So apparently, this was the week for big time boardgame awards. Between the truly important (financially, anyway) Spiel des Jahres announcement on Monday and the official Dice Tower Awards announcement on Tuesday (which is probably a bigger deal for us hobby gamers), there are all sorts of selections to pick over and complain about. Let’s get to it!
Spiel des Jahres (“Game of the Year” in German)
Spiel des Jahres (family game): Hanabi, by Antoine Bauza, from Abacusspiele
Kennerspiel des Jahres (“enthusiast” game): Legends of Andor, by Michael Menzel, from Kosmos & Fantasy Flight Games
Kinderspiel des Jahres (children’s game): Der verzauberte Turm (The Enchanted Tower), by Inka und Markus Brand, from Drei Magier Spiele
Interestingly enough, I haven’t played any of these games. In fact, I hadn’t played any of the nominated games at all. But of course, that won’t stop me from having an opinion about them.
First of all, this is a really cool slate of winners for a number of reasons. A cooperative game has never won the SdJ before (even though both Pandemic and Forbidden Island were nominated), but this year, both Hanabi and Legends of Andor are cooperative. Of course, personally, I love coops, and I’ve always thought that they were particularly suited to be “family” games, which is the definitely target of the SdJ. And more than that, this looks to be an indication that the rise in coop-game popularity and prominence in the hobbyist sector is now filtering up into the most mainstream venue that boardgames have right now. So that’s one cool thing.
The other is that the SdJ jury broke another convention by choosing a small-box card game as the winner, rather than the more typical big-box boardgame that they usually go for. If they followed their previous history, then Augustus would definitely have been the pick from a “form factor” point of view.
And similarly, choosing Legends of Andor is a clear departure thematically from their typical game. From what I understand, the conventional fantasy theme doesn’t carry a lot of weight in Germany, so to go with a game that is all about theme and narrative is a really bold move. Again, Bruges seems like the stereotypical KdJ winner if you look superfically at the nominees.
To me, I see these choices as an indication that the SdJ jury has a very clear agenda/direction that they’re trying to move the awards and, by extension, the family-based/casual German boardgame community towards. And also, I see many of these changes as a reflection of the greater crossover that has happened and is continuing to happen between traditional German- and American-style games. Interestingly enough, my conclusions are almost directly opposite of what some others (mainly Stephen and Dave at the Spiel) think, so I’m probably going to make this the subject of my next podcast. So tune in then to hear more about my thoughts on the SdJ and awards in general.
The Dice Tower Awards
These are the 6th-annual slate of awards decided on by Tom Vasel and a group of 40 or more podcasters, bloggers, and alpha boardgamers that all vote on the winners. Here are the winners…
Best Game of the Year: Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures
Best Family Game: Love Letter
Best New Designer: Space Cadets
Best Game Reprint: Android: Netrunner
Best Production Values: Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures
Best Small Publisher: Mice and Mystics
Best Party Game: Love Letter
Best Game Expansion: Core Worlds: Galactic Orders
Most Innovative Game: Space Cadets
Best Game Artwork: Mice and Mystics
Best War Game: 1812: The Invasion of Canada
Best Game Theme: Mice and Mystics
Overall, I’m pretty happy with these. My biggest issue is that I just haven’t had the chance to play as many of them as I’d like. The big winner was obviously Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures, which got my top vote in both categories it won (and was my runner-up Game of the Year from 2012), so I’m very pleased with that. The other big winner was Mice and Mystics (taking home 3 awards), which looks great and has wonderful reviews, but I just haven’t had the chance to play yet. Both Space Cadets and Love Letter got some nice love, but I’m not huge fans of either after “meh” first plays of both.
The only real issue with the Dice Tower Awards is that they too have a very clearly-defined audience. Most of us on the jury are hardcore boardgamers, so choices for things like “Party Game” and “Family Game” tend to be a little ridiculous. Just because a game is on the lighter or quicker side doesn’t necessarily make it a Party and/or Family Game, and frankly, I didn’t see any really good games to fit either category even in the short list of nominees.
And while the jury is made up of hardcore gamers that cover the Euro-Ameritrash spectrum pretty well, the area that is not as well represented is that of wargames. And the issue there is that rather than just abstaining from a category where they don’t have much experience, a number of jurors obviously just voted for the game that they probably had some experience with. Now, 1812 is certainly not a bad game at all. I’ve played it a few times and enjoyed it quite a bit, and it certainly has an accessibility and elegance that many wargames do not have. But I can see how “real” wargamers would be offended when it wins against games like Andean Abyss, Virgin Queen, and a lot of other things that maybe didn’t even make it to the nomination stage.
But still, I’m proud of the awards and to be a member of the jury. And to wrap up, here were my top votes in all the catergories as well, just for reference: Game of the Year – Star Wars: X-Wing Minis, Best Family Game – Smash Up, Best New Designer – Lords of Waterdeep, Best Game Reprint – Merchant of Venus, Best Production Values – Star Wars: X-Wing Minis, Best Small Publisher – Agents of SMERSH, Best Party Game – Vegas, Best Game Expansion – Alien Frontiers: Factions, Most Innovative Game – Tzolk’in, Best Game Artwork – Mice and Mystics, Best War Game – abstain, Best Game Theme – Robinson Crusoe.