Spiel Des Jahres 2015 Comments

xlogoFirst, congratulations to all the nominees and recommended titles. I’m glad the Spiel Des Jahres continues to be a source of promotion for the hobby, even if it rarely is considered the ultimate arbiter of quality by serious gamers. The inclusion of the Kennerspiel (Complex Game) category is certainly welcome but even there, serious gamers have had some issues with the jury’s definition of ‘complex.’

But let’s get to our story – like many of you, I was watching closely for reports of the Spiel Des Jahres 2015 nominees last week and was excited to see that two of the nominees were games on my radar that I’d pegged as likely nominees. Conveniently enough, I have played all three games and I’ve acquired them so I can play them with my old group of friends who take a game holiday in early July. We love to get our own comparison going and then see what the Spiel Des Jahres jury decides. So, what are the nominees?

Colt Express

This amusing train robbery game has 2-6 players battling out to be the most successful Colt Express Board Gamethief on a 3-D train you construct. Players program cards from a fixed personal deck into a central deck (like one of my favorites – Mamma Mia and other similar games) that is then resolved in order, with players hoping that whatever they programmed goes off as expected – which is often not the case due to the action of the others. Players steal gems from the various trains, shoot each other to place space-filling bullets into the decks, and try to lure the Marshall over to hit their opponents.

Colt Express gets some criticism for a lack of control but gamers will want to immediately graduate to the ‘advanced rules’ which let you cycle through your cards rather than having a completely random draw each turn (making it possible for players to have almost no turn at all). I think the designer made a mistake in not calling this the normal game. While the basic rules are easier, I can see how people could be hugely frustrated by it.

On components alone, Colt Express would have a good shot. But based on the fun of the game, its approachability (we played it with a third-grader and he almost won), and the seeming interest in this theme lately, I feel like Colt Express is the front-runner. It’s available now through Amazon.

The Game

This title from the same designer of Qwixx was the surprise on the short-list for me. While, like the Oscars, the same designers seem to get an increased shot at the big awards if they previously missed them, I thought Qwixx was a fun game but didn’t expect it to earn the designer, Steffan Benndorf, another go at the big time. But here it is.pic2405167_md

The Game is funny to me in that the comparisons to Hanabi make me think maybe he decided to build his own version of the game that edged him out of his big moment. Could be – there are some elements of similarity for sure; player collaboratively discard/play cards to stacks. But the closer comparison is probably 23, a pleasant little game which plays quicker and competitively. Players discard cards (ranked 2 to 99) to one of four stacks, two of which are ascending from 1 and two of which are descending from 100. Play one per turn from a hand and the twist is that if you get a card exactly 10 higher/lower than the top card on a stack, you can play it going the opposite way (i.e., play 49 on 59 for an ascending stack). That’s about it. Also, the art is grim/dark and feels kind of odd for such a light family-style game (which should have probably kept it out of the running for the SDJ).

With those in mind, I find The Game to be only okay and I think it’s a long-shot at best to win (unless the politics of giving the award to a smaller, independent publisher win out. The Game is kind of hard to get (and to find on BGG…just search for “The Game” and “Kannst”) at the moment but I got my own copy from TimeWellSpent Games.

Machi Koro

This little dice-rolling, city-builder is the one I have had for the longest. I’ve played it many times and have also invested in the Harbor expansion, which many gamers insist is necessary to properly enjoy the game. While I agree that the basic game grows old quickly, even the Harbor expansion has its own problems. But if you play with the Harbor expansion and a variant that gives you one row of 1-6 cards and a second one of Machi Koro Spiel Des Jahres7+ (also limiting the often annoying ‘6’ cards to one per player), Machi Koro is a lot of fun. As you can see, even our cat gets into it.

Machi Koro‘s chances are solid but I think Colt Express will likely take the prize on pure component fun. Some have suggested that awarding Machi Koro makes sense because it would acknowledge the wonderful microgame revolution coming out of Japan right now. I think the way to award that would have been tossing it to Love Letter but Machi is more the style of the Spiel Des Jahres.

Still, Machi is a bunch of cards and a couple of dice. Colt Express has freaking 3-D trains and Banditeeeples. It’s going to be tough to beat. You can buy Machi Koro on Amazon right now. Also, I strongly recommend the Harbor expansion – also available on Amazon immediately.

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What do I think belonged in that spot for The Game?

Cacao from Sushi Go designer Phil Walker-Harding seems like the most obvious choice. It’s a pleasant gateway game with a nice theme, good components (though nothing eye-popping like Colt’s 3-D train or last year’s winner Camel Up with it’s dice-pooping pyramid), and family-friendly theme and feel.

I would have loved to have seen Bezier Games’ One Night Ultimate Werewolf in there, too. Although this version of the perennial party game Werewolf plays in 5 minutes, it would be a nice
addition to the game collections of families that just buy the Spiel Des Jahres winner each year. We’ve played it a bunch of times and it definitely has both that ‘let’s play again!’ feel and serious replay value with all of the characters included (and there’s more in the excellent expansion).

I need to try the rest of the list and will. Only Patchwork was on my ‘must-try’ list but now they all are.

Other Awards from the SDJ Jury

I’d note that I had no idea on the Kinderspiel at all and I had far too long a list of Kennerspiel possibilities but I will be back when I have finished playing all of them later this summer.

I haven’t played any of them Broom Service is based on Witch’s Brew, which I think it terrific. I’m also quite keen to play Elysium, having enjoyed previous games from Brett Gilbert (Divinare is an underrated gem), and Orleans has so much positive hype that I almost want to ask people to start lowering my expectations! When I get a chance to try them all, I’ll be back to report on them.


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