Category: Board Game News

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.

In a way, I find it difficult to write review of these films about the board game industry. Having spentOne_Man_s_Quest_large most of my life in the hobby, I know it well so I can speak from an informed point of view. I certainly know some of the people involved and have attended events where they are filmed (our own Strategicon conventions here in Southern California, BGG.con, the Gathering of Friends, Spiel in Essen, etc.) so there’s an odd little connection to the subjects at hand. Plus, some of them don’t seem to be aimed at me; they are more introductory or targeted to an audience who is new to the hobby or just trying to get some insight into what our little world is like. Those documentaries serve a good purpose and I’m glad they exist.

In general, the documentary films (these geek culture ones are sometimes called ‘geekumentaries’) that appeal to me the most are those that don’t tell the story of a world in a reverential way. I like them, as they say, ‘warts and all.’ I want the films to be real in their depiction of the world inside a hobby or subculture even when it means we’ll laugh at the people a bit.

Maybe the inspiration comes from Trekkies, the geekumentary done in 1997 by Roger Nygard. I love the film so much because it is funny and it wasn’t afraid to show its participants in the direct light. I’m not a Trekkie and never was but this film gave me insight into the cult, made me laugh, and also told some stories that affected me. The film is so entertaining, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it thrice (not common for me). Not so the sequel, which seems to have been made by someone else (it wasn’t) who wanted to dignify the subculture rather than telling real stories. I saw a similarly respectful geekumentary about Lord of the Rings fans that made it sound like these folks were leading incredibly fulfilling and worthwhile lives because they spent all this time thinking about fantasy worlds and dressing up like hobbits. I fell asleep watching it (and it wasn’t very late that night).

Maybe some people want to watch these films to get reassurance that their subculture/hobby/cult is the best, justifies their lack of success in other aspects of life or whatever but that’s not why I watch them. As I expect of any kind of art, I want to be educated in a way that isn’t just factual. I’m seeking an experience to learn more about the human condition. That’s what I love about great books, art, film, popular music, and television.

imagesThere are other good examples. The Dungeon Masters was successful in this way; the lives of the subjects were laid bare. Their hobby took a toll on what else they could do in life and yet they allowed the filmmakers to tell their stories. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters is a rare geekumentary that achieves nirvana through a real-life plot, villains and heroes, and wonderful performances of the cast being their own crazy selves. Some of the same people have appeared in other documentaries on the subject that fell short because the filmmakers just didn’t find the human drama in the story that Seth Gordon did. The Monopoly film from a few years back did a pretty good job of this, too, although my friend Ken Koury will tell you that he is NOT the villain of the story; he’s the hero. Either way, it’s a solid yarn that draws you in. UnknownA quick mention of Monster Camp is in order as well. While LARPing has a generally high laugh-at-the-freaks factor, the film depicts the challenges these folks experience in a real way.

It’s with this high standard (and 600-word introduction) that I finally come to the film I watched last night, The Next Great American Game. Created by Douglas Morse, TNGAG tells the story of a Graphic Design professor, Randall Hoyt, trying to get his board game published. Now, I know dozens and dozens of budding designers as a result of being part of play testing groups and conventions and I thought I was sitting down to watch the struggle that I hear about all the time. I know so many talented designers who were longtime experts at games, started building games in their spare time, and eventually began the hunt for a publisher, working all the angles they could based on their long experience in the hobby.

TNGAG is not about one of those people. Instead, it’s about a guy from New Hampshire who just made a game about something that apparently interested him (um, driving in traffic) and played it with his small group of friends for about five years before packing up and heading to the biggest game convention in the US (GenCon) to pitch it to publishers. He keeps saying he’s not a designer and even expresses frustration playing eurogames (“too much thinking!”). As I watched, I could only giggle at how he did just about everything a novice game designer isn’t supposed to do: refused good feedback, failed to know his market, and showed clearly to everyone he encountered that he was waytooclose to his game (which sounds pretty lousy from a eurogamer’s perspective, despite a gorgeous prototype). Some of the publishers he seeks out are nice to him, some of them are more forthright. This part of his odyssey is perhaps funnier to me because he’s turning down advice from people that I know personally and can confirm that he should be taking notes instead of having these wacky freakouts about how they just don’t get him and the fact that he’s clearly created “The Next Great American Game” (he keeps saying that, generating a bigger laugh each time). Keep in mind that, for him, that’s a description of another Monopoly, not another Ticket to Ride or Qwirkle or Kingdom Builder. He’s thinking mass-market, $5-a-box on Black Friday stuff, not a euro that gaming snobs like me would respect (and play).

As the film progresses, you learn more about our hero, including some details about his personal life that temper the chuckles a bit. We also learn about another successful game-like product he’s created that shows a bit of why he has such confidence in his obviously under-developed game. The journey he takes as the film progresses is enjoyable to watch as he accepts more of what people suggest and starts to learn what it is going to take to actually sell his game. I won’t spoil the full progress and details of the film but I was thoroughly engrossed in his journey and recommend it for people who want to see a depiction of a human being struggling to get something done that he thinks will be easy because he worked so hard at it, only to find out the world isn’t so simple. There many times when Morse captures poignant moments that look to be spontaneous and I hope they really were. There’s some snarky fun for those who know the industry a bit. Mostly, though, it’s just a satisfying human story that I was happy to take in.

Oddly and perhaps pointing to my suspicion that Morse set out to make a different movie, the extras have Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 6.23.37 PMa bunch of interviews with terrific game designers. Who in our hobby wouldn’t enjoy listening to Reiner Knizia, Klaus Teuber, and Alan Moon talk about games? You have something wrong with you if you don’t get drawn into Matt Leacock and Eric Lang (two of the nicest designers I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting) sheepishly interviewing each other and then finding gold in each other’s comments. I couldn’t stop smiling while watching the snippet on Antoine Bauza, another masterful designer who is an interesting interview because he’s such an expressive, smart, and interesting guy. The extras are a terrific bonus even if they feel like they are leftovers from another project. Honestly, I didn’t follow the campaign for the Kickstarter on “Adventures on the Tabletop” much. If your Kickstarter has long updates, I rarely read them unless I’m wondering where the $&#*$ my game has gone missing (a lot of that right now with the Port of Los Angeles shipping issues). Yes, I realize the hypocrisy of noting that almost 1,500 words into my rather gonzo review of The Next Great American Game. Regardless, I’m unclear as to whether a separate film called Adventures on the Tabletop that is more like those survey kind of films will be showing up in an update at some point with insight into actual game design techniques and not whatever Randall has been doing for five years. The extras (juicy and watchable Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 6.23.25 PMas they are) suggest to me that the answer is no since Morse seems to have focused on this quirkier, more intriguing story. Thank goodness he did because TNGAG is a small wonder.

The Next Great American Game is available from the BGG store and I recommend you pick it up. Watch the preview below and then go buy it, buddy.

The folks at Miniature Market have an unusual game for sale at the low-low price of $0.00 right now (if you act fast). Boardgame Babylon (with a tip of the hat to the soon-to-depart Late Show with David Letterman) presents you the Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know about this not-too-interesting game, available now at an amazing price.

10. Over 100 Geeks tried to add it to Boardgame Geek for some lousy geekgold.

9. The Seinfeld license was too expensive so this is what you get.

8. A surprisingly common theme, originated by Reiner Knizia himself.

7. A game Friedemann Friese would have designed if he had a Tuesday Project, because everyone knows Tuesdays just suck.

6. Attendees from the Gathering of Friends will still tell you they’ve never played the printed version of the game.

5. The Dice Game version is due at Spiel 2014. The Deckbuilder Version is due out at GenCon 2015. The Legacy Version due out at Spiel 2015.

4. The Munchkin Version already sold 500,000 copies.

3. Tom Vasel loved it even though the “parts dump” portion of his review video was somewhat uneventful.

2. A Cryptozoic Design.

1. Still a better game than Change Horses.

Only joking, of course. We love Miniature Market and their Daily Sales. But we also love to mock typos and digital mistakes.

Want to buy a better game? Try Concordia.

 

Get it now for only $0.00! MSRP $0.00 and Normally $0.00.

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