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Cardboard Children - Board Game of the Year 2012

Which will stand and be counted?

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Hello youse.

I hope you had a great, human Christmas and an inhuman New Year. I celebrated Hogmanay by rolling down a hill, wailing at the skies for mercy. I kept rolling, and tumbled in through the stage door of a giant haunted theatre. I came to a stop on stage, blind drunk but maddeningly aware of the brutish realities of human existence. And it is from that haunted theatre, from that stage, in front of an audience of ghosts and shades, that I present to you…

THE GAME OF THE YEAR AWARD 2012

Good evening! Thanks for coming! My name is Robert Florence, although some people call me Rab, and others call me Rob, and I love it when they call me “Big Poppa”, and so I love it when your mother calls me.

Wow, what a year 2012 was. We had the Olympics, which had everyone in the UK singing off the same hymn sheet for the first time since we all embraced casual racism and sexism in the 1970s. We had Operation Yewtree, which seems to be exclusively focusing on the arrest of some not particularly popular white male celebrities for historic sexual crimes, almost as if the police are scared of arresting any of those creepy rock stars who we know were ALL at it. I look forward to this year’s Operation YouTube, which will see internet celebrities arrested for hate speech, misogyny and fucking annoying haircuts.

It wasn’t all bad. There was also Gangnam Style, a song from South Korea that marked itself as different by not being po-faced and miserable and was sung by a beautiful man who looks like the product of an unlikely three-way between Tom Jones, KD Lang and a Faberge Egg. Of course, we in the West did all we could to destroy this beautiful thing by cramming it into every orifice of the bloated monster that is our sick modern culture. Without an original idea in our shit-addled brains, we mimicked the dance on daytime chat shows and crass talent contests. With no understanding of the true joy within the piece, we resembled sickly puppets bouncing mindlessly as our corporate masters kicked at the strings with their Coca-Cola branded jackboots.

What else? There were films too. There was The Dark Knight Rises, which made no sense, had no compelling characters, but was a study in steroid-induced back acne. There was The Avengers, which was beautiful and lovely and remembered that you can win any audience over with some light banter and some funny jokes. And any film you went to see in the cinema cost about fifty quid and forced you to wear glasses that make you look like a character from some bad 1960s sci-fi about a future world where people pay fortunes to wear weird glasses in the dark so that soulless phantasmagorias can distract them from the cold horror of modern life and oh god it’s true, it came true we’re in that film now.

Let’s get on with the show! It’s my pleasure to introduce my friend and yours, star of Solomon Kane and Ironclad – Mr. James Purefoy!

JAMES: “Thanks, Big Poppa. The honour – ha, it actually says “honour” on this card – The honour falls to me to announce Robert’s choice for his Boardgame of The Year 2012. I can’t believe he’s still into these things, to be honest. I thought it might just be a phase he was going through. I mean – look, Robert works in the TV industry, and let me just say this… there are a lot of sexy, beautiful young women in that game. He could be filling his boots. I’ve told him a million times. “Fill your boots,” I say. “Even better, fill THEIR boots.” But no – family man, games, geek, and so on and so on. “Did you shag a model last night?” I ask him, over breakfast. “No”, he says. “I played Power Grid with my girlfriend for the first time, two player, just to get the mechanics down.” I flung scrambled eggs at him that day. I hit my friend in the face with some bacon over that, God forgive me. But I respect him, in truth. I’ve been trying to destroy his life with shallow pursuits, but I can’t, because geeks seem to be immune to such things. It’s like a superpower, like the ones in the shitty comic books they read. So here I stand, once again, ready to announce Robert Florence’s Game of the Year. And the nominations are…”

NOMINATIONS

LIBERTALIA

SPARTACUS

CITY OF HORROR

X-WING MINIATURES GAME

DIVINARE

NETRUNNER

LORDS OF WATERDEEP – No review, but it IS mentioned in the column I’m most proud of this year.

And the winner is…

Hi. Rab again. And you know what? It can only be Spartacus. I’ll admit that a large part of the appeal of Spartacus is that it came from NOWHERE. There was little reason to expect anything good from it. Here was a TV show tie-in game, by new designers, from a publisher with no board game experience, and yet it shone from the first read of the rules to the last decapitation of my most recent game. Almost every time I drop in to my local board game shop, Static Games in Glasgow, I ask them if they’ve played Spartacus yet. They often laugh, like I’m trying to prank them. I mean – come on! The game is inexpensive, the box is covered with stills from the TV show, it looks like it MUST be a stinker. And yet – And yet –

Spartacus is as strong as Cosmic Encounter and Dune when it comes to the drama of negotiation and player interaction. Every phase of the game finds the players at each other’s throats, but each round ends with an arena battle – it’s maybe the greatest narrative structure I’ve seen within a board game. The subtle intrigue of the card play and the cut and thrust of the markets lay the groundwork for that release of aggression at the end of each round.

Some of you will be thinking “Spartacus ahead of Netrunner? Really?” And yeah, Netrunner is a masterpiece. Be in no doubt. But it’s also a reprint of an already respected game. Netrunner doesn’t NEED any honours from the likes of me. But Spartacus hasn’t been discovered by enough people yet. It’s a classic design that merges different styles of play, but does it more successfully than most. And the theme is so rich. I mean, ridiculously rich. If this game had first seen the light of day thirty years ago, it would have attained legendary status by now. I’m sure of it.

I had expected this year’s award to be a straight fight between Libertalia and City of Horror. But 2012 surprised me. X-Wing blew me away. Divinare charmed me. Lords of Waterdeep chilled me out. All the nominated games are essential buys – great games in a great year.

But Spartacus stands alone. An underdog that stands undefeated in the arena. A champion. My Game of the Year 2012.

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Robert Florence

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