SDJ Buzz: Kennerspiel des Jahres 2013

In the previous post, I looked at the Spiel des Jahres nominees for this year.  Now, let’s turn our eye to the Kennerspiel, or complex game of the year.

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

First up is Bruges, from designer Stefan Feld and published by Hans im Glück (Z-Man will be publishing it in the US).  Feld has been on a tear in 2013, with Bruges one of four scheduled releases in the year (Bora Bora and Rialto have already been released, with Amerigo coming for the Essen Spiel).  The game is for 2-4 players, and takes an hour to play.  In 15th century Bruges, you are a merchant trying to maintain stable relationships while building up influence, power, and status.  In other words, it’s a Stefan Feld game and theme doesn’t matter at all.  As a quick note – the English rules haven’t been posted yet, so I’m working off a translation here.

There are 165 cards in the game, and these are mixed together and split into five decks.  You’ll choose one per player, and these are mixed together into one deck, which is then split into two equal halves.  Players get one henchman of each color (five total) and 5 guilders to begin the game, and the player who last fried something is the start player (what?!?).

At the beginning of each round, each player draws their hand up to five.  They decide which deck to pull from – each card has different colored backs.  Only after drawing may you look at your cards.  After everyone has drawn, the start player rolls the five colored dice, and distributes threat markers to each player for every f5 or 6.  If you get a third of a color, you suffer a hardship (flood, pestilence, uprising, fire, or conspiracy).  Each player may then pay to advance one space on the prestige track by paying a cost determined by all 1s and 2s rolled.

The next phase is the card playing and action phase.  Players take turns playing a card and taking an  action (take 2 workers, take 1-6 florings, put back a threat marker, build a canal tile, build a house, or place a person) until everyone has played four.  You’ll then check to see if anyone has a majority in one of three specified areas – advancement, people, and canal.

As you play, one of the two stacks will run out, at which time you will replace it with the leftover cards not selected in the beginning.  Once a second stack runs out, you’ll split the remaining stack in half and play out the current round.  At that point, the game will end.  You get points for people, houses, benefits, majorities, canals, and advancement.  The player with the most wins.

I’ve heard this game described as Stefan Feld’s take on a CCG, and while I don’t know if that necessarily is the case, it does seem pretty different from other games in his oeuvre.  It relies heavily on cards, which is something he doesn’t do often, and it looks like it has a pretty unique take on them – different card backs represent different things.  Still, it does have the standard Feld trademarks – lots of stuff to do, punches in the face if you’re not paying attention (hardships), a lack of a cohesive theme, and some seemingly tight mechanisms.  It’s one I’d really have to try to appreciate, but it seems like a good nominee to me.

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

Next is Legends of Andor, from designer Michael Menzel and published in German by KOSMOS (Fantasy Flight released the English edition).  This is the first game Menzel has designed – he has been better known for years as a game artist, and has indeed done some of the best illustrations in board gaming (see Stone Age, Pillars of the Earth, Cuba, A Castle for All Seasons, and so on).  LoA is a cooperative adventure game for 2-4 players that takes 75 minutes to play.  In it, you are trying to defend your realm against advancing hordes.

This game is a little tough to get a handle on without having played because the rules that are out there are very general and basic, and don’t really give a sense of the flow of the game.  The game has six different legends, or scenarios, that you can play with, and you work your way through them.  Each legend has its own different conditions and story arc, but the basics of the game remain the same.  Each player gets a hero with a different special ability.  On your turn, you perform one action: move, fight, wait, or move an ally.  Each action requires you to advance your time marker on the track.  The time spaces each represent one hour, and you only have seven hours of daylight to accomplish your tasks.  At the beginning of a day, events occur and monsters advance, and you’ll have to take care of them.  If they hit your castle too much, you lose.

The scenarios are not online, so I can’t look into the specifics of each one, but from the reviews I’ve seen, it looks like this is a game has a good narrative arc to it and can be a good interactive storytelling experience.  With only six legends, it may be limited in its replayability, but that’s what expansions are for, right?  It looks gorgeous, and looks like a good fantasy adventure game.

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

Finally, there’s The Palaces of Carrara by the Meryl Streep team of board games, Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling.  This is a 2-4 player game that takes an hour to play, and it’s all about buying marble and building buildings.  A thrilling Euro theme.  Players all have a player board, as well as a screen.  They begin the game with 20 coin, and a cube of a different color depending on player order.  A wheel on the board is seeded with a cube of each color in one section, while the other cubes go in a bag.  Additionally, there are building tiles, objects, and scoring markers.

On your turn, you get one action – buy blocks, build buildings, or score.  To buy, you simply rotate the wheel, draw cubes from the bag to place in section one so that there are 11 on the board, then buy according to the current price indicated.  To build, you use your blocks to build one of the available buildings in a city that will allow it.  When you choose to score, you can score a building type, gaining money or VPs; pr you can score a city, gaining money or VPs.  In each case, you’ll mark the building type or city with a marker, indicating that you can’t score it again.

The game continues until the last building has been built, or until one player has completed the three objectives on the objective board.  At this time, there’s a final scoring, with each player gaining 3 points per object collected, the sum of his buildings’ cost in VPs, and 1 point per 5 coins.  You can also get 5 points by completing all three objectives and announcing the end of the game.  The player with the most points wins.

This one seems very simple and straightforward.  The most interesting thing to me is the rotating wheel that changes the market value of each cube.  However, the cubes are random, so you may have to purchase something for much more than you would want to.  It reminds me of Kiesling’s 2007 game, Vikings – one I like a lot.  It’s also kind of interesting to me that you are limited in the number of times you can score (6 total), which means you’re trying to maximize while also trying not to run out of time.

This one is a tough category for me to predict.  It was pretty easy to predict 7 Wonders and Village the past two years, but this year, nothing jumps out to me as being especially unique or innovative.  I want to say Legends of Andor will win, but I have a feeling that the fantasy theme is going to stop voters from picking it.  Plus, if my prediction of Hanabi for the SdJ holds up, that would mean two cooperative games win this year, and I doubt that will happen.  I also think Kramer and Kiesling have won too much (Kramer has five wins, two with Kiesling), so I think the Kennerspiel des Jahres this year is going to Stefan Feld and Bruges.  I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if any of these games won, but I am kind of disappointed that they all seem so light.  They’re not as light as the SdJ nominees, but I wish this award was for more complex games.  I’ll talk more about that when I cover the recommendation list in a few weeks.

So, to review – I’m predicting Hanabi for the SdJ win, and Bruges for the KdJ.  So, if you’re a betting person, I’d suggest voting against me as I don’t know what I’m talking about most of the time.  Thanks for reading!

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