SDJ Buzz: Spiel des Jahres 2020

Ever since it was first introduced in 1979, the Spiel des Jahres has been the Oscars of the gaming world. Really, it’s an award for one specific market – German family gamers. But it was the first really major award for board games, and there’s been a lot of scrutiny every year since then. As for me, I’ve been following the award since I came into the hobby, and have made predictions every year of this blog. Here are the winners since then, with my predictions indicated when I got it wrong:

  • 2011: Qwirkle (I picked Forbidden Island)
  • 2012: Kingdom Builder (I picked Eselsbrücke)
  • 2013: Hanabi (got it right)
  • 2014: Camel Up (I picked Splendor)
  • 2015: Colt Express (got it right)
  • 2016: Codenames (I picked Imhotep)
  • 2017: Kingdomino (got it right)
  • 2018: Azul (got it right)
  • 2019: Just One (got it right)

This year, I’m looking to extend my over 5-4 record to stay above .500. So, let’s look at the nominees:

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

My City (Reiner Knizia, KOSMOS) is a 2-4 player legacy style game where you are developing your own city. It’s actually a fairly basic polyomino placement game (at least at first) – each player has a player board, and builds their own city from what is revealed from a deck of cards. You flip over a card, and everyone plays the same piece into their city. There are some rules about placement – your first building must be built next to the river, and later buildings must always be adjacent to an existing building. You can’t cover up the forest spaces, nor can a building cross the river. In the end, you’ll get points for trees that are showing, and lose points for visible rocks or light green spaces (you start the game with ten points).

As you play games, you’ll be adding more rules and things to do, as evidenced by the eight different envelopes. Each envelope represents three games in a campaign, so there’s 24 total games you can play legacy style. You’ll be tracking progress symbols on the board and adding stickers as you go. And then, on the other side of the board, there’s the so-called Eternal Game. This takes some of the rules from future episodes and allows you to play the game without altering the board or rules from session to session.

image by BGG user iugal

I’ve never been a Knizia fan. Either his games seem generally too convoluted, or they seem too simplistic. This seems to falls into the latter category – it’s just placing polyominoes on a board. I don’t see any interaction (at least in the base game), which makes this more an exercise in multiplayer solitaire than anything – it’s who does their own thing the best that wins. That said, this does look like the family-friendliest legacy game I’ve ever seen, and the fact that it adds to the replay value just by having the Eternal Game brings it up. I can definitely understand the nomination for this award, which is aimed at families.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Nova Luna (Uwe Rosenberg/Corné van Moorsel, Edition Spielwiese) is a 1-4 player game where players are building connections based on the cycle of the moon. The game uses a kind of time track mechanism, where the player on turn is the player who is farther behind. That player chooses one of the first three tiles and places it in front of them. As you place more tiles, you’re trying to fulfill certain conditions in order to score. For example, a tile might require two green tiles to be next to it. These do not have to be immediately adjacent – if a tile is adjacent to a grouping that fulfills the condition, it also scores.

The game continues until someone has placed all 20 of their scoring discs. If the tiles run out, the winner is the player who has placed more discs.

image by BGG user sverbeure

This game looks quite lovely. It also seems like a pretty unique and intriguing concept. Corné van Moorsel didn’t have much to do with the game design, but it was based off his game Habitats. There are also elements of Patchwork here. This looks like the kind of game where players have to think in a few different directions at once, but still fairly accessible. This was the only one of the three nominees I had heard of before they were announced.

image by BGG user ulfi

Pictures (Daniela Stöhr/Christian Stöhr, PD-Verlag) is a party game where you’re trying to recreate pictures with different types of components. There’s a 4×4 grid of pictures, and each round, everyone draws a picture indicator. Then you try to recreate that picture with a set of components – two shoelaces, six blocks, four sticks/four stones, a deck of cards, or cubes and a frame. You get a point for guessing correctly, and a point for having people guess correctly. Then you pass your components, and after five rounds, you see who has won.

image by BGG user ulfi

I don’t like party games. This one seems clever, I guess, but more as an activity than a game. I can imagine it would be interesting to try to figure out how to build  a picture, and also to try to figure it out, but…I have no word other than “meh.” This doesn’t seem like the kind of party game that would engage me, and I guarantee this is the kind that someone would say “Let’s play again!” as soon as it was done. Never do this – party games in general are NEVER as much fun the second time you play it in one sitting.


OK, time for the moment you’ve all been waiting for – the official Boards and Bees prediction for this year’s Spiel des Jahres. And after careful consideration, it’s going to be…

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Personally, Nova Luna appeals to me most of the three. And I would love to see Uwe Rosenberg win since he never has before (though he does have a special award for Agricola). But Nova Luna is an abstract game, and they just gave it to Azul two years ago. And I don’t think it will be Pictures because they Just One just won last year (and also because it seems the least like an SdJ winner to me). My City would only be Knizia’s second SdJ – he also won for Keltis in 2008, which is a surprise considering the number of classics he’s reeled off over the years. But My City would also be the first legacy game to win the SdJ – Pandemic Legacy Season 2 got a special award in 2018, and (closely related even if not technically a legacy game) Exit: The Game won the Kennerspiel in 2017. So my money is on My City, with Nova Luna my wish for the award, and Pictures as having the long odds.

That’s it for today – join me next time for my prediction on this year’s Kennerspiel des Jahres! Thanks for reading!

4 comments

  1. “I’ve never been a Knizia fan. Either his games seem generally too convoluted, or they seem too simplistic”. I am honestly curious about which Knizia games you consider to be convoluted. One of his trademarks is simple rules, and other than Tigirs & Euphrates (Yellow & Yangtze), which I agree can be hard to teach or remember, there isn’t anything that I have ever thought of as being convoluted. And yes, many of his games SEEM too simplistic. That is part of his point. You read the rules and wonder, “is that it?” But then you start playing, and you see the strategy depth. If your idea of a brain burner is rules complexity, then he is not for you. But if you like a high (strategic depth)/(rules complexity) ratio, then many of his games will be a great match.

    • Convoluted was probably the wrong word to use. I think a lot of his scoring systems are convoluted, but I agree that his games can be deeper than what they seem. My big problem with most of the Knizia games I’ve played – and that list includes Tigris & Euphrates, The Quest for El Dorado, Battle Line, Lost Cities, Lord of the Rings, Amun-Re, Through the Desert, Ra: The Dice Game, Modern Art: The Card Game, Amun-Re: The Card Game, Medici, and probably some others I’m not thinking of right now – is that I get to the other side feeling very “meh” about them. They just don’t excite me or interest me in playing anymore. The one exception to that is Blue Moon City, which is one of my favorite games.

      It’s not about rules complexity for me. Some of my favorite games have very simple rules and still excite me a lot more than Knizia games. Like Arboretum – that game has incredibly simple rules, and can be a beast. I hear people talk about the hidden strategic depth in Lost Cities a lot, but whenever I play, it feels like an exercise in who can draw cards better.

      I know I’m an outlier on Knizia – I know he has a lot of fans. To me, he’s like Mozart – I recognize his genius, I recognize the elegance of his designs, but I’m still bored by his output. That’s me, however. Thanks for commenting!

      • I have no problem with people not liking Knizia. We all have different taste. I happen to not like any of the games I have played by Stefan Feld or Eric M. Lang. But that’s me. I will never say a bad word about either of those two designers. If people were to ask me why I didn’t like for instance Blood Rage or Castles of Burgundy, I would explain my subjective feelings about those games, and not try to present that as an objective criticism of the games or the designers. I like your comments about Lost Cities. I happen to not particularly enjoy that game either. However, I have played it against the AI with the app, which makes it clear to me that there is strategy in the game.

      • At the risk of sounding too defensive, I didn’t think I was giving objective criticism. What I said was that I have never been a fan, and that his games seem to me to be those things. That’s subjective. All I’m doing is giving my opinions – I don’t consider myself to be the definitive expert on all things gaming related, I’m just a guy with a blog. All that said, I am glad you’re engaging me on this issue. It helps me to do better at making my points in the future.

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