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Zatu Selections – Innovation of the Year 2018

Zatu Selections - Innovation of the Year

Welcome to the 2018 Zatu Selections - our very own board game awards. This time we're looking at the Innovation of the Year 2018 category. These are the board games which brought something unique and exciting to the table, with mechanics and/or gameplay features that help make them stand out from the crowd.

The Game Shelf - Chronicles of Crime

Chronicles of Crime is one of the first games to bring virtual reality (VR) into the tabletop gaming world. But VR is not the only innovation in this game. The entire game uses an app on your phone to lead you through an investigation into a crime. The game and app are cleverly designed using a QR code system. If you scan a person, you can ask them about an object, by scanning the object, or you can ask them about another person or location.

Whilst using the VR mode to search a crime scene you’ll find evidence. You can scan this evidence with the scientist or criminologist to gain clues in your case. In addition, none of the information is static, it is all interlinked. As time passes during the game, the characters might tell you something different if scanned again – characters might change location or even die, depending upon the actions you take and whether you’re progressing in the case.

Chronicles of Crime is a fantastic example of app integration in a board game. It really brings the theme to life and makes the game accessible for gamers who want a lighter crime-solving deduction game. The app has a world of possibility for new content, as well as perhaps user generated scenarios in the future and that's really exciting!

Chronicles of Crime (Credit: Lucky Duck Games)

Martin A - Dice Drafting Mechanic of Coimbra

The dice drafting mechanic of Coimbra is my innovation of the year. On the one hand, dice values are important because they determine who gets access to cards first but also determine the purchase cost of those cards.

So, a high value dice can put you at the front of the queue, but also requires you to pay most. A low value dice means you pay less, but the card you want might have gone by the time it's your turn to purchase. Then again, the colour of the dice you draft determines what income rewards you receive.

Many of the cards and actions you perform will drive you up a set of coloured income tracks, and each die you draft earns you the income from the track of the same colour. So, you might really want to draft a purple six die to guarantee you are first in the queue for card purchases - but then again you might prefer to draft a green five die because your income from the green track is better than from the purple track. But choosing the five die might mean you don't get to purchase the card you really want.... decisions, decisions.

Will M - Mind Reading in The Mind

What constitutes an innovation in board gaming can be quite a subjective thing – whether it’s an interesting new mechanic or the use of an app is open to interpretation and opinion. In 2018, the innovation that had me in a spin was that of mind reading. Mind reading in a board game? Surely in almost every board game you’re trying to read the minds of your opponents, but in The Mind, mind reading is the central mechanic.

This game (designed by Wolfgang Warsch) is essentially such a simple premise that I can’t believe it hasn’t been done before – in round one players are dealt a card from the deck of 100 (which are numbered from one to 100) and have to lay their cards down in the centre of the table in numerical order – sounds simple? – the catch is that the players cannot speak to each other or show anyone their cards until they lay them down! And the crazy thing is each player is dealt two cards in the second round, three in the third round, etc.

In this Spiel des Jahres runner-up, you must try to telepathically connect with your fellow players, or at least be able to read their tells and body language while projecting your own back to them. Ninja stars can help your group, allowing you to all simultaneously discard your lowest card from your hand, but they are in very short supply.

This game quite rightly caused a stir upon release, and intrigues almost everyone when you explain it to them. There are numerous board games that attempt to be innovative, but The Mind will live long in the (collective) memory.

The Mind (Credit: NSV)

Ben G - Unique Games from Fantasy Flight

Fantasy Flight Games grabbed the attention of the tabletop gaming world not once, but twice in 2018 as they released two fascinating games. They came out with KeyForge, the world’s first unique deck game, then followed up with Discover: Lands Unknown, the world’s first unique board game.

The premise of both these games is simple: no two products that you open will be the same. For KeyForge, this is a little easier to grasp. Each deck that you open and play with in CCG-style games will contain a combination of cards that no other deck in existence can match. A complex algorithm picks the card list and ensures that the deck is somewhat playable, then it’s up to players to figure out what to do with the decks they own.

Discover: Lands Unknown is similar. Each box contains a narrative-driven board game with randomised components. Players will get different environment tiles, different characters and different scenarios to put those characters in. The idea is that each game tells a story as you play through it, but no two players will have the same story.

KeyForge has been a roaring success so far, despite a couple of issues with the deck creation. Discover was received more cautiously but has still shown that the concept can work in a more conventional board game package. Fantasy Flight deserve a lot of credit for bringing this innovative style of game to life and I expect to see more along these lines from them in the future as they iterate on their processes. It’s rare that we see something completely new in board gaming, but Fantasy Flight achieved it in 2018 and that’s why their unique games are my pick for innovation of the year.

KeyForge (Credit: Fantasy Flight Games)

Simon L - One Round Games

Occurring in my game of the year and my runner up, the same innovation is apparent. Whilst I think others may note it too, there is a slight difference in them. The innovation is a "one round game". Whilst innovation is becoming harder, I would believe, in board games (among many things) I thought that the mechanism, most notable in the hit game Architects of the West Kingdom has an excellent playing experience.

The worker placement mechanic is now well established and something, I think, must give to provide a new and greater level of enjoyment. This occurs with Architects of the West Kingdom. Whilst worker placements keep you engaged, knowing what you might do on your next turn (and staying alert in case someone takes your spot), the haste feels heightened, like a sheptone, that there is, in principle, one round.

There are mini-rounds. You place a single worker (of the 20 you have) and you wait until everyone else has placed. Then you play again. Play continues until you play in certain locations to remove workers (which can include opponents if you send them to jail and can then sell them!). However, there feels like a real flow and inertia to the game when you, zen like, place a worker, then wave your hand in one motion to gather another, ready to place again.

In Blue Lagoon. There isn’t one round, there are two. But I feel there is a similarity. You place, retrieve and place. Will this winning formula be productive in 2019?