The American Tabletop Awards, an annual celebration of the very best new board games, returns Tuesday for its fifth consecutive year. The United States’ alternative to Germany’s Spiel des Jahres, the event sorts entries into several novel categories to be judged by an independent panel of industry experts. Together, these 20 titles represent some of the best art and design work around. The winners are extraordinary examples of their type and would make excellent additions to anyone’s collection.
This year’s categories are the same as last years, and include titles best for Early Gamers, an assortment of Casual Games, more traditional Strategy Games, as well as Complex Games for experienced players.
We’ve indicated what the recommended winning and runner-up titles are for each category below. Most are available for sale online — or at your friendly local game store.
Boop is the grand prize winner in the Early Gamers category, narrowly beating out Kites and Mantis. Designed by Scott Brady with illustrations by Curt Covert, it charmed us mightily even as a prototype at last year’s Gen Con. Published by Smirk and Dagger, the final product is now widely available. The surprisingly strategic little match-three game has you corralling cats and kittens on a tiny, plush bedspread. Most rounds play in just 20-30 minutes, making it the perfect warm-up game for a long night at the table with friends.
Turing Machine (pictured above) wins this year in the Casual Games category, edging out Next Station: London and Cat in the Box. Designed by Fabien Gridel and Yoann Levet, with art by Sébastien Bizos, the game is literally an analog computer made out of cardboard — not unlike the original computational engine invented in 1936 by mathematician turned cryptanalyst Alan Turing.
The computer itself is the focus of a competitive deduction game, where players query a proto-computer for clues. The game boasts more than seven million problems to solve, all facilitated by a handy online app.
Ryan Lambert and Adam Rehberg’s Planet Unknown is the surprise winner in the Strategy Games category. Featuring a rotating game board with art by Yoma, Planet Unknown is a spacefaring game about the exploitation of habitable worlds outside our solar system. Players take turn developing their own personal exoplanet, dodging stellar phenomenon as they build out their engine to sustain future colonists. Runners-up include the highly regarded Return to Dark Tower and The Guild of Merchant Explorers.
Planet Unknown is currently out of stock, but you can sign up to learn when more copies may be available using a Google form.
Xavier Georges’ Carnegie, featuring art by Ian O’Toole, takes home the coveted Complex Games grand prize this year. The historical economic simulation asks players to “recruit and manage employees, expand your business, invest in real estate, produce and sell goods, and create transport chains across the United States.” It also sprinkles in some historical figures that the corrupt monopolist-turned-philanthropist Andrew Carnegie would have likely encountered on his way to becoming the richest man in the Gilded Age. Players are also able to spend their wealth to curry favor — just like the notorious robber barons of old.
Runners-up in this hotly contested category include Frosthaven and My Father’s Work.