Welcome to the 2018 Zatu Selections - our very own board game awards. The Designer of the Year 2018 category celebrates the designers who have created some fantastic board games in the last 12 months - chosen by members of our writing team.
Throne of Games - Daniel Aronson (Island of El Dorado)
The Island of El Dorado is a competitive, tile laying, light strategy, adventure game for 2-4 players. The aim of the game is to be the first person to control the four shrines to be found somewhere on the island. To achieve this you are going to need to build up resources by building farms and employing farmers, defend yourself from, or go and attack your enemies with your armies, and successfully explore the island to find and control the four shrines, one of which is hidden in the depths of a dark and dangerous cave. If you are looking for a clever and accessible, tactical, exploration game with a load of replay-ability due to its random tile board design and a unique narrative each time you play, then take a look at The Island of El Dorado.
These days though, it's not enough to design good games, you also need to engage well with the community, and this is where Daniel shines. Daniel and his team self-publish their titles and I see him all over the internet, on forums and group pages interacting with the community and soliciting feedback. He's open and understanding of people's concerns and constructive criticism, and genuinely wants to be inclusive and accessible with his games.
I've seen some designers go too far the other way, especially with Kickstarter campaigns. They try to throw in everything backers demand even if it's not to the benefit of the game. Daniel is not like that, he has a clear vision of what he wants, suggestions are taken and investigated, and the right choice made for the best of his game. With The Island of El Dorado, Daniel was on a mission to make it the best game it could be and I expect that ethos to continue into his future designs and developments.
Louise G - Frank West
Grandmaster of the 2018 magnificent success that was The City of Kings, we have the fantastic world builder, story writer and board game designer Frank West to thank! From the cleverly crafted characters, which are full of development concerning both upgrading skills and unique story lines, to the wonderfully detailed and immersive world building which is woven into every mission, it goes without saying that The City of Kings has some of the best creative writing that the board game industry has to offer.
Alongside the engaging gameplay of tile flipping, dice rolling, monster fighting, dexterity challenges and any other fun aspect of a board game you could wish for, Frank has managed to flawlessly fit everything we love about board games into one brilliant game. Frank and his small band of creators offer a world that is clearly a well-loved project, who have out-performed larger corporate companies in terms of a co-operative RPG ranging from great game mechanics, sheer amount of content and creative direction.
As well as leading the biggest 2018 board game convention in Bristol, through the wonderful City of Games, Frank really brings the gaming community together into a wholesome environment where new friends can be made, and fun games can be discovered. It’s this sense of community which lies at the heart of Frank’s work, you can rely on him to reply to any questions or comments about his games on his various forums alongside ensuring customer satisfaction. After having to overcome multiple fulfilment and transport challenges, Frank went above and beyond to ensure that every customer received only the highest quality of games.
With the great success of his thriving games, the upcoming City of Games convention in a couple of months (which I would hope and love to see you there!) and the highly anticipated game Rising Blades, we can be sure to expect even more of Frank’s brilliance and wonderful community building in 2019!
Simon L - Wolfgang Warsch
Wolfgang Warsch would be my Designer of the Year 2018. Four highly-regarded games, played frequently, in many groups with a huge fan appeal - he is clearly the designer of the year. I would like to consider some other designers, but I can't number three games that they have made this year that would also be worthy. Reiner Knezia produces "a game a week" which, whilst perhaps not the case, he has produced more than 600 and that was in 2015, and the games are generally good at the very least, Axio, whilst out in 2017, I thought was great having only played it in November.
So, Wolfgang Warsch, a name slightly hard to recall, produced The Mind. A game so "ballsy" it might not even be a game (the chap I'm quoting also owns Blue Lagoon). A game where you need to guess and play cards in ascending order without making a mistake. A similar game to The Game, thankfully the title isn't as confusing as that one.
Highly replayable, aiming to complete the game, The Mind. I first played it at UK Games Expo and the tensions is high as you watch your opponents! The variety of people I can play it with adds to the replay-ability as I can "learn" to play "mindfully" with a whole new group. Even a partial group is fun.
A slightly similar "dark" box is Ganz Schon Clever. A top roll and write game when you select options from dice to pick to hopefully maximise your score. It was nominated for game of the year and has definite strategy. The last two I haven't played (yet know people who own them) and they are Illusion (similar to The Mind, you have to guess portions of colours) and the Push your Luck game: The Quacks of Quedlinburg.
Nick W - Catherine Stippell
For Designer of the Year I haven’t selected a prolific or well-known designer, in fact, my choice is first time designer Catherine Stippell who introduced us to the world of Nyctophobia. Nyctophobia was a close call for innovation as it sees up to four players don blackened sunglasses while one other player takes the role of a murderer in the dark. And dark it is for the other players as the glasses black out all but the side of your vision.
The hunter player acts as a games master of sort, role-playing the experience and messing with the minds of the ‘blind’ players. They will be using their sense of touch to literally feel their way to safety through a maze made while they were wearing their glasses. The pieces are chunky and shaped to be easily identifiable through touch.
All this is good enough to bring a designer to notice, but what really stands out for me is Stippell’s motivation for making the game - she wanted to make a game her blind uncle could play. I love stories like this, I love the genesis of this game and I love that a highly playable and unique game was born. I also applaud Pandasaurus Games for their decision to publish this game using their growing reputation for producing great games.
Game Shelf - Wolfgang Warsch
How do you make a splash as a new board game designer? Have three games nominated for the Spiel des Jahres and Kennerspiel des Jahres in a single year. That’s what Wolfgang Warsch did! Ultimately, The Quacks of Quedlinberg won the Kennerspiel award, whilst Ganz Schon Clever became a huge online gaming craze and The Mind sparked much debate around whether it was actually a game!
The Mind has been a huge hit with our parents, with many a holiday or visit spent staring at each other around a table, desperately hoping that our gut feeling is correct and that someone will play the right card. I was briefly addicted to Ganz Schon Clever, a very deep and puzzly roll and write game that I’ve still not achieved 300 points in! I’m not very good at it, but it definitely as staying power beyond many roll and write games and sits happily in our collection.
Finally, The Quacks of Quedlinberg is a very recent addition to our shelves that on first impressions is a lovely push your luck bag building game. Wolfgang Warsch is a gift that keeps on giving – we love all three of these games and are very excited to see more.