SDJ Buzz: Spiel des Jahres 2013

Time for my annual roundup the Spiel des Jahres nominees and uniformed predictions of the winners.  In case you don’t know, the Spiel des Jahres is the most prestigious award in board gaming – our version of the Oscars, if you will.  It goes to the German game of the year – a game that has been released in a German edition sometime in the last 12 months.  There are three awards given out annually: the Spiel des Jahres (family game), the Kennerspiel des Jahres (complex game), and Kinderspiel des Jahres (children’s game).  I’ll be looking at the Spiel and Kennerspiel – the Kinderspiel winners have already been announced, and that award doesn’t interest me as much anyway.  In this post, the SdJ.  On to the nominees!

image by BGG user W Eric Martin
image by BGG user W Eric Martin

First up, Augustus, from designer Paolo Mori and published by Hurrican.  Augustus is for 2-6 players and takes 30 minutes to play.  In the game, you are representatives of the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus, tasked with maintaining the empire.  Your goal is to acquire as much wealth as possible.  The game comes with 88 objectives, 48 legion meeples, 23 mobilization tokens, 12 rewards, a cloth bag, and a scorepad.  To begin, each player gets seven legion meeples, as well as six objectives, from which they will choose three to keep.  Five objectives are dealt to the center, and the rest are placed in a draw pile.  The mobilization tokens go in the bag.

One player is the town crier, and draws a mobilization token from the bag.  This will show a double sword, a shield, a chariot, a catapult, a standard token, a dagger, and a joker.  All players can place a legion on the matching symbol on one of their objectives, either taking it from the stock or moving it from another spot. The joker means you can place anywhere, and once it has been drawn, all other tokens that have been drawn get put back in the bag.

When a player completes an objective, they shout “Bingo!”…I mean, “Ave Caesar!”  They take back their legions, carry out the power of the objective, take the objective into their area,claim a reward, and choose a new objective from the five face up (replacing it from the deck).  The game ends when one player has claimed seven objectives.  Points are totaled from rewards, objectives, and powers, with the player having the most winning.

Augustus seems to be a light, more advanced version of Bingo.  You’re pulling random tokens from a bag, covering the matching symbols up on cards, and trying to complete certain combinations.  Unlike Bingo, however, there are choices as to where you can decide where you want your legions to go.  I don’t know what any of the objectives or powers look like, but I imagine that they keep the game interesting.  I think this looks like a good family game, and probably a pretty worthy SdJ nominee.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin
image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Next up, Hanabi.  This game (designed by Antoine Bauza) was originally released back in 2010 by Cocktail Games, but the 2012 edition by ABACUSSPIELE is what got nominated for SdJ.  It’s a 2-5 player cooperative game that takes 25 minutes to play.  You are firework makers who accidentally mixed up the ingredients right before a show.  You have to stop a disaster…think July 4 in San Diego last year.  It’s a small game, with only 50 cards, 8 blue tokens, and 3 red tokens.  Each player gets 4 or 5 cards, depending on the number of players.  On your turn, you do one action.

  • You can give a piece of information to your fellow players about the cards in your hand.  To do so, you take a blue token and put it with the red tokens.  If there are no more, you can’t do this.  You can then point to  a card or cards in your hand, and give information about one color or one value.
  • You can discard a card, allowing you to return a blue token to the supply.  You can’t do this if there aren’t any to move back.  End your turn by drawing a new card.
  • You can play a card in front of you.  This card must either begin a firework (#1), or must continue the sequence (#2-5) in the same color.  If it doesn’t, you discard it and add a red token to the pile of blue tokens.  If you complete a firework (#5), you can add a blue token back to the supply.  After playing a card, draw a new one.

The game ends if all three red tokens are added – you lose.  It can also end if you complete five fireworks of five different colors – you win.  It also ends if the last card is drawn.  You then add up your score (the highest value card in each firework) to see how you did.  This ranges from “booed by the crowd” for 5 or less to “legendary” for a perfect score of 25.

This looks like a light, quick game where everyone is working together.  I think it’s interesting that it’s not a straight win or loss game, but like a lot of solitaire games, you can go for the best score.  That increases the family value.  Plus, it has simple, easy to grasp rules, and a fun theme.  It looks like a good filler that families and non-gamers can enjoy, so a good SdJ game.

image by BGG user olavf
image by BGG user olavf

Finally, Qwixx.  Steffen Benndorf designed this dice game from Nürnberger-Spielkarten-Verlag.  It’s for 2-5 players, and takes 15 minutes to play.  If you thought Hanabi was a small game…this one comes with six dice (two white, and one each of red-blue-green-yellow) and a scorepad.  On a turn, a player rolls all six dice, and calls out the sum of the two white dice.  All players MAY cross out that number on any color row.  The active player may then add together the pips of one white die and one colored die, and cross it out on his scorepad.  If the active player doesn’t cross off any numbers, he crosses out a misthrow, which is -5 points.  A player may cross off the final number at the extreme right end of their row if they have crossed off at least five numbers from the row.  This locks the color, and no player can use that die ever again.

The game ends when someone has marked their fourth misthrow, or if two rows have been closed off.  At this time, you get points for the number of crossed off numbers in each row, minus five for each misthrow.  The player with the highest score wins.

That’s all.  Roll, mark off numbers, rinse, repeat.  I’m sure it’s entertaining enough for what it is.  But this is the Spiel des Jahres – what exactly makes this worthy of the most prestigious award in board gaming?  There’s a little bit of strategy, sure, but you’re almost completely at the mercy of the dice.  I have some thoughts as to why this was nominated…in a moment.  For now, let’s just say that there HAD to have been something more worthy out there than what could just as easily be a print-and-play game.

Time for my uninformed and entirely baseless prediction of the SdJ.  I started predicting in 2009, and so far have only gotten one right: Dominion, which won in 2009; Roll through the Ages in 2010 (lost to Dixit); Forbidden Island in 2011 (lost to Qwirkle); and Eselsbrücke in 2012 (lost to Kingdom Builder).  So who will I bestow my kiss of death on this year?

Here’s my thinking.  I think Qwixx is out.  I don’t even think it’s a long shot – it’s so far off from what an SdJ winner should be that it’s kind of a head-scratcher as to why it was nominated.  My theory is that it’s a reflection of the popularity of small, fast, affordable games out on the market these days.  Games like Love Letter, Coup, and Dungeon Roll are proving that people are looking for small, portable, fun games, and I think that’s why Qwixx was nominated.  And since two small games were nominated, I’m calling Hanabi as the winner of the 2013 Spiel des Jahres.  Nothing against Augustus, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it won, but when two games of a particular type are nominated, it tends to reflect what the jury is looking for.  I’m thinking specifically of the nominations of Dixit and Identik in 2010 – it seems like they were looking for a party game.  This time, I just think they’re looking for a small game, something affordable and portable.  Additionally, I don’t know if a cooperative game has ever won.  So, Hanabi’s my pick.  What do you think?

I’ll be back soon with Kennerspiel coverage.  Thanks for reading!

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