The Kennerspiel Des Jahres 2017

The Spiel Des Jahres (Game of the Year) nominees were all strong candidates this year, but what about the Kennerspiel (Strategy Game) nominees?  It’s an unusual selection of games, that’s for sure.  Let’s take a look at them and I’ll give you my pick for the Kennerspiel Des Jahres 2017.

Raiders of the North SeaRaiders of the North Sea

Designer: Shem Phillips

Players: 2 – 4

Time: 60 – 80 mins

In Raiders of the North Sea, each player has to assemble a crew of Viking warriors, gather provisions from their homeland and then sail across the North Sea to raid the English mainland.

It is essentially a worker placement game, but it has a couple of very interesting twists.  Each player only has one worker and you can never get any more.  When it’s your turn, you place your worker on an action space and take the appropriate action.  You then pick up a different worker from a different action space and take the action of that space as well.

So each turn always consists of two actions, but the worker you end up with at the end of your turn will be different from the worker you started with.  It’s very clever.  If you really want to use an action space, but it already has a worker on it, you have to place your current worker down and take a different action first.  Getting the order of your actions right can be key to a successful strategy.

The other interesting thing is that there are different kinds of workers (black, grey and white).  Certain workers can only go on certain spots.  This is particularly important when raiding (for which you also need to place a worker).  You may really want to raid a spot that needs a grey worker, but to get a grey worker you may have to take an action that doesn’t help you very much.

The crew cards each have special abilities that allow you to focus on different strategies.  The artwork is superb and the quality of production is very high.  In the light-strategy genre, I think it is an excellent game.

The only thing that seems odd to me is that I’ve been playing the game for two years now!  I backed the original Kickstarter, but the game has taken a long time to enter general distribution.  Games can only be nominated for the Kennerspiel once they enter distribution in Germany, which is why it has taken so long to be nominated.

Exit: The GameExit: The Game

Designer: Inka Brand, Markus Brand

Players: 1 – 6

Time: 45 – 90 mins

Many cities around the world now have ‘escape the room’ venues where you and your friends can literally be locked in a room together.  You have to solve puzzles, open locked containers to find more puzzles and finally open the locked door to escape the room – all against the clock.  They have proved popular (if expensive).

The concept is very similar to a British TV show from the early 90s called The Crystal Maze, which I loved watching as a teenager.  You would watch the contestants blundering around in each room, missing the obvious solutions to the puzzles and you’d think to yourself, “I could do better than that!”

Well, now you can.  Only, it turns out to be much more difficult than you’d think when you’re stuck in the room and the clock is ticking!  If the expense of a physical ‘escape the room’ event puts you off though, there are now ‘escape the room’ boardgames that you can play to provide a similar experience.

In fact, there have been a glut of these games over the last year.  I love them all.  It feels like they came out of nowhere.  Not a single one existed two years ago, but a new one seems to be released every month at the moment.

Exit: The Game is as good as any of them.  There are several different modules you can play and like any escape-room game, you can only play them once.  After you’ve escaped, you know the solution to all the puzzles so it has zero replay value.

Unlike other escape-room games however, you can’t give it to your friends to play after you’ve finished with it because you have to physically destroy several parts of the game when playing in order to solve the puzzles.  Whether it’s cutting, folding, tearing or bending, no one else will be able to play the game after you’ve finished with it.

The replayability issue doesn’t bother me though.  I still think they’re good value for money for an hour’s furious activity with a group of friends.  We play each and every one as soon as they come out.

Terraforming MarsTerraforming Mars

Designer: Jacob Fryxelius

Players: 1 – 5

Time: 90 – 120 mins

Terraforming Mars is a hand-management, engine building game a bit like Race for the Galaxy.  You’re paying resources to ‘build’ cards that allow you acquire more resources and give you other special abilities with the ultimate aim of terraforming (placing tiles on) Mars, for which you gain victory points.

There are many different types of cards and certain cards will combo very well with other cards so you’re trying to find a good combination that will allow you to run your engine efficiently.

There are a couple of nice conditions that act as prerequisites for some of the cards.  As Mars is terraformed, the temperature and oxygen level will increase.  Some cards require the temperature or oxygen to be above a certain level, so you do feel like you’re actually changing the planet as you progress through the game.

It’s a heavy euro at the end of the day and the devil is very much in the detail of the cards.  It will take several plays to get the hang of for most people and it’s definitely not one I would recommend generally.  It is aimed squarely at the serious gamer market, but has been very well received by people who like that kind of game.

Personally, I admire the design – it is certainly a good game.  I just find it rather dry.  They have clearly made an effort to make it thematic, but it still feels like I’m turning one kind of cube into another kind of cube, which I then cash in for victory points.  It sure has a lot of cubes!

You can probably tell from my descriptions which games I prefer!  I think Exit: The Game is definitely my favourite, but I don’t think it will win.  The escape-room genre is a significant development in the boardgaming world and it feels like the Kennerspiel judges wanted to give a nod to the genre as a whole.  A bit like they did with legacy games last year.

Kennerspiel winners should be classics.

Exit: The Game doesn’t stand out as being better than any of the others and the destructibility of the game would make it an odd choice for a game that should theoretically become a classic.  If you look at previous winners, many of them are considered classics today (eg. 7 Wonders) and the judges often seem to go for games that fit that bill.

Personal ambivalence aside, Terraforming Mars just feels too heavy for the Kennerspiel.  It is a lot heavier than previous winners (eg. Istanbul, Isle of Skye).

The idea with the Spiel and Kennerspiel awards is that they provide recognition to a wide audience of excellent games in the industry.  It wouldn’t make sense to me to give the award to a game that will appeal to such a narrow segment of gamers (those who like heavy euros).

So that leaves Raiders of the North Sea, but I think it is a great choice.  It ticks all the boxes for the award criteria and for me personally as a gamer.  I would also be happy to see Shem Phillips gain the recognition he deserves.  He is an excellent designer and a one-man publishing machine!

Which nominee is your favourite?  And which do you think will win?  The winner will be announced on 17th July.

EDIT: The winner was Exit: The Game!  Would you believe it?  It’s a strange choice, but a great game.

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Jonathan Hicks

Jonathan is the director of Maven Games. He blogs and records podcast episodes several times a week. Whenever he isn't doing anything else, he designs games.

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[…] the way, I’ll start with the Exit series as they are probably the most well-known having won the Kennerspiel des Jahres earlier this year.  The main thing that immediately sets the Exit games apart from other […]

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