The Spiel Des Jahres 2017

Spiel Des Jahres 2017

It’s that time of year again – the Spiel Des Jahres nominees have been announced!  We took a look earlier in the week at the history of the Spiel Des Jahres awards and their significance within the gaming world.

Today we analyse the actual nominees for 2017.  Are they worthy contenders or has it been a slow year?  And which one is going to win?

El DoradoRace to El Dorado

Designer: Reiner Knizia

Players: 2 – 4

Time: 30 – 45 mins

This is a very light deck-building game.  If you’re anything like me, you’re probably a bit sick of deck builders by now.  The only ones that really interest me these days are ones that combine deck building with an objective (and I don’t just mean scoring points!).

El Dorado (as I’ve taken to calling it) does just that though.  Each player controls an explorer racing through the jungle to get to the fabled lost city of El Dorado.  You have different cards in your deck for traversing different types of terrain.  Machetes for jungle, paddles for water, coins for villages, etc.

Like other deck builders you can buy more cards to add to your deck, but time spent improving your deck is time you’re not spending making progress through the jungle.

It’s the lightest, most streamlined deck builder I’ve ever played – and I love it!  It’s a perfect family game.  The deck building element is very straightforward, but you get quite a bit of variation with the cards that can appear in the market for purchase.

The jungle is made from modular, double-sided tiles so the route through the jungle and the types of terrain vary a lot each time.  All in all, it has a high replayability factor and I would recommend it for any gaming family.

Magic MazeMagic Maze

Designer: Kasper Lapp

Players: 1 – 8

Time: 5 – 10 mins

Magic Maze has the strangest theme I’ve ever seen.  It’s a co-operative game where players control four fantasy characters (a mage, a warrior, a dwarf and an elf) attempting to shoplift weapons from their local shopping mall (complete with escalators)!  You couldn’t make it up!  Well, I guess someone has…

It’s a real-time game with no talking allowed.  Rather than a single player controlling a single character though, each player is assigned a direction of movement (North, East, South or West).  Players can move any character they wish, but only in the one direction that they have been assigned.

The premise is very simple.  You have to move around the mall, exploring tiles until each character finds their matching weapon and then they all have to race to an exit before the time runs out and they get caught.

However, the level of co-operation required is high!  Moving a single character from one place to another in the maze will typically require moving in multiple different directions so you have lots of players all trying to move the character at the appropriate point.  Trying to do this with four characters is very challenging!

There are extra abilities (like moving up/down the escalators) that players may have, but you frequently end up in the situation where one player needs to do something and they don’t realise!  What can you do?

The only form of communication allowed is using a large red pawn.  You take it and place it in front of the player that needs to do something to indicate that they should act.  Or, more accurately, you grab the pawn and begin tapping it furiously on the table in front of them!

It’s so much fun!  You want to play it again as soon as it’s finished.  There are several difficulty levels so you can increase the difficulty once you get the hang of it, but that takes a while – it’s not easy!


Designer: Bruno Cathala

Players: 2 – 4

Time: 15 – 30 mins

In Kingdomino, players are laying domino tiles to make a kingdom in front of them.  Rather than numbers though, each domino has two different types of terrain on either end (eg. forest, water, fields).  Each player is creating a separate kingdom and must keep the dominos within a 5×5 grid.

At the end of the game, players score points by multiplying the size of each area by the number of crowns that appear in that area.  Eg. A forest that covers 4 spaces with 2 crowns in it would be worth 8 points.

How you acquire the tiles is the interesting thing.  There are four tiles laid out in the middle of the table in order of value (the better tiles, with more crowns on, are placed at the end).  In player order, players pick the tile they want, but their choice determines player order for the next round.  If you pick the worst tile, you will go first, but if you pick the best tile, you will go last.

Trying to decide if you want a better tile this round in exchange for a very limited choice on the next round can be tricky!  There’s more luck in this game than the other two I feel, but it’s wonderfully simple and an excellent nominee for the award.

It is notoriously difficult to predict the winner of the Spiel Des Jahres.

So which one is going to win?  That’s the million dollar question.  Historically, though, it has been notoriously difficult to predict the winner of the Spiel Des Jahres.  The award prioritises family games and doesn’t always choose what most people would consider the best game.

That being said, I personally think El Dorado will win.  Magic Maze is my favourite, but it feels too difficult to play with children.  You might manage it with bright kids on the easier difficulty settings, but I think it will appeal more to adults.

Kingdomino is very good and certainly fits the bill as a family game, but nothing about it draws me in.  It’s rather abstract (despite the nice, colourful artwork) and doesn’t have much replayability: it’s more or less the same game each time.  My compatriots at Boardgame Opinions both reckon that Kingdomino will win though, so who knows?

Overall, I think they are all great nominees.  However, to a certain extent, you could argue that it has been a slow year as the nominees are all very recent games.  Only one of them is currently available in the US.

At the time of the nominations, none of them had been released in the UK.  Kingdomino and Magic Maze have since been released, but Magic Maze sold out instantly.  You can’t get it for love nor money now.

Being Spiel Des Jahres nominees though, they are guaranteed to come back in stock in great numbers so you will definitely be able to get them later this year if you can’t get them now.

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

EDIT: The winner was Kingdomino!  Curses!  I never get it right!

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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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