(Part 1 of 3: Part 2/3 is going over the winners and my own completely anecdotal and opinionated view of what should have happened).
They came out a couple of days ago, and commentary has been....lively. Facebook, private game group chains, BGG....it's the most spirited conversation about the awards I've seen since jumping into this hobby. And with good reason. This year marked when BGG registered its 1 millionth user - an awesome achievement and a sure bellweather that this hobby, thanks in no small part to resources like this site, Wil Wheaton, the rise of the game convention, and the United States (1% market penetration as of 2013) catching up with Europe (7% penetration) on the concept that board games are a worthwhile hobby and more than just roll-and-move luckfest games like Monopoly and Life.
In years past, the Golden Geek awards largely rewarded the games that were the best constructed, were the best thought-out, used the most interesting mechanics or immersive quality. And why wouldn't they? The people voting for these games were gamers (say it with force!). The average person was not even peripherally aware of resources like BGG. Therefore, the voting was conducted largely by people who played a lot of games, and had many data points by which to base their decisions. At the end of the day, it was still a popularity contest, but it was small one, and many of the voters played a great many of the nominees. It was all very serious business, you see, the art of play.
However, there's been a shift. As more people pile into the hobby and it reaches a period of hyperbolic growth, as playing games becomes more mainstream, as games become more accessible and people become more product-aware of them due to placement in places like Target as opposed to some small shack tucked away in the corner of a shopping mall somewhere, the curve of people with many data points begins to suffer. A systemic break caused by scale, if you will. As this period of high growth has happened in a relatively short period of time, the majority of the people who joined the hobby during that time period are largely concentrated in a more limited range of titles due to lower barriers of accessibility. By that I mean...we all have to start somewhere. Many started off with Catan, Red Dragon Inn, a Steve Jackson game, Splendor or the like. Games which nobody take very seriously, and which could be explained in a matter of sentences. Gateways. Really more social activities than games. As we grew more confident, we would take on slightly more challenging titles - Lords of Waterdeep, Takenoko, Pandemic. Games with a slightly longer curve, but which could still be played in less than a couple of hours and could be explained in 10 minutes. At some point, you feel more confident, and you're willing to up the challenge a bit - Manhattan Project, Fortune & Glory, Puerto Rico. Before you know it, you're jonesing for your next fix of Die Macher or Twilight Struggle; you yearn for a game of Robinson Crusoe or Through the Ages; you carve out entire days so you can get a game of Twilight Imperium or Runewars on the table. We decide to learn complex Excel macros so we can better keep track of our 18xx game or a season of Blood Bowl. Various people stop at various stages of the journey, but a lot of us filter through to the deep end of the pool at some point. It is, however, a process that takes time.
Which brings us to 2014. 2014 was a year in which a HUGE amount of non-gamers started getting pulled in towards losing the "non" part of that label. Welcome to the addiction, your needle station is to the right! The issue that comes with this, though - well, you've got an annual voting of best games, and now you have a baby boomer-esque amount of voters who are only early in their gaming adventures and have very limited data points when it comes time for them to pull the lever (or check the box, as it were). I have absolutely no statistical analysis to back up this theory, unfortunately - none such analysis exists that I could poll from. I have to come to this conclusion through a usage of highly compelling circumstantial data, logical progression, and anecdotal observation. It's a theoretical A+B+C=D train. A) there are more gamers, B) new gamers typically don't jump right into heavier fare, C) they will have fewer data points which leads to D) a series of Golden Geek award winners that...let's just say that when you put them next to previous years, one of these years is not like the others.
Is it broken? I guess that depends on what your objective is. If all you want is a validation of what the most popular and most (over)exposed titles of a given year are, then I suppose not. If you want an honest evaluation of the best products as voted on by a collective that is highly knowledgeable and can even recognize most of the nominees, then we've likely found a fissure in the stack. Justin Bieber wins the Peoples' Choice Award for best male musician year in and year out. Why? Because there are a lot more 11 year old girls - who have no idea who Beck is, aside from that guy Kanye West went ranting about, and they think RHCP is a venereal disease that can be treated with some drug they saw on a commercial featuring an old distinguished white dude walking on a beach followed by an empowered woman riding barefoot on a horse talking about how they won't let living with RHCP conquer them - willing to vote than there are voters who are even peripherally aware of what else is out there. Does that mean Bieber is the best male artist (and about 17 other awards he'll take home on that given day, including "best country song", "best metal performance", and "lifetime achiever")? Of course not. It's just what the majority recognizes. Limited data points.
2014 was the year we reached that point. Now, one day, these "gamey boomers" will hopefully progress down the track and get more involved in the hobby, acquire those larger data points - but present day, the result is a dominant voting bloc that simply - through no fault of their own - lacks the deep-dive knowledge of the nominees in order to make a fully informed decision. They will vote for what they recognize. Which is why you can have games not only nominated for, but ultimately winning, categories that they didn't even remotely belong in in the first place - because people saw something they recognized next to a bunch of things they didn't recognize and decided to just vote for it every time they saw it without learning about the other choices - the equivalent to blindly voting straight-party on a November ballot.
The thing that brought down awards programmes like the Origin Awards, amongst many others, was that they simply became a popularity contest whereby the game that managed to secure the most exposure (usually through large-scale marketing pushes or aggressive pricing) would just win, regardless of whether or not that was justified. The Golden Geek Awards, historically, stood out as an outlier. You could generally trust the results. Even if you didn't necessarily agree with them, you could look at them and "get" the logic behind them. Your views might not completely align with the winners, but you weren't at the complete opposite side of the aisle category in and category out. Those days are, apparently, over - at least for the time being.
And that's just on the board game side of the house. This year's video game Golden Geeks were....look, I get that we're mostly board gamers, but if you're trying to tell me that a Magic rip-off was a better game than an effort that took YEARS to make, with an involved story and free choices and a billion other things...I mean, one is a video game, the other one is just an app (and before you say a video game *is* an app, a video game is an application stack, which is different)
Why does it matter? It doesn't, really. I liked the Golden Geeks because it would raise awareness to the best and brightest, give exposure to well-deserving games that maybe weren't heavily publicized, raise the level of nerd-cred of the designer and, most importantly, give much-deserved shout-outs to those who created something special over the prior year, across all disciplines. As the hobby becomes more popular, significantly more games get made. More games get made, more games fly under the radar or escape play. More games escape play, and talented designers and games don't get their time in the sun whilst Bieber hogs the spotlight. I like the Golden Geeks, because they're historically informative. So why am I ranting about it if it ultimately doesn't matter?
Because, if this is the voting format going forward, your 2015 game of the year, no matter what else gets made, is going to be Exploding Kittens.
Exploding. Fucking. Kittens.
What service is THAT going to do to the community?
Now get off my lawn.
We'll see how long this holds my interest. I've long-debated putting together a couple of blogs for reviews and what not, just never bothered to find the time (much like my circle's desire to start a playthrough video group). Anyhow, what this is: A blog by which I will go off about...anything I like related to games and gaming. Who: As those who know me can attest, I'm a very blunt, brutally honest bloke who's not afraid to be assertive, without actually being an "alpha" type. I call BS when I see it, and I don't filter my opinions based upon whether it might offend someone with thin skin. I also, however, try to avoid talking out of my ass and always endeavour to make sure I back up a viewpoint with a cogent and reasoned logic, no matter how cold that logic is. I'll likely endeavour to link things here into reviews for games (which I must start doing..) Why this is: Because one of my frustrations is how passive a lot of people in this hobby I love so much are. Passive aggressive, passively passive, you name it. I frequently lament that there's no spot where there's an "anything goes" safe zone where there's no having to tiptoe around delicate sensibilities - where we can go 12 rounds, then tip back a pint, say good show, and be the better for it. The where and how are both obvious; the when too variable dependent to state with exactitude. A Q&A with...myself! But ranting...isn't that negative? -Without dark, there can be no light. Beyond that, it is my hope that when going talking about one thing that I'm not really down with, it will provide opportunity to go on about things that I feel are quite positive. I like dialogue. Balance in all things, young padawan. I'm offended! Your cold logic chills me to my core, robot! -There's an "X" in the upper right hand corner you can click at any time. I promise you I won't be offended - you can be offended for both of us. How many things can you *really* rant about? -Ninja, please - Lewis Black has been doing it for a couple decades now. Spoiler alert: He's definitely funnier than I am. Which is why he'll charge you 80 bucks and this is free. Do you take requests? -As long as the request isn't Stairway. No Stairway.
- [+] Dice rolls