Spiel des Jesse 2015

Happy 2016!  As is my tradition here on the blog, here is a recap of the new-to-me games I played in 2015, followed by my choice for new-to-me game of the year.  This year, I played a grand total of 47 new-to-me games.  And here they are, along with a brief thought and my Yeah-Meh-Bleah rating:

  1. 12 Realms (3 plays): This fantasy co-op from MAGE Company is very puzzly and good for families.  It’s not something I see myself playing a lot, but it is enjoyable and quite lovely. VERDICT: Yeah.
  2. Age of War (1 play): A light filler from Reiner Knizia.  Did absolutely nothing for me.  You roll, you try to get the right combination, you move on.  Nothing new, nothing exciting, and nothing at all interesting.  VERDICT: Bleah!
  3. Airlines Europe (1 play): Finally got to play this 2011 Alan Moon design, and I enjoyed it.  It’s definitely a step up in complexity from Ticket to Ride, and has a good stock system that felt a lot like an area control game.  VERDICT: Yeah.
  4. AquaSphere (1 play): This 2014 Stefan Feld title is getting kind of mixed reviews, particularly from the Feld fans in my game group.  Having not played many of his games, I will say that I really liked it.  A lot of moving parts, but really simple to learn even if the strategies are not simple.  VERDICT: Yeah!
  5. BattleCON: Fate of Indines (2 plays): This was my first time trying out the BattleCON system, and I really liked it.  No luck, lots of variability between characters…very god fighting game.  VERDICT: Yeah!
  6. Broom Service (1 play): I played this year’s Kennerspiel des Jahres winner, and liked it.  I’m not sure if I like it more than Witch’s Brew, but they’re both excellent games.  This one is getting some backlash for beating Elysium and Orléans in the Kennerspiel race, but I think it’s appropriate for what the jury was looking for.  VERDICT: Yeah.
  7. But Wait, There’s More! (1 play): Party games in general don’t do anything for me, and this one seemed as bland as a lot of them.  I only played the team variant, and that just felt terrible – it was too easy to game the system when voting, and there was no strategy at all.  Maybe I’d like the individual version better, but I’m not interested in trying.  VERDICT: Bleah!
  8. Camel Up (1 play): This is the 2014 Spiel des Jahres winner.  I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, but it was still mostly just shots in the dark.  Not much strategy to it, just betting on what you hoped would be the outcome.  I’d play again, but I won’t seek it out.  Splendor is definitely the better of the two.  VERDICT: Meh.
  9. Castellan (2 plays): I loved Dots and Boxes when I was a kid, so it was nice to play something similar in the physical realm.  Great bits, engaging gameplay – a fantastic game.  VERDICT: Yeah!
  10. Castles of Mad King Ludwig (1 play): While there are some similarities to Suburbia, Castles is its own game.  I love the unique look of the game tiles, and the game really uses the I Cut-You Choose mechanism well.  Very fun.  VERDICT: Yeah!
  11. Chaosmos (1 play): Interstellar Pig was a favorite book of mine when I was a kid, and now it’s a board game.  And a pretty good one – Joey Vigour really cleaned up the mechanics and made quite an interesting experience.  VERDICT: Yeah.
  12. Colt Express (2 plays): My pick for the Spiel des Jahres this year, and the winner!  It’s a blast to play – simple programming, lots of chaos, a fun theme, and oh yeah, a cardboard train that is your playing surface!  Great game!  VERDICT: Yeah!
  13. Cunning Folk (2 plays): This is a mini social deduction game from Button Shy Games, part of their Wallet Series.  It’s pretty quick, which is a good thing – any longer, and I probably wouldn’t like it as much.  VERDICT: Yeah.
  14. The d6 Shooters (1 play): This is a solo print-and-play game about making your way from one place to another.  I think I played it wrong, but I had fun (and won).  It’s one of those PNPs that only requires a minimal amount of components – one printed page, a pen, and some dice.  VERDICT: Yeah.
  15. Dancing Eggs (3 plays): I had heard about this HABA party game for years, and finally got to play it this year.  And it is a lot of fun.  Very silly, no strategy, but still a blast to play.  VERDICT: Yeah!
  16. Desperados of Dice Town (1 play): I knew going in that this was nothing like Dice Town, which is a game I love.  I wish it was a little like Dice Town.  It’s pretty basic – roll, do actions, pass the dice.  As a filler, it’s OK, but it’s not anywhere close to as spectacular as the original.  Which is too bad – I wish they hadn’t tried to piggyback a mediocre design on such an otherwise great property.  VERDICT: Meh.
  17. Eggs and Empires (2 plays): This is a fantastic short pocket game about collecting eggs.  It uses a cool role selection/bidding mechanism where you have 10 different characters with special abilities, and you have to time their use well in order to get positive points and not negative.  Great game – I need my own copy.  VERDICT: Yeah!
  18. Evolution (2 plays): North Star’s adaptation of Evolution: The Origin of the Species is a big hit for the company, and one they’re investing a lot of effort into making a really great game.  It’s pretty unique and a lot of work has been put into making it extremely streamlined and accessible.  It’s a good one.  VERDICT: Yeah!
  19. Exceed (1 play): You’d think that BattleCON would be enough for Level 99, but this year they Kickstarted Exceed, another 2-player fighting game.  The two have similarities, but Exceed is its own thing and pretty good in its own right.  I’ve only played a print-and-play version, and liked it well enough – looking forward to hearing how the full game works out.  VERDICT: Yeah.
  20. A Fistful of Dinero (1 play): My pick for least favorite of the year.  It’s got programming and drafting, two mechanisms I really like.  But they don’t work very well here, primarily because one of my least favorite mechanisms is also in play – randomly assigning damage based on a card draw.  I wanted to like this one, and I was extremely disappointed.  VERDICT: Bleah!
  21. Five Tribes (1 play): This modern take on Mancala might have been one of my favorites from the year if only it weren’t for the whole bidding for turn order thing.  People who like that mechanism have praised this game’s take on it, but I felt like it detracted from what was otherwise a great game.  VERDICT: Yeah.
  22. The Game (1 play…sort of): The Game was an odd nominee for Spiel des Jahres this year.  I don’t think anyone thought it really had a chance.  It is a very good game, and probably would work very well solo.  I liked it well enough.  I played the game with my Walking Dead Card Game deck since all you need is numbers.  VERDICT: Yeah.
  23. Hemloch: Midnight Edition (1 play): I don’t even remember much about this one, only that I was underwhelmed.  I don’t think I hated it, but it’s not the type of game I really enjoy, and I think that, in the end, it was probably way too bland for me.  VERDICT: Meh.
  24. King’s Forge (1 play): This might have been a good game if it was a good deal shorter and had some more variety – there are a bunch of cards, but you only use 11 of them in a game.  It was repetitive and dull.  I liked the concept, but the execution was not good.  VERDICT: Meh.
  25. Lagoon: Land of Druids (1 play): A beautiful game.  I really like that there’s some speculation in the game as you try to hone in on what will have the most control at the end, and I like the different tile powers.  The game itself is kind of abstract and a little long, but I enjoyed it.  VERDICT: Yeah.
  26. Lanterns: The Harvest Festival (1 play): This game, about paper lantern, is really pretty and a good abstract game to boot.  The game has very tight scoring, and offers a good amount of puzzly challenge to appeal to me.  VERDICT: Yeah!
  27. Machi Koro (2 plays): Another SdJ nominee that I really liked.  It’s from Japan, and features a resource production system similar to Catan without me having to play Catan.  I like the different buildings you can construct, and I like that it’s very simple to pick up.  I’ve played with the base game and Harbor expansion, and you definitely want to play with the expansion.  VERDICT: Yeah!
  28. Mission: Red Planet (1 play): I got to play the Fantasy Flight second edition, and it was very fun.  I like role selection to begin with, and this one did not disappoint.  A very cool growth of the Citadels idea, and a much better game.  VERDICT: Yeah!
  29. Monster Factory (1 play): My wife works in a library, and this is one of the games donated to her this year (thanks Rio Grande).  It’s a fun tile laying kid’s game, with some take that elements.  There’s not a lot to it depth-wise, but it’s a good silly game with some good silly art.  VERDICT: Yeah.
  30. Mysterium (4 plays): This game plays like a cross between Dixit and Clue, and I love it.  The deduction works really well, and while everyone has their own set of clues to work out, you can work together to eliminate possibilities.  I have only played the original Ukranian version, not the new Libellud release.  VERDICT: Yeah!
  31. oddball Aeronauts (3 plays): It’s a game that you don’t need a table for – everything plays right out of your hand.  In the end, it’s really souped up Rock-Paper-Scissors, and it took me a couple of plays to really get it.  But now that I understand what’s going on, I like it.  VERDICT: Yeah.
  32. One Night Revolution (1 play): I was interested to see this different take on the One Night system, and I think I prefer the Werewolf version (though I’ve only played that one once as well).  I’m at a loss as to why these games still insist on including roles that do NOTHING.  That’s not fun.  Give everyone something to do and let chaos reign – no one wants to just sit around while everyone else is doing cool stuff, even in a ten minute game.  VERDICT: Meh.
  33. One Zero One (1 play): A two-player game based on computer programming.  It actually turns into a kind of area control game as you try to have majority in the various rows, and are trying to score the most points.  I liked it, though I’ve heard some complaints about scoring since then and want to play again just to clarify my opinion.  VERDICT: Yeah.
  34. Piratissimo (1 play): This is a kid’s game with pirate ships.  It’s kind of fun – you’re trying to pick up treasure, but no too much.  You also have the ability to sic a tornado on your opponents, which is a weird take that mechanism for a kid’s game.  It’s a roll and move game, though more interesting than a lot of them.  I’d recommend it for early elementary kids.  VERDICT: Yeah.
  35. Rococo (1 play): This game has the distinction of the last one I played before the birth of my daughter in June.  Of course, I didn’t know that at the time…we thought we had two weeks left.  I enjoyed it – a lot going on and an unusually theme, but a really solid game that I’d like to play again.  VERDICT: Yeah.
  36. Seventh Hero (1 play): A set collection game with special powers.  I didn’t really enjoy it – it felt like it took too long for what it was, and was a bit too random for me.  VERDICT: Bleah.
  37. Smoke and Mirrors (1 play): A fun pocket game about magicians.  It’s a lot like Liar’s Dice with cards and a magician theme.  Good stuff.  VERDICT: Yeah.
  38. Specter Ops (1 play): I haven’t played a whole lot of hidden movement games, but this is a good one.  It’s very detailed, and has a good narrative to it.  VERDICT: Yeah.
  39. Star Realms (4 plays): This deckbuilder is one I first played on the app, and liked it enough to want my own copy.  It’s a quick one deck card game in space where the objective is to reduce your opponent to zero health.  You can get some pretty devastating combos going, and the game is highly portable.  VERDICT: Yeah!
  40. Sylvion (2 plays): This solo tower defense game is set in the Oniverse, and is a very different game from Onirim.  There’s a lot going on, a lot of interesting characters and abilities, and a lot of challenge.  I’ve only gotten to play the introductory version so far, and I look forward to exploring the advanced variants.  VERDICT: Yeah!
  41. Temporum (1 play): I haven’t played a Donald X. Vaccarino game I haven’t liked.  Until this one.  It’s not that I hated it, it just felt there was a poor execution of a pretty good idea.  There wasn’t nearly enough variety within the game itself, just a variable set up.  VERDICT: Meh.
  42. Tricked-Out Hero (1 play): It’s a trick-taking game set in a dungeon.  It’s a good idea, though I think I need another play or two with fewer players to really get a feel for what I think (six is too many).  I think I like it…it definitely feels unique.  VERDICT: Yeah?
  43. Tschakka Lakka (1 play): Interesting treasure hunting push-your-luck game.  It’s in German, but fairly straightforward and easy to understand (if not to do well in).  VERDICT: Yeah.
  44. Tumblin-Dice (2 plays): Great dexterity game that I’ve heard about for years and finally got to play.  Yes, it’s random scoring based on the pips of the dice you roll, but the real fun is trying to knock other dice off.  Beautiful game.  VERDICT: Yeah!
  45. WHY?! (1 play): This is Victory Point Games’ attempt at Frogger: The Board Game, though rethemed with “Why did the chicken cross the road?”  I like the idea, and they came up with a clever way to introduce cars.  But in the end, it takes way longer than it should and you usually end up with a bunch of dead chickens. VERDICT: Meh.
  46. Wild Cats (3 plays): A three card game of social deduction.  Very minimal, but played with a one minute time limit, this thing can be a blast.  My games have mostly devolved into shouting matches.  There’s no strategy here, just blind guessing, but with the right three people, this can be a lot of fun.  VERDICT: Yeah.
  47. You’re Fired! (4 plays): A two-player take that game of trying to fire your opponent’s boss.  It plays a little like Love Letter, though it’s less about deduction and more about playing your cards right.  It’s a good one.  VERDICT: Yeah.

To be eligible for the prestigious Spiel des Jesse Award, I have to have played the game at least twice and for the first time in the calendar year.  The game does not have to have been released during the calendar year, just new to me.  In fact, only one of the nominees this year was released in 2015.  Is that because there weren’t as many good games released this year, or is it because I was dealing with a newborn during the main release season? (Spoiler alert: it’s that one – my daughter was born at the end of June, so I haven’t gotten as much time to play the GenCon and Spiel releases that have found their way into my group.)  So without further ado, here are the nominees:

  • CASTELLAN: 2013, Beau Beckett, Steve Jackson Games
  • COLT EXPRESS: 2014, Christophe Raimbault, Ludonaute
  • EGGS AND EMPIRES: 2014, Ben Pinchback/Matt Riddle, Eagle-Gryphon Games
  • EVOLUTION: 2014, Dominic Crapuchettes, North Star Games
  • STAR REALMS: 2014, Robert Dougherty/Darwin Kastle, White Wizard Games
  • SYLVION: 2015, Shadi Torbey, Z-Man Games

Quite a bit of variety there.  An abstract wall-building game, a Western themed programming game, a role selection/bidding game, a species building game, a sic-fi deckbuilder, and a solo tower defense game.  So what’s my pick for the best of the year?

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

Yep, COLT EXPRESS is the winner of the prestigious Spiel des Jesse.  This game is pure chaos in a box, and I love it.  I love the theme of a train heist being performed by several different thieves at once, I love the simple way the programmed actions play out, and I LOVE the 3D train that is the playing surface.  It’s a great fun family game, and my favorite new-to-me game of the year.

Well, that wraps up 2015.  Here’s to another good year in 2016!  As always, thanks for reading!

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