May 29, 2009

2009 Spiel des Jahres Nominees

by Susan Rozmiarek

Ed and I spent a fabulous gaming weekend with three other couples over the long Memorial Day weekend. I played two of five newly announced Spiel des Jahres nominees there, so I thought I'd do a quick post about them. I'll write more about the weekend and the rest of the games I played in the next post.

Given how behind we are in playing the new stuff, I figured that I'd be mostly clueless about the nominees this year. Surprising, it turns out that I've actually played three of the five and unlike the past few years, the list includes a few favorites. Here are my comments:

Pandemic: This is simply a fantastic game and my only "dime" from last year. It's the type of game I want to play several times right in a row. It can easily be dominated by a bossy player, but we always play with a little secrecy about our hands, especially early in the game. I'm not crazy about how it looks, but the art is certainly functional. I would love to see this win but I wonder if it is a bit much for casual family play.

Dominion: This is another addictive game that has me wanting to play it over and over again. I haven't played as many times as everyone else seems to have, so I'm wondering if its charm will hold. The sheer variety of card combinations possible is part of the lure. Every game feels like a tense, frenzied rush to get your money engine up and running which I find pretty fun. I do hate the constant card shuffling though. The theme and art are disappointing as well; they could have done so much more with it. I wouldn't mind if it won the SdJ but I bet it's a little too complicated.

Amy, Kevin and John play one of many games of Dominion. This was the most played game of the weekend even though I only played it once.

This past weekend's game had Ed playing the thief, driving me to a strategy of getting my gold from card effects (not treasure cards he could steal) and cards the allowed me lots of draws and actions to find and play them. The strategy almost worked, especially since one of the cards I frequently used was the Militia, which hurt everyone else. Unfortunately, Ed switched to buying lots of Gardens as did I once I noticed. But, it was too late and he whopped the rest of us pretty soundly.

Fits: This was a new-to-me game that I got to try this past weekend. It's another one of those solitaire puzzle games like Ubongo or Take it Easy. There is no interaction between players - you are just attempting to be better at solving your puzzle. In this case, the puzzle is based on the computer game Tetris, in which you are dropping tiles in various shapes down slots to cover up spaces. This boardgame version is by Reiner Knizia so of course, there are twists. In each round, the goal changes a bit and there are certain spaces you want to leave uncovered while covering the rest. The variation with each round makes it especially challenging. I like this sort of thing and, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, Fits is another game I could happily play several times in a row. Given how easy and accessible it is to play, I could easily see this winning the award.

John, Susan and Ed puzzle out Fits. I appear to be praying. Perhaps for the card with the shape I need to be flipped? I wish somebody hadn't left a bag of fattening cookies next to me. They were good!

Vinca: This wasn't even on my radar until the nominee list was announced. After reading about it and looking at a copy at my FLGS today, I'm worried that it will suffer from the same-yness that plagues a lot of recent eurogames (for me, anyway). It looks beautiful though, and just the type of game to win the SdJ. I bet it wins.

Fauna: This game is very far off my radar. It appears to be some sort of trivia game about animals. I don't even know enough about it to comment.

So, my official Spiel des Jahres prediction is Vinca, despite having laid eyes on it for the first time today. I would love to be wrong and see Pandemic or maybe Dominion take the prize!

Posted by Susan Rozmiarek at May 29, 2009 9:03 PM


Our family loves Dominion! It has had more plays in the past month or two than any other game in our collection. I don't believe that will change in the near future. There are many decks that we haven't even touched, so the variety should keep us engaged for quite some time.

Fits sounds good, as we have enjoyed Take It Easy in the past. Unfortunately, it only accommodates four players, and we always play with 5, 6, or 7 in the same game simultaneously. So, we won't be purchasing Fits (unless they come out with an expansion for at least 6 players). I suppose we could buy two sets, but I don't think the long-term enjoyment would warrant the expense.

We aren't into cooperative games, so Pandemonium isn't in our future, in spite of the fact that it seems to be a great game to play.

Looking forward to more comments from you on these and other games.

Posted by: Gerald on May 29, 2009 10:49 PM

Fauna is not bad at all - there are LOTS of obscure animals, and you get to bet on their different attributes. For example, if the animal is a tapir, it might be found in 2 locations. OK, Brazil is probably one, but is the other Peru or Colombia? And does it weight 10-20kg or 20-40kg or 40-60kg? Close guesses get some points. I liked it.

Posted by: John Farrell on May 31, 2009 6:47 AM
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