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A quick look at the nominees for 2018's “Board Game of the Year”

July 21,2018 15:18

On Monday, board gaming's biggest international prize will be announced. The Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) is awarded by a jury of German game critics, and it traditionally goes to a lighter, family-style game. The more recent Kennerspiel des ...


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On Monday, board gaming's biggest international prize will be announced. The Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) is awarded by a jury of German game critics, and it traditionally goes to a lighter, family-style game. The more recent Kennerspiel des Jahres goes to a more complex and strategic game. (See our take on the shortlists from 2017 and 2016.)
Earlier this summer, the jury released a shortlist of three titles in each category. As we wait for the winner to be announced in a couple of days, here's a quick look at the nominees in both the Spiel des Jahres and Kennerspiel des Jahres categories. Several of these games are currently hard to get in the US, but all should be widely available in English later this year.
If the jury were to ask me for a vote, I think the obviously and objectively correct choices from this setlist are the stunning tile game Azul and the puzzle-y roll-and-write Ganz schön clever. But they haven't asked me! And so we wait...
Spiel des Jahres
Azul
Plan B Games 2-4 players, 30-45 minutes
Who would think of creating a game about producing and placing... *checks notes* Moorish azulejos tiles in Portugal? Michael Kiesling, that's who. The renowned and prolific designer—I highly recommend his 2013 Sanssouci—is back in peak form with Azul.
The game is simple enough: draft gorgeously chunky bakelite tiles from several central pools and place them on your player board in specific patterns to score points and to complete lines or sets. The components look great, the rules are easy to teach, and the game even sets up quickly—and it's thinkier than you'd expect. Highly recommended for family and gamers alike, this is also a superb "gateway" style game that can bring non-gamers into the hobby.
Luxor
Queen Games, 2-4 players, 45 minutes
Here's what you need to know: this is the new title from Rüdiger Dorn, who has created everything from the dice chucker Las Vegas to the Kennerspiel-winning Istanbul. His newest title has a hoary theme: plundering a pharaoh's tomb for treasure. But the real innovation (or gimmick, depending on your point of view) is the way in which your hand of cards is played. Instead of being able to play anything, your cards are arrayed in an immovable line, from which you can only play the card on the left or the right end. After playing a card, you draw another, which goes exactly in the middle of the four remaining cards. The challenge lies in using this system to push cards to the edge as you need them to move your adventurers through the tomb.
The Mind
Nürnberger-Spielkarten-Verlag, 2-4 players, 20-40 minutes
A polarizing title, The Mind is either a work of minimalist genius or "not even really a game." Essentially, you get a deck of cards with numbers from 1 to 100 on them. Each player gets a certain number of cards each round (it increases each round), and then everyone must play those cards to the table, in ascending order, without speaking or signaling.
Delay becomes the main method of communication. If you have the 2 in your hand, you will probably slap it down to the table quickly. But what if you have the 7? Or the 10? Or the 20? The further off your lowest card is from whatever has been played so far, the longer you tend to wait, seeing if other players will put down a card first. Play all your cards cooperatively in the correct order and you move on to the next round. (You do get some "lives" to cover up the occasional mistake, and a "shuriken" allows everyone at the table to publicly discard their lowest card.)
That's... pretty much the game! Does it sound delightful or enraging?
Kennerspiel des Jahres
Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg
Schmidt Spiele, 2-4 players, 45 minutes
A press-your-luck game about brewing dubious potions (a "quacksalber" is a huckster), the game sees players drawing ingredients from a shared bag, choosing each time whether they will stop and cook up what they have or if they will press on to greater risk and possible reward. Colorful, accessible, and not too heavy. (It's also by Wolfgang Warsch, who created The Mind.)
Ganz schön clever
Schmidt Spiele, 1-4 players, 30 minutes
"Pretty clever!" promises this dice and marking game, and it is. "Roll-and-write" games like this, where you chuck some dice and make some marks or record a number on a pad (think Yahtzee) have exploded in popularity over the last couple of years through titles like Qwixx, Qwinto, Avenue, and Noch Mal. But Ganz schön clever is thinkier than most of its siblings, offering numerous options for placing the results of die rolls. The fact that it was actually nominated for the most complex award the Spiel des Jahres jury gives out was surprising to many, but this is by all accounts a fantastic game. (And it will get an English localization later this year.) Yes, this is the third nomination for designer Wolfgang Warsch this year.
Heaven & Ale
Eggertspiele, 2-4 players, 60-90 minutes
Far heavier than anything else on the list, Heaven & Ale is a classic eurogame about turning some resources into... other resources. In this case, the goal is to brew beer at your monastery, using the ingredients of your monastic garden. A serious "gamer's game," this one has been extremely well-reviewed. It also comes from Michael Kiesling (with Andreas Schmidt), and if it doesn't break much new gameplay ground, it does what it does extremely well. An expansion has already been announced for early 2019.

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