SDJ Buzz: Kennerspiel des Jahres 2020

Here we go – rounding out this year’s Spiel des Jahres predictions with overviews of the three games nominated for the Kennerspiel des Jahres. For those who may not know, the Kennerspiel was introduced in 2011 with the idea of honoring the year’s best connoisseur’s game (their phrasing). Games immediately latched on to it, envisioning it to be an award for more complex games. However, it turned out to be more of an award for next step games – maybe a bit more complicated than the SdJ nominees, but not nearly as complex as many gamers were expecting or hoping. Still, the award soldiers on. This is the tenth year of the award, and I’ve made a prediction on this blog every year. Here are the previous winners, with my prediction indicated so you can see where I got it wrong.

  • 2011: 7 Wonders (got it right)
  • 2012: Village (got it right)
  • 2013: Legend of Andor (I picked Bruges)
  • 2014: Istanbul (I picked Rococo)
  • 2015: Broom Service (got it right)
  • 2016: Isle of Skye (I picked Pandemic Legacy)
  • 2017: EXIT: The Game (I picked Raiders of the North Sea)
  • 2018: The Quacks of Quedlinburg (I picked Heaven & Ale)
  • 2019: Wingspan (got it right)

At 4-5 on picks, I’m looking to push that record back up to .500 this year. So, without further ado, here are this year’s nominations:

image by BGG user kmatejka

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale (Jordy Adan, Thunderworks Games/Pegasus Spiele) is a flip-and-write game set in the Roll Player universe. Each player gets their own player sheet, and four random scoring conditions are chosen. At the start of each round, you’ll add one ambush card to the explore deck. Then you start drawing cards from the explore deck. When you reveal an explore card, you’ll need to choose one of the shown terrain types and one of the shapes (you might only have one option), and draw the combination on your map. Then you reveal the next card. If an ambush comes out, you’ll be forced to draw in something that you won’t necessarily want to.

Each explore card has a numerical value. When the total revealed value equals or exceeds the value shown on the current season, the season is over, and you score the two conditions shown. This is done Isle of Skye style – each scoring condition is assigned a letter, and the season tells you which two to resolve. After the fourth season, the player with the highest score wins.

image by BGG user Hippotam

When compared to the polyomino game nominated for the SdJ (My City), this one looks a lot more complex, at least from the outset. The variable scoring conditions, the way the cards come out, and the ambush cards add a lot of uncertainty to the system. In the end, you’re creating a map, and while art doesn’t have to look as fancy as the image above, you’re free to do what you want. This is a game I’ve been quite interested in, and I’m quite happy with its nomination.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine (Thomas Sing, KOSMOS) is a 2-5 player cooperative trick-taking game where players are working together to complete a number of missions. The basic mechanisms of the game are pretty standard for trick-taking games – each player has a hand of cards, and plays one each round. Cards played must follow the led suit if possible, and the highest card played in the led suit wins the trick. That is, unless someone has played a trump (rocket) card, in which case the highest trump card wins.

It’s the cooperative nature of the game that makes it different. Players are working together to complete one of 50 included missions. These missions include having specific people take specific cards, or an order cards need to be taken in, or other tasks that range in difficulty from pretty easy to pretty difficult.

image by BGG user Einsiedler

The Crew was the one game I was pretty sure was going to get a nomination this year. Ever since it came out, the buzz on it has been tremendous. It seems like a fairly straightforward game ruleswise, especially since it doesn’t really change the basic conventions of a standard trick-taking game. What it does is add that cooperative element, so that instead of competing with each other over tricks, you’re often strategically trying to help others win tricks. It’s that next step, and from all accounts, it does it quite well. This is another I’m looking forward to trying out.

image by BGG user shalala88

The King’s Dilemma (Hjalmar Hach/Lorenzo Silva, HeidelBÄR Games/Horrible Guild) is a legacy style game where players are making choices that lead to branching storylines. Each round, you draw a Dilemma card, and you as the council have to decide on the correct course of action on the King’s behalf. Each choice changes the story, each event only happens once, so you have to choose wisely. There’s negotiation with other players, and the stress of keeping the kingdom running.

image by BGG user theasley

This is one I haven’t looked at too deeply, and don’t really want to as I think it might spoil too much. The buzz I have heard has been very positive. I’m still on the outside looking in on this whole legacy game trend as I have yet to actually play one (Pandemic Legacy Season One is ironically waiting for this pandemic to be over so I can play with others). I like the idea of branching storylines, but for me, negotiation is not a favorite mechanism, so I don’t really know how I’d feel if I were to play this.

Time for my prediction, and this one’s pretty easy for me:

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

I think The Crew has the best shot at winning this year’s KedJ. I really like the look of Cartographers, and think it would be a great winner, and a great legitimizer of the roll and write/flip and write genre, which has never won in any capacity. But The Crew would be the first trick-taking game, and I think that it so elegantly pushes trick-takers beyond where they’ve been is going to be a great selling point. The King’s Dilemma, I think, is a long shot – that’s not anything against the game, I just think the limitations of the genre prevent replayability, which is something I believe the jury wants.

Every year, there are the standard complaints about the Kennerspiel des Jahres and how the nominees are not really what people wanted from the award. These complaints come from gamers longing for the Kennerspiel to be an award for more complex games, and that’s not what the award is. The Spiel des Jahres awards have always been about catering to German families, not hardcore gamers. The Kennerspiel was introduced in 2011 as an advanced SdJ, which gamers really wanted to see giving awards to heavier fare. But really, it’s more like a next step award. Do you know how to play a trick-taking game? Then The Crew takes it to the next level. Like roll and writes? Cartographers takes it to the next level. Really like storytelling games? The King’s Dilemma…well, I don’t know how much it takes things to the next level, but it does seem unique. So I have no problem with the way nominations are going – I would like them to add a gamer award, but I don’t see that happening.

Anyway, I’m calling The Crew to win the KedJ after my prediction of My City to win the SdJ. We’ll find out those results on July 20 when the winners are announced. And in case you missed it, Hedgehog Roll won this year’s Kinderspiel award. I had Foto Fish, and what I have learned from this is to never bet against the dexterity game for that award. Thanks for reading!

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