Game of the year nominees announced!

Look for this logo when hunting down great games.
Look for this logo when hunting down great games.

It is “Oscar Season” for the board game industry! The Spiel des Jahres, or German Game of the Year, award nominees were announced on Monday. It is the most sought after award in the hobby, as just being nominated means more sales for your game, and winning ensures exponentially greater sales.

The award began back in 1978 and deals specifically with family style board games. A jury of judges reviews all games released in the German market over the past 12 months and selects games based on their originality as well as their accessibility. There are other awards that have cropped up over the years, with specific country best game awards (Portugal’s Jogo Do Anno), more hobby or publication specific awards (Board Game Geek’s Golden Geek Award, the Dice Tower Awards), but the Spiel des Jahres has remained the most prestigious, and most influential in the game market. In 1989 a Kinderspiel des Jahres, or kids game of year was introduced. Unfortunately many of these kids games don’t get released in the United States, so I won’t cover them in depth here. In 2011 the jury determined that there was a need to award games of greater complexity and introduced the Kennerspiel des Jahres, or expert game of the year, and I have loved many of the games announced for this new category.

The award is not just good for publisher sales though, it was also been useful in identifying games that are worth your time and money. In my own collection I have 10-12 spiel nominees or winners, and three of my favorite games of all time (Dominion, Kingdom Builder and 7 Wonders) were awarded the prize. As the board game industry continues to grow it is really helpful to have that award sticker on the box to separate the great games from the also rans.


This year’s Spiel des Jahres nominees are:

Codenames by Vlaada Chvatil. This is the best party game since Apples to Apples, and my vote to win it..  in part because it’s the only one of these nominees I’ve played so far! I have written about it previously when it made the rounds at Barnes and Noble. Below is Eric Martin’s fantastic overview.

Imhotep by Phil Walker-Harding. This game has not made it to the U.S. just yet, but with the award nomination announcement, its release date has been moved up to late June. It looks to be a great family game about building Egyptian monuments. Players assign  blocks to different shared boats that then ferry them over to different building sites. However any player can move any boat so there is lots of room to cause havoc in the plans of other players. The order of the blocks on the boat itself also matters for how each block scores. Much like other Spiel Des Jahres nominees, the game uses simple actions to create a strategic experience.

Karuba by Rudiger Dorn. A fantastic looking game that combines the best things about bingo and tile laying games. Players all have a board with a start and end points for 4 different adventurers marked in the same spots. One player draws tiles and yells out the number on the tile, and they and all other players place that tile on the board, or discard it to move an adventurer. So everything is symmetrical, but how you use the different tiles announced will determine your success.


This year’s Kennerspiel des Jahres, or Expert Game Nominees are:


Isle of Skye in play
Isle of Skye in play

Isle Of Skye by Andreas Pelikan and Alexander Pfister. This is an innovative tile laying auction game. All players draw three tiles each round and use coin tokens to secretly set the price for two of them, while axing the third. Then players reveal their prices, and in turn order each player can buy one tile from another player. Players keep any tiles not sold, but must pay the price they set. So there is a wonderful tight rope act of trying to price tiles to be attractive other players, but not pricing them out of the market. Players use these tiles to build a village and work to accomplish certain scoring goals that vary from game to game. In another interesting twist, all goals score at different times over the course of the five rounds, so timing is crucial as to when to go after any given goal.


red.0Pandemic: Legacy by Matt Leacock and Rob Daviau is a fantastic Legacy style games. I covered these games with permanent consequences previously, and it’s no surprise to see this great concept get recognized by the jury. As a recap, in Pandemic Legacy each game is a month of the year, and decisions in any given game change the game permanently. There is also a storyline that plays out through a “legacy” deck of cards that introduces new twists as players work through the games.


pic2617634_mdTime Stories by Manuel Rozoy is an adventure game system. I also talked about this in a previous blog, specifically about the single use nature of the game’s set up. Each game is a module that represents one story and players work together to solve the case, kind of like a mystery. However, once a story is solved, its secrets have been revealed and replaying it would be like rewatching a movie, or rereading a book. However the concept has allowed the designers to create some very compelling story content in board game form, and deserves recognition.


The winners will be announced on July 18th, and I will post then to celebrate the winners. Best of luck to all the nominees, and I am looking forward to trying out the three games I haven’t played on this list before the winners are announced.

Germany: The land of board games

In the fall, I had this conversation with a co-worker

Me: I am going to Germany!

Coworker: Oh cool, when are you going?

Me: The beginning of October.

Coworker: That’s awesome. Are you going for Oktoberfest?

Me: Nope, I’m going to the biggest board game convention in the world!

The Messe Essen, an enormous convention centere where the Spiele Fair is held.
The Messe Essen, an enormous convention center where the Spiele

Germany is know for many things. Amazing beer, awesome castles, delicious chocolate. However, they also have a passion for board games, and have been producing some of the best games on the market for decades. No where is this more apparent than at the Spiel Game Convention in Essen Germany. Each year hundreds of brand new games are released at the convention, and thousands of people come from all over Europe, and the world, to try the latest titles.

In a “small world” twist, I have  two German friends, Tobias and Nicole who live near this festival of awesomeness. I had met them at my local game night the very first time I had attended, and we’d gamed together for years since then. Both were originally from Germany, but were overseas for work and had come to Zombie Planet to find two familiar elements from home: Games and Gamers. When they returned to Germany there was a standing offer for a couch or bed at their place if one of the group wanted to swing out that way for the convention, and this was the year I was finally going to take them up on the offer.

So a plan was hatched, and a few months later with the help of some frequent flyer miles, and the hospitality of great friends, I was on a plane to Europe. The trip would be filled with some tourism, of course. I couldn’t go to Germany without exploring the country and sights. But it would be punctuated by three days of gaming nirvana.

Convention goers trying new games. Table space is very limited!
Convention goers trying new games. Table space is very limited!

The convention runs four days each October, Thursday through Sunday, and fills up four halls of the massive Messe Essen convention center. The halls are filled wall to wall with board game publishers pushing new games, and hoping to come away with a hit release. 2015 had 910 exhibitors from 41 different nations, and more than 400 new board games released to the public.

Unlike many similar conventions in the Unites States such as Origins or GenCon, Spiel is a trade show. There is very limited table space, all dedicated to demoing the new games on sale, and minimal events or guest panels to attend. There is certainly no space to sit down and try a game you have just bought, or even eat lunch purchased from one of the many food carts in the hallways between the showroom floor. It can feel a bit crowded like a busy store during the holidays, but everyone is incredibly polite, and play explanations are given in either German or English depending on the makeup of the group demoing the game.

The busiest day at the convention was a bit overcrowded.
The busiest day at the convention was a bit overcrowded.

The word that I think best describes my three days at the fair would be “Overwhelming.” As a huge fan of the hobby, it was a bit of sensory overload, as there were new games around every corner, and it was impossible to take it all in, even with multiple days on the show floor. There was also a bit of claustrophobia on Saturday, the busiest day of the fair,  as it was actually difficult to get around with the throngs of weekend visitors. Sometimes my cohort and I would sit down to demo a game just to take a load off our feet and unwind from navigating the crowds.

As for the games themselves, there were some amazing sights to see. One of the biggest hits of the fair was called 504. It boasts 504 different games in one box with each of them playing differently. The way it accomplishes this feat is through having nine different modules from which you picked three to play in a certain combination.

504 boasts 504 different games in a single box through a unique modular game system.
504 boasts 504 different games in a single box through a unique modular game system.

The way you combined the different modules also affected how the game played, meaning 123 was vastly different from 321, even though they contained the same basic modules. The game was being played constantly at the fair, and was definitely the buzz of the show. I could never find a seat at the table, but did manage to snap a few shots of this board game chameleon.

I was limited by both a budget and luggage space for any potential purchases at the fair, but I had done my research and had a short list to whittle down by the time the floors opened. In decades past, most of these games would never see U.S. shores much less be available in English. These days, the cream of the crop always makes it over to our domestic game market, and most game at the convention are language independent, or are available in English as well as German at release. While some folks engineer packing methods that stretch the laws of physics I was content to grab a few gems and oddities that looked like they would have staying power when I got home.

The final haul, an eclectic mix.
The final haul, an eclectic mix.

Throughout the fair you can sense the passion for this hobby. Game designers are treated like celebrities, with signing sessions for their popular games. Publishers new and old are eager to show attendees why their game is a hit. It was fascinating to just walk the show floors, and see all of the games being demoed. Everyone seemed to be just as excited about gaming as I was; even the volunteers who were teaching games till they lost their voice. But apart from the electricity of the fair, it was wonderful to visit with some old friends, and be at the gaming table with them again. I hope to go back someday, squeeze in a few more games with them, and perhaps bring and extra suitcase.