The Spiel Des Jahres (pronounced ‘Shpeel Dess YAHrus’) is the German ‘Game of the Year’ and is the most prestigious award in the boardgaming world. Each year, a committee of Germans nominate three games that have been released in Germany during the previous twelve months as potential winners and then announce the overall winner about a month later.
Just being nominated for the Spiel Des Jahres is likely to increase sales by a factor of 10. Winning the award could easily increase sales by a factor of 100! As you might imagine, it’s every publisher’s dream to have one of their games nominated. Why does the German Game of the Year have such a large effect on game sales? Let’s take a look.
Germany has a long and proud history in boardgaming. Board and card games have been a key part of their family culture for decades. Whereas many British families were brought up playing Monopoly and Risk, the Germans had a much greater variety of games being produced each year.
In 1978, various German boardgame critics got together to provide recognition for the best games and help promote the boardgaming industry in general. They came up with the idea of an annual award and the Spiel Des Jahres was born.
A bit like the Man Booker prize for literature, the Spiel Des Jahres is not necessarily saying that the winner is the absolute best game of the year. After all, tastes vary and opinions are very subjective. The idea is that the award highlights excellence in the field and increases people’s awareness of the industry.
The reason that the Spiel Des Jahres is so influential is partly because of the German’s history with boardgames. They have been producing high quality games much longer than most of the rest of the world.
It is also partly because the award itself has been around for so long. For many years, it was the only award of note in the industry. Being the most well-known award, winners would place the red-pawn-with-gold-laurel award icon on future print runs of the game.
With copies of Spiel Des Jahres winners like Catan and Ticket to Ride being sold all over the world, more and more people began to recognise the award and came to trust it as signifying a quality game.
Retailers, who sometimes know less about boardgames than you might expect, would stock Spiel Des Jahres winners automatically. When a customer comes in wanting a recommendation for a game, shop staff could safely recommend one of the Spiel Des Jahres winners without fear of picking a turkey.
So winning the Spiel Des Jahres almost guarantees that your game will be stocked by virtually every boardgame retailer in the world. That alone will account for a huge increase in sales. Nevermind the associated press coverage that comes with it.
Originally, since the award was designed to appeal to as many people as possible, the games chosen were family games through and through. Heavy, strategy games or big, war games wouldn’t get a look in. This is very much still the case and the Spiel Des Jahres might be better thought of as the ‘Family Game of the Year’.
However, as time went by, and heavier games became more streamlined and more popular, the committee wanted to recognise these games that, while they were too complex to ever win the Spiel Des Jahres, were nevertheless excellent games.
So from time to time, a special award would be given in addition to the main Spiel Des Jahres award. Agricola, the highly-regarded, farming, resource-management game from Uwe Rosenberg, was given the special award for best ‘Complex Game’ in 2008, for example.
In 2011 though, they decided to add a new award that would be announced every year in conjunction with the Spiel Des Jahres. It was called the Kennerspiel Des Jahres, which literally translates as the ‘Connoisseur’s Game of the Year’, but might be better translated as the ‘Strategy Game of the Year’.
I still wouldn’t call any of the Kennerspiel winners ‘heavy’, but they are certainly a step up from the family-weight Spiel Des Jahres winners. The first game to win the Kennerspiel was 7 Wonders. I would describe them as light- to medium-weight strategy games.
While less publicised, there has also been a Kinderspiel Des Jahres (Children’s Game of the Year) announced each year since 1989. This emphasis very much falls in line with the Germans’ family attitude to gaming. I have certainly found myself that games can be an excellent educational tool for children and I appreciate the emphasis that they have placed on this area of the industry.
There are many awards for boardgames these days, but the Spiel Des Jahres is still the most highly coveted. The full list of winners (and many of the nominees) for each award can be found here. Which Spiel Des Jahres (or Kennerspiel) winner is your favourite?