It is admittedly a strange time for the board game industry, but one event that is exciting every year is the announcement of Spiel Des Jahres or German Game of the Year nominees. My shelf is full of winners and nominees from this award and I stand by it as a surefire way to find a hit family game. Last year’s winners Just One and Wingspan are fantastic games so I am curious to see what this year’s slate of nominees is like.
This year is a bit odd as I am very familiar with the three Kennerspiel or expert game awards, while completely unfamiliar with the regular Spiel nominees. Another interesting aspect of the nominees this year is that both categories include some kind of legacy or campaign game. This trend of having an ongoing narrative and a series of games to play though is clearly a popular one and I have enjoyed many of the legacy games I have played. However, the pressure to have a consistent group to play through them vs an ad-hoc group of whoever is around to play a game makes them feel like a commitment, and consequently they can be difficult to get to the table. There’s also a creeping feeling with some legacy games that players need to play multiple times before they see the “full” game which can make it tricky to form a full opinion in just a couple of plays.
Below are the nominees and some initial thoughts.
Spiel Des Jahres Nominees (the simpler award for more family style games with broad appeal).
My City:Designer Reiner Knizia is on the list of nominees again with what I believe is his first legacy style game. Players build a city through different eras of history. The game has 24 episodes but if players want to just play it as a pick up and play game they can play through the first 4 episodes to unlock the key components of the game. I have to admit I enjoy a lot of Knizia games, but this one does not win in the looks department, appearing to be a rather bland theme with graphics that look like the games from a decade ago or more. However, it may be worth keeping an eye one.
Nova Luna: Another famous designer Uwe Rosenburg is on the list for a game that appears to be much lighter than the heavy agricultural economic sims he’s typically known for. Nova Luna is an abstract tile laying game that is more about the puzzle than about theme. The tiles you draft each have a requirement to fulfill, but also help you solve previous tiles based on how you place them in a sort of spatial puzzle. Uwe Rosenburg has been creating several lighter spatial games in recent years so it is exciting to see one of these efforts recognized by a prestigious nomination.
Pictures: In what is the most generic title and one with the least public information Pictures appears to be a party style game where players try to copy pictures from a center display using a set of abstract components like cubes and string. Players then try to guess which picture the creator was trying to copy. Certainly something for the abstract artists out there, but this one is definitely a wildcard for me.
Kennerspiel Des Jahres Nominees (More complex “expert” games that are more involved/thinky than the Spiel Des Jahres).
Here I have a bit more familiarity as I have played each game.
Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale: Another game in the category of Roll & Write games that I just wrote about last week, Cartographers has players draw a map in order to fulfill goals that are different each game. Each turn an explore card is dealt showing a type of terrain (villages, forests, farms or water) in a polyomino or tetris like shape. Players then choose where to draw this shape on their map in order to best accomplish the goal. There is a small dose of player interaction here as once in a while ambush cards come out that have players draw monsters on each other’s sheet to mess with other players’ plans. Having played a couple of rounds of this recently, it is a nice addition to the genre and has that classic satisfying puzzle feel that I described in the article about these games. Definitely some good fun.
The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine: This one is very intriguing. If you’ve ever played Hearts or Spades you’re halfway there, as this game is what’s called a trick taking game, where whoever plays the highest card or trump card takes the set of cards played that round, called a trick. Easy enough so far. However, in this game, players cooperate to try to accomplish a certain goal together, but without communicating except in certain restricted ways. For example, imagine playing a game of Hearts and trying to make sure that a specific player takes the Jack of Diamonds. This can be a tall order when you can only communicate what your highest or lowest card is, or whether you only have one card of a certain suit. The Crew contains fifty “missions” just like this and turns the traditional card game on its head in a fascinating way.
The King’s Dilemma: The second legacy style game on the list, this one is by far the most fascinating title. The game puts story above all else, and players are only going to see a portion of the content in a single playthrough. In the game players are part of a council to the King, advising him on certain key decisions during his reign. In terms of gameplay this amounts to voting yes or no in a sort of poker betting system. Players can raise each other by spending more and more influence on either side of the decision. Whoever spends the most influence then has their name associated with the vote, for better or worse. Based on these votes certain envelopes are opened in a branching narrative that has permanent repercussions on the Kingdom. In addition, players are trying to score both secret and public goals by manipulating five different aspects of the Kingdom: wealth, morale, knowledge, military, and food. The results of the votes determine how these aspects go up and down giving players a tug of war based on how they want the vote to go. This is a game of story above anything else but is definitely one of the most innovative games of the year.
Finally there are three Kinderspeil des Jahres or kids games that are nominated. I don’t have any insight here but want to point them out in case folks with kids want to research them. The nominees are
Unfortunately German kids games are much less likely to make it stateside so not all of these are available in English.
Overall I am much more excited about the Kennerspiel nominees this year. However I have some homework to do on the regular Spiel Des Jahres nominees and maybe one of them will turn out to be a gem. Who do you think will win the award?