Several games about marginalized groups submitted this year clearly had input from members of those groups. Others, however, did not. We hope all designers who explore minority experiences in their games also reach out to the communities represented in their work. More work of this variety will help us all expand our horizons.
Aliens have destroyed the world, and the last few human holdouts are hiding in solitary corners. In As We Know It, Alex Carlson creates a compelling game out of a classic theme by using physical isolation, limited communication, and mobile phones to establish a visceral experience. Players are literally sitting in separate closets texting one another; no other contact is possible. The pressure is on as each grows confused and desperate to come out, while knowing that certain death awaits if they do. We were all excited to try this game, but its requirement of 5 active participants instead of 4 disqualified it from a full-blown award.
Jesse Coombs has mashed up the prosaic – buying a house – with the sublime – the dissolution of a committed relationship – in this fast and fun four-player game. Exclusive Listing divides the players into the real – two fragile buyers and one real estate agent – and the metaphorical: hope, who can be a real troublemaker. Clever gameplay moves toward a single handshake that defines the couple’s future - one way or another.
Kids go up into the attic, where there’s a soul-sucking mirror and two kid spirits trying to replace them. Banana Chan has written – no, illustrated – a simple, eerie trip into the fantastic that will likely take under an hour. Evocative drawings model the characters, play, and everything else one would need to understand to make the game interesting. Multiple outcomes, including several that are devastatingly creepy, make the emergent play of this game an object of considerable interest. Although certain factors such as player safety are largely set aside, we see the irresistible, uncanny charm of this game’s overall design as deserving of an honorable mention.
Kathryn Hymes and Hakan Seyalioglu’s game about deaf Nicaraguan children in the 1970s is direct and unflinching. Sign dares to take up a difficult subject, and have players understand a small part of a real journey that transformed thousands of lives. It centers on agency, connection, and the struggle of understanding each other in a silent world. The ambition of such a game is certainly applaudable, if a little on the nose. We’d be curious to know how people from these marginalized communities would relate to this game.
Guilherme Rodrigues has created a compelling game from an autistic perspective about the experience of finding and holding to one’s soul in an overstimulating world. Adding a spiritual layer, players are clay golems trying to find their sacred words while limited in communication. Attempts to help one another also come with risk of harm. At the heart of the game is a beautiful mechanic in which players phase in and out of ability to act depending on circumstances outside their control. In Singing Clay, Rodrigues defies more neurotypical forms of character embodiment by representing each character’s identity in a pattern rather than a set of facts or histories. We loved this game because of how the challenges arise primarily from an internal process of trying to hold on to the language of one’s own song amid external distractions.
Synthetic beings, transhumanism, and an inscrutable Mechanic; there is everything to love about Universal Donor by Kira Magrann and Eric Mersmann. How much of yourself can you trade away and still be you? What happens when you don’t have a lot of agency over your body? You’ll be able to explore these issues through emergent, if not specifically directed play, with an underlying mechanic (different from the Mechanic) based on playing cards.
Epistolary Richard has created a game that very subtly leads the players down a path of ruin - and they’ll love every minute of it, until it is too late. Written By the Victors presents a very sobering lesson in history and its interpretation that build slowly but inevitably toward an all-too-familiar conclusion. We agreed that this game would be stellar in a classroom.
An Apocalypse World-ish hack related to the LotR beacon-lighting crews.
This game promises such fun and delivers it in such an already polished way
that it was a favorite with the Crew. However, looks like it would truly shine with more than 4
participants. Stands on its own, and will clearly have a place at the table for many groups.
In 1952 London, the tearoom trade blossoms. The Countess Dillymore reminds us that we may have “forgotten that these particular queer men existed,” and perhaps we have. Countess Dillymore’s Too Much Slap on the Ecaf is an intimate larp about homosexual men hooking up in 1950s rural England. We saw this game and were immediately hooked by its solid intensity. But what sold us on it for this particular award was the tender and highly subjective portrayal of closeted queer men. Written as a letter from Dillymore to an anonymous audience, the game itself takes the induction into the social life of queerness quite seriously. Each player sets up three scenes laden with all the negotiations and emotions of men having sex with each other in the only places they can. Then the players show intimacy through their characters along negotiated physical boundaries. We see so few games these days with such an earnest, no-nonsense portrayal of the world before Stonewall and Pride.
Formal dinners are one of those social occasions in which the rules are different everywhere you go, but are somehow all the same. Eduardo Caetano has hacked the dinner party game genre into something wondrous and fraught. Francis has invited to dinner several people close to him, only they didn’t know that he’d be running so late. The game consists of that awkward period before the real party happens, when people haven’t yet decided how the evening will go and when intimate secrets are revealed. “A kind of dinner larp freeform,” This Folks At the Dining Room uses the core elements of formal dining – making toasts, hearing a certain background song play, passing food – into functional game mechanics that enhance the mood. We are excited to prepare meals with our friends, and then have them deal with some potentially romantic and luxuriant fiction as part of the main course.
Have you ever wanted to be part of a murder? Of crows, that is! In A Crow Funeral, players take on the roles of a community of crows that have discovered the body of one of their own. As they crowd around in a mournful-yet-raucous circle, the crows must determine how their friend expired. In the opening explanation of the game, Timothy Hutchings states “there is no conflict resolution mechanic.” This statement is three things: true, untrue, and sneaky. This game’s deployment of touch is both simple and entertaining, and you’ll find that conflict most definitely gets sorted out. This game is fun, light, and great to play in public spaces.
Previous Golden Cobra winner Heather Silsbee returns with a sometimes searing, sometimes thoughtful, and always playable game about women with social anxiety. Many Golden Cobra games this year address empathy directly, but Just Lunch stands out as a game that combines visceral empathy with sharp, engaging gameplay. Just Lunch is for three people, and like the title says, it’s just lunch - but “lunch” is a minefield of energy-draining triggers for the anxious. And these women are anxious. This game captured the dynamics of social anxiety in casual interaction so well that some of us winced just reading it, and its effectiveness at evoking empathy played out by teaching us new things about how social anxiety works. We particularly liked Just Lunch’s careful framing, which provides both context for players unfamiliar with social anxiety and useful tools for exploring it in safety.
In Her Inner Dead Ends, Francesco Sedda and Francesco Zani present a simultaneously languid and thrilling rumination on fandom in all its troubling complexity. We all love the fictional universe created by fictive author J. S. Hunts, of course, but when two superfans meet in real life for the first time all bets are off - because their online community has literally been erased. Anyone who has ever taken a deep dive into online community (and that includes all the judges, and probably you) will easily identify with the themes of Her Inner Dead Ends - belonging, dissolution, grudges old and new and identities that may not be as secure as they appear. The online personas that the designers have crafted are absolutely spot on. Tightly written and full of simple, elegant mechanics, Her Inner Dead Ends promises a satisfying play experience for two jaded J.S. Hunts enthusiasts.