The game I like never wins.

Spiel des Jahres nominees announced. Yawn.

Every year around this time, gamers try to predict which games will be nominated for the prestigious Spiel des Jahres award, signifying the best tabletop games of the previous year. From the early aughts, I’ve been one of those gamers, always wrong with my guesses and then trying to nab each nominated title as soon as possible because, they have to be good, right? This year is a bit different. This morning it dawned on me that I don’t give a shit anymore.

Now, to be fair, it’s not the games’ fault. I’m sure the games nominated for the SdJ and the Kennerspiel des Jahres (a similar award which going to more complicated, heavier titles) are good games. In fact, one of the KdJ nominees in my much-loved Terraforming Mars, which I’ve reviewed here at Stately Play. No, there’s something different about me.

I’m not sure if it’s the absolute glut of games being released these days, so many that it’s impossible to afford, much less play, even a small fraction of new releases. Maybe it’s just that my tastes have changed and the complex, heavy economic games I tend to gravitate toward aren’t what very many other gamers are looking for.

Looking at the nominees, these are games that I would have been excited to try in the past. Hell, just a couple years ago I bought Rise of Augustus because I was told it was like gamer bingo. BINGO! Now, I see Kingdomino is basically fantasy dominoes and I could care less. I have kids, these games should appeal to me, but they don’t and I find myself simply ignoring most of the Cult of the New hotness.

The SdJ announcements used to be an interesting conversation starter that lasted until the winners were announced in July. Now, I’m not only uninterested in the games nominated, I’m uninterested in the entire process. Burnt out? Maybe, but I still find love for some titles out there. I’m loving Gloomhaven and have recently started realizing how fantastic the solitaire titles from smaller companies, companies I had been ignoring, like Victory Point Games are. Oh, and don’t get me started on how great Arkham Horror: The Card Game or reprints like The Great Zimbabwe are.

So, the love for games is still there, just not for titles like Magic Maze and whatever Knizia game made it on the list this year. Maybe we’ll get back there someday. Maybe there’s no turning back. If anyone has a cure, I’m listening.

All that said, the SdJ is still big news in the game world, so here are your 2017 nominees and a summary of each title from a guy who hasn’t played any of them:

Spiel des Jahres

  • Kingdomino, by Bruno Cathala. Dominoes with fantasy landscapes instead of dots. Oh, and you move your king around or something. My kids might like it, but they’ll never find out! Mwuhahahahaha!
  • Magic Maze, by Kasper Lapp. 1-8 players each have a command they can issue to four adventures. For example, one can move the pawns north, another east, one can place new tiles, one can go up escalators (don’t ask). The goal is to move each pawn to their talisman and then exit the maze. The trick is that play is simultaneous, so everyone’s reaching all over the board at the same time, pushing pawns. The other trick is that there’s no talking allowed, and it’s all timed. Might be fun, but videos I’ve watched of it gave me a headache. [Reminder: Dave is old. -ed.]
  • Wettlauf nach El Dorado, by Reiner Knizia. It’s a Knizia game and the last game he designed worth playing was from 1999. Also, not available in the US, so I can’t buy it anyway.

Kennerspiel des Jahres

  • Terraforming Mars, by Jacob Fryxelius. Should win everything, but you already know that. Also, gets points for having the designer with the coolest surname. Seriously, it sounds like something Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis would have named a dragon in Dragonlance circa 1985.
  • Raiders of the North Sea by Shem Phillips. Viking game with Victory Points. It seems all good viking games have victory points (Fire & Axe, Blood Rage), so might be worth a try. That said, I’m still painting my Blood Rage figures (for the last 18 months), so I might be all viking-ed out.
  • EXIT: Das Spiel by Inka and Markus Brand. This is an escape-room-in-a-box, a one-off puzzle and not a game. Yeah, I said it. It’s cheaper than an escape room, but there’s something cool about finding secret doors, opening real safes, and interacting with stuff in real escape rooms that I doubt these $15 games can replicate. Probably fun, but one of the best three “complex” games released last year? Ouch.

There you have it, opinions from someone without any information to make informed opinions. That’s the Stately Play guarantee!

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Notable Replies

  1. My problem with the SDJ, just like my problem with nearly every annual award, whether it be for movies, music, books, etc., is that there always seems to be a bit of a gulf between the judges and the actual public. I know my opinions are by definition subjective, but I also know that in an industry like board gaming, which has seemingly exploded over the years, there are almost always family-weight games on the market that are far superior than most, if not all, of the SDJ nominees.

  2. Suggestions from the SDJ? The winners that I own are Zooloretto and Colt Express. Oh, and Hanabi, but my brother-in-law is color blind so it is packed away somewhere. My kids are only 4 and 2, so we are limited to some HABA games, but I am always on the lookout for games that will teach them certain gaming/reasoning skills as well as specific game mechanics. Colt express is, in my opinion, a good "my first programming" game. I do, though, have a game called Robot Turtles that probably does it as well, however, and that they will be able to play at a much younger age.

    When friends or relatives ask me for games recommendations for their kids, I usually look for games rated for 8-year-olds, then consider what mechanics they teach. Takenoko is a great game for early euro game skills.

    At this point, I feel like I am rambling and am probably of little help. I love board game, and I love the idea of gaming with my kids, so I'm always looking for new games for them. My advice isn't the most practical, though, since I'm not actually playing these games with them yet.

    Have you tried Camel Up? I've played it with my brothers and had a decent time. There are some other race/betting games that I like better, but as an introduction to the betting mechanics, it is solid. The game also lends itself to some cheering (and groaning) and could be fun. The Hare & Tortoise game (the one that looks like a book) is probably better, depending on the age of your kids, because it combines the betting mechanics with with bluffing and card play.

  3. I know they need to have a German edition in order to be eligible, but Flamme Rouge is an absolute shoo-in, and I thought it had a multilingual European release. Simply the best light game I've played this year.

  4. I really don't have a lot of opportunities to play many real board games with people in the same room so I want to buy and play games that will be fun for my family. I have a hard time determining if any game will be fun based on the hype videos, aka video reviews.

    What I find interesting are the games that stick around. If people are still playing them and they get reprinted, then it seems the must be good games. It is not all new hotness hype. A good board game will be fun to play whether it is brand new or several years old (but new to you).

  5. When I go to BGG, I largely ignore the Hotness list. I like to browse games by ranking. Yes, you do get cult-of-the-new games that shoot up in the list, but I also assume that if they've made it to the top 100, enough people have played and enjoyed them that there is probably some staying power. It isn't a universal truth, but I've found it to be helpful.

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