The 2014 Game of the Year – Did they get it right?

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The Spiel des Jahres is the Family Game of the Year awarded annually in Germany. Its the best game for people who enjoy board games, but only play occasionally, buying perhaps one or two a year. It therefore needs to be:

  • accessible
  • fun
  • easy to learn
  • original

I’ll start by saying that the three nominations this year were excellent, all three would have been worthy winners. The winner was, however, Camel Up. It was also the last to get an English release, so we have the least experience with it, but over the last two weeks it has been taught 30+ times here at the Cafe so we have a good idea of its strengths and weaknesses with the average gamer.

Most of our customers are not avid players, in general they are people who have played some Settlers, Pandemic and Ticket To Ride. We are lucky that they are very receptive to being taught new games and as a result all three of the nominations have been forced upon our willing clientele multiple times. So, did they get it right? If I and my staff were the SDJ Judges would we have picked Camel Up? Let’s find out.

Splendor

splendorbox

This was the first of the three to darken our doors and to say it has been a hit at the Cafe is an understatement. People absolutely loooooooove this game. It gets played over and over again, with people coming just to play it because they still can’t buy their own copy. My staff love it because its so quick and easy to teach while the customer feels they can sink their teeth into something with substance. The ‘if only I had just one more turn I would have won’ or the ‘ I know I can do better’ aspect is what keeps people coming back for more. All age ranges enjoy it, as exemplified by our tournament pictured below, with participants from every demographic.

DSC_0007

However, it did fall flat for a fair few people, lacking a bit of theme or being a bit dry. As a Cafe owner, tables playing Splendor I knew were always enjoying themselves, but they never looked like they were, with a lot of silence punctuating the odd ‘its your turn’ or ‘you b@$##rd I was going to take that.’

However, this game has been the most popular game in the Cafe’s first year (not called Cards Against Humanity) and the list of people waiting to buy it (both hard core gamers and regular Joes) would make the Encyclopedia Britannica look like short story. Will its lack of perceived ‘fun’ hurt it though?

Concept

concept

Game #2 to arrive. Now that’s a game where people look like they are having fun. This is kind of like Charades on a board. So far the record for a group playing Concept is 4 hours straight. Rules take about 45 seconds and are best explained through a demo, which is awesome because I like playing the game A LOT. The genius of the game is the fact that the ‘describer’ can only say YES, and watching people wandering off in completely the wrong direction and being unable to tell the they are on the wrong track (unless you call someone bashing a Question Mark on the board a lot, as a way of saying they are on the wrong track) is very amusing. It really brings out the creative juices as you try to use the limited options available to describe your card. We have had the odd group that only thinks its OK, they are usually looking for something more competitive though or find the descriptive process too difficult. It doesn’t play well as a two either which kinda blows for us as we get a lot of couples in the Cafe. A lot of fun, but lacks that winning edge and needs a decent sized group to play. A thinking mans Cards Against Humanity, is that enough to win?

Camel Up

Camel_Up_Spiel_des_Jahres_2014

New kid! Welcome to the store. 2-8 players eh? Many have made that claim, but do you actually play well across such a wide spread. Indeed we have tried all those numbers and….well yes you do. To be fair, your sweet spot is 3-6; you become a lot more tactical with 2 and a bit of a party with 8, but at only 30 minutes you don’t out stay your welcome and usually you are only warming people up. Almost everyone plays this at least twice, most three times. That dice pyramid is excessive but awesome and adds to to the sense of fun. Everyone loves it when a camel, seemingly completely out of the race, literally rides on the back of everyone else to victory. Or when a player who is losing backs a camel to the hilt in the hope that the three dice come out in the exact order to give them a last gasp win. Awesome fun. It is a little awkward to teach, however. People need to play one leg and then the ‘Oohhhh I get it’ comes out. This means we usually have to stick with them through that first leg and check in a few times to makes sure everything is tickety-boo. It feels the most ‘boardgamey’ of the three and has gone down a storm so far with those who get it. Its main downside is it is too tricky for some people. The leg betting and race betting causes confusion quickly and puts people off. Another excellent game, another worthy contender. Too fiddly though?

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Did they get it right? Its wonderful to see people having fun here, which is why I enjoy watching people play Concept and Camel Up. They look like they are having a great time! But people love Splendor, they just love it. The reception has been incredible for that game across all demographics. Personally if I could only own one of the three, it would be Concept. Putting on my impartial hat though, I have to go with Splendor as the winner, it plays well as a 2 player, which is very important for a huge portion of the gaming community and is a game that people want to play instead of doing other things.

So well done Splendor! You beat out a stellar crowd and my own favorite. Lets hope next years crop is as strong.

Here’s some thoughts from my staff here at IBGC:

Jade – Camel up is wacky fun! Concept is whacked and splendor is the slam down whack daddy! I loved em all but splendor and concept hold a place in my library and an heart while camel up is a high possible maybe probably gonna buy it next week, I have an addiction.

Dave – Splendor is totally the best.

Dawn “the Amaze-nificent” McNeil – I actually enjoyed all three finalists. Splendor might edge ahead of Camel Up in re-playability, but I can see why Camel Up took the prize (3D pyramid dice roller… woooo!). And Concept is just straight up good times

Robyn – I think concept should have won. It is an amazing game that takes very little explanation and has everyone playing at the same time. It is a great game to bring out at Christmas to involve my parents, younger sibling, and even my grandma! Because everyone gets to guess at once, there is no down time, so no waiting and being bored. And trying to give good hints so your answer is guessed makes it challenging. It’s fun as a 2 player game, and you can play it with more people, while including everyone! Camel up is an exciting game with lots of luck. The game mechanic is super simple and because of the luck, you can be good at this game even if you suck at strategy games like me 🙂 the dice tower is super awesome, and I am often rolling the dice every turn because it is so much fun to shake it, flip it upside down, and push the little tab in to release a single dice. It is a bit boring as a 2 player game, but it seems to be more exciting the more people you have. And it definitely gets loud with people cheering on their favourite color camel. Splendor is a great game, very easy to pick up, and quick to get good at. There are a lot of games very similar out there. The builders is a game with similar game mechanics, but in a small travel size which is more convenient. I do however, Love that the jewel tokens are heavy, poker style chips. It is very satisfying paying for your card with them. It works awesome with 2 players and more. But it only plays 4, which sucks because my family has 6 people, which means someone if left out. Although I put camel up as my second pick, I still really enjoy splendor for replay value.

Arlo – Camel Up is the best, anyone who disagrees is wrong.

Curtis – People like race games and the genre is due for a comeback: Camel Up is a start. It isn’t the best race game in my opinion but it is engaging on a very addictive level. Spendor, like Candy Crush, has shiny parts, is easy to learn, is enjoyable, is addictive, is involved, and only has superficial thematic elements. Concept is a game about communicating with deliberate limitations to explore ideas surrounding an unspoken concept within the group. Concept is clever and nonlinear, which is why it is such a big hit. Overall, I go for Splendor though.

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