Spiel des Jahres 2012

We interrupt our regular Tuesday news program for this weeks irregular news program. The nominees for this year’s Spiel des Jahres award were announced yesterday, and they take precedence. We already presented the nominees and jury’s recommendation for Kennerspiel des Jahres yesterday, today we’ll continue with the regular Spiel des Jahres. The jury is making good use of the newly introduced distinction between complex games and family-friendly games this year. all three nominees for Spiel des Jahres are recommended for ages eight and up and only one game from the recommendation list is deemed suitable for age ten and higher only.

The Nominees



Although this game by Stefan Dorra and Ralf zur Linde (published by Schmidt Spiele)would be completely okay to play in any foreign language, the title needs some explanation. Eselsbrücke literally relates to donkey’s bridge and is a common German word for a memory hook in the form of a short story or sentence, with a very interesting etymology according to German Wikipedia. Consequently, the game Eselsbrücke is about coming up with a short story to remember sets of mostly unrelated and sometimes hilariously unrelated words. Each player creates two stories to start with, then from the third story on the other players have to try and remember words from the earlier stories to score points. With each story having three or more words, that’s a lot of words flying around even with the minimum of three players.



Rüdiger Dorn’s Vegas is probably the only alea game that could be nominated for Spiel des Jahres instead of Kennerspiel: it clocks in at a one on the alea scale of complexity. Vegas is a game involving lots of luck, some tactics and maybe basic probabilities, if you want to overthink things. Each round, you roll a handful of dice, pick one number and add all dice showing that number to the matching casino. When all players distributed all their dice, the casinos’ winnings are distributed: the player with most dice in a casino gets the most money and you can guess the rest. But in case of a tie, all players involved get nothing. A game playing this quickly should easily accommodate eight players as announced, and there will certainly be enough frustration to go around for everyone.

Kingdom Builder

Kingdom Builder
Kingdom Builder

Out of this year’s nominees, Donald X. “Mr. Dominion” Vaccarino’s Kingdom Builder (Queen Games) is the most complex game and also the game that most people on the world wide tubes expected to see here. While, basically, you’re only placing many meeple-sized houses on the map there are a couple of things to keep things interesting: on any given turn, you may only built your meeple huts on one type of terrain, they (usually) have to connect to your existing houses, some spots earn you extra actions and, most important, the scoring rules change every game. One game, you want to build next to water, in as many lines as possible and next to mountains. Next game, having the most houses in one sector of the map, as many as you can on one line and connecting locations makes you win. The board also ends up differently each time, you have to play many games before you find the same conditions again.

The Jury Recommends

The jury recommends quite a lot more here than they do for the Kennerspiel, I’ll try to keep each entry short. But all games here are less complex as well, so they’ll take less space anyway.


The lightest game here, intended for ages six and up, Drecksau (Kosmos) is a game about getting your pigs dirty. That’s not a euphemism, that’s the actual goal of the game. Each player has three pigs, one mud card is enough to get them dirty. But rain cards wash all dirty pigs. Except if they are protected by a barn. But lightning destroys barns. Except when they have a lightning rod. Farmers clean one pig only – not usually your own – but pigs can be protected by a barn with a lock. The target audience will certainly enjoy theme and mechanics.


Indigo (Ravensburger) is a very classic path-building games, but a really good-looking one at that. Each hexagonal tile shows three paths connecting two random sides. From these tiles you construct ways from the treasure chambers to your exit gates to win gems. With two players, building these paths quickly is all you have to do. With three or four players, however, exit gates are shared with another player who wins the same gems as you when you use that gate. Now chosing the right gate becomes a priority.


Antonio Scrittore’s Kalimambo (Zoch)  is an example that some chaos can make great games. A group of explorers (the players) are following the fantasy creature Kali through the savannah and are themselves followed by Kali’s friend Mambo, the rhino. Players simultaneously choose cards to decide in what order they move to the front of the queue – only never past Kali, who plays with random cards. Stepping in elephant poo is obviously bad for you, and when Mambo starts charging – when the player right in front of him moves – being the last player in line is not fun either. A game about bluffing and schadenfreude.

Kulami (photo by Steffen Spiele)
Kulami (photo by Steffen Spiele)


The first really abstract game on the list, Kulami by Steffen Spiele is intriguingly simple. The board is composed randomly from rectangular tiles  with two to six pits where you can place your colour’s marbles. At game’s end, each tile counts for the player with the marble majority. But when placing your marbles, it has to be on the same line (horizontally or vertically) as your opponent’s previous marble.


Miss Lupun und das Geheimnis der Zahlen

Another abstract game, Miss Lupun and the Secret of Numbers is a math-based tile-laying game. Each player has to fulfill their secret missions, be they to only have even numbers in one line, to not exceed a certain sum or simply to have the same value in two places on the board. You can guess how often your goals will be compatible with the other player’s goals …


Pictomania (Pegasus) by multi-talent Vlaada Chvatil – honestly, in which genre didn’t he create a great game yet? – is a drawing game. Unfortunately for me, it’s the kind where you actually need some drawing ability. Fortunately for me, however, no one can concentrate on their own drawing anyway because all players draw their picture at the same time, while everyone is also guessing what the other player’s drawing could be.

 Santa Cruz

We talked about Santa Cruz (Hans im Glück) in the news just a few weeks back. It’s the game where you explore the same island twice. You move from the coast towards the center, along rivers or roads and hope to profit from the other players’ scoring cards as much as from your own. That’s where the second exploration comes in: some of the scoring cards will still be in the game, and if you guess right which one you have a good chance to win.

Rapa Nui

A game from the neighbourhood of the meeple cave – author Klaus-Jürgen Wrede hails from our neck of the woods here in Germany – and another mention for Kosmos, who are quite well represented this year. Rapa Nui lets you build moai – that’s the giant stone statues on Easter Island, for the touristically challenged. You employ different tribe members – priests, lumberjacks and hunter-gatherers – to collect resources for you. Wood is used to build a moai, when that happens every player makes a sacrifice. The number of sacrifices of one kind determines the value your hand cards of that type have at the end of the game – only when you sacrifice them, they are not in your hand any more. From the nominees and recommendations for Spiel des Jahres this year, Rapa Nui is the most complex game and could just as well have ended up in Kennerspiel des Jahres.


That’s this years games. Which ones are you missing in the list? Which will win? Let us know, every right guess wins eternal bragging rights. And come back later this week when we look at the kid’s games, if you’re interested in those.

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