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Spice Up Game Night with the 2016 Game of the Year Nominees

If you love board games but are looking to break out of your Monopoly and Scrabble rut, you might want to check out the recently announced 2016 Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) nominees. Since 1978, a jury made up of professional game critics and enthusiasts has handed out the prestigious German awards to the best tabletop games of the year.

The awards are divided into three categories: the Spiel des Jahres, which is the overall game of the year, the Kennerspiel des Jahres, awarded to more complex games, and the Kinderspiel des Jahres, awarded to games for children.

If the past is any indication, you’re likely to see the Spiel des Jahres winner at a game night near you soon. Past winners that have gone from obscurity to staple include Settlers of Catan (1995), Ticket to Ride (2004), Carcassonne (2000), and Qwirkle (2011).

The Kinderspiel des Jahres winner will be announced on June 20 and the Spiel des Jahres and Kennerspiel des Jahres winners will be revealed on July 18. Take a look at the nominees below:

FOR THE "SPIEL DES JAHRES" (GAME OF THE YEAR):

1. CODENAMES

Two spymasters try to get their respective teams to contact secret agents by guessing their codenames. The spymasters must give one-word clues that point to the corresponding word on the board—and the more codewords the spymaster can manage to describe with one word, the better. But if a team guesses the codename that belongs to the hidden assassin, they immediately lose the round.

2. IMHOTEP

Imhotep makes players responsible for building the great monuments of Egypt. The first player to build five monuments wins, but obviously, it’s not that easy—it requires excavating the stone, shipping it, moving it to the construction sites, and unloading it in a certain sequence. And of course, your opponents are trying to thwart your progress.

3. KARUBA

Made by HABA, a company with a number of challenging, yet family-friendly games under their belt, Karuba is a game of exploration and treasure hunting. In it, players lay tiles to create paths, similar to players in Carcassonne. But instead of building cities or farms, explorers must journey through the jungle to find temples and gain gold, crystals, and glory.

FOR THE "KENNERSPIEL DES JAHRES" (CONNOISSEUR GAME OF THE YEAR):

4. ISLE OF SKYE: FROM CHIEFTAIN TO KING

Another tile-laying game, Isle of Skye increases the complexity by asking players to achieve four different objectives—and those objectives change each time you play. Still, although the goals change, the bottom line doesn’t: You’re the chieftain of a famous Scottish clan, and you’re trying to build your kingdom by gaining points. The winner is the player with the best kingdom, not the most money.

5. PANDEMIC LEGACY: SEASON 1

The first Pandemic (2008) is a cooperative game that pits players against four diseases threatening to eradicate the human race. (No pressure.) Pandemic Legacy takes it to another level. Depending on your actions in the game, Legacy might have you destroy certain items, place stickers on the board, write on cards, and even change the rules. There are secret dossiers and black boxes. Characters can get completely removed from the game, never to return.

As you can probably tell from that description, Pandemic Legacy is a part of a new genre of game that’s only playable once—but each game can last 12-24 sessions, so you’ll get your money’s worth. And how’s this for hype? VICE calls this “the greatest board game of all time.”

6. T.I.M.E. STORIES

Another cooperative game, T.I.M.E. Stories sends players to various points in time to solve problems. The twist: You’ll always be able to complete the mission, but if you can’t get it done in the assigned time, you’ll have to start over from the beginning to try again.

FOR THE "KINDERSPIEL DES JAHRES" (CHILDREN'S GAME OF THE YEAR):

7. LEO

Even the King of the Jungle needs a haircut. Players help Leo the lion get from his bed to the barbershop, but he encounters various distractions along the way—and the clock is ticking. If the clock strikes 8 p.m. and Leo hasn’t made it to the shop yet, he has to go back to his bed and start over. Players win if they can manage to get Leo to the barber in five days.

8. MMM!

When the cat’s away, the mice will ... try to strip the pantry of every last crumb and morsel they can find? In Mmm!, the players are the mice, who must try to fill their bellies before the cat catches them.

9. MY FIRST STONE AGE

Amazon

Also known as Stone Age Junior, this is the kiddie take on an existing grown-up game called—you guessed it—Stone Age(2008). In the same fashion as Catan, players must collect various goods to build their own settlements.

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"American Mall," Bloomberg
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Unwinnable Video Game Challenges You to Keep a Shopping Mall in Business
"American Mall," Bloomberg
"American Mall," Bloomberg

Shopping malls, once the cultural hub of every suburb in America, have become a punchline in the e-commerce era. There are plenty of malls around today, but they tend to be money pits, considering the hundreds of "dead malls" haunting the landscape. Just how hard is it to keep a mall afloat in the current economy? American Mall, a new video game from Bloomberg, attempts to give an answer.

After choosing which tycoon character you want as your stand-in, you're thrown into a mall—rendered in 1980s-style graphics—already struggling to stay in business. The building is filled with rats and garbage you have to clean up if you want to keep shoppers happy. Every few seconds you're contacted by another store owner begging you to lower their rent, and you must either take the loss or risk them packing up for good. When stores are vacated, it's your job to fill them, but it turns out there aren't too many businesses interested in setting up shop in a dying mall.

You can try gimmicks like food trucks and indoor playgrounds to keep customers interested, but in the end your mall will bleed too much money to support itself. You can try playing the bleak game for yourself here—maybe it will put some of the retail casualties of the last decade into perspective.

[h/t Co.Design]

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Why the Soundtracks to Games Like 'Mario' or 'The Sims' Can Help You Work
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When I sat down to write this article, I was feeling a little distracted. My desk salad was calling me. I had new emails in my inbox to read. I had three different articles on my to-do list, and I couldn't decide which to start first. And then, I jumped over to Spotify and hit play on the theme to The Sims. As I listened to the upbeat, fast-paced, wordless music, my writing became faster and more fluid. I felt more “in the zone,” so to speak, than I had all morning. There's a perfectly good explanation: Video games provide the ideal productivity soundtrack. At Popular Science, Sara Chodosh explains why video game music can get you motivated and keep you focused while you work, especially if you're doing relatively menial tasks. It's baked into their composition.

There are several reasons to choose video game music over your favorite pop album. For one, they tend not to have lyrics. A 2012 study of more than 100 people found that playing background music with lyrics tended to distract participants while studying. The research suggested that lyric-less music would be more conducive to attention and performance in the workplace. Another study conducted in open-plan offices in Finland found that people were better at proofreading if there was some kind of continuous, speechless noise going on in the background. Video game music would fit that bill.

Plus, video game music is specifically made not to distract from the task at hand. The songs are meant to be listened to over and over again, fading into the background as you navigate Mario through the Mushroom Kingdom or help Link save Zelda. My friend Josie Brechner, a composer who has scored the music for video games like the recently released Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King, says that game music is definitely written with this in mind.

"Basically, successful video game music straddles the balance between being engaging and exciting, but also not wanting to make you tear your ears off after the 10th or 100th listen," Brechner says. Game music often has a lot of repetition, along with variation on musical themes, to keep the player engaged but still focused on what they're playing, "and that translates well to doing other work that requires focus and concentration."

If you're a particularly high-strung worker, you might want to tune into some relaxing classical music or turn on a song specifically designed to calm you. But if you want to finish those expense reports on a Monday morning, you're better off choosing a fast-tempo ditty designed for seemingly pointless activities like making your Sims eat and go to the toilet regularly. (It can help you with more exciting work responsibilities, too: Other research has found that moderate background noise can increase performance on creative tasks.)

These types of songs work so well that there are entire playlists online devoted just to songs from video game soundtracks that work well for studying. One, for instance, includes songs written for The Legend of Zelda, Skyrim, Super Smash Bros., and other popular games.

The effect of certain theme songs on your productivity may, however, depend on your particular preferences. A 2010 study of elementary school students found that while calming music could improve performance on math and memory tests, music perceived as aggressive or unpleasant distracted them. I was distracted by the deep-voiced chanting of the "Dragonborn Theme" from Skyrim, but felt charged up by the theme from Street Fighter II. There's plenty of variety in video game scores—after all, a battle scene doesn't call for the same type of music as a puzzle game. Not all of them are going to work for you, but by their nature, you probably don't need a lot of variation in your work music if you're using video game soundtracks. If you can play a game for days on end, you can surely listen to the same game soundtrack over and over again.

[h/t Popular Science]

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