Golden Cobra Challenge (2022)
Part of: Golden Cobra Challenge
The Kate Folk Special Judge's Choice Award
I’ve long been fascinated by the concept of the uncanny valley, and particularly, how technology can be used to evoke uncanny sensations. Recently, I received a spammy text from my own phone number. I was struck with horror until I realized what was going on—that scammers can mask their own number with any number of their choosing. Still, it felt intimate and insidious, like an alternate version of myself had gained agency in a parallel realm, and was now imposing its will on “the real” me. “Dark Reflections” brilliantly taps into this vein of uncanny dread. Let’s face it—mirrors are scary objects to begin with, and I’ve always found them especially scary at night when, in the hazy realm between sleep and waking, I fear glimpsing reflections that are not my own. “Dark Reflections” creates a scenario in which two players, The Real and The Reflection, collaborate on the creation of a self via the “black mirror” of the device screen. The concept is wonderfully simple and opens up endless possibilities for gameplay. One variation suggested for The Reflection to be supportive, which might wind up being even creepier.
Games We're Most Excited About
Can you encode secret messages in your knitting? Casting Off Tyranny lets us exercise our knitting skills while also saving our fictional Homeland. Drawing on some of the best aspects of recent keepsake and "lonely fun" games, Casting Off Tyranny hit us in the gut on so many levels: how to communicate with others, how to resist fascism, how to use what's at hand to achieve your goals. Let us all knit beautiful works while trying to save the things that we all share and love.
It's about time for all of us to drop everything and party, specifically, like we're in the bathroom of a Neko Case concert near midnight in September 2004. There's a Sad Girl in the bathroom. What do we do to comfort her? The spontaneous community that this game is intended to create is just delightful, and we cannot wait to embody these characters. Big bonus points for a variety of play options, including in-person, video call, and group text.
Best Use of the Online Format
Uninvited involves a psychic investigating an in-person haunted house and letting a digital, online chorus of players help guide them through it. The game employs online game techniques to then share an experience in the physical world. Its premise assists players to use technology in accordance with how we ourselves might use it, only for secret player instructions to transform the interaction into a true horror scenario.
Best Short Game
"The sun has risen. Face east and speak your final words before you are turned to ash." Sunrise is a short, coherent game about vampires who have used up their food supply (humans) and now wait to be burned alive by the sun. This intense game focuses on inevitable doom and makes it quite clear what players must do, while never shying away from the core existential material of the scenario. Player and character are separated, and the character will –– regardless of what happens –– undergo a change before they meet their end.
Best Use of Ingredients
This year's ingredients are Reflection, Midnight, Guest, and Drawer. Hagmann's Calling Down involves a phone call between an eerie concierge and a player guest. This guest is now trapped in their room as of midnight, and must reflect on their own past, as well as appease the ghostly forces that now hold them in sway. We loved the way that at least 3 of the 4 ingredients are combined to create an atmospheric, suspenseful interchange.
Most Loving Dedication
June Tarpé Mills, Jackie Orme, Chu Hing, Matt Baker. Many women and minorities in the early American comics era have gone barely recognized, their work left to languish in attics and archives. A Wake in the Dream of the Last Drawer stages a funeral for Captain Valor, a near-forgotten hero no longer being drawn in comics. The scenario lets the players give fictional eulogies to this vanished character, which also serves as a metonym for so many other creators' characters who are now receding into the recent and distant past. The silliness and seriousness of the scenario cannot be separated from each other.
Kate Folk's Choice Honorable Mention
From a writerly standpoint, I love this game’s attention to period detail and intricate character sketches. And, from the standpoint of someone who was in college in the year 2004, I’m doubly intrigued by the opportunity to relive the era through fashion, music, and intimate conversations with strangers in the restroom of a music venue. I admire how this game celebrates community and caretaking, with all players collaborating to get “sad girl” back out there to enjoy the show. The most intense human dramas often unfold in such humble settings, after all.
A love letter to the "vulnerable, squishy humanity present on the fringes of mech games," I Have No Railgun and I Must Scream delivers mecha drama in the style of Voices of a Distant Star with an extremely simple roll-and-write game. The lists of names and situations are thoroughly informed by the genre fiction, and all the vibes are right. Our favorite line from the game text is obviously: "Sibling also always gets a railgun."
RE:SOLVE is a paranormal investigation game that is always played between 10:30 pm - 12:00 am, so that the climactic final scene always takes place at midnight. RE:SOLVE takes advantage of online emojis, the creepiness of mirror selfies, and other affordances of our age to tell a good old-fashioned ghost story. This is a game that promises equally interesting remote and in-person experiences, depending on the group.
This one is a game for two: a "guest" (a spirit) and a "host" (a sad individual spending New Year's Eve alone). Kitlowski has stripped out almost all mechanics, simply giving the players the alibi to play out a highly specific encounter between ghost and human. "Odwaga jest dopełnieniem strachu. Człowiek nieustraszony nie może być odważny. Jest też głupcem."
If the terms "fracking" or "mountaintop removal mining" give you an eco-headache, wait until you learn about deep-sea mining! Walton's beautifully horrific game has well-conceived themes, situations, and implications. Having two employees operating the excavator and checking things off the checklist is an excellent game design arc.