OK, the lists have been up for almost a month now, and we’ve polled the OG writers to see which games they were backing for the Spiel des Jahres and Kennerspiel des Jahres this year… 19 OG’ers (and one guest voter) replied back with their votes. We again fortunate to be joined by Kathrin Nos, a previous sitting jury member on the Spiel des Jahres jury.
The methodology we used this year was to have each voter rank the three games for each award – and then convert those ranks to 7 points for 1st, 3 points for 2nd and 1 point for 3rd place. (Combining all of our votes seemed to be the best way to show just how wrong we can be as a group!) After all the tabulations, our predicted winner for Spiel des Jahres is…
KINGDOM BUILDER by Donald X. Vaccarino (Queen)
The final scores in our poll were:
- Kingdom Builder – 105 (with 14 first place votes)
- Eselsbrücke – 55 (3)
- Vegas – 51 (3)
If we went simply on first place votes (since this is a winner-take-all contest anyways), Kingdom Builder still wins.
Interestingly enough, both of the Germans that responded to the poll (Jeff Allers and Kathrin Nos) voted for Eselsbrücke as the winner. Clearly, their ears are a little closer to the ground than ours as they have access to all of the games as well as a better chance to hear the domestic gossip about the games.
One other thing that I should mention is that 7 Opinionated Gamers stated that Kingdom Builder was the only game of the three nominees that they had played (and 6 of those 7 voted for Kingdom Builder as the overall winner).
Some of the thoughts from the Opinionated Gamers
Dale Yu: The jury certainly seems to be steering the award to the lighter side of the spectrum – which is a fine direction for the award to go. I realize that I am not necessarily the target audience for this award, but I can easily see where any of these three games would be a great game to play with the family.
Jeff Allers: I think it’s a nice list of nominees providing an interesting match-up between a party game, a placement game, and a dice game.
I picked Eselsbrücke for one of the SdJ nominees last year. I guess I was ahead of my time. The thing this game has going for it is that it is a very original design, which makes it stand out from a crowd of games with familiar mechanisms. It is, however a party game and a memory game, which means that, if played with people who do not like either, they can spoil the atmosphere for the rest of the group–especially with 6 players. I think this one is perfect for the award, and there is no doubt in my mind that it will win.
Luke Hedgren: Very weak year for SdJ-type games. Looks like we are continuing the tradition of a party-ish game being considered. Not sure how I feel about that.
Kathrin Nos: A good choice for the three nominees. Any of the three would be a worthy SdJ in my opinion. Also interesting is the list of recommended games. I am clearly missing King of Tokyo here. This is a great fun game that we really played and enjoyed a lot.
W. Eric Martin: Now that I’ve played Vegas, I’m calling it the winner over KB (which I highly enjoy) and Eselsbrücke (which I haven’t played). Vegas is lighter than KB – with an explanation time leaning more toward seconds than minutes – and the game play provides lots of “ooh” and “aah” moments as well as taunting of your fellow players when things don’t roll the right way for them. With Qwirkle as the 2011 SdJ winner, I think Vegas follows its lead well in terms of being light, accessible and fun. Plus, I’m sure no one would begrudge alea finally hoisting the red poppel and funding a few heavier releases with the money earned from blockbuster sales of Vegas. (Okay, I’m sure many would in fact complain about alea winning for Vegas and not any other release from the past decade, but those folks tend to misjudge what the SdJ is meant to do.)
The only downside for the SdJ committee is whether Vegas can be expanded and thus provide further revenue via poppel licensing, although if Qwirkle can be expanded – and it has been, with the expansion due out at Spiel 2012 – then there’s no reason Vegas can’t be expanded, too.
Mark Jackson: I haven’t even SEEN Esselbrucke… but I just don’t think Kingdom Builder has enough “whatever” to win. It’s pleasant, it’s fun, it’s easy to play 2 games in a row – but it’s not a game I find myself saying “I want to buy this” or “I’d rather play this than, say, 50% or more of my game collection”.
Melissa R: I think Kingdom Builder is a very strong candidate, posssibly more so than Dominion was. It strikes me as the more accessible game, although the random scoring conditions might be confusing to casual gamers.
Larry Levy: Although it isn’t a game I originally considered, I think a pretty compelling case can be made for Vegas. My reasoning is based on the same assumption that I had prior to the announcement of the SdJ nominees: the Jury is looking for super-light games. Kingdom Builder is the only one of the three games that I have any real interest in playing (I think it’s quite good), although I wouldn’t mind trying the others. But I think it’s slightly too heavy for the SdJ (and a little too light for the KedJ). Eselsbrücke may indeed be a party game, but I checked out an English translation for it recently and it had me scratching my head. Even assuming a subpar translation, it seems to be fairly rules heavy for a party game. Vegas, on the other hand, has about 3 rules and is as simple as can be. It’s certainly a game that you can open the box and be playing within 5 minutes (as was the case with Qwirkle last year). I imagine it’s a very good family game and probably would inspire as many cheers and groans as Eselsbrücke. Finally, there’s the publishers. Eselsbrücke would give Schmidt Spiele consecutive SdJ wins, which is pretty unusual. And it wouldn’t surprise me if the Jury has at least a small desire to toss a bone at Alea, in honor of their great track record over the years and to ensure that the line survives for years to come. Naturally, I’d also be personally delighted to see Stefan Brück finally get the big prize, even for a game like this. So I’m putting all my chips on Vegas!
Rick Thornquist: I’ve got to say I’m stunned that Vegas got nominated. As I’ve mentioned before, I find the game to be simplistic, unoriginal, and uninteresting. I can’t imagine it took more than two minutes to design. There’s got to be a huge pile of games that are more deserving of an SdJ nomination. If there isn’t, this was indeed a sad year for games.
So, where does this leave us now that we’ve made our group prediction? Same place we were before we started — anxiously awaiting the jury to unveil the winner! Being the cynical gamer that I am, I figure that each of the 3 games has a compelling reason to win
- Kingdom Builder – well, the groupthink of 20 gamers can’t be wrong?!
- Eselsbrücke – picked by the 2 locals amongst us, clearly they have inside knowledge
- Vegas – of course it’ll win – it’s the one we picked in last place!
The winner will be announced at 10:15 (Berlin time) on Monday July 9. If you happen to be a night-owl (or European), the SdJ webpage will be offering a live ticker of the proceedings: http://www.spiel-des-jahres.org/cms/front_content.php
Of course, the SdJ is not the only award to be handed out – there is also the Kennerspiel des Jahres, an award given to games that are a bit more complex. Based on the nominees from this year and last year, it’s clear (to me, at least) that it is possible to be TOO COMPLEX for the Kennerspiel. While all of the nominated games are more complex than the SdJ nominees, some of the popularly acclaimed games at the complex end of the spectrum did not even get a recommendation (Trajan, I’m looking at you…)
We used the same methodology to make our prediction, and the predicted winner is — Village by Markus and Inka Brand (Eggertspiele)! The full results:
- Village – 94 points (12 first place votes)
- K2 – 66 points (5)
- Targui – 38 points (3)
Thoughts from the Opinionated Gamers:
Dale Yu: OK, I’m not as sure that I feel that I get what the jury is looking for in this award, but with only two years of data to look at, that’s OK. There are plenty of more complex games that I thought would be eligible for the award, and at least two of them (Hawaii and Ora et Labora) made the recommended list. Perhaps I need to dial back the amount of complexness I’m looking for when predicting this award too!
Jeff Allers: K2? Targi? No one saw that coming! K2 and Village are some nicely thematic games, but Targi must be pretty good to earn a spot as a two-player game in a field crowded with complex, multi-player releases this year. Perhaps the Jury is trying to encourage a return to two-player games, something Kosmos once excelled at. I would like to see a thematic, mountain-climbing game win the award. Village seems to be a solid optimization game, but there have been so many of these the past several years. I’m guessing the Jury is looking for something different, both mechanically and thematically.
Mark Jackson: I was surprised not to see Hawaii on there – though I appreciate the addition to the recommended list. I was also very happy to have the jury recommend Friday – it’s a nifty game that could easily been overlooked because it’s a solitaire game.
Tom Rosen: I’m picking K2 to win the KedJ. It was originally a 2010 release, but I gather not released in Germany until 2011, which I think is why it missed everyone’s radar in the nominee predictions. But now that we know it’s eligible, it seems like a very obvious pick for the award. It’s got the right level of complexity, or lack thereof, and nice artwork, plus a winning theme. Targi doesn’t seem right since it’s a two-player game, and Village feels like the Lancaster nomination from last year, the token complex game but too complex and too morbid to actually win. K2 all the way, in spite of my personal feelings about the game.
Kathrin Nos: Essen 2011 offered a great choice of candidates above the SdJ. However, quite some of them are too complex even for the Kennerspiel. While Ora et Labora made it to the list of recommended games, Trajan was not taken into account. Hawaii is a great game, and I played it in many different groups. However, the rules are not too intuitive and contain many small details that are easily forgotten.
While I voted for Targi in the initial poll, I am switching to Village now. Still, I am excited to see Targi nominated – it is a great game and fully deserves this honor!
Luke Hedgren: This list doesn’t inspire me. This seems like the level of complexity that some older SdJ’s have. My favorites from this year are more complex than these, I guess (Vanuatu, Trajan, Ora et Labora) or are too AT-ish (Eclipse, Mage Knight). I’ve only played Village. I found the sort of non-intuitive nature of doing well in the game, not despite of, but because of your family members dying, to be enough to sour me on an otherwise semi-interesting game.
Larry Levy: The three recommended KedJ games are all excellent. Kudos to the Jury for having the onions to recommend Friday, a superior solitaire game. Ora is my game of the year; way too complex to win an award, but perfect for a recommendation. And Hawaii is great fun and a terrific choice to round out the trio. Great job by the Jury here.
We’re still trying to figure out what the Jury is looking for in its KedJ winners, but again, I’m going to assume that they’re looking for games that are a little more involved than the SdJ nominees, but still not too heavy. Say the best middleweight design, as compared to the SdJ’s best lightweight design. Based on that assumption, Village, a very nice and somewhat innovative game, fails–it’s a bit too involved. K2 is also on the cusp there and I just don’t get a great vibe from it. That leaves Targi, which might be a little closer to the desired complexity (like former winner Dominion, most of the game’s complexity comes from the cards, not from the rules). However, it’s a 2-player game and no pure 2-player game has every won the SdJ (I’m not sure one has even come close). However, the Jury keeps knocking down previously dependable taboos, so why not take the plunge and go with Targi? It may be a long shot, but no other choice feels right.
Well, that’s what we think about the upcoming awards. Good luck to all 6 games, and we’ll be anxiously awaiting the results along with everyone else! I’ll certainly be interested to see which games are backed by our readers as well.
My simple rule of thumb has been that the SdJ winner would be a game that could be played by both families and by gamers (albeit at the light-medium end of the scale), with each group getting a different experience from the game. The other factor I looked for was a game in which players could “help” other players without it looking like obviously suboptimal play on their part. This is good for family games where the range of experience and expectation will be different to that of gamers’ games. On that basis, I’d pick Kingdom Builder, since it ticks those boxes for me. (Santa Cruz and Ankh-Morpork were the other two that I would have picked for the same reason.)
But I haven’t got an SdJ prediction right for years (apart from the Dominion year, and that doesn’t really count.)
This is my first glimpse at the comments of our Super Prognosticator, Kathrin Nos. And I’m very pleased to see that her feelings about the SdJ, and Vegas, closely match mine. I even considered the possible difficulties of an expansion, but concluded, as she did, that it wasn’t an impossible problem. Maybe I’m finally channeling my inner German! Despite the voting by the rest of the OG crew, I feel more confident than ever in choosing Vegas.
My feelings about the KedJ aren’t nearly as strong, but I do feel that the *least* likely game to win is the one we predicted as a group, Village (a game I quite like). Again, I think it’s just too complex for the award. However, there really isn’t enough data on how the Jury wants to position this award yet, so we await the final announcement with interest. I’m still sticking with my pick of Targi, but honestly, it’s kind of a toss-up.
Yes, I completely agree that Kingdom Builder and Village don’t feel right to me. I know they were picked by the majority in the voting, but I’d still be surprised to see those two take home the awards. Vegas seems like the likely SdJ winner to me as well, while K2 seems like the most likely KedJ winner. I’ll be interested to see on Monday, but sadly I fear the OG majorities may be proven wrong once again.
Hate to spoil your good feeling, Larry, but the bottom two paragraphs under Kathrin Nos are from me, not her. (Dale had mentioned in his intro that Nos chose Eselsbrücke. Now he needs to add my name to my prediction!)
Yeah, that explains what appeared to be a peculiar flip-flop on the part of our Kathrin. Oh well, maybe I’m just channelling my inner W.!
I didn’t formally vote or comment as I’ve only played one game from each group. With that said, I don’t think Kingdom Builder is a SdJ winner. I like it well enough, but would vote for one of the other two as being more in line with how I see the award. Having played neither I can’t give a nod.
Similarly, I don’t see Village as the KdJ. I have played it and K2 once each, and agree both are good games. I have not seen Targui yet, but have heard very good things about it. I think the KdJ is the juries chance to acknowledge good design they would not be able to otherwise, so suspect Targui for the nod.
Either way, we will get to sit through the annual reawakening to the fact that the SdJ is not at all geared towards the American hobbyist gamer, nor should it necessarily be!
“Targi” is the nominee for KdJ – “Targui” is a classic Risk-ish German game w/a variable board (circa 1987) about Arab nomads fighting for economic power.