SDJ Buzz: Kinderspiel des Jahres 2020

It’s award season in the board game world, and the season really kicks off with the Spiel des Jahres. This is a German award aimed at families and more casual games, but it’s been around for over 40 years and is well-established as one of the top awards in the hobby. The Kinderspiel awards are traditionally announced well before the Spiel and Kennerspiel, and that is the case here – the Kinderspiel winners will be announced on June 15, a month before the others.

The Kinderspiel was first officially awarded in 2001, but a Kinderspiel-esque award has existed since 1989. This is for the best children’s game of the year, and I’ve been covering it on this blog since 2015 – not nearly as long as the other awards, but being the father of a young child, it’s been good for me to see what’s out there that isn’t the latest Hasbro cash-in. Here are the winners of the award since 2015, with my pick indicated when I got it wrong:

  • 2015: Spinderella (got it right)
  • 2016: My First Stone Age (I picked Leo)
  • 2017: Ice Cool (got it right)
  • 2018: Dragon’s Breath (I picked Panic Mansion)
  • 2019: Valley of the Vikings (I picked Go Gecko Go)

I’m looking to lift that 2-3 record back to .500 this year, so let’s get to the nominations!

image by BGG user LifstyleLTD

Hedgehog Roll (Urtis Šulinskas, Lifestyle Boardgames Ltd) is a 1-4 player game for ages 4 and up where you are racing to get home. The game has a kind of dexterity element, and can be played competitively or cooperatively.

To start the game, you’ll set up a track from some of the different boards available. For the cooperative game, there’s a fox board you’ll add. There are 18 forest goodies that you spread out on the table (fuzzy side up), and also a velcro ball that represents a hedgehog.

Each turn, the active player will roll the ball across the forest goodies. Take each one that the ball picks up and put it in front of you. Each apple/leaf/mushroom you pick moves you forward one space to the same picture, but if you collected five or more goodies, you don’t move. All goodies then go to a pile, and if there are four or more of the same type in that pile, you return them to the face down array. In the cooperative game, the fox then moves two space forward.

The game is over when someone enters the house and everyone has had the same number of turns. Anyone who made it to the house wins. In cooperative mode, you win if you don’t get caught by the fox.

image by BGG user schampavie

So, it’s a racing game with a dexterity element – you’re trying to roll the ball in such a way that you get the pieces you need to move where you want to. There’s some strategy as you try to find the best path, but really, it’s seems like a more interesting version of Candyland. I like that you can play as a team or against each other. I’m also glad that there are games among the nominees that are for younger kids – it seems like they’re usually for 6 or 7 and up, rather than 4+. Sounds like a good nominee.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Foto Fish (Michael Kallauch, LOGIS) is a 2-4 player game for ages 4 and up (another game for younger kids!). It’s a game about photographing fish.

Each player has their own board made up of 12 puzzle pieces that you put together – the light side is for an easier game, and dark is for a more difficult game. Each player also has a camera and a puzzle fish (basically just a head and a tail).

One player rolls two dice. It gives you a combination of two fish (different colors). Players move their cameras around, trying to find a shot that has those two fish, and only those two fish, in a square shot. It’s possible both of the dice will show nothing, in which case you take a picture of an empty frame. The first person to find it shouts “CLICK!” and takes a large middle part of a fish. Everyone else who finds it gets a small part of a fish. Then you’ll play another round.

The game is over when at least one person has a fish that is longer than their aquarium board. The player with the longest fish wins.

image by BGG user LOGIS_games

This game is a visual dexterity game – the winner is the one who can spot things the best. But it’s creative placement of the camera that counts sometimes. You can amp up the difficulty by using larger cameras – it’s harder to get just what you need in the shot. I think that’s cool. This seems like a pretty unique game, and again, it’s one for younger kids. However, as opposed to Hedgehog Roll, I think this one might have a longer shelf life because you can make it harder as the kids grow up. This one looks cool.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Wir sind die Roboter (Reinhard Staupe, NSV Games) is a 2-6 player cooperative game for ages 5 and up.  The title translates to We Are the Robots, but the English title is going to be Robots. It’s kind of like The Mind for kids, but with robots.

There are 12 boards in the game, and 50 wooden discs. You’ll shuffle up the boards and place them in a pile so that the track is face up. One player picks up the top board and looks at the other side. This gives you three speeds. Compare the number on the board now on top of the pile with the speeds on the back to find your target shape. So, you might see a 3, and see that corresponds to a snail and an apple. This means that you need to move your robot slowly to the apple on the top track. (EDIT: You announce your speed to the other players, but not the symbol)

But there is no robot. The robot is in your mind. You’ll say “beep” and start moving that robot at the given speed to the target. When you get it there, you say “beep” again, and the other players have to figure out what the target was. A correct guess gets your team 3 chips. Being one off gets you two chips. Being two off gets you one chip. Being three or more off gets you nothing.

The game is over when you’ve played 11 rounds. Then you check your score to see how well you did.

image by BGG user henk.rolleman

Like The Mind, this is a game that is played completely telepathically. It’s up to you to read your fellow players and figure out what’s fast and slow to them. But if you thought The Mind was taking wild shots in the dark, this one seems to be even worse. You have to figure out two things – the speed, and the target. And there’s no clue, other than how long someone takes. This seems like it would be REALLY frustrating to kids, not to mention adults. I know the SdJ jury loves NSV games, but I have to say that I’m not thinking highly of this one yet. It took me a bit to warm up to The Mind, and The Game too, but I’m nowhere close to getting the appeal of this one yet.

(EDIT: Designer Reinhard Staupe reached out to me to point out that I had missed a crucial rule – you announce the speed to the other players, and it’s up to them to figure out what that means to you. This makes the game a lot more playable, and makes my criticisms above completely inaccurate. My deepest apologies to Staupe and NSV – I apparently just completely missed that sentence when I was looking at the rules, even though I looked for anything like it several times. But it’s there. So, my new assessment is that this game seems more entertaining now, although it’s still played mostly in the mind rather than on the table.)

OK, prediction time. For the last three years, the KidJ has gone to a dexterity game, and I’ve gone against that trend in my predictions for the last two (missing my guess). And I’m going against it again as I’m saying the winner of this year’s Kinderspiel des Jahres will be:

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Foto Fish, I think, has the most chance of appealing to a wide range of people. It’s one I think young kids will be able to understand, older kids will be able to play, and adults will be able to tolerate. Hedgehog Roll has a cool mechanism in the rolling of the ball, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it won, but I’m still leaning to Foto Fish. I would be surprised if Robots won, but maybe I’m completely off in my guess. We’ll find out on June 15 when the award is announced.

That’s it for today – thanks for reading!

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