The best board game of 2020 is a poster-sized hidden object game

This year’s Spiel des Jahres, amongst the most desirable awards in the parlor game market, goes to MicroMacro: Criminal Offense City. The awards were revealed live Monday on social networks.

If you’re a fan of parlor game you’ve most likely currently become aware of Criminal Offense City. It’s the work of designer Johannes Sich and the little group at Hard Boiled Games, dispersed here in the United States by Pegasus Spiele. The video game has actually been making waves in the tabletop world considering that its release in 2015, with lots of freely questioning if it even certifies as a parlor game at all. None can question its appeal; print runs have actually offered out consistently over the previous 8 months. Today the $29.99 video game is being scalped on Amazon for $99.99.

So what is MicroMacro: Crime City? Inside the box is a black-and-white map nearly four feet wide depicting a bustling cartoon city. Also included in the box is a set of 120 cards detailing 16 different crimes. It’s up to players to pore over the elaborate scene with an included magnifying glass, solving the mysteries as they go. It’s basically the physical representation of a hidden-object video game, a genre of video games that has been popular for years now. It even seems to ape the black-and-white style of the wildly popular Hidden Folks. Given how derivative the concept is, the success is in some ways surprising.

A detailed shot of Crime City’s map, showing a masked hero leaping from rooftop to rooftop to confront a criminal and a couple riding horses in the street.

Image: Johannes Sich

I think a lot of the popularity of Criminal Offense City has a lot to do with how fans of tabletop gaming have had to adapt during the pandemic. While services like Board Game Arena and Tabletop Simulator have proved to be great ways to find heavier games online, sometimes you just want something to put on the table at home — something tactile, an anchor activity to sit in a room with for a few hours or days at a time. It’s the same kind of niche that jigsaw puzzles have helped fill over the last year and a half by providing focused, almost meditative experiences for one or more people at a time.

MicroMacro: Crime City is an artifact that will immediately create interest for everyone at the table. You can play it solo, in a small group, working independently or together all on the same crime. It’s an experience that adapts to any situation, and almost any setting where you can find a big enough table.

Is MicroMacro: Crime City a great game? I really don’t think so. But, in a tabletop setting at least, it feels various enough to spark curiosity. I believe its most important feature is just how simple it is. Most board games require methodical study, and then a kind of performance where you teach others what you know. Here, the cognitive load required to get going is effectively zero, and for a great deal of individuals that’s about all they can summon today.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.