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'Spiel des Josh' Award: 1997 Edition
Joshua Miller
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Yeah, 1997 - not a typo.

I've been stepping back and gradually expanding the coverage from my original Spiel des Josh list. The Spiel des Josh was originally a single massive list. It wasn't until 2003 that I started giving each new year its own GeekList. I eventually plan to do a expanded 1996 and a 1995 list. Years prior to that will stay on the original list (with occasional updates, as always). Future plans also include a Spiel des Josh blog and a Spiel des Josh wiki.

The Spiel des Josh is just my fake award for what I think are the best games of the year. It's a living award, and I continue to assess and adjust past lists whenever I discover an overlooked game, or whenever my assessment of a game takes a major shift.

Here are links to all the Spiel des Josh lists currently available:

2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 1998 1997 all prior years

As always, the first ten games listed are the "official" Spiel des Josh selections, ranked in order starting with the best. The entries following the first ten are for thoughts and discussion on other games from 1997 that I've enjoyed (and some that I didn't especially enjoy).
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1. Board Game: Tigris & Euphrates [Average Rating:7.77 Overall Rank:33]
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1997 is when I first started playing these wonderful "German games," and the best one of all was this brand new game called Euphrat & Tigris. There was a huge amount of anticipation surrounding this title, which was rumored to be Reiner Knizia's "gamer's game." Amazingly, it lived up to its advanced billing. Euphrat & Tigris is still one of my all-time favorite games, and I've been sporting the E&T temple tile avatar since we've had avatars here on BGG.



Even after many, many games, I haven't quite decided whether this is a game with a little bit of luck or a game with a lot of luck. Ultimately, I really don't care because it's so unbelievably fascinating and enjoyable to play, and because the scope for richly-textured strategic and tactical play is astounding. I like Euphrat & Tigris equally well with three players (a tight, measured game) or with four (more wild and woolly). Many also like it with two, although I'm not one of them.

Knizia sometimes gets accused of using slapped-on themes, and this game is one that is often mentioned in that argument. Which baffles me. The feel of this game matches its theme almost perfectly. Ancient Mesopotamia and the Fertile Crescent was a place of constant upheaval and quickly-changing politics, with an endless stream of leaders and civilizations battling for supremacy. Playing Euphrat & Tigris really puts me in that thematic mindset of scheming and adaptation and opportunistic takeovers.

I love the way that the game forces you to constantly rethink your strategy as the landscape and power structure evolves. You may be living large off the fat of the land, but eventually you'll probably have to uproot and reinvent yourself.

Reiner Knizia has produced many games that could be called masterpieces. I submit that this is the most masterful of his many masterpieces.

Special Honors
The Massive and Imposing Granite Trophy - Best Gamer's Game of 1997

The Amazing Male Uterus - Most Innovative or Original Game of 1997
also considered: Bohnanza, FrischFisch, Showmanager, Ursuppe

The Slate and Clamshell - Best Art Design of 1997
also considered: Bohnanza

The Baker's Pair - Best Three-Player Game of 1997
also considered: Showmanager

The Yellow Toddler Stomp Boot - Best Game of Conquest, Trampling, and Smashing of 1997
also considered: Titan the Arena
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2. Board Game: Bohnanza [Average Rating:7.09 Overall Rank:280]
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How could a game about planting beans manage to generate roughly an expansion per year for more than a dozen years? Only by being a damn good game.

Bohnanza is still the benchmark that I use to measure other trading games. And they all fall a bit short of the mark. It's also one of the best games for introducing hobby games to the uninitiated. Just make sure to tell them about five or six times that they're not allowed to change the order of cards in their hand!

I prefer to play the German edition over the Rio Grande edition because it's more compatible with the various small expansions published by Lookout Games. Also, I enjoy seeing what funny code names people adopt for the various German-named beans. If you do get the German edition, be sure also to get the Bohnanza Erweiterungs-Set (or Bohnanza Erweiterungs-Set (Revised Edition)). It expands and tweaks the card mix according to the number of players, greatly improving the game balance. Those cards are already included in the English editions.

Bohnanza plays very well with any number of players from four to seven, and reasonably well with three. I like it best with four or five. With lots of players, you have to fight hard to acquire the beans you want. With fewer players, the struggle is often just to get rid of the beans you don't want.

My only criticism of Bohnanaza is that it sometimes feels like it lasts a bit too long. This is the only factor keeping it from earning a perfect 10/10 on my ledger.

Special Honors
The Well-Tempered Kazoo - Best Light Strategy Game of 1997
also considered: Titan the Arena, Showmanager

The Extremely Thin Trophy - Best Card Game of 1997
also considered: Titan the Arena

The Certificate of Participation - Best Cooperative, Team or Semi-Collaborative Game of 1997

The Harmony of the Wu Xing - Best Five-Player Game of 1997
also considered: For Sale

Amongst Our Trophies are Such Elements as the Unexpected Spanish Sixth Player - Best Six-Player Game of 1997
also considered: Showmanager


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3. Board Game: Colossal Arena [Average Rating:6.83 Overall Rank:540]
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The upper row of images are from the 1997 Avalon Hill edition Titan: The Arena. Those in the lower row are from Fantasy Flight's 2004 revised edition Colossal Arena.

Titan: The Arena is a terrific game with a really weird history. First of all, it has very little connection with the 1980s classic Titan, apart from the theme and the names of the creatures doing battle. Instead, it's based on Reiner Knizia's 1996 steeplechase racing card game Grand National Derby. Knizia (and Avalon Hill's Don Greenwood?) redeveloped the game into Titan: The Arena, changing the theme and adding secret bets and special rule-breaking powers for each of the creatures. These features transformed the game from a simple one-trick pony of a card game into something livelier and more nuanced.

In 2000, GMT published another re-developed version of the game called Galaxy: The Dark Ages. It's more complex and more chaotic - some would say overwrought and out of control. I also like that version, but not as much as Titan: The Arena.

Finally, Fantasy Flight published Colossal Arena in 2004, which is a reprint of Titan: The Arena with a couple of unwise tweaks, poor graphic design, and flimsy cardstock. There are some optional creatures that you can swap in for variety - but they mostly suck. Also, Fantasy Flight wrecked the endgame by changing the timing of when the game ends. But owners of Colossal Arena can certainly use the original rules, which are to play to the end of the fifth knockout round, even if you run out of cards to draw.

In all its forms, this is a game of betting, bluffing, temporary alliances, screwage, timing, hand management, and tactical card play. For a light/medium card game with simple rules, there really is a lot going on - not just in the game itself, but also in the metagame. Eight creatures are battling in an arena. The weakest creature will be eliminated at the end of each of five rounds, leaving only three survivors. Players place bets as to which creatures will survive, and play cards to affect the battle. Bets placed earlier are worth more than bets placed later. The player who is most heavily invested in a creature can use the creature's special power to help it survive. I like the game best with four players, although many say that three is best.

Special Honors
New Paint and Custom Rims - Best Remake or Spinoff of 1997


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4. Board Game: Fresh Fish [Average Rating:6.66 Overall Rank:1392]
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The upper row of images shows the original 2F edition. The lower row shows the 2003 English language edition.

I actually didn't get a chance to play FrischFisch until the arrival of the English edition from Plenary Games in 2003. The original version was published by Friedemann Friese's personal label 2F-Spiele, which was a very small operation at the time. The Plenary Games re-release (Fresh Fish) was riddled with problems: tacky clip art, microscopic cubes, indistinguishable red/orange player colors, a crappy gloss finish to the box and components, and an unbelievably bad rulebook. Even so, I was very grateful to have the game available once again.

This is an astonishingly original design and a real mindbender, requiring non-obvious strategies and great attention to detail. If that description makes Fresh Fish sound like a ponderous, glacial game, there's no need to worry. It actually moves along at a nice clip, packing an expansive array of decisions and drama into about an hour's time. I like it best with four players, but will also happily play it with three or five. Five can feel rather chaotic, though.

Be sure to get a translation of the original 2F rules. They're not perfectly clear, but they're much better than the mess of errors, misinterpretations and inexplicable changes that's included in the Plenary Games box. In the original rules the auctioneer wins all tiebreakers, and claims are allowed only adjacent to undeveloped claim markers or adjacent to roads (not next to developed tiles, as the PG edition states). Also, expropriation is much, much simpler than the PG rules make it sound (although the 2F rules are wordier than necessary here, too).

Special Honors
Sumo Westbank's G@mebox Cabinet of Friends - Best Middleweight "German School" Game of 1997

The Brain-Shaped Grenade - Best Puzzler or Brainburner of 1997
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5. Board Game: Show Manager [Average Rating:7.12 Overall Rank:651]
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Showmanager is a nice set collecting game about casting Broadway-style shows. It's somewhat fluffy, but does force you to weigh some nasty tradeoffs. You have to pay to hire actors, and money is very tight. You sometimes need to mortgage previous shows (slashing their value) in order to raise capital. Actors waiting to be hired line up in a queue, with prices ranging from free to quite expensive. The longer they go without work, the cheaper they become to hire. Most of the actors know more than one role, although they'll be better at some than others. The challenge is to assemble a good cast for your current show without taking on too much chaff, since you're only allowed to save two actors in your hand for future shows. You might decide to pluck a star actor for the show you plan to produce after the current one, but you have to be careful because of the hand limit.

Showmanager was originally published in 1996 under the title Premiere. I'm dating the game from the wider release by Queen in 1997, since the Premiere edition was from designer Dirk Henn's small line of handmade games, db-Spiele. Queen re-released the game in 2001 as Atlantic Star, inexplicably re-theming it as a game about ocean liners. This was a baffling decision. The ocean liner theme is flat and uninspiring, and doesn't really make any sense. The original theme was much more fun, and blended organically with the game mechanisms. Atlantic Star also expanded the deck of ships/actors. I strongly prefer the thinner deck of Showmanager, which creates more tension and makes it very challenging to produce anything decent in the last few turns of the game.

Many gamers view Showmanager as a game for 6 players because it moves quickly and generally does a better job than most games of accommodating that number. It is pretty good with 6, but I actually think it's a whole lot better with just 3 players. With 3, each player puts on each show twice. You don't have to use dummy shows like you do with 2, 4, or 5 players. Your turn comes around much more often than it does with 5-6 players, obviously, which means less boring dead time and more control over the proceedings. Defensive plays become viable choices. And I find that the decisions about hiring, timing, and borrowing money become much more difficult. In real life, I often prefer obvious choices, but in the realm of games, I think most people who would be reading this list, myself included, like the decisions to be difficult.

Special Honors
The Cardboard Rabbit Hole - Most Effective Presentation of Theme and Setting of 1997
also considered: Successors


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6. Board Game: Successors (second edition) [Average Rating:7.01 Overall Rank:1656]
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I had avoided Successors until the 2008 3rd edition from GMT. The original 1997 rules were known to have some problems, and the game's designer, Richard Berg, has a reputation for placing historical chrome ahead of playability - which is not the style of wargame design I prefer.

But I reevaluated my stance when the GMT edition starting getting very good reviews, in which I discovered that many gamers regarded Successors as one of the gems from the dying days of Avalon Hill. Also, I had never noticed that the game was developed by the designer of my all-time favorite wargame Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage, Mark Simonitch.

So I bought the GMT edition, and it is indeed a very good game. I wish it were a bit less complex, and I wish that the card play was as tense and interesting as it is in Hannibal. But there's a lot to like here: rich diplomacy, great historical flavor, and enjoyable chaos. I've still never played the 1997 version, so I'm not sure what the differences are. I'm still waiting for the perfect multiplayer card-driven wargame, but of those I've tried, Successors probably comes closest to filling the order. Here I Stand seems to be most people's favorite, but that game's reported length and complexity has kept me away.

Special Honors
The Quarter-Inch Steel Plated Trophy - Best Consim of 1997

Das "Ich und Du" - Best Two-Player Game of of 1997


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7. Board Game: For Sale [Average Rating:7.21 Overall Rank:218]
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The first image shows the card art from the early German editions (Ravensburger, FX Schmid). The others are the later English editions (Überplay, Gryphon).

If you've only got 10 or 15 minutes, it's hard to do better than a game of For Sale. It's a simple auction game played in two phases. In the first phase, players use a handful of chips to bid on properties numbered from 1 to 20. A number of properties equal to the number of players are laid out, and bidding goes around the table as many times as necessary. When a player drops out, they reclaim half their bid and take the lowest remaining property. The last player gets the highest property but must pay their full bid. New properties are laid out and purchased in the same way, until the deck of properties is exhausted.

In the second phase of the game, players sell the properties that they've just acquired, trying to snag the most valuable checks available. Checks are numbered from 0 to 30 (with some values missing). A number of checks equal to the number of players is laid out, and everyone plays one of their properties face down. The properties are revealed, and the highest property gets the highest check, etc. This continues until all the properties are sold and all the checks are claimed. The winner is the player with the highest total value of checks plus leftover chips from the first phase.

When Überplay published the first English language edition of For Sale in 2005, they made several changes. First they changed the distribution of both decks of cards to allow the game to play six players instead of five. While this would seem to be a good change, I don't like the way they damped the check distribution to run from 0 to 15 instead of from 0 to 30. The game doesn't even play well with six, so I wish they had just stuck with the original decks.

Secondly, they changed the bidding rules to require players to increase the current bid or fold. The original rules also allowed players to match the current bid. Opinion is divided on this matter, but I strongly prefer the Überplay bidding rules. With the original rules, the game actually drags a little bit. Someone bids a certain value, then everyone goes around the table matching that bid. Then the first bidder raises by one, and everyone matches again. It's slow, which is a problem for a game whose principal virtue is its brevity. It's true that the "must increase" rule can semi-randomly screw players based on their position at the table. But I think it's worth it to keep the game short and snappy.

Finally, the Überplay version rounds in the bank's favor when folding and reclaiming half your bid. The German versions rounded in the player's favor, and by all accounts the Überplay rule was simply a mistranslation of the German rulebook. I prefer the original German rule, but it's not a big deal.

Special Honors
The Dainty and Adorable Trophy - Best Quick Filler of 1997


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8. Board Game: Haste Worte? [Average Rating:7.02 Overall Rank:2800]
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Haste Worte is a German party game from Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling that has unfortunately never been published in English. It's a word game, so you'll need at least one German speaker to translate the categories. And even then, some of the categories won't be suitable linguistically or culturally for non-Germans. I would love to see someone publish an English version of Haste Worte.

The game is simple. Someone reads a category from one of the cards. It might be something like "Beatles songs" or "college majors." Everyone has a short amount of time to write down as many answers as they can, and also must secretly indicate how many of their answers they will read. Whoever bids lowest reads a number of answers equal to their bid, and scores that many points. Players continue to read their answers in the order of their bids, with the highest bid reading last. The tricky part is that no one is allowed to give an answer that a previous player has already given. So a higher bid will score more points (potentially), but it's hard to predict how many of your answers will be "used up" by the time your turn arrives.

This brilliant method of bidding and scoring is what really makes Haste Worte stand out. It's the game that Scattergories and Outburst! want to be when they grow up.

Special Honors
The Award That Was Only Trying To Be Affable - Best Party or Social Game of 1997
also considered: Bohnanza, Visionary, Wise and Otherwise


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9. Board Game: Jungle Speed [Average Rating:6.65 Overall Rank:751]
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Jungle Speed is a reaction and visual recognition game in the same family as games like Halli Galli, Snap, and Egyptian Ratscrew - but much better than any of those. Players take turns flipping a card onto the top of their personal stack. When two players' cards match in either shape or color, they compete to grab the baton in the center of the table. There are some other complications, but that's the basic idea.

Jungle Speed is a very simple, straightforward game. It works best in conjunction with alcohol, sleep deprivation, or children. Avoid playing against those with bloodborne illnesses.

Special Honors
The Athletic Cup - Best Action or Dexterity Game of 1997
also considered: Visionary, Zopp
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10. Board Game: Visionary [Average Rating:6.51 Overall Rank:3202]
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Try to tell a blindfolded teammate how to build a structure out of different shapes and sizes of wooden pieces. Dumb? Oh yes. But fun, loud, and often hilarious. People will stop and gather around to watch you play.

Visionary is not a game you're going to be playing again and again. It's a novelty game for people with large game collections who want an occasional change of pace that's good for a laugh and a bit of quirky excitement.

Works best for people with small heads or high pain thresholds.

Special Honors
The Thingamabob Doodad - Best Gaming Oddity of 1997
also considered: FrishFisch, Twilight, Ursuppe

The Lead-Free Trophy With No Sharp Edges - Best Childish Game for Adults of 1997
also considered: Jungle Speed

The Tro-lo-lo Trophy - Game That Most Exceeded My Expectations in 1998


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11. Board Game: Leftovers [Average Rating:6.09 Unranked]
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That's the top ten, and the end of the "official" Spiel des Josh list for 1997. There are a bunch more games worth discussing, and that's what the rest of the list is for.

Of the games from 1997 that I have not had a chance to play, there are really only two that interest me:

***

Volle Hütte has always been lingering on the borders of my attention. As someone who has spent many years as a restaurant waiter, the theme appeals to me.



***

I actually owned GIPF for quite a while, but it just sat on the shelf collecting dust. I eventually traded it away without having played it. I have enjoyed some of the other games in the GIPF series, but GIPF itself seems kind of hardcore for someone like me who isn't too keen on abstracts.

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12. Board Game: Wise and Otherwise [Average Rating:6.74 Overall Rank:1471]
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Wise and Otherwise is party game in the same basic format as Balderdash or The Dictionary Game. The moderator for the round reads the beginning of an obscure proverb, such as, "There is an old Chinese saying, 'One needn't devour a whole chicken....'" Players each write a possible ending for the proverb and give them to the moderator, who rights down the correct ending. The moderator reads all the endings, and players vote on which one is the actual proverb. Points are earned for guessing correctly, and for fooling others into voting for your version of the proverb.

The proverbs are very hard to predict because some of them make sense and some are totally bizarre and even nonsensical. The answer for the example I gave is "....to know the flavor of the bird." Okay, that makes sense. But how about this one: "He who has not had breakfast will not be able to . . . tell a citizen from a stranger." Or this: "Cheese and money should always . . . sleep together one night." You really can write down almost anything, which makes the game great for laughter and creativity.

I enjoy both this and Balderdash. I think I would usually choose Balderdash if we're sober, and Wise and Otherwise if we're a bit drunk.
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13. Board Game: Alpha Playing Cards [Average Rating:6.79 Overall Rank:6431]
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Alpha Playing Cards is a deck of letter cards that can be used to play various word games. Each card displays a letter and a point value, with rarer letters worth more points. Every vowel card can be played as either of two vowels depending on how it is oriented. I like that feature. It allows a hand of cards to create more possible words, and also allows the consonants to have center stage as they should.

The game comes with rules for a few games, and more are available for download on the manufacturer's website. My favorite games for the deck are War of Words and Lost for Words, which are word versions of the Reiner Knizia games Schotten-Totten and Lost Cities, respectively. The very fast and frantic WordSnake is also pretty good. WordSnake is one of the games described in the rules. War of Words and Lost for Words can be found on the website.

Special Honors
The Sad Phantom - Overlooked or Undiscovered Game of 1997
also considered: Haste Worte, Visionary
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14. Board Game: Rosenkönig [Average Rating:6.80 Overall Rank:807]
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The first image shows the original 1997 db-Spiele release, Texas. The second and third show the re-themed 1999 Kosmos edition, Rosenkönig. The last (lower) image shows the darker color palette of the most recent editions.

Texas is another of Dirk Henn's handmade db-Spiele games that was later released by Queen Games as the re-themed Rosenkönig. In the case of Premiere/Showmanager, I used the date for the wider Queen release, but in this case I decided to go with the date of the original edition for one very important reason. The original Texas version of this game included partnership rules which were absent in the Kosmos edition (perhaps they have reappeared in later editions?).

The missing partnership rules were an unfortunate oversight, because I actually don't think the game works very well with two players - at least not without some modifications (see below). Choosing the "right" card to play is usually straightforward and calculable if you're willing to do the lookahead analysis, and so the luck of the draw will tend to dominate play. As a result, the game sometimes has a "the game plays you" feel. The more difficult parts of the game are timing decisions: whether to play or draw, and when to play your judges/knights.

Here are the modifications to make the two-player version more interesting. First, play with a maximum hand size of four cards instead of five. Also, allow each player to keep one card face down. When played, its replacement will also be placed face down. This introduces a degree of uncertainty into the lookahead and allows a player to goad his opponent into setting him up for a powerful or unexpected move.


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15. Board Game: Nyet! [Average Rating:6.82 Overall Rank:1640]
Joshua Miller
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The upper row shows the original 1997 Goldsieber version of the game. The lower row shows the version published as a part of Amigo/Rio Grande's 2007 compilation Mü & Lots More

Njet is an enjoyable trick-taking game, even if it's not among the best games of that genre. The twist here is that after seeing their hands, the players collaboratively determine the rules for the hand: trump suit, supertrump, start player, points per trick, and number of cards discarded. This is done by going around the table, vetoing one of the options until there is only one option left in each category.

The trick play that follows is very light and straightforward, and frankly a bit boring. The interesting part is the "Njet!" phase in which the rules are created.

Njet resurfaced in 2007 as a part of the card game compilation Mü & Lots More. This version is a bit different than the original, supporting five players (instead of four) with a different card distribution and new bidding options. The new version seems superior based on my limited experience. Plus you get Was Sticht and Mü, both of which are amazing games - much better than Njet, if you ask me.
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16. Board Game: Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde [Average Rating:6.81 Overall Rank:2007]
Joshua Miller
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The first image is the 1997 edition, Twilight. The others are the 2002 re-themed edition, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.

Let's go back-to-back in the "trick-taking card game with a twist" genre. This one is even crazier than Njet.

Twilight is a bizarre and insidious partnership game in which you can ask (force) an opponent to play a card on your behalf. The "light" team and "dark" team's cards have different backs, so you know where all of your team's cards are. Your task is to deduce or intuit where the good ones and the bad ones are, and when to call for them.

It's really, really weird stuff. I like weird, but in this case we never played the game enough to figure out how to command the system in an intelligent way. So what we got was mostly chaos. There may be some subtle depth lurking here if you take the time to grok the game . . . or maybe not.
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17. Board Game: Primordial Soup [Average Rating:7.02 Overall Rank:435]
Joshua Miller
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Amoebas drifting aimlessly in the primordial soup, eating each other's excrement and developing new genes to help get a "leg" up on the competition. If that's not the coolest theme for a game, then I don't know what is.

I really want to like Ursuppe. It has a lot of interesting design ideas, a great theme, cool bits, and provides room for some different strategic approaches. But ultimately it's a "near miss" for me. It plays out in a plodding and methodical manner. It lacks the excitement and speed necessary in a light game, but also the depth and subtlety necessary in a heavy game.

The bottom line is that this game was medium-cool in 1997, but it hasn't aged well.
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18. Board Game: Zopp [Average Rating:7.26 Overall Rank:2638]
Joshua Miller
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Zopp is a sturdy, nicely-produced tabletop flicking game in the tradition of Subbuteo, Crokinole, and billiards.

This is another game that I wanted to like. But after trying it a few times, I'd never choose to play Zopp over any of the aforementioned games. It's just way, way, way too hard. The flicking requires much more precision than Crokinole. And although Subbuteo is similarly difficult, it also has a lot more going on that motivates players to develop their skills: the visual interest, the soccer tie-in, the real-time elements, and the possibility for tactics. Zopp is much simpler - simple enough that you want to be able to just walk up and play a round. But that approach is going to lead to frustration.
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19. Board Game: El Grande: König & Intrigant [Average Rating:7.38 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.38 Unranked]
Joshua Miller
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On the heels of its 1996 Spiel des Jahres win, Hans im Glück published two expansions for El Grande in 1997.

The better of the two was called König & Intrigant (King & Schemer). It changed the game quite drastically. In standard El Grande, players play two cards each turn. First they play a court card from their personal supply, establishing their turn order and their caballero supply. Then they draft one of five public cards in the second part of their turn, with that card determining how many caballeros they can play and what special action they can execute.

König & Intrigant combines all of those variables into a single card play each turn! Before the game begins, players build their own personal action/court card decks from a large pool of cards in their color (identical pool for all colors). These cards have their special actions written directly on the card, although you don't always get to perform that action. If your card is the highest one played in a round, you instead do the King's action. If your card is the lowest one played in a round, its action is replaced by the Schemer's action.

The König & Intrigant expansion is designed for experienced players, since novices won't know what cards to choose for their decks. And as much as I enjoy El Grande in its original form, the König & Intrigant rules are my favorite way to play (with experienced players). The personal action decks allow for more planning and more psychology, and give the game a more hardcore atmosphere.

Special Honors
The Wreath and Crest - Best Game Expansion of 1997

*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*


The second and lesser expansion, El Grande: Grossinquisitor und Kolonien (Grand Inquisitor & Colonies), is more of a "bells and whistles" style expansion. It adds four new board regions with special rules, two new stacks of action cards (now seven choices per turn!), and a Grand Inquisitor pawn who provides assorted benefits to the player who holds him in his court.

Großinquisitor & Kolonien is fun, but it's not the sort of expansion you'll want to add to the game every time. It's more of a change-of-pace expansion for groups that play the game frequently. With this expansion added, the game has a looser, more sprawling feel. El Grande is tighter and more pointed without it. For example, one of the reasons that many gamers prefer to play El Grande with the maximum five players is because the action selection is very tight and pointed - five cards for five players. With Großinquisitor & Kolonien, the last player in a five-player game will still have three choices. So the expansion gives you a bunch of cool stuff, but you also lose some of the tension. Nice to have as an option, but not essential by any means.



In 2000, there was an English release of these expansions titled The El Grande Expansions. It included both König & Intrigant and Großinquisitor & Kolonien, along with a few extra König & Intrigant cards that weren't in the original release. The 2006 "Decennial Edition" of El Grande already includes the expansions.
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20. Board Game: Catan: Seafarers [Average Rating:7.21 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.21 Unranked]
Joshua Miller
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Several different editions are shown.

The 1995 Spiel des Jahres winner, Catan, also got a major expansion in 1997. This was the second expansion for Settlers, but the first merely expanded the island to allow up to six players instead of four. Seafarers was something different. It introduced scenarios and new possibilities for laying out the board, with players now able to build chains of boats to move from one island to another.

Opinions are very divided on this expansion. I think it adds some needed variety to the game, along with a greater sense of adventure and excitement. It also strengthens the value of wool (used for the boats), which was clearly less useful than the other resources. I prefer to play the various configurations of Seafarers over basic Settlers - but keep in mind that I am only lukewarm on the game in any of its forms.


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21. Board Game: Formula Dé Circuits 3 & 4: Zandvoort 2 & SPA-Francorchamps [Average Rating:7.60 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.60 Unranked]
Joshua Miller
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Formula Dé does not appear on this year's Spiel des Josh list because it was already honored in 1991, when it was originally published by Ludodélire. When Descartes Editeur took over in 1997, they came off the line with engines blazing. They released three sets of expansion tracks in that very first year:

Formula Dé Circuits 3 & 4: Zandvoort 2 & SPA-Francorchamps



Formula Dé Circuits 5 & 6: Kyalami & Ferrari Autodromo



Formula Dé Circuits 7 & 8: Magny-Cours & Monza



SPA-Francorchamps and Magny-Cours are two of the very best tracks that have ever been released for this game. Unfortunately, they both come paired with undistinguished tracks. SPA is paired with Zandvoort 2, a very boring track that can be joined with Zandvoort 1 from the base game to form a gigantic but still-pretty-boring track. The very long Magny-Cours track is paired with the very short Monza track. Monza isn't the greatest, but I guess it's nice to have a track that's noticeably shorter than the others. The other pairing is Kyalami and Imola. Kyalami seemed pretty average to me the one time I raced it, and I've never raced Imola.
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22. Board Game: What's Missing? [Average Rating:4.58 Unranked]
Joshua Miller
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Here's a look at some of the others I've tried from 1997:

BORDERLINE GAMES

Löwenherz - An interesting, vicious action selection mechanism attached to a clunky game. Tolerable with four.


NOT SO GOOD

Mississippi Queen - This won the "real" SdJ, but it's just eye candy with few interesting decisions.
Zum Kuckuck (later Land Unter/Turn the Tide) - Simultaneous blind card play done as an intense gamer's game? Doomed from the start.
Caesar & Cleopatra - Boring and random.
...und tschüss! - Also boring and random.
Dilbert: Corporate Shuffle - Also also boring and random. (It's just The Not-So-Great Dalmuti with a few special cards added.)


RUN SCREAMING

Fluxx - More of a series of small jokes than a game. Carrot Top jokes.
Metro - More of a roadside sobriety test than a game. As fun as untangling a neglected rope.
American Megafauna - More of a dissertation than a game. Extremely long with few decisions.


Thanks for reading!
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