Friday, March 11, 2005

What was in the Big Box?

For the past week and a half, Grubb Street has been practically untouched. My World of Warcraft characters have been on extended leave. My tapes of Iron Chef are gathering dust on the television. And my comics stash sits, unread, at a corner of my desk. And all because of the Big Box. The Big Box has dominated all my free time. So what was in the Big Box?

Games. Games were in the Big Box. A lot of games were in the Big Box, and I needed to read them all.


Here's the story: Every year the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design gives out awards for best games of the previous year, to be awarded at the Origins Game Convention in Columbus. This year, they are handling the nomination round differently. Instead of the normal free-for-all, they have chosen five experts in each field, who will among themselves choose what the final ballot for their category will look like. I found about about this through Matt Forbeck, and volunteered to help out as a Judge in the RPG category.

I volunteered for a number of reasons. I'm a believer in trying something before complaining about it. I don't have any product in the running in that category this year (I do have potential nominees in the miniatures category, which I'm not involved in). I thought it would be good thing to contribute. I'm a bit of old gaming grognard now, and can use my experience to help future generations. Why, yes, free copies were involved. And it was a bit slow at the office at the moment.

And it was not as if I was reviewing everything that was published last year. Getting a product to nomination is a two-stage process - the product had to be submitting for nomination (either by the manufacturer or one of the creatives), and then copies had to be sent to the Judges. There were very good products that were not under consideration simply because they were not submitted for nomination, or because copies were not sent for review.

So I volunteered, and got a Big Box of stuff. The Big Box took its time getting here, more the fault of UPS than the Awards Committee, but the time-frame for review was already pretty tight, in that we were expected to go through a large amount of product in a small amount of time (hey, we volunteered). I was fortunate that I had read some of the material under consideration in advance, but the missing box caused me to put out an APB with friends at Wizards of the Coast for their copies of some of the material.

And the pros at Wizards stepped up - Bill Slavicsek, Jonathan Tweet, Michelle Lyons, and John Rateliff all lent me products to get a leg up on the reviews. They got me a lot of product that was not otherwise available, including a lot of product from other manufacturers. Thanks guys.

So I've been reading. And creating characters. And running short combats. And reading outside reviews. And making calculations. Our gang (I'm not going to "out" any of my fellow judges) came up with a quick method of analysis to ultimately produce a "top ten" list from each judge, which would be combined to produce a nominations ballot. It worked out pretty well, in that the approach supported some products I knew were good, and also brought to my attention products that I might otherwise have passed on.

So my review is done, and the contribution turned in. And it's been a very interesting experience. I'll pass more information on as I get it. But it has sucked up every moment of available time.

More later,