SdJ Recommended List 2009

I wrote recently about the nominees for the 2009 Spiel des Jahres award that will be announced next week. They are all great games and each of them could easily take the prize. Now let’s talk about the list of recommended titles that came close to being nominated, but didn’t make the cut due to availability or lack of broad appeal to families.

The following games –

are all games that I have not had the pleasure of playing, so I don’t have much to say about them. I’ve heard good things about Diamonds Club and Valdora, and I would love to get a chance to play those. I haven’t heard anything about the other three. I have to assume that they don’t suck; otherwise, they would not be on the list.

Three of the games on the recommended list this year are games I play fairly often. I will list them in order of total awesomeness.

Mow, designed by Bruno Cathala, is my favorite of the bunch. I wish I could tell you how to get a copy, but it’s not likely until it’s picked up for domestic distribution. I got mine from someone in France for 15.5 Euros.

Mow is a wonderful little card game where you place cow cards from your hand to a central herd. Each cow has a numeric value from one to sixteen, and the cows may only be placed to the right or left of the current herd according to their value, so if there is a seven cow and a ten cow currently on the table, you must play six or less or eleven or more repectively. If you do not have a cow that can be played, then you must take the entire herd into your scoring pile. What is actually scored are the number of flies on each cow. Some cows are happy and have no flies, while some have as many as five flies. The game continues in rounds until someone has accumulated 100 flies and the person with the fewest flies wins. There are also some special cows that can stand on top of other cows (acrobatic cows) and cows that can slide into spaces in the herd (slow poke cows). When you play a special cow, you can also change the direction of play, which makes for some great gotcha! moments.

This is a fabulous filler game that has been a favorite with everyone I’ve shared it with in the last few months. The artwork is hilarious. The mechanics are simple. Gameplay is quick and easy. I wish we could sit down and play right now!

Cities, designed by Martyn F, is a fast tile laying game in the tradition of Take it Easy! This is another one that is a little difficult to get a hold of, but it’s certainly worth the effort.

In Cities, players lay tiles that represent sections of one of four international cities: Berlin, New York, London or Paris. As you place the tiles, you may also place tourist markers (meeples) that will score victory points once your city has been completed. Each player will be placing a tile with the same characteristic regions, even though the resulting cities and tourists will be arranged very differently. Each tile can have up to four regions: parks, attractions, water features, and cafes. Once all the tiles are placed, each city is scored according to the placement of the tourist markers. At the most basic level of play, markers score by being placed on adjacent areas of parks and attractions. A more complex level, my favorite, also scores tourists in cafes depending on how much water they get to look out upon. There’s still another level of play that’s too complex in my opinon, so I don’t bother with it, but the fact that this game has a variety of levels of play is certainly one of the things that makes it worthy to be on the SdJ recommended list.

Special thanks to Doug Garrett of the Garrett’s Games and Geekiness podcast for introducing me to Cities. I got my own copy soon after, and have played it with friends and family regularly.

Poison, designed by Reiner Knizia, is a fun light card game for 3 – 6 players that plays in around 10 minutes; however, our games take up to an hour because we like to play a certain number of rounds based on how many players we have. This is a potato chip kind of game. It is difficult to stop once you start playing.

Each player has a hand of cards that they must place one at a time in turn into one of three different cauldrons: red, purple, or blue. The cards have values of 1, 2, 4, 5, and 7. If you place a card into a cauldron that makes the total value of cards exceed 13, then you must take those cards into your scoring stack, leaving the card you placed that made the total go over 13 in the cauldron. This is another game where the player with the smallest number of cards in their scoring stack wins. You may ignore a particular color if you end the game with the most of that color, but it’s important to keep track or it’s easy to get burned. You can also place bottles of poison into the cauldrons that are worth two cards in final scoring.

Poison was rethemed into Baker’s Dozen by the publisher, so if you have a problem with potions, poisons, and cauldrons, you can play with donuts. I don’t imagine the gameplay is any different, but it might go over better with great-aunt Beatrice at the family reunion.

So that’s it for another Speil des Jahres. Next week, once the winners are announced, I will let you know what was chosen and how I felt about it.

Happy gaming!

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