Knizia. Spiel des Jahres. Some other thoughts, but only rarely. I'm not that much of a big thinker, you know - but I love games.
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Reiner Knizia's 2019

Laszlo Molnar
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In support of Babyloctobia - Knizia tile laying rules!
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A year has passed and I have played most of the Knizia games I wanted to... So it's time for another look back to Knizia's games published in the previous year!

While some of the games I waited for last year did get lost somewhere on the way (Space Worm, Stations), there were numerous new releases as usual - and many remarkable ones.

There are at least 5 2019 Knizia games not (yet?) in the database including the solitaire puzzle with stick shapes called Dr. Grips Logikpuzzle, basic kids' memory game Noah's Ark (find the matching animals before you find all the ark pieces), Eagle Chase by SimplyFun - which feels like the American version of the geography/trivie teaching game called Meine Goldene Wetterau (well, not really, but how else could you turn a German game with cards into an American one than using dice?) - and emotional storytelling kids' game Wake Up Stars by SimplyFun.

Other games were published for different local areas, including a number of games in Germany. Timmy macht Urlaub is a roll-and-hung game (Suspend style) for kids. Heisse Ware: Krimi-Kartenspiel is a bluffing game Sheriff of Nottingham style, but with some Knizian touches. German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung also released a few new Knizia minigames in minimalist style (so now they have released at least 9) - Schmitz 21 is a Blackjack-inspired game with a special deck; Spitzbub is bluffing in a Perudo/Cockroach Poker style, once again with a special deck; and Wörter Diebe is a simple word recognition game where you have to be the first to reconstruct words in the title category from the topmost card that features 5 to 11 letters (like TGRIE). Mau mau! Das Brettspiel is another board game based on a known card game (he did it most notably and obviously with Tibet (based on Honeybears) and Lost Cities: The Board Game but also, based on a German family classic, Elfer Raus! in a way more interesting board game version than the original. Now this one is based, of course, on Mau Mau! which is more known for its descendant UNO in the USA. And Pędzące żółwie: gra karciana is a racing card game published in Poland in the same series that included some of his race games like Ribbit and Honeybears with animal theme and cartoon-like artwork.

Board Game: Timmy macht Urlaub
Board Game: Heisse Ware: Krimi-Kartenspiel
Board Game: Schmitz 21
Board Game: Spitzbub
Board Game: Wörterdiebe Flora & Fauna
Board Game: mau mau!! Das Brettspiel
Board Game: Turtle Race Mini
Board Game: Battle Line: Medieval
Board Game: Knights Poker

Of course you can count on Dr. Knizia publishing some slightly modified or updated versions of his earlier games every year. Actually he seems to have nothing to do with Battle Line: Medieval which changes the artwork and the theme of the game - and adds location cards based on an earlier, limited-copy expansion not designed by him. Knights Poker is, on the other hand, a minimalist version of the same idea (present in Knizia books ever since the beginning of his career) with 3 'flags' to win (originally designed for a bar, now published based on popular request).

There are games that are more than simplified or expanded versions; these adapt the old game ideas to some other genre (while keeping the title, expanding the family). Lost Cities: Auf Schatzsuche is the third small-box Lost Cities game published in the past two years and it's a rather family-friendly one. This is a simplified adaptation of the Keltis Ór dice game (that exists only in an online form) to the Lost Cities theme and ideas but it does not stop there. It takes its scoring from Lost Cities: Rivals (trashing the convoluted counting, your score is the number of footprints seen on your tiles - well, maybe multiplied if you have handshakes) and adds the recently released bonus cards Lost Cities: Etappenziele which not only provide a second scoring option but also add some tension as endgame triggers.

From gallery of lacxox

Axio Rota, sold in the same size small box, is the new, small & quick member of the Ingenious/Axio family, this time with no board and a special geometry. Your tiles have different symbols in 4 corners and when you place them next to other tiles, symbols in their corners score as many points as the number of further symbols of the same color/type in the circles these create, so 0 to 3 points each, never more. As you have only one tile at hand a time, it can be more luck-dependent than the other games in the family, but it's a filler, also many tiles have wild (no) symbols in one corner which adds some tactical considerations to the game. As usual, my impressions after several plays were way better than at first; this is a fine little portable game even if not nearly as great as the big box ones - I think it does not even try to be.

From gallery of lacxox

And there is The Quest for El Dorado: The Golden Temples. In The Quest for El Dorado you reached El Dorado; now this game is played in the City of Gold. Gameplay is mostly the same, although things are not as linear as before: you have to visit three different temples in the order you like and return to the large starting board in this game. It is fine and feels quite like the original (even if it has some small new ideas that distinguish it from the first box) but the portfolio of the 18 cards for deck-building is a bit less varied than in the original. So as a standalone game I like it but I found the original a bit better. However the real feat of this game is that it can be combined with the original, and that explains the deck as well. In the combined game you start with the usual market and 12 out of 30 different card types of the two boxes, then, whenever a card type is added to the market, a new card type appears in the 'secondary market'. So it had to be ensured whichever cards appear the game remains playable; the second box serves this aim perfectly, and overall it gives the game an even higher replayability. So, in my book, Golden Temples < El Dorado < El Dorado with Golden Temples.

From gallery of lacxox

But does the 'Reinerssance' continue in 2019?
I asked this in last year's post and now I know the answer: it certainly did. The above games would be already quite a fine line-up for any designer and an average year for Knizia, but we can still name 6 new games that aren't even really reworks of originals.

While Babylonia may have some superficial similarities to Samurai (which would complete the 'new trilogy' after Blue Lagoon and Yellow & Yangtze refreshing some ideas of Through the Desert and Tigris & Euphrates) but it is a new design that feels rather fresh in the Knizia world of tile-laying games (even though it does have some Through the Desert and Tigris & Euphrates similarities as well) and... well, a real classic. I could talk a lot about this game but I have already done that in our review with Martin G in Where is Babylonia? A pair of Kniziaphiles discuss how Reiner's new tile-laying game fits into his ludography.

Board Game: Babylonia

Aristocracy is yet another entry in the tile-laying genre (well, it's as much tile-laying as Through the Desert is); while after set-up it looks like a game where you just pick up face-down tiles like in Africa,

From gallery of lacxox

the underlaying mechanism is more about a different kind of set collection and making connections and scoring for kind of majorities like in Blue Lagoon. While the set-up time is quite long for the game (well, it's rather fiddly) and the artwork could be more attractive, the mechanism is quite streamlined with all the scoring/action possibilities interconnecting and supporting each other, and even luck factor is lower than it might seem first. I'd say it's a pretty good game that will have problems with finding the people who could really enjoy it; I recommend giving it a try a few tries.

From gallery of lacxox

Miskatonic University: The Restricted Collection, funded via Kickstarter, also could have problems finding its players (so it was a good idea to KS it) as it's a relatively simple set collection plus push your luck game of the Cheeky Monkey/Circus Flohcati kind, drawing cards and knowing when to stop in five rounds (which sounds quite Incan Gold-ish) with some thematic coating that may or may not be enough for those who buy the game for its theme (as the BGG ratings suggest, maybe it is not enough). This might also be the only Knizia this year that I wanted to try but could not.

LLAMA (and its slightly different Polish version called Lato z Komarami) is another Knizia that got a Spiel des Jahres nomination. Now it made many gamers angry and... Well, I don't know what to say. The 2018/2019 season was pretty weak when it comes to games that could be fine Spiel des Jahres winners. And yes, it is very, very simple card game that made even Tom Vasel say he'd rather play the similar-looking UNO (in a review that suggested he played the game wrong in multiple ways). Now actually I do think it's a fine card game, even a deceiving one, one that I have already played 15 times as it was well-received by my non-gamer friends (and this is what SdJ should be about) while it's also a bit puzzling to see the popularity it got among many - I do believe there are dozens of other relatively low-rated Knizia card games that are at least as good as this one. Whatever, it's indeed a deceiving one.

From gallery of lacxox

Tajuto might be called the most innovative Knizia design of 2019 with its 'touch and draw' element, though it still feels like a card game where you have 6 different decks for the 6 floors of the pagodas (and you have to place these in Lost Cities style). (And that's certainly not what Tom Vasel was expecting.) Actually if Tajuto became popular it would be rather easy to create a small-box card game adaptation based on the same idea with just slightly different scoring (offerings could be cards as well, placed on pagoda 'rows' and whenever you placed a card on a row you scored the number of cards - in total - in the given row). Still, drawing from the bag and using some shape/size recognition skills is pretty fun, while the game itself is still pretty interesting and somewhat unusual for Knizia - as many (I think, unjustly) called Camel Up a dumbed down Winner's Circle, it somewhat feels like a result of Knizia thinking 'Hm, there are interesting ideas in Camel Up, I'd love to come up with something more interesting based on these ideas' - and he did!

From gallery of lacxox

Back when I wrote my review on Prosperity (2013) I said
Inspiration could be found in today’s games – for example I’d love to see what he does with (...) deck-building (yes, I know I’m contradicting myself here) or taking inspiration from the recent wave of Japanese microgames.
With Quest for El Dorado we got an answer to deck-building and now Chartae provides a very Knizian (tile placement) answer to microgames. It is a small-box filler consisting of 9 tiles, not more, and this 2-player game lasts minimum 4, maximum 12 turns (most of the time, I guess, 6 to 9 turns) for both players. While it can't compete with big box games, it's a surprisingly fine little game that you can take with yourself all the time, teach it in half a minute to anyone and play in 5 minutes anywhere. in its almost unmatched category (you can really compare it to Japanese microgames only), it's a real winner!

Board Game: Chartae


So, back in 2013 I didn't even hear about the next big thing - legacy games -, but now, in 2020 even Knizia is coming up with one, well, once again a tile placement game (with polyominoes). But what's more important, My City is a family-friendly legacy game that you can play infinitely after it was played through, and it's already one of the three Spiel des Jahres nominated games. 2020 already teased a few further interesting Knizias, including the 'designer's version' of Voodoo Prince (Marshmallow Test), an improved new version of Tutankhamun and the dice game variant of Medici with the unsurprising title Medici The Dice Game. Grail games opens its kickstarter for another big box game as well though, and from the description it sounds like it might be a race game + market manipulation game (Palmyra, Spectaculum) combo. Whale Riders definitely sounds intriguing... And I guess we'll see further Knizias announced during the year.
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