The nominees for this year’s Spiel des Jahres awards were announced this morning. Since that seem is what is most interesting to us, and as far as we know most of our readers, we’ll start with a look at the Kennerspiel des Jahres nominations. I’ve had that look already, and I think I’ve never been so wrong about games that made the list. Before I tell you what I expected, here’s what really happened.
This game by Andreas Pelikan and Alexander Pfister was in our news only a few weeks ago. Broom Service is a new game based on the setting and core mechanics of Pelikan’s Witch’s Brew from 2008. The main mechanic that is the same between both games is the role selection. Each round, all players pick some of their character cards. The first player then plays one of the selected cards, announcing himself to be that character. Other players, in order, may now reveal the same card if they selected it and decide to use one of two possible actions. If they settle for the less powerful favor action, they may do it immediately and the original player may still perform his action. If, however, a player wants the full action, he takes it from the original player. The full action is always more powerful than the favor action, but if there is another player down the line who also picked the same character card, he may still the full action again. Only the last player to take a card’s full action actually gets to do it. It’s not the heaviest of games, but the role selection is fun and tense with a nice smattering of bluffing and guessing what the others are up to. (Publisher: alea/Ravensburger)
Elysium is a card game set in Greek mythology by Brett Gilbert and Matthew Dunstan. The box contains eight sets of cards, each belonging to one of the gods of Olympus, but you’ll only use five sets per game. Since they all have very different abilities, the different combinations have a great influence on the game. For instance, Hephaestus the Smith deals with money. His cards allow players to take gold coins, exchange victory points for gold and use gold to craft legends. For a different example Apollo is the god of the Sun and of Prophecies. When he is in play, some cards from the next epoch are always visible, and using Apollo’s cards players may gain access to these cards before their time has actually come. Just exchanging one of these gods for the other may lead to a very different game. Your ultimate goal is to lead your heroes into Elysium, the afterlife of Heroes. You only have limited chances to do so, but once a card is there you can not use its ability any more, so which card to transfer and when is a tough decision every time. (Publisher: Space Cowboys)
There’s nothing that can’t be build in a game. There’s deck-building, dice-building and Orléans by Reiner Stockhausen uses bag-building. In the medieval Loire valley around Orleans, players hire specialists – Merchants, Knights, Scholars, … – to work for them. Those specialists go into their employers draw bag, and when she draws them from there again, she may use them for their specific actions. Craftsmen can create tools and trading posts, Knights expand your area of influence, Scholars make scientific discoveries. Hiring the right people is not the only thing, using them well is also required to win. (Publisher: dlp games)
The Jury’s Recommendations
Fields of Arle
I think I said everything about Uwe Rosenberg’s monumental two-player strategy game in rural Frisia in our review. (Publisher: Feuerland Spiele)
The Voyages of Marco Polo
The title says it all, doesn’t it? In this game by Simone Luciani and Daniele Tascini, players recreate Marco Polo’s legendary expedition to China. It’s a game about using your dice well. In each of the five rounds, players roll five dice and then take turns using them for actions. Those actions include buying resources and camels, trading resources for other resources and victory points and, of course, traveling eastwards. Reaching a city along the different routes to travel unlocks further actions that can be used from then on. Players interact with their dice in various ways, using a dice to by resources, for example, sets the price the next player will have to pay to get the same resource. (Publisher: Hans im Glück)
And we’re straight back to antiquity with Sébastien Dujardin’s civilization builder Deus. I think this might actually be the first time a civilization builder was on the list for any Spiel des Jahres, but then it is a light one, as this genre goes. With the cards in his hand, a player has two options on his turn. Either he constructs a building, putting a building on the board and placing the card on the pile of cards of the same color he already played. Doing that activates all cards in that stack for special actions. Alternatively, cards can be sacrificed to the gods. The color of one card sacrificed decides which god responds, the number of cards discarded determines how big a favor he’ll be willing to grant you. (Publisher: Pearl Games)
Now, for the commentary, let me say first of all that I don’t think any of the games above doesn’t belong there. The ones I know are great games, and I’m sure so are the others – I will find out soon enough. That being said, I do miss basically all the games that I expected to see here. Fields of Arle is the one game I expected to see that actually made the list. But where’s Bruno Cathala’s Five Tribes, one of the most talked about games of last year? Where’s The Staufer Dynasty, a game that just last week I would have bet money would be here? Where’s Imperial Settlers? And I wasn’t even thinking about Alchemists, a game that I think deserved to be here but didn’t expect to see because it includes a mobile app, I somehow have the jury down as slightly more traditional.
I’m not saying any of the other games should be booted from the list to make space for my picks. And I’m perfectly aware that there is limited space in these awards and there are too many games that deserve to be there to include them all. That, by the way, is the main reason we’re not giving out a yearly Meople’s Magazine award, we just wouldn’t be able to decide. But in the Kennerspiel category, there are only three games on the Recommendation List. There is “not wanting to water down the list” and then there is keeping secrets from people. I’m honestly a bit annoyed by the short recommendation list.
That’s my rant over. I wish the best of luck to the three nominees, I’m sure they all deserve to win the award and I’m glad I don’t have to make the decision who does in the end.