The Game - A Runner Up in the Spiels Des Jahres!?
The Spiel Des Jahres is one of the most prestigious awards a board game can receive. German for Game of the Year, it’s an award for board and card games, created by Steven Spielberg in 1978 with the stated purpose of rewarding excellence in game design, and promoting top-quality games in the German market. It is thought that the existence and popularity of the award is one of the major drivers of the quality of games coming out of Germany.
Now in the past it’s been a hit or miss affair in my opinion as to the nominations and winners. In the last three years we’ve had Colt Express, Camel Up and Hanabi win the award. All three of these games deserve the award even though I don’t particularly like the first two. They fit the family game genre perfectly and are liked by many people. Other classics like Dixit and Dominion have also received the award, but there have also been some downright insane choices as well. Kingdom Builder, really? One of my most despised games of all time and you think that’s more suitable for families than King of Tokyo, Flashpoint Fire Rescue and Takenoko from the same year? Quirkle and Keltis? Like I said, it’s very much a hit or miss award.
Normally you can predict what titles are going to appear. But this is an example of one which nobody saw coming or had even heard of in the UK/US market. Simply called The Game. This appeared and raised a ton of questions, not least because of the odd choice of name. So did it deserve a spot as a Runner-Up? I mean, to appear as a nomination it has to be pretty good right? . . . . . . . right?
What Is This Mystical Thing Called “The Game”?
Players in The Game try to discard all 98 cards in the deck onto four discard piles in order to win, but they need to do so in the right ways. Each player starts with 6-8 cards in hand depending on the number of players, and four discard pile prompt cards are on the table: two showing “1″ and an up arrow and two showing “100″ and a down arrow. Each turn the player must play at least two cards into one or more of the piles. Then the player draws as many cards as they played. Then the next player takes their turn and play continues until one of the players cannot play the requisite two cards (or one card if the draw pile has been depleted).
After a player finishes their turn, they refill their hand from the deck. During play, players cannot reveal exact numbers in their hands, but they can warn others not to play on certain discard piles or otherwise make play suggestions. Another quirky aspect is that you can play a card exactly 10 higher/lower than the top card of a discard pile even when you would normally have to play in a descending/ascending order, e.g., if a 100 discard pile is topped with an 67, you can play any card lower than 67 or you can play the 77. You have to therefore plan on what cards to hold onto in hopes that you will get the card you need that allows you to jump up or down giving you a little more time to get rid of as many cards as possible. The rules for The Game also give some variants to make the experience more difficult should the need arise, though it’s pretty tough as it is already.
Why Is It Called “The Game”?
First of all, let’s approach the obvious issue. The name. For the life of me I cannot understand why this choice was made. Calling your product “The Game” not only doesn’t distinguish it in the market, but it also makes it impossible to find on a search engine. If you type The Game into BoardGameGeek, you won’t see it on the listing until you’ve scrolled a long way down. Trying to find reviews on this is even harder, it’s a web search nightmare. Adding the tagline of “do you dare to play” doesn’t help matters unfortunately and gives The Game an ominous feeling that it doesn’t really deserve given what kind of game we’re dealing with here.
There’s not much to talk about in terms of components or theme. It’s a straight-up abstract card game of numbers. There’s no theme or anything. You get a box of cards which are of standard quality covered with skull artwork, but there’s no special reason for it. Now of course, plainly theme is not the focus here so I’m not going to mark it down for it, but you should be aware. The combination of red, white and black is fairly striking though and I’m certainly glad they didn’t just go for a plain white background with black print on it. It’s a cool colour scheme to use and there’s certainly no question of not being able to read the cards so it gets over any issues with colour blindness that a lot of publishers aren’t taking into account enough these days. Though why this justifies a price tag of double digits when Hanabi is less than a tenner is another question.
What’s It Like To Play “The Game”?
Essentially the game is “multi-user” Solitaire. Your plays each round are based on the cards you’ve drawn. Your outcome in The Game is based on chance and probability. You’ll decide whether to hang on to cards in the hope that you can make one of those helpful “10″ plays or you’ll not. There isn’t really a skillful play that you can make or any element of deduction just like in a normal game of Solitaire. The only new element here is the group communication aspect. You’re not allowed to directly state what numbers you have in your hand, but only able to give hints. Another game has done this in the past, namely Shadows Over Camelot. You weren’t allowed to directly state what numbers you were holding for the purposes of completing quests. So lots of hilarious moments would ensue by everyone making obscure references to Monty Python and disguising how cards numbered 1 to 5 were instead peasants or champions. However, in The Game you don’t get any of that same humour. The communication is scaled down to subtle warnings about not wanting to go higher or lower.
However despite this, you don’t get the same feeling of co-operation, and despite the communication restriction, you can get a lot of information across anyway. That’s not to say The Game isn’t easy, it can be quite a tough nut to crack, but a lot of this will still come down to luck of the draw. On top of that, once you do manage to conquer The Game or get near enough, the replayability goes down a few notches. There aren’t any cool modes to try out, just a slight tweak in the difficulty rating. That sums up my biggest complaint with The Game, it’s plain boring. It gets even worse when you play this in solo mode. Without even the communication aspect of other players you are literally playing a tweaked version of Solitaire. I actually yawned multiple times each time I played through this.
This makes me irritated more than most other games I come across I don’t like. The Game was nominated for the Spiel Des Jahres. This is a statement saying that this game was good enough to be a family classic. Better than all the other contenders that came out in 2015. To be honest I think 2015 was a bit of a slow year for candidates but I could still name at least another 5 choices on top of the two other nominations that would be much better.
Given that 2015 was host to a lot of decent family weight games that could have easily qualified for nomination for the Spiel Des Jahres, it bewilders me how this glorified version of Multi-User Solitaire managed to sneak in. I can think of a ton of games in that year that would have made better nominations than this. Is The Game broken? No, it functions and is simple to play and teach, yet is fairly difficult to beat, but at the end of the day what is it? It’s incredibly dull with not a lot of decision making or fun to be had.
If you play it solo, it’s one of the most boring experiences ever. If you play it in a group, it will at least use up the time in between games, but allow me to pull out my bag here and suggest a hundred other better filler games that could achieve this. If you want a light filler that’s going to barely take 15 minutes to play, pull out Love Letter or Sushi Go or Kakerlaken Poker! If you’re interested in the co-operative genre and that’s what made you consider this one, try out Hanabi instead, which brought something far more innovative to the table and actually won the Spiel Des Jahres and deservedly so. I actually believe that The Game just managed to knock Machi Koro off my Top Ten list. . . . . no no no, THE Other Top Ten List.
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I'm known as The Broken Meeple, a blog, podcast and YouTube channel devoted to board and card games. I live in Portsmouth, UK, working as a Chartered Tax Advisor and I enjoy playing games of many genres and varieties with as many people as possible.