Every year, I run through the SDJ and KeDJ recommended list to see what games didn’t quite earn a nomination, but still warranted a mention. And then I add a couple of my own suggestions, games I’m surprised weren’t listed, because the total recommendations list is usually less than eleven and I have a quota to fill here. So, without further ado, here are the five games recommended for the Spiel des Jahres:
Agent Undercover (better known in the US as Spyfall) is a game designed by Alexandr Ushan, and was published in German by Piatnik (Cryptozoic handles the English version). It’s a party game where all players are in a single location, known to all but one. The one is a spy that is trying to figure out the location while the other players are trying to pinpoint the spy. On your turn, you’ll ask one other player a question about the location. That player must answer in a way that lets you know he’s a good guy without letting the spy know where they are. The spy must answer in a way that doesn’t give himself away. I played once where the spy thought we were on a beach and, when asked what he could see, said “Girls.” We were actually in a garage, so that gave him away VERY quickly. You score points based on catching the spy or getting away with it, and the player who has the most points after several rounds is the winner.
Spyfall got a lot of buzz when it came out. That’s kind of tapered off, but it’s still a really fun game. I think it would be a great game for an improv theater troupe to play as you have to think on your feet. This is the only one of the SdJ recommendations that I’ve actually played, and I am glad it got a mention.
Animals on Board is a game designed by Wolfgang Sentker and Ralf zur Linde. It was published in German by eggertspiele, with Stronghold Games distributing it in the US. In the game, you are stocking your own private ark and populating it with animals. The problem is that you can’t take animals in pairs because Noah is a jerk and has a monopoly on that. Each round, there’s a set of 12 animals in the center, and on your turn, you can either take an entire group of animals (paying one food per animal) or split a group into smaller groups, which gets you food. You want as many animals as you can without collecting pairs (you can collect single animals or 3+). The player with the most points after someone has collected ten animals is the winner.
This looks like a really fun game that uses a sort of You-Split-I-Choose mechanism. Plus it has a theme that is just silly enough that I think it would make people laugh. Good choice, jury.
Die fiesen 7 (which translates to The Nasty 7) is a game by Jacques Zeimet that was published last year by Drei Hasen in der Abendsonne. It’s a speed game where players are taking turns playing cards while counting up to seven and then back down. There are no numbers on the cards, you just play it and say the next number in sequence. There are some cards to trip you up – one will make you mumble, one will make you say two numbers, one will make you mumble two numbers, and one will make you say nothing. If you do make a mistake, or take too long, you’ll have to take all of the cards that have been played. The first player to run out of cards wins.
This game sounds dumb. There’s no other way to put it, and sometimes you need a dumb game to play. It’s counting and trying not to screw up, and I’m sure that’s harder than you would think it is. But it seems repetitive, and doesn’t look like something I’d want to try out.
Krazy WORDZ is a game by Dirk Bauman, Thomas Odenhaven, and Matthias Schmidt that was published by fish tank. It’s a German word game where players get some letters and have to invent new words, then assign them to different topics. You get points for crafting words and points for guessing other words.
Most of the information for this game, apart from a poorly translated BGG blurb, is in German, so I don’t know if I have the general gist. But it’s a word party game, so it’s probably a pass for me.
Qwinto is a game by Uwe Rapp and Bernhard Lach which was published by Nürnberger-Spielkarten-Verlag. It’s a dice rolling puzzle game where one player rolls 1-3 dice, then all players decide which row to put the resulting sum in. You can only place in a column that matches the color of one of the dice rolled, numbers must be placed so that they are eventually in sequential ascending order, and the same number cannot be placed in the same column. When one player has filled two rows (or one player has four penalties for not being able to place), the game ends and you score. The player with the most points wins.
This is the spiritual successor to Qwixx, a similar dice roller. It looks interesting enough, though not terribly interactive. It would probably work just as well as a solo game.
Now, the three games recommended for the Kennerspiel des Jahres:
7 Wonders: Duel is a two-player version of the Kennerspiel winning 7 Wonders, with this version designed by Antoine Bauza and Bruno Cathala, published by Repos Productions. Players are building a civilizations much as in the original, but are drafting from pyramid like structures, a la Golf/Tri-Peaks solitaire. Along the way, you’re collecting military, science, prestige, and attempting to build Wonders. After three Ages, the player who has accumulated the most points is the winner.
This is the only game from the Kennerspiel recommended list that I have played, and it’s a good one. It feels like its own game, not just a watered down version of the original, and that’s a very good thing. My only complaint is that it uses tiny cards, but overall, the game is very fun and I’m not surprised at all to see it recommended. I would have been surprised with a nomination since its predecessor was the FIRST Kennerspiel winner, but I think a recommendation here is great.
Blood Rage is a game designed by Eric Lang and published in German by Asmodee (Cool Mini or Not is the original publisher). Players are the leaders of Viking clans, and it’s time for Ragnarok, aka the end of the world. The Vikings are trying to go out in a blaze of glory, and are invading lands, engaging in combat, upgrading their clans, and even dying off to secure their spot in Valhalla. It’s not always advantageous to win a battle, but it is never advantageous to not fight. In the end, the player who has accumulated the most glory is the winner.
This recommendation was a surprise to me. The game is very popular, but I didn’t think it would be the kind of thing the jury would go for, even as a recommendation. With the nominations of Pandemic Legacy and TIME Stories, I wonder if that’s reflective of the changing attitudes about theme in games. Time will tell, but the recommendation is further proof that I need to try this one out sometime.
Mombasa is a game designed by Alexander Pfister that was published by eggertspiele (R&R Games distributes it in the US). In the game, players have stakes in African trading companies and are trying to get money to win. Over the course of seven rounds, players will be planning and performing actions such as using goods, using expansion cards, using bookkeeper cards, using diamond merchant cards, and placing bonus markers. Action cards used are placed in one of the resting decks, and you will get back the cards from one of these resting decks each round. The player who makes the most money in the end is the winner.
I haven’t really delved deeply into this game, but I hear good things about it. The resting deck mechanism seems like a really good idea, and one I’d like to see in action. Alexander Pfister really is on a roll with his designs these days, and I look forward to hearing more about his games in the future.
Finally, here are my suggestions for games the jury didn’t recognize for some reason:
Lanterns: The Harvest Festival is a game designed by Christopher Chung and published in Germany by Pegasus Spiele (Foxtrot Games and Renegade Game Studios did the original US edition). In the game, players are laying tiles to simulate the arrangement of floating lanterns on the water. Tiles are placed so that each player collects a card of the color on the side that is facing them. The placing player could also collect bonus cards based on the tiles that are placed next to platforms. Cards are turned in to collect bonus points based on certain arrangements, and the player who has the most points when all tiles have been placed is the winner.
I don’t know that I would have thought of this for a nomination or recommendation, but I saw it on a bunch of prediction lists, so I kind of expected it. I do like the game a lot, though I think it may be a bit TOO balanced. That’s a weird thing to say, I know, and I don’t really know how to put it. I’ve only played once. It was a Kickstarter game, so I’m glad it’s getting such a good reception that it got published overseas.
Quadropolis is a game by François Gandon that was published by Days of Wonder. It’s a city building game where players are claiming tiles from a 5×5 grid that are then placed on your own board. Claiming tiles in itself is interesting – you place a numbered architect at the end of a row or column and claim a tile from that row or column that is as far from the end as the architect’s number. In standard city building form, there’s lots of ways to get points, and after four rounds, the one with the most points wins.
I was surprised in 2009 when Small World didn’t get any SdJ recognition, and I was surprised in 2015 when Five Tribes didn’t get any KedJ recognition. I’m not surprised this year because I suspect Days of Wonder just isn’t submitting their games anymore. The last time they got any dJ love was in 2004 when Ticket to Ride won it all. I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but from what I hear, this game deserves some love.
There’s one more game I was going to chide the jury about not recognizing, but then I found out there was no German version yet. So call this a prediction for when there is:
Medieval Academy is a game by Nicolas Poncin that was originally published by Blue Cocker Games. Players are squires trying to outdo others in different training categories to score points. Players will draft a hand of cards, then play them to move up on various tracks. Your position on these tracks at the end of each round will determine how many points you get. After six rounds, the player with the most points wins.
This game is a lot of fun. I’ve only gotten to play once, and it instantly went on my wish list. It’s simple, plays quickly, and has a lot of depth to it. Good stuff, and I think it will deserve its nomination when it gets its German version.
Thanks for joining me for another rundown of the recommended lists! See you next time!