One of the big gaming events of the year has been cancelled, the Spiel 2020 is not going to happen because The Virus™. Another big event fortunately still goes forward since it doesn’t require millions of people to meet from all over the world to meet in a physical location. I’m talking about the Spiel des Jahres 2020, the nominations for which have been announced today.
We’re going to have a look at the nominees and the jury’s recommendations for the regular Spiel des Jahres here, news about the Kennerspiel will follow soon.
My City (Reiner Knizia / Kosmos)
My City is Reiner Knizia‘s (Quest for El Dorado, Palazzo, so many more) take on a persistent change game. It’s Legacy style, but in a light family game. The basic rules, the ones you have in the first game, are a simple tile placement game. One player draws construction cards, then all players find the building tile matching that card place it on their personal board. The goal is to cover as many spaces on the board as you can, uncovered spaces score negative points. Just try not to cover trees, they score positive points. At the end of a game – what the rules call an episode – players track campaign points based on their score, some also glue a sticker to their board. What the sticker means is not part of the rulebook. My City has twenty-four episodes organized in eight chapters, each chapter has an envelope with new rules and components. What those chapters will bring is a mystery.
Nova Luna (Uwe Rosenberg & Corné van Moorsel / Edition Spielwiese & Pegasus Spiele)
Another tile placement game, but that’s the only similarity between My City and Nova Luna. Designed by Uwe Rosenberg (Patchwork, Fields of Arle,…) and Corné van Moorsel (Samara, Powerships,…) Nova Luna is a very simple, very clever abstract game. The tiles you place have a color, and they have goals what color their surrounding tiles should have. So you might have red tile that demands three blues and four yellows in its neighborhood. Since a tile only has four direct neighbors, there has a to be another way to complete that goal: chains of similarly colored tiles all contribute to the goal, only one tile has to actually touch the one with the goal. Each tile you place for a goal has its own goals again, and ideally you want to place tiles in a way that they contribute to multiple other tiles’ goals. Which tiles you take is also still of interest. All tiles have a price, and the player who spent the least total amount on tiles so far always has the next turn. You’ll be able to pick between fewer expensive tiles or more cheaper ones. Despite Nova Luna‘s super simple rules, you’ll have ample opportunities for smart strategic planning and clever opportunistic moves.
Pictures (Daniela & Christian Stöhr / PD-Verlag)
Speaking of games with simple rules, Pictures by Daniela & Christian Stöhr easily wins in that category. You are assigned a random picture. Rebuild it with the material you have. If the other players guess correctly which picture you reproduced, everyone scores points and is happy. What sets Pictures apart from other “guess which picture I mean” game is the means you use to reproduce your picture. One player will have a couple of building blocks, another uses symbol cards, a third gets two shoelaces. Pick a different set of materials and you’ll be playing an entirely different game.
I didn’t usually find it this hard to make a prediction for a Spiel des Jahres winner. Granted, my predictions were wrong more often that not, but I could make one. This year I got nothing. How good My City is will depend entirely on what’s in the sealed envelope. The basic rules are too simple for my taste, even for the Spiel des Jahres, but those envelopes will likely raise the complexity a little. Pictures is the odd one out this year, no strategy, just creative use of your materials. I’m sure it’ll give you fun evenings with the family and/or hilarious nights with beer and friends, but I don’t know if it’s what the jury’s looking for this year. My pick for this year will be Nova Luna. It’s a more strategic game, but it reveals all its qualities up front.
But that’s just my guess. What do you think, which of these games deserves the award the most? Or is there a game missing you were sure you’d see in the list? Let us know!
As usual, I’m glad I don’t have to actually pick between these three games. Fingers crossed for all the nominees!
The Jury Recommends
As usual, the jury has released not only the three nominees but also a list of six recommendations that didn’t quite make the short list but are well worth a closer looks.
Draftosaurus is a drafting game by a French All-Star designer team: Bauza, Lebrat, Maublanc, and Rivière. A lot of big names for a small box, and a great, family-friendly drafting game. You don’t draft cards in Draftosaurus, you draft meeplosaurs for your prehistoric zoo. The enclosures have different scoring rules, so you’ll want to think where you put those dinos, and a dice that restricts where you may place them each round will further complicate your life.
The Fox in the Forest
The English edition of The Fox in the Forest by Joshua Buergel is from 2017 already. However, since the German edition by Leichtkraft, the lighter game label of Schwerkraft, was only released this year, the jury only considers it for their list this year as well. The Fox in the Forest is a special concept: a trick taking game specifically for two players, where most trick taking games have their weak spot if they work at all. Two things make it possible. Special cards showing a cast of fairy tale characters with special abilities can disrupt even a numerically strong hand, and if taking too many tricks you’ll be punished like the greedy villain in so many fairy tales.
Kitchen Rush by Vangelis Bagiartakis and Dávid Turczi is another 2017 game that only made it to Germany – better: to German – in this award season. The cooperative real-time game uses egg timers as workers in a restaurant. Whatever you send one of them to do, they’ll take exactly as long as the timer takes to run through, then you can send them to their next job. If you need something to get your adrenaline up, this is the game you want.
Building towns and cities will always be one of the most common themes for boardgames, but there’ll always be new ways to make exciting games. Little Town by Shun and Aya Taguchi, published by Iello. is one of those town building games with new mechanisms. On your turn, you place a worker on the board. He’ll activate the surrounding spaces, which mostly means he’ll collect resources at the beginning of the game. Things get interesting when you start placing buildings, because a worker placed next to one of those will now activate that building – for a small fee even another player’s building. Building the town is good. Using the town for profit is better.
There’s always time and space for a quick bluffing card game. Right now, that game is Spicy by Zoltan Gabor Gyori. In a spicy food contest you play cards with wasabi, chili, and pepper in ever increasing levels of spiciness. At least, that’s what you claim you do. The cards are placed face down, so you could be playing anything. Just don’t let your opponents catch you cheating. If they call you out and can tell exactly what you did wrong they score points for it.
Finally, there’s Color Brain, a team trivia game by Tristan Williams. The basic idea is as old as games: a question is asked, each team decides on their answer, the team or teams that got it right score points. The twist in Color Brain is that answers are only given with one or more color cards. Don’t worry, the questions all legitimately ask for colors, you won’t have to answer “Who wrote Faust?” with color cards.