SDJ Buzz: Kinderspiel des Jahres 2016

It’s that time of year again – time for the German Game of the Year awards!  Every year, the hobby goes crazy speculating about our equivalent of the Oscars.  The Spiel des Jahres (SdJ) is given every year to the family game of the year, the Kennerspiel (KedJ) goes to the advanced family game, and the Kinderspiel (KidJ) goes to the children’s game.  And every year, I run through the nominees to make my prediction.  Last year, I went 3-0 in my predictions, making me 6-5 since I started the blog (2-3 SdJ, 3-2 KedJ, 1-0 KidJ).  So let’s see how I do this year.

We’ll start with the Kinderspiel, which has been awarded every year since 1989.  There are three nominated games.  We’ll start with

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

Leo muss zum Friseur (or Leo Goes To The Barber) is a 2-5 player cooperative game by designer Leo Colovini and publishers ABACUSSPIELE.  In the game, you need to get Leo the Lion to the barber shop before it closes for the day.  Players set up a path of tiles, all face down.  Bobo the Barber is placed at one end, and Leo is placed at the other.  A clock is set to 8:00, and all movement cards are dealt out.

On your turn, play one movement card and move Leo that many spaces (1-4).  Flip over the tile you land on.  If it is an animal of the same color as the card you played, or if it’s a signpost, you don’t lose any time.  If the card is an animal of a different color from the card you played, the clock moves forward a number of hours (1 for a zebra, 2 for a rhino, 3 for a crocodile, 4 for a parrot, and 5 for a lioness).  Leo is then placed on the newly revealed tile, and it is the next player’s turn.  If the clock reaches 8:00 again, Bobo’s has closed and you’ll have to go back to the start to try again, growing Leo’s mane in the process.  Movement cards are redealt, and the jungle tiles are all flipped face down.  However, with good memory, you’ll be able to work out what is on the path and hopefully be able to make it all the way to Bobo by Day 5.  If you fail on Day 5, you lose.

Leo Colovini is a designer that I have mixed feelings about.  Most of his designs seem to be essentially abstracts, though with far too much going on and a complete lack of connection to whatever theme is attached.  The only three of his games that I’ve played at this point are Carolus Magnus (love it), Masons (like it), and Clans (hate it).  This game is obviously lighter than those as it is a kid’s game.  I like the concept – it combines a memory game with some push-your-luck and a journey, and that makes it stand out.  The pieces are really cool though, with large square cards, a cardboard clock, a wooden Leo token, and a Leo puzzle where you add a mane piece every time you fail.  The game seems to have a fun narrative to it, and I think that’s very important in a children’s game.  So I approve of this choice.

image by BGG user Pegasus Spiele
image by BGG user Pegasus Spiele

Mmm! is a game from designer Reiner Knizia and publishers Pegasus Spiele.  This 2-4 player cooperative game is about mice trying to collect food from the pantry before the black cat reaches them.  The game basically consists of a board, three dice, 56 mouse chips, and a wooden cat.  One player rolls the dice, which will show either Bread, Fish, Cucumber, Cheese, Carrot, or a Red X.  You then must place at least one of the dice on a matching food item on the board (Red X can’t be placed).  You can place all three if you want.  After that, you can either choose to reroll the dice that weren’t placed (knowing that if you ever can’t place dice, your turn ends), or you can stop rolling and gather food.

To gather food, replace the dice on the board with mouse chips.  Then, if you did not complete an item of food this turn, move the black cat forward one space.  If you manage to collect all food before the black cat makes it to the end of his track, you win.  If not…try again.

Like Colivini, I have a mixed opinion of Reiner Knizia.  I respect him as a designer, but his stuff really is not for me.  His games are typically too dry, too mechanical, too mathy.  This one doesn’t appear to be math, but it does feel dry and mechanical to me just from reading about it.  There’s a very minor push-your-luck feel here, but it’s essentially just roll your dice and see what you get.  The game has a good look, but it still feels like a typical Knizia pasted-on theme.  Kids might find it more fun than I probably would.

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

My First Stone Age (aka Stone Age Junior) is a game by Marco Teubner and published by Hans im Glück (Z-Man distributes it in the US).  This 2-4 player game is a children’s version of the 2008 game Stone Age.  Rather than being a worker placement game, it’s more of an action selection game.  There are a number of tiles around the table, and to move, flip one face up.  This will send you to one of the spaces around the board, where you can collect goods or possibly build a hut.  If you land on the home space, you can buy one of three huts if possible, but you also flip all action tiles face down.  You then swap two of them before the next player moves.  When someone builds their third hut, they win.

This is similar to Stone Age thematically and in the look (Michael Menzel did the art for both), but they really bear no resemblance to each other.  Not that that’s a bad thing – the game does look like something the whole family can enjoy without the awkwardness of explaining how the love hut works.  It’s got elements of memory as you try to flip the right tiles so you can collect the right stuff in order to buy the huts, and movement around the track can be in any direction (unless it tells you a specific space to go to).  I do like the original Stone Age a lot, but I think there’s room for this loose adaptation for the younger set.

Prediction time!  This is always difficult because I don’t know exactly what the jury is always looking for.  The best I can do it operate on my own impressions, and since I haven’t played any of these games, that’s going to make this a wild guess.  I think I’m going to eliminate Mmm! because it’s the one I’m least interested in.  I think it’s the least skill-based, and seems the least connected with its subject matter (even though the rules try really hard to connect the mechanisms to what’s going on).  So I’m left with Leo or My First Stone Age, and I think that I would probably award the 2016 Kennerspiel des Jahres to Leo muss sum Friseur.  It seems to have the best narrative, and the most original theme of the three.  My First Stone Age looks like it would be a fine winner as well, but I think that Leo hits more of the criteria the jury will be looking for.

The Kinderspiel des Jahres will be awarded on June 20, so we’ll see how it goes.  I’ll be doing my Spiel des Jahres and Kennerspiel des Jahres predictions in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned.  Thanks for reading!


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