Spiel Des Jahres: Game of the Year part 1

It’s that time of year again as nominees for the Spiel des Jahres or German Board Game of the Year were announced on Monday May 17th. A good portion of my collection is made up of winners or nominees for this prestigious award, so I always like to research the current slate of nominees. In a more normal year where I have been out gaming with friends it is also fun to guess at what will be nominated as the award often reflects a game that is hitting the table a lot on board game night. But every once in a while the nominees reveal a game that I hadn’t even heard of, either because it passed under my radar or because it hasn’t hit the U.S. market yet, this being a German award. This year is a little bit different of course as game groups haven’t been meeting with the pandemic, so I am certainly not tuned into what is popular on public game nights. Not only that, but I haven’t played most of these games so I don’t have a super concrete opinion on them, but instead have more of a reaction to what I’ve heard about them. Today I will cover the Spiel des Jahres award which is for lighter family focused games and I will cover the Kennerspiel or expert game award next week. Since I have only played one out of the three nominees I will cover that one in the most depth, and touch on the other two in brief in case they peak your interest.

Micromacro: Crime City is a game that was immediately appealing when I heard the premise. There have been several detective games over the last few years and before. Games like Sherlock Holmes, Detective: a Modern Crime Board Game, and Chronicles of Crime all lean heavily on a narrative structure combined with clues and puzzles to recreate the experience of solving a case like your favorite episode of CSI. Micromacro does away with all of that and just gives you an ENORMOUS map of a city full of devious acts and asks you to solve the crime by reviewing the map. There are some cards for each of the fifteen cases included in the game which will point you to a starting place and help confirm if you found the right thing or what the next step might be. But even using these is optional if you used the advanced rules. The game is just you and your friends, looking over a map and feeling really really clever.

There is some debate as to whether it is even a game. There aren’t really turns or actions or player pieces. It is in some ways a very dark Where’s Waldo. Except unlike Where’s Waldo, which is a static picture in time, Micromacro is a map that is in motion. If a card points you to the beginning of a bank heist you can find the criminal act on the map, but you also find the getaway, and anything that happened after the crime. In this way each crime is a story arc told in the language static image that contains multiple points in time. It is difficult to talk about the game without spoiling it, and like the best mysteries it’s the most fun to discover things on your own. It does have some wonderful moments when played as a group where one person spots something, calls it out and everyone else rushes to see the clue they have found. I personally play it with some clear plastic bingo tokens to track the different steps in the crime and the map looks a little bit like those conspiracy theory peg board by the time we’re done with a case. In a brilliant move the company put a test version of the game right on the box’s cover. If you click on the image alongside this blog you can follow along and solve a case. The full game’s map is positively massive and takes up the whole table, but this mini version of the game is an excellent example of what it feels like to play. The game’s success has already spawned plans for three sequels which will eventually have you solving cases across all the different maps, along with an app, and a more kid friendly version. It’s worth noting, this is not a game for kids, despite the cartoony drawings this city is full of adult themes and would spawn lots of tricky real world conversations.

The cardboard cutaway reveals a building on fire. Robinhood’s board can evolve and change without any stickers.

Micromacro is definitely my pick to win the award, but there are some other innovative games that have been nominated. The Adventures of Robinhood is one of those titles like I mentioned above that hasn’t made it out in English. It will be available in June, but all of the preview information I could find was based on the German version. The game is from a well known designer of another family friendly co-op game The Legend of Andor, Michael Menzel. Players are Robinhood and his band of merry men, and they use unique movement pawns to track their path around and through the town, avoiding guards and other hazards while trying to pass skill checks by drawing tokens from a bag. The odds of success are always changing as players add or remove tokens from the bag depending on their actions. The most unique aspect of the game however is the board. All over the board there are cardboard cutouts where players can flip that portion of the board to its other side. So by the castle for example there may be a circle cut out which, when flipped, reveals a guard. In this way the board itself is reactive depending on the scenario and what the players do. It is kind of like some legacy games where stickers would permanently change the board but with this cut-out method the board can evolve or change back, giving it the exciting changes of a legacy game without the permanence. The game also includes a story book that contains the narrative for each scenario and it provides alternate narrative paths if players fail a mission the first time. I’m curious to check it out when it hits the U.S. market.

Zombie Teenz is colorful fun but I can’t forgive the Z in the name…

The last title is a kid friendly legacy game called Zombie Teenz Evolution. I have to admit to being put off by this title, both because it uses the word “Teenz” with a Z and because of the Disney Channel art style. However if you have kids or teens this seems like an excellent way to try out legacy games. The story of the game plays out via a comic book included in the box and each new chapter has additional panels to add to the comic book as well as new rules and gameplay to keep the game fresh. While I am not a fan of the art style I must admit the game looks like a toy set and is well produced so it will definitely keep a kids attention better than some of the more dry looking games in the hobby. Still, it seems to be the least innovative of the three, despite how well made it is. This is one I will observe from a distance but likely won’t make it into my collection unless I am playing it with my niece and nephew.

That covers the Spiel Des Jahres nominees, I am doing some more digging on the Kennerspiel nominees and will report back with opinions on those in the coming days. The winner or the awards will be announced in just under two months on July 19th. 

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