Personal Thoughts on the 2019 Charles S. Roberts #Wargame Awards

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:

RULE ONE

  1. 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
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

  1. 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).
  2. 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:

  1. Year Published Range = “2019 to 2019” & Board Game Category = “Wargame”
  2. Year Published Range = “2019 to 2019” & Board Game Subdomain = “Wargames”

 

Personal Quick Take – 2018 Origins Awards Nominees

As found on the ICv2 website:

The Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design (AAGAD) released the list of games nominated for 2018 Origins Awards. The Awards will be presented during the annual Origins Awards Ceremony, held on Saturday, June 16.  The Academy added a category to the seven from 2017, Roleplaying Supplement, bringing the total to eight.  The nominees were selected by the Academy; the winners will be selected by a jury of professionals.  Origins Game Fair attendees will vote for Fan Favorite winners at the show.

As a wargamer, I understand the the Origins Awards are not really my cuppa tea. For the longest time the Charles S. Roberts Award was all I cared about, but those ended in 2012. Since then, the Golden Geek Awards on BGG.com have been what I watch, but its really hard for me to get behind that award given that the demographic playing “war games” on the BGG sub-domain is quite different than players on ConsimWorld. Consequently, there are no “war games” of interest to me amongst the nominees.

All that said, I am kinda interested in the Origins Awards from a family gaming perspective. I regret to say that I have not played a single one of the 12 Board Game nominees. Card and Collectible games are not my thing so it is not surprising that I have not played any of those 20 games. I like miniatures but shy away from the cost, meaning the four games in that category are more unknowns to me. I guess this means I failed to qualify as a card-carrying COTN (Cult of the New) member or suffer from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).

I admit my roleplaying interests are narrow (usually sci-fi) and I am not surprised that my favorite Cepheus Engine publishers are not recognized. Shamefully, I see Mongoose Publishing somehow got their money-grabbing Traveller Starter Set on the list. I am heartened though by the diversity of other titles and publishers on the Roleplaying Game and Roleplaying Supplement lists.

Gaming Accessories? Looks like the Academy still has to decide what really goes into this category. I see everything from box inserts to game expansions. A firm definition of “gaming accessory” appears to be lacking.

Of course, who am I kidding? These days game awards are less professional recognition and more fan service. Look no further than the fact Gloomhavenwon six of 13 categories in the 2017 Golden Geek Awards. I consider it lucky that 878 Vikings – Invasion of England (Academy Games, 2017) was the 2017 Golden Geek Best Wargame Winner.

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Courtesy Academy Games

Game of the Week for April 02, 2018 – Thunder at the Crossroads 2nd Edition (The Gamers, 1993)

After the RockyMountainNavy trip to Gettysburg last week, it seems fitting that the Game of the Week be on that same topic. Thunder at the Crossroads 2nd Edition (The Gamers, 1993) is the only non-strategic Civil War battle game in my collection (the others being the broadly disliked The Civil War from Fresno Gaming Assoc. 1991 and the very popular For the People from GMT Games, 1998). Thunder at the Crossroads is a solid 7.7 on BoardGameGeek.com and has favorable reviews. It is not without its detractions, the main one being the required play time. BGG.com lists playing time as 360 minutes, though the back of the box states, “18 Hours Plus.”

This game is part of The Gamers’ Civil War Brigade (CWB) Series. As such, the rules are presented in two rulebooks; the Series Rules and Game Rules. The Game Rules are in a 20 page booklet but only the first four pages are “rules” with the rest being scenarios and notes.

The Series Rules are interesting. In the Introduction, the designers claim the games are, “accurate, readily playable portrayals of specific American Civil War battles at the tactical brigade level.” They go on to state,

The intent of this series is to focus on the command aspects of Civil War combat by having players use a game command system that mimics actual events. The game forces interact with each other in ways that simulate the functions of those they represent.

This focus on command becomes clearer when one realized that 10.0 Command and Control covers five pages of the Series Rules. This is a major portion of the rules, especially when one realizes that the “rules” are communicated in 24 pages with the balance of the 32 page rulebook being Designer’s Notes and several Optional rules and related essays.

All of which makes the reading 2.0 Beginner’s Note a bit confusing. Here the designer recommends,

Avoid the Command Rules as you learn this system, only using “command radius” to keep things in order. Once you understand the basic structure, include the rest of the command systems in your next session. All games in this series can be played without the command rules, so, if you do not find them to your taste, feel free to play without them.

I sense some cognitive dissonance here; the “focus” of the game is on the “command aspects” but it “can be played without the command rules.” OK…?

Another rule I had a hard time wrapping my head around at first was 6.5 Fire Levels. Infantry and cavalry units are rated using lettered fire levels. The rest of the game is fairly straight forward with a Turn Sequence (8.0) that is probably very familiar to may grognards:

  • First Player Turn
    • Command Phase
    • Movement & Close Combat Phase
    • Fire Combat Phase
    • Rally Phase
  • Second Player Turn
    • (Repeat above)
  • Game End Turn Phase

If there is one rule I like it is the Play Tip that appears in 20.0 Fire Combat. Recognizing that the fire combat rules require a series of die rolls the recommendation made is,

…place the following combination of dice into a dice roller: two large red dice, one smaller red die, one yellow die, one black die (white dots) and one white die (black dots). (The actual dice and colors used is up to you, but the above is a working example). Using the above dice, they will be read as follows. The two large red dice are for the main combat table. The smaller red die rounds any 1/2 results. The yellow die is for the Straggler Table. The remaining two dice are for the Morale Table with the black die the tens digit and the white die the ones. Use only the results from the dice which are needed according to the Fire Table result – in other words, if the Fire Table result is no effect, ignore all the other dice. This system speeds up play drastically – although it might sound cumbersome at first.

What the rulebook lacks is strong graphics. The three-column layout gets detailed and although there are several examples of play all are mostly textual – graphics are very limited. The Rules Summary Sheet lacks numerical rules references making it a short, but not-very-helpful compilation of rules. Some tables appear in the Charts & Tables but others (like the Movement Table) are directly on the map sheets. In 1993, the same year this game was published, designer Dean Essig was inducted into the Charles S. Robert Hall of Fame. That same year he won the James F. Dunnigan Award for Playability & Design. Granted, this award was for his 1993 title Afrika: The Northern Africa Campaign, 1940-1942 (1st Edition) which, judging from the photos on bgg.com, doesn’t visually appear much different from Thunder at the Crossroads. I guess this was the “state of excellence” at the time….

There are 11 scenarios provided, covering single days (like Scenario 1: The First Day) to smaller actions (like Scenario 5: Little Round Top) to the entire battle (Scenario 10: The Historical Battle of Gettysburg). There is actually a twelfth scenario which uses 6.12 Variable Arrival Charts to allow an Army Commander to “better implement his plans.” For my Game of the Week, I think I will use the shortest scenario, Little Round Top, which is only 9 turns. I also think I will use the Beginner’s Notes recommendation and only use the “command radius” rules. At least this first time….