Winning the NW LUCI Award

Joseph Z Chen
Jun 13, 2017 · 5 min read
NW LUCI Award for Best Design 2017

What a thrilling journey.

In some ways, Fantastic Factories winning the NW LUCI Award for Best Design feels like the end of journey. It’s a great accomplishment for me and my team, but in reality it’s only a milestone along the path to publishing a great game.

People have asked me what the LUCI Award means to me and the game. For me, it means validation. This is the first game that I’ve designed that I’ve put any effort into, and in a lot of ways that’s scary and exciting. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, the tabletop game design community welcomed me warmly and allowed me to play test Fantastic Factories at public events. However, with any play testing session, players understand what they are experiencing is not the finished product. Any positive feedback I received was considered within the context of an unpublished game still undergoing design and development.

David Fooden’s Destruct Sequence Disengage, winner of the LUCI Award for Best Family Game.

Fantastic Factories was also selected for the PAX South Indie Showcase, which I wrote about here. It was certainly a great honor to be selected, but the selection process just involved a brief video, no rulebook submission, and was judged primarily on its presentability and visual impact on the show floor.

The LUCI Award on the other hand was a rigorous process that underwent multiple rounds of scrutiny by industry experts. Submissions required a video and a rulebook. The eight finalists were announced and Fantastic Factories was one of them. Later, I learned that many of my friends and colleagues had also submitted great games but somehow didn’t make the cut.

Sean Epperson, designer of Click Click Boom, winner of the LUCI Award for People’s Choice, being interviewed.

After being selected as one of the eight finalists, the next step was showcasing the game at the Evergreen Tabletop Expo, where all five of the final judges would play the game in person. All five of the judges were tabletop gaming industry experts with some seriously respectable credentials including James Ernest, founder of Cheapass Games and designer of Tak and also Paul Peterson, designer of Guillotine and Smash Up.

The judges: Isaias Vallejo, Marie Poole, Liz Spain, James Ernest, and Paul Peterson.

The day of the event and judging was a long one. I knew the judges would only have 30 minutes to play, so I had developed an accelerated version of the game and was able to cut the play time in half by starting players out with a couple cards already in play and explaining the rules while playing at the same time.

The amount at stake felt intense.

Five player game of Fantastic Factories on a Geek Chic table.

After the judges finished playing all of the eight finalist games, they narrowed down the competition to just four games for the final round. During the final round they started conducting “Shark Tank” style questioning. All of the judges were sharp and didn’t hesitate at all to criticize/question any weaknesses in the games. They were very quick to narrow in on those weaknesses with Fantastic Factories, which revolved around the “take that” element of Sabotage and its role as a catch-up mechanic. You can watch the whole thing on Late Night Tabletop’s Twitch channel here.

Even though this was a very high pressure situation, I felt prepared and comfortable. At this point I’ve played or seen Fantastic Factories played a couple hundred times (and for a game that takes 30–60 minutes that’s no small amount). The fact is that I know the game better than anyone else — including the judges. I know its flaws — the same flaws that the judges were quick to point out. But these are the same problems I’ve spent the last year of development trying to solve as best as possible. I know how difficult it is, and I think I was able to convey my understanding of it and also explain why the design grew in the direction that it did.

In the end, Fantastic Factories won the LUCI Award for Best Design — chosen by a panel of industry judges. If that’s not validation for an unpublished game, then I’m not sure what is. And I have to say, validation feels good.

The Fantastic Factories team: Allen Tien, Joseph Z Chen, Justin Faulkner, and Javier Evans (not pictured)

So what’s next? Later that night, someone jokingly called out to me and said:

Hey, it’s award-winning designer, Joseph Chen!

If you’re interested in finding out more about Fantastic Factories you can sign up for the mailing list at or like the Facebook page.

And if you want to check out the winner of the People’s Choice LUCI Award, Click Click Boom is on Kickstarter right now until July 5th! Go check it out.

Joseph Z Chen

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Designer and artist for Fantastic Factories, a dice placement, engine building tabletop game. Preorder now: