Our Judging Process for the Thousand-Year Game Design Challenge

My wife and I are halfway done reviewing, playing and judging the entries to the Thousand-Year Game Design Challenge. (Asterisks note games we've judged so far.) It's been an interesting experience to say the least. I'm glad we've had a few months' time for this phase, because we needed every minute with our busy schedules. Here's an explanation of our judging process so far.

1. Read
Naturally, the first step of the process is reading the rules of the game. If we can understand how to play the game from a direct reading of the rules as written by the designer, then we'll proceed to the next step. We really do give it our best effort to read and comprehend the rules text. Sadly, in a very few cases, some entries do get taken out of contention in this first step simply because we can't figure out how to play from the text.

2. Setup
We gather whatever game components are called for by the text. In some cases, this is as simple as a piece of paper and a pencil. In other cases, the components are extremely specific, unique or numerous. As you might imagine, we have a LOT of game components in our house. If an entry calls for components so specific or so numerous that we can't assemble an adequate play set, that's a red flag for us. If a household with as many game-bits as us can't put together a play set, it's not likely many others would be able to either. Perhaps that policy is harsh, but we have so many entries that create elegant, fun experiences without unique components that we really have to grade based on that context.

3. Play
And then, of course, we play the actual game. We'll play as many times as we can, so that we fully get a sense of how the game feels and to make sure we properly understand the rules. If the game actually stays fun each time we play, that gives us a strong feeling that the entry is a good contender to win the challenge. Throughout play, we take notes in our little journal (seen above, handmade by Sara Hindmarch aka Repaper).

4. Analyze
We ask each other a few questions in a very informal way. – Would you play again? Did you find it more fun the first or second time? Were the rules clear enough at first? How does this entry compare to the other entries so far? Is it more accessible than the others? Is it more sustainable to produce than the others? Is it more fun than the others? – I'm the more abstract player of the two of us. My wife has the strongest sense of elegance and accessibility.

So that's how we're proceeding. We're on track to finish judging the rest of the entries over the next two months. A few of them require three or more players, so I'll rope in some of the local Durhamites to do some playing and judging of their own.
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.