SDJ Buzz: Predictions!

Fire up those office pools, it’s time for Spiel des Jahres predictions!  What, you don’t have an office pool?  Huh.

Let’s look first at the regular Spiel des Jahres nominees:

  • Asara is a light and beautiful game from two well-established German designers, Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling.  It is the only game among the nominees that originated in Germany.
  • Forbidden Island is a stripped down cooperative game with gorgeous components and very simple gameplay.  It is designer Matt Leacock’s third consecutive SDJ nomination (after Pandemic and Roll Through the Ages).
  • Qwirkle is a light little abstract game about matching shapes and colors.  Susan McKinley Ross has the opportunity to become the first female designer to win the SDJ on her own.

I think Asara is going to be the gamer’s choice.  It’s got the most meat of the three games, it has some fairly unique components, and the Kramer/Kiesling pairing has some pretty big fans out there.  However, I don’t think it’s going to win.  For one thing, the SDJ has been spreading the love around to different designers for the last ten years – no one has won two awards in a row since Kramer/Kiesling did it in 1999/2000.  In fact, no one has won two at all since then.  Now, maybe Asara can buck the trend, but again, I doubt it.  Gamewise, it’s the most complex of the three.  Many people have said it’s very close in complexity to 7 Wonders, which earned a KSDJ nomination.  I also don’t know how expandable it is, and SDJ winners almost always get expansions.  I guess you could add towers, and maybe an auxiliary board or two.

I think Qwirkle is the long shot here.  For one thing, it’s an abstract game, and those rarely get SDJ love.  For another, it seems like it’s a little too simplistic for this award.  Of course, maybe that’s what the jury is looking for this year.  It’s about as far removed from anything on the KSDJ list as you can get, so maybe this will be how they distinguish the awards.  And while it may be very accessible to a wide range of people, I don’t know if it will hold people’s interest for long enough to be a lasting champion.  Also, I think it’s the least expandable of the three.

Which brings us to my pick for the win – FORBIDDEN ISLAND!  I believe that the third time will be the charm for Matt Leacock.  The jury has never awarded the prize to a cooperative game, and Forbidden Island is probably the most family friendly cooperative game created to date.  It’s the most expandable of the three – new locations, new treasures, new roles, and events could really spice up the game.  The biggest thing I think it has going against it is that it’s essentially a retheme of Pandemic (which lost the SDJ to Dominion in 2009).  However, that hasn’t bothered the jury before – recent winners Zooloretto and Keltis have been repacakagings of prior titles (Coloretto and Lost Cities).  So – Forbidden Island for the win.

Moving on now to the Kennerspiel des Jahres:

  • 7 Wonders –  a card drafting civilization building game from Antoine Bauza.
  • Lancaster – a worker placement game that adds voting from Matthias Cramer.
  • Strasbourg – another worker placement game with a unique twist on blind bidding from Stefan Feld.

Let’s not beat around the bush here – 7 Wonders has been a virtual lock for an award since its release back in October.  And in looking at its competition, there’s no doubt in my mind that 7 Wonders will be the first recipient of the KSDJ.  It’s definitely unique – drafting has been used in games before, but it’s never been used as the central mechanism for gameplay.  The art is fantastic, the game plays with up to 7 people in a period of time that would make some party games jealous, there’s a ton of strategy, and it’s very expandable.  It’s probably also the biggest thing working against Asara’s chances for winning the SDJ – if they want to make a distinction between the two awards, they’re going to have to choose games that are not very similar in complexity level.

Lancaster and Strasbourg were odd choices for nominations.  Before the nominations came out, I was reading an Opinionated Gamers post predicting the nominees.  They had 7 Wonders on the SDJ side, and predicted the nominees for the KSDJ to be Die Burgen von Burgund, Merkator, Pantheon, Navegador, and Tikal II (this was when everyone still thought the jury would be handing out five nominations, as in previous years).  Lancaster and Strasbourg weren’t even mentioned as possibilities.  Both seem to be kind of blah worker placement games with some twists.  I can’t give a really good opinion on either since I haven’t played them, but they don’t seem to be real contenders for the crown.  If I had to give the advantage to one of them, I’d probably give it to Lancaster.  It has some interesting elements, and I think the voting method to gain advantages will be better than the blind bidding in Strasbourg.

But my vote is for 7 Wonders.  So, you heard it hear first folks (actually, you’ve probably heard it several times): Forbidden Island and 7 Wonders are my picks to take home their respective prizes when the winners are announced on June 27.  The Kinderspiel des Jahres nominations are also out, but if I talk about them at all, it probably won’t be until they’re about to be announced in August.

Thanks for joining me in this exploration of this year’s crop of SDJ nominees.  While I’ve been doing this series, information about several games I want to talk about has come out, so I’ll be getting right on that.  Thanks for reading!

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UPDATE (JUNE 27, 2011): And the winners are…Qwirkle and 7 Wonders!  I’m not surprised about 7 Wonders, but Qwirkle’s win was a bit of a shock to me as I had it as a long shot.  Nevertheless, congrats to Susan McKinley Ross and Antoine Bauza for their wins!

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