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Cardboard Edison 2023 winner is a puzzly board game about microscopes, mosaics and algae

Plankton can be beautiful, too.

Diatoms prototype board game art used for Cardboard Edison 2023 awards
Image credit: Sabrina Culyba

The winners of this year’s Cardboard Edison have been announced, adorning garland on the best board games not yet published and available on shelves or internet store listings. Grand prize went to Diatoms, a mosaic-builder that reframes Victorian algae sciences as a puzzle-focused challenge to impress an eclectic batch of judges.

Every year, the Cardboard Edison panel takes submissions from across the globe and puts them through two rounds of judging before finally selecting three runners-up and a top winner. According to a press release from the design studio behind the award, Cardboard Edison received over 250 entries for 2023 before they were winnowed down to an initial crop of finalist in February.

Diatoms is the creation of game designer Sabrina Culyba, a multimedia artist with her fingers in everything from VR to theme parks and tabletop games. In this approachable title, two to four players attempt to build a mosaic composed of infinitesimal bits of algae cut onto slides and viewed beaneath the light of a microscope. These diatoms were the subject of a real historical society of Victorian-age scientists who would arrange the geometric plankton and other life-forms into aesthetic patterns on plates to compare with colleagues.

Wheels lists the 20 best new board games coming in 2023.Watch on YouTube

Diatoms’ tabletop recreation combines tile-placing mechanics with the now tried-and-true formula of gradually constructing a mosaic according to scoring objectives, a la Azul. Tiles placed to the board will create algae colonies and award players with diatom tokens. Everyone must work with the slimy bits they manage to grow while also satisfying the eclectic tastes of the visiting judges. The resulting collection will mirror the shapes and patterns of historical microscope slides from the artform’s first practitioners.

First runner-up went to Swords Over Scotland by Myles Wallace, a tabletop adaptation of wars and skirmishes between Scottish clans in the 14th century that combines area control and smooth combat with (of all things) bingo mechanics. Tony Tran’s Quilted followed suit, impressing judges with its two phases of drafting fabric squares for a large communal quilt before rushing to create their own in the back half of this competitive board game. Finally, third place was Bizarre Manor by Louis Blaise & Justine Vanhuffel. Players must entice monsters to their sprawling, tile-based homes by completing odd floor plan requirements before opponents manage to swoop in.

Run by Chris & Suzanne Zinsli, the Cardboard Edison award has been operating since 2016 and spotlighting board game ideas outside what normally smashes through crowdfunding records or clinches front row shelves at local game stores. Pprevious winners included Castell, Animal Kingdom and Umbra Via. 2021’s winner, Winter, will be published later this year. More information about the award and this year's spate of winners can be found on Cardboard Edison's official website.

An overview of Diatoms by its creator, Sabrina Culyba.Watch on YouTube

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