With the announcement of the winners of this year’s Spiel des Jahres and Kennerspiel des Jahres coming on Monday, I wanted to use this edition of The Eleven to look at the recommendations by the jury for this year. These are games that, for whatever reason, are not up for the main awards, but are notable enough to warrant a mention. I did this last year when there were eleven recommendations (and thus enough to fill out my list), but this year there are only nine. So this list will include two extra recommendations from me – games from the last year that I think should have been on the list. On with the show!
There are five recommendations for the Spiel des Jahres list this year:
Love Letter is a game by Seiji Kanai that was first published in Japanese in 2012 by Kanai Factory (later AEG in the US). Pegasus Spiele released the German version in 2013. The game is for 2-4 players and takes 20 minutes to play. It is the game that kicked off the current microgame craze. The game has 16 cards and 13 cubes. Each player is dealt a hand of one card. On your turn, you draw a card and play a card. Each card is a different role that allows you to do something, and your goal is to have the highest valued card possible remaining in your hand once all cards have been drawn. The guard (#1) allows you to try to guess what someone else has, eliminating them if you are right. The priest (#2) allows you to peek at someone else’s hand. The baron (#3) allows you to compare hands with another player, with the lower value eliminated. The handmaid (#4) means no cards can affect you until your next turn. The prince (#5) allows you to make someone discard their hand and draw a new one. The king (#6) allows you to trade hands with someone else. The countess (#7) does nothing, but must be discarded if you get the king or prince. The princess (#8) also does nothing, but if you discard her, you are out.
Once all cards have been drawn, the player with the highest value in hand wins. Alternately, you can win by eliminating all other players. You get a token of affection, and play again. The first to 7-5-4 victories (with 2-3-4 players) is the overall winner.
This is the only one of the SdJ Recommended games that I have played, and I wholly support its inclusion. I didn’t really expect it to get nominated as some did, mostly because of Hanabi’s win last year. However, I’m very glad it’s getting recognition – it is a fantastic game, especially for something so small.
Potato Man was designed by Günter Burkhardt and Wolfgang A. Lehmann that was published by Zoch Verlag. This is a trick-taking game for 2-5 players with a potato theme. There are four different colors of cards, and each color has a different distribution of numbers. The game works like this – one player leads with a card, and then each other player plays one. The difference between this and most trick-taking games is that you can only play a color that has NOT been played rather than following suit (in a five-player game, one color can be played twice). Whoever has the highest number wins the trick, and takes a potato sack card that matches the color. These will be your points. Now, red has the highest numbers, but the highest cards in the game have an evil potato on them. The evil potato can be defeated by Potato Man (yellow), who otherwise has the lowest numbers in the game.
When a player can’t play because they don’t have the color they would have to play, the round is over and players tally their scores. You play as many rounds as there are players, and the player who has the most points is the winner.
This looks like a really great trick-taking game. It has a really good twist on the traditional trick-taker with the requirement of playing different colors. There’s also some push-your-luck as you’re trying to save some of your best cards – once the potato sacks of a color are gone, you can start taking special gold five-point sacks. There’s a limited amount of each, however, so you can’t wait too long. The art looks very cute and fun. It looks like a great recommendation, and one I’d really like to try out sometime.
Sanssouci is a tile-laying game designed by Michael Kiesling and published by Ravensburger. The game is for 2-4 players, and involves trying to build the best garden. Each player has their own garden board, and on your turn you’ll be playing a card to take a tile and place it in your garden. Everyone has their own 18-card deck, and you’ll have two cards in hand at a time. The card you play determines the tile you can take. The tile is then placed in the corresponding space of your garden. After this, you can move a nobleman to score points. After refilling the board and your hand, it moves on to the next player. After the 18th round (i.e. after everyone has played their entire deck), the game is over and the player with the most points is the winner.
Garden tile-laying games aren’t new to me. Alhambra won the Spiel des Jahres back in 2003, and I am a big fan of The Hanging Gardens from 2008 as well. This recommendation is not exactly exciting me, but I think that there’s a law that there has to be at least one mention of a game by Wolfgang Kramer and/or Michael Kiesling. And in the absence of Kramer this year, Kiesling it is. Who knows, maybe it’s great – I love Kiesling’s Vikings game, so maybe this one is equal amounts of awesome.
SOS Titanic was designed by Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc, and was published by Heidelberger Spieleverlag. This game, for 1-5 players, is a cooperative game about trying to save people from the sinking of the Titanic. A booklet showing the Titanic is placed, and columns of cards are dealt beneath it in stacks of 4, 6, 8, and 10. The only face up card in these stacks is the top one. On your turn, you can move passengers around so that they are in descending sequence with other passengers of their class (5-4-3, for example). If you have a 1, that’s a lifeboat, and the sequence can be built up on top of that – this is a survivors group. Then you must either play an action card or set up a rescue. To do a rescue, you draw as many cards as you want to, play one into a line or survivors group, and discard the rest. If none of the cards can be played, you discard them all and flip a page of the Titanic booklet. When the book runs out (or when all passengers have joine a survivors group), the game is over and you score based on how many you saved.
This is solitaire. Seriously. Call it what you will – Klondike, Patience, computer time killer – this is the traditional solitaire card game with a theme added to it. OK, so you don’t have action cards in solitaire, but still. I do like that they’re trying to evolve the system, I just can’t imagine how cooperative solitaire is much fun, especially with up to FIVE PEOPLE. As a solo game, I think this would be great. I’d probably have more to say if it was a nominee, but it’s probably a fine addition to the recommendations.
Voll Schaf (aka Battle Sheep) was designed by Francesco Rotta and published by HUCH! and Friends (originally from Blue Orange). The game was first published back in 2010 as an abstract called Splits. The theme was added for the 2014 edition. Each player controls 16 sheep tokens which begin the game in one large stack on the pasture. On your turn, you move part of your sheep stack move in a straight line any number of spaces, leaving at least one behind. You can’t move through other sheep. When you can’t move any more sheep due to being at the edge of the pasture or being surrounded by other sheep, you’re done. Once no moves can be made by anyone, the player who controls the most board spaces wins.
This game gives me a significant Hey That’s My Fish vibe. True, it’s sheep not penguins, and tiles aren’t leaving the board. However, it has that same area control aesthetic – block your opponents so you can get to more spaces. Another difference is that, rather than having individual pieces, you’re moving stacks around and leaving pieces behind. That seems like it will offer very interesting strategic possibilities – how many do you leave behind, where do you want to go, and so on. So while it seems on the surface to be like HTMF, I think it’s probably different enough to merit its inclusion here. Besides, they always like to recognize at least one abstract, so why not one with a really family friendly theme?
There are four recommendations for the Kennerspiel des Jahres list this year:
Amerigo is a game designed by Stefan Feld that was published last year by Queen Games. The basic (unessential) theme is that you’re building trade routes and settlements in South America. The game utilizes the cube tower, also used in Wallenstein and Shogun (two other Queen titles). The game is played over five rounds, each with seven phases. At the beginning of each phase, you drop the cubes in the action space for the current phase in the cube tower. The colors of cubes that come out indicate the action choices you have, and the largest number indicates how many action points you have to spend on one action. These actions could be to move ships, load cannons, take land tiles, score progress points, build land tiles, buy production tokens, or change player order. After the seventh phase of each round, players must face the pirates, losing points if you fail to defeat them. After the fifth round, the player who has scored the most points wins.
Stefan Feld had a banner year last year. He had four games come out, and all were fairly well received. Amerigo was the last one released, and was probably the most complex of the games. As with most Feld games, it looks like it has a pretty weak theme, but that’s not why they get played. It seems like a unique use of the cube tower, and so it looks like a great game for the recommendation list. Besides, I think the same law that stipulates a Kramer and/or Kiesling game be mentioned also stipulates something by Feld. So here it is.
Blood Bound is a social deduction game from designer Kalle Krenzer and published by Heidelberger Spielverlag (Fantasy Flight in the US). The game is for 6-12 players, and is all about two warring vampire clans trying to capture the other’s Elder. At the beginning, each player gets a character and knows two things – to which clan they belong and the clan to which one of their neighbors belongs. On your turn, you either attack another player (who will become the next player) or pass the knife to someone else. If a player is attacked, they can see if someone else will take the wound for them – otherwise, they reveal their clan affiliation or rank. Once a player receives their fourth wound, they are captured. If they were the leader, the capturing team wins. Otherwise, the team of the captured player wins.
I love social deduction games. This is not one I’ve played, but it sounds pretty interesting. You’re trying to find out who’s on your team, but more than that, you are trying to find the other team’s leader. The ability to take other people’s wounds adds some negotiation elements to the game. With the popularity of games like Werewolf, The Resistance, and Coup, it stands to reason that a representative of the genre would be recognized. I don’t know if it’s the best choice for a recommendation from the genre, but it’s definitely something different.
Guildhall is a game designed by Hope S. Hwang and published in 2012 by AEG. Pegasus Spiele released the German edition. You’re trying to form the most productive guildhall, assembling workers from various professions to gain more and more prestige. Each player has a hand of cards that consists of six different professions – Assassin, Dancer, Farmer, Historian, Trader, and Weaver – in five different colors. On your turn, you can do one of three things – play a card, discard any number of cards and draw up to six, or use a completed chapter to claim a point card. Played cards go into your guildhall at the end of your turn, and you can’t have any duplicates – if you already have a red Weaver, you can’t add another one. Each profession does something different – the Assassin takes cards out of other players’ guildhalls, Dancers allow you to draw cards, Farmers give you VP chips, Historians allow you to dig through the discard pile, Traders allow you to trade cards with other players, and Weavers allow you to take cards from your hand and place them directly in the guildhall. Once a chapter has one profession in five different colors, it is completed and can be used to claim point cards. The first player to 20 points wins.
This is the only game from the Kennerspiel list that I have played (and even reviewed). I think it’s a fantastic game, full of surprising strategies and that feels completely different every time. It’s very minimalist – there are only six roles – but it’s amazingly deep for the simplicity. It’s one I’m glad to see getting more love. Very glad to see it on the recommended list.
Russian Railroads was designed by Helmut Ohley and Leonhard Orgler, and was published by Hans im Glück (Z-Man in the US). On the surface, it’s a railroad game, but it’s more about worker placement than traditional train game elements like economics or route-building. The game lasts 6-7 rounds, and in each round, players will take turns placing their workers on various spaces of the board. You can extend your tracks; build locomotives; build a factory; industrialize your network; gain a doubler to double your score for a track; gain roubles (money); gain temporary workers that must be used in the current round; hire an engineer; or change the turn order. Each action costs some of your workers. Once all players pass, the round ends and a scoring occurs. After the final round and scoring, the player with the most points is the winner.
Of course, this is a very basic recap of the game. I haven’t played it, and I haven’t really studied the rules at all – it’s a pretty heavy game, the heaviest on this list. It’s gotten rave reviews since coming out, and has already risen into the top 50 games at BGG. It seems that it’s a lot heavier than what they are looking for for the award, much like T’zolkin and Terra Mystica last year. I’m glad that it got some recognition despite its weight – always good to see a great game get some award love.
And finally, here are my two recommendations for games I think merited attention…let’s call it the Spiel des Jesse:
Forbidden Desert is my recommendation for the Spiel des Jahres list. The game was released in 2013, designed by Matt Leacock and published by Schmidt Spiele (Gamewright in the US). I might be wrong in my estimation, but I think it was released too late to be eligible last year. Still, it go no love either year, and I’m putting it on my list because it’s a great cooperative game. Like its older siblings Pandemic and Forbidden Island, Forbidden Desert is a cooperative game where you’re trying to win before a threat overwhelms you. This threat takes the form of a sandstorm that moves around the board throughout the game. You’re searching the desert for parts, and on your turn can move, clear sand, pick up parts, or explore the face down tile you’re on. After your turn, the storm moves, and there’s the potential for you to die of thirst or get buried under sand. If you collect all four parts of the flying machine and return them to the launchpad, you will escape and win.
I reviewed this game a while ago, and I expressed my love for it. I like it better than Forbidden Desert, which did get nominated for SdJ in 2010. It’s more complex for sure, and that’s why I like it. It probably would fall right between the SdJ and KdJ, so I don’t think it would have gotten nominated. Still, I think a recommendation is warranted, so here it is.
Lewis & Clark is my Kennerspiel recommendation. This game also came out in 2013, and was designed by Cedrick Chaboussit. Ludonautre is the publisher, with Asmodee distributing in the US. It’s a worker placement/deck building game about discovering the Western part of the US. Each player starts the game with a deck of six cards, all in your hand. On your turn, you can either send a Native to a location on the board, or you can play a card from your hand for its effect. This card must be activated, and you can either use the back of another card to activate it, or add Natives to the card. As you play, you’ll be recruiting new characters for your deck and advancing along a path to the West Coast. The first player to make it to or beyond Fort Clatsop at the end of their turn is the winner.
I’ve gotten to play this game once, and really liked it (despite the fact that it’s really long with five players). It does a great job combining worker placement and deck placement as your workers can either go to the board or be used to activate cards. Your cards too can be used for activation, and since you have to pay if you have too many Natives, you have to find a balance. With the nominations of Concordia and Rococo, there probably wasn’t room for another game that used this form of deck building, but I still feel that it would have been a great recommendation. So I’m recommending it.
There’s the list. Chime in if you have any additional recommendations. Thanks for reading!