It’s that time of year again – time to review the nominees for the various “des Jahres” awards. Since 1979, the Spiel des Jahres award has been handed out to the game of the year in Germany. It has since become the Oscars of board game awards, sparking all kinds of debates in the hobby community. Starting in 1989, a special award was given to the children’s game of the year, and it officially became the Kinderspiel des Jahres in 2001. This award doesn’t get quite as much widespread attention in the hobby as the SdJ or the heavier Kennerspiel des Jahres category, but I’ve been covering it for the last couple of years, and we’ll keep that going this year. So far I’m 1-1 – I correctly guessed Spinderella to win in 2015, and incorrectly guessed Leo would win last year (My First Stone Age won instead). So, let’s take a look at this year’s nominees, and I’ll give my pick at the end.
Captain Silver is a game by Wolfgang Dirscherl and Manfred Reindl that was published in 2017 by Queen Games. It’s for 2-4 players ages 6 and up, and takes about 20 minutes to play. It’s a touch based game where players are trying to pull objects out of bags in order to collect treasure.
The game is played over three rounds. A board made up of a volcano island, four ocean boards, and a treasure island. The ocean boards will form four rows of items. Each player has a bag full of 16 cardboard treasures represented on the spaces of these rows. On the word “GO!”, everyone reaches into their bags and tries to find one of the items at the start of these rows. If you pull one out successfully, you put it on that space, and the next item in the row is now available. If you pull out the wrong piece, it goes into the volcano. When one row is full, the round ends. You’ll evaluate each row individually, with each correctly placed piece earning the reward shown (gold or advancement of their pirate ship around the treasure island which can earn gold or treasure chests). Any incorrect items or items in the volcano that match symbols on a volcano card cost you one gold each. After the third round, the player with the most points between gold and treasures is the winner.
I like real time games, and this is in that vein. It seems like a pretty fun and fast race to get the right items. There’s even some strategy since there’s always four different spaces you could fill and different rewards for each, as well as penalties for being incorrect. I think this looks like a pretty fun game, one that I can see kids and adults really enjoying together. I suspect adults might do a little better than the kids here, unless the bags are on the smaller side. I like the choice for a nomination here.
Ice Cool is a game by Brian Gomez originally published by Brain Games, but published in German by AMIGO. It’s a 2-4 player game for ages 6 and up that takes 20 minutes to play. It’s a dexterity game where players are flicking penguins around a high school to try to get fish.
Each player had a pawn and three fish. At the beginning of each round, one player will become the Hall Monitor whose goal it is to catch the other penguins. The others will be penguins, and will place their fish over doors of the school. On your turn, you flick your penguin on the board. If you go through a door marked by one of your fish, you claim it plus a fish card which gives points. If the Hall Monitor catches a penguin, he takes their ID card. A round ends when someone gets all of their fish, or when the Hall Monitor has caught all other penguins. After everyone has had one turn to be Hall Monitor (or two turns in a two-player game), the player with the most points from fish cards wins.
This is probably the most well known of the three nominees, at least here in the States. It was very popular around Gen Con last year. It does seem like a pretty fun flicking game, and there are several trick shots you can try, such as curving your penguin or jumping walls. It’s not necessarily deep, but it does look like fun. I’m a little surprised it was included on the Kinderspiel list and not the SdJ list, especially considering its crossover appeal.
The Mysterious Forest is a game by Carlo A. Rossi that was published in 2016 by Hutter Trade GmbH in German (IELLO published the English version). It’s a 2-4 player game for ages 6 and up that takes 10-25 minutes to play. The game (which is cooperative) is based on the graphic novel series The Wormworld Saga by Daniel Lieske. Players control Jonas, the hero, and try to guide him through a forest to defeat the big bad at the end of the trail.
The game plays over three phases. In the first phase, you will turn over the forest cards one by one and memorize what equipment you will need in order to be successful. In the second phase, you’ll prepare for the journey. Each player will take turns rolling four dice, then choosing two of them. The faces show equipment tokens you can put in the communal backpack, or possibly Loki who must be taken and can give you some benefits in the forest. The third phase is the actual exploration. Flip forest cards one by one and cover the equipment symbols with items from your pack. If you don’t have what you need, flip a Loki token. It will give you a choice of equipment, or will allow you to trade an equipment token in the pack with another from the reserve. Halfway through, you’ll meet a Wanderer who will trade you a weapon for certain equipment (this is optional). When you get to the final boss, you need to trade in the proper equipment to win. If you ever cannot fulfill equipment requirements, you lose.
This is a memory game, but one with a nice narrative to it. You scout the forest, try to prepare for what you’ll need, then take off. I am entirely unfamiliar with The Wormworld Saga, so I can’t tell you exactly how strong the theme is here. It does seem interesting, and a good way to work on memory skills as you work your way through the forest. It’s cooperative, but really it seems more like a solo game turned into a team game. Players are working together, but no one is the only one controlling a character. It seems like this type of game is really susceptible to AGS (Alpha Gamer Syndrome) which might leave some kids feeling a little sulky. But it does seem like an interesting system with a lot of variability in the way the cards come out.
Time to make my pick! As always, this is entirely uninformed as I have not played any of these games. But from my extensive knowledge about the process (i.e. I’m just making a wild guess), I’m going to pick ICE COOL as the winner of this year’s Kinderspiel des Jahres. I think all three games seem like fun, but it seems to me that the jury tends to go with the one with the greatest toy factor. And I think that flicking penguins fits that bill. It also seems like the game that is most adaptable for younger kids as well – Captain Silver and The Mysterious Forest both have a feel of being slightly more advanced. In fact, I’m a little surprised that all three nominees are for ages 6 and up, with nothing for the preschool set. Nevertheless, with what they’ve given us, I’m going with Ice Cool as the winner. Though I think I’d also be happy to see Captain Silver win.
The Kinderspiel will be awarded on June 19, so check it out and see how I did with my pick. My SdJ and KedJ picks will be coming soon, so stay tuned. Thanks for reading!