The Eleven: SdJ Recommendations 2013

The winners of the Spiel and Kennerspiel des Jahres have been announced!  And they are…Hanabi and Legends of Andor!  So I got the SdJ winner right, and missed for the KdJ.  I played Hanabi recently, and am particularly glad it won.  Legends of Andor does seem like a pretty solid game – people keep talking about how unique the tutorial system is, so I find myself wanting to play more and more.  I find it interesting that two cooperative games won this year – it seems that the committee is finally recognizing the trend.

Every year, the jury releases a list of recommended games, games that didn’t make the nominee list for some reason, but still warranted some recognition.  And hey…there are eleven recommendations between the Spiel and Kennerspiel lists, so let’s do another edition of The Eleven!  This list is organized alphabetically, with the Spiel des Jahres recommendations preceding those for the Kennerspiel.

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

La Boca is an abstract partnership game from KOSMOS where players are attempting to build city skylines from a picture while there partner is trying to build the other side of it.  It’s for 3-6 players and takes 40 minutes to play.  The game was designed by Inka and Markus Brand, winners of last year’s Kennerspiel des Jahres for Village, and this year’s Kinderspiel for The Enchanted Tower.  La Boca was on a lot of lists as a probable nomination, even called by some as the winner.  So it was kind of a surprise when it only made the recommendation list.

The game is played in the box insert, which has a 4×4 grid, a slot for the task card, and a slot for the electronic timer.  There are also 11 blocks of different shapes and colors, 64 total task cards, 6 large player tiles, 30 partnership chips, and 100 point chips.  The game works with rotating partnerships.  On your turn, you reveal one of your color chips…that’s your partner for the round.  You then draw a task card, stick it in the slot, and start building.  The object is to try to build the city from your perspective so the side you see looks just like the picture.  This is complicated by the fact that your partner is trying to do the same thing from the other side.  You then get points based on how long it takes you to complete the tasks.  The game continues until everyone has partnered with everyone else twice (four times in a 3-player game), and the player with the most points wins.

This game seems like one that would drive me crazy.  I like playing these spatial puzzle games, but I always get flustered and end up losing it as things get more difficult.  I can only imagine how difficult working with a partner would be.  And I would say that’s probably why this game didn’t get a flat out nomination – it’s simple in terms of rules, but very complex strategically.  Still, it looks like a very good game, and it is one I would like to try, despite being sure I’d be terrible at it.

image by BGG user netes
image by BGG user netes

Divinare is a 2-4 player game from designer Brett J. Gilbert that was published by Asmodee.  It takes around 30 minutes to play, and is all about trying to guess the cards of other players.  The theme is that of a contest between mediums to determine the most powerful.  Each player begins the game with a character card and four prediction tokens.  Additionally, there are four game boards that are placed in the middle of the game.  The game takes one round per player.  At the start of each round, players get six cards and place their prediction tokens in the center of each board.  On a turn, a player will play a card next to a corresponding board, then will move their prediction token to show how many cards of that type they think will be played.  You must move the token when you play a card, and it can be moved back to the center.  Your prediction is helped by passing cards are various points during the round.

After everyone has played all cards, you score.  Gain three points for a perfect prediction, one point for a prediction that is off by one, and lose a point for anything else.  If your prediction token is in the center, you get no points.  After all rounds, the player with the most points wins.

Divinare is a game of trying to read your opponents as much as playing cards.  You know that 24 of 36 cards will be played each game, and you know the distribution of the cards (6 red, 8 blue, 10 green, 12 yellow).  However, you don’t know what’s out, and while you can try to make an educated guess, you just can’t know.  The passing mechanism means that you’ll know more cards as the game proceeds.  So then it becomes something of a memory game.  The game looks very straightforward, and looks like there might be a lot of guesswork involved.  It looks very nice, and seems like it would be a fun way to pass the time.

image by BGG user Baartoszz
image by BGG user Baartoszz

Escape: The Curse of the Temple was the big hit of last year’s Spiel in Germany.  Designed by Kristian Arnundsen Østby and released by Queen Games, this 1-5 player game lasts all of 10 minutes.  It’s a real-time cooperative venture where players are attempting to, well, escape a temple.  The game comes with a soundtrack that plays and acts as your timer.  All players start on an entrance tile, and when the soundtrack says “ESCAPE!” you start rolling your five dice.  You need to roll certain symbols – two runners to reveal a new tile, symbols printed on that tile to move onto it, and required symbols to move gems onto a lock.  You are rolling and rerolling as fast as you can, and can set aside or reroll any dice…except the black masks.  If you roll one of these, it is locked until you roll a gold mask.  Other players in the same room can also let you use their gold masks they roll.

At two different times during the game, a gong will sound.  You need to make your way back into the entrance room before you hear a door slam, or you lose a die for the rest of the game.  Eventually, you will reach the exit tile.  This tile requires a certain number of keys to exit depending on the number of gems left – these are gems that did not get put in locks.  If everyone gets out before the end, you all win.  If even one person fails to exit, everyone loses.

Having played this one a few times, I can say that it’s very fun.  Very stressful, but fun.  I haven’t played with the expansions, but they look like they add some good replayability.  This game was the one I was almost positive would get a nomination, and I’m quite surprised that it didn’t.  It was just such a big hit.  My only thought about that goes back to how I thought the SdJ was going for games that were a little less expensive.  Escape costs $50, and is only ten minutes long.  I think you get a lot of bang for your buck, but I think that was probably too much for the nominating committee.

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

Hand aufs Herz (which I think roughly translates to Hand on Your Heart) is a party game from designer Julien Sentis and published by Zoch Verlag.  It’s for 2-10 players and takes around 30 minutes.  It’s based on a 2010 game called “Trigger” by the same designer.  There’s limited English information on this one, but from what I gather, there’s a big plastic heart in the center of the table.  On your turn, you designate one hand as “true” and the other as “false”.  You then draw a card and read the question/statement.  Players will then slap down their hand on the heart that corresponds to what they think the answer is.  Right answers score points, and wrong answers lose points.  The points go up the closer to the heart you are.  The player with the most points wins.

This seems like it might be a good get to know you game as the cards (at lest in the Trigger version) are about people, or current situations.  Plus, there’s the speed element involved.  It doesn’t look too bad, but it’s a party game, and thus has low interest for me.

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

Libertalia is a pirate-themed game from Asmodee, designed by Paolo Mori.  It’s a 2-6 player game that takes 45 minutes to play.  In the game, each player tries to acquire the most treasure through a novel role selection method.  Each player has a deck of 30 different roles, and one player will randomly choose nine to begin.  All other players will match those nine from their own decks.  You then embark upon a week long journey in which all players will simultaneously select a role for the day, then reveal.  Lower numbered roles resolve their actions first, but higher numbered roles get to claim treasure first (as long as they make it that far).    Roles that are not destroyed go into your den to potentially score more treasure later.

After six days (rounds), players will collect their booty for the week, then will get a new set of six roles (drawn randomly and matched as in the beginning).  After three weeks of play, the game ends and whoever has collected the most booty wins.

Libertalia is a great game.  I’ve gotten to play twice, and I thought it was a wonderful experience.  There’s some luck in which roles are available, but after that, it’s all strategy to determine when to play them.  It’s probably a little complex for the SdJ, but I would have thought it would be a good candidate for the KdJ.  Possibly they were trying to not nominate Paolo Mori too much?  At any rate, I’m glad it got a recommendation.  More people should play, it’s a ton of fun.

image by BGG user spielstein
image by BGG user spielstein

Mixtour (and not Mixotaur as I thought it was originally) is a two-player abstract game from designer Dieter Stein and published by Clemens Gerhards.  It is played on a 5×5 grid with players trying to build towers.  On your turn, you put a piece out on the board, or you move a tower.  You can move as many pieces from the tower as you wish when moving, but your move must end on top of another tower.  The distance you can move a tower is determined by the height of the target tower.  So if a tower is three high, you can only move something onto it from three spaces away.  When a tower reaches five or more in height, it is removed and the player that owned the top piece gets a point.  You determine before the game begins how many points you want to play to – according to the rules, one point is usually the target.

This reminds me a lot of Focus.  It is different, but the movement of towers is just reminiscent of Sid Sackson’s SdJ winner.  This one takes the concept in a different direction, but I think it’s interesting.  It’s the only true abstract on the list (with no fancy art or theme attached), and I wonder if the recommending committee put it there because of its similarities.  Seems interesting enough, and one I wouldn’t have ever known about had it not been for this list.

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

Rondo is from the great and powerful Reiner Knizia, published by Schmidt Spiele.  It’s another abstract (this time with art) for 2-4 players, and takes 25 minutes to play.  The board consists of a round wheel with numbered spaces.  Players will take turns placing stones on the board, scoring points as they go.  You can also choose to play nothing and take two stones from the bag instead.  The game ends when all gray spaces are full, or when the last stone comes out of the bag (there are 120).

This seems like a very light abstract game with typical Knizia overtones.  From the English translation I’ve been reading, I’m not exactly sure why the stones are different colors or how stone placement works, but there it is.  It seems like it would be a good family game for people looking to explore abstracts in a multiplayer group.

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

Riff Raff was designed by Christoph Cantzler and was published by Zoch Verlag.  This one is for 2-4 players and takes 30 minutes to play.  This is a dexterity based pirate game where players are trying to stack goods on the ship.  Players each choose a card (numbered 1-10) and reveal simultaneously.  They then take turns putting a crate on the ship in the indicated area (two crates if there’s already something there).  If the ship tips and crates fall off, you can try to catch them – if you do, they’re removed from the game.  If not, you are responsible for reloading them.  Players begin with eight crates – the first person to get all of them on the ship wins.

This seems like a very simple dexterity game, at least in terms of rules.  The boat is a wooden model with numbers on the mast as well as the ship itself.  I’d probably be terrible at it.  It’s the second pirate game on this list, which I find interesting – it seems we’ve found a theme the committee finds attractive.

image by BGG user jasss333
image by BGG user jasss333

Yay! is a push-your-luck dice game from designer Heinz Merister and publishers Noris Spiele.  It’s for 2-4 players ages 8 and up.  In the game, you have a dice board consisting of an 8×8 grid.  You roll your three dice, then write the sum of the dice into an empty field touched by the dice.  If an opponent has entered a lower number on a neighboring field, you cross it out.  The push-your-luck aspect comes in that you can choose to reroll your dice if unsatisfied.  The next roll needs to be higher than the previous one, or you’ll have to cross out one of your fields.  The game ends when one row and one column have been completely filled, and the player with the most occupied fields wins.

This seems like a quick one, and it seems pretty unique as you’re essentially rolling on a white board.  I think it sounds pretty cool, and one that would be pretty easy to try out with a homemade copy.  I don’t recommend it – respect the IP – but the point is that there’s not a lot to this game.  This is another one of those that I think would be pretty neat to try, and am glad I found out about it through the recommended list.

image by BGG user nan3000
image by BGG user nan3000

On to the Kennerspiel recommended list, and these games get a lot more complex.  Terra Mystica was designed by Jens Drögemüller and Helge Ostertag, and was published by Feuerland Spiele (Z-Man has released the US version).  It’s a fairly unique civilization building game for 2-5 players that takes 100 minutes to play.  The game has 14 factions, each representing one of seven different terrain types.  As the game progresses, you’ll be rebuilding the world, transforming spaces to your own terrain type and putting up buildings that help you earn points.  That in itself is a pretty unique way of dealing with civilization building, but another interesting innovation is the way power is collected.  There are three “bowls” printed on your faction board, and power will accumulate in those.  When you gain power, you move it up a bowl (1 to 2, 2 to 3), and you can only spend it from #3, at which time it goes back to #1.  It is possible to use some power from bowl #2 when taking actions, but you then have to remove some of your power from the game (you only get 12).

The game has a lot going on, and I’m not going to rehash it here – for more detail, check out my post from last December.  The game has done remarkably well in the hobby market since its release, already at #11 in the BGG rankings, and probably will go higher as more people get a chance to play it.  That speaks to its impact on the hobby, as well as to the quality of design.  A lot of people thought this was going to get a nomination for the KdJ, but if you look at the three that did get nominated, this one is much heavier.  I’ve been thinking to myself about whether I think the committee should create a fourth award for heavy games, but I think it’s probably not a great idea at the time – the Kennerspiel is still in its infancy, and you don’t want to confuse people.  Maybe down the road, but I think a recommendation is good for now.

image by BGG user karel_danek
image by BGG user karel_danek

T’zolkin: The Mayan Calandar was designed by Simone Luciani and Daniele  Tascini, and was originally published by Czech Games Edition.  The German version came out from Heidelberger Spielverlag, and Rio Grande released it in the US.  It’s a game for 2-4 players that takes 90 minutes to play.  This is a worker placement game that utilizes gears to determine what your workers will do.  On a turn, you either place some workers on the gears, or take some off.  When you take workers off, you get to use the benefit of whatever it is currently beside.  This includes taking resources, advance in technology or architecture, participate in commerce, or gather points.  At the end of each complete round, the central gear will rotate one click (two if someone chooses that action), which will in turn rotate all other gears.  So when you place a worker, you are planning for the future as it will move from one action space to another.

Again, for more detail, go read my blog post about the game.  I would say that T’zolkin is one of the most unique games to come out in a long time, particularly due to that gear mechanism.  It makes the worker placement more dynamic, and many strategic decisions are created because of it.  The game does not seem quite as complex as Terra Mystica (I haven’t played either), but still is probably more complex than the KdJ calls for.  It’s also been doing very well in the hobby market, currently sitting at #17 at BGG.

And there we have it.  Of course, there are always disappointments that different games didn’t get even a recommendation – I thought for sure Seasons would be mentioned somewhere, and I thought Saint Malo might have gotten at least a recommendation.  Still, it’s a good crop of games, and I’m glad to know about them.  And with that, my SdJ coverage is done for the year.  Thanks for reading!

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3 comments

    • It’s definitely a thinky game. Everyone has the same roles, and you have to try to determine the best strategy for when to bring them out. It’s not a raucous game, at least not in the sense of King of Tokyo. It can get loud, but that’s usually when someone foils someone else’s plans.

      • Ah, that’s too bad. When I first heard about this game I was expecting a crazier cosmic encounter type game, which would have worked well with my friends. Oh well.

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