OG Writers React to the SdJ and KedJ Nominations

Below are our reactions to the Spiel des Jahres (SdJ) and Kennerspiel des Jahres (KedJ) nominations.  The awards were announced this morning, and the complete list of nominated and recommended games can be found here.

Chris Wray:  What a weird year for nominations!  In our predictions, we had pegged The Crew as having a high chance of being an SdJ nomination, but it received a KedJ nomination instead.  We did have both My City and Pictures on the list of SdJ contenders, but none of us called The King’s Dilemma or Cartographers as receiving KedJ nominations.  

I have to assume that My City will win the Spiel des Jahres.  Pictures is underproduced, and though it is interesting, I tired of it after just two plays.  I really liked Nova Luna, but that one only lasted about a dozen plays for me.  The Spiel des Jahres famously tests replayability, with jury members playing games dozens of times, so I think My City has a leg up against the other two. Plus, it helps that My City is a really good game!

For the Kennerspiel, who knows what will happen.  I have to assume that The Crew, given its wild popularity, has the best shot.  I thought Cartographers was a cool flip ‘n write, but I sold my copy after a few plays.  I haven’t played King’s Dilemma.

Having Cartographers and My City in different categories makes practically no sense to me.  I’ve written enough words on the history of the Spiel des Jahres to literally fill a book, but in the awards’ 40+ year history, I can think of few situations as confusing as this.  Both My City and Cartographers have the same central mechanic: you flip a card with a different polyomino on it.  In My City you place the pictured, in Cartographers, you fill it in.  In Cartographers, the rules are the same game to game, but scoring changes.  In My City, scoring AND the rules change, sometimes drastically.  I guess it probably takes an extra minute to learn Cartographers up front, but in the end, I just don’t see My City as simpler than Cartographers, especially for the later games of the My City campaign.  

Larry:  The distinction between SdJ and Kennerspiel nominated games seems to be about as narrow as I can ever recall.  A few people have commented that The Crew is best appreciated by those who have experience with trick-taking games, so I guess that might be a reasonable justification for listing it as a KedJ game, rather than as an SdJ one.  But outside of Pictures, which seems very simple, the other five games appear to be of comparable complexity.  Given that in year’s past, the Kennerspiel has gone to games like Village, Legends of Andor, and Wingspan, this will probably be the least complex (and, presumably, family friendly) Kennerspiel award ever.  It’s nice that two games will be recognized, but I wish the distinction between the two awards didn’t feel so arbitrary.

I guess My City is the early favorite.  I think I’d be more excited about the game if it felt more like a true legacy design and not so much like a game system with 8 or so different variants included in the box.  So, right now, I guess I’ll hesitantly vote for My City and The Crew as my picks for their awards.  But don’t ignore The King’s Dilemma; I’ve seen some very enthusiastic reviews of that, including one on Spielbox, so I don’t think a KedJ victory is out of the question.  Given how badly we all judged how the nominations would go, I guess I have less confidence than usual in predicting what the winners would be.

Chris Wray (Redux):  Larry makes a great point above.  The weight of the games between the SdJ and KedJ seem narrower than ever.  But could the difference be one of theme?  The KedJ has long seemed okay with awarding geekier themes than the SdJ.  Could that be part of the calculus?

I have to admit, I have a hard time seeing My City as SdJ-weight and The Crew as KedJ-weight.  Having played both, I think of The Crew as materially easier to learn, with fewer rule changes between games, than My City. Some people are chalking this up to the fact that not everybody knows trick taking games. I guess that’s true — it has been a long time since Hearts came on seemingly every computer — but the first few games of Die Crew kind of teach the trick taking.   

Mark Jackson: I don’t have a history as one of those gamer folks who hates on the Spiel des Jahres – there are a number of games that have won the SdJ that I still proudly keep in my collection that others disparage (Niagara, Colt Express, Mississippi Queen). But this year seems unusually weird – both in the similar game weights between the SdJ and KdJ (noted well by Larry above) and by a couple of picks that just don’t make any sense to me.

While it’s nice to see both Cartographers (currently my favorite available roll’n’write) and The Crew be nominated, I hate to see them competing for the same award.

I don’t understand the nominations for Nova Luna or Pictures.

  • I’m a huge fan of the two games that “birthed” Nova Luna – Corné van Moorsel’s Habitats and Uwe Rosenberg’s Patchwork – but both of those games have theme and personality. Nova Luna is an abstract exercise in tile placement that left me cold. I’m glad these two excellent designers are getting recognized… but I wish it was for a better game. 
  • Pictures was fun the one time I played it… but I predicted that it would have a limited number of plays due to the components (both cards & ways of “communicating”). Chris’ comment above about being done after two plays makes sense to me.

My predictions: My City wins over Pictures (a party game – Just One – won last year) and Nova Luna (while abstract-ish games do win, they’re usually better games – example: Azul). The Crew edges out Cartographers – but since I haven’t played King’s Dilemma, I’m shooting in the dark.

I’m glad to see that Res Arcana (which was my pick to win KdJ) did get on the recommended list. It seems obvious from the actual nominees that it didn’t stand a chance…  I’ll just sit over here in the corner and grumble a bit.

Tery: I’ll be over here in the corner across from Mark, grumbling under my breath a bit along with him.  I like Nova Luna more than he does (although really only as a 2 player game), but Nova Luna is by far not Uwe’s best game; so many of his games have gone unrecognized, I am not sure why they felt now was the time. I haven’t played (or even seen) the other 2 games, so I don’t know how it compares, but these were not the games I expected to see here.

The Crew, on the other hand, I did expect to see and I am happy to see it. I have really enjoyed the too-few plays I have had of this, and I really look forward to being able to play it again once the pandemic is over.

Brandon: I’m really not sure what to think of how the games are categorized in the nominations. Personally, I’ve had good luck with The Crew with family and friends who aren’t what you would call fans of the trick taking genre. I clearly think that it’s a family game and probably the best game of that nature this year. I have not played My City yet, but I am anxiously awaiting July for the upcoming North American launch. This really feels to me like a couple years ago when we knew that Azul was the front runner, and the committee put the Warsch titles in the KennerSpiel category so that they could honor both. I know, I’ve heard that the rule book for The Crew is a bit unfriendly to new gamers, it’s large and it’s wordy, especially for what it is, whereas My City is four pages of rules and boom, you are in the game. So maybe that’s the difference and my conspiracy theories are just that. 

I think that Nova Luna is a wonderful choice for a nomination, exciting both for Corne and Uwe, although I, like others on here, prefer Habitats to Nova Luna, I think that it’s still a wonderful game. I think I would have rather seen something like Mandala nominated than Pictures though. Pictures really is kind of bland. My head tells me to not bet against Knizia in the SdJ this year, but I think I am going to lean towards Nova Luna for the time being. 

Kennerspiel wise, I haven’t got the foggiest if anything is going to be able to topple The Crew over there. I know nothing about King’s Dilemma other than when I went to find a copy, it’s basically out of print till around October, at least that’s what a couple of the websites I shop at were telling me. So I don’t know that the jury will want to give an award to a game that won’t be in stock when announced. Cartographers is probably the competition here, but I’m not sure it’s going to be much of one. I love Cartographers, I think it’s a really well done flip and fill game, and one that actually has a bit of interactivity, even aggressive interactivity, so I really like it, but I just don’t see the jury giving it the award, I actually hope I am wrong though. 

I think what we learned this year is that, no matter how light the game is, or how light we as gamers think it is, that rule book better be easy to understand, and you better be able to get into the game pretty quickly if you want an SdJ nomination and not the KdJ.

Larry (Redux):  Upon further reflection, I think the rule book issue is a major one.  Eric Martin went into some detail about the differences between the My City and The Crew rulebooks and he’s convinced me that the latter one could easily appear to be a genuine hurdle for a family who wants to tear off the shrink wrap and play now, while the former one gets you started very easily.  We can argue if the average German family has less of a tolerance for a longer rulebook than they used to, but it’s not hard to believe that the jury looked at My City’s 4-page rulebook and said “That’s SdJ” and then looked at The Crew’s 24-page rulebook, together with its 24-page Mission Book and said, “Kennerspiel”.  It could just be as simple as that and, if so, it would be a reasonable stance to take.

This could wind up, at long last, being the Year of the Legacy Game for the SdJ’s.  From what little I know of King’s Dilemma, it appears to be more of a classic legacy-style game than My City.  So if My City wins the SdJ, we’ll either have two Kosmos winners, two polyomino card flip winners, or two legacy game winners.  Crazy!

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14 Responses to OG Writers React to the SdJ and KedJ Nominations

  1. Pingback: OG Writers React to the SdJ and KedJ Nominations - Rollandtroll.com

  2. deming says:

    fantastic writing!! superb assessment!!

  3. toucanas says:

    While the gut instinct is that The Crew appears like an SDJ, it is in fact, not as family friendly as you think. The trick-taking aspect of the game is already challenging and if you play it co-op, it requires a certain level of thinking outside the obvious.

    Our group is by no means an expert of trick-taking. We have played Tichu, Bargain Hunter, Bottle Imp sparingly, but yet found The Crew challenging, even in the first 10 levels. Yet, I’d say we are seasoned gamers. It’s just we aren’t as exposed to trick-taking.

    Now imaging a family buying The Crew and a 7 year old wants to play it with the family….

    I haven’t played The City but am I Knizia fan. I can easily imagine The City might be easier to handle out of the box, legacy or not.

    • huzonfirst says:

      All good points. But imagine that same family with the same 7 year old and picture their reaction to Hanabi (which DID win the SdJ a few years ago). It isn’t obvious to me that that game is any more intuitive or requires any less outside the box thinking. I can see an initial play of it not going well at all.

      I now accept that classifying The Crew as a Kennerspiel game was a reasonable choice. But if you’re looking for consistency from the SdJ jury, I suspect you will be sorely disappointed.

      • toucanas says:

        I agree with you on Hanabi, but feel that the game is slightly more intuitive and perhaps easier to wrap your head around…. perhaps even for a 7 year old. Further, you can’t really lose in Hanabi. You just collect fewer points while in The Crew, you can get frustrated after multiple failures.

        In the end, we are in agreement about the jury though. No arguments from me. I pointed out in a separate post elsewhere that what KeDJ is doing is awarding games that are in the mid-weight category instead of the heavier games that DSP usually goes for. Since the inception, only a single game, Village had a BGG complexity rating of >3 while 6/9 from DSP had >3. Even though some heavier games have been nominated, they tend not to win.

        Not everything has to make sense or fall neatly into categories like we want them to be. The jury is a living, breathing entity that makes inconsistent choices. Would be interesting to see their nomination process?

  4. norkle says:

    Was also surprised to see The Crew considered for Kenner. I know that publishers submit games to the jury, do they also specify whether they are being considered for SdJ or Kenner?

  5. Pingback: OG Writers React to the SdJ and KedJ Nominations – Herman Watts

  6. Jacob Lee says:

    Replayability might be the number one thing I look for in a game these days. That does it. I’m getting My City next time I see it available.

  7. Martin Griffiths says:

    Heh, so KdJ includes both my favourite new-to-me game of last year (The Crew) and my least favourite (Cartographers).

  8. Martin Griffiths says:

    I usually don’t like the KdJ winners and do like the SdJ ones though, so who knows what’ll happen!

  9. Pingback: Cartographers (Game Review by Brandon Kempf) | The Opinionated Gamers

  10. Jeroen says:

    Udo Bartsch wrote a nice blog (in German) on the SdJ website explaining the jury’s deliberations: https://www.spiel-des-jahres.de/rot-oder-anthrazit-spiele-im-grenzbereich/ . Well worth a read if you ahven’t seen it yet.

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