Posted by Oliphant Science Awards

on 25/03/2021

by Dagmar Preusker

The Oliphant Science Awards attract a very high standard of entries as well as a large number from right across South Australia, this means that unfortunately there isn’t the time to play every game and check them all for scientific content so a process of shortlisting occurs based on the criteria below.

What do I look for when judging the games in the Oliphant Awards?

The very first thing I look for is whether all the criteria have been met. You can have the best entry in the competition but if it doesn’t meet the criteria it doesn’t get further than the first look. One of the things often forgotten is to clearly show the number of players and the ages the game is targeted at. It is part of the criteria. If it easy to find and clearly stated it gets all the ticks.

You can check the rules for Games entries and download a copy of the judging rubric here.

The next thing I look for when all the criteria are met is visual appeal. Does the box make me want to see what the game is about? Try to decorate the box so that it gives clues as to what the game is all about. Again your game may be brilliant in the concept but will score lower against one which has a great concept and good visual appeal. We all use the same rubric and visual appeal is one of the important criteria. And don't forget there are restrictions on the weight and dimensions of the game!

How well made the game is also a criteria at this stage. If handwritten, is it neat and legible? Are there spelling errors and are cards cut out neatly? You don’t need to send your game to Officeworks for a professional look but you do need to cut straight and not have the cardboard chewed by blunt scissors; use pen or fineliners rather than thick markers; and make sure colouring in is neat and inside the lines.

After I have shortlisted the games according to the above criteria then I look more closely at the games that are left. The first thing is whether the game is an original idea. A lot of games seem to be an adaptation of other games or simply roll and move. Games where you roll the dice and move as many spaces, triggering actions or decisions that need to be made based on where you land, often depend on luck rather than using or understanding science concepts. Question and answer games are marginally better as they at least reward the player for knowing the science facts. 

The games which stand out and are usually the winners are games that have either a new twist on an old idea or have a new way of winning or moving around the board.

This usually reduces the number of games to about 8 to 10 in a particular age category and I then look at these more thoroughly. Is the science content correct and do you either need to know science facts or use them to win the game? That leaves me with about 5 games to play. Accurate science content and players learning about the scientific content, not just winning by chance or good luck are two of the main criteria for this category.

Playing the games is the fun part! This is where we find out if the rules are easy to follow, clear and unambiguous. Can they be interpreted in other ways which could lead to arguments and is the game really playable? Sometimes we get games that look really great but when it comes down to playing them they fall down. A game is no fun if one player can dominate the board and finish in one or 2 turns and everyone else just sits at the start waiting or if arguments start because the rules aren’t clear.

Finally, we end up with first, second and third place as well as some highly commended games. At this point, we usually get other judges to come and give their opinions, especially if the results are close.

I hope these hints help and have fun making your games!


Dagmar Preusker has been a judge of the Games category of the Oliphant Science Awards for over 10 years.

You can view all the 2020 Games winning entries here.