For years Germany’s Spiel Des Jahres (Game of the Year) has been the sign of quality in the modern board game market. I have covered countless previous winners over the course of my blogging here, and that’s no accident. These games have an elegance and approachability that other games in the market lack. Publishers are eager to win the award, especially in it’s native country of Germany as a win promises really great sales for years to come, a surefire hit that the publisher can bank on and plan expansions for. Even just being nominated gives sales a little bump as that iconic ribbon on the front of the box is a telltale sign of quality.
Since 2011 there have been two levels of Spiel Des Jahres award. The traditional, and original Spiel Des Jahres is awarded to simpler and more family friendly games. These are still great games, but tend to be shorter and more approachable than the Kennerspiel Des Jahres, or complex game of the year. This latter category is where a lot of my game group’s favorite games reside, as they have a bit more depth and strategic meat on their bones. This years nominees are a bit more of a mystery to me, but that just means more great games I have yet to discover. But without further ado, the nominees!
Spiel Des Jahres
Kingdomino by the awesome and prolific designer Bruno Cathala wins my vote simply for having a punny title. This game is a tile laying title sharing some light similarities with the classic Dominoes. There’s something really enjoyable about playing with Dominoes and this game replicates a bit of that feel while replacing the traditional numbers with landscape types that players are trying to arrange in a 5 by 5 kingdom. Blue Orange Games has picked this one up for release in the United States and it fits right in with their line of other great family friendly games.
Magic Maze sounds less like a pleasurable game of Dominoes and more like a frantic heist. The game is a cooperative style title meaning all players work together to win against the game itself. Each player takes the role of a certain hero like a mage or warrior or elf, but these heroes can only perform certain actions. The goal of the game is to coordinate these actions across players to complete their goal. The game adds some nice silliness by having this traditional fantasy trope all take place in a shopping mall… not your average kingdom. The coordination aspect of the game is accentuated by the fact that everything has to be completed before the timer runs out.
Wettlauf nach El Dorado is by the mathematician of board games Reiner Knizia. His games are often defined by their unique scoring mechanisms. This one is not out in the United States yet, but with a nomination on this list it can’t be too far off. It combines one of my favorite mechanisms, deck building, with a traditional race game. Players are trying to find the fabled city of El Dorado and steal its treasures before the other players get their first.
Kennerspiel Des Jahres
Exit: The Game takes the excitement that is the escape room and boils it down into a board game. Escape room or puzzle room experiences are popping up everywhere, so it was only a matter of time before someone successfully captured these experiences in a board game. There is not much going on here componentwise since the game is little more than a deck of cards, but if you enjoy escape rooms this will definitely scratch that itch. The one downside of these types of games is that they are not really replayble. Once you solve the puzzle there’s not much else to do. But the series is rapidly expanding and affordable, so there’s always the next puzzle to solve.
Raiders of the North Sea is a viking game that just hit the German market. Since these awards are based on Germany sometimes there is a bit of a timewarp that happens. More often than not, the game is released in Germany first and then comes to the U.S. but in this case the game has been out for two years already in the United States but hit Germany within the window of the 2017 award. It is a worker placement style game, and each turn players can selection action spaces to prepare for the raid, or send a ship off to try to successfully complete a raid. It certainly sounds more exciting than the traditional farming theme, and maybe the award nomination will help get this game reprinted and more generally available. This is also a major accomplishment because Raiders of the North Sea is the first kickstarter game to ever be nominated for a Spiel Des Jahres award. Crowdfunding has reached the big leagues.
Terraforming Mars is the clear winner of this category, at least in my heart. No game has EVER completely captivated my board game group like this one. There are often two games of it being run simultaneously, and half the group has their own copy. It is a longer game as well, typically running two hours, so it is impressive with how often it hits the table. It is a tableau game where players spend resources to build cards representing various technologies or buildings used to terraform mars. The game has a ton of hard science in it, as players work to increase the oxygen content of the air, raise the temperature of the planet, and add water to the environment. It is an excellent game that will be played for years to come and I am thrilled to see it recognized in this award category.
I can’t wait to find out who wins in July, and will announce those winners here. In the meantime I’ve got some research to do on these game of the year contenders!