The 2014 Snakey Award Winners!
Award season has arrived in Hollywood, and it's also here at Snakes & Lattes. December means it's time to announce the winners of the Snakey Awards. Every year we honour new games (or new to us games) that are big hits with our customers and our Game Gurus. Previous winners have included such games as Lords of Waterdeep, Love Letter, Word-Around, Kulami, and Word on the Street.
This year we got introduced to a lot of great games, some brand new, some a little older that have finally made their way to our shelves. We have five categories to award this year: Best Party Game, Best Kids' Game, Best Co-op Game, Best Light Strategy Game, and Best Game.
So, without further ado, here are the Snakey winners for 2014!
Best Light Strategy: Splendor
Splendor, from Marc Andre and the Space Cowboys design house, was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres this year, and many were surprised that it didn't win, including most of the Gurus at Snakes & Lattes. Splendor has quickly become a go-to gateway game for customers who are looking to open the door to the Euro-game phenomenon. With its simple mechanics and low teach time to play time ratio, it's no wonder our Gurus love it. Players are competing gem merchants, trying to earn the most prestige by getting bigger and better facilities and attracting the attention of important noble patrons. Like other SDJ candidates over the years, Splendor is a great ambassador to the hobby of gaming. Simple rules, engaging choices to make, and attractive production make this a great choice to help introduce your non-gaming friends to the world of games beyond Monopoly. And it's deep enough that the serious enthusiast will find the game engaging and rewarding.
Best Kids Game: The Hare & the Tortoise
The Hare & the Tortoise is the third installment of Iello's "Tales & Games" series. Designed by Gun-Hee Kim, and originally published in 2011 under the name Royal Turtle, The Hare & the Tortoise is a great little racing game suitable for kids, but engaging enough for adults to enjoy as well. The Hare has challenged the Tortoise to a rematch of their famous race, and this time all the animals want in on the competition. Tortoise, Hare, Fox, Wolf, and Lamb all think they have what it takes to win. Who will come out on top? That is up to the players. Each player selects up to two animals to secretly back, scoring points if their animals win, or at least make it to the podium. Players take turns playing animal cards until enough have been played to trigger a running round. Each of the five animals moves based on how many cards of their type got played, modified by each animal's special rules (Tortoise moves one space even if no one played any Tortoise cards, Hare won't move if he's in the lead, etc.). It will take a number of running rounds to finish the race, and only the first three animals to cross the finish line score points.
Best Party Game: Buster Balloon (AKA Boom Boom Balloon)
While not a new release of 2014, we did only acquire this little gem of a game this year, so it gets the nod for best party game for us this year! Buster Balloon by Fran's Rookmaaker is ridiculously simple: don't pop the balloon. Like Jenga, Buster Balloon is tense, exciting, and has one loser. Inflate a balloon and secure it in the little plastic gibbet of balloon-esplodey-containment. The cage has sockets all around it that take graduated plastic pokers. On your turn, you role the die and make that many "clicks" with the various pokers. Try not to pop it! The moment you make your first click, you will immediately have a visceral understanding of what makes this game so awesome.
Best Co-op Game: Pandemic the Cure
Matt Leacock's latest co-op design takes the Pandemic franchise to a whole new level. Beautifully produced with tons of custom dice and nicely thematic syringe trackers, the game is a tactile as well as tactical experience. Each of the different specialist roles has its own set of custom dice that allows it to do something none of the other roles can do. Both player actions and infections are controlled by rolling dice, so there is more randomness in this than in the original, but not as much as it seems at first glance. The infection dice are not true six-sided dice. They have been carefully designed so that each disease will only rear its head in specific regions of the board. The randomness of the player dice is mitigated by the fact that until a die gets used (or comes up "biohazard"), the player can roll it again and again to get the desired result. One of the things that all this dice rolling and other random elements do is mitigate the alpha-player problem present in so many co-op games. The alpha-player is the "expert" who knows what everyone's best move is, and tries to dominate the game. The random nature of the game ensures that the "best" move is much harder to pin down. The Cure is more complicated looking to people who are unfamiliar with Pandemic, but it offers new and harder challenges that fans of the original will enjoy. Snakes & Lattes had the privilege of helping Matt playtest The Cure in its early stages of development a couple years ago and we've been eagerly awaiting its release. It did not disappoint.
Best Game: Dead of Winter
And the Snakey Award for our favourite game of the year goes to Plaid Hat Games' Dead of Winter by Jonathan Gilmour and Isaac Vega. There are a lot of zombie games on the market, and this one quickly rose among the ranks to become a standout favourite with the Gurus and customers at Snakes and Lattes. Dead of Winter is a cooperative game with a twist. Like other "co-opetetive" games before it, Dead of Winter uses a betrayal mechanic that will keep you guessing which of your friends you can trust, and like Saboteur or Shadows Over Camelot, in Dead of Winter you never know if someone at the table actually is a betrayer or not. Each player is given a personal objective that must be achieved, while striving to also complete the group objective. Sometimes one player will have a betrayer objective, and so must work against the group. Even if you aren't the betrayer, your personal goal may be at odds with the group, and you may suffer the wrath of your fellow survivors for it. The secret objective aspect eliminates the problem of the alpha-player, because anyone who pushes too hard on a particular agenda will be seen as a possible threat. And with each player having a private goal, the only player who knows your best move is you!
One aspect that has made the game so popular around here is the Crossroads Deck. It's a deck of cards that provide players with moral and situational dilemmas to face. Players never know when a Crossroads card may come up, or what effect the choices they make will have on the outcome.
If you think that the true threat during a zombie apocalypse is the other survivors you have to co-operate with, then Dead of Winter is the zombie game for you. Plaid Hat recently increased their print run on Dead of Winter by a factor of ten, so there will be plenty of copies to go around!