Time for the third installment of my SDJ Winners series here on The Eleven. Part I covered the years from 1979-1989, and Part II covered 1990-2000. We enter the 20th century now, and the games you’ll see here haven’t fallen out of public consciousness to the extent that those from the previous editions have. So, here we go with 2001-2011.
2001: The first winner of the 21st century was Carcassonne, the classic 2-5 player tile laying game from Klaus-Jürgen Wrede. Carcassonne is all about building up a city in France, and is probably best known for its use of Followers, which have come to be known as Meeples. On a turn, a player draws a tile, then adds it to the board. Features on the edges of adjacent tiles must match. Once you’ve placed, you can add a Meeple to one of the features on that tile. Adding to a city makes it a knight that will score you two points per tile when the city is completed. Adding to a road makes it a thief that will score one point per tile when the road is completed. Adding to a monastery makes it a monk that scores one point for the monastery and each surrounding tile. Adding it to a field makes it a farmer that scores three points per completed city the field touches at the end of the game. The game ends when all tiles have been placed, and the player with the most points wins.
Carcassonne has a legacy as one of the best gateway games around, even now. It’s very simple to pick up, and there’s a lot of strategy in how you play. Some people play with a variant that you have a hand of tiles you’re choosing from, but drawing one a turn has its charm as well. Trying to figure out how to swoop in and steal other player’s points is a fun aspect of the game, and figuring out whether to place a Meeple at all can be agonizing. Since coming out, the game has had a TON of expansions, all of which add new tiles and new mechanisms to the game. But even in its pure form, Carcassonne is a great game that I would easily put into the top five of all Spiel des Jahres winners.
- Other nominees in 2001 were Das Amulett by Alan R. Moon and Aaron Weissblum; and Zapp Zerapp by Heinz Meister and Klaus Zoch.
- Recommended titles: Babel (Uwe Rosenberg/Hagen Dorgathen); Capitol (Alan R. Moon/Aaron Weissblum); Cartagena (Leo Colovini); Genoa (Rüdiger Dorn); River Dragons (Roberto Fraga); Ebbe & Flut (Wolfgang Werner); Hexen Rennen (Wolfgang Panning); Turn the Tide (Stefan Dorra); Winner’s Circle (Reiner Knizia); and San Marco (Alan R. Moon/Aaron Weissblum).
2002: Villa Paletti takes a lot of flak as an SDJ winner, partially because it beat out Puerto Rico for the award. This is a dexterity game designed by Bill Payne and published by Zoch Verlag. 2-4 players are working together to build a tower, but competing to be Master Builder at the time of its collapse. There are three types of columns – skinny, medium, and thick. There are five columns in each color. At the start of the game, these are randomly placed on a base plate, then the blue floor is placed on top. You then randomly determine who gets which color and start playing.
On your turn, you remove one column from the level below the top floor and place it on the top floor. If you can’t move a column, or think you can’t, you can add a new floor (unless someone objects). Once the second floor (green) has been placed, you start competing for the Master Builder seal. If you have the most points on the top floor, you get the Master Builder seal. Skinny columns are worth one point, medium columns are worth two, and thick columns are worth three. Eventually, you’ll be adding more and more floors. When someone cannot play anymore, or the whole thing comes crashing down, the game is over, and the player who currently holds the Master Builder seal wins. Unless they knocked it down, in which case the person who held it before them wins.
I’ve played this once, and found it to be a really good alternative to Jenga – there’s some strategy involved, and an actual winner. But I don’t think anyone would say this is actually a better overall game than Puerto Rico, or even the other nominee TransAmerica. It’s one of the odder choices in the history of the award. I don’t think it’s a bad game, but certainly has not stood the test of time that its fellow nominees have.
- Other nominees in 2002 were Puerto Rico by Andreas Seyfarth; and TransAmerica by Franz-Benno Delonge.
- Recommended titles: The Bucket King (Stefan Dorra); Atlantic Star (Dirk Henn); Blokus (Bernard Tavitian); Der Herr de Ringe: Die Gefährten – Das Kartenspiel (Reiner Knizia); Dschunke (Michael Schacht); DVONN (Kris Burm); Kupferkessel Co. (Günter Burkhardt); Pizarro & Co. (Thomas Lehmann); and San Gimignano (Duilio Carpitella).
2003: The next winner is Alhambra, designed by Dirk Henn and published by Queen Games. This is a 2-6 player tile laying game where players are constructing buildings and gardens to score the most points. Each player begins with a starting tile, with one counter on that tile and another on the score track. Four building tiles begin in four market spaces, and each player gets starting money by drawing money cards until they have 20 or more, and four more are laid in the market.
On your turn, you do one action – take some money, buy a tile, or redesign your Alhambra. If you take money, you can take one of the face up money cards, or multiple money cards as long as they don’t add up to more than five. If you buy a tile, pay the cost on the tile using the specified currency (you get no change, but you’ll often need to overpay to make it work). If you pay the exact amount, you get another turn. Once you’ve bought a tile, you can either add it to you Alhambra or add it to your reserve board. All tiles must be positioned the same way (roofs up), and adjoining sides must be the same. To redesign your Alhambra, move a tile from your reserve board to your Alhambra, move a tile from your reserve board to your Alhambra, or exchange a tile from your Alhambra with one from your reserve board.
At the end of your turn, money and building tiles are restocked so there are four of each. If a scoring card comes out of the money cards, players score points for having the most of each type of building and for wall length. After the third scoring round (which takes place when there are not enough building tiles to bring the total up to four), the game is over, and the player with the most points wins.
I’ve played Alhambra once, and liked it a lot. It’s a nice game with a very interesting market system. Having to spend a specific type of currency makes the draft of money cards very important. There’s a lot going on, but the game is quite streamlined and relatively easy to pick up. There are also about a thousand expansions, and from what I hear, you do not want to play them all at once. I think this one was a pretty good choice for the SdJ this year.
- Other nominees in 2003 were Clans by Leo Colovini; and Die Dracheninsel by Tom Schoeps.
- Recommended titles: Amun-Re (Reiner Knizia); Attribute (Marcel-André Casasola Merkle); Balloon Cup (Stephen Glenn); Coloretto (Michael Schacht); The Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow (Philippe des Pallières/Hervé Marly/Dmitry Davidoff); Edel, Stein & Reich (Reinhard Staupe); Fische Fluppen Frikadellen (Friedemann Friese); Paris Paris (Michael Schacht); Richelieu (Michael Schacht); and Rumis (Stefan Kögl).
2004: Ticket to Ride was the big winner in 2004, and is truly the cream of the crop of all SdJ winners. TTR was published by Days of Wonder, and to date, it’s their only SdJ win. It was designed by Alan R. Moon, and was his second SdJ winner after Elfenland in 1998. The game, for 2-5 players, is all about connecting cities around the United States. At the start of the game, each player chooses 2-3 “tickets”, which are goals of cities that must be connected in order to score points. If they are not completed by the end of the game, you lose points.
On your turn, you have three options. You can take 1-2 new train cards from the face up card row, or from the face down draw pile. You can connect two cities by turning in the amount of cards and colors shown on the board, then place your trains between them. Locomotive cards can be used as any color, and gray spaces on the board can take any color, though the entire set must be the same color. Once you’ve placed your trains, you score points based on the length of the route. Your other option on your turn is to draw some new tickets for more scoring opportunities.
When someone has two or fewer remaining trains, everyone gets one last turn and the game ends. Players score points for completed tickets, lose points for incomplete tickets, and are awarded points for having the longest connected line of trains. The player with the most points is the winner.
This game is so easy to understand and completely engaging throughout. It is one of the best gateway style games out there in that non-gamers can pick it up with no problem, and seasoned gamers still enjoy playing it. There are a lot of expansions and reiterations at this point, but the train has shown no sign of slowing. If you’ve never played the game, you should. This was the first year that there were five nominations for the SdJ, and though the competition was definitely very stiff, TtR was definitely the best choice.
- Other nominees in 2004 were Dawn Under by Norbert Proena; Ingenious by Reiner Knizia; Maharaja: The Game of Palace Building in India by Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling; and Saint Petersburg by Bernd Brunnhofer.
- Recommended titles: Attika (Marcel-André Casasola Merkle); Carcassonne: The Castle (Reiner Knizia); Coyote (Spartaco Albertarelli); Coda (Elji Wakasugi); Zing! (Stefan Dorra); Dos Rios (Franz-Benno Delonge); Im Wassergarten (Ferdinand Hein); Somethin’ Fishy (Oliver Igelhut); Cockroach Poker (Jacques Zelmet); Jumbo & Co. (Detlef Wendt); Maya (Bernd Eisenstein); Oasis (Alan R. Moon/Aaron Weissblum); San Juan (Andreas Seyfarth); Tom Tube (Tobias Gosler/Roland Goslar); Sunken City (Wolfgang Kramer/Michael Kiesling); Viele Dinge (Bernhard Naegele/Karsten Adlung); King Me! (Stefano Luperto); and YINSH (Kris Burm).
2005: The winner for 2005, Niagara, is often lauded as a really cool looking game that lacks in a little in gameplay. Designed by Thomas Liesching and originally published by Zoch Verlag, this is a game about trying to navigate waterfalls in order to reach hidden caches of jewels. The game board actually sits on top of the two box halves to create the river, while transparent discs are placed on the river to aid in movement. Each of the 3-5 players gets two canoes and seven paddle cards.
In a round, each player will select one of their paddle cards secretly, then reveal and one at a time take the action. Weather cards (cloud) are used to influence the weather track – move the cloud marker one space in either direction. Number cards (1-6) are used to move your canoe(s). You must use all of your paddle points, and you can use two to pick up a gem and put it in your canoe. You can also unload a gem for two paddle points. If you unload it at the dock, you keep it forever. If you end your move in the same space as an opposing canoe, you can steal a gem – this doesn’t cost paddle points.
Once all players have resolved their actions, the river will move according to the weather. If on zero, it moves as many as the lowest card played this round. If on +1, +2, or -1, it adds or subtracts from that total. This movement will result in a disc going over the edge. If you’re on it, you lose your canoe and must pay a gem to get it back (unless you have no canoes and no gems, in which case you just get one for free). The game ends when one player has one of each color, or four of one color, or seven total gems. He wins.
Niagara seems like a good light game with an admittedly really cool board. It does seem that there’s not a whole lot going on strategically, but sometimes you just want a dumb experience with some opportunities to mess with your opponents. I don’t know if it was truly the best of the year – some of the competition here is phenomenal – but I think the quality of components and originality of presentation really won over the jury.
- Other nominees in 2005 were Himalaya by Régis Bonnesée; Around the World in 80 Days by Michael Rienick; Jambo by Rüdiger Dorn; and That’s Life! by Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling.
- Recommended titles: Boomtown (Bruno Faidutti/Bruno Cathala); Diamant (Alan R. Moon/Bruno Faidutti); The Gardens of the Alhambra (Dirk Henn); Power Grid (Friedemann Friese); No Thanks! (Thorsten Gimmler); Piranha Pedro (Jens-Peter Schliemann); Tanz der Hornochsen! (Wolfgang Kramer); Typo (Corné van Moorsel); and Wie ich die Welt sehe… (Urs Hostettler).
2006: Andreas Seyfarth won his second SdJ award in 2006 for Thurn and Taxis, a game about the German postal system. This 2-4 player game was co-designed with his wife Karen, and was published originally by Hans im Glück. Each player begins the game with 20 post offices in their color, aka little wooden houses. A map of Germany is laid out in the middle of the table, as well as six randomly drawn city cards.
On your turn, you begin by drawing one city card. You then must play a city card, and finally may choose to close and score your route. Playing cards creates a continuous postal route, and you must add to it each turn or lose it. Points are scored for having a 5-7 carriage route, for having houses in each city of a province, and for carriages. You may also use the support of one official – the Administrator allows you to discard the entire city card display and draw a new one; the Postmaster allows you to draw a second city card; the Postal Carrier allows you to play a second city card; the Cartwright allows you to take a higher scoring carriage.
Once a player has taken the value 7 carriage or placed his last house, the game ends after everyone has had an equal number of turns. The player with the most points wins.
I’ve played T&T a few times online at Yucata.de. It’s an OK game – it’s route building, and there are some different strategies to explore. But it’s not terribly exciting to me. Maybe the physical version would be better, but this is one I’m just kind of meh about. I certainly like fellow nominee Blue Moon City a lot more, but to each their own. The game still resides within the top 300 at BGG, so it’s popular.
- Other nominees in 2006 were Aqua Romana by Martin Schlegel; Blue Moon City by Reiner Knizia; Just4Fun by Jürgen P. Grunau; and Buccaneer by Stefan Dorra.
- Two special awards were given out this year: Shadows over Camelot by Serge Laget and Bruno Cathala won for Fantasy Game, and Caylus by William Attia won for Complex Game.
- Recommended titles: Ausgerechnet Buxtehude (Uwe Rapp/Bernhard Lach); Fettnapf (Reinhard Staupe); Fischmarkt (Mario Papini); Hart an der Grenze (André Zatz and Sérgio Halaban); Mesopotamia (Klaus-Jürgen Wrede); Hey, That’s My Fish! (Günter Cornett/Alvydas Jakeliunas); Roma (Stefan Feld); Timbuktu (Dirk Henn); and Objets Trouvés (Philippe des Pallières).
2007: Michael Schacht won his first and only SdJ this year for Zooloretto, a board game version of his fabulous 2003 game Coloretto. It’s a 2-5 player game published by ABACUSSPIELE where players are trying to build a zoo with a variety of animals, but not too much variety. Each player has a personal zoo board with three enclosures, four vending spaces, and barn. Additionally, there are eight types of animal tiles and four types of vending stalls.
On your turn, you either draw a tile and add it to a delivery truck, or you take a delivery truck and add the tiles to your zoo, or you do a money action. Each truck has space for three tiles, and obviously you can’t put more on when it’s full. Everyone will take a truck during the round, and when you do, your round is over. When you take a truck, animals go into an empty enclosure space (only one type of animal per enclosure) or the barn. Vending stalls go in an empty stall space or the barn. Coin tiles are used as coins.
Money actions in the game involve spending coins to do different things. It costs a coin to remodel (move an animal or vending stall from the barn to an empty space) or exchange (all of one type of animal or vending stall in the barn with all of another type). It costs two coins to purchase a tile from another player’s barn (that player only gets one of the coins) or to discard a tile from your barn. It costs three coins to buy an expansion board, giving you another enclosure and vending stall space.
The game is almost over when you get to the last stack of 15 tiles. When the current round is over, the game ends and final scoring takes place – you get points for full and partially full enclosures, as well as vending stall types you have. Tiles in your barn lose points based on type. The player with the most points wins.
I love Coloretto because it plays very differently than most card games, and the set collection mechanism is one of my favorites. I’m very glad to see it in another game, but I do feel the scoring here is a lot less intuitive than in the original. I like the game – it’s pretty easy to pick up and it’s got a very nice look to it – I just prefer the simpler version. Still, I think it’s a pretty good SdJ choice, though Thebes and Yspahan also would have been great choices.
- Other nominees in 2007 were The Thief of Baghdad by Thorsten Gimmler; Arkadia by Rüdiger Dorn; Jenseits von Theben by Peter Prinz; and Yspahan by Sébastien Pauchon.
- Recommended titles: Alchemist (Carlo A. Rossi); Château Roquefort (Jens-Peter Schliemann/Bernhard Weber); Der Prestel Kunstmarkt (Franz-Benno Delonge); The Pillars of the Earth (Michael Rienick/Stefan Stadler); Die Säulen von Venedig (Christian Fiore/Knut Happel); Imperial (Mac Gerdts); Danger 13 (Rüdiger Dorn); Notre Dame (Stefan Feld); Skybridge (Adam Ritchey); Enkounter (Franz Dyksterhuis/Mark Wood); Vikings (Michael Kiesling); and Würfel Bingo (Heinz Wüppen).
2008: As Zooloretto is a board game version of Coloretto, Keltis is a board game version of Reiner Knizia’s 1999 game Lost Cities. KOSMOS published it in German, but the system was changed to Lost Cities: The Board Game for the US release (though KOSMOS plans to release an English version of Keltis soon). This is the only SdJ win for Knizia, and this was also the first year I was paying attention to the award (I came into the hobby in August of 2007). There’s a vague Celtic theme to the game, but it’s mostly abstracted out. Not that theme is usually important in a Knizia game.
The board has five paths, and each player has five pieces (including one large piece). Each player has eight cards. On your turn, you play a card, then draw a card. To play a card, either discard it face up to its color pile, or face up in front of you to move a piece. If it’s the first card you play, you move your piece from the start space to the -4 space. Subsequent cards must be in descending or ascending order from your first card, and your second card commits you to the direction you’re heading. When moving, the first player to a path tile flips the tile and takes advantage of it. A number tile scores you points. A clover leaf advances one of your pieces one space. These two stay in place for others to use when they land on it. There’s also a Wishing Stone, which you take and place in front of you to score later.
You end your turn by drawing a card, either from the draw pile or from one of the discard piles. When the fifth figure reaches the goal area of any path, the game ends. Each figure on the path earns points according to their location as well as points for Wishing Stones collected. The player with the most points wins.
I’m not the biggest fan of Lost Cities, but I can’t deny that it’s a very popular game that is really easy to pick up with non-gamers. I want to try the board game version sometime just to see how it stacks up. I may like it a little better, I don’t know. It’s interesting that you can go either direction with the numbers, and I think the scoring seems less wonky. I think Stone Age, Marrakech, or Witch’s Brew also would have been good winners this year, but again, I haven’t played Keltis so I can’t say for sure what the best choice is.
- Other nominees in 2008 were Blox by Jürgen P. Grunau, Wolfgang Kramer, and Hans Raggan; Stone Age by Bernd Brunhofer; Marrakech by Dominique Ehrhard; and Witch’s Brew by Andreas Pelikan.
- A special award for Complex Game was given this year to Agricola by Uwe Rosenberg.
- Recommended titles: Big Points (Brigitte Ditt/Wolfgang Ditt); The Hanging Gardens (Dan Li Tsan); Wicked Witches Way (Bruno Cathala/Serge Laget); Galaxy Trucker (Vlaada Chvátil); In the Year of the Dragon (Stefan Feld); Jamaica (Malcolm Braff/Bruno Cathala/Sébastien Pauchon); Kakerlakensalat (Jacques Zelmet); Lascaux (Dominique Ehrhard/Michel Lalet); Linq (Andrea Meyer/Erik Nielsen); Metropolys (Sébastien Pauchon); Pingu Party (Reiner Knizia); and TZAAR (Kris Burm).
2009: Dominion is probably the most influential game of the last decade. Love it or hate it, Donald X. Vaccarino’s creation invented the deckbuilding genre which is EVERYWHERE now. It also won the SdJ in 2009 in one of the least surprising results of my career watching the award. There’s a vague medieval theme attached to the game, but it’s really not important – the game is about building a point producing engine.
Each player begins the game with the same 10 cards – 7 Copper cards (1 money) and 3 Estate cards (1 point). Five of these begin the game in your hand. Ten stacks of kingdom cards are created, and these make up what is available for purchase in the game. On your turn, you follow the ABC system – Action, Buy, Clean Up. For Action, you can play an action card from your hand, which may give you extra money to spend, extra buys, extra actions, extra cards, or other effects (including messing with your opponents). For Buy, you can buy one card from the market – a kingdom card which will give you more actions, or possibly a new money or point card. In Clean Up, you discard your entire hand, plus any cards played or purchased, and draw a new hand of five. If you don’t have enough cards to draw, shuffle your discards
When all Provinces (the highest scoring point card) have been purchased, or when any three card stacks are empty, the game is over. Players then go through their decks and count up the points they have collected. The player with the highest score is the winner.
Dominion was a literal game changer. Deck building was around before Dominion, but it had never before been the focus of the entire game. And it’s still the most pure example of the genre. Dominion has since spawned many imitators, but every subsequent take on the mechanism has tried to add something extra – a fantasy theme, attacks, a board, a war-game, and so on. Only fellow nominee Pandemic can boast of being close to as influential (it sparked the cooperative game renaissance), but really, there was no doubt in my mind in 2009 that Dominion would win the SdJ. And it did.
- Other nominees in 2009 were Fauna by Friedemann Friese; Finca by Ralf zur Linde and Wolfgang Sentker; FITS by Reiner Knizia; and Pandemic by Matt Leacock.
- Two special awards were handed out this year: Space Alert by Vlaada Chvátil won New Worlds Game, and GiftTRAP by Nick Kellet won Party Game.
- Recommended titles: Cities (Martyn F); Diamonds Club (Rüdiger Dorn); Einauge sei wachsam! (Wolfgang Kramer/Michael Kiesling); Maori (Günter Burkhardt); Mow (Bruno Cathala); Pack & Stack (Bernd Eisenstein); and Valdora (Michael Schacht).
2010: The party game Dixit was the big winner in 2010. Designed by Jean-Louis Roubira and published by Libellud, this is a game for 3-6 players that is all about the art. The game comes with 84 cards illustrated by Marie Cardouat, each with a unique and surreal image.
Each round, a new player is the story. She chooses one card from her hand and tells a brief phrase about the card. Each player then choose a card from their hand that they think matches the story and gives it to the storyteller. She mixes them up and places each with a number. The other players then vote on which they think was the storyteller’s original card. If they all get it correct, they all get two points and the storyteller gets nothing. If they all get it incorrect, they all get two points and the storyteller gets nothing. If some get it right, they get three points and the storyteller gets three points. Players also get one point for each other player that voted for their card.
The game ends when the deck is empty or when someone reaches 30 points. The player with the most points is the winner.
I like Dixit to an extent. I think it only really works well with six players, and future versions of the game added more players. The card art is quite lovely, and it’s tough to come up with a descriptive phrase that only some will get. It’s a very sedate party game, and it succeeds in being a game, which is good. It’s just not something I care to play a lot. I was rooting for Roll Through the Ages this year, but I think Dixit was probably a fine choice.
- Other nominees in 2010 were Fresco by Marcel Süßelbeck, Marco Ruskowski, and Wolfgang Panning; Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age by Matt Leacock; A la Carte by Karl-Heinz Schmiel; and Identik by Amanda Kohout and William Jacobson.
- A special award (the Spiel des Jahres Plus) was given to World Without End by Michael Rieneck and Stefan Stadler.
- Recommended titles: Hansa Teutonica (Andreas Steding); Samarkand: Routes to Riches (David V.H. Peters/Harry Wu); Endeavor (Carl de Visser/Jarratt Gray); Tobago (Bruce Allen); Kamisado (Peter Burley); Jaipur (Sébastien Pauchon); Jäger und Sammler (Reiner Knizia); Don Quixote (Reinhard Staupe); Mosaix (Christof Tisch); and Level X (Stefan Risthaus).
2011: We’ve finally caught up to this blog. I did my first SdJ overview in 2011, and picked Forbidden Island to win it all. I was wrong, and the winner was Susan McKinley Ross’ Qwirkle, published in Germany by Schmidt-Spiele. This is an abstract game that is kind of like color Scrabble. Each player begins with six tiles, and each tile has one of six shapes in one of six colors. On your turn, you will add one or more to the current layout, matching either color or shape (but not both) with at least one tile on the board. Tiles are placed in a line out from the matching tile(s), and you score one point per tile in the line you create. It is possible to create multiple lines in this way. If you ever complete a line of six tiles, you score 12 points (six for the line and six bonus).
The game ends when someone runs out of tiles. They get a five point bonus, and the player with the most overall points wins.
I thought Qwirkle was a long shot in 2011 because a) it was abstract, b) there wasn’t much room for expansions, and c) I really wanted Forbidden Island to win. I have since played a lot of Qwirkle, and I think it was a fine choice. It’s easy enough to understand that anyone can figure it out, and there’s enough depth to it to keep gamers interested. I still would have picked Forbidden Island, but I’m much happier with the choice these days.
- Other nominees in 2011 were Forbidden Island by Matt Leacock; and Asara by Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling.
- The Kennerspiel des Jahres was awarded for the first time in this year to 7 Wonders by Antoine Bauza.
- Recommended titles: Blockers! (Kory Heath); Freeze (Andrea Meyer/Hans-Peter Stoll); The Castles of Burgundy (Stefan Feld); Ghost Blitz (Jacques Zelmet); Luna (Stefan Feld); Mondo (Michael Schacht); Safranito (Marco Teubner); Skull (Hervé Marly); Sun, Sea & Sand (Corné van Moorsel); and Pelican Cove (Lauge Luchau).
And with that, we’re as caught up as we’re going to get. At least for now – if I’m still doing this blog in 2023, I’ll post Part IV covering 2012-2022. Thanks for reading!