Can you smell it? It’s that time of the year again, the time when the Spiel des Jahres nominees are announced. Just like previous years, the jury nominated games in the three categories Kinderspiel (Kid’s Game), Spiel and Kennerspiel (Gamer’s Game) with three nominations for the award in each category plus a few more that the jury recommends but that are not in the running for the award.
Unlike previous years, when we often disagreed with the jury’s choices, this year there’s a good deal of overlap between what we’d pick and what the jury nominated. As always, one of the ground rules is that to be eligible games must have been released in the last twelve months in Germany, in German. That disqualifies some other games we would have picked, but the games that made it are all solid choices this year.
Let’s first have a luck at the Spiel des Jahres nominations.
We already reviewed Vlaada Chvátil’s word game Codenames, German edition by Heidelberger, so there’s not much to add here. It’s a game the box says is suitable for up to eight players, but can easily be played with more. In a grid of 25 word cards, two teams have to identify the code names of their side’s agents, but the team’s spymaster may only give one word clues what the code names are. To be quicker than the other team he has to come up with clues matching as many code names as possible, but which his team has to be able to guess, too. Thinking outside the box is key here.
The second nominee is Phil Walker-Harding’s Imhotep, published by Kosmos. It’s an interactive strategy game where the players are architects in ancient Egypt. In that role, they break stones from their quarry, load them on boats and transport them to four building sites. Interaction enters the equation with the boats. Players can only take one action per turn – get stones, load a stone, play an action card or steer a boat to the construction site – and the boats are shared between all players. So if you load stones on a boat on your turn, an opponent might take that boat to a construction site on their turn, and that might or might not be the site you wanted to go. Since the four construction sites have different scoring rules and, in the advanced variant, other bonuses, where you end up is important, so make sure you bet on the right boat.
Just reading the rules and looking at the recommended age of 10 years, Imhotep seems heavier than Spiel nominees in recent years. I hope that becomes a trend again since I found the jury generally picked too light games.
Haba was formerly only known for their excellent games for very young children, only last year did they enter the market for (slightly) older players as well. One of the three games in their starting lineup, Rüdiger Dorn’s Karuba, went right on to earn a Spiel des Jahres nomination. Unlike its competitors, Karuba is a game with no real interaction whatsoever. All players have their own board on which they move four adventurers to four temples, all placed in the same position on each players’ board. At first, the jungle the adventurers must cross is without paths. For each turn, one player draws a path tile and places it on his jungle board, all other players then find the same tile from their own supply and place it on their boards, each trying to build the best ways from the same tiles. It sounds a lot like Take it Easy! so far, but there’s a twist to that recipe. Instead of placing a tile on their board, a player can choose to discard it and move on of their adventurers instead, collecting jewels in the jungle and even bigger treasures when he reaches his temple. That added option adds a lot to the game.
Now, how will it go? Who will win? Everyone here at the Meeple Cave loves Codenames to pieces, and Vlaada deserves to win this year’s award. But traditionally, Spiel des Jahres is much more likely to be a family game. Both Karuba and Imhotep fit that bill, and both look like excellent games. So it comes down to a heavier, more interactive game or a lighter game with no interaction. The jury mostly favored more interactive games, but recently they also favored lighter games. It could go either way, but my money’s on Imhotep for this year. What’s your bet?
The Jury’s Recommendations
The first Jury’s Pick this year is Agent Undercover by Alexander Ushan, published by Piatnik. It’s what they call a social deduction game, a game where you have to gather information just talking to the other players. In this case, the information most players are looking for is: who is the spy. The spy, on the other hand, wants to know: where the hell are we. All players receive a location card each round, the spy’s not naming the location but just telling him that he’s the spy. Then they start asking each other questions about their location, like “Is it hot where we are?” The non-spies will know and be able to answer, the spy will just have to pull something from his … imagination. He wins if he figures out the right location before he’s discovered, the other players win if they discover him first.
Animals on Board
Animals on Board by Ralf zur Linde and Wolfgang Senkter, published by Pegasus and eggertspiele, lets players load their own arks. Groups of animals wait to be loaded on the boats, but players have to be able to feed them before they can load them. They have two options on their turn, either they split a group of animals and take a portion of food, or they take one group and pay one piece of food for each animal in that group. When all animals are loaded players score points for single animals and groups of three or more of a species. But not for pairs, some guy called Noah has a monopoly on those.
Die fiesen 7
First thing I want to mention about Die fiesen 7 (probably The mean 7, if it gets a release outside Germany) is its publisher. Drei Hasen in der Abendsonne (Three hares in the evening sun) is just too beautiful. The game by Jacques Zeimet is one of those where you have to do something quickly and not get confused by what is going on. Play goes around the table with each player saying one number, first counting up to seven, then back down to one. Unless a card was played that says they have to say nothing, or count two numbers, clear their throat or do other things, potentially more distracting. Get it wrong or be to slow and you have to pick up all cards from the discard pile. Winner is the first player to get rid of his cards.
Nominating Codenames was not enough, with Krazy Words another word game has caught the jury’s eye this year. In the game by Dirk Baumann, Thomas Odenhoven and Matthias Schmitt, published by Fishtank (a Ravensburger brand) each player gets a different task and a few letters to create an answer. Tasks in the family edition are harmless things like “A tooth fairy’s name”, but there is an adult edition where tasks include “Something that makes the pope blush” or “An erotic actor’s or actress’s name.” The point is not to create a right answer – what is the tooth fairy’s name, anyway – but to guess which made up word goes with what task.
Last entry in the recommendation list is Qwinto, a new dice game by Uwe Rapp and Bernhard Lach, that builds on the formula of previous Spiel des Jahres nominee Qwixx. Like that game, which was also published by Nürnberger Spielkarten Verlag, one player rolls the dice and all player may enter the result on their score sheet. Qwinto seems more forgiving than Qwixx at first glance, players may place numbers wherever they want on their score sheet, not only to the right of the previous number, but they still have to be in ascending order and now the same number may not appear more than once in the same column, either. Qwinto doesn’t sound like much, but that’s what I thought about Qwixx, too, and I still get that from the shelf sometimes.
And that’s it for this year’s Spiel des Jahres nominations. We’ll get into the Kennerspiel des Jahres tomorrow and the Kinderspiel on Thursday, so be sure to check back if you’re curious about those. Until then, do you have a guess which game will win the award this year? Let us know in the comments, we want to know what you think!