Spiel des Jesse 2016

Time for my seventh annual review of new-to-me games played in the previous year, and the third annual award handed out to the best new-to-me game I played.  Let’s start with the list of games, including brief thoughts, number of plays in parentheses, and a rating on the Yeah-Meh-Bleah scale.

  • 1572: The Lost Expedition (1): A free print-and-play exploration game, where you are trying to guide lost explorers out of an unknown area.  It’s very story driven, even encouraging you to journal what happened.  Fun stuff.  RATING: Yeah!
  • 7 Wonders Duel (1): A good two-player version of 7 Wonders that succeeds in being its own game while paying homage to the original.  I just wish the cards weren’t so small.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Agility (1): I got most of a demo of this at Gen Con, enough to know that I really liked it (and to ask for my own copy for Christmas).  It’s a set collection game where you’re training dogs for athletic competitions.  Good stuff.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Alan’s Adventureland (1): Designed by a friend of mine (Alan Ernstein), this theme park building game is very colorful and kind of abstract, but I enjoyed it.  RATING: Yeah.
  • Android: Mainframe (1): I demoed this at Gen Con.  It’s a fairly abstract area control type game.  It was OK, nothing I really want to run out and play more.  RATING: Meh.
  • Archaeology: The Card Game/The New Expedition (4): I played the old version with a friend this past summer, and picked up the new at Gen Con.  A fantastic set collection game. RATING: Yeah!!!
  • Austerity (3): A free print-and-play economic game where you’re trying to rescue the economy of your nation.  It has a pool building aspect as you draw cubes from a bag.  I liked it.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Avignon (3): I got this as a review game from Button Shy.  A pretty good quick game about trying to claim religious figures.  RATING: Yeah.
  • Bears (1 play): It’s a speed dice rolling push-your-luck game, and it doesn’t work.  It’s very light, and not very fun.  At least, I didn’t enjoy it.  RATING: Bleah.
  • Between Two Cities (1): After having heard about this for a while, I got a chance to play this double drafting game once.  It was enough to want to play more.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Beyond Baker Street (1): I demoed this at Gen Con.  It’s Sherlock Holmes Hanabi, and is pretty fun.  RATING: Yeah.
  • Bottom of the Ninth (1): Fun baseball simulation game.  There’s a lot of dice rolling, but it really helps to emulate the tension of the very end of a close baseball game.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Bowling Solitaire (2): A classic solitaire game by Sid Sackson using half of a deck of standard playing cards.  I know I played it more than twice, but that’s all I recorded.  A good game, but my average is pretty terrible.  RATING: Yeah.
  • Bunny Bunny Moose Moose (1 play): It’s OK, but a little too convoluted for its own good.  It’s certainly different, but it’s my least favorite Vlaada game I’ve played to this point.  RATING: Meh.
  • Burgle Bros (2): A cooperative heist game by Tim Fowers.  It is highly thematic, very tense, and very fun.  RATING: Yeah!!!
  • Captain Sonar (1): It’s like Battleship meets Space Cadets: Dice Duel.  Each player on a team has their own job as you pilot a submarine on the hunt for the other team.  A lot of fun.  RATING: Yeah!!!
  • Carrotia (1): A cooperative game designed for kids that has you building a maze then guiding a rabbit through it.  I like the game a lot, though there were quite a few problems with rules.  RATING: Yeah.
  • Castellion (9): This was the most recent addition to the Oniverse before Nautilion was released at Spiel.    You’re building a castle through tile laying.  It’s a great puzzle game, though you can get really messed up by bad draws early.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Celestia (1): An update of Cloud 9 with amazing art.  It’s a push-your-luck game where you decide how far you want to go on an airship.  I liked it more than Cloud 9.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Codenames (3): This year’s Spiel des Jahres winner was this word game from Vlaada Chvátil.  It plays like a more intellectual version of Password, and is very fun.  RATING: Yeah!
  • The Cohort (1): A set collection game from MAGE Company where you are trying to play three sets of soldiers in front of you.  Each soldier, however, has a special ability that will hinder you in some way.  Nice twist on the genre.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Colony (1): This is a dice allocation game in the tradition of games like Kingsburg or Alien Frontiers, but with the twist that you’re collecting buildings that only you can use. I demoed at Gen Con and enjoyed it, would like to explore more.  RATING: Yeah.
  • Dead Man’s Chest (1): A dice game in the tradition of Liar’s Dice where you shake up a box and then bid on what’s inside.  I did pretty well with it, and liked it OK, though it’s nothing I would go out and buy.  RATING: Meh+.
  • Dreamwell (1): An abstract game where you’re trying to connect dreams and score points based on various objectives.  I got a full demo at Gen Con and liked it, though it was kind of long with four players.  I think it would be really good with fewer.  RATING: Yeah.
  • Eco-Schism (1): Played this in prototype form at Gen Con.  It was a good game, and I enjoyed the experience of getting to give some feedback about it.  I look forward to seeing it when it comes out.  RATING: Yeah!
  • A Fake Artist Goes to New York (2): It’s Pictionary meets Spyfall, and it’s closer to Pictionary on my desire to play it again scale.  It’s just too open-ended.  RATING: Bleah.
  • The Grizzled (1): A World War I cooperative game with art by Tignous, one of the people killed in the Charlie Hebdo shooting in early 2015.  It’s a pretty difficult game, especially with a lot of people.  I enjoyed it.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Here Fishy Fishy (1): This is a game for young kids, and I played with my one-year-old.  The only time we actually played the game as a game, we had to help her a lot.  Mostly, she just likes using the magnet to catch fish right now.  Great toy factor, and a decent game for kids.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Hocus (1): Wizard poker.  This game  is driven by spells, which are the actions you can take as you try to build the best poker hand.  It’s a pretty engaging game.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Hungry as a Bear (2): My favorite of the HABA My First Games line so far.  You’re basically just putting a cardboard token on a spoon and dumping it in a bear’s mouth.  It’s silly, but a great game for developing manual dexterity.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Hyperspace Smuggler (1): I was sent a prototype copy of this before its Kickstarter campaign, which did not succeed.  It was a space exploration pick-up-and-deliver game that had some good ideas and I liked it, but there were some problems that still needed to be worked out.  RATING: Meh+.
  • Isle of Skye (1): This year’s Kennerspiel des Jahres winner often gets compared to Carcassonne, but it really is its own thing.  You set the prices of your tiles, which others can buy off of you, and then you build your kingdom, working towards specific goals.  A lot going on in a very good game.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Junk Art (1): I played the giant version of this at Gen Con with the designers.  It was a lot of fun, bringing something new to the dexterity table.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Loony Quest (1): After playing this once, I instantly wanted my own copy, and just got one for Christmas.  It’s a drawing game that really relies on spatial perception.  A lot of fun.  RATING: Yeah!!!
  • Loop Inc. (1): A time travel game where the actions you take in one round have to remain in the same order for the next, though you’ll be adding other actions in between. It’s a brain bender, but fun.  RATING: Yeah.
  • Magic Potion (1): I played this in prototype form with the designer at Gen Con.  It’s a game where each player is trying to fulfill their own win conditions by collecting ingredients and making potions.  I’m looking forward to seeing it come out, possibly next year.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Medieval Academy (1): A fun drafting, area control type game where players are trying to score the most points by being in the lead on various tracks.  It’s a good family style game with a lot of tough choices to make.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Mystic Vale (1): I really liked the card crafting mechanism in play here, but the game itself was kind of dull.  I don’t know if that was just the demo, and I’d like to play again sometime.  RATING: Meh+.
  • Ninja Camp (2): It’s like Hey That’s My Fish, but with ninjas and different moves you can do as you race around the rapidly disappearing board.  Very fun.  RATING: Yeah!!!
  • Oceanos (2): A very light submarine game with a kind of drafting mechanism – get a few cards, choose one, then give the others to the active player to choose from.  I liked it.  RATING: Yeah.
  • Pagoda (1): A game where players are placing pillars to build tall pagodas and score points.  It’s kind of abstract, and has a really cool aesthetic look.  Quite good.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Parade (1): A quick card game where you are trying to avoid taking cards.  There is a parade going on, and you’ll be adding cards to the end of the line, trying to avoid playing a card that is lower valued than the length of the parade.  It’s a little bit of a brain bender, but I liked it a lot.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Patchwork (5): Uwe Rosenberg’s first take on a Tetris-like game (with mechanisms later incorporated into this year’s A Feast for Odin and Cottage Garden) is an amazing two-player game.  Highly recommended.  RATING: Yeah!!!
  • Pentaquark (6): A scientifically based solo game of particle physics.  It’s challenging and quick, which means it can get played a lot very quickly.  I think I had more than six plays, that’s just all I logged.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Pod-X (2): A deduction pocket game that feels kind of light on deduction.  One player knows the secret win condition, and the others are trying to figure it out with not many cards to play.  Plays better with three than with four.  RATING: Meh.
  • Quarto (1): A beautiful wooden abstract game where the object is to have four pieces in a row that all share at least one attribute (tall, short, black, white, square, round, solid, or hollow).  That in itself is tough, but your opponent chooses the piece you’ll use.  It’s a toughie.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Retreat to Darkmoor (1): The overlord has been defeated, and the minions are retreating.  You’re trying to have the most minions successfully escape without getting taken out by the heroes.  It’s a cute game.  RATING: Yeah.
  • Rhino Hero (3): A dexterity game where you’re building a tower of cards and trying to get your opponents to knock it over.  The theme is a little useless, but it’s a fun, quick much better alternative to Jenga.  RATING: Yeah.
  • Roll for the Galaxy (1): My one play of this was slightly marred by playing with four others who were experienced with the game.  They were very patient with me, but the RFTG games (Roll and Race) do have a bit of a learning curve, and taking it too fast meant that I didn’t get it at all.  I need another play before I feel like I can rate this one.  RATING: ???
  • Rollet (3): A dexterity game of rolling steel balls down ramps in an effort to knock a wooden ball into your opponents’ goal.  Fun stuff.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Rolling America (2): You’re rolling dice and putting the numbers into a map of America, trying to connect as much as you can.  It’s an OK puzzle, but not much of a game.  RATING: Meh.
  • Sagrada (1): Loved this game after a demo at Gen Con.  You’re building stained glass windows with dice.  It’s very pretty, and I look forward to seeing the final version in 2017.  RATING: Yeah!!!
  • Scrumdiddlyumptious (2): A candy-themed version of Go Fish where you have to eat a candy if someone correctly guesses its color, but you get a special power when you eat it.  A delicious and fairly fun game.  RATING: Yeah.
  • Shenanigans: The Musical (3): A social deduction game set in an orchestra.  I had a lot of fun with the prototype copy I was sent prior to the successful Kickstarter.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Slap .45 (1): I got a demo of this at Gen Con, enough to get a feel of it.  It’s got a party feel to it, and is fun enough for what it is.  Just not really something I’d want.  RATING: Meh+.
  • Small World Underground (1): My first time trying the follow-up to Small World.  It adds some more stuff, and really feels like Small World with a different skin and some extra things to think about.  RATING: Yeah.
  • Spaceteam (2): A real-time cooperative game where each player is playing cards, trying to collect the right resources, and get through their respective decks.  It was OK, but we won both of our games fairly handily.  RATING: Meh.
  • Stroop (1): I played a prototype of this with Marc Specter of the Grand Gamers Guild at Gen Con.  It’s an extremely brain-burny game that is coming out next year – keep an eye out for it.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Takenoko (1): A beautiful game about growing bamboo (and getting a panda to eat it).  Nice family game.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Thunderbirds (1): A decent co-op, but I think I would have gotten into it more if I was familiar at all with the source material.  RATING: Meh.
  • Tides of Time (3): I had high hopes for this one, but it just wasn’t as exciting as I wanted it to be.  Great art and a unique game idea, but in the end, it feels very drab to me.  RATING: Meh.
  • Unreal Estate (4): I played this several times prior to its successful Kickstarter campaign.  It’s a set collection game where sometimes you need to let cards go by in order to make the ones you have more valuable.  Very clever and fun.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Utopia Engine (4): A solitaire dice game where you are trying to collect the parts to the legendary Utopia Engine, activate them and turn them on before Doomsday kills us all.  It’s a great, great game.  RATING: Yeah!!!
  • Vast: The Crystal Caverns (2): Demoed this at Gen Con and later got a full play in.  An asymmetrical dungeon crawl where each player has their own objective and way to play.  Very, very cool.  RATING: Yeah!!!
  • Via Nebula (1): A light Martin Wallace pick-up-and-deliver game where you’re trying to deliver various resources to building sites in order to complete them.  It’s basically a train game without trains, and very pretty to boot.  RATING: Yeah!!!
  • WitchHunt (1): I don’t like Werewolf, and this game is pretty much Werewolf with a different theme.  However, the tweaks they made to the system made this game MUCH better than Werewolf.  RATING: Yeah!
  • World Monuments (2): A light building game where you collect bricks, then use them to complete a blueprint.  You’re trying to score the most points by building higher than other players.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Wrong Chemistry (1): A puzzle game where you’re trying to complete patterns to score different compounds.  It’s a good two-player game, but I think it might be kind of miserable playing with more than that.  RATING: Yeah.

This list includes games I demoed at Gen Con and got to play enough of that I felt I had played the game  Games partially demoed at Gen Con, but not enough to really get a feel for included Arcane Academy, Cry Havoc, The Dragon & Flagon, Dragoon, Lotus, The Networks, New Bedford, and Tesla vs. Edison.  If these games get played again, they will be included on a future new-to-me list.

And now, it’s time for the announcement of

THE THIRD ANNUAL SPIEL DES JESSE AWARD!!!

Each year since 2014, I’ve awarded the Spiel des Jesse to my favorite game that was new-to-me in the previous year.  In order to be eligible, I have to have played the game at least twice and have rated it a Yeah!!!  It does NOT have to have been published in 2016.  Here are this year’s nominees:

  • Archaeology: The Card Game/A New Expedition – designed by Phil Walker-Harding; originally published in 2007 by Adventureland Games and Z-Man Games; republished in 2016 by Z-Man Games
  • Burgle Bros – designed by Tim Fowers; originally published in 2015 by Fowers Games
  • Ninja Camp – designed by Adam Daulton; originally published in 2016 by Action Phase Games
  • Patchwork – designed by Uwe Rosenberg; originally published in 2014 by Lookout Games
  • Utopia Engine – designed by Nick Hayes; originally published on the web in 2010

And the winner is…

image by BGG user Fubeca
image by BGG user Fubeca

BURGLE BROS!  This is one of the most thematic co-ops I’ve ever played.  It really does feel like you’re playing out the plot of a heist movie.  There is a natural tension, and a real sense that you have to work together or you’re all going down.  It was a close call, and Patchwork almost beat it out, but Burgle Bros is the winner.  That means it joins Argent: The Consortium and Colt Express in the pantheon of SdJesse winners.

Overall, it was a good year.  I didn’t get to game as much as I would have liked – having a toddler in the house is quite time-consuming – but here’s to a great 2017!  Thanks, as always, for reading!

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2 comments

    • I did. The only times I really played were when on the infrequent times I went to game night, and they were often playing new stuff. This year, I hope to play more of my old stuff.

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