SDJ Buzz: Kennerspiel des Jahres 2022

Time to look at this year’s Kennerspiel des Jahres. This award was introduced in 2011 as a more complex companion to the Spiel des Jahres. This is not a heavy game award, more like a next step from the family game award. I’ve done a prediction on this blog every year since the award was introduced, and I’ve got a 6-5 record.

  • 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)
  • 2020: The Crew (got it right)
  • 2021: Paleo (got it right)

I’m trying to extend my three year correct streak, so here are the nominees.

image by BGG user CaptainCapybara

Cryptid is a 3-5 player game designed by Hal Duncan and Ruth Veevers, and originally published by Osprey Games in 2018, with Skellig Games releasing the German version last year. It’s a deduction game where you’re looking for a cryptid (aka a creature whose existence has not been proven, such as Bigfoot or Nessie) based on scant evidence.

At the start of the game, after setting up the map, each player gets a clue as to the location of the cryptid, as well as some cubes and discs. On your very first turn, you will take your cubes and mark two spaces on the map that cannot contain the cryptid according to your clue. For example, if your says the cryptid must be on a forest or a swamp, you could put your cube in the mountains. Cubes indicate that a cryptid cannot be there.

On your next turn, and all subsequent, you can Question or Search. If you question, you put the pawn in any space on the map and ask another player if the cryptid could be there. They will then place a disc in the space, meaning it could, or a cube, which means it could not. If they play a cube, you must also play a cube in another space that couldn’t be the answer.

A Search is basically a guess. Put the pawn on a space that could be the habitat according your clue, as well as a disc of your own. In clockwise order, the other players then place a disc or a cube on the spot. If anyone places a cube, the turn ends and you must place a cube somewhere else. If no one placed a cube, you’ve found the cryptid and you win.

This seems like a pretty interesting take on deduction games. It makes me think of Tobago, though the game is telling you where the object is rather than the players deciding together. I think it would have been nice to have actual cryptids represented somehow in the game – there are a lot of them, and I think it would give some more interest to what otherwise might as well be about hunting for treasure. If you don’t know a lot of cryptids beyond the most well-known, I’d suggest using this random cryptid generator to add your own thematic touch.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Dune: Imperium is a 1-4 player game designed by Paul Dennen and published by Dire Wolf. The game takes place in the universe of Dune, the classic 1965 sci-fi epic by Frank Herbert, and also the 2021 movie directed by Denis Villeneuve. The game uses worker placement and deck building as you’re struggling for control of Arrakis.

In a round, players will take turns either doing an Agent action or a Reveal action. For an Agent action, which can only be done if you have an available Agent, you’ll play a card from your hand that will send you a space that shares a symbol with the card. After paying any costs, you’ll get to take the action associated with both the space you went to and the card you played, like getting spice or drawing cards. You could also get troops to participate in combat, draw intrigue cards, or get faction influence.

If you choose to Reveal, you reveal every card you haven’t played, gaining reveal effects, including Persuasion. Persuasion is added together to buy new cards. You’ll also add up your combat strength, then discard all of your cards. If you choose Reveal as your action, your round is over. After everyone has Revealed, you resolve Combat, add spice to the Maker spaces, then recall Agents and check to see if the game is over (if the Conflict deck is empty or someone has 10+ points). The player with the most points wins.

I’ve been interested in this game since it first came out. I’m not that familiar with Dune as an IP, having never read the books or seen the movies (geek cred plummeting), but I did play a couple of turns of the original Dune board game many years ago. I know it has a lot of fans, and I want to get into it at some point, just haven’t done it yet. This game looks like fun, but the number of moving parts make me wonder if it has any chance at the award.

image by BGG user ludo naute

Living Forest is a game designed by Aske Christiansen and published by Ludonaute (Pegasus Spiele released the German version). You’re a nature spirit trying to “save the forest and its sacred tree from the flames of Onibi.” This is accomplished by planting protective trees, collecting sacred flowers, or extinguishing fires.

Living Forest is a deck building game, and everyone starts with the same deck of 14 cards. In each round, players will draw and reveal cards from their deck until they choose to (or are forced to) stop. You’d be forced to stop if you reveal three dark coins. Each card shows some of the five actions you can take, as well as a number. If you chose to stop, you’ll get to take two different actions, but if you were forced to, you only take one. The numbers for each action add up to give you the power of that action. You’ll be able to draft new cards for your deck, gain fragments that will make future actions stronger, extinguish fires, move around the Circle of Spirits (possibly gaining more actions), or plant a new Protective Tree.

At the end of a round, Onibi attacks by adding fire cards to player decks of people who didn’t collect enough water, and then adding fire to the Circle of Spirits for each card drafted of each type (not exceeding 7 total). The game ends when someone has planted 12 trees, extinguished 12 fires, or collected 12 sacred flowers. The player who ended the game wins, unless there were more than one, in which case the player with the highest total in all three victory conditions wins.

This seems like a pretty interesting game. Rather than having a hand of cards to choose from, as in most deck builders, you’re playing them out in a line and deciding when to stop, as in games like Mystic Vale and Quacks of Quedlinburg. The most interesting here is that the cards aren’t really limiting your choices – you always have five options, it’s just that some will be stronger than others. The game looks very nice, and having three different paths to victory means you’ll get some different strategies going on.

Prediction time! I was torn between two, but ultimately, I think the winner of the 2022 Kennerspiel des Jahres will be…

image by BGG user ludo naute

The other one I was thinking about was Cryptid, and before I looked into Living Forest, I thought it was going to take it. Dune Imperium looks like a great game, but I think more complex than the jury is looking for. Living Forest looks like a fun take on deck builders, it’s very pretty to look at, and I think it’s going to take the award. I wouldn’t be surprised if Cryptid won, however, and I do look forward to trying all three of these at some point in the future.

The SdJ and KedJ are getting announced tommorow, so we’ll see if my picks of Cascadia and Living Forest hold up. As always, thanks for reading!


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