A year and a half ago I wrote a lengthy post about how I found the roll and move games I can really enjoy (after many failed attempts and only a few ones I could enjoy in the decade before) and how, partly thanks to a family tragedy, I recorded many-many plays of them. All these were games from the Schmidt Klein & Fein line which started as a line for small-box, simple but clever games but thanks to the success of the roll and write ones it became a line of roll and write games, exclusively it seems. (The English versions are usually - or exclusively - published by Stronghold Games.)
When I wrote that post I was at more than ten plays with the games of Wolfgang Warsch (That’s Pretty Clever!, Twice as Clever!, Brikks), Inka and Markus Brand (Encore!/Noch mal) and Ralf zur Linde (Dizzle), mostly but not exclusively played solo. I also played the Encore! expansions and the app-based, then-unavailable PnP unofficial That’s Pretty Clever alternative board. That’s where the new list starts.***
That’s Pretty Clever is, in a nutshell, the Kennerspiel-nominated roll and write game where you roll six colored dice, cross or write number fields of the corresponding color on your pads and these colors all have different rules and scoring. The most fun part comes from the bonuses you unlock for completing certain fields as these bonuses can have an effect on other areas thus creating chain reactions.
By autumn 2019 the alternative board for That’s Pretty Clever was released officially – well, more or less the same as what I printed from BGG. I guess they wanted to make a distinction between the first and the second episode and from Ganz Schön Clever – Challenge I they deleted the feature that was borrowed from Twice as Clever – the bonuses for encircling all bonus actions. Bonus score (+11pt) for the 12th blue cross was (strangely?) also deleted; as I did have reach that one in my previous plays I think that might have proven to be putting the strategies off-balance. Playing this expansion (a lot more with the published one) I found I don’t know if it’s more or less ’solvable’ than the original but it sure is fine for variety.***
Ganz Schön Clever – Challenge 1 wasn’t the only one I bought in October 2019 – the sequel to GSC, Twice as Clever! also got its expansion in Doppelt so Clever: Challenge I.
It changes quite a few areas but still keeps the main features. Grey area got an extra column which made it possible to score a few number+dice combos multiple times, but not only that: with the extra space in rows you can score more for each row – and to balance things, you already get more points for 2-6 crosses in a row (1-5 extra points per cross plus 8 points for the seventh cross). Yellow (which had been very dominant in Twice as Clever!) was a bit restructured and scores changed – it’s still very strong but more balanced now. With all the minor changes added for bonuses, the board became more balanced and pretty soon I found it became my favorite one of the four Clever! titles.***
Oh, Dizzle also got its expansion then (Dizzle: Levels 5-8). In my previous Klein&Fein post I said I had a strong Kingdom Builder feeling with the game that was about spatial expansion on a map and „the 4 different levels and the special spaces brought back the Kingdom Builder variety quite a bit.” The expansions brought proof it has the Kingdom Builder/Carcassonne kind of strong base you can build any variation on. Levels 5-6 only provided this, fun variation layouts using the original elements.
The other two are (even) more interesting. On level 7 you get some Pompeii-inspired volcano action, lava flowing from volcano spots and blocking certain (high-scoring) areas. And on level 8 the designer proves (maybe inspired by the likes of Railroad Ink or Avenue) that this system can be used even for railroad-building which is quite a departure from the original concept but still works perfectly.
These expansion boards add so much variety that soon I found I played them more than the base boards.***
And it wasn’t all – I even bought Noch mal so gut!, or according to its newly announced title, Bravo! in October. It’s an interesting culmination of the Klein & Fein line. The Brands took Encore! (originally known as Noch mal!, the first roll and write game in the family) and spiced it up with ideas from the popular (and less popular) Warsch games of the family. Namely, it takes hints from the bonuses and chain reactions that made the Clever! games so popular and fun; in a way these were present in Brikks as well, where you could get bonuses or bonus possibilities for certain crosses (or filling rows) on your scorepads.
So here comes Bravo!, the advanced game where you may get the possibility of using an extra, ’bonus’ die by crossing certain spaces or filling rows on your scorepads. So, first of all, you get these possibilities just like in the Clever games: when you cross a field like this on the map, you encircle a bonus die symbol and in any later turn, if you want to use the bonus die instead of the color+number combos, you just cross one of these circles. In general, these bonus die faces might give you hearts (and the more hearts you have the more you can score for finishing columns) or various possibilities to cross further spaces on your scorepad... which might give you further bonuses... and here you are, chain reactions Warsch-style from the Brands.
You score not only for the columns this time, but for rows as well. And you may gain, yes, you guessed it, bonus actions for filling rows, so, just like in the Clever! games, you may have several chain reactions in the last rounds of the game.
So, overall, how does it compare to the original? It’s hard to tell. Yes, it’s more complex and offers a lot of possibilities, also the fun of chain reactions, so on one hand I’m sure many appreciate this one more than the original. On the other hand it loses the simplicity (a major part of the charm) of the original and it might also break the game a bit, forcing horizontal expansion (for scores and bonuses for rows) instead of how naturally it happened in the original. Also, a more complex decision tree does not necessarily make the game less luck-dependent or maybe it has a larger dose of luck in the box: I did fill the whole board in one play and came close in a few others, thanks to some lucky combination of the chain reactions, and while I was slightly amused I also thought it was wrong, like, I should not have reached this point.
So, I like this one, I enjoy Bravo! but am not convinced it is better than the original.***
As the ideas of the family culminated in the game above, I was curious what might come next. Does this family get stuck in these ideas or may it bring something new? And the new game was published in February 2020 but I wasn’t sure it would be fine for me, then it became OoP...
And then lockdowns started in March and ordering games from anywhere abroad became near impossible for a while. Playing a lot with my family, I did play the Klein & Fein games but not nearly as much as in 2019. I’m not sure why. Maybe because we were together 0/24, playing literally hundreds of different games together, trying to find variety in a year that did not deliver lots of exciting adventures, and in the evenings I also rarely felt I wanted to play solo games.
Still, a friend living in Germany sent me the new Klein & Fein game in August but I only had the German rules and while I understood most of what I read I just didn’t feel like I comprehended how it should be played and I just did not feel the motivation to look up some videos. So it just collected dust for a while.
Until Covid arrived. First my older daughter got sick and tested positive, a week later my wife and my son as well, and while they stayed in separate rooms I played with my younger daughter who started to get the taste of learning new board games. Finally, less than a week later I tested positive as well. I had a few bad days but then things started to get better – I just felt weak and I needed to spend most of my time in bed. So I started to play my roll/flip and write games. All of them. Yes, I acquired a few that are not part of the Klein & Fein line since, maybe I will write about those in another post. But my Klein & Fine games all got further solo plays (I’m way over 100 with the K&F family) and at last I had time to read the Divvy Dice rules and watch some videos. No, it’s definitely not this complex. So I played it at last, I played it five times in that week.***
So, Divvy Dice, designed by Ulrich Blum and Jens Merkl. Playing it in bed showed its main disadvantage compared to all the other Klein&Fein games: while the box is the same small size, it needs quite a bit of play area. In this game you try to fill requirements on aim and helping cards that you buy (with your rolls) from the common area (two rows of cards in the middle of the table) and form a 3×3 grid of those cards in front of yourself. No, you can’t play this one on the train, unlike the other Klein & Fein episodes.
And in this game you don’t have pads to write on: you write on cards. No, there is no legacy element here; you just draw on shiny cards and can erase everything in the end of the game. And the design of the artwork is very clever: it looks slightly ’dirty’ so no one will notice if you leave some minuscule felt pen dirt on the card. These Germans surely do pay attention to small details!
Only activated cards (the ones where you cross all the numbers/spaces based on your rolls) can help you and only activated cards bring you points in the end of the game. Both main card types come in a variety: helping cards may let you change die faces or colors, let you use fewer dice for buying cards, determine the color of the card (for scoring) etc. while scoring cards give you points for different kinds of finished cards (like, different helping cards, different colors, specific colors, finished columns or rows or finished cards adjacent to the given card).
As usual in the Klein & Fein line, quite a bit of the interaction comes from choosing what dice you choose and what not on your active turn. In this one, you may use your dice to cross or write numbers on your cards only if you finish a card this way; otherwise you may only use these (3 or 4 dice of the same value) to buy new cards. You may cross or write one or two numbers on your active turn only if you failed to do either after two rerolls (and then you also have the option to take the topmost face-down card from the drawing pile). When you reroll some dice, other players may use one of the dice you locked so you need to choose wisely. (As a similar form of interaction, you might take cards from the middle that would be great for other players).
But this time, interaction does not stop here. In all the previous installments, the game ended after a fixed number of rounds. This time it’s triggered by the player who places the ninth (last) card in their 3x3 grid. This puts a focus on the timing – okay, I might need a few helping cards but when should I start to go for victory point cards? In this way the game is closest to ’big’ engine-building games and offers a distint and fine experience.
Solo play is slightly different though; you do play a maximum number of rounds (less is often enough and may you score more) and since others won’t take cards you need, you need to discard a card in the end of each turn. Also the number of rerolls you have on your ’active’ turn determines how many you may use in the ’passive’ part that follows (the fewer rerolls, the more you can use). It’s pretty clever even though others won’t mess much with your plans this time. Still, in some ways it feels like the most gamery episode of the series.***
Okay, for some diversion, let's have a look at the weight ratings of the Klein & Fein games. Yes, weight rating has its problems at BGG as it tries to show rules and decision complexity and depth simultaneously but that's all we have. So, according to BGG users, the average weight of the Klein & Fein roll and write games are as follows:
Noch mal!/Encore 1.15
That's Pretty Clever! 1.85
Divvy Dice 2.06
Twice as Clever! 2.35
Clever hoch Drei 2.55
(expansion scorepads usually have a slightly higher weight rating than the base games and that's something I can agree with).
While yes, people only can vote 1 or 2 or 3 or more, these numbers are still quite comparable most of the time. And I must say some of these feel a bit off to me. While I might agree with their order, I just don’t think Encore is as light as simple the rules are and I also That’s Pretty Clever! is underrated for its complexity as I did agree with the decision it was nominated for Kennerspiel, not Spiel des Jahres (I would never say it’s a heavy game but it’s way too complex for beginners, and Kennerspiel usually starts somewhere around 2.2). Twice as Clever! felt slightly more complex when I learned it but nowadays I don’t even feel much difference between their weight. And Clever Cubed... well, more on that later. However, I do think Divvy Dice is about the same complexity as the Clever! games.
Even with the games that got a lower weight rating, it seems to me the Klein & Fein roll & write games have something in common: these all have the ability to appeal to gamers.***
And that might be the reason why Noch mal! Kids is not a part of the family even if it really belongs there since this is the kids’ version of Encore!/Noch mal! (that my 6yo daughter got for Christmas – by that time we all started to get better – while my 10yo girl mastered the gamer version listed above).
This is another prime example of how you make a kids’ version of a popular family game – simplify everything to the core where it still does not get stupid but is more luck-dependent, and add some kid-friendly theme. Here „feeding animals in a zoo” is the story. You don’t have number dice, only colors and you fill all the spaces of a color area when you choose a die. You still get points (0/1/2 buckets) for completing columns and a bonus point (visitor) for completing them earlier and you also get a color bonus (2 points – meal – for feeding all the animals of a type). Also you have another example for Germans paying attention to details: unlike in the other boxes, you don’t have felt pens but pencils here – the small fingers won’t get black all over, and it’s much easier to erase if the kid makes a mistake.
It’s really nice for what it is – and, I forgot to add, it's not playable solo, but my 6yo is enthusiastic about it (while the 10yo wouldn’t miss a chance to show how much it bores her ).***
Unfortunately Clever Cubed (released months earlier) did not make it to Hungarian FLGSs (not even to the official distributor) before Christmas but I could not wait more so I started the new year ordering it from a German webshop. I refused giving it a try online, I wanted the physical copy!
So how much is it a new game? Well, it’s at least as (or maybe more) different from the previous games as Twice as Clever! was from the original. Yeah, I know some players already said TaC was just a variant and a rip-off, but to me the two games felt quite different even with their similar basic mechanism. And while I thought Twice as Clever’s lived up to its name providing double choices, Clever Cubed (Clever hoch Drei) is... well, not about triple choices but it does use the number three (Drei). The first two areas (the turqoise and the yellow ones) make use of the order of the three dice you use on your turn.
The yellow area contains three rows and you can cross the number in the first row with your first die, the one in the second row with your second die and so on. In the turqoise area you have 6x6 spaces for the 6 numbers; when you choose the turqoise die you check the other dice you have already chosen in your turn (as 1st/2nd dice) and you cross a space for every matching die as well. The blue (+white) area is, like purple before, about descending/ascending numbers, only this time you start from the middle and go to both directions (but only three numbers are okay: 1 higher than the highest, 1 lower than the lowest or back to 7). Brown simply takes clues from Qwixx: „you want to mark off as many numbers as possible, but you can mark off a number only if it's to the right of all marked-off numbers in the same row” (and you get a bonus for crossing two numbers next to each other). And any pink number can be chosen but you must make a decision: write the number (sometimes doubled) for score or only half of it for the bonus.
So, for blue and brown, if you want bonuses, you really need to roll specific numbers and even with yellow and turquoise you need to roll „more accurately” than before, so no wonder you get another new bonus action (that you may collect the possibility of, just like rerolls and +1 dice symbols) – using the dice as another number (a 3, a 4, a 5, a 6 and if you collected more, a few wilds as well). Probably it was planned like this from the beginning but it still feels a bit like an „oops, it’s too hard to get the necessary numbers by rerolls, so let’s find out something to help players” aid.
Overall, the game is still fine – I’m only at ten plays while I’m at over a quarter with the other Clever! boxes so maybe I still don’t know enough. And while I can understand why many might think this is the best box yet, I think right now it is my least favorite. That’s Pretty Clever! was unique because it was first and both Twice as Clever and the expansion scorepads felt like the designer was trying to make it even more balanced, more interesting, with less obvious recipes for highest scores. The design aim of Clever Cubed feels different, it’s more like an ’okay, the series is too successful so I need to make another one... Let’s experiment with the format’ one, and while the first two areas are really about the number 3 and the three die spaces, other areas just feel like a bunch of random (I’m not saying bad) ideas without much cohesion.
Also, something puts the game slightly off-balance for me, not in the sense that one area is strong and the other isn’t (though probably you won’t ever score much with pink as bonuses make the game). Since rolling specific numbers is key at quite a few areas, the first half of the game does not go that smooth and if you aren’t lucky with your rolls you just keep crossing numbers in the pink area as much as you can. Then you reach bonuses and you just find you get bonuses for nearly everything. The first game had 25 bonus action spaces (plus 5 foxes; the expansion had 27+5), Twice as Clever had 38 (+6 foxes) and now this one has 46 (+6)... While making chain reactions is the most satisfying part of the first games, here it does not feel like a big feat since you almost can’t avoid having lots of bonuses and overall that takes a bit away from the fun. Still, a nice one, but I guess I like the previous ones more. But varietas delectat.***
So that's where the series is now.
And it does not stop here, though it starts to feel it needs a bit of a fresh blood injection. And that’s exactly what it gets from a new game slated for this year.
Kannste Knicken is designed by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede (of Carcassonne fame, whose interest might have been piqued by that Pompeii-inspired Dizzle scorepad, but he already designed the non-R&W Mistkäfer for the series earlier) and Ralph Querfurth who co-designed quite a few EXIT games. It seems to bring new dimensions to the genre by adding... folding (the corners of) your scorepads to the mix! I think this designer duo will deliver – I’m looking forward to Kannste Knicken just as impatiently as I did for the previous installments of the Klein & Fein family.
Knizia. Spiel des Jahres. Some other thoughts, but only rarely. I'm not that much of a big thinker, you know - but I love games.
- [+] Dice rolls
16 Sep 2020
I like quite a few complex games but to me, complexity does not equal quality. Following the ongoing online criticism Spiel des Jahres gets for awarding very light games (just recently on Hungarian facebook forums), but not only because of this, I decided to make a top 10 list about games I love or really like and are "very light" by BGG weight votes (max. 1.5). I excluded kids' games that I play a lot; it will be only about games I (also) like to play with adults and gamers. On the average even I like more complex games than these, but all the games I mention in this post got at least a 7, sometimes an 8 or even a 9 from me.
KLASK (2017 SdJ recommended)
All right, so a dexterity game gets the top spot; I guess I lost all credibility here. This magnetic mix of air hockey and bar billiard is huge fun in a small size (compared to those) and in one and a half year it became my most played game (which, of course, was helped by the 5- to 10-minute playtime but still). It's hugely addictive.
I have no clue how this game ended up with an 1.27 weight rating while comparable games are around 1.5 or higher (maybe it's because it got a popular new edition that looked attractive even for those who play modern complex games?). Whatever, For Sale is one of the bidding/auction game classics, the most Knizian non-Knizia (by Stefan Dorra).
Codenames (2016 SdJ winner) (+Codenames: Pictures and Codenames: Duet)
What can I say? It's a great game where both the clue giver and the players who try to decode the clues try to avoid risk (especially that damned assassin) while they are pressed to take risks (giving clues to/decoding as many cards as they can) because it's a race between two teams. Add the interesting association feature which requires a different way of thinking than most games before.
Escape: The Curse of the Temple (2013 SdJ recommended)
I know, for many, Magic Maze (the one that got even a SdJ nomination!) is the Escape killer. While I admire the novel core idea of that one, well, not for me. Yeah, Escape is about frantically rolling your dice for ten minutes, sometimes shouting to each other, but it's stressful and cooperative in a positive way. (Cooperation in Escape: "Please somebody help NOW!" Cooperation in Magic Maze: "Hey, can't you see we're waiting for you? Wake up!") Also, here you can be the adventurer.
Coloretto (2003 SdJ recommended)
Michael Schacht's classic card game, just like For Sale, was released in a time when small-box card games had no chance to win SdJ. No wonder it got a blown-up board game version a few years later, and Zooloretto indeed won SdJ although it could not come close to the geniality and elegance of the card game. Both this elegant and clever classic and For Sale are card games I am still ready to play with gamers any day.
And another card game - is it a coincidence that its board game adaptation Keltis won the Spiel des Jahres a year after Zooloretto? (Probably yes; Knizia already made a board game adaptation of another one of his card games in a similar fashion two years earlier - see Tibet). It's a clever card game with clever Knizian features and clever illustrations. It's often called a "couples' game" which is not entirely untrue - I usually play it with my wife and quite possibly she prefers it over the Keltis follow-ups I love.
Fauna (2009 SdJ nominee)
Okay, so enter a trivia game as well. Well, but this is by far the best trivia game I know, adding a little Euro spice and tactics to the mix. Probably theme also matters; I like Fauna way more than Terra (partly because I did not really like the way Terra simplified the scoring even further). When it comes to Friedemann Friese, it's hard to decide if I like Fauna or Power Grid more.
PitchCar (1996 SdJ special award: Dexterity Game)
I'm not sure what's more fun, building the racetrack (with a few expansions added) or playing the game itself, but this flicking + race game is real fun with kids and gamers alike, and the more the players the more fun it is.
The Mind (2018 SdJ nominee) / The Mind Extreme
Yeah, I know many enjoy hating this one but... As you can see from my older blogpost I was even somewhat rooting for The Mind to win over Azul. While Azul is nice and clever and pleasure to play, The Mind was truly innovative in its approach and through its revolutionary gameplay revelations it becomes a game that works despite all odds. On the other hand I (and not only me) have still played Azul a bit more than The Mind since, so maybe the jury was right. However, for those who say "The Mind is too easy, you just have to count in yourselves" The Mind Extreme provides additional challenges. (How do you count in yourselves when the ascending pile is at 10 and the descending one is already at 25?)
Ticket to Ride London (+New York and Amsterdam)
Ticket to Ride (Spiel des Jahres 2004) is probably still the best gateway game out there, and the small city versions are fine each. As the rules are practically the same I'm not sure how this one gets a much lower weight rating (okay, I agree it is slightly more luck-dependent) but whatever, I can't not list at least one of these in my top 10. And yes, New York and Amsterdam are also very good TtR fillers; I just find the London special rule might be the addition that fits the TtR spirit the most.
I chose my top 10(ish) but there are way more that I like to play with adults as well. This is a selection of some of the best ones. As you can see there aren't many strategy games among them; I love strategy/tactics but I don't believe only those qualify as board games or great games. There are lots of great party game, dexterity games, even speed (reaction) games out there...
As for party games, I did not list Dixit (SdJ winner) in the top 10 only because I've played it enough by now and don't really suggest playing it, but I'm still happy to play whenever my 10yo daughter asks. Just One (SdJ winner) is a fine mix of some ideas in Dixit and Codenames; indeed it's inferior to both BUT it's got some exceptional party game features: it's not only that you don't need a table to play, but it's also a game where anyone can join or leave the table mid-game and that won't break any strategies or cause any harm to the enjoyment of the game. Then there is Pictomania (Second Edition) which is a somewhat streamlined version of the original that got a SdJ recommendation; it is still a bit too fiddly for a party game but it's good fun. And yes, in the 90s and the beginning of the 2000s we played Time's Up/Word in Time quite a few times and I still think it's a fun party game (and it was a Deutsche Spielpreis nominee to schock those who prefer DSP over SdJ).
As for dexterity games, it seems I love flicking games: I really enjoy the western-themed, scenario-based Flick 'Em Up! (with focused players; otherwise it may get too long) and Crokinole. Stacking games like Animal upon Animal (SdJ recommended) and Junk Art (with lots of variety) are also great fun with anyone. And Bamboleo too, which is a kind of reverse stacking game: you try to take wooden pieces off the board.
I enjoy quite a few speed/reaction games as well; Spot it! is great fun even in pubs, Panic Lab is crazy while One Minute Game (Omiga/Flanxx) is a one-of-its-kind "speed shape recognition abstract strategy" or what, recommended for anyone.
And then there are lots of card games. Just like in case of For Sale, weight ratings feel a bit arbitrarily given by those who don't really play many card games to see the possibilities these offer. Of course there are really light ones like Love Letter (SdJ recommended) and Diamant/Incan Gold (SdJ recommended) that I enjoy, but I also think Linko!, Too Many Cooks and RevoltaaA are really good (and quite special) each.
And of course there are a few 'real' board games there as well, although few hardcore gamers would want to play a general toystore-game-looking roll and move: That's Life! (2005 SdJ nominee) uses the mechanism in a surprisingly clever way. I'm not sure why Indigo (2012 SdJ recommended) has a lower weight rating than Metro but well, it is listed as 'very light' and I think it's the best version of the Metro/Tsuro idea out there. And I'm ready to play FITS (2009 SdJ nominee) and its follow-up BITS any time.
Just a short note: in 2009,FITS was nominated for SdJ alongside Fauna - and Dominion, Pandemic and middle-of-the-road Finca. No wonder the award was split (into SdJ and KdJ) in the next year - not to award gamer's games, only to make a difference between simpler, beginner-friendly and 'next level' SdJ hopefuls.
Possibly I should also create a "my favorite complex games' list as well but BGG is full of these so I won't. If you'd like to list your favorite 'very light' games - even if you don't have ten - just use the 'advanced search (game weight between 1 and 1.5). Let me know your favorites!
- [+] Dice rolls
German Games of the Year (Kennerspiel des Jahres and Spiel des Jahres) announced - updated with results! Plus Knizia, the City Builder
20 Jul 2020
So the Spiel des Jahres ceremony is being held just now. As this award has way more effect on the gaming industry than any other awards, it is an award that does matter whether you agree with it or not. I was curious which games win (I have only played 1 of the KdJ and SdJ nominees each but also what kind of dress we might expect from Reiner Knizia who dressed as an adventurer for The Quest for El Dorado and, uhm, in a Llama for L.L.A.M.A..
Photo credit: W. Eric Martin
A city-building legacy game did not offer so interesting possibilities, I thought. But he managed it, using minimal dress and one of his trademark bowties.
Shot taken from the SdJ live stream, with a carefully positioned shelf full of awards
Also it was known the ceremony would not be the 200-guest event that it was before because of COVID-19; only designers and publishers were invited (and not even each of them were present). COVID-19 is also the main reason why I could try only Nova Luna and The Crew of the nominees so far. On the other hand COVID-19 might make (have made) family gaming more important than ever.
The ceremony started with a look back at the game that defined Eurogame as a genre and made the Spiel des Jahres logo more important than ever before: Catan, which celebrates its 25th anniversary now. While it may feel dated for experienced gamers now, it still lures many gamers to the hobby in 2020 so its importance is undisputable.
So the Kennerspiel des Jahres (which is the award for players with some experience, still not really a gamers' game award!) goes to the game I hoped would win even without playing the other two. The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine is a fantastic introduction to trick-taking card games for beginners - but also for those many gamers who think optimization Euros are the way to go and trick-taking card games are just too luck-dependent. With its missions and cooperative play it teaches clever play of your cards in an ingenious and really engaging way. It had to win, I felt, even though as a relatively small-box card game it had a disadvantage. Congrats to Thomas Sing and KOSMOS for the wonderful achievement!
For Spiel des Jahres my guess was either Nova Luna or My City would win. Pictures looks nice and I'm pretty sure it's fun to play but it still does not look very novel, and I guessed an enjoyable but still not that great party game winning last year meant the other two games have more chance.
Nova Luna is a fine mix of Uwe Rosenberg's Patchwork and Corné van Moorsel's Habitats, maybe not as great as each, but a fine game anyway, especially for the general crowd Spiel des Jahres is aimed at. It fits the group of (more or less) themeless games that had many fine nominees and winners in the SdJ history (games like Just4Fun, Bloxx, Splendor, Kingdomino, Azul). Reiner Knizia's My City is, on the other hand, a tile-laying legacy game with tetris-like pieces and a possibility to play the game any number of times after the legacy campaign is over. The latter and the beginner-and-family-friendly simplicity of the game makes the game a rare winner even if it does not feature many novel elements.
And the award goes to Pictures, much to my surprise (and it seems to the surprise - and, of course, delight - of the designers as well). Not questioning the decision of the jury, I just have to hunt down a copy and give it a try. Until then I just copy what the game is about here:Quote:Form the image on your secret picture card with one set of components, either shoelaces, color cubes, icon cards, sticks and stones or building blocks in such a way that the other players guess what image you have pictured:
Pull out a marker from the bag that determines your secret picture card.
Then form that image with your components in such a way that it is recognizable.
And finally guess what image each other player has pictured.
The players get points for correctly guessing other players images and for other players guessing their image.
Congrats to designers Daniela und Christian Stöhr for the win!
+ I think it's worth a mention that Kinderspiel des Jahres (Children's Game of the Year) was announced a few weeks earlier (and I'm a happy owner of the game). It went to Hedgehog Roll, an age: 4+... er... roll and move game, but of a cute and special kind: here you roll a hedgehog (suspiciously looking like a tennis ball) that collects mushroom, fallen leaves and apples and you move your figure based on the collected objects. It's got a coop mode (where you run from the fox) as well. It's lovely, enjoyable for small kids, an award much deserved. Congrats to designer Urtis Šulinskas and artist Irina Pechenkina for their game!
- [+] Dice rolls
18 May 2020
A year has passed and I have played most of the Knizia games I wanted to... So it's time for another look back to Knizia's games published in the previous year!
While some of the games I waited for last year did get lost somewhere on the way (Space Worm, Stations), there were numerous new releases as usual - and many remarkable ones.
There are at least 5 2019 Knizia games not (yet?) in the database including the solitaire puzzle with stick shapes called Dr. Grips Logikpuzzle, basic kids' memory game Noah's Ark (find the matching animals before you find all the ark pieces), Eagle Chase by SimplyFun - which feels like the American version of the geography/trivie teaching game called Meine Goldene Wetterau (well, not really, but how else could you turn a German game with cards into an American one than using dice?) - and emotional storytelling kids' game Wake Up Stars by SimplyFun.
Other games were published for different local areas, including a number of games in Germany. Timmy macht Urlaub is a roll-and-hung game (Suspend style) for kids. Heisse Ware: Krimi-Kartenspiel is a bluffing game Sheriff of Nottingham style, but with some Knizian touches. German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung also released a few new Knizia minigames in minimalist style (so now they have released at least 9) - Schmitz 21 is a Blackjack-inspired game with a special deck; Spitzbub is bluffing in a Perudo/Cockroach Poker style, once again with a special deck; and Wörter Diebe is a simple word recognition game where you have to be the first to reconstruct words in the title category from the topmost card that features 5 to 11 letters (like TGRIE). Mau mau! Das Brettspiel is another board game based on a known card game (he did it most notably and obviously with Tibet (based on Honeybears) and Lost Cities: The Board Game but also, based on a German family classic, Elfer Raus! in a way more interesting board game version than the original. Now this one is based, of course, on Mau Mau! which is more known for its descendant UNO in the USA. And Pędzące żółwie: gra karciana is a racing card game published in Poland in the same series that included some of his race games like Ribbit and Honeybears with animal theme and cartoon-like artwork.
Of course you can count on Dr. Knizia publishing some slightly modified or updated versions of his earlier games every year. Actually he seems to have nothing to do with Battle Line: Medieval which changes the artwork and the theme of the game - and adds location cards based on an earlier, limited-copy expansion not designed by him. Knights Poker is, on the other hand, a minimalist version of the same idea (present in Knizia books ever since the beginning of his career) with 3 'flags' to win (originally designed for a bar, now published based on popular request).
There are games that are more than simplified or expanded versions; these adapt the old game ideas to some other genre (while keeping the title, expanding the family). Lost Cities: Auf Schatzsuche is the third small-box Lost Cities game published in the past two years and it's a rather family-friendly one. This is a simplified adaptation of the Keltis Ór dice game (that exists only in an online form) to the Lost Cities theme and ideas but it does not stop there. It takes its scoring from Lost Cities: Rivals (trashing the convoluted counting, your score is the number of footprints seen on your tiles - well, maybe multiplied if you have handshakes) and adds the recently released bonus cards Lost Cities: Etappenziele which not only provide a second scoring option but also add some tension as endgame triggers.
Axio Rota, sold in the same size small box, is the new, small & quick member of the Ingenious/Axio family, this time with no board and a special geometry. Your tiles have different symbols in 4 corners and when you place them next to other tiles, symbols in their corners score as many points as the number of further symbols of the same color/type in the circles these create, so 0 to 3 points each, never more. As you have only one tile at hand a time, it can be more luck-dependent than the other games in the family, but it's a filler, also many tiles have wild (no) symbols in one corner which adds some tactical considerations to the game. As usual, my impressions after several plays were way better than at first; this is a fine little portable game even if not nearly as great as the big box ones - I think it does not even try to be.
And there is The Quest for El Dorado: The Golden Temples. In The Quest for El Dorado you reached El Dorado; now this game is played in the City of Gold. Gameplay is mostly the same, although things are not as linear as before: you have to visit three different temples in the order you like and return to the large starting board in this game. It is fine and feels quite like the original (even if it has some small new ideas that distinguish it from the first box) but the portfolio of the 18 cards for deck-building is a bit less varied than in the original. So as a standalone game I like it but I found the original a bit better. However the real feat of this game is that it can be combined with the original, and that explains the deck as well. In the combined game you start with the usual market and 12 out of 30 different card types of the two boxes, then, whenever a card type is added to the market, a new card type appears in the 'secondary market'. So it had to be ensured whichever cards appear the game remains playable; the second box serves this aim perfectly, and overall it gives the game an even higher replayability. So, in my book, Golden Temples < El Dorado < El Dorado with Golden Temples.Quote:But does the 'Reinerssance' continue in 2019?I asked this in last year's post and now I know the answer: it certainly did. The above games would be already quite a fine line-up for any designer and an average year for Knizia, but we can still name 6 new games that aren't even really reworks of originals.
While Babylonia may have some superficial similarities to Samurai (which would complete the 'new trilogy' after Blue Lagoon and Yellow & Yangtze refreshing some ideas of Through the Desert and Tigris & Euphrates) but it is a new design that feels rather fresh in the Knizia world of tile-laying games (even though it does have some Through the Desert and Tigris & Euphrates similarities as well) and... well, a real classic. I could talk a lot about this game but I have already done that in our review with Martin G in Where is Babylonia? A pair of Kniziaphiles discuss how Reiner's new tile-laying game fits into his ludography.
Aristocracy is yet another entry in the tile-laying genre (well, it's as much tile-laying as Through the Desert is); while after set-up it looks like a game where you just pick up face-down tiles like in Africa,
the underlaying mechanism is more about a different kind of set collection and making connections and scoring for kind of majorities like in Blue Lagoon. While the set-up time is quite long for the game (well, it's rather fiddly) and the artwork could be more attractive, the mechanism is quite streamlined with all the scoring/action possibilities interconnecting and supporting each other, and even luck factor is lower than it might seem first. I'd say it's a pretty good game that will have problems with finding the people who could really enjoy it; I recommend giving it
a trya few tries.
Miskatonic University: The Restricted Collection, funded via Kickstarter, also could have problems finding its players (so it was a good idea to KS it) as it's a relatively simple set collection plus push your luck game of the Cheeky Monkey/Circus Flohcati kind, drawing cards and knowing when to stop in five rounds (which sounds quite Incan Gold-ish) with some thematic coating that may or may not be enough for those who buy the game for its theme (as the BGG ratings suggest, maybe it is not enough). This might also be the only Knizia this year that I wanted to try but could not.
LLAMA (and its slightly different Polish version called Lato z Komarami) is another Knizia that got a Spiel des Jahres nomination. Now it made many gamers angry and... Well, I don't know what to say. The 2018/2019 season was pretty weak when it comes to games that could be fine Spiel des Jahres winners. And yes, it is very, very simple card game that made even Tom Vasel say he'd rather play the similar-looking UNO (in a review that suggested he played the game wrong in multiple ways). Now actually I do think it's a fine card game, even a deceiving one, one that I have already played 15 times as it was well-received by my non-gamer friends (and this is what SdJ should be about) while it's also a bit puzzling to see the popularity it got among many - I do believe there are dozens of other relatively low-rated Knizia card games that are at least as good as this one. Whatever, it's indeed a deceiving one.
Tajuto might be called the most innovative Knizia design of 2019 with its 'touch and draw' element, though it still feels like a card game where you have 6 different decks for the 6 floors of the pagodas (and you have to place these in Lost Cities style). (And that's certainly not what Tom Vasel was expecting.) Actually if Tajuto became popular it would be rather easy to create a small-box card game adaptation based on the same idea with just slightly different scoring (offerings could be cards as well, placed on pagoda 'rows' and whenever you placed a card on a row you scored the number of cards - in total - in the given row). Still, drawing from the bag and using some shape/size recognition skills is pretty fun, while the game itself is still pretty interesting and somewhat unusual for Knizia - as many (I think, unjustly) called Camel Up a dumbed down Winner's Circle, it somewhat feels like a result of Knizia thinking 'Hm, there are interesting ideas in Camel Up, I'd love to come up with something more interesting based on these ideas' - and he did!
Back when I wrote my review on Prosperity (2013) I saidQuote:Inspiration could be found in today’s games – for example I’d love to see what he does with (...) deck-building (yes, I know I’m contradicting myself here) or taking inspiration from the recent wave of Japanese microgames.With Quest for El Dorado we got an answer to deck-building and now Chartae provides a very Knizian (tile placement) answer to microgames. It is a small-box filler consisting of 9 tiles, not more, and this 2-player game lasts minimum 4, maximum 12 turns (most of the time, I guess, 6 to 9 turns) for both players. While it can't compete with big box games, it's a surprisingly fine little game that you can take with yourself all the time, teach it in half a minute to anyone and play in 5 minutes anywhere. in its almost unmatched category (you can really compare it to Japanese microgames only), it's a real winner!
So, back in 2013 I didn't even hear about the next big thing - legacy games -, but now, in 2020 even Knizia is coming up with one, well, once again a tile placement game (with polyominoes). But what's more important, My City is a family-friendly legacy game that you can play infinitely after it was played through, and it's already one of the three Spiel des Jahres nominated games. 2020 already teased a few further interesting Knizias, including the 'designer's version' of Voodoo Prince (Marshmallow Test), an improved new version of Tutankhamun and the dice game variant of Medici with the unsurprising title Medici The Dice Game. Grail games opens its kickstarter for another big box game as well though, and from the description it sounds like it might be a race game + market manipulation game (Palmyra, Spectaculum) combo. Whale Riders definitely sounds intriguing... And I guess we'll see further Knizias announced during the year.
- [+] Dice rolls
So, Spiel des Jahres nominations are announced today, actually in an hour or so. In the past decade or so I had time and the possibility to try many of the new games before this time so I had some good guesses on which games could have a shot at winning. This year my experience is way more limited, partly because of a very busy year behind, and partly because of the last few months spent in lockdown.
Still, I make some last minute predictions or just list some I'd-love-to-see-them-in-the-list games as this awards still seems to be the most important (not necessarily for us, gamers, but the industry itself) of all. Also even with my limited experience I found last year to be much better for SdJ/KdJ category games than the year before...
Legacy and/or campaign might be the keyword as two seemingly really good games hit the market for families. Die Crew is said to be a great introduction to trick-taking games while My City is said to be a perfect translation of legacy games (built on a simple tile-placement mechanism) for families. Though both are said to become more complex with further and further games, this concept is really the best way to introduce non-gamers to gaming concepts, learning complexity step by step (instead of letting them face complexity right when they meet the rulebook first). While I haven't played either, both seem to be fine games that I'm eager to try (my copy of The Crew arrived just a few days ago and am waiting for My City to be available soon).
While there is always at least one SdJ nominee I haven't even heard about, I do make a guess on the third game as well, although it might get only a recommendation. Even so, I do thinkg Wavelength is a great party game sparking interesting discussions, and it would mark a nice comeback to the awards for co-designer Wolfgang Warsch after he appeared out of nowhere and had 3 of the 6 (SdJ+KdJ) nominations 2 years ago.
As I visited FLGS less than ever, it's hard to name the game that could get a Kennerspiel nomination, although Res Arcana would definitely deserve at least a recommendation (maybe more, had the rules been written in a more reader-friendly fashion). Maybe Rune Stones can also grab a recommendation: it's by KdJ winner and multiple-nominee Rüdiger Dorn, it looks nice, it adds some twist to deck-building like Quest for El Dorado did a few years back, so I wouldn't be surprised to see it listed somewhere.
Also, who knows, maybe Tajuto and Mandala can get at least a recommendation in any of the categories - the former because of its 'touch' element (and, whatever Tom Vasel says, its interesting tactical/strategic possibilities) while the latter seems to be a nice 2-player game in the tradition of the old Kosmos 2-player game series so it might fit the German taste of gaming.
Also, a few more titles I know about nothing about - nothing but that they might have a chance so I should read more about them: Maracaibo (KdJ), Paladins of the West Kingdom (KdJ, just like Raiders was), Pictures, Palm Island, Divvy Dice... it seems they all should get a recommendation. We'll see
But, of course, I don't know nearly enough. So I'm eagerly waiting to know more about which games I should learn (and introduce my family to) soon.
edit: see the nominees in the comments. Rooting for The Crew and My City now.
- [+] Dice rolls
22 Apr 2020
Last week my love of playing Reiner Knizia games reached new heights: I reached a K-index of 25, which is the H-index of Knizia games - I mean I recorded 25+ plays of 25 Knizia games (out of the 222 Knizia titles that I have rated).
Obviously, this list is not the same as 'the list of my top 25 Knizias', even though it does include 4 of my top 10, namely
*Samurai, my favorite Knizia that I played 51 times face to face (and 180+ times online)
*Times Square, a game I wasn't sure about after my first plays but now it's my most played game,
*Through the Desert, which I have played online and against AI quite a few times but it was just the 25th game to reach a quarter (and having that really good river board in the new edition also helped),
*and Ingenious, which could have been Knizia's first Spiel des Jahres winner, were it released in any other year than the year of Ticket to Ride.
Of course Knizia's real Spiel des Jahres winner is also here, just like the lighter variant played with tiles; overall you can see this pic is full of family and kids' games. My more gamery favorites are not present as I can't play them enough (no or not too many plays with family yet), games like Tigris & Euphrates, Yellow & Yangtze, Taj Mahal, Ra, Modern Art, Amun-Re, Stephensons Rocket...
Besides Times Square, there are quite a few games here that took me as a surprise by how popular they became. For example Monster High: Potworrrnie wciągająca gra! (published in the Polish market) and Dreaming Dragon are two games that I would have never aquired myself (maybe hadn't even heard about them) but I got them as a prize (among others) from Dr. Knizia and now they are at 60+ plays as my kids got addicted to playing them. Viele Tiere (43 plays) is a rather simple memory game; I just found a cheap and rather used copy when I was looking for a game for my youngest kid when she was two and a half. And Kariba (30 plays) is one of the most recent acquisitions - first it had low rating so I didn't really want to try (now it has better ratings) but I did give it a try on the last day of last year (a New Year's Eve party) and found out it's a pleasant card game to play with kids... So I bought it two months ago.
Yeah, there are a few further obscure games in here as well. Including My Beautiful Pony which is probably obscure only on BGG as it's a fast and not that innovative real-time reaction game for general toystores that was released with at least 4 different themes and artworks and still has only 41 ratings in the database. And Mágus Párbaj (Kampf der Magier) has only 22 ratings but in mechanism it's almost identical to Escalation! (I believe the difference is a single card)... Add other low-rated kids' games like Kang-a-Roo and Reiner Knizia's Amazing Flea Circus and you can see BGG ratings are not to be trusted when you try to find children's games that your kids will actually enjoy.
When I look at the plays of these games, I can see a recurring theme which is a very typical Knizian feature: first plays don't always show the values of the game (it explains the low ratings for many fine Knizias). A dozen years ago I tried Samurai online and thought it's rather luck-dependent, only I just could not win my first 12 plays (against experienced Samurai players) and when I won my 13th (against a newbie) I was extremely satisfied and changed my mind about the game and went to the FLGS to buy it. When I bought Ingenious I liked it but it took about 50 plays (and numerous plays vs AI) until I thought it is indeed Ingenious. When I bought Times Square I played it against myself and did not get it at all, I thought it was lame, then played three times against my wife who swore she would never play it again (and she did not) but I started to see how wonderful this game is; it's still a wonder that I'm at 130 plays now (and am looking at the new editions for a replacement copy). When I saw Callisto: The Game (not the smaller-box, inferior version called Callisto) in Essen 2009 I thought meh, I hoped for something more innovative from the good Doctor; later I found out I like it at least as much as Blokus while I enjoy the differences and the different dilemmas presented. I bought Piranhas hoping for a good card game but what I got was a silly reaction game that even dragged... then my son grew older and it became a super-fast and fun filler (where he gives me advantage as I would not stand any chance against him)...
And which games did almost make it to the list? Carcassonne: The Castle missed it only by one play (I'm at 24), but it's still my favorite Carcassonne spin-off (and fun fact, it's the only Carc spin-off that got any Spiel des Jahres recommendation). Wer war's: Das Kartenspiel (at 22 plays) is like a simplified version of King Arthur: The Card Game but is themed to the Kniderspiel des Jahres-winning Whoowasit? (at 18 plays), maybe both can reach a quarter
I also like Keltis: Das Kartenspiel (20 plays) even though when I'm at home, I prefer the bigger Keltis games (my favorite, Keltis: Neue Wege, Neue Ziele is at 17 and my second favorite Das Orakel is at 12) and when travelling I mostly choose the mitbringspiel (see it in the image). And Rondo (at 20 plays)... is one I'm not a big fan of - it's okay, but that's it for me - but my family keeps requesting it so no doubt it might also reach a quarter. And yes, there are quite a few more in the 15+ range that might become temporary favorites for any of my kids and then 25 plays are easy to reach.
Or maybe there will be new Knizias reaching a quarter? I certainly hope so, as there are so many good new ones. Well, it reminds me I should write my blog post about Knizia's '19 - it was quite a year!
- [+] Dice rolls
21 Jul 2019
Let's make it clear in the beginning of the post: I have no clue which game will win this year's Spiel des Jahres award - and unlike in 2017 (Kingdomino, Magic Maze, Quest for El Dorado) or 2009 (Dominion, Fauna, Finca, FITS, Pandemic) when I thought each nominated game would have been great winners, here it's because I... am less amazed.
So, there are three nominated games. I have played two of them. The third one, Werewords looks nice, only feels to be a slightly complex concept for a party game. I don't know. Maybe it's great.
The second one is Just One. It's a party game in the spirit of two Spiel des Jahres party game winners, Dixit (everyone tries to make a suggestion for your word; you try to choose something not very obvious but also not very obscure) and Codenames (a coop word game where you provide word clues with a taboo word). It has some great features like being a party game that anyone can join or leave practically at any time (it is something great at parties!) and it's certainly well-developed and great to lure new players to the hobby; however it's just far from the special greatness of Dixit or Codenames.
And then there is LAMA. You might know I'm a Knizia fan. I do enjoy LAMA. I just don't get the hype and the love it gets. Or maybe I just don't understand why so many other Knizias did not get this popularity before. Yes, I can see non-gamers and kids can play this game and it offers some interesting counter-intuitive tactics for gamers. Yes, I can see how different the game can get with different player counts. However after a dozen plays I still haven't had any really exciting, really memorable plays of it and I still haven't seen real enthusiasm from other players I've played with (I mean, of course it's interesting that it plays different with different player counts but most players will experience the game only once with one specific play count - and will maybe say meh). This is a game that can be an amazing design for what it is but that does not always equal great experience with everyone it seems.
So, do I think the jury was wrong to choose these games? Not really. They are enjoyable (let's say I can imagine Werewords is enjoyable as well). They clearly fit the SdJ criteria. I'm not even sure I can name any games from the past (April to April) year that could be better. I just... think it wasn't a great year for Spiel des Jahres-worthy games. I'm not saying there were no good or even great games released - I just did not see anything that would have been a great candidate for Spiel des Jahres (simple, clear, family-friendly but tricky, interesting and addictive for non-gamers etc.).
So which game do I think will win tomorrow? I have no idea, even if I might be rooting for Just One, just a little bit. Or maybe Werewords - its win would be the only reason why a Hungarian publisher would think it would be worth publishing it in a Hungarian edition.
(Oh, and as for Kennerspiel - I have only played Carpe Diem and found it was a typical autopilot-Feldian well-developed-but-uninteresting JASE with terribly bland graphic design. So maybe it was a bad year for slightly more complex games as well.)
update: Indeed Just One won the award. Kennerspiel went to Wingspan. Congrats to the winners!
- [+] Dice rolls
The 'Klein & fein' line by Schmidt Spiele means something like 'small & fine' which does not suggest anything dice related - it seems when the line was introduced the concept was rather different. It is especially visible if you look at the first 4 games of the family from 2017 - Evolution: The Beginning was published under this label, besides three dice games. Of these three, Klaus-Jürgen Wrede's Mistkäfer and Rüdiger Koltze's Raffzahn only had multiplayer modes (and were so different that it was just me who added them to the Klein & Fein family on BGG finally) and only Inka &Markus Brand's Noch mal! was a roll & write game with solo mode included.
Then something happened - Noch mal! proved to be true to its name (Once more!) and its addictive nature made it rather popular (right now there are 6 expansion pads available) while the next game in the line, Wolfgang Warsch's Ganz Schön Clever / That's Pretty Clever - published in 2018 - was one of the three nominated games for Kennerspiel des Jahres. Since then, a sequel (Doppelt so Clever / Twice as Clever), another Warsch pen and pencil roll and write game (Brikks) and now a Ralf zur Linde game (Dizzle) was published of the same kind. (on a side note, I have no idea why Schmidt's Knapp daneben!, a 2018 game that really seems to fit this line, was not published under this label. As I said the - never explained - concept of the line remains somewhat mysterious.)***
I like dice rollers (mainly with the Euro approach, making my decisions after rolling and not before), also even as an Eurogamer I love rolling the dice but while I enjoyed many dice games every year, I joined the recent wave of roll and write dice games rather late. Not that I always avoided them. In 2012 I played Zooloretto Würfelspiel (and still play it sometimes - the extra blocks make it even better), Inka & Markus Brand's Saint Malo (which was interesting but still felt like something was missing so I sold it in the end) and Qwixx (which I enjoyed but treated somewhat unfairly because it was an obvious Keltis rip-off). As a result, I also kind of avoided similar-looking games that were, based on their names, trying to capitalize on the success of Qwixx - Qwinto (2015), Qwingo (2015), Qwantum (2018). Later, when Rolling Japan became very popular I ordered a copy... and was once again strongly underwhelmed even though it felt like a game right up my alley (right now the game has a - compared to the initial hype - surprisingly low 6.27 rating, so maybe it wasn't just me). At the same time I did give a few tries to the dice games included in Reiner Knizia's early books so not even Criss Cross (2017) did make me enthusiastic.
So I wasn't actively looking forward to trying new roll and writes.
Although I did not see it first, things started to change last year.***
The game I learned was Ganz Schön Clever (That's Pretty Clever). Just to show the strength of Spiel des Jahres, I quite possibly would have never given it a try, were it not nominated for Kennerspiel des Jahres last year. (Well, I also tried Qwixx for the same reason before.)
To say I was amazed is understating it. The game is great (as probably most of you who read this already know) - it does feature a fun little interaction but the main interesting part happens on your board: it feels almost like an abstract engine-builder without a real engine to be built. The best part is certainly how for certain achievements - Xes - you get bonus Xes on other parts of the 'board' which might lead to further Xes and this doesn't only offer space for creativity and risk-taking (should I place my free X here for this, or save that for later?) but the chain reactions themselves make the game, give you instant success feel whatever the end result will be. So, in short, the nomination was well-deserved not only because it feels fresh but it is enjoyable to play for everyone. (and unless you play only solo and on an app instead of rolling the real dice and writing Xes, the replayability is also fine.)***
Since I was also amazed by the other two nominated Warsch games (The Mind for being revolutionary and eye-opening and Quacks for providing a fresh push your luck take on deck builders), I started to look forward for the designer's further output. And I was more than happy to find Doppelt so Clever (Twice As Clever) in a Hungarian FLGS this March.
The sequel is really good. is more or less what I expected: a bit more complexity, maybe a slightly bit less fun (as it's harder to get chain reactions), maybe a bit more punishing if you have bad rolls, but also with more options you have more possibilities and probably more ways to win; I'd guess it's less 'solvable' than the original (which I don't really think is, especially playing multiplayer - you needed good rolls for specific strategies to work, so if you did not have those you might have lost pursuing that strategy over everything else), even if scoring maximum (156 pts!) with yellow seems to be key.
So this is really like Ganz Schön Clever with completely different use of the dice (see e.g. Ra vs Priests of Ra, Azul vs Sintra etc.). I'd guess the game got its "doppelt" (double) title somewhat because with each color you get a... double-edged sword? Some twists and painful Knizian decisions that I quite like. Like, with grey you may cross not only the number - in any color - in the grey area but also all the numbers that are lower on other dice and go to the tray, so the more efficient your use of the grey die is, the more dice you put on the tray. Or with yellow you can go for the bonuses - OR, and probably sooner or later you want this, in case you want to go for foxes (probably you should) and the huge yellow scores, you may cross previously used (circled) numbers to go for points. With blue (+white) it's just writing the numbers in a descending order (lower or equal); soon you find out it's not worth waiting for blue 11 or 12 for starters... With green you score the difference of multiplied numbers (the more greens you use the higher the multipliers get). And with pink you simply write your numbers and those will be your score, BUT you get the bonuses only if you wrote appropriately high numbers. Also, the third (new) extra action (besides reroll and +1) where you might re-use a die from the tray for your next rolls is very useful - but at the same time it also means you will often give better possibilities to your opponents to choose from.
It's definitely interesting: even though paths feel less clear, after one play it feels the game is slightly more opaque therefore possibly slightly less fun in the beginning, it's also more challenging and more of a brain-burner: maybe those who (wrongly) thought Ganz Schön Clever should have been nominated for Spiel des Jahres instead of Kennerspiel would have been more pleased to see this one on the KdJ list.***
I lost my father a few weeks ago, following an emotially and physically equally extremely exhausting period in my life. I was in an urge to find something that 'switches off' my brain; it was just full of memories and repeatedly replaying every minute of my last few hospital visits.
I usually spend 30 to 60 minutes in silence in my son's room after I put him to bed. He is old enough to go to sleep alone but he prefers having my company there (partly because we moved to a new house a few months ago). Usually I'm reading while he's trying to fall asleep above me in his bunk bed, but in these weeks I just could not focus on what I was reading. However, solo plays of roll and move games proved to be excellent to switch off everything else - they are not completely mindless so I need to use my brain but I could still play them casually without a real brain burn. And rolling the dice is fun.
So I tried further roll and write games of this Schmidt Spiele Klein & Fein series, bought the ones I did not own yet, and I delved deep.***
So in a retail shop saw Inka & Markus Brand's roll and write Noch mal!, then I did what I rarely do - I checked the ratings on BGG (it was surprisingly good, above 7, I expected lower - and put it in my basket, also the copies of expansion blocks II and III. I started to play that evening. It's a game where you have colored areas on your 'boards', roll color & number dice, choose a combination and, starting from the middle column or next to already written Xes, you put exactly the defined number of Xes to adjoining spaces of the given color. You score mainly for filling columns (more if you are the first to finish a given column) and writing an X on each spaces of a color (once again more if you are the first to do it).
First impression was somewhat disappointing ('Another typical game by the Brands - it works but it's never that exciting', I thought) but I got addicted soon. I like the relaxed nature of the game, also that it's simple and spatial. Also played it 2- and 3-player and I found out I also quite like it multiplayer. The multiplayer rules don't make it very interactive, even though there is a bit of racing, those are there more to ensure everyone draws their Xes to different spaces; of course when you have several good options it is fun to check which dice would be best for your opponents and take those.
When I went to a FLGS for Brikks (see below) two days later, I also found the Noch mal! Zusatzblockset (block sets IV to VI) there so the game really got a huge variety Finally I downloaded the app thinking I would play the base game and the II and III blocks solo only there. But I found out 'learning a board' might give me too much advantage so I ended up repeatedly playing the only layout I don't own - expansion block I. The game is a nice example of games that don't feel great but their strength lies in their replayability and how addictive they are.***
As I liked my Noch mal! experiences I looked around in FLGS websites and found Brikks, this relatively lower-rated Warsch game from the past year (I mean it's rated lower than his trio of 'des Jahres' nominees). Okay, it's no Mind, no Quacks and no Pretty Clever but it's still fine.
This is a roll and move adaptation of Tetris with limits different than those in Reiner Knizia's FITS - there you could not slide pieces under other ones but you could rotate pieces freely; here you can slide the pieces but rotating costs action points - that you can win (Cleverish style) if you place certain tile types on certain spaces or if you fill multiple rows with a single piece. Also, even if for quite many action points, you can freely choose another piece while you also have bombs (in FITS you were allowed to skip pieces). Here it all goes for points in a few ways - while it's not point saladey the game still has some slight resemblance to the Clever games.
As for the multiplayer play, playing multiplayer once again makes the game slightly easier as the active player always has the possibility of one reroll (once again very little interaction, more in a Noch mal! style, but what you do on your pads is a bit more interesting). I think I can agree the game is not great (not as great as those other Warsch games) but I enjoyed it quite.***
Looking for some information I even found the new board for That's Pretty Clever in the forums - it was only published in the app version of the game. Too bad, I would buy it in a 'Zusatzblock' from the publisher but it is not available for sale so I printed my own version. It's not bad, it's mostly a variant for the original game with different layout for bonuses (getting chain reactions might be even easier now), taking some small clues from Doppelt so Clever (like bonuses for reaching the last space of the extra action area or multiplying by a negative number). It's fine for variety.***
Finally I bought Ralf zur Linde's 2019 roll and write Dizzle that was published in the same series as the ones below.
First I didn't enjoy it as much as the others - it mimics the feeling I had with Noch mal!, the roll and write it is closest to in mechanism (having a strong spatial aspect, moving from a few starting spaces and placing your dice - and Xes - next to already placed ones). It felt too random, too fiddly for what it is, and not very original. As for the fiddliness, it's there - unlike in the other games where you choose dice and cross the spaces, here you place your dice on spaces first, then you cross these spaces in the end of each round. Also the rules are fiddlier - there are many kind of special spaces that score you (different gemstones with different values), score you minus points (crap - but you can still avoid scoring minus for them), have an effect on others (bombs - not in solo game: there these just score 2 points), let you reach special places (keys and locks), fly to other areas (rockets) and even spaces that you race to reach (flags, scoring fewer points if you reach them later); also scoring for filling certain rows or columns, also rules for jumps and possible rerolls; also dummy dice rolled playing instead of players in solo mode.
But in the end of the day I started to enjoy the game quite, even solo. I still find it hard to plan when playing solo but my scores started to increase. And it definitely got more interesting with the levels (there are 4 levels included and no two 'boards' have all the special spaces).***
I already had a Kingdom Builder feeling with Noch mal! where you have to find out what to go for, how to try to have areas of any color near you as the game has a more or less similar tactical base: in Kingdom Builder you draw a card and need to place 3 settlements (houses) on spaces of the given type (color) next to already placed ones; in Noch mal! the dice are rolled and even if you have slight choices, you need to place the given amount (1 to 5) of Xes on spaces of the given color next to already crossed ones.
In Dizzle this feel is stronger. You still need to place your dice next to already placed ones, but you also have the possibility to start it over elsewhere mid-turn, in case there are no free spaces left next to your current dice, which gives quite an interesting possibility to fill in gaps and place your dice even to three different areas of the board in the same turn. Also, the 4 different levels and the special spaces bring back the Kingdom Builder variety quite a bit.
In the end I found it wouldn't be that hard to make a Kingdom Builder dice game - not that I hope it would really get done***
So, most of my plays were solo. But I played each game multiplayer as well. If you prefer strong player interaction, these games are not for you. In most of these you are focusing on your own 'boards' and look at others' boards only if you need to make a choice between two options that are equally good (or equally bad) for you - in this case you try to make things slightly harder for your opponents. Otherwise I found multiplayer play is often slightly easier than solo play - in the Clever series you always get the lowest rolls as a passive player when playing solo; in Brikks you don't have the reroll of the active player; when playing Noch Mal! multiplayer you choose from 6 dice as the active player and in Dizzle... Well, maybe not there, but even there solo play means you can't guess which dice your opponents are going to take from the pool before it's your turn again because this decision is made randomly by dice.
It seems to me, both in Noch mal! and the Clever series multiplayer rules are mainly there to ensure players won't copy each other, while in Brikks it is ensured by a different starting piece (just like in FITS); and in Dizzle everyone chooses from a common pool of dice instead of using the same dice. If I need to rank these games from most 'interactive' to least, it might look like this:Dizzle>>Noch mal! (because of the race to fill columns)>Ganz Schön Clever=Twice as Clever>Brikks.
No, player interaction is not an important feature of these games (maybe save for Dizzle) in terms of decisions - it is more important that they prove rules for having the fun of roll and move games together.***
So no, most of these games aren't exceptional, especially for gamers, but provided a good diversion, worked as a cure and helped me turn my thoughts away from darker thoughts and feelings, also in coping with grief. Thank you, Schmidt Spiele (&designers!)***
Of course, as a result, I want to try further roll-and-write games now. Games like Qwinto, Corinth, Space Worm, Second chance and so on...
...Well, thinking of it, maybe I will take a break before them.
- [+] Dice rolls
27 Apr 2019
So, now everyone is doing Knizia top 10 lists for whatever reason. I wanted to do mine but then I found out I just can't choose only 10 from the hundreds played. So here you are, my top 10s...
Top 10 Knizias
Hard to choose ten, but let's say these are my all time favorites.
Tigris & Euphrates
Yellow & Yangtze - need to play it more to know if it goes up or down from here
Modern Art - haven't played it for ages so I can't be sure
Royal Visit - reaching #6 after bad initial reactions
Keltis: Neue Wege, Neue Ziele - by far my favorite of the family
Through the Desert
Top 10 Knizias published in the 2010s
Yellow & Yangtze
The Quest for El Dorado
Keltis: Das Orakel - because Neue Wege is 2009
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug/The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
RevoltaaA - one of the very underrated fun little card games.
Yangtze - a modern Knizia that went largely unnoticed
Honorable mention: Amun-Re: The Card Game
My top 10 most played Knizias
Kangaroo - I have 3 kids. It's my only game with 100+ plays.
Battle Line/Schotten Totten
Ingenious - would be #1 if I recorded online plays and vs AI
Circus Flohcati - with the kids
Dreaming Dragon - with the kids
Samurai - would be #1 if I also recorded online plays (~200) but no plays vs AI
Piranhas - with the kids
Top 10 tile-laying Knizias
Tigris & Euphrates
Yellow & Yangtze
Through the Desert
Carcassonne: The Castle
Take it Higher!
Honorable mentions: Blue Lagoon, BITS, Jäger und Sammler, Indigo, Genesis, Sudoku: Duell der Meister
Top 10 Knizia card games
Focusing mainly on cardgame play (many Knizias have cards even though I wouldn't call them card games; on the other hand there are a few games that feel like card games even if there are a few other components included as well - you can find these here).
Blue Moon Legends
Schotten Totten/Battle Line
Medici: The Card Game
Lost Cities: Rivals
Karate Tomate - surprisingly fun and for 3 to 10 (!) players
Honorable mentions: Razzia!, Keltis: Das Kartenspiel, Tabula Rasa, Scarab Lords, Katzenjammer Blues, Voodoo Prince, Modern Art Card Game.
Top 10 Knizia auction games
Beowulf: The Legend
Tower of Babel
Das Letzte Paradies
Honorable mentions: Strozzi, Lost Cities: Rivals, Karate Tomate, Medici vs Strozzi, Ivanhoe, Katzenjammer Blues
Top 10 Knizia dice games
Ra: The Dice Game
Pickomino (esp. with expansion)
Sushizock im Gockelwok
Keltis: Das Würfelspiel
Reiner Knizia's Decathlon
Age of War (would prefer the Risk Express theme)
Honorable mention: Katego for being so fun despite being so minimal
Top 10 Knizia games for kids
It's hard to define kids' games - Here I mean games that could get (some have actually gotten) a Kinderspiel des Jahres nomination - mostly, games for 3- to 6-year-olds, maybe 7 or 8 if their look aims at children. Also, it matters a lot more what my kids like / liked here than what I like in games. I was having fun with them, after all.
Whoowasit? - Kinderspiel des Jahres-winning 'board+electronics' game. Its sequel Wer war's? Löst das Rätsel von Schräghausen! is quite similar and almost as good as this one.
Lord of the Rings - well, the age suggestion is strange here: this almost pure luck roll-and-move, spin-and-fight game has an age: 6 recommendation but my kids enjoyed it between 3 and 6 the most.
Captain Black - board and electronics combined with a spectacular ship, Great for kids.
Mmm! - can be quite challenging even for grown-ups
Der kleine Sprechdachs
Einfach Genial Junior - a fine introduction to the Ingenious/Axio system.
Kangaroo - well, not that fun for adults but I can't not list our #1 most played game here.
Honorable mentions: Dreaming Dragon, Bibi Blocksberg und das Geheimnis der blauen Eulen! (roll and move with some fun ideas), Bucket Brigade
- [+] Dice rolls
14 Apr 2019
I've done this quite a few times in the past, so I'll do it again now that I have played most of the big-box games listed below. Let's see how Knizia's 2018 was!
As usual there were quite a few games released that might not be that interesting for the BGG crowd (well, I'm lying, I'm sure many of you are parents like me or like party games; what's sure is I haven't played these yet and these don't have that many ratings either). So I will only list these here, including very simple kids' and mass-market family games like Cool Catch, Crobéte, Go Go Eskimo, Lovely Home, Photo Safari, Thomas & Friends - Full Steam Ahead!, Uncle Beary's Bedtime; light card games like the Pit/Wheedle rework Manga Kai; party games like Brainwaves: The Astute Goose or Clickbait.
Of course there were quite a few rereleases as well, of which a few might be worth a mention: Dragon Master got its European Pegasus release 14 years after its Korean version was released while a German, admittedly not very thematic and largely forgotten Lord of the Rings game, Der Herr der Ringe - Die Zwei Türme got a rethemed edition in Japan (Seimi in the Super Crazy World).
Also some of his very popular older games got new special editions with their expansions or spin-offs included. This is how Lost Cities, now renamed Lost Cities - Duel, includes the 6th expedition. His Kinderspiel des Jahres winner electronics+board game Whoowasit? got an anniversary edition that includes the card game (a simplified rework of King Arthur: The Card Game which was released just about the same time as his first electronics+board game, King Arthur, can you follow? ). And the new Pickomino edition Heckmeck Deluxe is a bit annoying new release as it doesn't only include all the figures and tiles of the Heckmeck Extrawurm edition but also a wooden apple with its own rules (can we get it at least from the BGG store, please?).
We're not in the territory of new games yet, but new material: some expansions spiced up popular games. The Quest for El Dorado got its promised (first) edition in Heroes & Hexes (suspiciously similar title to Friends & Foes which it takes many design clues from) which adds further variety and further considerations and variants to the game, creating a richer and more strategic experience. And Stephenson's Rocket did not only get a beautiful new edition from Grail Games but also two long-in-development expansion maps for variety (no new rules).
Grail Games also published the most exciting new game for long-time Knizia fans - also his highest rated game in quite a time: Yellow and Yangtze. The 'sister game' of his (right now, sadly) only BGG top 100 game is an intriguing update. Whether it's better/worse or just different is something time might tell but since Tigris & Euphrates got a huge part of its ratings from users who have played it several times (probably not currently, more like in the beginning of the 2000s or even pre-BGG time) it does not make sense to compare those results with first impressions ratings right now. What's sure it's a unique game that, while keeps many basic ideas of Tigris (2 actions, tile laying, leaders, inner and external conflicts, scoring), is a different and strong game on its own. Most obvious differences are the change from a square to a hex grid, an additional color and special powers to each color (instead of the not completely, but false 'you need reds to win' claim you may say 'you need reds and blacks to win... but greens and blues help too... and you need to get that yellow pagoda!') and the whole external conflict resolution (neutral players contributing, only red soldiers fighting, losing soldiers even on the winning side...). Some might prefer this, some might prefer that, but it's definitely different, cleverly responding to some known criticisms of the original, and different is something very good.
Meanwhile, Lost Cities did not only get a new edition (just like the board game) but also not one but two new variants in new boxes (so the official number of games in the Lost Cities/Keltis family has grown to 10 or 12 even). Lost Cities: To Go is the adaptation of Keltis: Der Weg der Steine Mitbringspiel to the scoring and the 'only ascending' rule of LC. Even though the game works fine, I find it somewhat inferior to both - it loses the elegance of both, also it gets stuck a bit somewhere in the middle ("No hand management... Okay, maybe a hand of two cards..."), not as light as Keltis MBS but also not as couple-friendly as Lost Cities. If anything, it might feel slightly more agressive than any of the other Keltis/Lost Cities titles. On the other hand Lost Cities: Rivals successfully integrates a closed economy Ra-style auction element to the game system. It's surprisingly good fun (the second new Knizia game with a higher than 7 rating here) even if I do miss the (understandably missing) 'minus points' risk factor of starting expeditions.
The third really well-received Knizia published last year is Blue Lagoon which shows he's really tinkering with his classic tile-laying game ideas now (look out for his possibly biggest game in 2019). This is a strong game and even though actions couldn't be simpler (place one of your markers) it belongs to his more complex ones as players have to juggle 6-7 different - mainly scoring - aims at the same time (somewhat resembling the Ra family this way). As players try to connect areas and collect stuff from certain spots while racing and blocking each other, comparisons to Through the Desert are inevitable. His 2009/2010 game Zombiegeddon/Jäger und Sammler (published in two slightly different (but completely differently themed and looking) versions) is not that well-known in the US (probably because of the ugly look and niche theme) so comparisons are rarely made but as my review said back in the time, it was already strongly based on Through the Desert ideas - while it also added some new ideas that are present in Blue Lagoon as well. Namely, the two-phase game where in the first phase you try to reach and prepare some starting spaces for the second phase is present just like the different kinds of set collection. But Blue Lagoon does not stop here, it also adds some very old Knizia ideas, ones that are all present in his recent rework/release King's Road - majority scoring in 8 different areas combined with scoring for linked areas. The game works fine and is quite a great brain-burner, though the lack of a single new idea does bother me somewhat and I do prefer the more focused design of Through the Desert.
Kartel (from the same publisher and in the same series as a new re-release of Kariba) is a fun little game based on the old idea of Bunte Runde. The mechanism idea was already reused in Uwe Rosenberg's Patchwork but as Kartel is a somewhat push your luckish game where you shouldn't be sure what you take is good for you, the tile selection is randomised somewhat by a 2, 2, 3, 3, 4, 4 die that tells you the number of max. moves you can take (instead of a fixed 3 like in Bunte Runde and Patchwork). Now you collect bandits and bribes in different colors, but bribes score only if the boss of the given color is not captured by the end of the game; bandits score if the boss is captured but they score negative if he is not. The game ends after 5 of the 7 bosses are captured so you try to organise things in a way that the (only) bosses that are best for you are captured. And I think it provides an interesting group dynamic - it's good to collect bandits of a color that others would also like to put in jail... This is a nice filler with a functional theme.
Forbidden City is a (somewhat, but not really) Carcassonne-like tile laying game (which gets better once you find out you should not play it with Carcassonne logic) that also seems more novel in the US than it actually is. It is a fine-tuned update of Mise: Kolonizace published in Central Europe a bit earlier, with all the small changes improving the game, not only the starting tile size or the possibility to score for 2nd place in an area but also the look, which might be less than perfect but is still way better than the ugly colors and small tiles of the original. I doubt it would ever become a BGG gamer favorite but it's a fine game with an interesting twist.
Sakura might be the only non-kids' board game I have not tried - even though it looks tempting it seems to belong to his family I did not enjoy that much as the rest (like Dragon Parade), also even when I did enjoy games with some of these basic ideas (like RevoltAaa) it was hard to find enthusiastic players for a game that looks too luck-dependent unless you give them enough thought and can (and are willing to) count on others' decisions. Oh, and I almost forgot there's another game I haven't tried: thematic (yes) push your luck hand management game Miskatonic University: The Restricted Collection that, as far as I know, was only released as a KS project; hopefully I can acquire a copy somewhere later.
Karate Tomate looks like a game for general toystores (I have actually found my copy in a Müller retail store) but is way trickier than that. You'll find a detailed presentation of the game in the comments, but indeed the ridiculous theme is misleading - it has a kind of mixed Taj Mahal/Beowulf-style dollar auction for points and/or extra cards and, uhm, knifes - as thanks to a High Societyish endgame condition the player with the fewest knifes is out of the game in the end. Card drawing is reminiscent of Blue Moon City to lower luck factor. Add that a player can decide to announce the end of the game when a certain condition (at least 12 points) is met (like in, say, Circus Flohcati), also that auctions don't always last as long as you want them to and what you get a simple but exciting little card game full of interesting decisions but with a race feel... It needs further exploration but right now it seems it's really underrated on the 'geek.
And as an extra, there was Brains Family: Burgen & Drachen which is a special game that will probably never be rated high on BGG while it is really good in the special category it creates for itself. Reiner Knizia has already published more than a dozen solitaire puzzle games (with 50+ puzzles included in the game boxes) of which many of the most recent ones belong to the Brains family published by Pegasus. Each of them are practically tile-laying games (especially three of them; the exception is tile-laying more like in a Through the Desert sense) on 50 different puzzle boards. And two of them are mainly connection games done with a few Carcassonne-like tiles and roads. In Burgen & Drachen the puzzle-solving is made multiplayer in an interesting, 3-level way: your aim is connecting your hero with all the castles placed on the board, but as soon as you won a level (having solved the puzzle faster than others) you get an extra task: unlike others, you have to defeat one of the two dragons (connecting to them) as well next time, and if you manage to do that you still have to really solve a puzzle by defeating both dragons (which, I believe, has only one solution with the tiles given, unlike previous levels) to win. It makes a nice simultaneous puzzle-solving experience with time pressure but often different aims. Unless you master the set it will probably also mean that everyone gets their first point before a player would get their second point and only when everyone has defeated one dragon do players turn to the real puzzle-solving, trying to defeat both dragons and find the one perfect solution but never mind, the game is still fun for those who like puzzle-solving (like, fans of the series) and still has a feel of shared experience.
image in a spoiler box as it shows one of the solutions
Overall I think it was a great year for Knizia fans with many good and great new titles published. But does the 'Reinerssance' continue in 2019? We'll see but I am waiting for this year's crop. Working on the ideas of his most popular tile-laying games continues, not only with the special geometry of Axio Rota (a new member of the Ingenious/Axio family) but also with Babylonia which, based on the cover image (taken right from the screens of the same publisher's edition of Tigris & Euphrates) and the very little information we have, seems to be a mix of his once so-called 'tile-laying trilogy' which consists of Tigris & Euphrates, Samurai and Through the Desert. Also just like in case of most successful Ravensburger-Knizia cooperations (see e.g. FITS/BITS or Whoowasit?), a spin-off to Quest for El Dorado arrives (after the expansion), titled The Quest for El Dorado: The Golden Temples, in which, as it was expected ever since the development of a spin-off was announced, your characters explore the City of Gold. What makes it even more exciting is the possibility to mix the two games. There will be another puzzle-like tile laying game (Chartae), an interesting-looking jump back on the roll and write genre (Space Worm, based on the old Snake videogame), also some titles for the general toystores like mau mau!! Das Brettspiel (can you imagine a board game version of UNO?) and LAMA which is said to be rather fun even if it's really light. Also a game called Stations (one has to wonder if it has anything to do with the 2016 Polish Knizia game Kolej na Kolej). And, of course, we can expect further games from one of the most prolific game designers out there (maybe a second expansion to Quest for El Dorado? An actual released version of Invasion of the Garden Gnomes? Maybe a new linear adventure? Or maybe something new from Grail Games if they succeed overcoming the problems they faced in the end of last year?). Time will tell, but I sure want to be there.
- [+] Dice rolls