A few weeks ago, we announced our finalists for the 2020 GeekDad Game of the Year. Over the course of last week, we convened a panel of judges and played through all ten games on Tabletop Simulator and Tabletopia. A couple of the games, we played again.
It was, as always, a hard choice, made harder this year by the inability to get together in person, since all of the finalists are really great games, but in the end we had to pick one, and so, without further ado, our Game of Year for 2020: Abandon All Artichokes.
I am very pleased that this, our fourth Game of the Year, is our first winning game designed by a woman: Emma Larkins. Congratulations to Emma, as well as the publisher, Gamewright, and the illustrator, Bonnie Pang!
Anyway, you can read Jonathan’s original review here, and keep reading to see what we had to say about it.
This is a fairly rare case of a game I already owned by the time Jonathan reviewed it. I had the opportunity to meet Emma at Gen Con in 2019, and when I saw that she had designed this game, I immediately purchased a copy. It certainly helped that deck-building is one of my favorite mechanics, so I was interested to see her take.
This is also a case (much less rare) that I wholeheartedly agreed with Jonathan’s decision to give it GeekDad Approved status. If I had been the one reviewing it, I would have done the same.
One of the things I like the best about Artichokes is that, yes, it’s a light “filler” game, but it’s a light “filler” game that you can use to potentially introduce the deck-building mechanic. If I had a game night (remember those?) and I was trying to get my group to play one of the bigger deck-builders like Thunderstone Quest or Clank! or My Story, I could use this to get folks who haven’t played any games in that genre familiar with the concepts of deck-building, all in under 10 minutes.
Artichokes is going to find its way under the tree of several of my friends and family members this Christmas, and I look forward to eventually returning to in-person game nights and getting to play it many more times in the future.
A filler game…as Game of the Year? Well, why not? After all, it’s those filler games that likely will see the most time on your gaming tables, as they’re quick to learn and play. A good filler game will get brought out year in and year out, while some of those heavier-weight games (mechanics-wise and literally) will remain on the shelf gathering dust when you recall just how long it takes to set them up and dig through their 40-page rulebooks.
I’m a big fan of games with deck-building, much like many of my fellow reviewers and gamers. One of the great things about Abandon All Artichokes is that it functions as an ideal introduction to deck-building as well as being an engaging game. It teaches deck-building by being a “deck-wrecking” game, where everyone starts with an identical hand of 10 artichoke cards, which you’re trying to get rid of by adding in various other vegetables, each with their own special abilities. This goal really distills the mechanics of deck-building into a clearly understandable form, and allows players to focus on their strategies for how best to clear those pesky artichokes from their decks.
Importantly, this is one of those games that is wonderful for families, but also a lot of fun for adults to play after the kids have gone to bed. There’s plenty of player interaction, and even a bit of “take that,” but never in a way that is devastating like it can be in certain other games. And the terrific anthropomorphic vegetable artwork and artichoke-shaped game tin all add to the enjoyment of this charming game.
Choosing a single Game of the Year from all of the fantastic options is always difficult, not least because it’s hard to compare a compact card game to a sprawling miniatures-filled heavyweight: each has its target audience and fans. But this year, it feels appropriate to highlight a game that you can learn to play in a few minutes, and one that is friendly to both young kids and adults who don’t normally play a lot of games—because for many parents, that’s who we’re playing games with this year. Our awards decision isn’t made in a vacuum, made all the more clear by the fact that our playthroughs were all conducted online instead of in person. For 2020, it may be difficult to get a group together to play something that requires some intense concentration and long-term planning, but Abandon All Artichokes is one that will please a broad range of players. Plus, there’s something deeply satisfying about clearing out the things you don’t want and building something better.
While Abandon All Artichokes may be a tiny game that looks like it’s mostly for kids, I think it will be the sort of game that will show up on frequently recommended games alongside titles like Sushi Go and Love Letter. I like that its focus on deck-wrecking and direct player interaction are things that you don’t always find in many other deck-building games, so even in a well-known genre it manages to stay fresh and stand out.
Being a UK-based GeekDad, one small silver-lining of 2020, is that for the first time ever I was able to participate in the Game of the Year panel. Normally, travel costs are prohibitive, but with the move to digital versions of the games, I was able to join in too.
Abandon All Artichokes ticks lots of boxes for me. I enjoy deck-building games, but sometimes they can be all about focusing on what’s going on directly in front of you. With Abandon All Artichokes you have to look and take note of what’s happening around the table, and you have to concentrate on what’s going on during other players’ turns, because you may need to swap cards with them, or suddenly find yourself the recipient of an onion. (How many games can you say that about?) Its deck-wrecking aspect makes it very interactive for a deck-building game.
Of all the games we played, it was the easiest to learn, which is another huge selling point for me. Games with the family are fun, but I find the hook of the game has to be easy to see, otherwise, various members of my family quickly lose interest. Abandon All Artichokes is appealing across age groups, and its funky artwork (by Bonnie Pang) is enticing to young players, without alienating older (teenaged) ones.
Above all, the game’s universal appeal means a) there most definitely will be a copy under the Brooks Christmas tree this year, and b) I was more than happy to vote for Abandon All Artichokes as my choice for GeekDad Game of the Year.