Spiel des Jesse 2017

It’s time once again for my annual overview of new-to-me games played in the previous calendar year.  This is actually the eighth time I’ve done it on the blog, and it will also be the fourth time I’ve handed out the prestigious Spiel des Jesse award, given out to my favorite new-to-me game of the year.  But first, let’s look at all the games in contention, accompanied by a brief thought and a rating on the patented Yeah-Meh-Bleah scale. (Side note: I hope it’s not actually patented, because if it is, I don’t own that patent).

  • 3 Wishes: This is a bluffing/deduction game where you’re trying to get the high score by switching cards around on the table.  It’s very fast (no more than five minutes), but it’s pretty random.  RATING: Meh.
  • 1672: The Lost Crew: This is the second in the so-called xx72 series, which are print-and-play games featuring map building.  In this one, you’re sailing around trying to find islands and buff yourself up so you don’t die in a storm.  It’s my least favorite of the series – too repetitive, too random, and too little thematic connection.  RATING: Bleah.
  • 1972: The Lost Phantom: This is the third in the xx72 series, and much better.  You’re trying to escape from a jungle in Vietnam.  It’s a much faster game than 1572 was, and feels much more tense.  It also features some paragraph events that may trigger, which is a cool innovation for this type of game.  RATING: Yeah!
  • A4 Quest: Another PNP game (there will be a lot of them on this list).  It’s a dungeon crawl, and fairly standard.  I liked it better the second time I played it than the first.  RATING: Yeah.
  • Ada Lovelace: Consulting Mathematician: Another PNP, this one from the GenCant roll-and-write contest this year.  You’re placing polyominoes around a map trying to collect evidence, but the real point is trying to get a high score.  It’s a nice puzzle.  RATING: Yeah.
  • Amun-Re: A Reiner Knizia classic that I’d never played.  I don’t particularly like auctions, but this has the simultaneous auctions going on which appeals to me more.  The theme is dry as toast, but it’s a Knizia game.  It was fine, but I did play a better simultaneous auction game this year.  RATING: Yeah.
  • Anansi and the Box of Stories: A trick-taking game from Level 99.  You’re trying to get points while trying to avoid Anansi (the spider).  It works pretty well, and kind of revived my interest in trick-takers.  RATING: Yeah.
  • The Bottle Imp: Another trick-taking game with the twist that you’re trying not to have the bottle at the end of the round.  I liked this one a lot.  RATING: Yeah!
  • BOX: This is the first of the Pack-O-Games that I’ve played.  It’s an abstract where you and your teammates are trying to build boxes in your color.  AP is a SERIOUS problem with this one.  RATING: Meh.
  • Century: Spice Road: This is like Splendor 2.0.  You’re collecting cubes, trading them in for better cubes, and trading those cubes in for point scoring cards.  It’s a very good game.  RATING: Yeah!!!
  • A Charlie Brown Christmas Game: I love the Charlie Brown Christmas special.  But the game made me want to claw my eyes out.  A total luckfest where you’re trying to collect stuff, but the stuff is only accessible if you’re lucky.  RATING: BLEAH!!!!!!!!!!! (for those of you keeping score, that’s the worst rating I’ve EVER given a game on one of these posts)
  • Circle the Wagons: An 18-card drafting and territory building game from Button Shy with variable scoring conditions.  It’s pretty brilliant.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Citrus: A game about citrus farming.  There’s tile placement, an economic element, and trying to score lots of points.  It was pretty good, if fairly bland.  RATING: Yeah.
  • Clank!: A deck building dungeon crawl where you’re trying to grab treasure and get out alive.  I’ve played the base game and the Sunken Treasures expansion and enjoyed both.  RATING: Yeah!!!
  • The Climbers: After hearing about this a lot on Heavy Cardboard, I got a copy for Christmas and enjoy it a lot.  A pretty simple game with a lot of depth (and height).  RATING: Yeah!!!
  • Coal Baron: This being a Kramer/Kiesling game, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it.  But I did.  I liked the way the coal mines worked, and the worker placement was good.  Probably at the top of my list of their collaborations.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Decathlon: Another PNP, this one from Reiner Knizia.  It’s an interesting challenge, but the epitome of a “beat your score” game, rather than one with an actual goal.  RATING: Meh.
  • Doom Realm: Another PNP.  This one is based on Pencils & Powers (further down the list).  It’s a good dungeon crawl.  I need to play more.  RATING: Yeah.
  • Dragoon (technically): I say technically because I only demoed this at Gen Con last year.  Now that I’ve played a full game…it’s not really my thing.  Gorgeous components, and a relatively simple game to understand, but a bit too much in the take that department.  RATING: Meh.
  • Endless Nightmare: Another PNP, and one of my favorite discoveries of the year.  It’s technically a “beat your score” game, but presents it that you cannot win and are just trying to survive as long as you can.  Several different nightmares to face.  I like it.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Enki-Des: The Soul Gates: Another PNP.  Here, you’re fighting several different gates.  It’s OK, but doesn’t change much from game to game – it could benefit from variable temples.  There’s a clear MacGuffin which you have the opportunity to pick up before you get to the end, but probably shouldn’t.  RATING: Meh.
  • Fabled Fruit: Friedeman Friese’s take on legacy games gives us a set collection game that can be reset, rather than one that can only be played through once.  It’s very clever how the game evolves over time.  Haven’t made it through the whole campaign yet, but it’s a lot of fun.  RATING: Yeah!!!
  • Farkle: So I had never played this before.  Now I have, and I never have to play it again.  RATING: Bleah!!!
  • Finca: I had played this online before, but this was my first time face-to-face.  Good set collection rondel game that is very colorful and nice to look at.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Great Western Trail: A very good game where you’re traveling to Kansas City to deliver cows.  It plays differently than anything else I’ve played, and I really enjoyed it.  It probably would be nominated for the Spiel des Jesse award, but sadly, I only played once so it’s ineligible.  RATING: Yeah!!!
  • Hall of the Dwarven King: Another PNP.  You’re digging down, collecting gold, and building structures to get you more points.  It’s a good dice allocation type game, but boils down to a “beat your score” game that could really benefit from a goal.  RATING: Meh.
  • Here Kitty Kitty: Collect cats and keep your opponents from doing likewise.  It’s fine for what it is, which is a light set collection game.  RATING: Meh.
  • Holmes & Watson 1890-1914: Adventures in the London Fog: Another PNP from the GenCant contest.  I’ve only play solo, and I think it would be better with more people – the dice draft would make things more interesting.  RATING: Meh.
  • I Can’t Even With These Monsters: A very interesting take on set collection as you can only win if you have an odd score at the end.  That little twist makes it more than just trying to get the high score – a 5 would beat a 50 here.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Jaipur: I had only played this one at Yucata.de before getting my own copy.  It plays a LOT faster in person.  Good game.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Jurassico: Another GenCant PNP.  You’re reconstructing dino DNA here through five dice.  The bot takes whatever dice you don’t use and adds them to its DNA pool, and it’s a race to get to 6 money first.  I enjoyed this one a lot.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Karuba: A Spiel des Jahres nominee from last year.  It’s a fun simultaneous puzzle without a lot of interaction – the biggest thing is trying to get people to temples before your opponents do so you score more points.  I liked it.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Kingdoms: A Reiner Knizia game where you’re trying to score points through clever castle placement.  Knizia games don’t usually do anything for me because they feel so mathy, and this one epitomizes that problem.  But it was fine and I’d play again.  RATING: Yeah.
  • Leviathan: A two-player Moby Dick game.  It works a bit like X-Wing, and the two sides play differently.  It was a pretty well designed game that just wasn’t for me.  RATING: Yeah.
  • Loot: Another Knizia game.  You send out ships, and others attack those ships.  As you collect ships, you earn points.  This one really did nothing for me.  RATING: Meh.
  • Lotus (technically): Another one I only demoed briefly at Gen Con last year.  A very lovely take on area control as you build flowers and try to score the most points off of them.  RATING: Yeah!
  •  Magic Maze: This Spiel des Jahres nominee is pure chaos.  Everyone is controlling a direction and no one can talk.  And I love it.  RATING: Yeah!!!
  • Millennium Blades: Wow, this is a detailed game.  It’s a CCG simulator where you’re playing as a player of CCGs.  I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of what it has to offer and need to play it more (hence why it’s not nominated for the Spiel des Jesse).  RATING: Yeah!!!
  • Mr. Jack: First time I’ve gotten to play this classic deduction game.  I’ve only been Jack so far, and was able to evade capture every time.  I like the way movement works – definitely a fun game.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Nautilion: The fifth game in the Oniverse series, and the fourth that I (now) own.  It’s a dice assignment game, and I enjoy it so far – I still need to play all of the different modules.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Oh My Goods!: This is a pretty good worker placement and resource management game boiled down to a deck of cards.  It’s clever and a pretty good game, and would get extra points from me if only there were some interaction.  RATING: Yeah.
  • Onitama: A two-player abstract where the moves you can perform shift from turn to turn.  It’s like a stripped down version of The Duke, which I like better – but this one is quite good.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Pencils & Powers: Another GenCant PNP, though this one keeps growing beyond the contest.  I’ve played a couple of the scenarios so far, and it’s good, I just wish it wasn’t a “beat your score” game.  RATING: Yeah.
  • Pocket Ops: Tic-Tac-Toe for strategy enthusiasts.  It doesn’t seem like much, but having a special power and trying to guess where your opponent is going makes this much more of a cat-and-mouse game than the original TTT.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Port Royal: Another I had played on Yucata.de before playing the physical version.  It made much more sense face-to-face.  I liked all the different avenues, and I tend to like multi-use cards.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Porta Nigra: A Kramer-Kiesling joint that felt much like other Kramer-Kiesling joints.  Not bad, but I wasn’t crazy about it.  RATING: Meh.
  • Professor Pugnacious: A deck-builder that would have been interesting if it ever ended. Even in a two-player game, it felt interminable.  The shifting market was a good mechanism.  RATING: Meh.
  • Raise the Shields: Another GenCant PNP, and even though this wasn’t one of the finalists, I think it might be my favorite of the bunch.  It’s got dice assignment and the use of polyominoes to try to raise your shields.  It’s a rare example of a 1+ player game that is not about beating your score.  RATING: Yeah!!!
  • Recycling Route: Another GenCant PNP.  It’s a puzzle where you’re racing against an AI (you can also play against other people) to make the most money picking up recycling.  Great theme, and a pretty unique game.  RATING: Yeah!
  • RESISTOR_: A two-player homage to the movie Wargames, where players are trying to destroy the other side by lowering their DEFCON level.  Very creative use of cards, and a pretty good game.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Saint Petersburg: Another one I had only played on Yucata.de, and another that I didn’t really get until I played it in real life.  There is a real strategy to which cards you grab, and it’s a pretty deep game.  I need to play some more, but I think I won’t be playing online again.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Santorini: I really enjoyed this one.  It’s an abstract game with a slight theme in the form of different god powers that can really change the game.  It’s a quick one, and very good.  RATING: Yeah!!!
  • Tomb Trader: This is a pure negotiation game where players are trading items to try to get the high score.  Not bad at all.  RATING: Yeah.
  • Twin Stars: A solo system from Button Shy Games.  It’s a dice assignment game, and works pretty well.  RATING: Yeah.
  • Unfair: I’ve heard some pretty negative things about this game, but I enjoyed my one play well enough.  If you weren’t expecting bad things to happen, you weren’t paying attention to the title.  RATING: Yeah.
  • Urbania: A city-building game where you’re building up a grid with buildings that will score you lots of points.  I liked it more than I thought I would.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Utopia Engine Beast Hunter: Another PNP, this one a follow-up to Utopia Engine (which is one of my favorite PNPs).  There seems to be a lot more going on and it’s less linear than the original, but also manages to take the same basic dice assignment mechanism and be its own game.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Vegas Showdown: A simultaneous auction game where you’re building a casino.  I felt more of a thematic connection than with Amun-Re, and really liked how it all worked.  I had wanted to try this for a while, glad I finally did.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Washington D6: Another GenCant roll-and-write.  In this one, you’re assigning dice to various Washington DC locations of interest, but each has its own rules for placement and all are bigger than you’d find in something like Roll Through the Ages.  A really good game, though the “goal” for a win seems ludicrously low – 1776 points, which I’ve beaten by over a thousand each time I’ve tried.  RATING: Yeah!
  • Welcome to Dino World: The winner of the GenCant contest this year.  I like it, though it falls a little short of being a great solo game because it’s a “beat your score” game.  I feel like a loss condition could easily be introduced into the system.  RATING: Yeah.

And now, it’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the nominees and winner of the 2017 Spiel des Jesse award.  This award has been handed out annually since 2014 to my favorite “new-to-me” game of the year.  Past winners include Argent: The Consortium, Colt Express, and Burgle Bros.  The criteria: I have to have played it for the first time in the previous calendar year, and I have to have played it at least twice.  So it doesn’t matter when it was first published, all new-to-me games are eligible.  This year, all games are from the last couple of years, though two of them are reprints.  Now for this year’s nominees:

  • Clank! A Deck-Building Adventure – designed by Paul Dennen; originally published by Renegade Games in 2016.
  • The Climbers – designed by Holger Lanz; originally published by Chili Spiele (as Die Aufsteiger) in 2008; reprint by Simply Complex in 2017.
  • Fabled Fruit – designed by Friedeman Friese; originally published by 2F-Spiele and Stronghold Games in 2016.
  • Magic Maze – designed by Kasper Lapp; originally published by Sit Down! in 2017.
  • Santorini – designed by Gordon Hamilton; originally self-published in 2004; reprint by Roxley Games in 2016.

And without further ado, the winner of the prestigious Spiel des Jesse award is…

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Clank! has been getting a lot of good buzz since its release.  At first, I wasn’t sure if it would be a game I liked – the board looked weird, and I didn’t know if the deck-building aspect would really be a benefit to the game.  After playing it, I really liked what was done with the system.  It’s got a great narrative arc, the deck-building elements add new life to a pretty tired genre of games (dungeon crawls), and the threat of the dragon means that it’s possible no one could win.  It also resonated more with me than the other board based deck-builder, Trains, which felt more like a Dominion clone than Clank! does.  So this is my pick – it’s a great game, check it out.

A very happy new year to all!  Join me next time for a look forward at 2018!  As always, thanks for reading!


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