2006 Games of the Year and Other Awards

As part of our annual Buyer’s Guide to Games, we present our annual awards for Traditional Game of the Year, Electronic Game of the Year, and Best New Game in various categories. Here are the most recent winners, announced in the December 2005 issue of Games (on sale November 1, 2005). Previous Games of the Year

Traditional (Nonelectronic) Games

Game of the Year: Australia
(Rio Grande Games; designers: Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling) Read review.

Best New Abstract Strategy Game: Project Kells
(Tailten Games/Funagain; designer: Murray Heasman)

Best New Advanced Strategy Game: Louis XIV
(Rio Grande Games; designer: Rüdiger Dorn)

Best New Family Game: Der Untergang von Pompeji (Escape from Pompeii)
(Amigo/Funagain; designer: Klaus Jürgen-Wrede)

Best New Family Card Game: Die Weinhändler (The Wine Merchants)
(Amigo/Funagain; designer: Roman Pelek and Claudia Hely

Best New Family Strategy Game: Primordial Soup (a.k.a. Ursuppe)
(Z-Man Games; designers: Doris Matthäus and Frank Nestel) 

Best New Two-Player Game: Jambo
(Rio Grande Games; designer: Rüdiger Dorn)

Best New Party Game: Snorta!
(Out of the Box Games; designers: Chris Childs and Tony Richardson)

Best New Puzzle: Tipover
(ThinkFun; designer: James W. Stephens)

Best New Historical Simulation Game: Friedrich
(Simmons Games; designer: Richard Sivél) 

Electronic Games 

Game of the Year: Psychonauts
(Majesco; PC/Xbox) Read review.

Best New Action Game: God of War
(SCEA; PlayStation2) 

Best New Role-Playing and Adventure Game: Jade Empire
(Microsoft; Xbox)

Best New Strategy and Puzzle Game: Empire Earth II
(Sierra; PC)

Best New Sports Game: Fight Night Round 2
(EA Sports; Xbox, PlayStation2, GameCube)

Best New Driving Game: Forza Motorsport
(Microsoft; Xbox) 

Best New Handheld Game: Advance Wars Dual Strike
(Nintendo, DS) 


Rio Grande Games, 2-5P, $39.95
Designers: Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling

We have not had a German Game of the Year since Torres in 1999, by...Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling!

A booming Australia invites players to its 24 regions, each of which has a Conservation tile and a random facedown Industrialization tile (valued from 4 to 9). Exploration camps border two or more regions. You begin with two cards and an airplane and Explorers in your color. Faceup are four decks of cards, each showing a provincial color and a combination of gold and Explorers.

Each turn, choose two of three possible actions, in any order: (a) Fly your airplane to a region and reveal its Industrialization tile. (b) Discard a card matching the color of your airplane's region, or pay three gold to discard any color. Earn the card's gold. Place Explorers (up to the maximum the card permits) on one vacant adjacent camp or on one already containing your Explorers; alternatively, gain two points. End turns by replenishing cards. (c) Return to supply up to four Explorers adjacent to your airplane's region.

Gain three points by occupying the last vacant camp bordering a region, and discard its Conservation tile. Everyone earns one or two points for each Explorer in the region's camps. Industrialization tiles similarly score when the number of Explorers on adjacent camps equals the Industrialization value-even if some camps are still vacant. Remember that Industrialization can also be triggered by the action of removing explorers!

Beyond the usual Actions, you can spend four gold any number of times to move one Explorer to another camp. Using this ploy to occupy a vital camp often results in lucrative scoring in several regions simultaneously. Play ends when the cards are depleted and someone plays his last. Add a point for each remaining gold. Highest score triumphs.

An Advanced Variant features a traveling Windmill, whose value increases as it moves. Discarding a card in the Windmill's region lets you allocate Explorers to a track where, several times during play, whoever has the most Explorers earns the Windmill's current value in points.
With volatile scoring leading to frequent changes of leadership, and its appeal to all levels of players, Down Under has deservedly soared to the top. (originally reviewed 9/05)—John J. McCallion 

Majesco, PC/Xbox, $50

Psychonauts is an action/adventure game that is positively brimming with invention, clever dialogue, and genuine humor, some of it sly and mature, but none of it crass. The game centers on Razputin (Raz), a runaway circus boy who sneaks into a camp that trains gifted kids as psychic secret agents. Soon after he begins his training, Raz learns that someone is snatching the brains of the psychonauts, leaving them as TV-obsessed zombies. Psychonauts is so rich in character and plot that no summary can really do it justice. The camp is populated by a wild array of bizarre characters, and the story soon takes off in unexpected directions.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of Psychonauts is its level design. The landscapes represent the minds of the subjects, each reflecting a unique character. No two people have the same mental landscape, and the result is a wild, constantly changing atmosphere. All of this is done with a very light touch, complete with funny dialogue, unusual enemies (such as the censors who help the mind control unwanted thoughts), and clever powers.

Adding to the richness of the gameplay is the comically profuse variety of items you can collect, from arrowheads (used to buy things) to mental cobwebs (which can be vacuumed up and weaved into objects on a special loom). Elevating Psychonauts above the traditional platform adventure format is the broad selection of psychic powers available to Raz. As he proceeds through the game, he gains levels and proficiency and can acquire new skills, such as telekinesis or pyrokinesis. All of these must be used, at one time or another, to bypass an obstruction, solve a puzzle, or defeat a foe.

Psychonauts lays an amazing, funny, endlessly engaging world at the gamer's feet. There is a lot going on in this game, and some of it actually resonates more than you might expect. The tone rarely strays from the absurd, yet creator Tim Schafer and his team manage to create dimensional characters and offer some sharp observations on the mysteries of the human mind. That's not the point, of course, but like most lasting comedy, Psychonauts works on multiple levels and is deeper than it appears. (originally reviewed 11/05)—Thomas L. McDonald

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