Last year, I took a look at the first eleven Spiel des Jahres winners, spanning the years 1979-1989. This year, it’s time to look at 1990-2000.
1990: Adel Verplichtet (later released in English as Hoity Toity) was the second SdJ win for designer Klaus Teuber. The game, for 2-6 players, is all about collecting and displaying antiques. In each round, each player will simultaneously and secretly decide if they are going to an auction house or to a castle. If you go to the auction house, you will choose a cash or thief card. If you play a cash card, the player with the most takes a collectible. If you play a thief card, you get the cash card that was played (but if multiple thieves are played, no one gets anything). If you go to the castle instead, you can either put on an exhibit, steal stuff from others, or arrest and jail other player’s thieves. To put on an exhibit, play an exhibit card – you need at least three collectibles to do this. This is how you score. If you play a thief here, you may take a collectible from everyone who played an exhibit this round. If you choose to arrest with a detective, you’ll be able to score points (with the thieves retaining their ill-gotten gains). The game ends when a player reaches the dinner banquet spaces. After a final scoring, the player furthest ahead on the score track wins.
My first exposure to this game was when Scott Nicholson talked about it on Board Games With Scott. I think, at the time, I heard “auction house” and did not want to try it out. After looking at it, there is an element of blind bidding, but it seems to fit more into the simultaneous action selection category that I tend to like more. So I’m more willing to give it a look now. It’s definitely different than the games that had been chosen before – there seems to be more conflict here than in previous winners.
1991: Drünter und Drüber was the third SdJ win for Klaus Teuber. This one came to us from Hans im Glück (with Mayfair distributing it in the US as Wacky Wacky West, which has my vote for one of the worst titles ever). 2-4 players can participate in this tile-laying game about building a city. The game board is a grid of squares with preprinted buildings. On your turn, you place a tile of length 1, 2, or 3 at the end of a current line, moving the building gang figure to the end so players know where to begin. Each player has a secret building that they are trying not to cover up. Whenever an outhouse is covered, a vote occurs to see if it actually happens. Once no one else can play, the player with the most uncovered buildings is the winner.
I think this looks like a fun game. It’s just tile-laying and trying to cover up other players’ buildings. There’s some voting involved, but it’s mostly just trying to mess up the other players. I’d like to play, but I haven’t heard very good things about the Mayfair version. Maybe a new one will push me over the top.
1992: Um Reifenbreite is a game about bicycle racing. The game was designed by Rob Bontenbal and was originally published in 1979. The 1991 reprint by Jumbo is the one that won the SdJ. The game is four 2-4 players, and each player controls a four person team of cyclists. In each round, each cyclist must be moved once. You can move by rolling two dice and moving straight or diagonally up to that many spaces, or by drafting the cyclist right in front of yours. You move the same number of spaces and end directly behind the other cyclist. Energy cards can be used to take the place of dice, and chance cards are drawn if you roll a 7. Once riders have crossed the finish line, the team with the most points among all four cyclists wins.
There are a lot of car racing and horse racing games out there, but not many cycling games. This one seems to do pretty well with giving the feel of cycling (I’m glad they included drafting), as well as trying to work your team to get the highest score possible. It’s not just one cyclist who wins, it’s how your whole team does that counts. There seem to be plenty of ways to mitigate the roll-and-move luck, so that’s a good thing. This looks like a pretty good winner of the award.
1993: Bluff (aka Liar’s Dice) originates from a dice game Francisco Pizarro brought to Spain from France in the 16th century. A mass-produced version appeared in 1974, but it’s the 1987 version, designed by Richard Borg and originally published by Milton Bradley, that won the SdJ in 1993 (as published by FX Schmid). The game is pretty simple – each player has five dice and a cup, and all simultaneously roll. You then peek at your dice and, in turn order, predict how many of a certain type of dice there are – three 2s, four 6s, seven 3s, etc. Each player must outbid the previous player – either increasing the value of dice or the quantity of dice – until someone calls the previous player’s bluff. All dice are revealed, and if the bidder was correct, the caller loses a die. If not, the bidder loses a die. The game continues until only one player is left standing. They win.
Liar’s Dice is a pretty fun game, if completely dependent on luck. It’s a bluffing game, however, so it all comes down to how well you can convince the others that you know what you’re talking about. You don’t really need a mass produced copy, you can easily play with your own dice and cups. As practically a public domain game, this was an odd choice for the SdJ.
1994: Manhattan was the first SdJ win for eventual Puerto Rico designer Andreas Seyfarth. Hans im Glück was the original publisher, with Mayfair and later Rio Grande distributing it in the US. The game is for 2-4 players, and is all about constructing the skyline of six cities around the world. On your turn, you’ll play a card that indicates a position to build. You then put one of your tower pieces in that position on one of the six cities. You can build on top of another tower as long as you have the same number of floors or more. After everyone has placed six pieces, you score for the highest building, majority in each region, and each tower people own. After four rounds, the game is over and the player with the most points wins.
While this game may be kind of abstract, it still seems like it’s a fun city building experience. There are nice plastic buildings, and what seems to be some good strategy in figuring out where to place. It’s one that I’d love to play sometime.
1995: This was the year of The Settlers of Catan. Not only did this net Klaus Teuber his fourth SdJ, but it also was single-handedly responsible for bringing Eurogames to the US. Most people know the game, but in case you don’t – 3-4 players are settling the island of Catan, producing resources and trading them, and building all the improvements they need to gain victory. On your turn, you roll the dice, and the result tells you which hex produces resources for the settlements next to them. You then can trade resources with others and build new settlements, cities, roads, or purchase development cards. You gain points for your cities and settlements, as well as having the largest army, the longest road, and various other development cards. The first player to 10 points wins.
Settlers is an absolute classic that is quickly becoming one of the most popular games in the world. Even people who don’t know hobby games have heard of Catan. Mayfair made the best business decision ever when they got the license to bring it to the US. And it is a great game – fairly simple to learn, and with enough interaction to keep people coming back for more. I haven’t played in a while – the dice always seem to hate me – but there’s no doubt that Catan is the game that started the current board gaming craze, and was definitely one of the best Spiel des Jahres choices ever.
1996: El Grande brought designer Wolfgang Kramer his third Spiel des Jahres win, and the only win for co-designer Richard Ulrich. El Grande was extremely important in the development of gaming in that it really refined the area control game and made it more accessible to a Eurogamer’s taste. Each player is a Grande in 15th century Spain attempting to gain control of as many regions as possible. At the start of each of the nine rounds, players bid on turn order. In this order, players will take an action card, move caballeros (cubes) to the board, and take the special action on the card. After each round, a new action card is revealed. After every third round, a scoring occurs – each region is scored individually, with first and second (sometimes third) getting points. After the ninth round, the game ends and the player with the most points wins.
El Grande is probably the heaviest game ever to win the SdJ. Certainly today, it would be considered for the Spiel des Jahres. However, this landed in an era of the award where they were starting to award heavier games. It’s a great game – I’ve played once, and really enjoyed it. Usually, I’m not a fan of Kramer’s games, but this one is really good. It has definitely stood the test of time, and is one I’d definitely recommend.
1997: Mississippi Queen is a game about racing steam boats down the Mississippi. This is a game for 3-5 players designed by Walter Hodel and published by Goldsieber (Rio Grande in the US). When it’s your turn, you adjust your speed wheel one space in either direction for free (additional spaces cost coal). You move forward that many spaces, with one 60 degree turn allowed for free (more turns cost coal). You add new river tiles as you enter empty spaces, and you can push your opponents to the side. All the while, you have to avoid running aground, and need to be the first to arrive at the final platform to win. In the full version, you also need to pick up two passengers to deliver before you can win.
Mississippi Queen does not have a great reputation among SdJ winners. It’s frequently cited as one of the worst, but it does have its fans. To me, it seems like it’s a pretty effective racing game with a very unique theme. There’s not much luck – you have to roll a die to determine placement of the next river tile. It’s a game I’d need to play to really get how it works, but if you’re looking at longevity, Bohnanza probably would have been a better choice for this year.
1998: Elfenland was the first SdJ win for designer Alan R. Moon. This 2-6 player game was published by AMIGO (Rio Grande in the US). It’s a route building game where players are trying to get to as many locations as possible. At the beginning of each round, players are dealt eight travel cards which each show different forms of transport and the types of terrain where the transport can be used. You’ll then draw some transportation counters, some face up and some face down. Players then take turns placing transportation counters on roads (they can be used by all players), then move their boot pieces along roads using travel cards. Every time you reach a town, you collect your town piece that is there. At the end of the fourth round, the player who has collected the most town pieces wins. There’s a variant where everyone has a home destination, and their distance from their home after the fourth round is subtracted from their score.
I played Elfenland last year, and enjoyed it. It’s an interesting route-building game where you are trying to get around the board as quickly as possible. You have to be careful as you place transportation tokens so that you’re not helping others. There are obstacles you can place which make people use extra cards. I do like the game, and I think it was probably a pretty good winner for 1998.
1999: Tikal gave Wolfgang Kramer his fourth SdJ win, and the first to co-designer Michael Kiesling. This 2-4 player game was published by Ravensburger (Rio Grande in the US). It was the first of the so-called “Mask” trilogy, and helped introduce the action point system. The board shows a jungle, and players will be revealing parts of it by drawing hexagonal tiles. On your turn, you have ten action points to spin – you can add expedition members, move expedition members over stones, uncover a temple level, recover a treasure, exchange a treasure, establish a camp, or place a guard on a temple. After the last hex has been placed, the game ends and the player with the most points wins.
I played Tikal once a while ago, and while I can appreciate the design, I wasn’t really fond of the game. My biggest problem with it is that it has a serious analysis paralysis problem. With ten action points to spend, you have a lot to consider every turn. And while every move doesn’t cost the same number of action points, turns still take a looong time. It’s a good game that should be honored, but probably more of a Kennerspiel game these days.
2000: Torres was another design from Kramer and Kiesling, giving them back to back wins. This one is for 2-4 players, and was published by ABACUSSPIELE (Rio Grande in the US). Torres is another action point game (and is often considered to be an informal member of the Mask trilogy). Players have five points to spend on their turns, and that can be used to add a night to the board, move a knight, place a tower block, acquire or play an action card, or score a point. As you play, towers are being built up, and you want to get your knights as high as possible in these towers to score the most points. Scoring occurs after each phase (3-4 rounds). Players score for each castle where they have at least one knight, scoring a number equal to the area times the height of the highest knight. There’s a king’s bonus for being on a certain level during scoring. After the third round, the game ends and the player with the most points wins.
I found Torres to be a pretty good, if very abstract game. Again, analysis paralysis can be a problem, but not as much as Tikal. The 3-D nature of the game is very engaging, and you can really rack up a lot of points with some clever combinations – knights can only move up a level at a time, and if you can get a tower where you’re just stacking and moving, you can get some ridiculously high scores. I think it’s a good choice for the SdJ, though again more complex than they’re handing awards to these days.
That’s it for this year. Next year, we’ll hit the winners from 2001-2011, which will catch me up to the time I started covering the SdJ process on this blog. Thanks for reading!