Just like previous years, the Spiel des Jahres jury is handing out two awards: the traditional Spiel des Jahres for family games and the Kennerspiel des Jahres for gamer’s games. At this point, it’s probably safe to assume that both awards are here to stay. And I really got over my initial skepticism, having two awards for two very different groups of players was the right decision and helps give good advice to everyone. Here’s what that advice is this year.
Rüdiger Dorn’s Istanbul (Pegasus Spiele) was one of the games I was sure I would find here. The basic rules are simple: you are a merchant trading in the busy bazaar of Istanbul, buying and selling goods and turning profits you make into rubies, because gems are a very stable currency. But to make a profit in the first place, you have to use the abilities of the 16 bazaar tiles well to trade, buy bonus tiles and more. But in some places, arriving at the right time is important, and on top of everything else you have to manage your assistants: wherever you take an action, one stays behind, and you have to recover them later, because without your assistants, you don’t get things done. There are many options in Istanbul and many ways to reach your goal, it certainly won’t get boring any time soon.
Finally, after never being nominated and last being on the jury’s picks list in 2007, Mac Gerdts is back in the running with Concordia (PD-Verlag). In this action selection games, players set out to make their fortune in the Roman Empire. To that purpose, they influence different characters, including Senators and Tribunes but also Colonists and Merchants, to build colonies in the empire, produce valuable good and sell them for profit. Unlike other games with the action selection mechanic, you can buy more personality cards and thus be able to perform the same action multiple times before spending a turn to pick up your played cards. Like all of Gerdts’s games, Concordia is intricate and strategic, and I’m happy to finally see his work appreciated with a KSdJ nomination.
Father-son team Stefan and Louis Malz made it to a Kennerspiel nomination with their second published design, Rokoko (eggertspiele, distributed by Pegasus Spiele). Okay, not quite true, with Matthias Cramer there was a third, slightly more experienced designer on the team, but nevertheless this is an amazing feat. Rokoko includes yet another take on deck-building where you’re not dependent on luck but only on your planning ability, but the main mechanic is action selection based on the cards from your deck. Not every card can perform every action, however, and they give you different bonuses as well. With your worker cards, you prepare King Louis XV’s ball, the social event of the season, tailoring dresses and preparing the ballroom to become the most prestigous party planner in France. An odd theme for sure, but the mechanics are very convincing.
Like I said in the commentary to the Spiel des Jahres nominees, there are more games on the list this year that didn’t originate in Germany. Guildhall is another one of those, designed by Hope Hwang and published by Alderac (German distribution by Pegasus Spiele), an unusual set collection game in what you can do with the sets of cards you’re collecting. To learn how the game works, check our review of the second part, Guildhall: Job Faire that has the same basic rules but a different set of cards.
For the first time ever, a kickstarted game has made it into to the list (Kingdom Builder, 2012’s KSdJ winner, was only kickstarted for the big box edition after it had won the award). I have already raved about Stefan Feld’s Amerigo (Queen Games) in the review, so I’ll spare you my big, googly Feld-fanboy eyes.
With Russian Railroads by Helmut Ohley and Leonhard Orgler (Hans im Glück), there is a train game on the jury’s pick list. You’re being paid to complete the Transsiberian Express and two other major Russian railroad tracks. And while you’re at it, you help advance the industrial revolution. That’s not to much to ask, is it? The mechanic here is worker placement – I was missing a worker placement game on the list this year – but there is much more to it than that. This is another game where I’m surprised not to see it in the nominees, but I wouldn’t know which of the nominated games to replace, either. I don’t envy the jury for having to choose three.
I’ll be honest, seeing Kalle Krenzer’s Blood Bound (Heidelberger Spieleverlag) on the list came as a surprise to me. I had it pegged as another hidden identity game in the style of Werewolves, and as such as more of a candidate for regular Spiel des Jahres, if anything. But I haven’t played it, or even looked into it much because of my preconception, and I’ll admit here and now that I was likely very wrong about this game. Seeing it here, I’ll certainly go and give it a good try.
Just for a change, I’m not going to pick favorites. Out of the three nominees (plus, actually, Amerigo and Russian Railroads) I wouldn’t know which to pick. All of them deserve the award, in my not at all humble opinion, and picking just one will be very hard indeed. I could maybe think of another game or two that would deserve to be here, but I wouldn’t know which to take out in their place. So instead, I’ll just wish good luck to all designers.