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Links: Guess the 2012 Spiel des Jahres Nominees, The Gamer Lifecycle & More on The Wheaton Effect

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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Let's reboot following yesterday's comment onslaught and repost the non-tentacle-related items so that they can get a bit of attention:

• Writers on the Opinionated Gamers, including yours truly, have presented their educated(?) guesses for the Spiel des Jahres and Kennerspiel des Jahres nominees, which will be announced this coming Monday, May 21, 2012 on the SdJ website. My picks, for those too lazy to click the link, are Africana, Kingdom Builder and Takenoko for SdJ – with Africana taking home the poppel – and Glory to Rome, Hawaii and Village for Kennerspiel, with Village winning this award. Here's why I went with those choices:

I've played (relatively) few new titles since the middle of 2011, so I'm blending personal knowledge, crowd observation, and wild-eyed guesses in order to make my choices.

Josh [Miller, whose picks preceded mine in the list,] has a decent list of qualifications for SdJ nominees – visually attractive, easy to learn, smooth play out of the box, and vast sales/expansion potential. Africana and Kingdom Builder have all of this in spades. (I’ve yet to play Takenoko, but Antoine Bauza won the first Kennerspiel with 7 Wonders, the components are gloriously appealing, and the game has widespread German distribution, so it seems like a solid third choice.) One element he didn’t mention, but which seems important when viewing previous SdJ winners, is that the nominees tend to straddle the family/gamer line – that is, casual gamers can play them, have fun and do reasonably well while gamers will look deeper, discover more and play better. Again, Africana and Kingdom Builder fit this qualification well. Why choose Africana over Kingdom Builder? Partly due to its contrast with 2011 SdJ winner Qwirkle in that Africana has a realistic thematic setting, and partly due to the German love of travel.

All three of my Kennerspiel nominees – Glory to Rome, Hawaii, and Village – are excellent designs, and all fit the Kennerspiel category of games for connoisseurs as they're more involved that your average game, yet not off the charts in terms of complexity or opaqueness, although GtR might have one foot across that line. Still, I think GtR is an incredible design that goes beyond what you normally think is possible in a card game, and with Lookout Games having released an attractive version in German in 2011, I think it could get the nod.

As for Hawaii and Village, both are straight-up Eurogame designs that present gamers with interesting-to-explore game systems in an inviting setting. They're not too difficult to learn and play, making them ideal for those who have played the basics and want something more. I prefer Hawaii over Village as the money management and tight competition for goods among players makes the game tougher than Village, while also providing a wider range of set-up variability, which kicks your brain in new directions each game. Village gets my vote, however, as it has the homey thematic edge, just as Thurn & Taxis had the home-turf advantage over Blue Moon City in 2006. Yes, your villagers die and sure, that could be morbid for some, but that aspect of the game also encapsulates the broader cultural outlook in Europe, with people viewing themselves as part of history-in-the-making rather than above it, as seems to be more common in the U.S.

Who knows? I could just be blowing smoke...

We'll see how well I did in a couple of days...

• In his personal blog, Hiew Chok Sien explores the lifecycle of a gamer, using himself as an example. An excerpt: "This year, it struck me that me exiting the boardgame hobby is a possibility. Not that it is likely in the near future, but this is probably the first time I considered it a possibility at all."

• To follow up on an earlier post about "The Wheaton Effect", someone at Black Diamond Games, a retail shop in Concord, California, blogs about people coming in to pick up specific titles after discovering them on Wheaton's TableTop online program: "[Fan-based] podcasts have barely moved the needle when it comes to influence, as opposed to TableTop, which can send a small legion of people to hunt for Tsuro after a positive review, an all-right abstract board game with modest reviews that made its debut in 2004."

The writer continues: "The difference, of course, is the celebrity angle.... It also goes without saying that there's a bit of geek resentment to see these kinds of vehicles move geek culture to the mainstream.... As gamers, we spent our childhoods dodging adults who thought our hobby was sinister and peers who wanted to ridicule us for it, plus it wasn't exactly a chick magnet.... To have geek celebs make your struggle popular can be viewed as a denial of that journey through the desert." Really? I haven't heard any resentment addressed at Wheaton and TableTop, other than for repeated rule mistakes and a less-than-stellar presentation of The Settlers of Catan – and that just sounds like geeks being geeks, not an angry mob marching to reclaim their previous geek cred.
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