The Batcave uses one of the lesser known features of Zoom (the ability flip your camera in the Windows Desktop version) and uses it to encourage a wonderfully fun exploration of bats finding a new home. We think this is a really fun way to leverage digital play - though, admittedly in a fairly restricted platform. We can only hope our digital communication providers see the global need for us to all indulge our bat-ish urges and implement this feature globally so we can all play together soon.
In The Bathhouse, you literally take a bath at the same time as the other players in order to simulate the experience of going to a bathhouse with your friends. Communication is audio-only during the actual bathing section of the game, but the level of intimacy is still high. Players take on the roles of people who used to play a game together as teenagers where they were the reincarnations of gods, but there was much going on beneath the surface that went unsaid. Throughout the course of the experience, characters attempt to rekindle these old friendships and better comprehend their own queerness now that they’re adults. We loved how beautifully written this game is, and while it’s an ambitious undertaking to try to get a group of players that can all take baths simultaneously, for those who are able to manage it this is sure to be a one-of-a-kind experience.
The great dragon Panopticritia is now old and weak, and the knights, princesses, and magical objects who attend to her day to day needs gradually leave her one by one. This is a challenging and complex game about aging, caretaking, memory, and abandonment. This game needs a more robust section on its own potentially upsetting content around aging, physical and mental decline, and allegory for elder abuse, and there is currently no scaffolding for player safety contained in the text beyond a gloss of the above themes. Once that safety section is written, this game’s mechanics will shine the brighter for it. We’ve never seen a game that mechanically harnesses the technical frustrations of remote communication to further its narrative and emotional impact. While the safety section would be required before we can fully endorse it, it is a strong contender that appeals to players who are willing to tackle challenging subjects, and is certainly one of the more unique remote frameworks we’ve seen.
In Dream Phone, Russell and Freeman blow away all of our expectations in terms of production and do it in an accessible, whimsical and fun package overall. This game has so many wonderful pieces that we believe it deserves recognition. That being said, we believe the game borrows some mechanics from existing Cthulhu RPG systems that we'd recommend revising. We don't believe those elements are critical to the design though, and believe fixing them is easily achievable. Once those have been made, we can easily see this game becoming a staple of remote play.
The Fortunate Ones uses asymmetry in play in a wonderfully novel and purposeful way. It uses many aspects of play that would only be possible in a digital environment to embody a human and an AI who have a high amount of information asymmetry - not over plot or history, but over how they understand the world around them. We won't spoil the author's debrief, but this game is well worth anyone's time who wants to gain a bit more understanding for others' experiences with the world.
A Song for Our Remakers is a lovely, lighthearted game in which you play cosmic beings trying to reconstruct humanity and Earth based on a handful of human memories connected to specific songs. These memories and songs are pulled from the players’ real lives, giving the game an intimate, personal touch. The questions you need to answer as cosmic beings include prompts that range from “What does a human want?” to “What creatures will be allowed to fly?” but you can only draw from what information you can glean from the songs players provide. We loved that players get to come away from this game with new knowledge about each other and with a playlist to remember their experience by.
From Kieron: "One of my favourite novellas of last year was This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal el-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, and this is the google-doc powered epistolary sister-game. Players travel through time. One player writes an ode to that time. The other writes a little response. The googledoc generates whole new timelines prompts. Time is written over when cells are written over. The sort of collision between poetry and math which I can only imagine Ada Lovelace applauding saying 'Yes! Yes! More of this kind of thing!'"
As a note - From year to year Golden Cobra has been expanding its effort to increase POC representation among its submissions. This year, we had our most diverse judging pool ever, and used media prompts that tried to encourage games from perspectives that haven't traditionally been in focus. That being said, we're still working on increasing diversity among our submission pool. With many POC winners now judges, making them ineligible for awards, it seems we may have even inadvertently compounded the problem among submissions. This is something that we'll be actively working on for the 2021 competition.
Voyagers is a two person game inspired by the Voyager satellites’ Golden Records, and fittingly the two characters are only able to communicate by asking questions via text communication and sending songs in reply to those questions. The most intriguing part of this game is that both characters are different versions of each other from parallel universes who were largely identical until a significant event took place four years ago and caused a divergence. We particularly appreciated the tight design and innovative use of technology and music. The limits placed on communication here really set the mood and grant special importance to what little you are able to say to one another.
When the clock strikes three, and the long shadows creep over your bed, you awake and turn over a tarot card to reveal another part of your fate…Will you survive a ghastly haunting, or will you become possessed? The mechanics of Awake at the Witching Hour are proof that mechanics and narrative when intertwined can produce spectacular, and in this case, horrifying, effects. In addition to its simple yet elegant mechanics, this game highlights the need for a solo game category as it proves you can have a deeply impactful experience all by yourself
The Glimpse does something remarkable. It makes us consider character and define ourselves through that which we are not but which could have been. It explores parallel universes that are defined through the presence or absence of a single traumatic event. It then smashes both realities together in a way that is truly unique to the digital medium. Having players have to reflect on their character through alternate reality is a truly original way to define character and we couldn't be more impressed.
Duels in the Tower of Eternity has a truly unique way of developing character through interspersing solo LARPs that involve strong and evocative physical activities with narrative beats the characters experience on their way to their final duel. The game is an unequivocal delight for anyone who loves Revolutionary Girl Utena, while still conveying something groundbreaking and special to those who are unfamiliar. Incorporating such vivid physical activities as a sustained part of character development throughout the game (which is played over multiple remote sessions) is truly original, and we can't wait to play.
This game about the history-making sumō wrestler Hakuhō Shō, the ancient spaceship AI who loves him, and the starship’s officers who must learn to communicate in terms of Hakuhō in order to get that AI to return to the fold evokes Jon Bois’s 17776, the Star Trek: the Next Generation episode “Darmok,” and the situation we’ve all been in (or put others in) when trying to interact with someone who’s a huge nerd about one specific thing, on their terms. Hakuhō, like all the Golden Cobra media inspirations this year, is a topic who would normally require a thorough cultural consulting process, not always possible in the contest cycle. But in light of those constraints, we particularly appreciate the game’s primer on how to approach a culture, sport, and body type about which the players may not know much, as well as the way the game integrates that possible lack of familiarity into the play process, teaching players how to learn about an unfamiliar subject with sensitivity and enthusiasm. We awarded this game “Best First Weird LARP for People Who Have Only Played D&D Before” because of its humor, ease of play, clear roles, and emphasis on lore and statistics. In addition, though these prizes are not always given out, we wish to award this game all three of the Outstanding Performance, Fighting Spirit, and Technique prizes for exceptional performance during a sumō wrestling tournament.
This is a game that is written to make you fall in love with physical mail. The Coeuriers is a beautifully evocative myth that, since time immemorial, each letter or package sent across the land is a mystical being with its own unique spirit. The game itself is a delightful journey of crafting vivid missives, receiving them, modifying them in a meaningful way, then sending them on again. This game brilliantly overcomes narrative flow and postal delay challenges by tying meaning to each individual missive rather than the interactions between them. If you’ve ever wanted to declare undying love, threaten an invasion, confess profound regret, or do almost anything else and also finally get to go all out with stationary supplies & packaging (optionally), this is your chance. A remarkably sensory shared experience for our time of isolation.
This is a great little game. Fun and tight - it's bound to get a lot of play. However, what's more remarkable is the framework the author has developed to let anyone in the community reuse the infrastructure freely available at https://storysynth.org . It's the perfect way to encourage more games playable in our remote environment, and is simple and straightforward to use. We highly recommend everyone with an idea to give storysynth a whirl and start making the next game for us to play together remotely. Thanks Randy.
I occasionally think comedy is a strange Faustian pact. Comedy just has a winning personality. We
like people who make us laugh. You get a long way on that. Conversely, Comedy is something which
seems to make you much less likely to do things like (relevantly) win awards. Comedy gets you so
far, then stops, the applause and smiles your only reward. Part of me almost submitted to that
instinct, thinking “are you really going to pick the one which just delighted you most as the winner,
Gillen? You’re going to get laughed out of serious Nordic LARP circles if you ever show you face
there. Well, “laughed out” is probably the wrong phrase to use, but—”
However, then I thought that the business of delight and joy is precious, in all years, and this year especially. And, above all, always remember, that funny does not mean joking.
Which is my long way to say “I love this”.
You play 12 th century French artists, all tasked by your patron to draw an animal. Sadly, despite your talent in other areas, you absolutely cannot draw this one specific animal. Problem. You all try to draw it, occasionally writing to your peers to share your progress, asking for advice, and filling them in on the 12 th century France chat. Your peers write back with feedback. Eventually, the final work is completed… and then we skip to modern day, and all the players become art historians, presenting a short academic thesis on the work of this unknown 12 th century artist in a streaming symposium. And then all the essays and art are collected in a little book.
I am delighted.
It’s a clear smart satire of art, creativity, academia and everything. I love how the playfulness of the concept is mirrored with the formal playfulness of skipping between digital, epistolary, streaming and publishing. It’s charmingly written, and skilfully evokes the mode it hopes to be played in. It understands the difficulty for players to create art for others to see, and makes it accessible by insisting everyone – no matter how talented – must make bad art, and then makes it funnier by everyone taking your doodles of a cat with odd eyes intensely seriously.
Most of all, it’s my winner because it’s the one which I immediately wanted to play, would enrich my friends life, and bring us together, no matter how apart we were. It’s the one which I will forward to my friends and go 12 th CENTURY ARTISTS! NOW! LET’S GO! excitedly.
I also cannot draw, and feel very seen and cared for. Thanks, Liz.