The nominations for Spiel des Jahres and Kennerspiel des Jahres 2016 will have given you some new games to keep an eye out for. The third category will probably not have too many games you want for yourself – but I don’t judge you if you do. But to spend quality time with your kids and raise the next generation of gamers, this is where you want to look: the Kinderspiel des Jahres 2016.
Leo goes to the barber
I was more than a bit surprised to see a game by Leo Colovini, designer of Incognito, in this category. But a great game designer can work on a wide spectrum, and Leo goes to the barber (Leo muss zum Friseur, by abacusspiele) is a game I would definitely want to play with my kids. It’s a cooperative memory game about a lion on his way to have his mane cut. On their turn, a player plays one movement card and moves Leo the number of spaces on the jungle path. Then the jungle tile Leo arrives on is flipped over. If it shows an animal and the tile’s color does not match the color of the movement card played then chatty lion Leo stays for a bit of gossip and loses time. He only has twelve hours to get to the barber shop or the shop is closed already when he arrives. When that happens, all jungle tiles are turned face down again and he has to try again the next day. Now the players know what some of the tiles are, so they can avoid the big time wasters or get there with a card of the right color. The kids have five days to make it to the barber, each day learning more about the jungle path. The second challenge besides memorizing the jungle path is coordinating what card each player can play to lose the least time, a beautiful introduction to the basics of cooperative games.
It seems to be a good year for cooperative games by famous game designers for older players. The second nominee, Mmm! (Pegasus Spiele) is a cooperative dice game by Reiner Knizia. The players help gather food for a mouse party by rolling dice and placing them on matching pieces of food, like bread or cucumber. Each piece has space for two to four dice. If a player can cover all the spaces of one piece of food on their turn they take it away and nothing bad happens. But that’s not so likely or even possible with only three dice. If pieces of food are only partially collected, that progress is marked, but the family cat comes closer to investigate. That’s still better than re-rolling the dice to gather more food but then not being able to place the result, because then the cat gets closer and you lose all the food you would have gathered. A classic push-your-luck game. Obviously enough, the cat reaching the pantry means the players lose. They win if they manage to collect all the food before the cat gets there.
My First Stone Age
The final nominee this year is the only competitive game nominated, and it will make many gamers cry with happiness. Marco Teubner’s My First Stone Age (Stone Age Junior, Hans im Glück) gives you the chance to play Stone Age with your kids. The age adapted variant of Bernd Brunnhofer’s classic worker placement game lets players of five years and up build a little stone age village. The action spaces on the board let players collect resources, trade those for others resources and, finally, build huts. The first player with three huts in their village wins. Which action space you may take is not your free choice, however, you have to find the right ones between the action tiles in a small memory element. My First Stone Age is a very tactical game for the audience of five years and up, and I agree with the jury’s assessment that it is more like a “Kennerspiel für Kinder”. And that’s cool, everyone always says kids want to be challenged, so games that teach them to plan their moves are wonderful.
Which game will win the award, then? Your guess is as good as mine. I really hope for My First Stone Age to set a signal that tactical games for kids are a good thing and we should have more of those. Leo goes to the barber is a close second place for me personally, the memory and exploration elements fit together nicely and there’s that great element of planning the lion’s moves as a group. I suspect the jury will go for the communicative game in the end and award their seal of approval to Leo goes to the barber. Mmm! is a beautiful and thematic implementation of a push your luck game, but it doesn’t really offer anything that hasn’t been done before.
The Jury Recommends
Guido Hoffmann’s Flutterstone Castle (Burg Flatterstein, Drei Magier) is a beautiful dexterity game for ages six and up. Up to four witches and wizards are in a race to the top of Flutterstone Castle. What could be a simple roll and move game is instead a toss-the-bat and move game where you determine how many spaces you walk by throwing a bat from the air catapult. If it lands in the castle’s courtyard your witch or wizard walks one space, land inside the castle and walk two spaces, if you manage to throw a bat through one of the castle wall’s windows you walk three steps. Landing in the moat doesn’t let you move, but you get a helping ghost to help you on your next turn. What would be a simple racing game becomes something special through it’s 3D castle wall game board and the bat-tossing instead of dice-rolling.
Castles always make a good setting, especially for kids’ games, and so the second game on the recommendation list is set in another castle. Heinz Meister’s Sleepy Castle (Burg Schlummerschatz, Haba – and, apologies to the translators, but the German title is way better) is a simple memory game for ages 4 and up. Instead of the traditional memory game where you search for two identical tiles, in Sleepy Castle you look for tiles corresponding to two guards lying next to each other in the circle of guards. When you manage, those two guards fall asleep and you steal the coins they were guarding between them. Most coins in the end wins.
Die geheimnisvolle Drachenhöhle
And if castles are good, then dragons are even better. The Mysterious Dragon Cave (Die Geheimnisvolle Drachenhöhle, Drei Magier) by Carlo Lanzavecchia and Walter Obert is another game with a memory element for ages five and up. A little dragon flutters around his cave looking for different colors of gems, when he finds the right color the active player may discard a hand card and be one step closer to victory. The gem color on a space is visible, but the dragon only finds a gem when the electronic dragon figure breathes fire. That’s the memory element, the fire breathing spaces will remain the same for the whole game. For the next game, the secret pattern will be different and you’ll have to find the right spaces again.
Away from all those castles and dragons now. Dschungelbande by Stefan Dorra and Manfred Reindl, published by Kosmos, is a game about an animal pool party in the jungle. This game for ages five and up has, again, a memory element at its core. The party animals are all drifting down the river, but half the time they are hidden under bridges. On their turn, a player rolls the animal dice. They move as many spaces as there are animals of that kind visible. Before moving, they may still push an animal tile down the river, potentially pushing another animal of the kind they rolled out from under a bridge and accordingly moving one space more.
Harry Hopper by Florian Nadler and Kosmos is the second dexterity game in the recommendation list. Two teams each have a plastic grasshopper than can be made to jump by pressing its tail end and nine blades of grass they want to knock down by jumping the grasshopper into them. The regular variant is played on the table, but you can play the Parcours version where grass can be placed anywhere in the room, as long as the grasshopper can conceivably be made to jump there.
Mein Schatz is a push-your-luck card game for ages seven and up by Oliver Igelhaut and Igel-Spiele. Two to four dwarves have discovered a cave full of treasures and are now plundering it. They find treasure cards and put them into different piles, until one of them decides to cash out, grab a pile and make a run for it. That’s the first risk you take staying in the cave for too long, another dwarf might grab the pile you wanted. Or you might be even more unlucky and be caught by the orc before you leave, in that case the only thing you get is a beating. For the escaping dwarfs only one type of treasure in their pile will count points, and they have to decide which that is when they pick the pile, so remembering what everyone put where is another important detail.
Time’s Up! Kids
The last entry in the recommendation list is Peter Sarrett’s Time’s Up! Kids (Sag’s Mir! Junior, Repos Production), a variant of Time’s Up! for kids aged 4 and up. There are 20 words to make your team guess, using words in the first round then the same words again in pantomime in the second round. The team that guesses more words before time runs out is the winner. In the Kids variant reading is not required, the cards show easy to recognize pictures.