easy to answer: you can see the name of the game’s author on the box! This tells you it is a genuine new idea and not just a re-packaging of some older game with a new look. The game’s ‘weight’ has the same connotation as a light or heavy book – one suited for the airport or contemplative reading. For games, the idea of weight relates to the complexity of the rules, duration of play, and the level of thought and planning involved in the game. A Light game is one that is usually short (less than 60 minutes), doesn’t need a degree in rocket science, and has short, simple rules (less than 2 pages). Examples of mainstream games that are fairly light would include Uno and Life. Middle-weight games have rules that are longer and more detailed (up to 8 pages), the strategy is deeper and needs more thought, and the games usually take longer to play (up to 90 minutes). These categories are not very precise – what about long but fairly simple games like Monopoly? The games that won the 2007 Boardgames Australia Awards fit somewhere between the Light and Middle-weight categories. There are of course Heavy games which have detailed rules (often more than 8 pages), take a longer time to play (usually more than 90 minutes) and ask you to think deeply by rewarding good decisions and punishing poor choices. Heavier games are also often referred to as ‘Gamers games’, while Lighter games are often referred to as ‘Family games’.

 

Different awards cater for different markets: while the Spiel des Jahres rewards Light to Medium games and targets the family market, the International Gamers’ Awards reward Heavier games. TheInternational Gamers’ Award group announced their short-lists recently, and you can see these at their website. Heavy games are popular in the board games community because they combine many of the excellent aspects of lighter games (such as fun social interaction and tension) with elements many board gamers seem to enjoy – including thinking deeply and hatching elaborate plots. The games short-listed for the International Gamers’ Award are an excellent selection for any Heavy game lover. Other well-regarded heavy games include Tigris and Euphrates, Powergrid, Age of Steam, and Agricola.

 

Some awards try to cover all bases by offering awards in various categories: for example, the BoardGameGeek community awards (affectionately called the Geekies) reward games across a diverse range of categories, including Gamer Game and Family Game. Of course the users at BoardGameGeek who nominate and vote on the awards, are by their own admission ‘Game Geeks’ and so the winning games tend to be slightly heavier than games typical for the category they win. Another set of awards that does a similar thing is the Dice Tower awards: nominated and voted on by a group of people who podcast about the gaming hobby (including one of our Committe, Giles Pritchard). The awards target different areas of the market by having a range of categories including Game of the Year (for a heavier game), through to Family and Children’s Game (lighter games). There are also specific awards to try to recognise new game companies and new game designers.

 

So where does this leave our own Boardgames Australia awards? The award guidelines on our website provide a detailed picture of our motivation and what we are looking to reward, but the core idea is to provide families in Australia with a credible and reliable award, so that if they bought the games we awarded they could be assured they would be buying a good quality and intelligently-designed game the family could enjoy for many years. The other key reason we set up the awards was to promote the board gaming hobby in Australia, which is why we have an award category that specifically deals with Australian-designed games. We are passionate about our hobby, and all of us on the Committee and Judging Panels love good games. Of course we all have a slightly different ideas on what makes a good game, and we plan to list our personal favourites over the next few months, but we hope that if you play the games that we have awarded that you will agree with us – they are worthy winners and excellent games.