It’s that time of the year again where a panel of judges huddle around their big table at a secret location somewhere in Germanyand fight it out to decide the shortlist for the Spiel des Jahres. As always, despite it only having been announced a couple of hours ago, the usual bickering has sprung up in various corners of the internet where The Hardcore Gamers declare that everything isn’t as good as it used to be and why was this game nominated and the SdJ don’t know what a good game would be if it bit them on the ass.
Despite the accolade being called the Game of the Year, these people forget that… well, it really isn’t for them. Since the award’s inception back in 1978, its focus has been on nominating and promoting games that are good for families and friends to play together. Sometimes the winners cross over into the kind of things that even the nerdiest of gamers will enjoy – think Ticket to Ride, Dominion and the like. Sometimes the jury picks a comparative stinker (I’ll mention no names) and the world ends YET AGAIN – for those Hardcore gamers at least.
The SdJ panel, every single year, manages to pick a selection of good games. Face it. Sometimes they may not be world beaters, but they’ll at least be fun to play and people – NOT HARDCORE GAMERS – will have a laugh with each other. I’ve seen people complaining that Dominant Species didn’t catch a nomination and I’m now wondering what on earth is wrong with them. It’s a heavy as hell game that takes three or four hours to get through. Don’t get me wrong, I love it, but there’s no way on earth that little Jurgen will settle down for an evening with Papa und Muti when that hits the table…
Of course, last year saw the unveiling of the first Kennerspiel des Jahres, the award for a more advanced game which went to the mighty 7 Wonders. This year’s selection is solid (see below) but again, you’re never doing to see something with 24 page rulebook in 10 point type on the list. Many of the complainers won’t have even played the whole list – I know I certainly haven’t – but that’s not what the SdJ and the accompanying awards are for. They exist to raise awareness, to show off some games that deserve a bit of a mass market boost, and not to pander to some bloke who thinks that anything released after 1995 is crap.
Now after all that, what were the actual nominations?
Well, for the Spiel des Jahres, I reckon it’s a good selection. Donald X. Vaccarino’s Kingdom Builder (Queen) seems to be the early favourite and I’m inclined to agree with the sentiment as it hits all the marks for a good family game. A game of spreading your dominance over certain areas determined by card draw, it’s not overly complex, kids will find it easy to pick up and the random goal selection at the start of a game adds a fair bit of replayability. I’ve played it a few times and while it never shook my world, it was a pleasant way of spending time, especially as an end of the night closer.
Eselsbrucke (Schmidt Spiele) – aka: Donkey Bridge – is a story creation game with an element of memory thrown in for good measure. By using randomly generated pictures, players must make up tales then see if their opponents can recall what the objects were. I can’t recall any other games based around using mnemonics, but Stefan Dorra’s involvement could be enough to see this steal the prize.
Finally, Vegas by Rudiger Dorn (alea) is a total push your luck dicefest. Rolling different numbers allows you to place your dice on various mats, each representing a different casino that contains a certain amount of money. At least one dice must be placed after each roll, then – once everyone is done – whoever has the most dice on a mat claims the cash. It looks like one of the lightest ever nominations for an SdJ, but who’s to say that’s a bad thing? Everyone loves chucking dice about, don’t they?
The Kennerspiel is a bit trickier to call. K2 (rebel.pl) would be my call as I really enjoy Adam Kaluza’s game of conquering the mountain, dealing with the elements and – of course – trying to screw your fellow climbers over. I’m actually a bit surprised to see it put into the slightly heavier category but hope that it’ll actually give the game a well deserved boost in publicity. The combination of hand management and making the right call at the right time – plus the fact it’s playable in less than an hour even with five people – means I’d love to see this take the award.
Village (eggertspiele) has been getting some great press and actually has an English language run due out through Tasty Minstrel Games soon. I’ve had my eye on it for a while and think that it looks like a rather solid Euro, but I must admit a little surprise that it got on the shortlist ahead of Ora et Labora. Hopefully I’ll get it to a table soon and will see why the jury took that call – but the reasons can only be good, surely?
Franz Vohwinkel’s Targi (Kosmos) is a game that I actually know very little about. Again, I was a little surprised to see a strictly two player game on the list (though Friday, Friedemann Friese’s solo game about life on a desert island also made the longlist) but this one looks… I don’t know… a little dry? It seems to follow the ‘get resources, make money’ model, but I won’t venture a full opinion until I get to see it in front on me.
Finally, the younger gamers get a look in with the Kinderspiel des Jahres and there’s only one winner in this for me: Schnappt Hubi! from Ravensburger. This was the first game I played at Essenlast year (with the assistance of a very helpful German lady who translated everything for me and my fellow gamers) and I loved it. You’re trying to hunt down Hubi the ghost as he wanders around a haunted house that you build through the turns. The game is centred around an electronic device that lets you know if you’re bumping into a wall or passing through it safely, involves mice and rabbits, and I want an English version NOW PLEASE RAVENSBURGER PLEASE NOW.
Die kleinen Drachenritter (HUCH! and friends) translates as “The Little Dragon Knight” and looks like it’d be a hit in our house. Stacking games go down very well despite the fact nearly everyone who visits is around thirty years old… Anyway, players have had their gold taken by a dragon and must build piles of stuff to reach a certain height, but piece placement is limited by rules involving colour matching. Definitely one I want to check out.
Finally, for those who enjoy their games with a slightly more disgusting vibe, Kosmos present Klaus Teuber’s Spinnengift und Krotenschleim (“Spider Venom and Toad Slime). Another memory game, it involves recalling where certain required ingredients have been placed to help out a bunch of scatty witches. Correct selections will let players add tokens to the cauldron which will eventually trigger the appearance of monsters – and who doesn’t enjoy that? Again, I want to try it, if only because its designer is a former four times award winner, including taking the 1995 SdJ with Settlers of Catan.
Another year, another bunch of fun sounding games that I can’t wait to play. The Kinderspiel winner will be revealed on June 11, while the two grown up prizes are announced on July 9. But who will it be?