SDJ Buzz: Spiel des Jahres 2019

Since the first award was given in 1979, the Spiel des Jahres (German Game of the Year) has become the premiere award in the board gaming hobby. The award focuses on family games, which is an emphasis that has been more pronounced since the introduction of the Kennerspiel des Jahres in 2011. It’s always been a heavily watched race, and also has its share of detractors.

I’ve been covering the Spiel des Jahres since the inception of this blog. Since 2011, I’ve got a 4-4 record in my predictions: I correctly predicted Hanabi (2013), Colt Express (2015), Kingdomino (2017), and Azul (2018). As for my misses, I picked Forbidden Island instead of Qwirkle (2011), Eselsbrücke instead of Kingdom Builder (2012), Splendor instead of Camel Up (2014), and Imhotep instead of Codenames (2016). We’ll see if I can push my average up over .500 this year. Let’s look at the nominees!

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Just One (Ludovic Roudy/Bruno Sautter, Repos Productions) is a 3-7 player party game that started life in 2017 as We Are The Word. It’s a cooperative party game where the object is to get the highest score possible. A perfect score is 13.

On a player’s turn, they draw one of the randomly selected 13 cards in the game (out of 110 possible). This card is turned away and placed on a rack so that everyone else can see it, but the player has no idea what it is. The player picks a number, 1-5, and this the word that other players have to try to get them to guess. Now the players each write down just one word as a clue on their easels.

Before showing their clues to the guesser, the other players will compare what they wrote. If any clues are duplicates, they are discarded, and the guesser is only shown unique clues. This of course means that it’s possible the guesser won’t get ANY clues. The guesser gets one shot to guess the word. If they do, hooray, you’ve scored a point. If not, the card AND the top card of the draw pile are discarded, meaning you’ve lost 2 of the 13 possible points in the game. Once the deck is empty, you see how well you did.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

This game has a very simple idea, and put seems to be executed well. The people who have played it seem to love it. For me, it seems like a party game. I know a lot of people out there love them, and that’s great. I’m not one of those people. This is not the time or place for me to go on a rant about that, I’ll just say that this one looks good for what it is.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

LAMA (Reiner Knizia, AMIGO) is a 2-6 player point shedding game where you’re trying to get rid of the cards in your hand so you can have the lowest score. Also, apparently there are llamas. It’s a card game that comes with 56 cards (8 copies of numbers 1-6 and 8 llamas) and a bunch of 1 and 10 point chips for tracking score).

At the start of each round, players are dealt six cards, with one card flipped face up in the center. On your turn, you can play a card from your hand that is either equal to or one higher than the card on top in the center. Llamas are placed on 6s or other llamas, and 1s can be placed on llamas or other 1s. If you can’t play, you draw a card and your turn is over. You can also choose to quit the round.

Play continues until everyone has quit the round, or one player runs out of cards. Each card you have left scores face value in points, with llamas scoring 10 (though each value only scores once). Take point chips. The winner of the round gets to get rid of one point chip, so they’ll probably dump a 10 pointer if they can. When someone gets past 40 points, the low score wins.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

This looks like an incredibly light card game with some shades of Uno (though, to be fair, it’s really not that much like Uno). It’s also a Reiner Knizia game, and he remains a very popular designer whose work speaks to a lot of people. I’m personally not a fan. This game doesn’t really speak to me. I keep hearing people say, “Oh, you’ve got to play it, the depth comes out while you’re playing!” But to me, it just doesn’t seem that interesting. I’m not sure why there are llamas instead of 7s, the scoring method of getting rid of chips seems unnecessary, and while the game might be a lot of fun, there’s nothing about it that makes me want to play it.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Werewords (Ted Alspach, Ravnesburger) was first published in 2017 by Bézier Games. Earlier this year, it got a German release, making it eligible for the SdJ. The game is kind of a mashup of 20 Questions and Werewolf.

Each player gets a secret role at the start of a game of Werewords. One player is the Mayor (the only publicly known role), and they will be responsible for picking the target word for the round. As in other Werewolf games, players close their eyes while the moderator (an app in this case) guides the different roles through what they can do – the Werewolves know the word, the Seer knows the word, the Beholder knows who the Seer is, the Minion knows who the Werewolves are, and so on. When everyone wakes up, they have a certain amount of time to guess the target word, only asking Yes or No questions of the Mayor. If the Villagers correctly guess the word, the Werewolves try to guess who the Seer is. If the Villagers incorrectly guess the word, they try to find a Werewolf.

image by BGG user kalchio

This is a game I reviewed over a year ago, and it was (and is) a decent game. I have a problem with social deduction games in general, and the Werewolf games in particular because it’s a lot of random guessing and people with not a lot of interesting stuff to do (like the plain Villagers). The word portion here is not really the point of the game, it’s just kind of a way to gain information about who might be on the other team. It’s a good, quick game that can be knocked out several times in a row. It’s a good game, but not one I would have put up as SdJ material (mostly because of its similarity to the 2016 game Insider).

It’s prediction time now. As you may have gathered from my comments, I’m not terribly impressed with the nominees this year. It’s two party games and a Knizia game, which is a perfect storm of things I don’t go for. I’m not one of those that will condemn the jury for their selections and say they’ve lost all relevance because I don’t care for the choices, however. The target market it German family audiences, and by selecting smaller games this year, it ensures that the audience will have something affordable to purchase when looking for a new game. However, I wish they had nominated some different games – I’m much more interested in several of the games on the recommended list (which I’ll cover more as we get closer to the announcement of the winners).

My reservations aside, here’s the game I think will win this year:

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

I’m pretty much going off of the buzz I’m seeing right now. Werewords seems to be a long shot, and I feel like LAMA might even have worked more as a Kinderspiel game. Just One seems to have the fun that people are looking for, and I’m guessing this one will win.

The winners will be announced on July 22. Before that, however, I’ve got to run down the Kennerspiel des Jahres nominees, which will be coming on Friday. Thanks for reading!

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