Episode 105: Spiel des Schpiel 105 - Part 2

105: Spiel des Schpiel 2010 - Part 2

Release Date: June 21, 2010

Running Time: 136 min.

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There can be only one. We review A la Carte and Fresco, the final two nominees for the Spiel des Jahres (German Game of the Year) and predict the winner before the official selection.

News & Notes: Top 10 Selling Hobby Games Q1, Automobile, Merchants & Marauders
Nominee #4: A la Carte
Nominee #5: 

Predictions:  We select our favorites and guess the jury's selection
Mail Bag: Sliders, Gravity Blocks, Game Day at Indy Senior Center

Complete Show Notes continue after the break.

News & Notes

Top 10 Selling Hobby Games Q1 Link

1 Settlers
2 Dominion
3 Ticket to Ride
4 Pandemic
5 Carcassonne
6 Mystery Express
7 Small World
8 Munchkin
9 Bang!
10 Agricola

Automobile arrives in US from Mayfair Games Q3 Link

Martin Wallace's 2009 assembly line economics game saw a limited UK print run. It will be available in the US from Mayfair Games in the 3rd Quarter. 

Merchants and Marauders   BGG


Book Club: A Game of Thrones - September

Your Summer reading schedule should include George R.R. Martin's epic fantasy series. We'll be discussing the book and reviewing two games based on the books in September.

Order the book here

Spiel des Jahres 2010

Nominee #4

A la Carte  Official Site | BGG


Place a recipe in your pan, use shakers to place the right seasonings and roll the die to adjust your stove's temperature. Complete enough dishes and your cuisine will reign supreme!

Nominee #5

Fresco Official Site | BGG


Compete with your fellow artists to restore to most sections of a fresco in the great cathedral. The most important decision you'llmake will be what time to get up!

Mail Bag

Thanks to Scott Udell for sending me a set of Sliders (no, not a sack of White Castles). These are plastic curling stones with ball bearing rollers. Cool!

Christopher de Frisco wanted us to know about Gravity Blocks

The Spiel Foundation is sponsoring a monthly game day at the Indianapolis Senior Center. Game days will begin in August. They will be held the first Tuesday each month from 1 - 4 PM. Stay tuned for more details!


Music credits (courtesy of Ioda Promonet) include:

"Hand off the Stove" by Liz Clark  -  buy the track

"Sixteen Seconds to Choose" by ABC  - buy the track

"Beautiful Food" by Edan  -  buy the track

"All the Friends You Can Eat" by  the Octopus Project + The Black Moth Super Rainbow  -  buy the track

"Bach: Italian Concerto, Ouverture nach Französischer Art" by Kenneth Weiss  -  buy the track

"Fulgebunt iusti" by Andrew Kirkman, Rutgers Collegium Musicum  -  buy the track

"Frescor" by Adamantino  -  buy the track

"Art's Groove" by Steve Allee  -  buy the track


I'm sure there are some goofs in there somewhere. Let us know if (when?) you find one!

Mark Taylor wrote in with a correction concerning A la Carte: 

Seasoning crystals that pop out of your pan actually count and are placed in your pan.

Absolutely correct, Mark! We goofed. There is actually a reason for the goof, though! We adopted a house rule they didn't count and forgot to mention this. We think it makes more sense that seasoning which hit the floor aren't going into the dish. :)


Love it or leave it, Dixit is the winner of Spiel des Jahres 2010

First, let me say congrats to Asmodee Editions, Jean-Louis Roubira and Mary Cardouat for winning the prestigious award.

And I'll add the disclaimer that I really do love Dixit and enjoy playing whenever it hits the table.

That said, I am disappointed the jury voted for style over substance this year. Dixit is like so many other party games we have seen before (Balderdash, Wise & Otherwise, Apples to Apples, Say Anything, True Colors, Visual Eyes, Malarky, I could go on).

It's a fair statement to say Dixit is derivative in terms of its mechanics.

That doesn't make it any less fun or enjoyable.

But it does make it an unlikely choice for Game of the Year.

Art carries the day in the end. It's a powerful reminder of how aesthetics play a large role in our reaction toward a game and play experience. We're the ones here on The Spiel who celebrate "the goober" in games and how they can add or detract from the experience. I understand and applaud the Dixit team for taking what might have been an otherwise mediocre game and finding just the right art to make it sublime.

In the end, though, for a Game of the Year I want the game to merit the award for more than its inspired artistic sense. It's weird to write this since I love and live the life of an artist (granted in a different form).

*If* the Spiel des Jahres standards did not mention innovation or novelty in game design, then I would agree wholeheartedly with the selection. But they do. I am not saying this one aspect should be given more weight than others, but it should matter.

Dixit is wonderful, don't get me wrong. It opens the door to the world of games to a great many people who would otherwise walk right by. That said, I am just not sure it merits the SdJ

 I totally agree!  I'm not sure which I would have picked to win, but it likely wouldn't have been Dixit

...and I concur with many others who have said that the only game which would have been real competition for Dixit was Tobago, which actually managed to bring something new to the deduction game and was inexplicably not nominated. In dismissing the art in Dixit as mere illustration (and you have) you highlight the main thing that has always bothered me about the game. Mary Cardouat should be credited as not only the artist, but a codesigner. Because the remarkable thing about Dixit and the thing which justly earns it this award is that it works at all. The paintings are so obliquely evocative that not only can you find a new way to describe the same card on the eighth play through, but someone else at the table can play a card which resonates enough with your description to provide legitimate confusion to voters. That had to be a lot more difficult to pull off than the wordplay of Apples To Apples or Attribut. Is it built on ideas we have seen in other games? Of course. But really, isn't the traditional European model as presented by Finca last year and Fresco this also starting to feel a bit familiar? The perpetually sold out runaway hit, the expansion I cannot manage to find anywhere in stock and the only game out of my many purchases last year that I have never seen fall flat with any crowd. Dixit, as the kids say, for the win.

Far from dismissive, I think we have gone out of our way to heap praise on Mary Cardouat and her brilliant contributions to Dixit.

Her paintings certainly do make Dixit workin a way that it would not if the cards allowed more straightforward interpretations. It's a game about interpretation, ultimately and her style and design choices benefit the game on many levels.

What Dixit does, it does very well, but to merit a Game of the Year, I want the bar raised a little higher.

We can argue substance/style semantics all day long, but mechanically speaking the game is run of the mill. There's no escaping this. And that has to be a considered a large part of the game's substance. This doesn't make it a bad game. I really enjoy it. It just means I can't see it as a SdJ winner.

I'm going to say that the style of this game IS a type of substance: it's that thing that makes a game "fun"... the question is mostly just what you as a gamer find pleases you. I can't fault the jury for selecting a game whose style makes the mechanic innovative, even if it's not to my taste.

And that's the crux of it really, for me. This game is not to my taste, and it indicates that the SdJ jury is moving further from what *I* enjoy, and so is becoming less relevant to me. I am interested in seeing what the DSP is this year, as well as other prizes, in order to make my judgements.

Honestly, at this point I'd love to get behind some award that caters to my taste, but I haven't seen one out there yet. I would kind of like to see a juried award because (assuming that I have faith in the jury) I agree with the idea that a jury who is targeted toward a specific goal can be effective. But the SdJ is moving toward something that I don't really identify with anymore. Even the SdJ+ this year, while interesting and something I'll continue to play, probably wouldn't have been my choice just from the recommended list.

It's funny, on Sunday I had occasion to play El Grande, and I showed the poppel on the box to my friends (hard core friends) who were all kind of nonplussed. About halfway through, they all said that the game was far more intense than they expected from a SdJ, but that they loved it because of that.

At any rate, given the nominees over the past few years and the direction the awards seem to be going "I'm not sure it merits the SdJ" is not really the statement I think I will make anymore. Instead I'll say "I'm not sure the SdJ will recommend a must-have game for me anymore." 

Whether the style makes the mechanic innovative or the style simply masks a mechanic we've seen a 100 times before, we can safely say the art is the engine that drives the fun of the game.

I love how players new or old bring new things to the art each time they play.

I think the Spiel des Jahres is in many respects a victim of its own success. The world of games has changed so much from the award's inception and while they have reacted some with the Kinderspiel and Sdj+, the SdJ still stands in player's minds as an all encompassing award. The breadth of the recommended list reflects this attempt to pull in all games for the honor.

As you indicate, perhaps the reality of the game world today is that the SdJ speaks to a specific audience that is not nearly as wide as it once was.

I hope the SdJ + becomes a full fledged stand alone award with its own recommended list, etc. in coming years. This might address some of the issues you raise.

 "As you indicate, perhaps the reality of the game world today is that the SdJ speaks to a specific audience that is not nearly as wide as it once was."

Sorry but- well, look at it this way. You repeatedly referred to the SdJ as analogous to the Oscars, yes? Well, when those awards roll around, commentators start keeping a close eye on the preceding award ceremonies- the BAFTAs, Golden Globes and so forth. Dixit, going into this competition, had already won the Game of the Year in France and Spain along with a basketful of other awards and nominations. Not to mention breaking the states so successfully that over the holiday season one vendor on Amazon had the sheer gall to try to charge 95.00 for a copy in a sold out market. (I know; I was trying to buy it as a gift. Everywhere. That friend didn’t get her present until February.) How much wider do you want? Surely what’s really happening is that the SdJ is targeted at an audience wider than only REAL (all caps) board gamers. And given that most of the recent winners are still successfully in print, with the lamentable exception of the excellent Mississippi Queen, they seem to do pretty well at it.

I own nearly 300 games now and my beloved top 20 would run
the gamut from deep things like Dune and Princes Of Florence to silly
things like Family Business and Wabbit Wampage. Usual suspects like Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit would be in there too along with middleweights like Attika and Yinsh. Yet the more I read, the more I have to admit that I am apparently not a REAL (all caps) board gamer. While this doesn’t particularly bother me, I am sincerely curious as to what the REAL (all caps) board gamers would have preferred to see in the spotlight. Because looking around the web today the backlash has been even more shocking than I had expected.

One last thought on innovation, take a listen back to the discussions this episode about Fresco (“We’ve seen a lot of these worker placement games, but…”) and Roll Through The Ages (“Everyone's played Yahtzee, but…”). Doesn’t that make Identik Pictionary, but…”? What makes all of these games worthwhile and exciting, to paraphrase Pee Wee Herman, is that they all have a big but. Now I like big buts and I cannot lie; you other gamers ca- sorry I’m drifting there but the point is that saying Dixit is the same game as something like Apples to Apples is a bit like saying all modern auction games are clones of Modern Art  because they all involve correctly gauging which commodities are going to appreciate over the course of the game and cautiously bidding for those while tricking your opponents into depleting their wealth by overbidding on the others. Technically accurate but rather missing the point. After all, it’s not everyday you see somebody totally reinvent the wheel in the way Dominion did last year (although I still think Tobago deserved a shot here) and I still assert that the content- not just the ruleset or the technical execution of the pretty pictures, but the content and the ways it makes players have to think- in Dixit is indeed genuinely innovative. I think it has a big beautiful but. So one of those “agree to disagree” kind of things I suppose. Ah well. Here, have a doughnut.


I said wide but what I meant was targeted. Thanks for making me clarify since I can see how my statement could be confusing!

I think the *target* audience for the Spiel des Jahres includes the general non-game-playing public as well as the typical German family who may play some games (more than Americans) but would not be considered game crazy like us.

With the proliferation in games over the past 10-15 years, there are more types of game playing audiences than ever before.

Perhaps it is better to say there are more audiences to target now? And the target of the SdJ remains connected to the wider public at-large.

In recent years, it seems the jury tries its best to include the enthusiasts in their selections (or at least the recommended list). Even so, the emphasis remains on the potential gateway crowd.

As an ambassador for the fun of gaming, Dixit is a great choice, no argument, Gregory. My persnickety point is there are other criteria in play when judging the award. By my own personal scale, those other criteria leave it a bit short.

Thanks for the donut.


I think I tend to agree more with JSCIV's comments.  I am more of a lurker around here (although a multi-donation one) and the last two years have left me wondering about the SdJ's relevance to me as a gamer.

That was especially brought to my mind when I noted 2 of the 5 nominations being party games and another one qualified more as a kids game than "Game of the Year" IMHO.

The SdJ was always tenuous at best as far as relativity goes for me personally (as I tend to like mid-heavy euro).  In the end I viewed it as "Euro Gateway game of the year" because I could rely on the nominees and the winner usually being games I know would work will from bringing people into my hobby.

This years winner (although I also admit it to be an EXCELLENT game) would not even come CLOSE to my trying to bridge the gap between the typical board-game view most people have and what I view the hobby to be.

In the end I am only thinking that the SdJ judges are a group of people that really don't know what it is. They are simply reacting to the REACTION they see from last years choice.  Which reaction could be the outrage of X designer never being chosen, or how flat their choice of Dominion was in Germany or whever else comes to the table in that given year.

It certainly dropped a notch as far as how I view it.

Dixit is certainly an incredible game thanks to the art - but the MECHANICS feel no different than apples to apples.

"The Fury of" Matthew Fisk

Having served on the jury for several film festivals, I have observed the kind of procedures that are used in selecting first nominees and then an ultimate winner. I can say from this experience that the jury's selection does not always accurately reflect the passions of all involved in the process and in some cases the winner ends up being the compromise between entrenched factions.

I am not saying *at all* that this is the case with the SdJ selection this year. I am merely pointing out the fact that each jury is like a wild beast made up of changing disparate elements and its choices cannot be stacked up in a meaningful way from year to year.

And yet as outside observers that is what we want to do when we look at the selections from year to year. Catch-22! Each year is its own animal yet we want to make it part of a greater beast.

I suppose the idea is that the criteria given to the jury is specific enough to keep the selections within a certain range of possibilities. It seems more and more that these criteria are only marginally applied when the SdJ jury makes its final deliberations.

I am not sure there is a way to mitigate this process other that splitting the award into the three categories, which seems to be the direction they are headed.

I'll have to disagree that this year's selection doesn't fit the goal of bringing new people into the hobby. If anything Dixit, as a party game, invites an even wider range of players to the table.  Purely from this perspective, I think Dixit will be a great ambassador for the game industry and will get even more people playing. It might not be a game to satisfy every game enthusiast, I will grant you that. But that will be true of most any title. The object of the award isn't to be all things to all players. It's to bring fun and enjoyment to families and players, some of whom are only vaguely aware of the wider world of games.

ok, I'm a Johnny-come-Lately to this debate, but here's my  €2:

a) I think you are all over analysing the award

b) I think you are all talking it a little bit too seriously,


I'd agree that Dixit is not way up their with innovation but frankly none of the nominees were (a point made far more articulately by Gregory). Whilst there has been some discussion and hints in the past as to what the jury really looks for in a game I think you'll find, at the end of the day, that the panelists just go for the games they like.

It's human nature and the SdJ is just a bit of a fun. A German tradition that seems to have been bestowed with all sorts of mystical power.

I think it is worth noting that the German market is far less categorised into 'gamers' and 'non gamers' - in fact the whole construct of the 'hobby gamer' or the 'REAL' gamer is not something that really makes sense in their environment.

In Germany games are something you play not something you get excised about. Personally I feel like we have lost the plot in the UK (and in the US) and I am tired of being told that I am not a proper gamer because I happen to think Agricola is as dull as dishwater and would rather play Sushizock.

So, all power to Dixit and let's hope the award brings in a bit more revenue, and some more exposure, for a deserving little game.


For what it's worth, my favourite of the five would probably be Roll Through the Ages. Just a personal preference but I've never been called on to be on the jury :-)

"What's all this I keep hearing about a spilled jar? Why would anybody want such a thing anyway let alone fight about it? Whatever was in the jar in the first place whether it was some nice strawberry jam or possibly some pickle relish maybe some mayonnaise is all over the floor now anyway! I say let somebody else have it. 'Cause even if you did have the jar, you'd probably just get in a lot of trouble and then you'd have to clean it up so... what? Oooooh. That's different.

Never mind."


The fun of doing the Spiel des Schpiel episodes is to try and analyze the award from every angle and decide who ends up on top. It's the one time a year where we use criteria other than our own to try and literally sit in judgment on a list of games. It's not in our nature to do this, but as a brain exercise, I really enjoy it.  I guess what I am saying is part of the fun comes from the overthinking. If it's not your cuppa tea, I can appreciate that.

And it is precisely because the SdJ is treated as more than a lark that it makes our deliberations more interesting. If anything it highlights the often arbitrary nature of juried awards and how they can be influenced by factors beyond the criteria set before the judges.

The marketplace and the game industry take the SdJ seriously. I don't think we're out of place for digging in to see whether the award stands up to a little rigorous discourse.

I agree there's a false dichotomy between "real" gamers and families or groups that enjoy an occasional game. They're both gamers in my book. The SdJ at one time tried to straddle the fence between the two camps, I think. The hope was to highlight games that pointed toward the deeper end of the hobby without drowing those just learning to swim.

Any game that can serve as an ambassador for fun the way Dixit does is a great thing.I don't want anyone to lose sight of this, despite all the verbal gesticulations!

That said, I think it's not just sophistry to put the nominees to the test and see how we think they fare.

 I don't think there's anything wrong with having a bit of fun trying to second guess the jury and 'get into their heads' - I guess my point is that it is easy to lose sight of the fact it is a bit of fun.

I think that there is a tendency, when the results come out, to start "arguing with the ref". Then there is endless deconstruction of the process and outcomes. That's when it gets too heavy for me.

Sometimes I feel like "gamers" are quite a divisive bunch. Perhaps it's human nature.

Of course, receiving the SdJ is an important revenue generator and therefore is highly prized. Personally I would not buy a game merely because it has won an award because I know the process is flawed and I am happy with that. I do my own research - of which the Spiel is an important component :-)

(Similarly an Oscar would not attract me to a film because it is, similarly, subjective and open to interpretation - but that's not to say the whole associated "luvvie fest" is not fun to observe and try to second guess)

I am starting to think that the jury might have a hidden VP objective: to select good games and then cause a ruckus by picking a controversial pick (although might they all end up being controversial in some way?)

I think a lot has been made about innovation, but in my mind innovation is not invention, but the taking of existing concepts and finding some new way to make them fresh. From my less than stellar head full of games, Dixit seems to be the first 'Apples to Apples clone' to give the judge something to do other than just flipping a card.

To me, the SDJ means two things: 1) A really good set of Spiel episodes and 2)Limited availability for a game that I might or might not want. This year, I picked up Dixit a day before the award was announced, so just #1 applied. 

Here on the site, I'm eager to extend the conversation to the Spiel community at-large.

We spend a whole month playing, mulling over our experiences and trying to predict the winner. It's fun to see not only where we stand after all our efforts, but to see where you all end up as well.

Game enthusiasts can be a loud and rowdy bunch, no doubt.

In the end, it's an exercise in mental gymnastics which gives us a chance to pontificate and you all a chance to hear about a crop of games that may have gone unnoticed otherwise. If for no other reason, we have a ton of fun with it even if our grousing might make it seem otherwise! :)

It's not that Dixit won that I've been complaining about (though I see that this is a complaint for some). Look at the field of nominees, though, and contrast it to past years. When listening to the Spiel episodes, Fresco was the only game there that sounded like a "normal" entry on The List, but in past years those types of games have been common. There is (particularly this year) a shift going on in the SdJ, so the relevant discussion TO ME anyway is that shift: is the SdJ going to continue to be a predictor that I can use to find new games? 

Since the jury selected a very gamerly game last year (Dominion) I am not sure it's possible to see Dixit as continuing a trend.

The makeup of the jury from year to year probably has as much to do with the swings from one end of the gaming spectrum to the other.

Digging into the nominees is a fun exercise, but as a gamer I find myself more interested in the scope of the recommended lists. I see these lists as great sources of discovery, since there are generally 2-3 titles that sneak up on me and I have never heard of. Simply being on this list makes me more eager to play them and see why they made it onto the list.

I don't think Dominion was a "gamerly" game at the time, particularly as that was the days of Base Game only. Now, with the expansions it's much more complex (choice complexity in Intrigue, Duration cards and more choice in Seaside, and now new currency and confusing cards in Alchemy), but think back to the Dominion the jury was looking at: the simple concepts and easy-to-learn play that was catching fire in gaming circles the world over. It was a quick, fairly light game that everyone wanted to play.

But winner aside, I'm also thinking of the list of nominees and the change in the makeup there.

2007: Zooloretto, Thebes, Thief of Baghdad, Arkadia and Yspahan. All very much in the mold of gamer-style games. While not super heavy, they were still games that appeal to the gamer.

2008: Keltis, Stone Age, Marrakech, Blox and Witch's Brew. The last was a bit more of a card/bluffing game, and the winner was based on a lighter card game, but still very gamery.

2009: Dominion, Pandemic, Finca, Fauna and FITS. Here's a change: our only traditional gamery type game is Finca. Now we've got a card game and a coop deservedly speculated as the winners, a really light Tetris-ish game and something that cleverly bridges party, board and educational gaming. It could be argued that the field of nominees was bizarre because the field this year was odd (Dominion being a clear breakout and new style of gaming, and coop really taking off with Pandemic, Ghost Stories and BSG all shining bright), and really, both front-runners deserved a win.

2010: Dixit, Portrayal, A la Carte, Roll Through the Ages and Fresco. Woah, big shift here. Two clear party games, one game that could be considered a children's game and a dice game? It's not like there weren't plenty of "traditional" gamery games to consider (Tobago or World Without End would both have fit seamlessly into the 2007 or 2008 nominee lists and are that good), so what's with this makeup?

That's what I'm looking at. Not just the singular winner, but the makeup of the nominee list. There's something different there and the question for me is whether this particular different works as well for me in predicting games I will enjoy as past lists/winners. I usually don't just get the SdJ winner, but most (if not all) of the nominees. This year, of all five I own two (one of which I got because it was cute, not because I really thought it was a good play) and might get a third. THAT is a big shift that concerns me as a game purchaser/player.

On the errata mentioned in the show notes: I thought seasoning in cooking was when the meat hits the floor.

 Ok, I have capitulated and bought 'A Game of Thrones' to read.

Actually I played the game a couple of years ago, and didn't think much of it, but perhaps after reading the books I may need to go back and try again. It'll certainly be interesting background and I'm looking forward to hearing how you get on with the game.

It will also be fun to do the 'book club' thing. Will we have a discussion forum somewhere?

 I might have to read the Game of Thrones just to get in on this.

I own and had played Pillars of the Earth many times - once I had read the book though the game really came alive.  Plus after reading the book, you realize how much the two characters hated each other when it came to the game Pillars of the Earth Builders Duel

 I agree - I found that Pillars of the Earth actually became a better game once I'd read the book (it was a good game before but it just got better).

Not tried Builders Duel yet but I am intrigued to see how it plays for the same reason.

I also think War of the Ring rocks because of it's seamless integration with Tolkien's world and the Lord of the Rings backstory. So I am stoked about this whole book club idea.


Not sure if you'll get me reading any Cthulu though...

The idea that realy got me going on the Book Club was the fact that I had played A Game of Thrones and hadn't read the book. Same with PIllars of the Earth. With Thrones, I was very lukewarm on the board game. With Pillars, I really loved it.

I am very interested to see how (if at all) knowing the novels changes my experience playing each game. Even with only the first book in the Thrones series under my belt, I can see how playing certain families in the game could easily take on a different meaning or motivation when making crucial decisions.

Not a Lovecraft fan, eh? Too scary or weird for you? Happy to recommend stories or novellas if you ever want to give him a go.

Side note: we started listening to the audio book version of Pillars of the Earth while on vacation this weekend during a long car trip. It's a 40 hour book, but in Spiel terms, that's only like 20 episodes, right?:)