Spring is award season in the game trade. New releases are slim, so with the awards we get to look back at some of the best titles from the year before. Let’s jump right in and take a look at some of the highlights.
The Academy awards of gaming are the Spiel des Jahr and the associated Kinderspiel des Jahr and Kennerspiel des Jahres. As you may have guessed by the German spellings, these awards are judged by a jury of professional German game journalists. That’s right folks, the jurors are professional journalists writing about games. While we’re seeing more and more of this develop stateside, not many people are quitting their day jobs to go full time at it.
Anyway, here are the nominees for the Spiel des Jahres, which highlights games for more casual players and families. The jury went with Machi Koro, Colt Express, and the game called The Game. Now The Game (such a bad title) is not yet available in the states, so I cannot comment on that one. But we have played and enjoyed both Machi Koro and Colt Express, and the feedback we receive from customers on these titles is overwhelmingly positive. In fact, Machi Koro was in our top seller list for nearly 5 straight months.
Now there is a lot of hubbub over the Spiel choices, as there is every year. Many gamers who have been in the hobby for some time think the jury made some very poor choices. Ignore those naysayers, they are simply trying to get on the gamer football team or cheerleading squad and are far more concerned about how they look playing games than the enjoyment they get from them. The fact is, the Spiel award is now much more focused on casual and family games than ever before, so hardcore hobbyists should move right along to the next award category, the Kennerspiel des Jahrs.
The Kennerspiel des Jahr award was created to highlight exceptional games for people who are looking for a greater intellectual challenge. The nominees are Elysium, Orleans, and Broom Service. Again, Broom Service is not available stateside, so no comment. Elysium just hit the shelves a few weeks ago, and I love it. It is a card drafting and combo-creating game with far more direct interaction among players than you find in a typical Euro-style game. Because it is a card-combo game, it is not for everyone, but do give it a shot, we have one on the rental shelf. You can also give the Tattered Board a listen to, we were on their podcast the evening of our Elysium prerelease party.
I have not played Orleans and it is not readily available, but I’m guessing it is the top choice for the award in the US market because it did make an appearance on Kickstarter last year. From all accounts, it does sound like a very interesting take on the worker placement style game. For those of you trying out for the football team, I expect to see highly expensive imported copies of both Orleans and Broom Service in your game bags ASAP! I want to play them, and I’m just the uncool nerd stuck with regular retail games (it lets me save my money for highly expensive fly tying materials though).
I would discuss the Kinderspiel des Jahr nominees, but absolutely none of them are available in the states, and likely never will be. There is no denying that the US and European kids game market is worlds apart, and most publishers are aware enough to not bother porting the games stateside. I expect this may change with the next generation as kids growing up now playing games with their families will seek out kids games for their own chitlins. But we have a very long way to go. If you are looking for more European style kids games, the publisher HABA is your best bet right now, though we do have some great ones from Schmidt Spiel and Mayfair. I just played a great one last night with a few young ones called Enchanted Tower. Simple, but evocative enough to keep the young imaginative mind enthralled.
So besides the granddaddy of awards in Germany, we also heard from Mensa and the Parent’s Choice committees. I’ll just highlight some of the games that are currently available on our shelves, and we’ll be working to get some of the others. My favorite is the Mensa award for the Castles of Mad King Ludwig. This was absolutely my top pick from last year, maybe I should apply for Mensa? Some of the other Mensa nominees look interesting, but until we get our hands on them we cannot comment. For Parent’s Choice awards,the list is large, and we have a bunch of them worth checking out if you want to gather with the family. Color Clash, Wink, Ubongo, and Cauldron Quest are some of the highlights, come on in and try a demo at the shop with the kids.
Ok gang, time to work through a stack of paperwork before a sweet, sweet gaming and BBQ day. Happy gaming!
It’s that time of year again, the time of no new releases. For the next few months we’ll hear about all the wonderful goodies that will pop up at GenCon in August and the Spiel in October. But right now, that is all we do, hear about the games, we don’t get to play them.
Lucky for us, the new Merchants and Marauders expansion dropped just before no-new-release 2nd quarter officially got under way. A customer recently asked what single game I would want with me on a desert isle, Merchants was 2nd on that list. It may be a bit much for most folks, but what a rewarding experience. No other game really captures the feeling of being a 16th century Caribbean sailor like Merchants does, and the expansion adds so much more theme with only small additions to the rules. So I’m not too bummed about the lack of new releases, I’ll be sailing through the second quarter with contraband and rum in the cargo hold.
Speaking of good games, a true Amerifun classic hit the table this weekend for a birthday celebration, Twilight Imperium 3rd edition. The game was supposed to start around 6pm but we took our first turn at 9:45pm after a long TableTop Day celebration. A group of 8 great guys were gathered until about 2am for just a fraction of the full game. But man, what a good time. Despite the fact that I was being a complete jerk to my neighbors due to my warlike race, the laughing and camaraderie dominated.
That night was a prime example of why I love tabletop games. We decided to end the game early but none of us really cared because we had such a great time. The game was a blast, but it really just served as a catalyst. Winning, losing, or evaluating the game in relation to others did not matter one bit. OK, winning was probably important, but still secondary.
Selling games is my job, and it’s a lot of work trying to keep our silly little shop’s head above water. It is often easy to forget why I chose to get into the business in the first place. Well, that game of Twilight Imperium, and the game of Merchants & Marauders the night before, oh yeah, and the game of Thunder Alley two nights earlier, that’s why I’m in the biz. Beyond the race to the bottom discounting, Kickstarter, good/bad game/game store nonsense, I want to see others enjoying the unique experience of playing great tabletop games with great people. The gaming nights I shared last week will serve as reminders for weeks to come. Thanks Dan for having a birthday, sorta felt like I got one too.
Happy Sailing gang!
We made it back safe and sound after a very awesome trip. Vegas got old fast, but the games did not. I think all of us agree that we did not get to play nearly as many games as we would have liked, but that is really just a day-to-day problem.
The GAMA show is a business show: talking to vendors, analyzing products, taking advantage of special offers, listening to talks by more experienced retailers, and chatting with others in the industry. I was hunting games that I not only liked, but games that had appeal for a wider audience, our audience. See, ordering the strategy games is pretty easy, gamers are vocal about what they are interested in, and there are lots of podcasts and news sites to go to for the buzz. It’s finding the games for everyone else that is tricky, but it’s what sets us apart from the other guys. Nearly all of the other retailers at the show see 60% or more of their profit from Magic, we rely on setting all kinds of folks up with game experiences that they will enjoy.
Speaking of enjoyable gaming experiences, here are some of our highlights from the show:
Quick note: Wednesday Game night and Friday Magic will be cancelled the week of March 16-20 while the Cloud Cap crew is in Vegas for a trade show.
We had an epic day of gaming this past week that included a few rounds of the Castles of Mad King Ludwig. What a game. We enjoyed it so much we were inspired to start a few bands based on our crazy castle building experience. But don’t expect to hear the Glamour Castles or Intimidated by Hallways playing anytime soon at a stony palace near you, we’ve decided just to play the game many more times rather than actually start a band, which is really a bonus for everyone.
During the planning of our 9 castle tour, we asked ourselves, why did this game inspire us to be as crazy as King Ludwig? Was it because the game had too much downtime, too much time to think? Or did it not have enough downtime, forcing our brains to run at high speeds? You know what, the downtime was just right. What about the length, maybe too long and our exhausted brains became delusional? Or too short with more time to be silly in between games? No, actually, the game length was just right. Guess what Goldilocks, this game is just right in so many ways. Are there others like Mad King Ludwig, not too hard, not too soft, but just right? We think so, and here are some of our favorites, but first, the criteria for getting Goldilocks to sleep in your bed. Um, sorry, I meant like your game.
The Golidlocks Game Test: The game must be just right in the following categories.
Length: For us, a little over an hour, but well under 2 hours is just right, so about 90 minutes. Interestingly, that is the average time for a full sleep cycle. Could being in the zone during a 90 minute game be just as refreshing as a sleep cycle? If so, bye, bye sleep, hello Goldilocks games from midnight to 7 am.
Simplicity: This refers to the rules, which should have a certain elegance rather than being a clunky collection of interactions between bits.
Complexity: This refers to the strategy. Planning ahead is fun, but if you have to hold 23 things in a brain space designed to hold only 7, Goldilocks will not be playing, which is a bummer, because she’s cute and cheery.
Downtime: We play games to use our brains in new and interesting ways, so thinking hard for short periods of time is enjoyable. Watching someone rub the skin off their chin is not. Goldilocks wants some downtime in her games, just not a halftime show.
Player Interaction: Too much player interaction and you have a great loud and chaotic pub game, too little and you might be playing a Feld or a Rosenberg. We’re looking for just enough interaction to keep the competitive tension high without the possibility of having your entire game ruined following one silly move by another bear.
Dr. Cloud’s Goldilocks List (numbered, but not in any particular order actually)
For a slow quarter, our new arrivals table is looking pretty full. A few weeks ago we had to make space on the table for the Star Realms Crisis expansion packs and Roll for the Galaxy, two stellar surprises (oh yeah folks, get ready for more groan-inducing puns to follow). About the same time, Carcassonne Gold Rush rode into town, which is a very cool looking addition to the Carcassonne Around the World line, an idea wrangled from the Catan franchise.
This week the new releases just kept sailing in, with the Machi Koro Harbor expansion topping the hotness list. Well, technically, Uwe Rosenberg’s new 2-player game, Fields of Arle, tops the hotness list of new arrivals for the week, but you’ll see none on our table because supply is now fallow. Anyway, The Machi Koro Harbor expansion adds a fifth player and includes enough cards to allow for a variable setup, very cool. Serious game enthusiasts like to pitch Machi Koro overboard, but in our opinion this is one of the better casual and mixed-ages family games to be released in a long time. I know at least one local podcaster who can’t wait to get his hands on this puppy.
To round up the new releases for the week, we had a slick Star Realms storage solution fall from the sky, an illustrated card box with enough themed card sleeves to shield one base game with all the Crisis expansions and promos (the card box also contains a promo card). For those hooked on the Firefly Board Game, the Artful Dodger mini-expansion made it past the authorities. Finally, a deluxe tile version of the 2013 Spiel des Jahres winner, Hanabi, exploded onto the scene, and an interesting historical euro game, the Staufer Dynasty, paid us a visit.
Whew, so much for a slow month. But while all of the new goodies piled in, I had the chance to play a few older titles. The holiday season put a bit of a damper on my ability to relax, sit down, and play, so I have quite a backlog of titles to try out. High on my backlog list was Castles of Mad King Ludwig, which has been receiving a lot of low-level buzz, and for good reason. I’ve lost 2 games miserably now, but thoroughly enjoyed doing so. In this game, players buy rooms from the current market to build their own crazy castles, and try to score points by creating room combos and finding the King’s favor in often unusual ways. What I find most brilliant about this game is the mechanism for establishing room prices. Players take turns acting as the master builder, which means they get to set the prices for the available rooms for the round. And as the master builder, the other players pay you when they purchase a room. So cool.
I also finally had the chance to play Theseus: the Dark Orbity, and my respect for the publisher, Portal Games, has now skyrocketed far out of orbit. I’m a big fan of weird strategy games that provide absolutely unique experiences, and Theseus makes that list. The story behind the game is a bit reminiscent of an Aliens movie, 2 groups of humans and 2 groups of aliens trying to survive on a giant space station. The rules for the game are ridiculously simple, and then they’re not. It’s too hard to explain, and while I’m not a fan of saying this, it takes multiple plays to get comfortable. For strict eurogame lovers it will probably feel like the sci-fi horror movie Event Horizon, so stay clear of the blast doors. But in my opinion, it’s a wonderfully fresh design. Look for it on the rental shelf, and just give me a reason to play it on a game night, I want more of it!
Cheers everyone! And since I’m loving the local developing podcast and blog scene, I’ll leave you with a few recommendations from them that you can find on our rental shelves.