The jury has returned with its verdict. Villa Paletti has won this year’s coveted Spiel des Jahres (German Game of the Year) award. With the SdJ sticker on the box, Villa Paletti can expect to earn more profits for the good people at Zoch. Congratulations are in order. To the victor, goes the spoils. And yet…

Back in the old days before I even knew of the existence of European games (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth!), I enjoyed several of the more sophisticated games then available. Some of the Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers offerings were quite good. Several of them (such as Summit, Square Mile, Bantu and Kimbo) have been featured in our Game Classics series. The concept of “adult” games really started to take off with the exceptional 3M line which included some great entries. Mr. President (another Game Classic) was a particular favorite as was anything designed by the legendary Sid Sackson. These were true gaming treasures and pleasures. But once the world of European games opened up to me, I was astonished by the incredible torrent of games targeted to adult sensibilities. It was like stumbling over a rock and finding gold! But how do you separate the gold from the “fool’s gold” when there is so much to sift through? That was where, for me, the Spiel des Jahres came in.

Surely any game that won the Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) would have to be a great game, the best of the best, the cream of the crop. My perception was (a perception shared by many other gamers around the world) that by the SdJ jury calling their award ” Game of the Year”, the winner would actually be the best game of the year!

Sometimes, it was! The Settlers of Catan and El Grande, for example, both SdJ winners, are superb examples of beautifully crafted games. Sometimes, the winners have been weaker in “game” but stronger in (what the SdJ jury evidently feels is) “family” orientation. That was all right too. Until now, I could always understand where the jury was coming from. Not this time. This time, they’ve lost me.

Villa Paletti is a charming and attractive “stack ’em” game, a skill and action exercise in the mold of Jenga or Bandu. But “best game of the year”? Sorry, but no. I don’t believe that. If you’re reading this, you’ve already been exposed to the excellence in gaming found in our pages on a regular basis so you probably don’t believe it either. In my view, the other two finalists, Puerto Rico (which would have gotten my vote) and TransAmerica (an excellent game which fits the “family game” mold admirably) were more worthy recipients. (As a matter of fact, in an unscientific internet poll on the Westbank Gamers web site, gamers were invited to vote on which of the three SdJ finalists deserved the award. Villa Paletti garnered only 3% of the vote!)

But I don’t “blame” the SdJ jury. It’s their award; they can give it to any game they want. Still, it seems inherently unfair to award a “Game of the Year” when EVERYTHING that can possibly be called a “game” gets lumped together and forced to compete. It’s like putting a sumo wrestler and a track star in competition for Athlete of the Year honors. It’s apples to oranges. Perhaps it’s time for a change in the name of the award to more accurately convey its meaning. Instead of “Game of the Year”, maybe a better title would be “Family Game of the Year” or “Nice Game of the Year”. Or maybe the award shouldn’t change at all. Maybe WE should change.

Gamers like ourselves have adopted the Spiel des Jahres as a recognition of quality in the types of games we admire. However, over the years, the SdJ jury membership has changed. Certainly their intent, if it ever dovetailed with ours, seems to have diverged from what we had assumed and wished it was. The award is not meant for us gamers. We’ll scour the internet for the latest on new releases, peruse game magazines, network with fellow enthusiasts. We’ll buy the “gamer’s games” of quality anyway. The award is meant for the casual game player, the “common” man.

There’s no question that the SdJ award helps guide the uninformed game buyer towards a purchase. The natural assumption is “If this game won, it must be the best game on the market right now” and this presumption can turn a game into a huge bestseller.

The truism here is very simple. What is true is important but what is believed to be true is even more important because people act on what they believe!

Perhaps the best way for gamers to deal with this situation is to change our own perception of the award. We could praise it when the decision validates our own evaluations; ignore it, when reason seems to desert the SdJ jury. Still, that would be a shame.

In the past, the SdJ award has often showcased the very best that talented game designers have brought forth. This has done much for broadening the stage for quality games. However, when an award ceases to reflect your interests because you are not the people it tries to represent, it may be time for a change.

With this year’s choice, the validity of the award is certainly called into question. With this year’s choice, the luster of the prestigious Spiel des Jahres dims. With this year’s choice, the reputation of the SdJ jury for recognizing that “unique essence” setting one game apart from the rest is diminished. An award only has impact if the people “paying attention” believe it has validity and meaning. What happens when it doesn’t? It becomes like fruit too long on a vine. It spoils.

In this issue of GA REPORT, we explore space and try to make off with Aunt Agatha’s fortune. Greg Schloesser goes trading in the Orient while Steve Kurzban rides those rails. We welcome the return of Dave Rapp to our pages as he tries to discover what happens “when good food goes bad”! And, of course, much more. Until next time, Good Gaming!

Herb Levy President


Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.

Summer 2002 GA Report Articles



Reviewed by Herb Levy 1313 Dead End Drive (Parker Brothers, 2 to 4 players, about 1 hour; $19.99) We've seen vintage mystery conundrums served up in game form before: the dead body in the mansion, murder on a train and the case of the wealthy relative suddenly dying and leaving fabulous wealth to those who survive. Several years ago, the latter scenario was the theme ...
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Reviewed by Greg J. Schloesser DSCHUNKE (Queen Games; 3-5 players, 1-1½ hours; about $40) I am always hesitant to take chances on games "sight unseen", but sometimes the lure of newly released games proves to be just too much. When putting together a recent game order from Germany, most of the newer Nürnberg releases were not yet available. One exception was Dschunke from Michael Schacht, ...
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SPOILS The jury has returned with its verdict. Villa Paletti has won this year's coveted Spiel des Jahres (German Game of the Year) award. With the SdJ sticker on the box, Villa Paletti can expect to earn more profits for the good people at Zoch. Congratulations are in order. To the victor, goes the spoils. And yet... Back in the old days before I even ...
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[Every once in a while, a game arrives on the scene that seems to take on a life of its own. Such a game is Santa Fe, an Alan Moon design that originally appeared on his own label, White Wind Games. The game was a critical success but a limited edition. With the passage of years, the stature of the game has grown as ...
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K-BAN'S KORNER Santa Fe Rails & Clippers Of all the limited edition (numbered print run of 1200) White Wind Games, Santa Fe was my favorite – yes, even compared with Elfenroads (Summer 1993 GA REPORT). It’s hard to believe that 10 years have flown by since Alan R. Moon paid homage to Wolfgang Kramer’s Wildlife Adventure (later updated by Herr Kramer to Expedition). Why shouldn’t ...
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K-BAN'S KORNER TransAmerica (Winning Moves/Rio Grande Games, 2 to 6 players, 30 minutes; $24.95) Railroad games are usually both long and complex. Not so for TransAmerica by Franz-Benno Delonge, a railroad themed connection game for those with short attention spans and little tolerance for learning new rules. A new game that you can be playing in a couple of minutes and takes 5-10 minutes per ...
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Reviewed by Herb Levy STARSHIP CATAN (Mayfair Games/Kosmos, 2 players, about 1 hour; $30) The Settlers of Catan (featured back in the Fall 1996 GA REPORT) has become a cottage industry for its creator, Klaus Teuber, as well as its publishers, Kosmos (in Europe) and Mayfair Games (here in the United States). It has spawned numerous variations including The Settlers of Nuremberg, shifting the setting ...
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Reviewed by Herb Levy THEOPHRASTUS (Mayfair Games; 2-5 players, Ages 9 through Adult; 30-45 minutes; $25) As recounted in the rulebook, Theophrastus von Bombast der Hohenheim was a renowned physician ("considered by many to be the father of 'modern medicine'"), occultist and alchemist who lived back in the 16th Century, a contemporary and equal of Nicholas Copernicus, Martin Luther and Leonardo da Vinci. Obviously, such ...
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Reviewed by Dave Rapp TIN SOLDIERS (R&R Games, 3 to 4 players, less than an hour; $9.99) Tin Soldiers, from R& R Games, is great little trick-taking game created by Al Newman with enough new twists to charm even the most jaded card playing gamer. Before I begin describing the game, I do think it’s fair to warn the reader that I am listed in ...
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