A two player game reminiscent of The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Alchemy (and Feelings) guides players through the relationship between an apprentice and homunculus while their master is away. The drawing mechanic and evocative prompts make us particularly excited to spotlight this game as an Honorable Mention!
A game about the often meaningless and always painful process of getting laid off, Canned by Alex Rowland depicts the ways in which workers are denied their humanity and defined by their economic output before extending a hand to build them back up. This game is caring and sharp, with a strong set of values behind it and an emphasis on safety and player care. Canned feels like a necessary game to push back against capitalist notions that we are nothing but what we produce.
Reminiscent of an episode of Black Mirror, Homunculus by Anna Kreider brings to the surface all the conflicting emotions of what it’s like to have a loved one pass away and come back to life as an AI. As one player acts as the deceased/Homunculus, the other players are the connections to the deceased, who must decide whether to keep or remove the Homunculus. The game is tense and full of melancholy and we are very excited about it!
A poetic exploration of the passing of generations, no other game dissected one of our contest ingredients in such a deep way as May-December-May. In it, the concept of rebirth is deconstructed in a way that makes us reflect on the passage of a century through the conventions and love of generations. This deep use of a contest ingredient in such a focal and beautiful way struck us and for that we'd like to recognize May-December-May and its author Paul Beakley.
Mediums and séances seem to abound in small freeform scenarios, but The Residents by Suzanne Schenewerk invigorates these tropes with lucid game writing and evocative prompts. The game uses a game mechanic called “Impressions” to frame flashbacks and metalepsis without fundamentally disrupting the flow of play. Focused enough to cue player behavior while being open enough to invite their emotional investment, The Residents provides an exciting range of possibilities for personal supernatural exploration, while also making sure that each narrative path taken will be meaningful and interesting. This Honorable Mention is in anticipation of the many chills and feels that players of this scenario are likely to experience.
Hope is right there in the title. Like a non passive-aggressive The Quiet Year, One Year focuses on building, growing, and managing change without an immediate descent into bloody conflict. It does this elegantly, while still scratching that itch of player creativity while constraining the directions it might go in. The judges’ comments all remarked on this game’s genuinely hopeful gentleness.
When the artist hydra's creative visionary head, Elder Acid is lopped off by an interloping adventurer, the remaining heads have to rally the new headlings to their deadline for the famous Monster Gallery. In this game, Kitty Stoholski has created something exquisitely gripping and eminently playable. We can't wait to not only play ourselves, but tell new players about this game. The great hook and guided collaborative artmaking make us confident that new players will immediately find something to latch onto and never feel bored or lost.
Finally, a game about K-pop! Clio Yun-su Davis’ The Long Drive Back from Busan is about the relationships between bandmates in a K-pop group, as they go through the stress of dealing with fans and their manager. The game combines some of our favorite mechanisms in role-playing and even leaves behind a video artifact of the players to leave for their “fans”. It’s a game about rising to the top of an industry, while making personal sacrifices on the way, a theme that isn’t explored enough in larp. We love this!
Tightly written yet expansive, Jefferson Lee’s dystopic cold equations struck as as both chilling, realistic, and ultimately thrilling to play. Lee presents a near-future America that is not just in decline, but in collapse - and as players we are not in a position to fix anything, merely mitigate the damage as best we can. The end result will be millions dead, but that may be bitter mercy given the alternatives. An unrelentingly rough game that straddles the line between tabletop and freeform larp in a fun, challenging way, Under A Broken Flag feels like a game our national leadership might already be playing.
A game so exciting and unique we gave it its own category, previous Golden Cobra winner Jeff Dietrele’s Long Time Listener, Last Time Caller combines strange, asymmetrical gameplay with a witches brew of apocalyptic tropes and genuine human connection. We were universally enthusiastic about the game’s core affordances - distributed play, perhaps via Skype, and intimate, disembodied conversations as the world literally ends. No game made us want to stop deliberating and immediately play it more than Long Time Listener, Last Time Caller.