Today is the day many boardgamers all over the world are waiting for every year. No, it’s not the Essen fair yet, that would be a bit early. Today is the day the Spiel des Jahres nominees were announced. I know, not everyone considers it a big deal any more with all the other awards out there, but lets face it: Spiel des Jahres is still one of the, if not the most prestigious boardgame awards, and the jury usually shows very good taste in their selection. And this year is no different, lets see the nominees for the Spiel des Jahres 2014. (UPDATE: Kennerspiel des Jahres nominations are now presented here.)
The first nominee is Camel Up, Steffen Bogen’s camel race game published by eggertspiele and distributed by Pegasus. The race happens on a simple round course once around the game board and the central pyramid, but there are several twists in the game. You see, Camel Up is more of a betting game than a racing game, because the camels don’t belong to a player, they just race and players score by betting on which camels will be in the first two spots for each stage, and on which camel will win or lose the whole race. The more innovative twists, however, is that camels can ride piggyback on other camels, and you might see a whole camel tower zooming past. The situation can thus change quickly, but betting early is rewarded. As the camels move by dice and you have very little influence on how they move, Camel Up obviously involves a lot of luck. But remember that Spiel des Jahres is the award for family games, so that’s not a stigma on the game, and it does sound like the fun kind of chaos. Did I mention you can play with up to eight players for even more chaos?
Marc André’s Splendor (published by Space Cowboys, distributed by Asmodee) has recently made some waves as a game with very simple rules but engaging play. Players are gem merchants who spend their differently coloured gems on development cards which are worth points, but also grant you a bonus gem that you may always discount from future purchases. By collecting the right bonuses, you may also attract nobles to your estate who bring you even more points. The trick is to collect the right bonuses that no one else is going for. If you run out of gems, you can simply pick up more, but that’s your action for this turn, so the more bonuses you can bring to bear the faster you can collect.
There’s not much to say about Gaëtan Beaujannot and Alain Rivollet’s Concept (published by Repos Production, distributed by Asmodee) that Niko hasn’t already said in his review of the game. It’s a word-guessing type party game that is completely and entirely different from others of the kind that you have tried. It forces your thinking in quite a different direction, not describing but categorizing. It is also a real looker, with its minimalist white design and brightly coloured category markers.
Beyond the nominations, the Jury traditionally publishes a list of game recommendations that didn’t quite make the short list but are nevertheless games to keep an eye on the next time you’re looking for something new.
Voll Schaf (which is a German pun from “voll scharf” – “really hot/great” and “Schaf” – “sheep”, the original name is Battle Sheep) by Francesco Rotta (published by HUCH! & friends) is a light, tactical game with no element of luck whatsoever and rules you can learn in a minute or less. On the variable hex game board, each player starts with a high pile of sheep chips. Each turn, you split one of your sheep piles into half, leave one part where it is and move the other one in a straight line until you reach the edge of the board or another pile of sheep. That’s it, all the rules explained. Your main goal is to trap the other players’ sheep while still being able to move yourself. It’s really easy to grasp, but requires some planning ahead to win.
SOS Titanic by Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc (Ludonaute, German distribution by Heidelberger) is a Patience card game very similar to the Solitaire game that it seems is mandatory to ship with every operating system for your computer. Unlike traditional Solitaire games, however, SOS Titanic is not necessarily played alone – although it can be – has special cards and different player powers and is about rescuing passengers from the Titanic. If you couldn’t guess. It’s a light, cooperative game and may be the first to successfully use a binder as a game board.
I’m happy that Seiji Kanai’s Love Letter (Alderac) is available in a German edition from Pegasus, because that makes it eligible to be on this list. A very simple game with only 16 cards and a big helping of schadenfreude, you can find our review here.
Potato Man by Günter Burkhardt and Wolfgang Lehmann (Zoch) is a trick taking game that sounds bit confusing when you first hear about it. But when you get into it, you quickly find out that it is just that confusing. Unlike other trick taking games, you don’t have to follow the trick’s suit but have to play another suit. Which would be not so bad, if the values in each suit weren’t different as well, if the lowest card in the game (Potato Man) couldn’t beat the highest (Evil Potato) and if you didn’t take your potato sacks in the color you took the trick in, which are worth different amounts of points, too.
I’m not surprised to see Sanssouci by Michael Kiesling (Ravensburger) here. Well, maybe a little surprised that it’s not up there with the nominees, because it has everything the jury looks for: a beautiful and peaceful theme – landscape architecture around the palace of Sanssouci – simple rules, a healthy mix of luck and strategy, pretty components, and of course meeples! Oh no, wait, that last one was what I’m looking for, not the jury. You can find out details about Sanssouci in our review.
Of the games I know on these lists – nominees and jury’s picks – there’s not a single one that doesn’t belong here, and the ones I don’t know sound very good as well. My impression (without checking back, because I learned that real journalists don’t check their facts) is that this year there are more games on the list that didn’t originate in Germany. With Concept and Splendor, two nominees hail from France and Belgium, respectively. Two of the jury picks (SOS Titanic and Voll Schaf) are also French and with Love Letter there is even a US game that originally originated in Japan. All those have a German distributor, of course, because otherwise they wouldn’t be eligible to be here, but I’m happy to see more games from international authors on the list.
What I’m unsure about is missing games. From the top of my head, I can’t think of any game where I thought that it would certainly be on here and isn’t. But my memory is not what it used to be, and it was never all that good, so help me out here: were there any games that you were sure would be nominated? Let us know in the comments.