FROM 1974 TO 2012, THE CHARLES S. ROBERTS AWARDS RECOGNIZED THE BEST GAMES OF THE YEAR. For the wargame industry, the CSR became the defacto top award in much the same way the Spiele de Jahres is for the Eurogame (and now hobby boardgame) crowd. Over time though the CSR lost it’s luster. It also lost out to other awards such as the Origins Awards or the Golden Geek Awards as well as the aforementioned Spiele de Jarhres. It also didn’t help that the wargame industry was being relegated to a niche-within-a-niche of the larger hobby boardgame industry. Following the 2012 awards the CSR disappeared.
I don’t let awards drive my purchasing habits, but they can serve as a bellwether of quality. Unfortunately, more recent hobby boardgame awards seem to double-down on popularity over merit. One need look no further than the 2017 Golden Geek Awards where Gloomhaven swept six of 14 categories including Game of the Year. In 2019 it was Wingspan sweeping eight of 14 categories. This is not to say that the games were not deserving of some award, but I find it hard to believe that in an industry where literally thousands of games are published eery year that these single games rose above all of others in so many ways.
In May 2020, the Charles S. Roberts Awards reappeared thanks to the efforts of more than a few wargame industry stalwarts. A ballot for the revamped awards is available online and can be submitted electronically or mailed in.
I am simultaneously happy and disappointed.
Happy because the CSR Awards are back. I hope this means that worthy wargame designers and publishers are recognized for their achievements.
Disappointed because I’m not sure the worthy will be recognized. My disappointment stems from the fact I feel the revamped CSR Awards – as presently organized – are nothing more than a popularity contest, and a confusing one at that.
The CSR Award should be straight-forward. The charter has only one rule:
- The Charles S. Roberts Awards shall be given annually to honor outstanding achievements in the wargaming hobby and to honor other achievements as provided for in these rules and approved by the Charles S. Roberts (CSR) Board of Governors
- Awards shall be announced publicly by July 1, 2020 and formal presentation for this award will be made via live webcast. In future years, awards will be announced earlier in the year.
- Awards in the form of a certificate shall be conferred annually for the following achievements to the publisher and designer/graphics artist/developer or individual of each category.
This rule is followed by category definitions – all 29 of them.
The 2019 ballot itself has several additional rules, but the one that catches my attention is this one:
Voters can consult with publishers or game information on https://www.boardgamegeek.com to verify a game was published in 2019. Eligibility for games will be at discretion of the CSR Board of Governors if there is a discrepancy on publication dates.
The 2019 ballot also includes a representative list of eligible games – all 200+ of them. Here is where my real concern kicks in.
First, the list of eligibles only lists tabletop boardgames. What about the computer categories? Is there a sample list of eligibles there too?
The tabletop eligible list draws from the BoardGameGeek database. Looking through the list, I noted a few games that I own that were published in 2019 were not listed. This makes me question the list. I have tried to recreate this list myself using the Advanced Search feature of BGG but can’t.* The eligible list does carry a warning:
IMPORTANT!! THIS LIST MAY NOT LIST ALL ELIGIBLE GAMES. GAMES NOT ON THE LIST ARE ELIGIBLE IF PUBLISHED IN 2019 AND OTHERWISE MEETING THE CATEGORY REQUIREMENTS.
But is that enough?
The eligible list illustrates my two major issues with the CSR Awards as presently organized.
- There are too many titles (over 200) for any single voter to be familiar with meaning votes are more likely to be awarded based on name recognition rather than merit (i.e. a popularity contest).
- Although the eligibility rules seem simple, the sample list is incomplete leading to an appearance it has been curated (i.e. a transparency issue).
So why not double-down on the curation?
I know curation is hard. If as a consumer and player I can’t be familiar with 200+ titles, how do I expect an eligibility committee to winnow down a list for me?
Because if they don’t then the CSR Awards are nothing more than a popularity contest.
The 2019 ballots are due June 15, 2020. I am torn; I want to recognize good wargames but am familiar with so few. I own or have played only about 10% of the list of eligibles. Sure, I recognize many others, but can I in good conscience cast a vote based upon the word of others or should my vote be cast based on first-hand knowledge gained from actual play?
I want the CSR Awards to succeed; I’m just not sure our definitions of success are the same.
*Using the Advanced Search feature of BGG, I used two different searches:
- Year Published Range = “2019 to 2019” & Board Game Category = “Wargame”
- Year Published Range = “2019 to 2019” & Board Game Subdomain = “Wargames”