Sun. Feb 5th, 2023
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Although the worldwide board game community has numerous awards, perhaps the most important is still the “Spiel des Jahres” (Game of the Year) award, awarded by the German game critics. Previous winners have included everything from Katan until Qwirkleand winning one of the coveted trophies ensures solid sales and (very occasionally) fame and fortune.

This week, the Spiel des Jahres jury released its list of finalists (German) for the “Spiel des Jahres” grand prize, which is always family-friendly, and the newer “Kennerspiel” award for more complex/advanced games. (We don’t cover the prize for children’s titles, the “Kinderspiel”, but the finalists in that category are Leo miss zum Friseur, Mmm!and the children’s version of the classic about job placement Stone Age.) While the winners won’t be chosen until July, any of these titles would make a great gift for the board game enthusiast in your life, and the list provides a great starting point for exploring the great titles from the past year.

If you want to dig deeper than the three finalists, the judges have also released lists of additional “recommended” games for the Spiel des Jahres and the Kennerspiel.

Let’s take a closer look at the finalists.

Game of the Years

Code names by Vlaada Chvátil: One of our top picks of 2015, Codenames comes from red-hot Czech designer Chvátil and features clever yet accessible puns for parties of almost any size. Cards with words are laid out in a 5×5 grid. Each team has a “spymaster” who only gives a one-word clue and the number of cards that clue applies to. The trick is to guess the right words, knowing full well that the more words you mean, the weaker the link between the codenames and your clue will become. And guessing wrong can end the game prematurely. Great party game with a huge buzz, and probably the favorite to win the prize.

Imhotep by Phil Walker-Harding. Moving rocks in boats may not sound like a great idea for a board game, but Imhotep uses his rather pedestrian premise to determine who is the best builder in all of ancient Egypt. Unfortunately, life as a Nile mansion builder has its share of annoyances, including other builders trying to block your stone shipments and stop your grand plans to erect the kingdom’s most imposing monuments.

Karuba by Rudiger Dorn. Karuba is the new title from the creator of Istanbulwhich remains one of my personal favorites of recent years. Karuba combines racing mechanics with tile laying in yet another “loot the jungle treasure” title. This time, players loot the island temples of Karuba, collecting gold and jewels along the way.

According to the game’s promo copy, “The most important thing is to start running on time! Hurry up and be the first to reach the temples to collect the most valuable treasures. But be careful! Many paths are dead ends, so you must be patient and attentive to discover the best way through the jungle. The expedition team with the most valuable treasures wins the game.”

Kennerspiel des Jahres

Moving on to the “enthusiast” category, the games get more involved, though nothing here will burn your brain. Unusually this time around, two of the three Kennerspiel nominees are essentially single-play “story games” rather than traditional, endlessly repeatable entries.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King by Andreas Pelikan. 15 years ago I spent a full day cycling 60 miles around the Isle of Skye. My dominant memories are the salty sea air, beautiful views and sheep. It was all beautiful and serene, and I sat on a rock and drank a whiskey and thought deeply about my Scottish heritage.

What I should have done, plotted how to take control of the island as rightful king. Luckily I have that now Isle of Skye, the well-received tile game about becoming the island’s Celtic leader… through the optimized prices of various goods. (I’m sure real Celtic kings took first place that way too.) You set the selling price of certain goods on each turn, obviously wanting the most money for your wool or whatever. However, price your items too high and you will be stuck paying your own prices as you have to buy back the unwanted goods.

Isle of Skyealthough it has the buzz of titles like pandemic legacy, has nevertheless had a slow burn of good reviews. It’s currently climbed all the way up the Board Game Geek rankings, ranking 23rd on the “Family” list.

Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 by Matt Leacock and Rob Daviau. A viral outbreak has taken over the world and only your team of biomedical researchers, doctors and transport specialists (!) can stop it. Unlike traditional Pandemic, the “Legacy” version features a 12-month evolving storyline where your team’s performance in one month impacts the next month with bad news. (Read our full review.) The game is packed with little boxes to crack open, cardboard files to rip, and characters to level up – and each month brings a new twist of sorts. Probably the odds-on favorite here, judging by the constant chatter about the game over the past six months. How popular is it? Shortly after release, pandemic legacy had achieved the overall No. 1 ranking in Board Game Geek’s massive database.

(Season 2 comes out later this year.)

TIME stories by Manuel Rozoy. Not so much a game as an RPG style narrative system, TIME Stories offers 3-6 hour adventures in locations as diverse as French asylums, medieval castles and… Rhineland, Wisconsin. (Read our full review.) Using beautiful sets of maps like locations, maps, power-ups, and more, each module offers new rules, new enemies, and new puzzles for your time-traveling team of up to four players. Even if you don’t think you’re into role-playing games, this one is clearly enough to be worth a try.

Game on

So those are the finalists. Which titles seem most likely to win this year, and which were inexplicably overlooked altogether?

By akfire1

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