First off, congratulations are in order – the winners for the Spiel des Jahres and Kennerspiel des Jahres were announced last Monday, with COLT EXPRESS and BROOM SERVICE coming up as the big winners. And since SPINDERELLA won the Kinderspiel des Jahres back in June, that means I correctly predicted all three awards! First time ever! What do I win? That brings my overall record for predicting the Spiel des Jahres to 2-3, my record for the Kennerspiel to 3-2, and my Kinderspiel record to 1-0.
Every year, the Spiel des Jahres committee comes up with a recommended game list. These are games that, for whatever the reason, did not quite make the cut for the main nomination, but are still worthy of mention. Some of these recommendations may or may not be subjectively better choices than those that DID get nominated. There are six recommendations for the Spiel des Jahres and three recommendations for the Kennerspiel. That’s nine recommendations total. Since this is The Eleven, I will be offering two of my own recommendations at the end, games I thought warranted some consideration and for some reason did not even get a mention. Let’s get started.
Abraca…what? is a Korean game designed by Gun-Hee Kim, published in Germany by Pegasus Spiele (Z-Man in the US). As you might guess from the title, it’s a game about deduction and spell casting. You are dealt five spell stones which are kept facing away from you. On your turn, you announce one of the eight spells you’d like to cast. If you have the matching spell stone, your opponents take one and place it on the board in the corresponding space. You also get to do the spell action. You can then go again, though you can only attempt a higher numbered spell than the one you just cast. If you’re ever wrong, you lose a life and your turn. You can also choose to just stop.
The game is over when one person is eliminated, or one when person plays all of their tiles. You then score, and the player with the highest is the winner.
This style of deduction game is pretty in vogue these days. Hanabi won the SdJ a couple of years ago, and Code 777 has the same type of feel where you can see everything but what you have. This is more of a kid’s game, and you’re pretty much guessing at first, though as the board fills up, you’ll have an idea about what you might have. I understand why it didn’t get a full nomination (too similar to Hanabi), but it looks like a good one nonetheless. It features art by Marie Carouat, who is most famous for illustrating the original Dixit game.
Cacao was designed by Phil Walker-Harding and published in Germany by ABACUSSPIELE (Z-Man publishes in the US). This is a tile-laying game that is all about the cultivation and economics of cacao beans. On your turn, you choose a worker or jungle tile from your hand and place it on the board adjacent to at least one tile of the other type (you can never place a tile next to one of the same type). If you place a worker tile, your workers will get to take advantage of any adjacent jungle tiles, and if you play a jungle tile, all adjacent workers will get to take advantage of it.
Once all worker tiles have been placed, the game is over and the player who has managed to collect the most gold is the winner.
Based on pre-SdJ buzz, this was one of the three games I had picked out for a nomination. I was wrong, but it did get a recommendation, so that’s good. I like the theme, and it seems like it’s a good streamlined game. Now that I’ve read about it, though, it seems a little bland and not terribly innovative. It might be better than that, but for now, I’m fine with it just being on the recommended list.
Loony Quest is a game designed by Laurent Escoffier and David Franck that was published by Libellud. It’s a drawing game with a kind of scrolling video game element. A board for the current level is chosen, and players will be given a task for the level – draw a line between two points, hit all the bad guys, etc. The twist here is that you’re drawing on a transparency apart from the board, so you’re guessing where everything goes. Once everyone is done, you put your transparency over the board to see how you did. There are various power-ups/bonus items you may hit, and if you hit obstacles, you’re going to lose points. After playing against the final boss, the game is over and the player with the most points wins.
Loony Quest was another game I had predicted to get a nomination for SdJ, and I was wrong about that one too. However, unlike Cacao, I do think it would have been a great nomination. It’s creative, looks like fun, and probably really easy to pick up. The deciding factor in NOT nominating it may have been that it’s a reworking of Doodle Quest from Blue Orange Games. Still, I think this would have been a better nomination than The Game.
One Night Ultimate Werewolf was designed by Ted Alspach and Akihisa Okui, and originally published by Bezier Games (White Goblin publishes the German edition). This is a 3-10 player version of Ultimate Werewolf that reduces the game to a single night, takes out the moderator, and removes the player elimination. Everyone is assigned a role, then with the assistance of an app, everyone closes their eyes, then reveals themselves secretly and takes an action. Once the night phase is done, everyone tries to figure out who at least one of the werewolves is. If they do, the villagers win. If not, the werewolves win.
I’ve grown to seriously dislike Werewolf in recent years, primarily because you take wild shots in the dark and are eliminating people from being able to participate from the very first turn. ONUW takes the game, boils it down to the fun parts, and makes a MUCH stronger game. I’m glad it got a recommendation, tough I don’t think it ever really had a shot at a nomination – it’s very streamlined, but still not really a family game.
Patchwork is a two-player quilting game designed by Uwe Rosenberg and published in Germany by Lookout Games (Mayfair distributes it in the US). Players take turns purchasing patches from a market and fitting them onto their board with the goal of collecting as many buttons as they can. The player who gets the most buttons is the ultimate winner.
This game is currently extremely high on my wish list. It looks like a fantastic two-player game with a great puzzle element and a really underused theme. I’m glad it got a recommendation, and I would have been happy with a nomination. It’s not unheard of for two-player games to be nominated – look at Targi – but it’s less common. For now, I’m just glad it was mentioned.
UGO! was designed by Ronald Hoekstra, Thomas Jansen, and Patrick Zuidhof, published by KOSMOS. The original version was published in 2013 by PLAYthisONE. This is a trick-taking game where one player leads, then everyone follows suit if they can. The highest card wins the trick. The winner takes their cards and puts it on their kingdom board, which has five slots. Each card will go on top of its same colored stack, and the card on top will count for your score at the end. There are also farmers that must be collected in order to make slots score. The player with the most points at the end of the game is the winner.
I think someone on the jury really likes trick-taking games because it seems there’s always at least one on the recommended list (Potato Man in 2014 for example). This one looks really good to me, with an interesting scoring mechanism that means you really want to watch what cards you’re winning. I’d really like to give this one a try sometime, and I’m glad it made it on the list – otherwise, I never would have known about it. And that, I think, is the point.
Along with the six Spiel des Jahres recommended games, there were three Kennerspiel des Jahres recommended games.
Deus was designed by Sébastien Dujardin and published by Pearl Games. This is a civilization type game where you are constructing buildings and invoking to favor of the gods for different benefits. On your turn, you can construct a building or discard card to make offerings. There are six building types – military, resource, trade, scoring, temples, and yellow (which have a variety of effects). When you construct a building, the card is placed on your personal board and the structure itself goes on the game board. As you build more of a type, you will be able to stack its benefits and use them more and more. The game ends when all barbarian villages have been surrounded and attacked, or when all temples are completed. The player with the most points is the winner.
I predicted this game would get nominated for Kennerspiel, and it’s the only one I guessed that even got a recommendation. It looks like a very good game that I’d love to play sometime – it’s standard Euro fare with a weak theme, but I like the idea of stacking buildings for future benefits.
Fields of Arle is a 1-2 player game designed by Uwe Rosenberg and published by Feuerland Spiele (Z-Man handles US distribution). The game is set in the region where Rosenberg grew up. It’s a very big game that lasts nine half years, alternating between summer and winter. In each round, you’ll be sending workers out to collect resources, construct buildings, cultivate the land, get animals, and so on. As in many of Rosenberg’s games, there’s a lot more to do than you have time to do, so you really have to optimize everything. In the end, the player who has collected the most points wins.
There’s so much going on in this game that it’s difficult to really summarize. The game has drawn comparisons to Agricola and Caverna, but from what I can tell, it’s its own game with its own take on the genre. Fields of Arle is something I’ve really wanted to try, and I’m glad it got a recommendation. Not surprised at all that it didn’t get a nomination – this is way heavier than the jury usually looks for.
The Voyages of Marco Polo was designed by Simone Luciani and Daniele Tascini (the team behind Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar), and was published in German by Hans im Glück (Z-Man in English). The game recreates the journey of Marco Polo to China in the 13th century. In each of the five rounds, players roll their five dice and can perform one action per turn with them – get resources, earn money, purchase orders, or travel. After the fifth round, the player with the most points wins.
The game seems kind of generic to me on first glance, but I’ve heard a lot of good things about it. Frankly, the first time I heard about it, it was from people speculating if it would get a Kennerspiel nomination. It did not, but got a recommendation – clearly, it’s something I need to check out.
Because of the high profile nature of the Spiel des Jahres, the nominations and recommendations inevitably receive a lot of scrutiny. There’s always something that people perceive was missed. Here are my recommendations for games I feel got overlooked for one reason or another.
Black Fleet was designed by Sebastian Bleasdale and published by Space Cowboys. It’s a pirate-themed game where players control merchants ships, pirates, AND the navy. On your turn, you have two movement cards in hand, and will choose one to play. This will allow you to move your merchant ship, your pirate ship, and one of the navy ships (everyone has access to these). Before, during, or after a move with a ship, it may take one action – deliver goods, attack another ship, bury treasure, and so on. Merchant ships are tasked with delivering goods. Pirate ships are tasked with robbing merchant ships. Navy ships are used to attack pirate ships. Each player has a set of five development cards which must be purchased to be used. Once you buy the fifth one (the governor’s daughter), you win.
Black Fleet is a really fun game. It has amazing components, and I thought it was a shoe-in for a recommendation at least. Maybe the nomination of Elysium scared them away from talking about another Space Cowboys game. Maybe they shy away from piratey stuff. I don’t know. But I definitely would have included this on the SdJ recommended list – it’s a great, unique game.
Five Tribes was designed by Bruno Cathala and published by Days of Wonder as their first “gamer’s game.” You are attempting to gain control of a city-state in Arabia by exerting influence over the five tribes of that area. The game uses a mancala mechanism as you pick up all meeples on one tile, then drop them one at a time over adjacent tiles until you reach your destination. The final meeple you drop is then picked up, along with the other meeples of that color on the space, and you get to take its action – earn points, go shopping, purchase djinns, kill other meeples, and so on. When no further moves can be made, the game ends and the player who has scored the most points wins.
Days of Wonder always does a phenomenal job producing their games, but for some reason, the SdJ jury doesn’t often recognize them. Ticket to Ride won the SdJ in 2004 and Shadows over Camelot got a special award in 2006, but that’s it. Personally, I thought Five Tribes was a sure bet for a nomination in the Kennerspiel category, so I was a little shocked that it didn’t get even a recommendation. I like the game, though I feel like the auction-for-turn-order mechanism, which gets praised in a lot of circles, is kind of lame and makes the whole experience grind to a halt. Still, I enjoy it and definitely would have had it somewhere on the list.
And that does it! Another year, another group of recommendations. I look forward to seeing what the jury comes up with next year. Thanks for reading!