Spiel des Jesse 2019

Welcome to my tenth annual review of games that were new to me during the previous year! Wow, ten years of doing this. I must really like games. Anyway, I’m going to list them all, followed by a short thought and my rating on the Yeah-Meh-Bleah scale. After that, it’ll be time for the nominees for this year’s Spiel des Jesse award, so stay tuned!

  • Aeon’s End: It’s a cooperative deck building game with some interesting ideas – you don’t shuffle your deck, so the order you discard in is very important. I enjoyed it, though I feel like I need more plays to truly appreciate it. RATING: Yeah.
  • Antinomy: Button Shy sent me this as a review game. I really enjoyed it – it was a very clever line manipulation game where you’re trying to create different patterns in your hand. RATING: Yeah!
  • Arboretum: I had heard of this one for years, and finally got a copy. I enjoyed it. Unfortunately, no one in my group that I played it with the first time liked it very much, which means it hasn’t gotten any play since the first time, so I haven’t gotten a chance to see how it holds up. RATING: Yeah?
  • Call to Adventure: A friend of mine got this game, and we played it. I liked the story of it, and the push-your-luck elements of trying to get the correct runes. RATING: Yeah.
  • Century: Eastern Wonders: I was honestly kind of disappointed with this one. The original is so simple and streamlined, while this seemed more convoluted and random. Which is weird because the board setup is fixed at the beginning. The way one of the ports closes eventually was irritating. I didn’t hate it, it just didn’t live up to the original. RATING: Meh.
  • Cottage Garden: After last year’s disappointment with Indian Summer, I was less confident in how I would like this one. Good new – I like this one a lot. It takes Patchwork to the next level without being as needlessly complicated as IS was. RATING: Yeah!!!
  • Dice Forge: I am a fan of real dice building, and was glad that this one lived up to its potential. I need to play some more to get a feel for the different special abilities, but this was a very well designed game with well designed components. RATING: Yeah!!!
  • Draftosaurus: This is a very light drafting game with some cool dinosaur meeples that you’re trying to distribute to various spots in your park. It’s kind of like a roll and write game, but there’s no writing, only cool dinosaur meeples. RATING: Yeah!
  • Dragon’s Breath: My daughter got this as a Christmas gift last year, and has been her game of the year. It won the Kinderspiel des Jahres a couple of years ago, and is pretty fun. RATING: Yeah.
  • Empty Space Explorers: I got a review copy of this game. I liked it more than I initially thought I would, though there was a little more take that than I really wanted. RATING: Yeah-.
  • Endangered: Another review game I played. It’s fun – a lot of randomness, and more political than I was expecting. Still, a lot of good ideas there, and I’m interested to see the final product. RATING: Yeah!
  • Fire in the Library: Got a demo of this one in at a local game store. It felt a little long, and there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of strategy with the push-your-luck aspects, but I enjoyed it. RATING: Yeah.
  • Gizmos: A really great engine building game, and not just because of the marbles. The marble dispenser is a pretty cool component, even if it is a bit wonky to deal with sometimes. RATING: Yeah!!!
  • The Grimm Forest: I learned this from the rules and played it with my wife once in a game store. We both really liked the production quality, and had fun with it. There’s certainly a lot to explore, and it was more cutthroat than I was expecting. RATING: Yeah.
  • Handsome: I’m not much of a word game fan, and wasn’t too sure what I’d think about this one (which I got as a review copy). I wasn’t a big fan of the two-player game, but with more players, it’s a very interesting game. RATING: Yeah.
  • Hierarchy: Another Button Shy review game. Some very interesting concepts – it felt like a cross between Love Letter and Red7. Very quick, and a fun hand manipulation game. RATING: Yeah!
  • Hoard: A small dragon-themed game we played at our local convention (KoboldCon). This is my winner for least favorite game of the year – the rules were a mess, and it’s essentially a roll-and-move memory game. Not for me at all. RATING: Bleah!!!
  • Hoot Owl Hoot: Another of my daughter’s Christmas acquisitions from last year. It’s like Candy Land, but cooperative and with some actual strategy involved. I was pleasantly surprised to find out it comes from the designer of Qwirkle. RATING: Yeah!
  • King Up!: Not a game I was expecting to like, but I ended up enjoying it. It’s a game where you’re trying to promote your pieces and eliminate those of your opponents in a kind of deduction game, but really, it’s just about positioning. RATING: Yeah!
  • Nefarious: A Donald X. Vaccarino design I had wanted to try for a while, and now that I have, I’m good. It was kind of repetitive and dull to me. Granted, we only played with two, and it’s supposed to work better with more, so maybe my rating will go up if I ever play again. RATING: Meh.
  • NMBR 9: It’s a multiplayer solitaire puzzle. I enjoy it – cool pieces and a good challenge. I wish there was a bit of interaction. RATING: Yeah.
  • No Thank You, Evil!: Only got a demo of this at a convention with my four-year-old, though she was more interested in the coloring sheets they had. It seems like a very streamlined RPG experience for kids. RATING: Yeah.
  • Noria: Beautiful wheel-building game. The wheel itself was kind of unwieldy, but an interesting mechanism. There might have been too much going on, and replay value is probably fairly low, but I liked it. RATING: Yeah.
  • One Deck Dungeon: I got the app earlier this year, and enjoyed the game enough to want to play the physical version. I’ve only played solo so far, but it’s fun. It’s also really difficult – I have yet to win. RATING: Yeah!!!
  • Orbis: It’s a tile laying game where you’re drafting stuff and trying to maximize your score through combinations. I liked it. RATING: Yeah!
  • The Quacks of Quedlinburg: This pool building game (that some refer to as a bag builder) was nominated for (and won) last year’s Kennerspiel award. It’s basically a game of luck-pushing and trying to have the best shot at pulling out your best ingredients. We played with the expansion, and it was fun. RATINH: Yeah!
  • Rabbit Rally: Another of my daughter’s games. You basically roll a die to find out which plank to use, then eyeball the distance to see if your can get your rabbit across. It’s very good for eye-hand coordination, but the die rolls can really hose you if you aren’t getting good planks to use. RATING: Meh.
  • The Ravens of Thri Sahashri: I have not yet gotten to play a full game of this. But my wife and I played a round, so I’m counting it for the list. It’s a very odd game, but very beautiful, and I do want to play more. RATING: Yeah?
  • Rhino Hero Super Battle: I had played Rhino Hero before, but Super Battle takes it to the next level. It makes the game bigger, more competitive, and sprawling. It’s a fantastic kids game that adults will love too. RATING: Yeah!!!
  • Roll Estate: This roll-and-write is a hybrid of Monopoly and Yahtzee, and is better than either of them. It has more interaction than Yahtzee, and is not as long or frustrating as Monopoly. RATING: Yeah.
  • Sea of Clouds: This is a sky pirate game that really is mostly about set collecting. It has a pretty interesting drafting mechanism, plays pretty quickly, and while it can be frustrating, still succeeds in being fun. RATING: Yeah.
  • Shikoku: This is a filler game that is reminiscent of 6 nimmt!, and there are elements of King Up! there as well. I liked the review copy I got to play quite a bit. RATING: Yeah!
  • Skybridge: This is an abstract game where you’re building up towers. It’s fun enough, but I’ve only played with two players and it seemed like the competition was not there. It might be better with more – BGG says it’s best with 4. RATING: Meh.
  • Space Base: An engine builder where you’re upgrading cards. The thing that makes this replace Machi Koro for me is that your dice rolls all do something for you, and as you build up, your opponent’s dice rolls always do something for you. This keeps you engaged in the long run. I’ve only played with two players, and it’s pretty long. I suspect it will go quicker with more as you’re earning more cash between rounds. RATING: Yeah!
  • Sushi Go Party!: I had played Sushi Go! many years ago, and I think I played a prototype copy. But this was my first time playing this expanded edition, so I’m counting it for this list. I taught it to my family over Christmas, and they ate it up (pun intended). I enjoyed it too, even though I’m not a sushi person. RATING: Yeah!
  • Trade on the Tigris: This probably would have been in contention for my game of the year had I gotten to play more than once. It just surprised me – it didn’t seem like a game I would enjoy, and yet, I did. Definitely one I want to play again. RATING: Yeah!!!
  • Tussie Mussie: I downloaded this when it won last year’s GenCant print-and-play contest, but never played. It’s a pretty good small game, recently released from Button Shy. RATING: Yeah!
  • UNO Moo!: My daughter saw this at a local game swap, and wanted it. We got it. It’s UNO with farm animals instead of cards. The barn and pieces are all pretty cool, but it’s still UNO. RATING: Meh.
  • Wingspan: The year’s hotness. I’ve played several times (once with the expansion), and have enjoyed it every time. I love the variability, and I love the subject matter. It’s a great game. RATING: Yeah!!!

So now, it’s time to reveal the nominees for this year’s Spiel des Jesse award. My arbitrary constraints for the award are as follows:

  • I must have played it for the first time during the calendar year. So, even if it was released 30 years ago, if it’s new to me, it’s eligible.
  • I must have played the game at least twice. This is usually a sad rule for me, but it’s one I’m sticking to, even though it eliminates games like Trade on the Tigris.

Before announcing the nominees, let’s look back at the previous winners of the award:

  • 2014: Argent: The Consortium
  • 2015: Colt Express
  • 2016: Burgle Bros
  • 2017: Clank!
  • 2018: Azul

And now, here are this year’s nominees:

  • Cottage Garden (Uwe Rosenberg, Edition Spielweise/Stronghold Games, 2016)
  • Dice Forge (Régis Bonnessée, Libellud, 2017)
  • Gizmos (Phil Walker-Harding, CMON, 2018)
  • One Deck Dungeon (Chris Cieslik, Asmadi Games, 2016)
  • Rhino Hero: Super Battle (Scott Frisco/Steven Strumpf, HABA, 2017)
  • Wingspan (Elizabeth Hargrave, Stonemaier Games, 2019)

And the sixth annual winner of the prestigious Spiel des Jesse award is…

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

It was close, and really came down to this or Wingspan. But Rhino Hero won out because it is a really fun and tense game that can be enjoyed by just about anyone. So congrats to all the nominees, and especially Rhino Hero: Super Battle.

And with that, let’s put a lid on 2019. See you in a few days as we look forward to 2020, and thanks for reading!

Spiel des Jesse 2019