Spiel des Jahres – Game of the Year (warning: contains umlauts).

This game award – the Spiel des Jahres – is a pretty Big Deal in board gaming. (You can read more of the background of it at the Wiki page for it.) It means a lot for the rep of a game, and even more for the sales of it. It’s broken up into three categories – Game of the Year, Kids game of the year, and the ‘Kennerspiel’ game (kinda like ‘advance game’ award) of the year. Interestingly, they only added the Kennerspiel title back in 2011 which shows what a chunk of the market ‘gamer’s games’ have now; there’s also a list of recommendations in each category which are usually pretty solid. Among them all are a lot of games none of us will have gotten to play here in North America or even the rest of Europe yet due to them being German releases.

Last year I hadn’t played a lot of the nominated or recommended games – I have in hindsight, and i’m still fairly “meh” over the winner of the main award and the Kennerspiel winner, Kingdom Builder & the Village respectively. Although Adam did pick up the fantastic “Eselsbrücke” which didn’t end up winning in its category, but we have had so much fun with. (It’s a memory game with storytelling – really bloody fun.)

I looked at the nominees & recommendations this year and was pleasantly surprised to see many games I’ve already played and enjoyed, and if not at least know of or am anticipating playing! Out of the 3 nominees for the main game, I’ve tried Hanabi & Augustus.

Hanabi
What it’s about: You and your team are helping each other to play fireworks cards in appropriate sequences of number and colour
Why it’s great: Because you can’t see your own cards, and it’s only through clues given, deduction, memory and very good timing  that each person can try to figure out what their cards are and what to play.
What isn’t so great: It’s really tough to hone in on the types of clues to give that can be helpful in this game, so it can really vary between the groups of people you play with – just like any game that relies heavily on communication I suppose! Also I have to take notes in this, because my brain doesn’t work in the right way to remember stuff from round to round. Boo.

Augustus
What it’s about: Bingo for gamers! Well, more interesting and spruced up bingo. Play out your objectives by covering over the symbols on them as they’re drawn from a bag. First to 7 complete wins!
Why it’s great: A couple of aspects go beyond that simplicity – extra points for strategically playing types of objectives, and objectives that cause setbacks to other players. Also it’s streamlined, easy to learn and plays up to 6, which is tough to find!
What isn’t so great: I found it almost too quick to really get into, and I don’t think it’d live up to multiple plays very well.

It’s tough to pick between the two because they bring very different things to the table, but I’d say Hanabi has the edge due to its innovative way to use cooperative play and that it brings you back time and time again to see if you can do better than the last play.

I’m a bit patchier for the recommendations under the main award. I’ve tried Escape: The Curse of the Temple, Divinare, La Boca, & Libertalia.  Escape is great real-time fun – dice-rolling to cooperatively run through a Temple & escape before your 10 mins are up. Divinare is a great card/bluffing game with awesome art (although it really makes a difference how many people you have playing). La Boca is a real time, race against the clock puzzle/pattern building game, where you’re working with a partner to stack coloured blocks to meet the pattern both of you have, without knowing what’s on your partner’s card. So much awesome fun, I really want to get my hands on my own copy! Lastly, Libertalia was one of the most miserable gaming experiences I’ve ever had; I got so mad at how random the game was that in one round I played cards totally randomly and it made no difference to my points outcome. Worst ever. (I don’t mind random – see above for Escape – but Libertalia was just going through the motions kind of random. Ugh.)

For the Kennerspiel, i’m a bit backwards. I haven’t played any of the nominees – much to my sadness, as i’m super looking forward to trying both Legends of Andor & Brügge and didn’t get a chance to play either when I was at the Gathering of Friends. I have, however, played both of the recommendations! Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar wasn’t too bad – I enjoyed the variation on worker placement with introduction the timing of worker retraction, and the wonderful interlaced cogs determining rounds & time of play, but overall was left feeling wanting after a couple of plays. Terra Mystica, on the other hand, is one of the best new games I’ve played this year! Variable fantasy race powers, area control/territory building, and the delicate balance of what actions you’re taking to make the best of each round make for a rich experience that is worth coming back to over & over again. I can’t wait to see what they do with the expansion for this. Sad it didn’t make it into the nominees!

I’ll be interested to see the winners – and really must catch up on some playing so I can see what the rest of the games are all about!

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