A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...
Or not. This is a sneak peak into how the Apples Project came into existence.
last update: June 28, 2004
Here's how it happened... see, in July of 2002 I sent this e-mail to some folks I know.
A2A, the SdJ & the Station (a 3 car pileup)
A Cheap Motel
It was midway through a game of Apples to Apples... and I, as The Judge, drew a green apple with the word "feminine" on it. What happened next can only be explained by the fact that I was playing with a group of game geeks (in the most pejorative sense of the word "geek").
The best answer of the set was "A Cheap Motel". Thankfully, the rest of the cards I was looking at have faded from my long-term memory, but when that's your best answer for "feminine", you know:
Three Car Mental Pileup
Fast forward to the last 48 hours, as my brain has cast about, searching for something special to do to celebrate the 4th anniversary of Game Central Station. Suddenly, my wonderful Apples to Apples story, the ongoing debate about the merit (or lack thereof) of the SdJ & my scattered thoughts collided and... well...
...that's why you've received this e-mail.
The problem at the heart of almost any award is that it's done on the basis of a particular span of time and not on a particular kind of game. This year's SdJ finalists are a perfect illustration: Puerto Rico, notwithstanding the whole "what exactly is a normal game-playing family?" discussion, is a strategy game of some depth; Transamerica is a very light but enjoyable 'family' game; and Villa Paletti, the eventual winner of the award, is a dexterity game. In the words of Mr. Rogers, "One of these things is not like the others..."
The problem is that most game awards (in fact, most awards of any kind) are comparing apples to oranges.
I Have A Dream
So, the tangled mess of mental wreckage parked at the crossroads of my brain is this: a page at Game Central Station which attempts to compare apples to apples. Rather than ranking games based on the year they were released, a select body of gamers would choose the best games in a plethora of categories, regardless of their copyright dates or in-print status.
That's where you come in - if you're reading this e-mail, I'm inviting you to join me as part of my "expert" panel of gamers in creating such a masterpiece. Here's how this would work:
1. You say "yes" to helping with such an endeavor.
2. I send you e-mails for the next 5-6 weeks asking for your top 7 choices in a variety of categories... the current list (which is unfinished - more on that in a minute) appears below my sig line. Some examples:
3. All of those choices are compiled... and a list in each category of the top ten (or so) choices are then sent back to you to one more round of voting (your top 5).
4. The final results are posted in late September, in time for Essen & Christmas! (Results will be posted to Game Central Station and back to this list of individuals.)
Q: How did I receive this (cough, cough) honor?
A: Over time & in a variety of public & private forums on gaming, you've expressed both strong opinions and a wide knowledge of board games. That, and I could find your e-mail address.
Q: How many of us "experts" (cough, sputter) are there?
A: 30, give or take a few.
Q: Will you be flooding my e-mail box with junk, like that darn yahoo group 'nigglybits'?
A: No, no, a thousand times, no. No more than one per day.
Q: Why not do this over 'spielfrieks'?
A: Numbers of participants does not necessarily make for better results - witness the People's Choice Awards. An uninformed electorate (yes, this is beginning to sound like a political science class) would skew this kind of voting (by category) in some very odd and sad ways. On top of that, some of you don't participate in spielfrieks
[Note: This could sound a lot more cynical about the nature of spielfrieks than I intend... what I was trying to avoid is people voting based on only playing the games easily available in the U.S.]
Q: Can I say 'no' to this?
A: Yes, but think of all the poor newbie gamers you'll be hurting. (Seriously, bow out if you need to and/or want to...)
Q: Am I expected to come up with all the possible nominees on my own?
A: Nope - I'll do my best to give you lists when applicable of the games that fit the category. You will always be welcome to throw a write-in candidate in... particularly applicable write-ins will be given a pass into the final voting round regardless of the number of votes they receive.
Q: Wait a minute! That last line makes it sound like you'll be making up the rules as you go along!
A: First, that's not a question, it's a comment. Second, to quote the renowned philosopher, Butch Cassidy, "Let's go over the rules: first rule: There are no rules in a knife fight." Third, I retain the option of monkeying with the nomination results a bit (adding a game or two if I think it necessary) but not with the final voting results.
If you're still reading at this point, I'm guessing you're in... if you'd like to help out beyond voting, here's the things I need:
1. Below my sig line is a list of proposed categories... it is NOT final. I'm not sure yet how many I'm going to use. I can use suggestions both for new categories AND help on fine-tuning the ones I already have.
2. I can also use help on making lists of possible nominees - if you're interested in helping do that (by checking the lists I create before I send them to the whole list - suggesting additions & the like), please let me know ASAP.
Is That Your Final Answer?
OK, the time has come. Hit the "reply" button on your e-mail program and let me know if you're "in" or "out". (Sounds vaguely like a caper movie, eh?) Either way, thanks for taking the time to read this.
Then, a week or so later, this e-mail...
Can't Remember What I Titled This E-mail
First, thanks to all who have agreed to participate so far - 23 brave souls have volunteered to embark on this voyage of discovery. (Sheesh - you'd think I was narrating an episode of "National Geographic"...)
Second, I'm calling this thing The Apples Project until further notice. This is NOT my "final answer" for a name - I rather like Chris Dickson's suggestion of "The Gaming Banquet", cuz it makes me hungry - but it gives me something to name the file folder I'm putting all this stuff in. For ease of e-mail sorting, everything I send you regarding The Apples Project will have [apples] in the subject line.
Questions... I Get Questions...
Q: I'm not sure every game can fit neatly into at least one category... how are you going to fix that?
A: I'm not.
Q: No, really... my favorite game, "The Elfen Princes of Catan", doesn't really fit well in any of the categories you've got. Whatcha gonna do about it, Preacher Boy?
A: Well, not nothing, really - something. First, I'm not worried about "missing" certain games because they defy easy classification. That's the nature of the beast. Second, at the end of the project, I'll be asking y'all for a list of your Top Ten games and publishing those as well.
Q: Some of the games are going to appear in more than one category - and may win in both of them! How is that fair?
A: It's time to defer to my dad's standard lecture for most of my sister's teenage years: "Life isn't fair." Seriously, I'm OK with a single game getting multiple wins - it's "the best" in the categories we picked to vote on!
Q: Another award?! [cue up Bronx cheer]
A: This is NOT an award. No trophies, no statuettes, no acceptance speeches ("I'd like to thank the anonymous group of 'experts' who picked Devil Bunny Needs A Ham as the Game Most Deserving of Its Publishers Name.") This is going to be a major section of Game Central Station devoted to helping people find the best games in a variety of whimsical categories.
Q: When you say games, you mean...?
A: Published proprietary board & card games, excluding CCG's, RPG's, and miniatures rules systems. Warhammer is acceptable (figures & rules in same box) but Mage Knights/Heroclix fails the collectible test. (Traditional deck card games, 'classic' public domain games, and parlor games are also excluded... unfortunately, some yahoo published cards to play Werewolf with, so it doesn't count as a parlor game anymore - darn it.)
Q: When does this start?
A: Tomorrow - the first nomination e-mail will appear in your inbox within 24 hours.
Rulings... I Make Rulings...
Otherwise known as the "Catan Ruling"... here's how this will work. Expansions will be counted as a part of the whole game system. Here's a hypothetical situation using two categories we won't be voting on - while Bohnanza would be included in the category "5 best Uwe Rosenberg games", High Bohn, La Isla Bohnita, the expansion set & Mutabohn would not. (They would be folded into Bohnanza). However, for the category "5 best games about genetic mutation", Mutabohn would be listed as 'Mutabohn (expansion for Bohnanza)'.
18XX & Mayfair Crayon Rails
Otherwise known as the "Enough Already Ruling"... While devotees of each of these game systems can tell you the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between the various offerings, most folks haven't yet mastered the esoterica of train gaming. For purposes of the Apples Project, 18xx games will be considered as a group, with the exception of Ur and 2038. The Mayfair crayon rail games will be lumped under Empire Builder/Eurorails, with the exception of Iron Dragon.
Similar Games/Different Editions
Otherwise known as the "Moon over Knizia Ruling"... since both of these guys have a tendency to rework their games into new formats - and get them sold! I, Mark Jackson, will make the final decision on games that are VERY close even with new names and/or editions. Here's some samples:
Over the next 20 days (or so), you'll be receiving one e-mail per day with 3 categories per e-mail. There will be lists of games for each category, but you are welcome to write-in any game you wish. Pick 7 (seven) of these games in each category to 'nominate' them for the final voting. Nominations will be open for 10 days from the day I send the e-mail.
There will be some categories which will have 'open' nominations - I won't list any nominees for that category, due to the subjective nature of the category.
In early August, you'll begin receiving e-mails with the top ten (or so) nominees in each category - of which you'll pick your top 5 (five) to create the final lists. Final voting will be open for two weeks from the day I send the e-mail.
You are always welcome to vote for less than the allotted number in both steps of the process. During the final voting (Top 5), your non-votes will be counted as well and figured into the final product in some form or fashion. (I'm still figuring this out...)
The "This Shouldn't Be Work" Rule
This should be fun. Enjoy yourself doing this - I'm looking forward to it.
You notice I haven't created a mailing list for this thing - or shared your e-mail addresses with each other - or mentioned many of you by name. My intent is NOT for this to be a long-winded discussion of the relative merits of a particular game in a particular category (that's what we've got spielfrieks for!) or a debate on the greatness of the games of antiquity vs. the newfangled Germanic designs.
It's the rough equivalent of a Cosmo poll for gamers. (Yes, pastors DO know what Cosmo is...)
Anyway, have fun.
And we were, as it were, underway. One week in, the final week of July, I rallied the troops with this missive.
The Apples Project: Week One
Consider this a report from the front lines... a dispatch from the battlefield... a bulletin hot off the wire.
A few of you are a bit worried about how fast we're moving (3 categories a day)... as if we were forced to run in some sort of sadistic gaming death march. (The sound of whips, the solemn trudging of meeples across the barren wasteland of a Durch die Wuste board, crys of anguish not unlike the noises Greg Schloesser makes when I bring out Twitch...) This is completely understandable, but...
1. You have 10 days from the day each nomination e-mail is sent to respond. (So take your time... )
2. You don't have to respond to every nomination e-mail. (I only ask that if you choose to do this that you let me know you won't be responding to that particular e-mai.)
3. You don't have to respond in every category. (Some have already chosen to do this.)
As to the "why" of the pace...
1. I'm well aware from running pbem games/discussion groups/etc. over e-mail that people can lose interest and stop participating. My objective is to move this along quickly enough so that we don't lose anyone along the way.
2. This is a "down" time in gaming circles... very little new stuff will appear until October, and the buzz/advance word about those games will start in late August. I'd like to have the nominations part of the Apples Project done by that point - before the distractions hit.
[Note: In retrospect, this is one of the funnier bits of fiction I penned to the group - not realizing that it would be ME who had the distractions.]
And a vacation of sorts is coming - due to Gulf Games & the travel schedules of a couple of non-GG participants, we'll go "on hiatus" (no new nominations) from July 29 to August 4. (By the 29th, we'll be over 1/2 way done with the nominations.)
A few of you are a bit worried about the quality of the process - either by topics you don't like (the "D&D in a game" games) or the quality of the lists you're receiving (games that "don't fit" the category). Let me ease your fears a bit...
1. You don't have to like every category. (I, for example, run screaming from most deduction games. Code 777 might as well be named Code 666 from my point of view. But it's still a category worth considering.)
2. You don't have to like/agree with the lists. (The lists are "loose" - in slot machine terms - on purpose. I want to make sure the nomination process offers as many choices as possible, even if some are questionable.)
3. Understand the process... which leads us to -
Right now, we are nominating games to create the final lists for voting.
Next, I'll compile those nominations & create lists of 10+ games for you to vote from. (In the subjective categories, there will be probably be 15+ games on a list.)
As we finish up nominating categories, we'll begin the final voting.
A few of you have asked about knowing who else is in the project... here's an overview (still lacking a bit in detail, for reasons I'll get to in a minute.)
The vast majority of you are citiizens of the U.S., though we do have a couple of Aussies and a smattering of Europeans. Many of the major "gaming communities" are represented: the Gathering, Gulf Games, Unity Gamers, the Left Coast Gamers, the Atlanta groups, etc.
We have folks who are a part of the regular conversations on spielfrieks... and a few who aren't. Nigglybits has a delegation (who have been seated in the back room with their root beer & pretzels, so as not to disturb the other guests.) There are some private gaming discussion groups which are also represented. We even have some veterans of the r.g.b. flame wars.
There were 50 invitations sent out to join this project - 32 of you accepted. (Again, thank you - I'm not paying you enough... wait a minute, I'm not paying you!) I won't be publishing who was invited but did not choose to come along.
I'm not giving out details on the composition of the group until the nominations are complete so that we can focus on nominating rather than discussing. The questions I've dealt with in this e-mail would have inspired some interesting discussion, I realize, but would have distracted some & frustrated others. With you operating "blind", so to speak, we can move pretty quickly.
State of the Apples Project Union
I realize that part of the problem is that you can't "see" your handiwork... that I'm the only person who has a bird's-eye of the results.
Let me assure you that what y'all are coming up with is great... not only are you responding quickly, but participation remains excellent. There are creative write-in candidates, suggestions for fixing things and/or pairing games, wonderful defenses of your choices (the "Duh!" flag is a personal favorite), and delightfull bits of humor. I can not tell you how much I enjoy your commentary, even when I don't have a chance to comment on it.
Best of all, the lists are solid - there isn't a lot of garbage-y nominations or things that are off-category. (The very few exceptions to this will be dealt with in the instructions for the voting.) Again, thanks goes to those of you who are making this happen.
As soon as a nomination category is complete (I've heard from all 32 of you or we've reached the deadline), I will finish the compiling & send the 'ballot' out for those categories. (Hopefully, this will let y'all see a bit better where we are and how we're doing.)
In closing, stay the course, keep on truckin', never count your money when you're sitting at the table... And have fun! (If we aren't having fun with this, why bother?)
Things were going swimmingly in early August... you can hear it in the tone of my "voice" in this next epistle.
The Apples Project: Week Two
Well, if you want to be really technical about it, it's actually Week Two Point Five, but who's keeping score?! We're on hiatus right now!
In the last week or so, we've managed to:
In the coming week, we'll:
As a special treat to those of you NOT attending Gulf Games (which, sadly enough this time, includes me), here are some interesting tidbits from the first three nomination lists...
Here's the plan... the next nomination e-mail (#10) will be sent Sunday night/Monday morning. There will be 6-7 more nomination e-mails.
At the same time, I'll begin releasing final voting lists on an every other day basis.
I'm going to be VERY interested in the final results... some categories seem obvious (based on "common wisdom" and the nominations) but others are WIDE open. (Best example: the innovative games category, where no game gathered more than 11 nominations.)
As always, thanks for playing and we'll have some lovely parting gifts for you behind Curtain #3.
However, by mid-August, I was apologizing for delays with nearly every e-mail I sent. Our once blinding pace slowed... and then, the first week of September, it stopped dead in it's tracks.
"I'm Not Dead Yet"
Ahhh, Monty Python... fount of pithy quotes.
Anyway, just a short note to let you know that the Apples Project is not dead, just delayed a bit by life circumstance. The church I pastor will be disbanding this month, with the last service on September 21st.
That means that my life is going to become a whirlwind of activity: the dissolution of the church's assets (as per our by-laws), the on-going ministry to those who looking for new church homes, my own need for gainful employment short-term (read: $ to live on) and long-term (read: new ministry position)... as well as continuing to be a good husband & dad.
The Apples Project will end up squeezing into the cracks between all those other roles, which saddens me some but makes perfect sense. So, expect to be surprised every once in a while with further bursts of work from the Apples Project...
For those who are wondering, I've got one more nomination e-mail I'm working on, and then we'll simply be finishing up the voting. (But be thinking about your personal Top Ten games, as part of the website will include your names, a smidgen of bio & your Top Ten games.)
We managed to finish the nominations by the end of October - the original target completion date. (You'd think this was government work.) Along the way, we lost a couple of more participants, but the majority soldiered on.
Voting took a little longer... the final votes were due on December 8th. Tabulations took a few days longer...
Then the poking & prodding to get biographies and Top Ten lists in from all the participants - but well worth the effort. You can read a LOT about them on the Participants page.
And, as they say, the rest is history. Enjoy.
Click your heels three times, saying "There's no place like home"... then click here to return to The Apples Project homepage.