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2011 – Reiner Knizia’s weakest year for board games since… when exactly?

Laszlo Molnar
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Budapest
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I like Knizia games. I like them more than the average BGG crowd. I also think while it’s true that he hasn’t really made gamers’ games since Amun-Re (2003) and his newer games are mostly lacking in originality, his post-2003 years all provided some very good games, well, mostly family games, but still.

Which year was his weakest one before 2011?
2010 provided 3 really nice big box games – Jäger und Sammler, The Hobbit, Keltis: Das Orakel. None of them very heavy games but a game does not need to be heavy in order to be good.
2009 provided some nice family titles (FITS, Abandon Ship) as well as lots of remakes, reworks and new versions (Ra: The Dice Game, Priests of Ra, Samurai: The Card Game, Keltis Kartenspiel, Keltis: Der Weg der Steine Mitbringspiel, Keltis: Neue Wege, Neue Ziele, Genial Spezial, Battle for Olympus, Take it Higher!) of which most of them worked well and there were even some memorable ones.
In 2008 he had the Spiel des Jahres-winning Keltis and its American version Lost Cities: The Board Game, his probably most gamer-friendly game of these years (Municipium), also some other titles like Sushizock im Gockelwok, Black Sheep, Ilium, Strozzi.
2007 was a bit weak year, he had a nice Lord of the Rings expansion (Battlefields), a Kingdoms-remake (Beowulf:The Movie Board Game) but also Merchants, Cheeky Monkey and the Kinderspiel des Jahr winner Whoowasit?
2006 was the year of Sudoku (8 Sudoku games!) but also the year when Blue Moon City, Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation (Deluxe Edition), Great Wall of China, Medici vs Strozzi, Times Square, Genesis, Tal der Abenteuer: Die Schatzsuche im Himalaja was released.
2005? Beowulf: The Legend, Tower of Babel, Pickomino, Palazzo, Friday the 13th, Bunte Runde, Gravediggers
2004? Ingenious, Blue Moon, Marco Polo Expedition.

The years between 1997 (Tigris &Euphrates) and 2003 (Amun-Re) are called his golden years by many geeks.

So let’s see 2011!
The year started fine, although BITS was slated as a 2010 release but finally I believe it reached shops only in the first days of January. It’s a nice take on the FITS idea, turning the mechanism upside down, inside out, and I think the game is just as fine as FITS.
And since then…? We had Star Trek: Expeditions. I did enjoy my one game of this but I don’t think it’s a great game. It’s a ‘collect many helper cards to make die rolls better’ game that doesn’t really feature any interesting game idea (okay, maybe the “7-1” side of the die). It’s a commission work, a “let’s make a game based on Star Trek” board game, not a game of ideas and inventions. It works but “it works” is just not enough from Knizia, not even for me.

And the rest of the 2011 crop is children’s games in the BGG database. (I thought the Qwirkle-based but fortunately still different and fine card game Big Five was also a 2011 game but it turns out was sold as a Toys R Us exclusive in 2010).
What else? Of course if we take a wider perspective things aren’t that bad. There were lots of children’s games that I just don’t mention now (although I’d love to try Electronic Labyrinth). I guess the designer himself focused more on iPhone and iPad stuff (adaptations as well as original games) as that medium brings in probably more money right now – you can’t blame him for this. Also he’s designed lots of logic puzzles (like LogicBox 1&2, THINK Denk-Pfade, Clue Investigator).

But as for board games for gamers & families, 2011 might have been Reiner Knizia’s weakest one… possibly in the past 20 years, since the beginning of his carreer.

What does it mean?
Nothing, I guess. It takes years until a game gets released (although in case of many Knizia games it seems it goes much faster than that) and somehow this year didn’t provide interesting games. It’s rare – but only because Knizia is a very prolific designer. Just look at some other great family/gamer designers. Wolfgang Kramer, after a great 2010, only had one title worth mentioning, Artus, which I really like, but otherwise it had a rather cold reception from gamers. Klaus Teuber seems to be buried under the success of Catan (and now Star Trek Catan is on its way… it’s a good thing that the copyright owners of Star Trek turn to great board game designers but it seems the designers aren’t that inspired by their commission). Rüdiger Dorn didn’t have any games last year.

Still… with so many titles released, I’d always hope for more Knizia games aimed at us and I can only hope this is not the future, it’s only the last year that happened to be like this. Looking at 2012, I have hope. Besides some remakes, Carcassonne: The Castle – Falcon is coming which is great news (actually this expansion was to be released in 2008 and has waited in Rio Grande Games’ lab since). Of course BITS Mitbringspiel (travel version) is also coming and of course it didn’t take years to develop – hey, when I added the game to the database I just knew the title but I could write a fake description (smaller board, fewer and cardboard titles, only 3 rounds instead of four) that proved to be true when details became known. Also there is an eggertspiele release, Spectaculum coming (it was planned as an Essen 2011 release under the title Gönner und Gaukler or Herr der Gaukler but the theme and title was changed since). And there is this nice Ravensburger connection game Indigo waiting to be released as well – all I know is it looks nice. And well, maybe The Great Chinese Railway Game (originally planned as The Great American Railway Game) will be published at last – this Stephensons Rocket rework has waited to be released many years.

edit: and now Keltis: Das Würfelspiel is in the database as well. I want it!
All in all, this year looks a lot better for Knizia board games than the last one. Let’s forget 2011.
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