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. Any suggestions? The only one of the three SdJ games that I’m remotely interested in playing with my kids is Magic Maze, but I’m thinking my excitement would shrivel pretty quickly with the simultaneous play and no talking. Not a huge fan of games where the point is to be as quiet as possible.

  3. 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.

  4. My official Don’t Give A Shit moment happened years ago, when it hit me that the excitement for SdJ was all manufactured by the BGG overlords and the Cult of the New faction over there.

    I finally realized that 90 percent of the chatter was basically precious hipsters babbling about this trendy thing they had literally never heard of six months before. It was a liberating moment.

    Essen, too. I stopped using BGG in whatever year it was that “OMGEssen” became a thing over there. So … 2010? 2011? Whatever – all I knew is that I could no longer stand to look at dozens of neckbeards having cardboard-gasms over games that were being demo’ed 6,000 miles away.

  5. I find myself so behind on the “new hotness” that I rarely have even played the ones that come up for awards. Of the six mentioned for the two awards, I think I’ve only played Terraforming Mars.

    I like the broader-range awards like Origins and Dice Tower awards because there are more nominees and more that I may have actually seen.

    Even then, it’s only one or two, though.

  6. My son’s 10 and we’ve had a lorra fun outta Camel Up which was a winner a couple years ago. Forbidden Island and Castle Panic are favourites too. But I guess we all know people don’t give awards to “the best”, they reward or build relationships. That said I tend to look at what’s won when I’m looking at Christmas presents and if it’s bringing more people into board gaming then roll with it.

  7. 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.

  8. @OhBollox

    Oh! Thanks for pointing this out, it looks good. Have you played Thunder Alley? The mechanics sound a bit similar. In Thunder Alley, you use cards to race, but there is a cool drafting mechanic where the lead car can pull other cars forward when it moves.

  9. Yup, it has some similar ideas but implemented differently. No-one wants to be up front and letting others use their slipstream, but everyone has their own decks to manage for their roleur and sprinter.

  10. You’ve sold me. Now to find a copy…

  11. You didn’t post the Kinderspiel nominees, which is fine, but I just looked again and noticed that Ice Cool was nominated. I have quite a bit of fun playing it with my 4-year-old and brothers-in-law alike. It is a flicking game with wobbly penguins that you bounce around the halls of a cardboard school.

  12. I have also grown to be entirely non-plussed about the awards and some of the culture of the new nonsense at BGG. When a game that won’t be released for a year is #1 on their Hotness list, I just kind of see no point to even having the list. If you can’t buy and play the game, what is t a list of exactly? There should be a Hype List for that and a Hot List for games that have actually been released. I still use BGG often, but I ignore certain parts.

    I blame kickstarter, honestly, and the rise of video reviewers giving their seals of approval to games month and months ahead of release dates. Too many games are being released with too many “trusted” reviewers giving them a rubber-stamp good review.

    That aside, the only game I played this year on either list was Big Book of Madness (which was not nominated, just recommended), and it’s really enjoyable, medium-light, fun with people who aren’t hard-core gamers. Great artwork too.

    The new game I enjoyed most this year was either that or Inis, which I was surprised didn’t make the list.

    Thanks to all the praise certain trusted parties on this site have heaped on it, I finally acquired a copy of the Arkham Horror card game last week (through the BGG monthly math trade) but have not sat down to play it yet. Assuming I will only need the one core set to have a good solo experience.

    For those who are remotely interested (cough-Dave-cough), the latest issue of Speilbox is out and has an exclusive Terraforming Mars card inside (as well as some good write ups on some games discussed here).

  13. I quite enjoyed magic maze. The not talking mechanic was a bit odd at first, but later really grew on me. It was king of like holding your breath, with things becoming more frantic and urgent, until you get the euphoria of being about to talk and breath again when you step on a talking tile. I also found this mechanic rewarding as I saw the group begin to think the same and work together as one, without the use of words.

  14. And if anyone is on the lookout for an abstract, I highly recommend Barony.

  15. This is a problem. I feel like there’s a cult of personality around each of these reviewers and they’re accepted as the be-all-end-all of board game knowledge and their opinions are taken as gospel.

    I kind of hate it when a new game comes out, so I go check out the BGG page and see there are already 3-4 video reviews from 5 months ago posted and I can guarantee that they’ll all be positive. Even if they’re not gushing, not one of them will be outright negative.

  16. 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).

  17. 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.

  18. since i have watched W. Eric Martin’s video “overview” of El Dorado i am more excited about it than i was before, to say the least.
    a “deck-building racing game that feels surprisingly old-school” with a “bell curve on the playing time chart” can make a board gamer’s eyebrow rise.
    this might be a game to watch.
    this might be a kind of a Knizia comeback?

    can you show me the way to El Dorado?

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