Tag Archives: Dixit

Spiel des Jahres Winners – 2017

The 2017 winner of the coveted German Game of the Year or Spiel des Jahres award is Kingdomino.  Kingdomino is a simple little tile laying game with elements borrowed from other games, in particular, Carcassonne and Dominoes.  These are combined to make a well presented family game where players taking it in turns to add to their kingdom by placing dominoes that depict different terrains types.  We have played Kingdomino several times on a Tuesday evening and everyone who has played it has enjoyed it.  Discussing it among the group, everyone has felt that it is a fun, light filler that is very accessible and is a worthy winner.  The Kennerspiel des Jahres was awarded at the same time.  This honours more challenging games and was first introduced in 2011 to make up for the fact that the main, Spiel des Jahres award had moved away from the slightly more involved fare (like El Grande and TIkal) towards lighter, more family friendly games (like Dixit and Qwirkle).

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

Unusually, this year the Kennerspiel des Jahres award went to a series of games:  EXIT: Das Spiel.  These are cooperative games that reproduce the experience of an escape room by providing a series of puzzles inside a game box.  There are currently five of these games, though the award is for the first three, The Abandoned Cabin, The Pharaoh’s Tomb, and The Secret Lab.  Unfortunately, as a group we rarely play cooperative games and are not huge fans of the modern trend for social deduction type games, which  means we are unlikely to play this soon on a Tuesday evening.  The Kinderspiel des Jahres award was announced last month and went to Ice Cool which is a beautiful dexterity race game with cool little “weeble” penguins and wooden fish pegs.

Ice Cool
– Image used with permission of punkin312

4th October 2016

It was a quiet night, thanks to illness, work and other commitments.  There were still enough of us to split into two small groups, the first of which settled down to play Endeavor.  This is a game we’ve played a couple of times this year and still proves quite popular.  This time, only Green had played it before and Grey and Ivory were unfamiliar with it, so it was necessary to have a complete run-down of the rules.  The game is played over seven rounds, each of which consists of four phases:  Building, Population, Income and Action.  The idea is that players have four status tracks, one each for Industry, Culture, Finance and Politics, which roughly correspond to the four phases of the game and dictate what players are allowed to do at each stage.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

Players begin by choosing a building, some of which provide an increase in one (or more) of the four status tracks, some provide actions, while most others do a mixture of both.  Players then move population markers from their general supply to their harbour according to their current culture level.  A strong population is essential as it ultimately limits the number of actions players can take on their turn.  The income phase allows players to move some of their workers from buildings back into their harbour as dictated by their current level on the income track.  These add to the population players have available to do things with, while also making space on the buildings so that these actions are available for re-use.  The first three phases of each round are mostly just preparation and book-keeping; the guts of each round are in the final phase, where players take it in turns to carryout an action of their choice.  There are five basic actions: Taking Payment, Shipping, Occupying, Attacking, and Drawing Cards.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

In order to carryout an action, players must activate an appropriate building by moving a population marker from their harbour to the building.  In the case of shipping, occupying and attacking, the actions are carried out on the central, communal player board.  To ship, after activating an appropriate building, players can move one of the population markers to one of the six shipping tracks and take the token that was on the space.  These tokens are useful as they add to the status tracks, but some also give a free action.  Shipping is also important as it gives players a presence in a region which is necessary for occupying, attacking and drawing cards.  When a player places the last token on a shipping track, The Governor card from the top of the pile in the region is allocated and the region is considered “open”.  This means that players who already have a presence in the region can also occupy the cities within the region. This gives both tokens and victory points, but where a player occupies a city that is connected to another city they already occupy, they get an extra token, which can be very valuable, as well as providing extra points at the end of the game.  This makes position very important, but if someone occupies a city that another player wants, one option is attacking.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

This is carried out in the same way as occupying, but is a separate action and costs an additional population marker.  Occupying a region also adds to a players presence in the region: players can also draw the top card from a region’s stack and add it to their player-board, so long as their total presence in the region is higher than the card number.  Cards are important as they also add to the status tracks as well as provide victory points, however there is a card limit which is enforced when a player passes at the end of the round and any status track points gained with the card are lost when cards are discarded.  Once everyone has completed one action phase players continue taking it turns until everyone passes.  Thus, the final possible action is taking payment which is the simplest action and allows players to move one of their population markers back to the harbour so that they can re-use the building in the same round. In addition to the five basic actions, some of the more expensive buildings provide a choice or even a combination of two of the basic actions.  After seven rounds, points are awarded for cities, for connections between cities, for progress up status tracks, cards, some special buildings, and any left-over population markers.

Endeavor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

It was an inauspicious start: Grey was unhappy with the name, it hurt his language sensibilities, and he was very concerned as to where the “u” had gone.  Green was definitely at an advantage as the only person to have played the game before, but he did his best to guide the others for their first few turns. In truth, there is very little choice to be made in the first round or so, however, what choice there is tends to turn out to be critical by the end of the game.  With so little decision to make, the first round is always over in a flash, though the later rounds take progressively longer as the game goes on.  Ivory and Green both started building Workshops for the extra brick, while Grey went for a Shipyard and started to ship. In the second round, Ivory and Green’s Workshop enabled them to build more valuable buildings and Ivory took a Guildhall to get in on the shipping act, while Green declined the extra brick and went for the Shipyard. This gave him a second green population token and popped him over into gaining three population markers.  As the fog of first game confusion began to clear for Grey, he saw the advantage of the Workshop, so took it at the second opportunity.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

The first few rounds raced past as everyone developed their own board, increased their  populations and took cities and shipping tracks, but some clear strategies were emerging.  Green had a large number of cities in central Europe and a smattering of shipping routes, but was pushing strongly for Africa (to make connections with his European cities and give some great bonus action chits). Ivory was also keeping a strong hold in Europe, but not so much on the shipping tracks, while Grey was concentrating on opening up India and the Far East. Ivory had built up a healthy row of cards, and although he was the only one to resort to slavery so far, it was only the one card.  In the fourth round Grey took the penultimate space on the India shipping track and gifted Green a super-turn, when he used his Dock to ship (thus opening up the region) and then occupied too. The newly occupied town linked to his European city and so he got that extra token too. Grey did get the bonus Governor card in consolation however.  And then, the regions tumbled, next were the Far East and then North America.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

By the fifth round, the first four cards in the central region had all been taken, and a quick count up showed Green had five cities. He waited until the sixth round and, since no-one had attacked him, he took the final card and abolished slavery. Luckily Ivory was not too badly affected by this and avoided the collapsing house of cards such an event can often trigger.  At the start of the final round, Grey spotted that Ivory had a cluster of four cities plus one in Africa: that gave him four connections.  He also noticed that there was one cornerstone city that connected them all. So he bravely marched in, took the losses involved in attack and swiped several points from Ivory in one go.  The final turns were used for mopping up as many points as possible and once everyone had passed, it was on to final scoring.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

Not unexpectedly given his extra experience with the game, Green scored the most, with victory points from most areas.  Ivory was close behind in what had been a very enjoyable game.  In fact Grey had not only got over the mis-spelled title, but had enjoyed it so much that he went on to try to find a copy for himself.  Alas Endeavor is very out of print so if it can be found, it’s going to cost a pretty penny, which is a shame, as it is a really good game with good replay-ability, thanks to its random token layout.  On the adjacent table, there was much debate as to what to play, but eventually, the group settled on Istanbul, winner of the Kennerspiel des Jahres two years ago.  We’ve played it a couple of times, but Pine was completely new to it, though both Blue and Red had played it before.  It is also a fairly simple game where players are trying to lead their Merchant and his four Assistants through the Turkish bazaar.  There are sixteen locations each with an associated action, but to carry out an action, the Merchant needs an Assistant to help out.

Istanbul
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor duchamp

The problem is, once an action has been completed, the Merchant must move on, however, an Assistant remains to complete the details of the transaction.  Thus, the Merchant can only carryout a transaction if he has the help of an Assistant.  When he runs out of Assistants, the Merchant cannot carryout a transaction and must either visit the Fountain and summon his Assistants or go back to stalls where the Assistants are to collect them.  The central play-area is made up of tiles representing each stall, so there are four possible layouts:  “Short”, where the distances between places that work well together are small making game-play easier; “Long”, where places that work well together are far apart, which forces players to plan ahead more; “Challenging”, where similar places are grouped together, and “Random”.  For this game, we chose “Long” routes to give us a slightly more interesting game.

Istanbul
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Blue began by collecting money and visiting the Wainwright to build up the size of her cart, while Red began collecting the special tiles from the Mosque’s while they were still cheap.  Although Pine felt he understood the rules and the aim of the game perfectly, it took him a few rounds to work out how to go about making things work together effectively.  So it was that Blue just managed to get to the Jewelers before Pine and use a double card to buy two gems.  As Pine had only had the exact money for his own double gem purchase, he was now two Lira short and had to go and acquire more cash.  To add insult to injury, he had just acquired his extra Lira when Red pulled a similar trick and Pine had to go and find yet more cash.  While Blue and Pine were building piles of currency, Red was quietly collecting tiles from the Mosques and a full set gave her two gems.

Istanbul
– Image used with permission of of boardgamephotos

Blue and Pine completed their carts and, with her gems from the Jeweler, Blue seemed to have got her nose in front.  That was before Pine, largely unintentionally, got his revenge for the problems Blue had caused him earlier in the game.  Everything Blue tried to do, Pine was there first and obstructed her plans.  In such a tight game, it was just enough to give Red the extra time she needed to get her fifth gem and trigger the end of the game.  Despite a massive forty-two Lira, Pine needed two turns to change them into gems leaving Blue just ahead in second place with four gems.  As Endeavor was still in the closing stages, Red, Blue and Pine investigated the “Feature Game”.  To celebrate our fourth birthday this week, this was to be Crappy Birthday a silly little filler/party game.  This game has a lot in common with games like Apples to Apples and in particular, Dixit.  The idea is that each player has a hand of cards featuring strange potential gifts.  On their turn, it is the active player’s birthday and everyone else passes them a card.  The active player then chooses what they think is the best and worst and returns them to the original owner who keeps them as points.

Crappy Birthday
– Image by boardGOATS

After a couple of turns, Endeavor came to an end and the group joined up for a proper game of Crappy Birthday.  The key to playing this sort of game is knowing the other players.  Although we meet regularly, we don’t all know each other all that well, so this was always going to be interesting.  By the end, we’d learned that Red would quite like to bungee-jump; Green thinks turning his car into a caravanette would be fun (well, perhaps not his car); Blue has a pathological hatred of having her photo taken and Pine likes fluffy penguins and had been to the Westmann Islands and played with warm lava…  In the absence of cake (partly due to a mix up) we completed two rounds and Ivory and Green finished in front with three points apiece.  Given how unsuccessful social games often are with our group (most recently Codenames, which was very divisive), this was not expected to be a great success.  However, the cards were such fun and so unusual, that we all really enjoyed it.  Sadly, that means the game has poor replayability as, once the surprise has gone, the game will be much less fun.

Splendor
– Image by boardGOATS

With that done, Red, Ivory and Grey headed off, leaving Pine, Blue and Green to play something quick.  After a little chit-chat Splendor was the chosen game, with both Pine and Blue having unfinished business after getting soundly beaten twice in quick succession.  In this game, players have just three options on their turn:  collect gem tokens, buy a gem card using gem tokens (and/or cards), or reserve a gem card and receive a gold (wild) token at the same time.  Players can have a maximum of ten tokens, though unlimited cards and the cards act as permanent tokens.  Thus, at its heart Splendor is an engine building game built on a set-collection mechanism.  Players score points when they buy some gem cards and for attracting Nobles which are awarded to the first player collect certain combinations of gem cards; the game end is triggered when one player reaches fifteen points and the player with the most at the end wins.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

The game started with both Pine and Blue going for it with all guns blazing.  The set up included three special Noble tiles:  one from the 2015 Brettspiel Adventskalender and two from the promotional tiles set, but all four Nobles included opals.  So, it was just as well that there were lots of opals out at the start of the game.  Blue and and Pine collected as many of them as they could.  Green picked up a few too, but found the competition was quite stiff and went for more rubies and sapphires.  It was Pine who picked up the first of the Nobles, but that galvanised Blue into action and she grabbed the remaining three in quick succession.  She was still a few points short of the finish line, and it was then that Green realised he had misread one of the cards.  Having had a similar lead and lost last time she had played, she wasn’t going to let this one get away, and ruthlessly gathered the remaining points she needed to quickly bring the game to a close.  Blue finished the game with sixteen four points ahead of Pine in second place.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Learning outcome: Some of the best games can be very difficult to get hold of.

Boardgames in the News: Will the Latest Consolidation Lead to Price Rises?

In February, following their acquisition of Esdevium GamesLibellud, Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight games, Ystari Games, Asterion Press and Pearl Games we asked the question, “Are Asmodee Taking Over the World?”  As if to answer in the affirmative, in April, Asmodee announced the start of a new contract with Queen Games for exclusive distribution rights in the USA.  Since Asmodee has been the distributor for Queen Games in Germany, this made logistical sense.  However, other consequences of these consolidations are now becoming apparent.

Asmodee
– Image from forbes.com

This week, Asmodee issued a press release stating that from the 1st January 2016, games made available by its three main US operations, Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight games and Asmodee Editions will be sourced from a single entity, Asmodee North America.  Furthermore, in the New Year, Asmodee North America will be adjusting its sales terms and reducing the number of its primary customers in the USA to just five authorised distributors.  From 1st April 2016, these authorised distributors will be restricted to selling Asmodee North America’s products to “speciality retailers” that have agreed to Asmodee North America’s “Speciality Retail Policy”.

Asmodee North America
– Image from Asmodee North America Press Release

This Speciality Retail Policy states that a “retailer must not sell or transfer … other than through face-to-face commercial resale exchange with end-users in retailer’s physical retail location(s) or at a physical extension of the retailer’s location at a consumer show/convention”.  Thus, all future sales will be restricted to bricks and mortar stores, effectively preventing the selling of Asmodee North America‘s products online.  This is not an end to online sales, however, as the press release goes on to say that “Asmodee North America will allow select merchants to service the online sales channel under a separate sales policy. Such select online merchants will either be supplied directly by Asmodee North America, or by appointed distributors acting under Asmodee North America’s related policy.”

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 5 – United Kingdom & Pennsylvania
– Image by boardGOATS

Online speculation is rife that these measures have been put in place to prevent the deep discounting seen in the USA, and that the contracts the retailers will have to sign will include a commitment to sell at the list price, thus effectively price fixing by other means.  This has been carried out in the past by both Mayfair Games (the Catan brand) and Games Workshop (Warhammer etc.) who both have strict Speciality Retail Policies that restrict distribution, maintaining high prices.  This is all highly significant with the growth of modern boardgaming as Asmodee North America produce some of the most popular gateway games, in particular Ticket to Ride, 7 Wonders, Dixit, and Dobble as well as the newly reawakened Star Wars license.  It is not yet clear whether this will also have any effect on the distribution of Queen Games products in the USA.

– Image used with permission of BGG contributor adamfeldner

Asmodee North America has claimed these changes are because they are “committed to brick-and-mortar hobby market speciality retailers”.  On the other hand, in the FAQ that accompanied the statement, Asmodee North America state that even physical stores with an online presence are “limited to the channel of sale involving physical retail stores only”, which appears to belie this, since online sales are often what keeps “Bricks and Mortar” stores afloat.  The FAQ also states that “These policies currently affect our business in the US. Our Canadian operations will continue unaffected until notified otherwise.”  There is no mention of the EU, but it is likely that Esdevium, who already have something of a strangle-hold on the distribution of games in the UK, will continue to assert pressure on the market as they did at the start of this year.

– Image from wpn.wizards.com

Boardgames in the News: Ten Great Games to Play with the Family at Christmas

With the nights drawing in and the weather becoming increasingly wet and wintery, what could be nicer than an afternoon playing board games in front of the fire?  If you are new to the hobby, here are ten great modern boardgames to play over the Christmas holidays.  These are all readily available online and/or in dedicated boardgame shops.

  1. PitchCar – This superb car racing game is guaranteed to get kids of all ages playing together; the winner is the person who manages to flick their car round the track first. The game plays six people, but you can get more cars from the Ferti website and play a pursuit type game which is also good fun.  You can also get expansion packs to make your track longer and more interesting if you really like it.
    Target Audience: Families & parties; ages 2 to 102…
    Game Time: From half an hour tailor-able to the group, plus time to build the track.
    Price:  Approximately £45 from amazon.co.uk for the base game (also available in a slightly cheaper mini-version for those without a large table).

    PitchCar
    – Image used with permission of BGG contributor garyjames
  2. Tsuro – Players take it in turns to build a path for their “dragon”, creating a maze for everyone else at the same time. The game lasts just fifteen to twenty minutes and plays up to eight people.  It combines just enough strategy and luck that if you get knocked out early, there is always time to try again.  Don’t be tempted to get Tsuro of the Seas though, it takes all the really good things about Tsuro and makes them slightly less good.
    Target Audience: Friends & Families with ages 8+
    Game Time: 15-20 mins with almost no set up time.
    Price:  £20-25 from amazon.co.uk.

    Tsuro
    – Image used with permission of BGG contributor aleacarv
  3. Bohnanza – This one sounds really uninspiring on reading the rules:  players have to trade beans to make the most money from the biggest and best bean fields.  Despite the unpromising sound, you only need to play it once with a couple of other people and before you’ve gone far you will agree it is one of the best games ever made – never has bean farming been so much fun!
    Target Audience: Older children and adults; ages 10+
    Game Time: 45-60 mins
    Price:  Readily available for around £15-20.

    Bohnanza
    – Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr
  4. Dobble – With five games in the tin, this Snap-inspired game is excellent value.  Since it relies on reactions, it is also one of those games where children are often genuinely better than adults.  And it is so quick to play that it is an ideal game to squeeze in while the kettle is boiling or tea is brewing.
    Target Audience: 3 and up
    Game Time: 2 mins per round
    Price:  Readily available for around £10 or less.

    Dobble
    – Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari
  5. Escape:  The Curse of the Temple – While most Euro Games don’t use dice, in this game players have five each.  This is a team game that is played against the clock, so has the advantage that everyone wins or loses together.  The team of five players simultaneously roll dice to explore the temple and activate gemstones and then try to escape together before the temple collapses around their ears.  This is also ideal for children to play with adults as they can work in pairs or groups learning communication and team working skills.  If the game seems too difficult for the group, it can also be made a little easier by reducing the number of gems the group have to activate.
    Target Audience: age 5+ as long as there are understanding adults playing
    Game Time: 10 mins per game plus a few minutes setting up
    Price:  approximately £25-30 from amazon.co.uk.

    Escape: The Curse of the Temple
    – Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus
  6. Survive: Escape from Atlantis! – This is good fun and really, really nasty.  Not quite so easy to learn, but really not that difficult either and great fun with four people who have a competitive streak.  Each player has a number of pieces that they are trying to get from the central island to the mainland.  Players take it in turns to move a person or boat, then they take a piece from the island, finally they roll a die to move a whale, shark or sea-monster, with potentially devastating consequences…
    Target Audience: Teenagers; not recommended for children under 12 or people who can’t take getting picked on
    Game Time: 40-60 mins
    Price:  Approximately £25-30 from amazon.co.uk; a 5-6 player expansion is also available which makes things even nastier…

    Survive: Escape from Atlantis!
    – Image used with permission of BGG contributor ckirkman
  7. Dixit – This is a great game to play with the mums and grannies in the family.  Players take it in turns to be the “story teller” who chooses a card from their hand and gives a clue that everyone else tries to match.  Everyone then has to guess which card belonged to the story teller, with points awarded for good guesses as well as cards that mislead other players.  The original base game plays six well, but Dixit: Odyssey plays up to twelve with a slight tweak to the rules.  Extra decks of cards are also available.
    Target Audience: Friendly groups and parties.
    Game Time: 30-45 mins
    Price:  Approximately £15-30 from amazon.co.uk, depending on the version.

    Dixit
    – Image used with permission of BGG contributor lacxox
  8. Colt Express – For older children and younger adults, this game is a glorious mixture of controlled chaos.  Players are bandits attacking and looting a fantastic 3D train.  Rounds are broken into two parts, first players take it in turns to choose the cards they will play placing them in a communal pile the centre of the table.  Then, once everyone has chosen, players carry out the action on each card in turn.  The problem is by the time they get to the end, the plans they had at the start have gone terribly awry…  A similar feel can be got from the pirate themed Walk the Plank! which is a cheaper, smaller, easier game that packs a lot of fun into a shorter playing time.
    Target Audience: Young, and not-so-young adults.
    Game Time: 30-60 mins
    Price:  Approximately £25 from amazon.co.uk; Walk the Plank! is available for £15-20.

    Colt Express
    – Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman
  9. Ticket to Ride: Europe – Players are collecting coloured cards and spending them to place plastic trains on map/board with the aim of trying to build routes across Europe.  This game has been around a little while now and is available in several different flavours:  for the typical UK family, the Europe edition is probably best (plays up to five players), but for a couple, the Nordic edition with its gorgeous festive artwork might be more appropriate (only two to three players though).  If it is popular, there are also a number of expansion maps available.
    Target Audience: Age 10+.
    Game Time: 30-60 mins
    Price:  Readily available for available for £25-40 depending on the version and vendor.

    Ticket to Ride: Europe
    – Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke
  10. No Thanks! – A quick and simple little betting game anyone can play.  The game consists of a deck of cards and some red plastic chips.  The first can take the top card, or pay a chip and pass the problem onto the next player.  The aim of the game is to finish with the lowest total face value of the cards, but if woe-betide anyone who runs out of chips as they will be left at the mercy of everyone else.
    Target Audience:  Friends and families; children aged 8+.
    Game Time: 10-15 mins
    Price:  Readily available for approximately £10.

    No Thanks!
    – Image used with permission of BGG contributor ckirkman

Boardgames in the News: Spiel des Jahres Awards

This week, Colt Express won the Spiel des Jahres Award.  Although it may seem strange, this German award is highly sought after and is the most coveted award in the world-wide world of boardgames.  The reason for this goes back nearly forty years when the “English” market was dominated by companies like Milton Bradley (who made Scrabble) and Parker Brothers (who made Cluedo and Monopoly).  These concentrated on producing a few top sellers, however, in Germany there was no such dominance.  So, the German market consisted of a large number of small manufacturers producing more varied products.  This, coupled with the traditionally strong German toy industry, encouraged the growth of a culture of families playing games together on a Sunday afternoon.

Spiel des Jahres
– Image from spieldesjahres.de

It was in this environment that the annual German Game of the Year, or Spiel des Jahres Award, began in 1978, with the stated purpose of rewarding excellence in game design, and promoting top-quality games in the German market.  The red pawn of the Spiel des Jahres logo, has since become a mark of quality, and for many German families, buying the game of the year is something they do every Christmas.  Thus, the award has been such a success that it is said a nomination can increase sales from a few hundred to tens of thousands and the winning game can be expected to sell up to half a million copies or more.

El Grande
– Image by BGG contributor Domostie

Over the last fifteen years, years, the Spiel des Jahres has generally gone from highlighting games like El Grande, Tikal and Torres (1996, 1999 & 2000), to rewarding lighter games like Dixit, Qwirkle and Camel Up (2010, 2011 & 2014).  The problem was particularly brought to light in 2002 when Puerto Rico, arguably one of the best games ever made was not rewarded because it was perceived as too complex.  The problem reared its ugly head again in 2008, but this time the jury awarded Agricola a special “Complex Game” award.  These two games are widely considered to be the pinnacle of “Euro-Games”: between them they’ve held the top position on the BoardGameGeek website for the best part of ten years, yet neither were awarded the top prize. The problem was that these games were not mainstream enough for the German family game market:  they were too complex for those families making their annual purchase. On the other hand, for frequent and dedicated boardgamers, these Spiel des Jahres games are too light.  So, for this reason, the Kennerspiel des Jahres or “Connoisseurs’ Game of the Year” was introduced in 2011 and for more serious gamers, this has largely superseded the Spiel des Jahres.  This year it was awarded to Broom Service, a reimplementation of Witch’s Brew which was itself nominated for the Spiel des Jahres in 2008.

Adel Verpflichtet
– Image by BGG contributor Henco

The Kennerspiel des Jahres is not the only prestigious award available to strategy games however.  In 1990, the German magazine “Die Pöppel-Revue”, introduced the Deutscher Spiele Preis or “German Game Prize”.  This is announced in October every year at the International Spieltage in Essen.  In contrast to the Spiel des Jahres, the Deutscher Spiele Preis has gone from rewarding lighter games like Adel Verpflichtet (aka Hoity Toity, in 1990) and our group’s current favourite filler, 6 Nimmt! (winner in 1994) , to highlighting games like Russian Railroads and Terra Mystica (in the last two years).

Deutsche Spiele Preis
– Image from bordspil.is

Boardgames in the News: Are Asmodée Taking Over the World?

Asmodée is the French translation for Asmodeus, and according to Binsfeld’s classification of demons, Asmodeus is the demon of lust and is therefore responsible for twisting people’s sexual desires.  In the boardgame world though, Asmodée (originally known as Siroz) are a small French game publishing and distribution company, specialising in the family market. For example, they are well known for Dobble, Dixit, Time’s Up! and Ca$h ‘n Guns, but they also publish some more challenging games including Snow Tails, Mr. Jack, Formula D, Takenoko and 7 Wonders.

Jungle Speed
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Asmodée was started in 1995 by Marc Nunès, a self-trained entrepreneur developing role-playing games, but quickly became France’s foremost games publisher and distributor.  One of the big early successes was Jungle Speed, launched in 1998, which has since gone on to be one of the top-selling titles in France, rivalling Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit and Pay Day.  The real turning point came in 2003, however, when Asmodée obtained the French licence to distribute Pokémon collector cards, which opened up the mass retail sector.  This development led to an 18% investment from Naxicap in 2005.  Naxicap’s stake was bought out two years later by Montefiore who acquired 60% of the company as part of a deal with management worth €40-50 million.  Montefiore invested €120 million to finance Asmodée’s international growth, funding the acquisition of the Belgian game distributor Hodin in 2008, the Spanish games developer Cromola and the German Proludo in 2009, followed by the purchase of a 60% stake in the UK-based distributor, Esdevium Games in 2010.  Asmodée also strengthened it’s portfolio with the acquisition of Abalone and partnership with Libellud (leading to the distribution rights for Dixit) in 2010.

Abalone
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari

In 2012, Asmodée branched out further, setting up a subsidiary in Shanghai, China,  with the intention of expanding “into a new market taking advantage of Asmodee’s extensive line-up of games and the existing relationships with partners, thus promoting the brand in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan”.  This ambition brought Asmodée to the attention of the Eurazeo, a European investment company and a deal was announced in November 2013 that valued Asmodée at €143 million.   In January, 2014, almost exactly a year ago now, Eurazeo bought 83.5% of Asmodée through an equity investment of €98 million while Asmodée’s management team and original founders reinvested €14 million of their own money.

Ticket to Ride
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor garyjames

With the backing Eurazeo provided, Asmodée then went big:  in August last year it was announced that Days of Wonder would be “merging into the Asmodée Group of game companies”.   Days of Wonder are one of the biggest names in modern boardgaming, and are often credited with the growth of the modern boardgame industry, thanks largely to their flagship Ticket to Ride games, which have sold well over two million copies to date.  This is not the only “big game” in their catalogue either, they are also responsible for Memoir ’44 and Small World, both of which are popular games, demonstrated by the number of expansions they support and which take Days of Wonder’s total number of games sold to over five million since their founding in 2002.

Small World
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor crosenkrantz

According to Forbes, Days of Wonder generates between $10 million and $20 million in revenue annually, not bad in such a niche market.  From Eurazeo/Asmodée’s point of view, such an acquisition makes sound financial sense, not just because of the commercial value, but because they already provided a lot of the distribution for Days of Wonder games.  This wasn’t enough for Asmodée however, and three months later, they acquired the U.S. publisher Fantasy Flight Games.

– Image used with permission of BGG contributor adamfeldner

This was a bit of a change of direction for Asmodée:  hitherto, all the acquisitions had been firmly in the family boardgame and distribution markets.  Fantasy Flight games are a very different animal and their headline games, Twilight Imperium and Arkham Horror are much less family friendly.   Even their X-Wing Miniatures Game which is very popular with fathers and sons, is a long way outside the normal scope of Asmodée, since it is essentially a two-player war game with a Star Wars theme.  However, there are considerable benefits for both parties, since the merger will enable Fantasy Flight to improve its distribution in Europe, while simultaneously giving the growing Asmodée Group access to Fantasy Flight’s North American sales and marketing teams.

Black Fleet
– Image used with permission BGG contributor Toynan

Asmodée weren’t stopping there, however, with Ystari Games, Asterion Press and Pearl Games also becoming “part of the Asmodée family” late last year.  The link with Ystari Games almost certainly comes from their mutual interest in Space Cowboys.  Space Cowboys is a game creation studio created in 2013 by Marc Nunès (who started Asmodée way back in 1995, remember?), Philippe Mouret and Croc (both of Asmodée), Cyril Demaegd (Ystari) and Sébastien Pauchon (GameWorks).  Space Cowboys is a very small outfit, but already has one Spiel des Jahres nomination under its belt in Splendor and looks to be trying for a second with Black Fleet, the gorgeous pirate game released at Essen last year.

Eurazeo
– Image from eurazeo.com

So, what are Asmodée up to?  The concern is that gamers generally like the current diversity in the market and fear that this succession of mergers and partnerships will mean a homogenisation of the games available.  The November 2014 Eurazeo “Investor Day” report spelled out the current state of Asmodée in detail and the good news is that this does not seem to be Eurazeo/Asmodée’s intention.  The report states, “Each studio has its own DNA,” and goes on to say, “Repeated success lies in the full independency granted to these studios, to keep innovating.”  So it seems the diversity is valued, however, by acquiring mid-sized publishers like Days of Wonder and Fantasy Flight, Asmodée is positioning itself to compete more effectively with multinational toy giants like Hasbro and Mattel, who publish top board game brands including Monopoly and Scrabble.

Eurazeo
– Image from eurazeo.com

So, is it a good thing that Asmodée are setting themselves up to rival the big boys?  Well, Asmodée is not the only company to engage in mergers:  in 2011 Filosofia purchased the U.S. publisher Z-Man Games, and U.S. publisher FRED Distribution (which releases games under the Eagle Games and Gryphon Games brands), acquired U.S. publisher Face2Face Games.  More recently, in late 2013, Mayfair Games (the U.S. partner for Catan) bought a controlling interest in Lookout Games (the company who first brought Agricola, Caverna, Le Havre and Ora et Labora to the market).

Asmodee
– Image from forbes.com

Clearly a large stable company provides security for designers, as well as providing support for the individual studios who know that one poor decision is no-longer likely to bring about the end of the company, both of which have to be A Good Thing.  However, companies like Eurazeo invest for only one reason:  financial return.  With an effective monopoly, Asmodée are now in a position to squeeze the market, indeed we may already be seeing the evidence of this in the price rises announced at the start of the year.  With this in mind, it will become clear in due course whether Asmodée is good for boargaming in the UK or whether it is genuinely the demon of lust responsible for twisting our gaming desires…

11th March 2014

So you can’t keep keen gamers down, and some of us decided that as it was games night, we were going to play some games anyhow.  First up was a Dixit which was was the first game of the new year, played in the early hours of New Year’s Day.  In this game, the “Story Teller” chooses a card from their hand and uses a word, phrase, noise or even action to describe it.  Everyone else chooses the card from their hand that they feel best matches the “clue”.  These are shuffled together with the Story Teller’s “answer” card and turned over, before players choose which one they think was correct, i.e. the Story Teller’s.  Points are awarded to players for guessing correctly, to players who’s cards were picked by other players, and to the caller if some people (but not all) managed to guess the correct card.

Dixit

Red fell behind initially, but after Blue had taken her place at the back she managed to rejoin the pack, moving into second place.  It didn’t stay that way for long, however, and as the group closed up everyone (except White) took their turn at the rear of the group.  With two rounds to go the rabbits were all lined up one behind the other with only only three points between first and last place.  Red was the first to slip up and failed to score in the penultimate round, followed by Green in the last round, which left White and Blue to move ahead, with Blue taking it by a nose.

Dixit

Red had to leave, and the rest of us played another game of Tobago as two people had missed out last time. This is a very pretty treasure hunting game  where players take it in turns to play clue cards that successively narrow down the location of the treasure.  Players can then try to position their vehicle in such a way that, once the location of the treasure has been uniquely identified, they are the first to get to it.  Treasure is then distributed amongst those who played clue cards and the player who found it, but beware!  There are two “cursed treasures” which as well as damaging the current treasure also cause unprepared players to discard their most valuable treasure.  In this game we had fun finding the “Grey” treasure as all the clues were very non-specific and it required seven clues to locate it.  Despite all that effort, however, the first treasure card revealed was cursed and nobody got anything!  In contrast, the other nasty treasure also required a lot of clues, but it was the last card revealed and nobody had passed so nobody missed out.  As the game was nearing the end, it was Green’s turn and only one treasure had any clues, both of which were his.  With the aid of an amulet, he managed to locate the treasure and travel to it collecting keeping all the treasure for himself.  As before, we ran out of treasures making it necessary to take cards from the discard deck.  This time, the cursed treasure was not drawn though and Green picked up a massive 14 points, giving him a clear win with 46 points in a game that had been very close with only a few points in it until the final turn.

Tobago

Learning Outcome:  Beware of the Cursed Treasure:  A lot of hard work can be wasted!