Nominal Award: Best Tile Placement Game
Mechanics: Tile Placement, Bidding
One of the well known games of "the canon" is Carcassonne. It doesn't get as much play time with me anymore, even though I loved it when it was new and novel. If I could put a finger on why I don't play it as much, that would be the luck of tile drawing. After you've played a few times, Carcassonne is reduced to a game of probabilities. What it needs is some strategy around how the tiles are picked. Isle of Skye makes this improvement.
Isle of Skye is a tile placing game. Unlike Carcassonne, players place square tiles in their own map (as opposed to a communal map.) Scoring happens at the end of each round. What actually scores points various from game to game (you draw tiles at the beginning of each game to reveal what types of tiles or arrangements will be worth points.) For example, continuous roads, enclosed mountain ranges or sheep tiles might be worth points. Every tile had a variety of features on it. Some tiles are therefore more highly valued than others. Certain rules apply to the placement of times : lakes must border lakes, mountains must border mountains, etcetera.
What sets this game apart is, unlike Carcassonne, three tiles are drawn by each player at the same time and, also simultaneously, players place bids on how they think each of the three tiles should be valued. After everyone had placed their bids, the bids are revealed and, in turn order, players decide which tiles they'd like to buy. Money is paid to the player who placed the bid, however, if a tile is not sold, that player must buy the tile for his or herself.
This bidding process is a brilliant mechanic. If you bid too high on a tile and no one buy it, you yourself must pay that price for it. If they do but it, you keep the money. If it's a tile you want, you have to find the price that you'd be willing to take as compensation for not getting it. Since you have three tiles, (one of which is always "axed" and removed from the market) you can also try to deter people from buying the one you want by lowering the price of the one you don't want. There are probably half a dozen other strategies involved in how you bid on tiles. The game, therefore, is entirely in the bidding. Only after all purchases have been made do you actually place the tile. The scoring of Isle of Skye is admittedly arbitrary. I certainly don't feel like a Scottish lord while I play the game, but I don't know of a tile placing game that is thematically any stronger.