Spiel des Jesse 2020

Happy 2021! Early last year, I remember people saying that today, hindsight would officially be 2020. I think probably just about everyone is ready for the dumpster fire that was 2020 to finally be hindsight. Hopefully, this year will be better, but I suspect it will still take a while. Nonetheless, it’s time for my 11th annual wrap-up of the new-to-me games of the previous year, followed by the seventh annual presentation of the prestigious Spiel des Jesse award. How prestigious? It’s the only award given by me, and tens of people eagerly await my picks. So let’s get to it, shall we? I’ll give a rating for each game based on my world famous Yeah-Meh-Bleah system.

  • 1872: The Lost Crows: This is the 4th game in the xx72 series of print-and-play games by Mike Heim. These are map building games, and the goal is usually to get from point A to point B. I don’t think this one is the strongest in the series, but I did enjoy it, and I like it a whole lot more than I liked 1672. RATING: Yeah.
  • Agropolis: The sequel to Sprawlopolis. I got to play a preproduction version for a review on this blog. I really enjoyed it, at least as much as Sprawlopolis. I’ve won this game more than its big brother. RATING: Yeah!
  • Bullet♥︎: This upcoming Level 99 Games title is one I played on Tabletop Simulator during its Kickstarter campaign so I could do a review. It’s a really interesting shoot-em-up type game, with no actual shooting. More abstract than anything. I liked it more than I thought I would. RATING: Yeah.
  • Cartographers: This was my last play of the year as I just got the game for Christmas. Ran through a solo game, didn’t do nearly as well as I thought I would, and really enjoyed it. I look forward to playing more. RATING: Yeah!
  • Codenames: Duet: The two-player cooperative version of Codenames. I liked how they engineered the system so that you had multiple assassins and different placements of words. It’s a really good game. RATING: Yeah!
  • D100 Dungeon: This print-and-play is a bunch of charts that you roll a d100 on to try and complete different quests. Actually, you typically just use two d10s, one of which is a percentile die. There’s not a whole lot of choice to it, it’s a lot of randomness with some choices. But it is fun, and I played quite a few times at the beginning of the pandemic before my dog chewed it up. RATING: Yeah!
  • Dark Force Incursion: Another PNP. In this one, you’re trying to move around and capture towers on the map. It’s got a very interesting hex based system, where you write numbers around the edges and roll a die to see which one you’re using. Another very random game, and maybe a little too long, but I enjoyed it. RATING: Yeah.
  • Djinns of the High Desert: This is a hand management game where you’re trying to have the highest total at the end of the game. You play cards with different special powers, and try to outscore your opponent. I have only played once and with two people. I see the potential, but I don’t think two players is the best way to play it. RATING: Yeah?
  • The Fairy Game: My daughter got this for her birthday. It’s a cooperative game where you’re just drawing cards and trying to collect sets so you can claim gems before the flowers freeze. Very luck-based, but a nice production and a good introduction to strategy. As a game for a five-year-old, it’s good. RATING: Yeah.
  • Fairy Tile: I got this at a local game store who was doing a clearance sale. The basic idea is that you’re trying to position characters to score points. It’s a pretty light game, and the card quality isn’t great. But the art is nice and it’s got three nice minis. RATING: Meh+.
  • Fantastic Factories: I’ve only gotten to play a couple of times, and solo at that. It’s an engine building game where you’re trying to score the most points through constructing buildings and producing goods. It’s fun, I look forward to playing it with others. RATING: Yeah!
  • Gorinto: This is an upcoming abstract from Grand Gamer’s Guild that I played for a review. You’re trying to collect pieces to fulfill goals, and it’s got a cool stacking mechanism where the more of something you have, the more you can take. A rich get richer kind of thing that really works well. RATING: Yeah!
  • Hanamikoji: A small footprint two-player game where you’re trying to gain control of enough points to win. Each round, you have four actions you must take, and you must take each action exactly once. Scoring is based on a very interesting tug-of-war mechanism. I liked it a lot in my one play, and want to play more. RATING: Yeah!
  • Horrified: This cooperative game was huge when it came out last year. Basically, you’re trying to defeat a number of Universal monsters (Dracula, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Wolfman, etc). It’s got very simple mechanisms, and is very fun. RATING: Yeah!!!
  • The Mind: This game is more fun than it has any right being. You’re just playing cards in sequence. The twist is what makes it work – you can’t speak or let anyone know what you have. RATING: Yeah!!!
  • Miseries of the Night: OK, so this isn’t really new to me since I designed and play tested it a lot last year. But now I have my published version, which is super exciting. RATING: It feels weird to rate my own design, so I’m not gonna.
  • Nagaraja: This is a two-player treasure hunting game where you’re trying to claim the highest value you can. There are d4s in play, push-your-luck, and strategic card game. This was one of my favorite games of the year that I’m sorry I only got to play once. RATING: Yeah!!!
  • Orléans: People love this game, and I finally got to play it. I like it a lot too. I got to play Altiplano previously, which was another bag game from the same designer, and I can’t really say which I like better yet. They’re different, but still similar. I need to play this again. RATING: Yeah!
  • Outfoxed!: Another of my daughter’s birthday presents. As kid’s deduction games go, this is a really good one. It’s pretty much just brute force deduction, however, and has a bit of a push-your-luck dice element that can make things frustrating. Still, I’d recommend it for kids over something like Clue. RATING: Yeah.
  • Pencil Park: A roll-and-write from Daniel Solis where you’re building a city out according to different rules. You roll three dice. One is the shape, and the other two add up to determine what type of development you’re putting out. It’s a cool game. RATING: Yeah!
  • Point Salad: This is a very simple card collection game where you’re either collecting vegetables or goals to score those vegetables. It’s a fun set collection game, and works very quickly with lots of variety. I had heard a lot of hype before getting this, and it lives up. RATING: Yeah!!!
  • Proving Grounds: This is a solo real-time dice rolling game from the designer of FUSE, which I love. I like this one, but I have so far not lost. While it’s fun to win, you really want some more challenge. I suspect I need to use more of the modules, of which I’ve only tried a couple as of yet. RATING: Yeah.
  • Pyramid of Pengqueen: When I first heard about Fluch der Mumie when it first came out in 2008, I was quite intrigued. I never got to play it (or its English version, Pyramid). My daughter got this version for her birthday, and it’s easily the game we’ve played the most. My only issue with the game is the itty bitty magnets, but otherwise, it’s a lot of fun, and she has even legitimately beaten me at it once. RATING: Yeah!!!
  • Red Light Green Light: Another of my daughter’s birthday presents, and the worst of the lot. It’s a push-your-luck card where you either stop going or risk getting busted by the cops after going. It’s just not fun. Simple, yes. But a really bad game. RATING: Bleah!
  • Roll Player: This takes the character creation of a fantasy roleplaying game and makes it into the whole game. In the end, it’s really a puzzle game as you try to work out the best way to distribute your dice, and it’s a ton of fun. RATING: Yeah!!!
  • Rolling Realms: Jamie Stegmaier designed this free roll-and-write game back at the beginning of the pandemic so people could play together over an internet call, sharing rules. It’s basically a series of nine mini games that you play three at a time, each based on one of the titles Stonemaier publishes. It’s fun. RATING: Yeah!
  • Serpent Master: This was designed and published by a friend, Thomas Shepherd. That disclosure out of the way, I can legitimately say that I really enjoyed this game, which is a kind of abstract programming game where you’re just trying to end up with the most on top. RATING: Yeah!
  • Similo: This is a clue giving game where you’re trying to deduce a character from a shrinking array of 12 based on picture clues given by the person who knows what you’re looking for. Think Mysterium meets Guess Who. It’s a good one. RATING: Yeah!
  • Skulls of Sedlec: Another Button Shy review game. It’s a very enjoyable card placement game that takes its theme from the ossuary in the Czech Republic, which has some ornate sculptures made from the bones of people who died during the Black Plague. RATING: Yeah!
  • Super-Skill Pinball: 4-Cade (PNP): Since its published release, this game has proved to be very popular (not many copies to be had right now). But back when the pandemic started, WizKids released one board as a PNP. It’s fun, but I think the game will be more fun with the more complex rules – Carniball is the easiest of the set. RATING: Yeah.
  • Unicorn Glitterluck: Cloud Stacking: This is basically Animal Upon Animal with unicorns and clouds, and it’s cooperative. It’s a fairly good game, though is still prefer Animal Upon Animal.
  • Welcome To…: This flip-and-write game is one I only got to play once during the year, but it was nice to see what the fuss was about. I enjoyed it, would like to play more. RATING: Yeah!
  • [censored]: This game isn’t called censored, but it’s a game that I helped playtest. It should be hitting Kickstarter sometime this year, and I’m sure I’ll talk about it then. I enjoyed it, and it was cool to watch it develop. Sorry for the extra vague entry here. RATING: [also censored]

Now that we’ve seen all the games that were new to me this year, it’s time for the nominees for the highly prestigious Spiel des Jesse. This is my seventh time presenting the award, and the winner will join such luminaries as Argent: The Consortium (2014), Colt Express (2015), Burgle Bros (2016), Clank! (2017), Azul (2018) and Rhino Hero Super Battle (2019) in the Spiel des Jesse Hall of Fame. I have two arbitrary rules for consideration:

  • I need to have played it for the first time in the previous calendar year. So, it doesn’t matter when it actually came out, as long as it was new to me, it’s eligible.
  • I need to have played it at least twice for it to be in contention. So while a game like Nagaraja was definitely one of my favorites of the year, I only played it once, so it’s out of the race.

And so, without further ado, here are the nominees:

  • Horrified (Prospero Hall, Ravensburger, 2019)
  • The Mind (Wolfgang Warsch, NSV, 2018)
  • Point Salad (Molly Johnson/Robert Melvin/Shawn Stankewich, AEG, 2019)
  • Pyramid of Pengqueen (Marcel-André Casasola Merkle, Brain Games, 2018, reprint from 2008)
  • Roll Player (Keith Matejka, Thunderworks Games, 2016)

The winner…

…of the 2020 Spiel des Jesse…


OK, fine. Sorry. The winner is

image by BGG user kmatejka

Roll Player! Honestly, this is one of the best games I’ve played in a long time. I love puzzle games, and this is one that works equally well solo as with other players. I’m not an RPG player, and in the context of RPGs, character creation seems stressful to me. But here, with no stakes afterwards other than your score, it’s a ton of fun. There’s a lot of variety packed in the box, and with a couple other expansions out, there’s more out there that I need to try.

That does it for 2020 (and good riddance). Hopefully, 2021 turns out better and people can actually get out there to play games with each other again. As always, stay safe out there, and thanks for reading!

One comment

  1. Some great games in there! I recently did a review of Roll Player and it is as good as you say.

    Nagaraja is also a great game. Sadly, it’s still at work for lunch-time games with my co-worker and we haven’t been in the office since March, so it hasn’t been played this year.

    I do really like it, though.

    Also really like Fantastic Factories, enough that I went in the Kickstarter recently to not only get the expansions but also the base game (I’ve only played other people’s copies).

    Easily a fantastic game.

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