Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Excellence in Game Design - Leslie Scott

I received the January issue of the "Business of Play Inventor Newsletter" recently.  This newsletter covers the events surrounding the Chicago Toy and Game Fair, an annual occasion in November that includes a series of multiple of events, to include the International Toy and Game Innovation Conference (T&GCon), the International Summit for Professional Inventors (I-SPI), and the Toy and Game Inventor of the Year (TAGIE) Awards.

Leslie Scott, designer of Jenga
What caught my attention in this issue was the list of TAGIE award winners.  In particular, Leslie Scott of the United Kingdom was recognized for Excellence in Game Design.  She beat fellow nominees Klaus Teuber (Settlers of Catan), David L. Hoyt ("most syndicated daily puzzle and word game creator in the world"), Maureen Hiron (Continuo), and Ken Johnson (Phase 10). I am still learning my way around the game design community, but I was nevertheless surprised that I did not recognize the name of the winner of what appears to be a significant award in the game design field.  A little research on boardgamegeek reveals her to be the designer of 21 games (although the award presenter credited her with 40), most notably the well-known commercial hit Jenga (Hasbro).

Now, Jenga has been around for 30 years.  Here's the commercial I remember:

So, if the TAGIE Awards are an annual event, I would have thought that they would base an "Excellence in Game Design" award on some accomplishment over the last year.  I couldn't think why Leslie Scott would be recognized for Jenga, which came out in 1983 - unless perhaps it was to recognize 30 years of Jenga's commercial success.  I assumed instead that she was recognized for some recent achievement in the last year.  As it happens, though, I can't find any design of hers with a release date later than Flummoxed in 1998 - a good 15 years ago.

Tony Morley, TAGIE 2012
for Excellence in Toy Design
So that got me wondering about the other TAGIE award recipients and what they represent in the industry.  Tony Morley won the TAGIE for Excellence in Toy Design.  The biography reads,
Tony Morley ... got his introduction to toys as a career with Lakeside Games in 1980. Following stints at Kenner and Milton Bradley he joined with Tony Miller in Minneapolis in 1986 as independent toy inventors calling themselves Red Racer Studio. Within three or four years Morley found himself working solo with major assistance from his talented wife, Taia, an accomplished illustrator.
So, interesting background, although there is no reference to any particular toy design accomplishment since 1990.  A local newspaper feature story from last year, however, paints a more detailed picture of a longtime toy inventor and the success he has found in doing what he loves.

Martin Nedergaard Andersen,
TAGIE 2012 Rising Star Inventor
The category of Rising Star Inventor seems more promising.  The name Martin Nedergaard Andersen of Denmark validates the international nature of the TAGIE awards.
Martin’s first game was invented during a 7-month family road trip in the US, and it happened to win the “Family Game of the Year” award in Denmark, where he is a native. He co-invented his second game – Zoo Panic – with his 5-year old daughter, which won the “Children’s Game of the Year” award. With his company CAMP Games, Martin has been a full-time game inventor for 1½ years and has licensed 25 games during that period, including Flag Frenzy by Geotoys and Rise or Fall by FoxMind. 
The game that won him the 2007 Årets Spil (Denmark) Family Game of the Year was Hvis du nu var (dan-spil).  There must be some disconnect between the Årets Spil award and the boardgamegeek community, where no one has commented on or rated this game.  Similarly, Zoo Panic (dan-spil) won the 2009 Årets Spil (Denmark), Children's Game of the Year, but only four people have rated Zoo Panic, and those have given it a 4.00 out of 10 - not an auspicious endorsement.  Flag Frenzy and Rise or Fall are not much more noticed on the geek.  So my limited research begs the question: What did the TAGIE Awards see in Martin Nedergaard Andersen in terms of promise (other than his prolific number of titles) that I'm not seeing in boardgamegeek recognition?

The award for Excellence in Character Design went to Nickelodeon for Dora the Explorer.  Now, Dora's been around for a long time - she first appeared in August 2000 - so I'm not clear on what the 2012 award represents.  Perhaps the enduring, unique nature of her character earned her creator this special recognition.

After spending some time watching a few of the TAGIE 2012 Award Presentations, I came to the conclusion that although they are annual awards, they are not awards "of the year" like the Spiel des Jahres.  Rather, they seem more like the Nobel prizes or the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame - retrospective awards to recognize major achievements of the past in game and toy design.  I was also struck by the large-scale publishers represented at these awards - notably Mattel and Hasbro as major sponsors - and realized that these people walk very different corridors from those of the makers of the relatively small-print-run games with which I've become acquainted over the last several years.  I heard no mention of Mayfair, Rio Grande, or Z-Man in the presentations I listened to.

It's an interesting game business world out there, and different people focus on different things.  It's given me a lot to think about as I consider where I want to be in the world of game design.

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