Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Spiel de Jahres 2009 nominees

Each year about this time, a jury of board gamers in Germany votes on the Spiel des Jahres (translated = Game of the Year). This German Game of the Year award has been going on for ~30 years now and is a major accolade in the board gaming world. Having the Spiel des Jahres logo on a game box can immediately perk up interest among some avid gamers (myself included).

This year's nominees were announced about 3 weeks ago and include 5 games. I hadn't heard of two of the games (Fauna and Finca). I'd heard a little about Fits but wasn't terribly interested. The two titles I've heard a lot about are Pandemic and Dominion. While I haven't played any of the nominees, I've been extremely interested in both Pandemic and Dominion from the hype and the good reviews both games have been getting.

Here's my feel about the titles on the list and my prediction for the winner:

Looking more into Dominion over the past few months, I think this game could be fun, but it's not really my style of game. I never really got into the collectible card game world and while Dominion isn't officially a CCG, it shares some elements. The gameplay is simple enough as you upgrade your cards to collect money, victory points, or action cards. The artwork and production value looks good. I'll have to give it a try (possibly at the Utah Boardgamer's Convention next month) before I make a final call. It could be fun, but it seems to me that after a while it will be fairly repetitive and might feel like the game is playing me rather than vice-versa.

As for Pandemic, this title seems more along the line of the type of game I like to play and try to get out when we game. The most experience I have with the co-operative game genre is with Scotland Yard. I think I've played one or two other co-op games years ago, but the experience wasn't that memorable. Pandemic sounds like a very immersive game full of varied and deep strategy as well as slightly chaotic elements that add to the challenge. I think the variety and the changing difficulty should make for a lot of fun. I love the idea of working together as a team to stop global outbreaks of disease...sounds like a great theme with great execution. My main worry would be that the co-op style may have trouble in some game groups. I'm not sure how it would play out with those I usually play with, but I want to try it.

As I mentioned above, I've heard of Fits and even looked briefly at it. While it's intriguing from a high level, it's one of those things that I think would wear thin rather quickly. Basically, it's a board game version of Tetris with a few strategic twists. It would be a fun puzzle game to have and pull out once in a while, but I'm not sure I'd classify it Game of the Year material.

Fauna sounds like an interesting game...but that's about it. It basically seems like an animal themed Trivial Pursuit with some new scoring mechanics. It's interesting, quirky and educational, but it seems like the audience and staying power is limited.

Finca sounds like an alright worker/resource game that could be fun. I'd like to try it out and see how it plays. The hazard here is that there are so many worker placement / resource gathering titles out there that it's hard to have a new title that's distinct and worthwhile. So even though it has potential, I'm guessing this one doesn't earn the title.

There is also the Kinderspiel des Jahres which is the Kids Game of the Year. Reading the list, there are some interesting title, but they are even more obscure to me. I've only heard of one (which sounds kind of fun, but kitchy...an 'invisible' maze you have to navigate using magnets). I'll keep an eye on the Kinderspiel, but I already have a lot of kids games I want to get the kids, so I'm not scrutinizing the list.

My Prediction
I will be truly surprised if either Fits or Fauna wins the title. Finca might pull it off, but unless it's more distinct than it seems, I don't think it will.

My feel is that it's going to come down to either Pandemic or Dominion. I'm trying to set aside my personal opinion, but even then, I feel like Pandemic has the greater versatility and interest while Dominion seems like it would appeal to a smaller crowd. Still, the co-op elements of Pandemic may shrink its audience as well.

I wouldn't be surprised to see either one pick up the title, but my personal hope and prediction is that Pandemic picks up the award.

To any gamers reading my blog, what are your thoughts on the Spiel des Jahres?

While the logo on a box catches my interest, it's not the final selling point. Interestingly though, as I look at the winner's lists from the past 10 years, I own 5 of the 10 games (Thurn & Taxis, Ticket to Ride, Alhambra, Carcassone, and Tikal). Though going all the way back to '79, there are only 3 more on the list that I own (Settlers of Catan, Scotland Yard, and Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective). So while it influences my browsing, I wouldn't say it affects my purchasing. Although there are a number on the winner's list that I still need to try out and see if I want to buy them. That's actually the key for me. There are a few games I've purchased without playing, but most of the time, I want to play a game before buying...to see if those I game with would play it and more importantly to see if I enjoy it.

What about you? What games do you like? What helps dictate what you buy/play?

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