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Awards and prizes

Winners and nominees for Golden Cobra Challenge. Winners are marked with underline.

Golden Cobra Challenge

Golden Cobra Challenge (2021)

The Max Gladstone Special Judge's Choice Award

Crypt Kickers
Look. I’m not too proud to admit it. I’m one of those dudes who, every year on Halloween, watches Nightmare Before Christmas, and as much of the Addams Family as he can stream, and plays Monster Mash really loud. Because. What do you want from me. It’s a graveyard smash! But while this game could have been the bait on one of those Looney Tunes box-and-stick traps designed to catch me specifically, I also think it’s just… great. The roles are clear, the rules straightforward, the conflict real enough to generate honest friction, but the stakes light enough to permit hijinx and hilarity without a great deal of bleed. These days I’m hungry for ways to hang out with friends who can’t be physically co-located for any number of reasons, and Crypt Kickers I could toss at friends who’ve never tried LARP or freeform gaming before, and know we’d have a good and memorable time. That’s a beautiful thing. Also, it would work perfectly online without a great deal of prep—as a parent, an important consideration.

Game We're Most Excited About

Personal Testimony from the Last Kings of Heaven
One of the most detailed, powerful, and thoughtful games we've read in a long time. The Personal Testimony of the Last Kings of Heaven maps the real testimony of the leaders of the 1860s Taiping Rebellion in China onto player decision trees. How does one save one's family? How does history intervene? Brilliant, efficient, historically interesting, and ready to play.

Best Representation of Minority Religious Experience

First Sabbat
Small-town pagans in the late 1990s converge in the chatrooms to attempt the celebration of Samhain. The game captures the utter duress that small-town white Christian American life places on those who seek alternate systems of religion and meaning. First Sabbat uses Discord to perfect, coherent effect, doubling down on its content without inhibiting player freedom or game structure.

Best Committee Larp

Sobre a arte de bem governar terras e povos
The long arm of colonialism extends over centuries to the present, and the Brazilian larp Sobre a arte de bem governar terras e povos shows how small decisions made among an elite committee can ripple outward and cause lasting political and religious animosity, both in the core as well as the periphery. We appreciated the rhetorical power of this larp, as well as different scenes demanding different committee rules.

Best Incorporation of Local Traditions

Kurayami Box
Kurayami Matsuri, or the Festival of Darkness, is the local tradition that Nomachi Inemuri explores in the game Kurayami Box. While it is a solo journaling game, it directly addresses pandemic conditions and allows players to integrate Shinto prayers into their rejuvenating play.

"Kurayami Matsuri" is a traditional Japanese festival held in "Fuchu City, Tokyo". In particular, it has a strong taste as a "Shinto ritual", and the practice of "not being allowed to see precious things" is a characteristic that is unique to Japan and has a high degree of regionality. It is called "Dark Festival" because "it is not allowed to see" "the sacred spirit moves from the shrine to the portable shrine and then departs", so it is "performed in the dark." In the Kurayami Box, the spirit of "self" on another world line axis is "healed" and healed while the "person" who has become a "box" takes a walk without being seen by people at night. Depart the spiritual body to the next world. Because I am doing that, I can say that I am "made" when it comes to "incorporating the traditional culture of the region."

Also, since the "Kurayami Festival" is a festival of shrines, it is one of the religious events called "Shinto". "Norito" is like a spell used in "Shinto." Also, chanting the congratulatory words with the sounds of "3," "5," and "7," is an excellent way to incorporate traditional things. In Japan, we celebrate when we are "3 years old (female and male)," "5 years old (male)," and "7 years old (female)," because these numbers are considered "auspicious numbers." In addition, the "Shimenawa" displayed in shrines and the like is written as "753 ropes," and in any case, the game actively incorporates numbers that symbolize traditional culture for Japan.

Best Decision-Making Technique Alternative to Majority Vote

The Hench Union LARP
There can never be too many games about unionizing. In The Hench Union Larp, voting is asymmetrical and never really "fair." But that's also not the point. Watching fun and interesting characters take on Management, in this case their supervillain boss, is the point.

Judges' Choice Honorable Mentions

Disciplinary
Countess Dillymore has again graced our contest with her exquisite games dealing with the marginalization of queerfolk in the mid-20th Century. Disciplinary wields the language of bureaucracy as instrument of both narrative enrichment and character persecution. Although safety and context are shoved to a footnote in the end, the game materials themselves are their own argument.
Curimba
Curimba was nominated for nearly all of the awards, but did not receive any, which makes it a perfect candidate for honorable mention. Umbanda spirits convene to decide on how to help humanity, while also betraying their own fickleness and attractions. Many of the judges learned a lot about this set of beliefs through this game. It is simple, easy-to-pick-up, and full of rich play opportunities.
The Regency Committee on Decorum and Punchbowl Poop Prevention
This game is wonderfully written and an excellent overall deconstruction of the committee larp genre. May all of our characters be as decadent, all our social situations as fraught and shallow!
TANKERS - an isolation game
COVID-19 countermeasures have given rise to a whole sub-genre of Discord spaceship larps, and TANKERS is an example of one that won us all over. The game is sparsely designed, evocative, and leaves us all wanting more.

Max Gladstone's Choice Honorable Mention

Melt Me × メロメロ
I can’t not talk about Melt Me. The core mechanic has a diamond beauty. It’s a game that… I wrote ‘dares you to play it’ here, first, but that’s not the thing at all, is it? It doesn’t dare. It invites. Encourages. Creates space. Conducts, or ushers. And I love the unspoken tension that comes from conceiving it as a project for online play, that wetness and stickiness right next to your computer, or your phone, which has, at least for the last sixteen months, been one of your few points of contact with the outside world, for better or for worse, the seed crystal around which so many anxieties and desires locked into shape. There’s something so wet and powerful about having your tongue right there, about the focus on eating, on digesting, in such a touch-starved and almost hopeless space. There’s real magic in this design.

Golden Cobra Challenge (2020)

Best Game that Transcends Distance / Brings Us Closer

Voyagers: a larp duet
Voyagers is a two person game inspired by the Voyager satellites’ Golden Records, and fittingly the two characters are only able to communicate by asking questions via text communication and sending songs in reply to those questions. The most intriguing part of this game is that both characters are different versions of each other from parallel universes who were largely identical until a significant event took place four years ago and caused a divergence. We particularly appreciated the tight design and innovative use of technology and music. The limits placed on communication here really set the mood and grant special importance to what little you are able to say to one another.

Best Mechanic / Rules

Awake at the Witching Hour
When the clock strikes three, and the long shadows creep over your bed, you awake and turn over a tarot card to reveal another part of your fate…Will you survive a ghastly haunting, or will you become possessed? The mechanics of Awake at the Witching Hour are proof that mechanics and narrative when intertwined can produce spectacular, and in this case, horrifying, effects. In addition to its simple yet elegant mechanics, this game highlights the need for a solo game category as it proves you can have a deeply impactful experience all by yourself

Best Roles

The Glimpse
The Glimpse does something remarkable. It makes us consider character and define ourselves through that which we are not but which could have been. It explores parallel universes that are defined through the presence or absence of a single traumatic event. It then smashes both realities together in a way that is truly unique to the digital medium. Having players have to reflect on their character through alternate reality is a truly original way to define character and we couldn't be more impressed.
Duels in the Tower of Eternity: An Epistolary Game of Sacrifice and Revolution
Duels in the Tower of Eternity has a truly unique way of developing character through interspersing solo LARPs that involve strong and evocative physical activities with narrative beats the characters experience on their way to their final duel. The game is an unequivocal delight for anyone who loves Revolutionary Girl Utena, while still conveying something groundbreaking and special to those who are unfamiliar. Incorporating such vivid physical activities as a sustained part of character development throughout the game (which is played over multiple remote sessions) is truly original, and we can't wait to play.

Best first weird larp for people who have only played D&D so far

To Boldly Hakuho
This game about the history-making sumō wrestler Hakuhō Shō, the ancient spaceship AI who loves him, and the starship’s officers who must learn to communicate in terms of Hakuhō in order to get that AI to return to the fold evokes Jon Bois’s 17776, the Star Trek: the Next Generation episode “Darmok,” and the situation we’ve all been in (or put others in) when trying to interact with someone who’s a huge nerd about one specific thing, on their terms. Hakuhō, like all the Golden Cobra media inspirations this year, is a topic who would normally require a thorough cultural consulting process, not always possible in the contest cycle. But in light of those constraints, we particularly appreciate the game’s primer on how to approach a culture, sport, and body type about which the players may not know much, as well as the way the game integrates that possible lack of familiarity into the play process, teaching players how to learn about an unfamiliar subject with sensitivity and enthusiasm. We awarded this game “Best First Weird LARP for People Who Have Only Played D&D Before” because of its humor, ease of play, clear roles, and emphasis on lore and statistics. In addition, though these prizes are not always given out, we wish to award this game all three of the Outstanding Performance, Fighting Spirit, and Technique prizes for exceptional performance during a sumō wrestling tournament.

Best use of Physical Mail

The Cœuriers
This is a game that is written to make you fall in love with physical mail. The Coeuriers is a beautifully evocative myth that, since time immemorial, each letter or package sent across the land is a mystical being with its own unique spirit. The game itself is a delightful journey of crafting vivid missives, receiving them, modifying them in a meaningful way, then sending them on again. This game brilliantly overcomes narrative flow and postal delay challenges by tying meaning to each individual missive rather than the interactions between them. If you’ve ever wanted to declare undying love, threaten an invasion, confess profound regret, or do almost anything else and also finally get to go all out with stationary supplies & packaging (optionally), this is your chance. A remarkably sensory shared experience for our time of isolation.

Best New Tool

Dawn of the Monster Invasion
This is a great little game. Fun and tight - it's bound to get a lot of play. However, what's more remarkable is the framework the author has developed to let anyone in the community reuse the infrastructure freely available at https://storysynth.org . It's the perfect way to encourage more games playable in our remote environment, and is simple and straightforward to use. We highly recommend everyone with an idea to give storysynth a whirl and start making the next game for us to play together remotely. Thanks Randy.

The Kieron Gillen Special Judge's Choice Award

Drawing Out the Demon
I occasionally think comedy is a strange Faustian pact. Comedy just has a winning personality. We like people who make us laugh. You get a long way on that. Conversely, Comedy is something which seems to make you much less likely to do things like (relevantly) win awards. Comedy gets you so far, then stops, the applause and smiles your only reward. Part of me almost submitted to that instinct, thinking “are you really going to pick the one which just delighted you most as the winner, Gillen? You’re going to get laughed out of serious Nordic LARP circles if you ever show you face there. Well, “laughed out” is probably the wrong phrase to use, but—”

I digress.

However, then I thought that the business of delight and joy is precious, in all years, and this year especially. And, above all, always remember, that funny does not mean joking.

Which is my long way to say “I love this”.
You play 12 th century French artists, all tasked by your patron to draw an animal. Sadly, despite your talent in other areas, you absolutely cannot draw this one specific animal. Problem. You all try to draw it, occasionally writing to your peers to share your progress, asking for advice, and filling them in on the 12 th century France chat. Your peers write back with feedback. Eventually, the final work is completed… and then we skip to modern day, and all the players become art historians, presenting a short academic thesis on the work of this unknown 12 th century artist in a streaming symposium. And then all the essays and art are collected in a little book.
I am delighted.

It’s a clear smart satire of art, creativity, academia and everything. I love how the playfulness of the concept is mirrored with the formal playfulness of skipping between digital, epistolary, streaming and publishing. It’s charmingly written, and skilfully evokes the mode it hopes to be played in. It understands the difficulty for players to create art for others to see, and makes it accessible by insisting everyone – no matter how talented – must make bad art, and then makes it funnier by everyone taking your doodles of a cat with odd eyes intensely seriously.

Most of all, it’s my winner because it’s the one which I immediately wanted to play, would enrich my friends life, and bring us together, no matter how apart we were. It’s the one which I will forward to my friends and go 12 th CENTURY ARTISTS! NOW! LET’S GO! excitedly.

I also cannot draw, and feel very seen and cared for. Thanks, Liz.

Judges' Choice Honorable Mentions

The Batcave
The Batcave uses one of the lesser known features of Zoom (the ability flip your camera in the Windows Desktop version) and uses it to encourage a wonderfully fun exploration of bats finding a new home. We think this is a really fun way to leverage digital play - though, admittedly in a fairly restricted platform. We can only hope our digital communication providers see the global need for us to all indulge our bat-ish urges and implement this feature globally so we can all play together soon.
The Bathhouse
In The Bathhouse, you literally take a bath at the same time as the other players in order to simulate the experience of going to a bathhouse with your friends. Communication is audio-only during the actual bathing section of the game, but the level of intimacy is still high. Players take on the roles of people who used to play a game together as teenagers where they were the reincarnations of gods, but there was much going on beneath the surface that went unsaid. Throughout the course of the experience, characters attempt to rekindle these old friendships and better comprehend their own queerness now that they’re adults. We loved how beautifully written this game is, and while it’s an ambitious undertaking to try to get a group of players that can all take baths simultaneously, for those who are able to manage it this is sure to be a one-of-a-kind experience.
The Decline of Panopticritia
The great dragon Panopticritia is now old and weak, and the knights, princesses, and magical objects who attend to her day to day needs gradually leave her one by one. This is a challenging and complex game about aging, caretaking, memory, and abandonment. This game needs a more robust section on its own potentially upsetting content around aging, physical and mental decline, and allegory for elder abuse, and there is currently no scaffolding for player safety contained in the text beyond a gloss of the above themes. Once that safety section is written, this game’s mechanics will shine the brighter for it. We’ve never seen a game that mechanically harnesses the technical frustrations of remote communication to further its narrative and emotional impact. While the safety section would be required before we can fully endorse it, it is a strong contender that appeals to players who are willing to tackle challenging subjects, and is certainly one of the more unique remote frameworks we’ve seen.
Dream Phone of Cthulhu
In Dream Phone, Russell and Freeman blow away all of our expectations in terms of production and do it in an accessible, whimsical and fun package overall. This game has so many wonderful pieces that we believe it deserves recognition. That being said, we believe the game borrows some mechanics from existing Cthulhu RPG systems that we'd recommend revising. We don't believe those elements are critical to the design though, and believe fixing them is easily achievable. Once those have been made, we can easily see this game becoming a staple of remote play.
The Fortunate Ones
The Fortunate Ones uses asymmetry in play in a wonderfully novel and purposeful way. It uses many aspects of play that would only be possible in a digital environment to embody a human and an AI who have a high amount of information asymmetry - not over plot or history, but over how they understand the world around them. We won't spoil the author's debrief, but this game is well worth anyone's time who wants to gain a bit more understanding for others' experiences with the world.
A Song For Our Remakers
A Song for Our Remakers is a lovely, lighthearted game in which you play cosmic beings trying to reconstruct humanity and Earth based on a handful of human memories connected to specific songs. These memories and songs are pulled from the players’ real lives, giving the game an intimate, personal touch. The questions you need to answer as cosmic beings include prompts that range from “What does a human want?” to “What creatures will be allowed to fly?” but you can only draw from what information you can glean from the songs players provide. We loved that players get to come away from this game with new knowledge about each other and with a playlist to remember their experience by.

Kieron Gillen's Choice Honorable Mention

Taller Than Space Is Wide
From Kieron: "One of my favourite novellas of last year was This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal el-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, and this is the google-doc powered epistolary sister-game. Players travel through time. One player writes an ode to that time. The other writes a little response. The googledoc generates whole new timelines prompts. Time is written over when cells are written over. The sort of collision between poetry and math which I can only imagine Ada Lovelace applauding saying 'Yes! Yes! More of this kind of thing!'"

Golden Cobra Challenge (2019)

The John Darnielle Special Judge’s Choice Award

Are You There God? It's the Quarterly Earnings Report
This is just fantastic -- the setting is, again, total me-bait, but beyond that: the writing's first-rate; the roles are clearly defined, yet roomy enough for personalization; the special powers are brilliant; the plot is wonderful. Absolutely terrific game.

It is very hard to just pick one from among these games, which I really enjoyed reading! Are You There, God? It's the Quarterly Earnings Report takes the #1 spot from me, narrowly -- a night where I played both that & The Elect would be a super fun night for me.

Best Use of Silence or Non-Verbal Elements in a Game

They Say You Should Talk To Your Plants
They Say You Should Talk to Your Plants is a beautifully quiet game about loneliness, the passage of time, and the conversations one has with their plants. Throughout the game, each player experiences existence both as the human protagonist who is navigating the hurdles of life and as one of the protagonist’s attentive plants. We appreciated the unique role that silence plays in emphasizing the simultaneously sweet and isolating experience of talking to an audience who can’t reply in turn (for the most part!). This game is ultimately about caring for each other, whether you are a withering plant or a lonely human.

Best Live-Action Online Game (LAOG)

Outscored - a LAOG about social credit scores and beautiful light effects
Outscored is a LAOG about a group of kids attempting to apply for university, while having to rate one another based on behavior to determine a social score (very relevant!) It integrates the clever use of computer lighting. When played in a dark room, the colors from the players’ screens reflect onto the players’ faces, providing an unsettling look into the universe. Play is sandwiched between video diary sessions (vlog-style). We’re very excited to play this game over video chat!

Deepest Two-Hour Experience

The Stars Recall Our Passage
The Stars Recall Our Passage gives two players the chance to explore and study history through complementary views of the same mysterious objects - Constellations assembled across a dark room with flashlights. It gives a truly unique take on how to prime players' collaborative and creative output through visual and historical interpretation. We're excited to shine our flashlights around a darkened room to construct our history together.

Best Game for Players Dropping In and Out

The Court of Ferns
Alexa Kirchner’s The Court of Ferns is a hilarious bureaucratic nightmare. It plays with frustration in a truly absurdist way and, as is fitting with the bureaucratic theme, uses signage as an in-game means to introduce additional players into the mix. We felt that this game was wonderfully silly and approachable for players who might be wandering by wondering what on earth they are witnessing.

Best Apocalyptic Game

This Is Fine
"Never acknowledge the apocalypse. That would be impolite." This Is Fine is the kind of game that so very much inspires us that we invent a new category for it. In this case, a lot of y'all were designing with the end of the world in mind, so we came up with the Best Apocalyptic Game award. This game is the one that best expresses that unique feeling of simultaneously having to bow and scrape in the neoliberal corporate dystopian present and having to live with the knowledge that it's all so freakin' pointless because the world is ending. A straightforward, tight design that welcomes new players and lets players play close to home without surrendering them to the crushing terror of it all.

Best Game for New Larpers

Small Monsters
It's hard to not be charmed by Small Monsters, a game that boldly declares we must all end the game having consumed each other or fall pray to larger monsters. As our monsters merge, so do the players, creating more and more absurd joint creatures. It's fun while also having players have to routinely touch genuine human moments through the sharing of secrets as monsters merge. We can't wait to play, as our multi-headed creatures stomp, dance, and snort in an attempt to convince the others' to join.

Judges' Choice Honorable Mentions

Burial by Ash
Burial By Ash is a beautiful, spooky game that makes masterful use of social deduction mechanics and the act of blowing out a candle. If you want atmosphere, this one is overflowing with it. Ordinarily, we at Golden Cobra tend to look askance at a game with so many required materials. But in the case of Burial By Ash, the sum is way greater than its parts.
Garden of Pathos
Garden of Pathos is such an excellent, creepy game about being the plants of Baba Yaga’s greenhouse. While you were all once human, you are now trapped in plant-form, when a human intruder breaks into the greenhouse and you have to decide what to do with them. Each plant has “leaves” (post-its) attached to them, representing their memories that the human player may steal or be gifted. The game is beautifully written, requiring players to use their entire bodies as plants. We’re looking forward to being cursed plants!
Julia's Lost Treasures
Julia’s Lost Treasures by first-time freeform game writer Tim Devine is a bittersweet game with the potential to be quite intense. In it you take on the roles of adults who once were in the care of a secretive woman named Julia who has just passed away. Now you have the task of going through some of her belongings in order to find something she has left behind for you, and along the way you discover more about who she really was. Julia’s Lost Treasures is very well written with much care and consideration put into the structure, instructions, and emotional weight.
The Real Ghost Hunters of Sandusky Township
The Real Ghost Hunters of Sandusky Township is a wonderful and whimsical opportunity to play as ghosts trolling the cast and crew of a ghost hunting show. Ghost players hide while the crew hunts them with flashlights, experiencing surreal hauntings when they're fortunate enough to finally find a genuine paranormal occurance. The crew spends the game either cautiously exploring or playing up their fears following their last absurb experience for the camera. It's looks delightful and refreshing, and if we had our way, Ouija boards would only spell BUTTS.

J.D.'s Choice Honorable Mentions

The Elect
The people I play games with would tell you this game is directly in the bullseye of My Zone, and they'd be right. Religious themes, eschatology, sitting around a table with candles: I am already wanting to play this game before I even find out what the mechanics are. I love the richness of the setting -- very vivid and evocative -- I will offer the critique that there's really only one "make a decision" play step -- the big one, at the end -- and it's great, but my feeling is that if there were a way to complicate that step a little, it would make the anticipation more delicious.
Forgetting Your Touch: A Game of Reclaiming Intimate Boundaries
I am a fan of dance and have had some of the most profound experiences of art watching modern dance -- the use of the body as the central instrument of expression reaches me at a visceral level. I imagine this game as extremely intense, and rewarding; it would demand much of the players, I think the most important step in it is step zero, The player remembers they occupy a body -- it's impossible for me to not bring personal weight to this step: I feel like realistically this would take a good long while, and be essential for the fullness of the game's strength to be experienced. A criticism I'd offer is that there's narrative action, but a lack of narrative structure -- I think some suggested structures would clear a space for people to enter into this more easily. I would like to see more games that explore the space of dance, even if I would be afraid to play them myself.
Medusa's Bad Day
Absolutely beautifully written game -- you invite the player in & welcome them into the scene you've created. This game feels like it would be very therapeutic! especially if everybody got to take a turn as Medusa. Here, too, I looked for something to complicate the play a little -- some wrinkle that would move the play into a dynamic cause-and-effect place. I think one strength of this game would be seen if multiple players did take turns as Medusa -- the listening-and-reacting dynamic would come into play, and I think that would make things fun.
Seapunk 2222
What a terrific plot -- engaging in that great gaming way that makes you say "let's do this" as soon as you finish reading the set-up. I love the time-limited nature of the dive -- there's not enough time-limiting in games; for me, timers = fun, and I think this game would progress briskly in a really rewarding way. The mechanics are great - but my feeling is that the "what we did with the money" step would be where a lot of the real fun would begin -- the character-building, the skin that the players have in the game. I'd like to play this game with a little more flesh on the characters' bones before they jump into the water.
They Say You Should Talk To Your Plants
This one captured my imagination from its title alone - playful, but also a little mysterious. I love the plant cards, and would form tight bonds with them in play: I am a lover of plants. The dynamic whereby the plants can speak to each other & the protagonist can speak to the plants, but the plants can't speak to the protagonist is the game's most fascinating mechanic -- it sort of makes the protagonist a player-character DM whose role is central. Very cool!

Golden Cobra Challenge (2018)

Best Game About Something No One Writes Games About

Polka Pillow Production
Martin Tegelj's Polka Pillow Production checks off all the boxes for a topic no one writes games about - Slovenian folk dancing and Warsaw Pact era worker's co-ops, deleriously mashed together in a nostalgic game that will have you dancing and yodeling to polka music while you feverishly manufacture socialist bedroom staples. We've never seen anything quite like it, and this short, sweet game had the Committee eager to kick out the accordion jams and sew up some pillowcases for the collective.

Best Game Incorporating an Act of Creation

Life Lessons
Life Lessons takes place across six life drawing lessons, but it isn't a game about drawing. It's a game about the connection between the act of creation and the social milieu one finds oneself in. Through play our characters - and maybe our players - will open up to one another and learn more about themselves and others. Through a series of short, contemplative scenes and simple structured mechanics, Life Lessons offers a surprisingly immersive experience sure to challenge and delight.

Best Game Scalable from 2-20 Players

Fork Creek Almanac
In Fork Creek Almanac, Matt Jent and Alex Dodge offer us a beautiful and melancholy game set in a graveyard with a wide range of tombstones in it - two to twenty, to be exact. An elegant game focused on memories lost and regained, Fork Creek Almanac is elegaic and sincere without drifting into maudlin or campy territory. Fork Creek Alamanac is a game that will reward different player counts with different - but equally meaningful - experiences.

Best Game That Teaches A Skill

Heroic Measures
Daniel Eison and Sam Zeitlin's game Heroic Measures brilliantly positions a heavy topic - end-of-life decision-making and care - at a genre remove that allows players to approach it this intense subject with both safe detachment and seriousness of purpose. Krondar the Mighty is dying, and all the magic in the world isn't going to save him. It's time to make the hard choices and have the hard conversations about what the greatest barbarian this side of the High Forest would want as his life slowly slips away. The Committee could see this being played to help people appreciate the gravity of end-of-life decisions, and learn how to make them with clarity and compassion.

Best Multi-Generational Game

Torch
Can a nation gifted agency build a truly shared future? That's the core question asked by Andrea Morales Coto's game Torch. As a new (and, eventually, not so new) nation experiences everything from trepidation to bloodlust, players gain insight into colonialism and its often ugly aftermath. When the torch goes out, a story ends and a new one begins...

Judge's Choice

The We-ness
The We-Ness is a game where players take part in becoming a small colony through language. Through experimenting and restricting the "I" when speaking with one another, The We-Ness creates a singular organism with its players. This was such an interesting game on how we speak with one another shapes our culture and identity within that culture. This is a game that will challenge and thrill players as they become a part of a hive.

Honorable Mentions

Dim Sum? More Like Git Sum!
Dim Sum? More Like Git Sum! is a wonderful game about family dynamics, played around a dim sum table. Its passive-aggressive insult workshop is cleverly designed to immerse the players into the shoes of a Cantonese family. While we did find that there is a little bit of preparation involved, it didn't stop us from adding it to one of our honorable mentions, for its thoughtful notes on cultural representation and interesting play.
The Widows' Market
Laurel Halbany’s The Widows’ Market does not declare itself a “game,” but rather an “interpretation.” In addition to the text itself interpreting ancient Sumerian practices documented on tablets, players are then asked to interpret the freeform procedures themselves from the sparse text provided. We found the situation evocative, feminist, and multicultural at its core. The Committee saw in this work the kind of historical imagination and creative leaps needed to make a tight, engaging game.
The Clinic
We found Caroline Hobbs’ The Clinic to be a timely and informative look at the reality of abortion clinics through an extremely meticulous simulation. Ordinarily, we would say a game like this requires too many materials and has massive overhead in terms of player preparation. Nevertheless, we all learned something with our encounter with this game, and the present-day situation is urgent enough that we think you, too, should maybe learn these things. This game is a great launchpad for those conversations.
Who do you think you are?
Many games over the years have confronted the ugliness that is capitalist society, but few delve into the ongoing impacts of whole industries on the psyche of those performers who work in them. Who Do You Think You Are? by Kat Jones analyzes the career of the Spice Girls through the lens of painful performances and the ambiguous rewards of fame. For all those of us with nostalgia for our 1990s pop groups, the game is a sobering reminder of just how complex bubblegum pop and stardom happen to be.
It Was a Beautiful Mistake
David Rothfeder's It Was a Beautiful Mistake is a poignant game about a teacher looking back on their career. Each player portrays Alex Park during a different year of their life as a teacher, with the retirement-age Alex left to make meaning out of a lifetime of struggle, joy and sacrifice. The Committee is pleased to honor this game as a solid, nuanced take on an under-explored topic that we think will resonate with many.
The Life, Death, and Apotheosis of Bastard Jim
In this game by Aleks Samoylov an under-prepared and under-resourced theater troupe must put on an excerpt of beloved classic The Life, Death and Apotheosis of Bastard Jim in order to retain the favor of their patron. Packed with exquisitely written theater-trope characters, this larp creates a play-within-a-play that can optionally be performed in front of an audience. The Life, Death and Apotheosis of Bastard Jim combines theatrical improv and larp in a way that is sure to produce interesting results.

Golden Cobra Challenge (2017)

Best game that gives us hope

One Year
Hope is right there in the title. Like a non passive-aggressive The Quiet Year, One Year focuses on building, growing, and managing change without an immediate descent into bloody conflict. It does this elegantly, while still scratching that itch of player creativity while constraining the directions it might go in. The judges’ comments all remarked on this game’s genuinely hopeful gentleness.

Best game that non-gamers can understand, play, and enjoy

The Hydra Artist's Masterpiece: Mourning Acid Breath
When the artist hydra's creative visionary head, Elder Acid is lopped off by an interloping adventurer, the remaining heads have to rally the new headlings to their deadline for the famous Monster Gallery. In this game, Kitty Stoholski has created something exquisitely gripping and eminently playable. We can't wait to not only play ourselves, but tell new players about this game. The great hook and guided collaborative artmaking make us confident that new players will immediately find something to latch onto and never feel bored or lost.

Best game that incorporates meaningful, non-romantic relationships

The Long Drive Back from Busan
Finally, a game about K-pop! Clio Yun-su Davis’ The Long Drive Back from Busan is about the relationships between bandmates in a K-pop group, as they go through the stress of dealing with fans and their manager. The game combines some of our favorite mechanisms in role-playing and even leaves behind a video artifact of the players to leave for their “fans”. It’s a game about rising to the top of an industry, while making personal sacrifices on the way, a theme that isn’t explored enough in larp. We love this!

Best succinct game

Under a Broken Flag
Tightly written yet expansive, Jefferson Lee’s dystopic cold equations struck as as both chilling, realistic, and ultimately thrilling to play. Lee presents a near-future America that is not just in decline, but in collapse - and as players we are not in a position to fix anything, merely mitigate the damage as best we can. The end result will be millions dead, but that may be bitter mercy given the alternatives. An unrelentingly rough game that straddles the line between tabletop and freeform larp in a fun, challenging way, Under A Broken Flag feels like a game our national leadership might already be playing.

Judge's Choice

Long Time Listener, Last Time Caller
A game so exciting and unique we gave it its own category, previous Golden Cobra winner Jeff Dietrele’s Long Time Listener, Last Time Caller combines strange, asymmetrical gameplay with a witches brew of apocalyptic tropes and genuine human connection. We were universally enthusiastic about the game’s core affordances - distributed play, perhaps via Skype, and intimate, disembodied conversations as the world literally ends. No game made us want to stop deliberating and immediately play it more than Long Time Listener, Last Time Caller.

Honorable Mentions

Alchemy (and Feelings)
A two player game reminiscent of The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Alchemy (and Feelings) guides players through the relationship between an apprentice and homunculus while their master is away. The drawing mechanic and evocative prompts make us particularly excited to spotlight this game as an Honorable Mention!
Canned
A game about the often meaningless and always painful process of getting laid off, Canned by Alex Rowland depicts the ways in which workers are denied their humanity and defined by their economic output before extending a hand to build them back up. This game is caring and sharp, with a strong set of values behind it and an emphasis on safety and player care. Canned feels like a necessary game to push back against capitalist notions that we are nothing but what we produce.
Homunculus
Reminiscent of an episode of Black Mirror, Homunculus by Anna Kreider brings to the surface all the conflicting emotions of what it’s like to have a loved one pass away and come back to life as an AI. As one player acts as the deceased/Homunculus, the other players are the connections to the deceased, who must decide whether to keep or remove the Homunculus. The game is tense and full of melancholy and we are very excited about it!
May December May
A poetic exploration of the passing of generations, no other game dissected one of our contest ingredients in such a deep way as May-December-May. In it, the concept of rebirth is deconstructed in a way that makes us reflect on the passage of a century through the conventions and love of generations. This deep use of a contest ingredient in such a focal and beautiful way struck us and for that we'd like to recognize May-December-May and its author Paul Beakley.
The Residents
Mediums and séances seem to abound in small freeform scenarios, but The Residents by Suzanne Schenewerk invigorates these tropes with lucid game writing and evocative prompts. The game uses a game mechanic called “Impressions” to frame flashbacks and metalepsis without fundamentally disrupting the flow of play. Focused enough to cue player behavior while being open enough to invite their emotional investment, The Residents provides an exciting range of possibilities for personal supernatural exploration, while also making sure that each narrative path taken will be meaningful and interesting. This Honorable Mention is in anticipation of the many chills and feels that players of this scenario are likely to experience.

Golden Cobra Challenge (2016)

Best Use of Somatic Elements

Living Spaces / Dead Spaces
Living Spaces Dead Spaces takes the normal everyday motions of living people, and contrasts them with what those who have passed on will cling to and resonate with. A non-narrative, dialogue-light game that is full of motion, combining deep, contemplative character play with patterns and motion. Creating a greater whole out of the minute actions of each participant, it is a ballet of attachment and letting go. The game takes an uncommon approach to in-character experience, and also uses subtle but strong cues for player communication. When it is really humming we can see this game being a profound, physical and deeply symbolic play experience.

Best Use of Magical Realism

Wigilia
A game structured by the Polish Catholic tradition of "Wigilia" or Christmas eve, where this family is visited by the spirits of their departed grand parents. A thoughtful, uplifting, and community affirming game that incorporates Magical Realism into the unfolding process of grief and familial care through a magical plant. We loved the details of this cultural tradition, and the thematically appropriate use of affectionate touch--while providing tools for calibration and opting out. This is a heart-warming game that we hope will continue to be developed. Some more dimension to the characters would round out what is a very solid game.

Funniest Game

Big Dicks
Our selection for Funniest Game is an exuberant send up of phallocentric culture and corporate politics that takes a simple but clever joke and really commits to the bit. The clear, concise rules set players up for over the top physical comedy with almost no prep required (apart from sourcing a variety of brightly-colored balloons). Both hilarious to read and promising some very fun times in play, Big Dicks hits the mark.

Most Convention Ready

The Porch
A soft, thoughtful game about a last gathering of friends after graduating from high school. On a warm August evening somewhere in the South they gather around the porch and drink iced tea, watching the sun set over the trees and on the end of an era. Each has a burning question locked behind their teeth. Will it find breath before they have to move on? Slightly bitter, slightly sweet, this game has a cozy feeling about it while still being concise with its delivery. It provides the portrayal of a very atmospheric type of conversation in an organic and easily playable way--with a great story and a structure that rises to match it. We're excited to play this one right out of the box.

Cutest Game

Star Level 10
Star Level 10 shone with sheer joy and love. Players are ghosts who have died— but that’s okay!— because they are about to be reborn. As the ghosts wander, they gather physical pieces of stardust and use it to share positive memories with one another, blessing the recipient with that experience in their new life. So often our games are about difficulty, but Star Level 10 was so suffused with positivity, earnestness, kindness, hope, collaboration, and constructiveness, we were utterly swept up in its charm. The result is a game that manages to be profound without pain, very thoughtful, and eminently playable… for anyone who owns at least 50-100 dice. The meltingly adorable illustrations are also not to be missed.

Most Kid Friendly

Let's Be Dinosaurs!
We didn't ask for a game that could be smoothly adapted into a fun and educational romp for kids (and lighthearted adults), but that's exactly what we got! In this game players work together to create their very own species of dinosaur through entertaining exploration. When we imagine people playing Let's Be Dinosaurs it's easy to see how it could be used to illustrate lessons on ecology, the environment, animal behavior, and yes, actual dinosaurs! We're incredibly impressed by this first time designer and cannot wait to see more. (Side note, this designer is NOT related to our judge Strix Beltrán, at least as far as anyone knows, including them.)

Best Pervasive Game

They're Onto Me
We loved this game for its brash innovation. They're Onto Me is a single player game that explores the boundaries of pervasive play over a period of 4 convention days or 12 regular days. Conspiracy theories, parasitic alien lifeforms infiltrating our society, and the tantalizing possibility of a piece of ephemera for all to see. Grab a smart phone, follow the prompts, and if you're brave, upload the results to YouTube. If you're into shows like Lonelygirl15 or Carmilla you'll especially love this. At least one of the judges is planning to play immediately.

Honorable Mentions

Glass Ceiling
Today's witches have day jobs, just like everyone else. A particular coven has formed at the mega corporation Seneca Holdings. In this game all witches are women, and they're intent on supporting each other in smashing through the glass ceiling. The witches in this game are more like modern pagans than they are like storybook characters who can fire off thunderbolts. Together players will create and play through a magical ritual meant to aid all the sisters in the coven. The workshop is brilliant, the message on point. Our only tiny quibble is the misnomer that Wiccans = witches. There are many kinds of practicing witches who don't identify with that particular belief system.
In Memoriam
An intimate game of remembrance, longing and moving on. Four players portray the living and the dead, each working to create an obituary for the recently deceased. Each comes to this remembrance with their own agenda. We love the artifact of the obituary that is created through play, and the complexity that is created by the interaction between the four roles. And there is no pat happy ending guaranteed! A polished, moving game.
It's All Good
It’s All Good combines familiar elements of storytelling with elegant and novel mechanics. Players utilize movement, light and shadow to guide the storyteller as they share a family legend, building a complex oral history over multiple turns. We especially loved the specificity of time and place—a community living in the Ozarks in 1937—established in the space constraints through evocative prompts and challenges from player to player: “Tell us the one about…”
ONE HUNDRED FEET TALL!
One Hundred Feet Tall! is a very physical, expressive game about a giant monster menacing a city. Be Kaiju, live the dream. At the heart of the game is an intriguing combination of playacting and guided shouting, a wonderful example of applying design to natural human play in order to create a unique freeform experience. For a medium known for its focus on heart-heavy, emotional dram, it's wonderful to see the escapist release of destroying whole cities represented so well. We chose this game above all else for its innovative, emergent role selection. Destroy with delight!
Too Many Mediums
Four players are all mediums channeling numerous spirits of the dead, and knocking heads with their rivals as frauds. Too Many Mediums is written explicitly to be played in the middle of a bustling gaming convention—everyone not playing represents a spirit moving around in ethereal cacophony. Mediums try to get information from the spirits through harmless interactions without explaining anything. We found this game to be funny, clever, well-characterized, and just mysterious enough to con-goers who get roped in as spirits without being disruptive. This is one pervasive game we can't wait to play! “Power Words” may need to be adjusted depending on the exact convention and location of play.

Golden Cobra Challenge (2015)

Best Incorporation of Perspectives of Unheard or Marginalized People or Groups

Too Much Slap on the Ecaf
In 1952 London, the tearoom trade blossoms. The Countess Dillymore reminds us that we may have “forgotten that these particular queer men existed,” and perhaps we have. Countess Dillymore’s Too Much Slap on the Ecaf is an intimate larp about homosexual men hooking up in 1950s rural England. We saw this game and were immediately hooked by its solid intensity. But what sold us on it for this particular award was the tender and highly subjective portrayal of closeted queer men. Written as a letter from Dillymore to an anonymous audience, the game itself takes the induction into the social life of queerness quite seriously. Each player sets up three scenes laden with all the negotiations and emotions of men having sex with each other in the only places they can. Then the players show intimacy through their characters along negotiated physical boundaries. We see so few games these days with such an earnest, no-nonsense portrayal of the world before Stonewall and Pride.

Game We're Most Excited About

This Folks at the Dinner Table
Formal dinners are one of those social occasions in which the rules are different everywhere you go, but are somehow all the same. Eduardo Caetano has hacked the dinner party game genre into something wondrous and fraught. Francis has invited to dinner several people close to him, only they didn’t know that he’d be running so late. The game consists of that awkward period before the real party happens, when people haven’t yet decided how the evening will go and when intimate secrets are revealed. “A kind of dinner larp freeform,” This Folks At the Dining Room uses the core elements of formal dining – making toasts, hearing a certain background song play, passing food – into functional game mechanics that enhance the mood. We are excited to prepare meals with our friends, and then have them deal with some potentially romantic and luxuriant fiction as part of the main course.

Best Incorporation of Touch

A Crow Funeral
Have you ever wanted to be part of a murder? Of crows, that is! In A Crow Funeral, players take on the roles of a community of crows that have discovered the body of one of their own. As they crowd around in a mournful-yet-raucous circle, the crows must determine how their friend expired. In the opening explanation of the game, Timothy Hutchings states “there is no conflict resolution mechanic.” This statement is three things: true, untrue, and sneaky. This game’s deployment of touch is both simple and entertaining, and you’ll find that conflict most definitely gets sorted out. This game is fun, light, and great to play in public spaces.

Best Use of Themes/Techniques for Evoking Empathy

Just Lunch
Previous Golden Cobra winner Heather Silsbee returns with a sometimes searing, sometimes thoughtful, and always playable game about women with social anxiety. Many Golden Cobra games this year address empathy directly, but Just Lunch stands out as a game that combines visceral empathy with sharp, engaging gameplay. Just Lunch is for three people, and like the title says, it’s just lunch - but “lunch” is a minefield of energy-draining triggers for the anxious. And these women are anxious. This game captured the dynamics of social anxiety in casual interaction so well that some of us winced just reading it, and its effectiveness at evoking empathy played out by teaching us new things about how social anxiety works. We particularly liked Just Lunch’s careful framing, which provides both context for players unfamiliar with social anxiety and useful tools for exploring it in safety.

Most Polished and Ready-to-Play Game

Her Inner Dead Ends
In Her Inner Dead Ends, Francesco Sedda and Francesco Zani present a simultaneously languid and thrilling rumination on fandom in all its troubling complexity. We all love the fictional universe created by fictive author J. S. Hunts, of course, but when two superfans meet in real life for the first time all bets are off - because their online community has literally been erased. Anyone who has ever taken a deep dive into online community (and that includes all the judges, and probably you) will easily identify with the themes of Her Inner Dead Ends - belonging, dissolution, grudges old and new and identities that may not be as secure as they appear. The online personas that the designers have crafted are absolutely spot on. Tightly written and full of simple, elegant mechanics, Her Inner Dead Ends promises a satisfying play experience for two jaded J.S. Hunts enthusiasts.

Honorable Mentions

As We Know It
Aliens have destroyed the world, and the last few human holdouts are hiding in solitary corners. In As We Know It, Alex Carlson creates a compelling game out of a classic theme by using physical isolation, limited communication, and mobile phones to establish a visceral experience. Players are literally sitting in separate closets texting one another; no other contact is possible. The pressure is on as each grows confused and desperate to come out, while knowing that certain death awaits if they do. We were all excited to try this game, but its requirement of 5 active participants instead of 4 disqualified it from a full-blown award.
Exclusive Listing
Jesse Coombs has mashed up the prosaic – buying a house – with the sublime – the dissolution of a committed relationship – in this fast and fun four-player game. Exclusive Listing divides the players into the real – two fragile buyers and one real estate agent – and the metaphorical: hope, who can be a real troublemaker. Clever gameplay moves toward a single handshake that defines the couple’s future - one way or another.
The Other Place
Kids go up into the attic, where there’s a soul-sucking mirror and two kid spirits trying to replace them. Banana Chan has written – no, illustrated – a simple, eerie trip into the fantastic that will likely take under an hour. Evocative drawings model the characters, play, and everything else one would need to understand to make the game interesting. Multiple outcomes, including several that are devastatingly creepy, make the emergent play of this game an object of considerable interest. Although certain factors such as player safety are largely set aside, we see the irresistible, uncanny charm of this game’s overall design as deserving of an honorable mention.
Sign
Kathryn Hymes and Hakan Seyalioglu’s game about deaf Nicaraguan children in the 1970s is direct and unflinching. Sign dares to take up a difficult subject, and have players understand a small part of a real journey that transformed thousands of lives. It centers on agency, connection, and the struggle of understanding each other in a silent world. The ambition of such a game is certainly applaudable, if a little on the nose. We’d be curious to know how people from these marginalized communities would relate to this game.
Singing Clay
Guilherme Rodrigues has created a compelling game from an autistic perspective about the experience of finding and holding to one’s soul in an overstimulating world. Adding a spiritual layer, players are clay golems trying to find their sacred words while limited in communication. Attempts to help one another also come with risk of harm. At the heart of the game is a beautiful mechanic in which players phase in and out of ability to act depending on circumstances outside their control. In Singing Clay, Rodrigues defies more neurotypical forms of character embodiment by representing each character’s identity in a pattern rather than a set of facts or histories. We loved this game because of how the challenges arise primarily from an internal process of trying to hold on to the language of one’s own song amid external distractions.
Universal Donor
Synthetic beings, transhumanism, and an inscrutable Mechanic; there is everything to love about Universal Donor by Kira Magrann and Eric Mersmann. How much of yourself can you trade away and still be you? What happens when you don’t have a lot of agency over your body? You’ll be able to explore these issues through emergent, if not specifically directed play, with an underlying mechanic (different from the Mechanic) based on playing cards.
Written by the Victors
Epistolary Richard has created a game that very subtly leads the players down a path of ruin - and they’ll love every minute of it, until it is too late. Written By the Victors presents a very sobering lesson in history and its interpretation that build slowly but inevitably toward an all-too-familiar conclusion. We agreed that this game would be stellar in a classroom.

Cobra Crew Pick

The Lofty Beacons
An Apocalypse World-ish hack related to the LotR beacon-lighting crews.
This game promises such fun and delivers it in such an already polished way
that it was a favorite with the Crew. However, looks like it would truly shine with more than 4
participants. Stands on its own, and will clearly have a place at the table for many groups.

Golden Cobra Challenge (2014)

Most Convention Ready

Group Date
Sara Williamson's game is a pleasure to behold. Cleanly written and expertly organized, with thoughtful incorporation of best practices, it's the whole package when it comes to game design done right. The game itself is a hilarious romp of mismatched personalities trying to find love—as organized teams! We won't spoil it for you, but this one game you don't want to miss out on playing.

Ever want to play a game that is a cross between a Charlie Kaufman film and a Virginia Woolf novel, via the muppets? Group Date may just take you there. Sara gives us a great mixer game, that looks to be as perfect an ice breaker as it is an advanced class in personal reflection and relationship analysis. All with a light hand, a sense of humor and clear rules for keeping yourself and each other comfortable and safe.

Group Date appears to have burst forth from its author's brain fully-formed. Incorporating best practices from the Nordic and American larp/freeform communities, it firmly-but-politely guides new players into the activity of emotionally-heavy role-playing. Many dating RPGs were submitted to the Golden Cobra contest, but this is the one that I'd run for both my students and my grandmother in the same session. (Actually, maybe that'd be kinda weird.)

Group Date takes a very familiar live action conceit - the dating larp - and hones it to a razor sharp edge of fun. Sara Williamson's well-written and carefully organized game is instantly accessible, easy to implement and iterate, and promises total n00bs a good time.

Most Appealing to Newcomers

Unheroes
"Three former superheroes walk into a bar...." and the game plays itself from there. A catchy premise that anyone can jump into, with crystal clear play designed to have a payoff every time. Unheroes takes the real world and warps it into the setting for a pervasive freeform larp about power, responsibility and second chances. A tightly written game, with great awareness of player safety and accessibility.

Unheroes gives us the rich inner lives of superheroes without any of the messy power-point-allocation baggage. From the suspense beats to the time-activated powers, this game is above all cleverly paced and ready for unexpectedly public superhero play. Bravo.

Joanna Piancastelli's game of amnesiac supers, Unheroes, builds on a rich tradition of conflicted bricks and speedsters, humanizing these colorful protagonists and expertly adapting their tropes to the contest parameters. The result is a smart, assured and very playable game that will be appealing to anyone who has ever read a comic book.

Unheroes is about a world where the past has been erased, but comes creeping back anyway. Amnesiatic protagonists discover their super hero past, and the fact that as super heroes they seriously screwed up. With incredibly solid design and a captivating narrative not rooted in whether the Hulk can beat Thor, it's an inviting game that is a fine cap on the current tradition of super hero freeforms.

Cleverest Design

Glitch Iteration
A meditation on memory and identity that cleverly taps into our emotions to make our experience of the world the playing field. A reflective amnesia game that foregrounds the quiet exploration of self.

Glitch Iteration immediately starts building a world before any of the characters can figure out who they are or what's going on. Actually, that's kind of the point. This is not so much a game, as a game coupled with a whole new worldview for public spaces. It does what freeform does best: transform our bodies in spaces into things of anxiety and wonder.

Glitch Iteration not just embraces the contest challenge of "must be playable in public" but transforms public space into a weird wonderland where every stranger, and every contour in the landscape, is suddenly part of your collaborative machine-ghost. It's elegant and beautiful. Underneath its sci-fi trappings it is a game about memory and loss and ethics and, possibly, regret.

Jackson Tegu's game flattened us all with its ability to so elegantly tackle the issues of identity and meaning while harnessing a public space for play. Technological, transhuman, and boggling in its layers, the game is beautiful and vivid and like nothing we've ever seen before.

The Game We're Most Eager to Play

Still Life
A refreshing and thoughtful metaphorical freeform larp that keeps us moving forward in thinking about the potentials for role play. Throwing out assumptions left and right, like the need for plot, action by the players, people as characters, and focuses on stillness, interior play, subtle changes in position and being with the people and issues around us.

Still Life gives us the opportunity to larp as the inanimate, to live and breathe passivity for 2 hours without being bothered to make a power play or do something beyond simply communicating (and building from there). We as judges insist that this game be played.

Still Life grabbed each of the judges immediately and wouldn't let go. We kept returning to Still Life and marveling at it. While many contest entries tread familiar ground, the designers of Still Life took the weird path into rocky country (sorry). This weirdness pays off immensely in a game that is at once bonkers and full of strange pathos.

Wendy Gorman, David Hertz, and Heather Silsbee's game is instantly inspiring. It's so cunning in its vision that each judge wanted to play it almost at once. Many of the structures of play that are usually taken for granted are effortlessly tossed out the window by this game, and players are left with a broody and subtle experience. Who knew it was possible to yearn so hard for the experience of pretending to be rock! We would have said it couldn't be done, but with Still Life we have been proven wrong.

Honorable Mentions

Restart
RESTART is a future story of sentient machines struggling to survive in Ghana. While it would be easy to simply enjoy playing robots finding their way in a bewildering world, RESTART has so much more going on underneath the hood. It subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) introduces themes of cultural alienation, community, minority struggles, and the socio-economic impacts of globalization. It's no mistake that the game is set in a country that constantly grapples with human rights issues. All of these elements are expertly incorporated into a rich narrative of endurance and freedom. If anything, the judges felt like the game needed a little more time to fully stretch its legs than the mere two hours that were the contest's parameters.
Keymaster
As many ways as we know to craft character and story, there are still more awaiting our discovery. With keymaster, J Li helps us explore one of these. Calling it a 'short ritual of dramatic identity,' Li lets us become our own Greek chorus and divine together the nature of a shared world. Doing this through a simple, iterative game structure, suited for deeply invested play--perhaps to introduce a group to the world they'll explore in a larp--or as a light, spontaneous activity for a group of friends. Keymaster tunes the group's imaginations into populating the real world with mythic meaning, be it a bustling city square or a leaf-lined, wooded path. I chose keymaster because it took the challenge to play in public and found new applications for tools of live freeform--ones that connect modern role play with traditions of poetry and drama that are as old as human inventiveness.
Active Shooter
In his game Active Shooter, Tim Hutchings writes "This was a hard, uncomfortable thing to write." Reading it was equally harrowing, and playing Active Shooter would be at best sobering and more likely quite traumatic. I chose it for an honorable mention because it addresses a serious, difficult topic directly and unflinchingly. Perhaps too unflinchingly - all the judges felt that it needed a much more robust series of safety mechanisms in place as written. But the core game is solid and appropriately horrific, the Shut Up rule is inspired and evocative, and overall Active Shooter feels both mature and well realized. It would be hard to play, but not everything needs to be easy. One of our hopes for the Golden Cobra contest was to encourage work on the edges of established theme and technique, and Active Shooter totally delivers in this regard.
Snow
(Retracted)
Sometimes a game can seduce you and make you feel dirty, and somehow it isn't to blame. Snow is such a game. Submitted with gorgeous, eye-popping artwork and a simple one-page explanation, Snow just cannot be ignored, no matter how hard one tries. It's playable in a cold car in winter (which is coming) among people who want a few more disturbing memories to share with their friends. I chose the game because, in the end, freeform does not have to be complicated to be bold and meaningful. Snow is fearless, committed design and can take players to the kind of dark play a group might otherwise not venture, whilst allowing the players to gracefully end the game at any time.

Judges' Note: Though this game was recognized with an Honorable Mention, it was later discovered that the game did not meet eligibility requirements for submission due to a misunderstanding. The committee continues to congratulate Agata on her accomplishment with this game, but has retracted the award.


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