Collecting SDJ: Part 3
Updated: Jan 21
At UKGE I finally got into the Bring and Buy. Now its probably unwise to go shopping in such a location after giving your wife instructions for an upcoming birthday, but you can't pass up certain chances. Anyway, what were the odds that the exact obscure SDJ winner I'd find in such a location would be the same one that I'd put on my list and that she had set about ordering that same day? Suffice to say that sadly there is no option under "reason for cancellation of order" reading "husband's incompetence".
So, firstly I picked up Cafe International (1989) in a German language edition for £5. I won't talk too much about the game, its quite good and ties together abstract concept and theme better than many newer games. The reason I won't go into the game at length is the elephant in the room of Cafe International's perceived xenophobia which overshadows the game itself. I don't want to poke the bear so I'll just say two quick things on the subject. Firstly, I can't help but pity the cartoonist who was told to draw a Spanish character with only the shoulders and above but if ever a game proved that additional artwork doesn't always make a game better this would be it. If only they'd stuck to flags and gender symbols. Secondly, it is true that the game is certainly xenophobic and possibly racist but it is 30 years old and we are still making games at least as sexist as ever it was racist so I'm not going to get up in arms about an old mistake when our industry is still making new ones.
Secondly, Wacky Wacky West, translation and re-skin of Klaus Teuber's 1991 winner Drunter + Druber. The game play unites hidden roles, bidding and competitive tile placement splendidly and elegantly. More to the point though I do not understand the re-skin, I much prefer the German title, not least because it doesn't force me to sing Will Smith's Wild Wild West in my head every time I read it. Worst is the replacement of the original's characterful voting cards with the new version's much more internationally friendly but less funny symbol driven ones.
Which meant that a birthday was soon along, and having revised my list I picked up Camel Up (2014) or Camel Cup, whichever you prefer. Its a genuinely lovely game, simple but satisfying with delightful components that all actually serve distinct game play purposes that could not be served more simply or cheaply. It also allows children and adults to play on a fairly level field. All that said it has a stated player count of 2-8, which is great because my collection for one has a serious gap around 6-7 players, and its not a lie by any means you can certainly play with 2 players but it clearly plays better with 4+. When I launched SSO we designed a box barely big enough to fit all our information on, I accept the Camel Up box needed to be the size it was for once, but why such big boxes have so little information on them I've never understood. I would have preferred a player number and ideal player number statement.
I also received Elfenland (1998) by Alan R. Moon. You can certainly see the finger prints of his more widely known Ticket to Ride in Elfenland but its its own game and in many ways more satisfying to play. Elfenland gives a slight first player advantage but I'd always found building routes that you never get to travel in Ticket to Ride oddly frustrating so Elfenland ticks that box nicely, although set up and tokens are a bit fiddly and counter intuitive. If you enjoy one I'd pick up the other. I do wonder what makes Ticket to Ride the million seller it is and Elfenland fairly unknown. I suspect its to do with Ticket to Ride's diddy little trains. I wonder if there's a rating somewhere of a game's relative success based on theme.
In other matters, I received a copy of Princes of Florence, mainly because a misreading of Tabletop Games Magazine led me to think it was the SDJ winner in 2000. It wasn't, Torres was, I've since confirmed the identity of all the remaining winners by various means but it did lead me to wonder what leads a game to win the SDJ or not. I'm not suggesting that I'm going to start collecting the nominees, I'm crazy but not that crazy, but which games fail to take the main prize are an interesting group. Princes of Florence is a Euro game tile layer much like Carcassone and Alhambra which both won in the following years, with an auction system altering the value of the tiles. So why Princes of Florence did not win and Alhambra did a few years later seems odd. Alhambra is significantly more random while Princes of Florence is much more complex. Every SDJ winner since Focus in 1981 has had some central randomisation but none of them is as difficult to explain to a new player as Princes of Florence. So I suppose that's the conclusion for budding SDJ winners, keep it simple (ish).