2014 Games of the Year and Other Awards

As part of our annual Buyer’s Guide to Games, we present our annual awards for Traditional Game of the Year, Electronic Game of the Year, and Best New Game in various categories. Here are the most recent winners, announced in the December 2013 issue of Games Magazine. Previous years’ winners can be found here.

Traditional (Nonelectronic) Games

Game of the Year: Garden Dice/The Card Expansion
(Meridae Games; designer: Doug Bass)
Read review.

Best New Abstract Strategy Game: Kulami
(FoxMind; designer: Andreas Kuhnekath)

Best New Advanced Strategy Game: Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar
(Rio Grande Games; designers: Daniele Tascini and Simone Luciani)

Best New Family Game: Via Appia
(Queen Games; designer: Michael Feldkötter)

Best New Card Game: Morels
(Two Lanterns Games; designer: Brent Povis)

Best New Strategy Game: Triassic Terror
(Gryphon Games; designer: Peter Hawes)

Best New Party Game: Homestretch: Race to the Finish
(R&R Games; designer: Frank DiLorenzo)

Best New Puzzle: Laser Maze
(ThinkFun; designer: Luke Hooper)

Electronic Games 

Game of the Year: BioShock Infinite
(2K/Irrational Games, 360/PS3/PC, Rated: M)
Read review.

Best New Action Game: The Last of Us
(SCEA/Naughty Dog; PS3, Rated: M) 

Best New Puzzle/Adventure Game: Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine
(Majesco/Pocketwatch; PC/Mac/XBLA; Rated: T)

Best New Role-Playing Game: Animal Crossing: New Leaf
(Nintendo; 3DS; Rated: E)

Best New Strategy Game: XCOM: Enemy Unknown
(Firaxis/2K; PC/Xbox/PS3; Rated: M)

 

Garden Dice/The Card Expansion
Meridae Games, 2-4P, $34.95/$14.95
Designer: Doug Bass

First-time designer Doug Bass thoroughly deserves our top spot for his immensely enjoyable dice game that offers plenty of scope to control your destiny.

You begin this battle on a 6x6 garden with a Sundial, Bird, and Sun, and roll four regular dice to spend each turn. Use one die to purchase a vegetable seed of equal or lower value, and add a marker to it. Use two dice as the coordinates of a vacant space to place a purchased seed, Bird, or Sundial. The very tempting Sundial lets you amend dice used for coordinates. One die also lets you water (flip to crop side) a seed in play at most equaling the roll, or similarly harvest (remove) a crop for its value in points. Watering and harvesting spread that effect to all adjacent tiles of lower value, regardless of ownership, with the active player earning 1 extra point for each enemy harvested. No wonder placing lower values adjacent to competitors’ higher values is an oft-used ploy!

Move your Bird across vacant spaces up to the value of one die, to stop on reaching an enemy seed. You may then add another marker to the Bird to remove the seed from play, or “spit it out” with another roll at least equaling the seed’s value and retain it to place in future. Spend a 6 to flip the Bird to a Rabbit (or vice versa). Rabbits similarly devour crops reached. Any Bird or Rabbit may be ejected with three dice: a 6 plus both the coordinates of the targeted piece. These beasts will delight younger players, but can be greedy and frightening pests when used by astute adults. A 6 also flips your Sundial to a Scarecrow, which earns your adjacent crops extra points when harvested and protects them from pests. Abandoning the Sundial for this is not easy, but adroit use of this ploy marks an experienced and clever player.

When the last seed is purchased, earn points for sets (one of each crop) and collections (similar crops) harvested. Deduct points for unplanted seeds, but add points if you retained your Sun without using it to amend one die roll or reroll all dice. Bask in the sunshine of victory with most points.

A variant includes a Gnome that lets you amend dice when purchasing, watering, or harvesting. Adding to already enormous replayability is the card expansion. You always have three action cards and may play one per turn for its privilege (free watering or harvesting, extra points when harvesting or having configurations in play, etc.). When replenishing your hand reveals an Event, it replaces the current Event and affects all players. Events, for instance, permit rerolling one die, or demand extra pips for watering).

We are eminently qualified to assure you that it also plays well with two. My wife insisted that I bring it each time I visited her during a lengthy hospital stay.—John J. McCallion (originally reviewed in May 2013 GAMES)

BioShock Infinite
2K/Irrational Games
360/PS3/PC, Rated: M

The original BioShock won the coveted Electronic Game of the Year Award (December 2007 GAMES), and now the first sequel produced by the original team is scooping up this year's GOTY.

BioShock is one of the best games in the history of the medium. Complex, entertaining, and occasionally profound, it showed what games can do in the hands of creative people with big ideas. It’s taken six years—and a rumored $100 million budget—to make a worthy follow-up to the original. Bioshock Infinite arrives to massive expectations for something that takes us beyond Rapture, Daddies, and Little Sisters.

Anyone expecting a retread of the damp, claustrophobic atmosphere and objectivist critique of the first game is in for a shock from the opening moments. The world of BS Infinite is gloriously bright and colorful. It’s grounded in familiar elements—early 20th century, World's Fair-inspired Americana—with the addition of equal parts steampunk and dystopia. Men in straw boaters, ladies in long dresses, carnival midways, and barbershop quartets—there is color and life everywhere, all seen through a nostalgic haze. In the midst of this, there are rumblings that something is different, from the mechanized men to the disturbing undercurrent of fanaticism and racism, and the very singular fact that the city is floating.

Buildings dock and separate, dirigibles dot the air, and skyway rails link locations. The city of Columbia lifted off from America, announced its independence, and disappeared into the clouds. Some things connect our world to this one. At one point, an air barge drifts by with a quartet singing "God Only Knows" by the Beach Boys. It's a wonderfully whimsical moment, but like everything in Columbia, it's tinged with darkness: You soon learn that their idea of God isn't quite ours, and that this idea drives much of the madness that ensues.

The game, which uses the Unreal engine, is not just gorgeous. That's to be expected in 2013. The wonderful thing is the staggering amount of visual style and invention on display. This is a dazzling act of world-building.

The gameplay is in the same mode as the original: narrative first-person action with conventional weapons, personal modifications, and special powers. Whereas the original Bioshock had plasmids, Infinite has “vigors,” which provide special attacks such as a rain of fireballs or a murder of crows that shoot from your hands. Enemies range from simple thugs to mechanized men to a giant mechanical guardian crow. As with other games in the series, you move through the world completing objectives, occasionally following subquests, collecting recordings that fill in the narrative, and killing enemies.

As the game goes on, the narrative becomes dizzyingly complex, drawing in parallel universes and bizarre time-space paradoxes. If people were worried that the team at Irrational couldn’t top the depth and imagination of the original game, they needn’t have worried: BS Infinite is brimming with ideas, people, and gameplay. It doesn’t always hold together, and it’s not as fresh as the original, but it’s a virtuoso performance that entertains as it challenges.—Thomas L. McDonald

Previous Game of the Year awards
 

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