Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Sylvester Awards

Although Peer Sylvester has his own regular game night, meeting in his home across town (and, in Berlin, “across town” is quite far away), he does make it to our playtesting sessions in theSpielwiese often, and has tested many of my prototypes and those of other designers over the years, as well as bringing plenty of his own to the table. In fact, I enjoyed getting to know him better back in 2005 when we drove to the Göttingen Game Designer’s Convention together, each with a backpack full of prototypes to pitch to publishers. He was showing King of Siam for the first time, in fact.

Later, I discovered his blog, Spielbar, and was surprised to learn that he had awarded my card game, Pala, a “Sylvester” for his favorite prototype of the year. “Sylvester” is both a play on his name and on the German name for New Year’s Eve (Silvester), thus the fun graphic.
The award, Peer admits, is very subjective and limited to his circles of game designers, but it’s a fun little exercise. And who doesn’t like to earn (or give out) awards?
I thought it would befit the spirit of Berlin Game Design to publish a short interview with Peer on the subject:

Jeff: How did you get the idea for the Sylvester award?

Peer: I made a list of a couple of my favorite games of the year for my blog, the “best of” list, so to speak. I liked a particular prototype from Bernd Eisenstein quite a lot, so I added it as "prototype of the year," fully conscious that, of course, I’m in no position to make such a bold statement ;-)

Jeff: When did you start awarding "prototype of the year"?

Peer: Um, I think 2005.

Jeff: Do you know of any other award like it?

Peer: A prototype-only-award is quite unique. That being said, there are, of course, game design competitions like Hippodice, which review many more prototypes then I do.

Jeff: How many prototypes from other designers do you play every year, on average?

Peer: Less and less, I’m afraid...I don’t know, perhaps 20. Last year I hardly played any—that’s why I didn’t award any prototype. I also use this term quite broadly, having awarded 2 print ‘n’ play games: Zombie in My Pocket and Duck Soup.

Jeff: Why do you enjoy playing other people's prototypes?

Peer: If they are good, it’s like playing any good game. I’m also curious about new ideas. And sometimes I play prototypes where I ask myself, “Why doesn’t anyone want to publish this?”

Jeff: Do any strangers ever write to you and ask you to play their prototypes in order to get feedback from you?

Peer: Yes, but more because of my blog. At least so far, nobody has asked about being nominated for the Sylvester award. I usually decline testing prototypes for others, because I hardly have time to test my own games. Don’t get me wrong—I do play other designers’ games in my test group, but I won’t bring a prototype that’s not from me and introduce other people to it.

There is one exception: I have an excellent (I think) prototype here for testing, but I lost contact with the designer, so it’s sort of in limbo. But I’ll see what I can do with it.

Jeff: Who have been the winners of the award (each year)?

2005 Porto Carthago by Bernd Eisenstein

2006 Pala by Jeff Allers
"An innovative trick-taking card game with a fitting theme: color mixing. In order to take a trick in a specific color, players can/must play more than one card, in order to mix the correct color.  This fits with the theme, is fun to play (especially as a partnership game) and offers a new side to the trick-taking genre."

2007 Duck Soup by David Parlett
"A trick-taking game for two players, which actually functions - and very well, at that. I play two-player games rarely, but when I do, I usually play this game. For a trick-taking game, it is surprisingly original and very elegant. Additionally, it is the ideal mixture of tactics with the right amount of luck."

2008 Zombie in My Pocket by Jeremiah Lee
“The rules are captivatingly simple, but produce a very exciting atmosphere.  The luck factor is quite high, but a player has plenty of influence in the game.  It’s a lot like popcorn:  each game is short and, when it’s over, one wants to play it again.  And again.  And again…”
2009 Toledo by Günter Cornett

2010 No winner last year.

Jeff: How many have been published?

Peer: Porto Carthago and Zombie in My Pocket. Duck Soup is featured in my book, Entensuppe.

Jeff: Are you tempted to give your own prototype the award?

Peer: No, my prototypes are the best games in the multiverse, anyway... :-)

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