SDJ Buzz: Kennerspiel des Jahres 2015

In 2011, the jury that awards the Spiel des Jahres began also awarding the so-called Kennerspiel des Jahres.  Whereas the regular SDJ goes to the family game of the year, the KedJ is the “connoisseur’s game” of the year, or more complex game.  And so, here is my round up of this year’s nominees, which, unlike the SdJ nominees, I have played none of.

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

The first nominee is Broom Service, designed by Andreas Pelikan and Alexander Pfister.  It was published by alea, and is the first game in their big box line since 2004 that was not designed by Stefan Feld*.  The game is a reworking of the 2008 game Witch’s Brew, which was released in the alea medium box line and got nominated for the Spiel des Jahres that year (it lost to Keltis).  In Broom Service, 2-5 players are witches, druids, and gatherers making potions and delivering them all around the realm.

Each player gets 10 role cards in their color, and everyone has the same set.  In each of the game’s seven rounds, you will select four of these role cards to play at some point.  On a turn, the active player will choose one of their role cards and play it, either declaring the top (brave) action, or the bottom (cowardly) action.  Brave actions are riskier, but cowardly actions are sure things.  If you declare the cowardly action, you take it immediately.  If you take the brave action, you need to wait for your opponents.

Once you’ve played a card, the player to your left must follow the same role, or pass if they don’t have it.  To follow, you either declare the brave or safe action.  If you declare the cowardly action, once again, you do it immediately.  If you declare the brave action, you take it from the previous player who declared that action – they don’t get to do anything with it now.  Once everyone has had a turn to follow or pass, the last player to have taken the brave action executes it and becomes the start player for the next turn.  The different roles include:

  • Gatherers: You will be able to gather resources (fruits, herbs, roots, and/or magic wands).  Brave actions get you three, cowardly actions get you one.  There are three of these.
  • Witches: With these, you can move your pawn around on the board.  Cowardly actions move you to mountains, prairies, forests, or hills.  Brave actions also move you, but also allow you to deliver potions to the towers.  There are four of these.
  • Druids: Druids allow you to deliver potions to towers in your current area.  Cowardly actions are just for the delivery, but brave actions give you three extra points.  There are two of these.
  • Weather Fairy: Clouds are over the lakes on the board.  To charm them away (collect for VPs), play the Weather Fairy.  You must be adjacent to the cloud you want to remove.  The brave Weather Fairy gets three additional VPs plus the cloud, the cowardly Fairy just gets the cloud.

Additionally, there are ten possible events that could be revealed at the start of each round.  The game ends after the seventh round, and the player with the most points is the winner.

I’m a big fan of Witch’s Brew, so my eye has been on this one.  It looks like an interesting refinement of the system, and looks like it’s more than just Witch’s Brew with a board.  The role selection aspect of WB makes for a great decision making process, and that looks like it translates well to here, though a little tweaked.  The delivery aspect of the game adds a different sort of point-gaining mechanism, which is good.  The game looks nice, and looks like a good successor to Witch’s Brew, which hasn’t been available for some time.

image by BGG user Mr Poulpe
image by BGG user Mr Poulpe

The second nominee is Elysium, designed by Matthew Dunstan and Brett Gilbert.  It was published by Space Cowboys, making this their second release that has been nominated for some sort of Spiel award (Splendor was nominated for the SdJ last year).  Pretty good for a company with only three games.  Elysium is for 2-4 players, and is all about writing an epic tale about yourself in ancient Greece.

In each of five epochs (rounds), you’ll be playing four phases.  During the Awakening, cards on the board (Agora) are refreshed.  During the Actions phase, players will take turns taking a quest or a family card.  You’ll end up with four turns, and must take one quest and three family cards during the round.  Each has an acquisition condition, and you need matching columns on your board.  Cards you take have special abilities.  In the Writing the Legends phase, you’ll receive points and gold from a completed quest, then move cards into different Legends (sets for more points later).  At the End of the Epoch, you get you columns back.

After the fifth Epoch, the player with the most points wins.

This is a very brief rundown of the rules.  I went into more detail in my overview of the game from January, so go look at that for a bit more (that same post talks about Orléans, isn’t that wild?).  The game looks gorgeous, and seems like a very good set collection game, one I’d love to try out sometime.

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

The final nominee is Orléans, designed by Reiner Stockhausen.  It was published by dip games, and is being distributed in the US by Tasty Minstrel.  The game is set in the medieval French city of Orléans, and is about players trying to gain followers.

The game takes place over the course of 18 rounds, and each has seven phases.  In the hour glass phase, an event card is drawn.  During the census phase, the player with the most farmers receives a coin and the player with the least pays a coin.  In the followers phase, each player draws some followers from their bag.  During planning, players use character tiles to activate actions.  During the actions phase, players carry out completed actions, and this is primarily how you’l get more followers for your bag.  The next thing that happens is the event drawn at the beginning of the round, and the round ends withe the start player token passing to the left.

After the 18th round, the game ends and the player with the most points wins.

Again, I go into a bit more detail in my January overview, so I direct you there.  The game does look pretty fun, if without an interesting theme.  The English edition was very successfully Kickstarted after getting a lot of positive buzz out of Essen (over $250,000 raised).  It’s the kind of thing I’d really have to play to really gain an understanding of how everything works, but it does look good.


That wraps up my overviews of the game, and that means it’s time for my prediction.  This is a toughie, partially because I don’t know the games, and partially because it’s really hard to nail down what the jury might be looking for.  Previous winners of the award include 7 Wonders, Village, Legends of Andor, and Istanbul.  I think that the jury tends to be looking for slightly lighter fare, so I think that this year I’m going to predict that BROOM SERVICE will win the Kennerspiel des Jahres.  If anything will work against it, I think it will be the previous nomination of Witch’s Brew.  However, I think that it looks more like the type of game the jury has chosen in the past.  I think Orléans will be the gamer’s choice, and previous experience has shown me that means it probably won’t be the winner.  Still, I think any of these games COULD win the award, I’m just putting my guess on Broom Service.

Again, take my predictions with a grain of salt.  I’m 2-2 all time in choosing KedJ winners – I got 7 Wonders and Village in 2011 and 2012, but picked Bruges and Rococo in 2013 and 2014 (Legends of Andor and Istanbul won).  But take heart in knowing that I’m 1-0 so far this year – Spinderella was the winner of the Kinderspiel des Jahres, announced yesterday!

I’ll be back Thursday with part III of my overview of SdJ winners through the years, and I’ll return again on July 11 to cover the recommendations.  Thanks for reading!

*OK, so the German Puerto Rico rerelease in 2014 was technically #16 in the line and not designed by Stefan Feld, but as the game originally came out in 2002 as #7 in the line, I’m not counting it.

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