Judges' Choice Honorable Mentions

Burial by Ash by Sadia Bies

Burial By Ash is a beautiful, spooky game that makes masterful use of social deduction mechanics and the act of blowing out a candle. If you want atmosphere, this one is overflowing with it. Ordinarily, we at Golden Cobra tend to look askance at a game with so many required materials. But in the case of Burial By Ash, the sum is way greater than its parts.

Garden of Pathos by Chance Jason Kallisti

Garden of Pathos is such an excellent, creepy game about being the plants of Baba Yaga’s greenhouse. While you were all once human, you are now trapped in plant-form, when a human intruder breaks into the greenhouse and you have to decide what to do with them. Each plant has “leaves” (post-its) attached to them, representing their memories that the human player may steal or be gifted. The game is beautifully written, requiring players to use their entire bodies as plants. We’re looking forward to being cursed plants!

Julia's Lost Treasures by Tim Devine

Julia’s Lost Treasures by first-time freeform game writer Tim Devine is a bittersweet game with the potential to be quite intense. In it you take on the roles of adults who once were in the care of a secretive woman named Julia who has just passed away. Now you have the task of going through some of her belongings in order to find something she has left behind for you, and along the way you discover more about who she really was. Julia’s Lost Treasures is very well written with much care and consideration put into the structure, instructions, and emotional weight.

The Real Ghost Hunters of Sandusky Township by Elizabeth Stong

The Real Ghost Hunters of Sandusky Township is a wonderful and whimsical opportunity to play as ghosts trolling the cast and crew of a ghost hunting show. Ghost players hide while the crew hunts them with flashlights, experiencing surreal hauntings when they're fortunate enough to finally find a genuine paranormal occurance. The crew spends the game either cautiously exploring or playing up their fears following their last absurb experience for the camera. It's looks delightful and refreshing, and if we had our way, Ouija boards would only spell BUTTS.

J.D.'s Choice Honorable Mentions

The Elect by Suzanne Schenewerk

The people I play games with would tell you this game is directly in the bullseye of My Zone, and they'd be right. Religious themes, eschatology, sitting around a table with candles: I am already wanting to play this game before I even find out what the mechanics are. I love the richness of the setting -- very vivid and evocative -- I will offer the critique that there's really only one "make a decision" play step -- the big one, at the end -- and it's great, but my feeling is that if there were a way to complicate that step a little, it would make the anticipation more delicious.

Forgetting Your Touch: A Game of Reclaiming Intimate Boundaries by Teresa Maria E. Mison

I am a fan of dance and have had some of the most profound experiences of art watching modern dance -- the use of the body as the central instrument of expression reaches me at a visceral level. I imagine this game as extremely intense, and rewarding; it would demand much of the players, I think the most important step in it is step zero, The player remembers they occupy a body -- it's impossible for me to not bring personal weight to this step: I feel like realistically this would take a good long while, and be essential for the fullness of the game's strength to be experienced. A criticism I'd offer is that there's narrative action, but a lack of narrative structure -- I think some suggested structures would clear a space for people to enter into this more easily. I would like to see more games that explore the space of dance, even if I would be afraid to play them myself.

Medusa's Bad Day by Kitty Stoholski

Absolutely beautifully written game -- you invite the player in & welcome them into the scene you've created. This game feels like it would be very therapeutic! especially if everybody got to take a turn as Medusa. Here, too, I looked for something to complicate the play a little -- some wrinkle that would move the play into a dynamic cause-and-effect place. I think one strength of this game would be seen if multiple players did take turns as Medusa -- the listening-and-reacting dynamic would come into play, and I think that would make things fun.

Seapunk 2222 by Sam Hotchkiss

What a terrific plot -- engaging in that great gaming way that makes you say "let's do this" as soon as you finish reading the set-up. I love the time-limited nature of the dive -- there's not enough time-limiting in games; for me, timers = fun, and I think this game would progress briskly in a really rewarding way. The mechanics are great - but my feeling is that the "what we did with the money" step would be where a lot of the real fun would begin -- the character-building, the skin that the players have in the game. I'd like to play this game with a little more flesh on the characters' bones before they jump into the water.

They Say You Should Talk To Your Plants by Raph D'Amico

This one captured my imagination from its title alone - playful, but also a little mysterious. I love the plant cards, and would form tight bonds with them in play: I am a lover of plants. The dynamic whereby the plants can speak to each other & the protagonist can speak to the plants, but the plants can't speak to the protagonist is the game's most fascinating mechanic -- it sort of makes the protagonist a player-character DM whose role is central. Very cool!

Awards 2019

The John Darnielle Special Judge’s Choice Award
Are You There God? It’s the Quarterly Earnings Report by Margo Gray

This is just fantastic -- the setting is, again, total me-bait, but beyond that: the writing's first-rate; the roles are clearly defined, yet roomy enough for personalization; the special powers are brilliant; the plot is wonderful. Absolutely terrific game.
It is very hard to just pick one from among these games, which I really enjoyed reading! Are You There, God? It's the Quarterly Earnings Report takes the #1 spot from me, narrowly -- a night where I played both that & The Elect would be a super fun night for me.

Best Use of Silence or Non-Verbal Elements in a Game
They Say You Should Talk To Your Plants by Raph D'Amico

They Say You Should Talk to Your Plants is a beautifully quiet game about loneliness, the passage of time, and the conversations one has with their plants. Throughout the game, each player experiences existence both as the human protagonist who is navigating the hurdles of life and as one of the protagonist’s attentive plants. We appreciated the unique role that silence plays in emphasizing the simultaneously sweet and isolating experience of talking to an audience who can’t reply in turn (for the most part!). This game is ultimately about caring for each other, whether you are a withering plant or a lonely human.

Best Live-Action Online Game (LAOG)
Outscored - a LAOG about social credit scores and beautiful light effects by Gerrit Reininghaus

Outscored is a LAOG about a group of kids attempting to apply for university, while having to rate one another based on behavior to determine a social score (very relevant!) It integrates the clever use of computer lighting. When played in a dark room, the colors from the players’ screens reflect onto the players’ faces, providing an unsettling look into the universe. Play is sandwiched between video diary sessions (vlog-style). We’re very excited to play this game over video chat!

Deepest Two-Hour Experience
The Stars Recall Our Passage by Sharang Biswas

The Stars Recall Our Passage gives two players the chance to explore and study history through complementary views of the same mysterious objects - Constellations assembled across a dark room with flashlights. It gives a truly unique take on how to prime players' collaborative and creative output through visual and historical interpretation. We're excited to shine our flashlights around a darkened room to construct our history together.

Best Game for Players Dropping In and Out
The Court of Ferns by Alexa Kirchner

Alexa Kirchner’s The Court of Ferns is a hilarious bureaucratic nightmare. It plays with frustration in a truly absurdist way and, as is fitting with the bureaucratic theme, uses signage as an in-game means to introduce additional players into the mix. We felt that this game was wonderfully silly and approachable for players who might be wandering by wondering what on earth they are witnessing.

Best Apocalyptic Game
This Is Fine by Jenny Bacon, Allison Cole, Jess Rowan Marcotte, Squinky

"Never acknowledge the apocalypse. That would be impolite." This Is Fine is the kind of game that so very much inspires us that we invent a new category for it. In this case, a lot of y'all were designing with the end of the world in mind, so we came up with the Best Apocalyptic Game award. This game is the one that best expresses that unique feeling of simultaneously having to bow and scrape in the neoliberal corporate dystopian present and having to live with the knowledge that it's all so freakin' pointless because the world is ending. A straightforward, tight design that welcomes new players and lets players play close to home without surrendering them to the crushing terror of it all.

Best Game for New Larpers
Small Monsters by Chad Wolf

It's hard to not be charmed by Small Monsters, a game that boldly declares we must all end the game having consumed each other or fall pray to larger monsters. As our monsters merge, so do the players, creating more and more absurd joint creatures. It's fun while also having players have to routinely touch genuine human moments through the sharing of secrets as monsters merge. We can't wait to play, as our multi-headed creatures stomp, dance, and snort in an attempt to convince the others' to join.

Posted 8 November 2019