It’s that time of the year again! Spiel des Jahres nominations have been announced today. It’s no longer the only important boardgame award, but it’s still a pretty big deal to even be nominated. So let’s jump right in!
Spiel des Jahres
Michael Kiesling’s Azul is the game I was sure we’d see here this year. In this abstract game the players build a mosaic from azulejos, ceramic tiles that were famously used in Portugal. The focus of the game is not so much on placing those tiles. They have to fit what your mosaic needs, but that’s not so tricky. Getting the right tiles in the first place is the tricky part. You pick from the different suppliers, and from the one you choose you take one kind of tile to work on your mosaic. It’s simple and yet tricky, exactly what the jury looks for. It certainly didn’t hurt that even by modern standards Azul has above average quality components with its heavy, beautiful tiles. (Publisher: Next Move, Distribution: Pegasus Spiele)
Luxor by Rüdiger Dorn uses a somewhat outdated theme, but it more than makes up for it with a fresh mechanism. Each player takes a team of adventurers into an Egyptian temple. They want to make their way to the burial chamber and collect treasures on the way. Like I said, it’s been done before. The fresh part is how you use cards to move your adventurers. You have a hand of cards, each card can move one of your adventurers a given number of steps. But you can only play the card at either end of your hand. You may not reorder your cards and new cards go to the center. That will take a bit of planning ahead when you can move how many spaces. And then things get harder because you only count tiles as steps, so tiles collected in front of you change where a card can take you. That’s going to be a problem when you need your adventurers to be on the same tile to collect a treasure. Add some special tiles to the mix and you’re in for an agonizingly fun time. (Queen Games)
Wolfgang Warsch’s The Mind is one of those games you read about and think “what, they actually published that?” until you try it. All the players in this coop game have to do is play all their hand cards in the right numeric order. Really, that is all. One little twist: They can not communicate about their cards in any way. Not with words, not with gestures. But like my old linguistics professor used to say, you can’t not communicate. In The Mind communication is just by timing. When do you start thinking that all the other players not doing anything really have only higher cards than your eighty. And will you be right, or are the others just more patient than you. The only other way to fill silence with this much tension is to say something bad about your brother-in-law at a family dinner, and The Mind has the advantage that your wife won’t divorce you over it. Not unless she takes the game way to serious, at least. (Nürnberger Spielkarten Verlag)
The Jury’s Choice
Like every year, the jury not only picked their three nominees but also compiled a list of recommendations. Those games might not have made it into the final selection, but they’re still worth a close look.
You know how you can never trust the play time on the box because a game will always take longer. Well, not Connor Reid’s 5-Minute Dungeon. Five minutes is the time limit for one dungeon level, and if you don’t make it in five minutes then you don’t make it, period. In those five minutes players frantically throw symbol cards from their hands to overcome the challenges they encounter in the dungeon. And when the symbols just won’t fit then each hero has special abilities that might help if you can come up with a plan quickly enough. Not for pacemakers with low batteries! (Kosmos)
Facecards by Leo Colovini reminds of good, old Dixit. This time you don’t match image cards with a description but image cards with other image cards. More precisely, faces with other faces. All cards show faces of people, animals, and sometimes things. You select two cards from your hand that look similar in one way. One stays in front of you, the other gets shuffled up with a bunch of other cards, and the other players have to guess which of those cards is yours. Sometimes that pair can be a banker and a mop because they have the same expression. It’s almost more “fun activity” than game, but as long as it’s fun who am I to complain? (Ravensburger)
I’m a little surprised to see Marc André’s Majesty down here and not up there with the nominees. A spot on the jury’s choice list is nothing to be sneezed at, either, though. Majesty is a kingdom building card game. The cards represent different professions your citizens can have. Millers that make money for you. Brewers might make money for everyone. Soldiers attack other players. Guards prevent that. And so on. All those cards have an immediate benefit, but that’s not the only thing to keep an eye on. At the end of the game bonus points are awarded for majorities in a profession and for diversity in your kingdom, so there are considerations beyond short term profit. (Hans im Glück)
Memory games don’t have to be boring “flip to identical tiles” affairs. In fact, they can be quite deadly. If you fail in Carlo Bortolini’s Memoarrr! you’ll be left behind on the island of dread Captain Goldfish. It’s still a game about flipping tiles, but instead of making pairs you just flip one tile that has to match either the landscape or the animal of the previous tile. If you’re wrong you’re out of the round, the last survivor earns a treasure. The tiles stay in place for the game’s seven rounds, so with each round you have more information to help you escape from the island. At least in theory. You’re still going to lose against your five year old. (Edition Spielwiese / Pegasus Spiele)
Gordon Hamilton’s Santorini was released in 2016 already, but remember that the German release is what counts for the Spiel des Jahres jury. In Santorini, players compete to be the first to climb to the third floor of a city they’re building. Make a move, place a new floor. You can’t climb more than one floor in a move, and if someone put a roof on top of a building then you can’t go there anymore. The gods get involved, too, with one of them backing each player with a special ability. Very tactical, and incredibly good looking. (Spin Master)
Daniel Fehr’s Woodlands is a real-time tile laying game. Each player creates their own network of path tiles that should match an overlay on display at the center of the table. When the time to score comes players put that overlay on top of their paths and see if they collected extra points or if their path connects to some sort of trouble. With two extra overlays you can boost the level of difficulty – as if real-time path building wasn’t enough. (Ravensburger)
Kennerspiel des Jahres
Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg
First nominee for this year’s Kennerspiel des Jahres is Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg (The Charlatans of Quedlinburg) by Wolfgang Warsch. It’s a combined bag building and press your luck game, a very interesting combination. Players mix potions from different colors of ingredients they draw from their ingredient bag. Everything they draw goes into the kettle, and the more ingredients they mix together the more valuable the brew will be. Or they blow themselves up first, because too many white chips in your kettle produce a strongly exothermic reaction. You still want to buy them and add them to your bag because they give powerful bonuses when used with the special abilities from other chip colors. This being the Kennerspiel, there’s obviously more than we can tell in one short paragraph. Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg has an unusually wacky theme for a Kennerspiel, but that doesn’t hurt its value as a gamer’s game at all. (Schmidt Spiele)
Ganz Schön Clever
This is the year of Wolfgang Warsch. One of his games is nominated for Spiel des Jahres, two for Kennerspiel. And Ganz Schön Clever (Pretty Clever) is not the kind of game you expect to see in the Kennerspiel selection: A roll and write game. That is not to say it doesn’t belong here, Ganz Schön Clever is a few steps above your typical Yahzee descendant. Your score pad has different areas, each of which uses the dice in different ways, with possibilities to trigger chain reactions into other areas and score even more at once. But before you get too happy about the dice you get to use, you also have to consider which of the dice will be usable for your opponents because of your pick. You don’t want to give away points, do you? The title is not an exaggeration, for a game of roll dice and write on your pad Ganz Schön Clever is really rather clever. (Schmidt Spiele)
Heaven & Ale
And here is the game I was sure I’d see in the Kennerspiel nominees: Heaven & Ale by Michael Kiesling and Andreas Schmidt. The life of a monk brewing beer in their monastery sounds pretty relaxing, doesn’t it? Not in Heaven & Ale it doesn’t. Managing your scarce resources and your garden tiles is not even the worst of it. To win the game you need to score points, and you have very few opportunities to trigger scorings. The jury rates Heaven & Ale as the heaviest of this year’s Kennerspiel nominees. I agree with that assessment. Will it be enough to win the award? Your guess is as good as mine. (eggertspiele / Pegasus Spiele)
The Jury’s Choice
There’s a jury’s choice list for the Kennerspiel as well. For reasons I’ll never understand, the jury limits that list to two entries even though there are dozens of game that deserve to be there. Maybe the jury doesn’t have time to try more games? Anyway, here are the two picks for this year.
Klong! (English title: Clank!) by Paul Dennen is another game from 2016 that only came to Germany last year. Honestly, it’s also a game I expected to see in the nominations. Players in this deck-building game enter a dragon’s lair to steal as many of his valuables as they can. The dragon, however, is a light sleeper, and the players’ escapades make a fair amount of noise. You don’t win by looting the most treasure. You win by making it out alive with the most treasure. Not the same thing at all. (Schwerkraft Verlag)
The second entry on the recommendation list is Emanuele Ornella’s Pioneers. In the Old West, long distance travel was often done by stage coach. In Pioneers the players build a network of routes all across the US and drop passengers from their stage coach in towns along the way. Depending on the passengers profession they have different effects, but they all bring points for deliver all passengers in a coach to their destination and for having them in towns connected by your own routes. (Queen Games)
That’s it. The whole list for Spiel and Kennerspiel des Jahres. I don’t really have much to complain this year. Obviously there are games I wanted to see here that didn’t make it, but with only three nominations in each category that just couldn’t happen. For all the games that did make the list, I agree that they deserve to be there. I’ll hold back with predictions because it seems that, by some weird form of the quantum observer effect, me predicting which game might win ensures that it doesn’t. Just one thing to consider: Wolfgang Warsch could become the first author to win both the Spiel and the Kennerspiel in the same year. Now that would be a lifetime achievement.
What do you think? Who do you think will win? Which game are you especially angry not to find on this list? We’re curious to hear from you in the comments!