The Spiel des Jahres

What is the Spiel des Jahres? The Spiel des Jahres is a coveted and prestigious award given to a single, yes, that’s right, a single board game each year in Germany. The Spiel des Jahres, or “Game of the Year” was created in 1978 by german speaking board game critics, and has crowned a total of 40 games with this exceptional honor.

In case you were wondering, this award DOES impact game sales and exposure.

Quite a bit.

You may think this has nothing to do with you, however, I would argue otherwise.

1) Have you heard of Settlers of Catan?

2) Have you ever played Code Names? What about Dixit?

3) Have you noticed how everyone is NOW all about playing board games??

If you walk into any Target or Barnes and Nobles, and look at the board game section, you may have notice that the board game section keeps growing. It’s mainstream. 

It’s hard to ignore that we are in the middle of a board game renaissance AND critics argue that this trend is not going away. Why the uptick all of a sudden? It seems in large part thanks to the Spiel des Jahres and committee who picks the winning game each year. It is very likely that this jury of 10 or so members who critique, promote, and recommend board games could be responsible for the Golden Era of board games in the U.S. and abroad.

Other tangential theories include better designed games, and a way for people to connect outside of the, well, internet and screen space.

So, how does one apply to be on this special voting board? There is no formal application process, though there are many criteria that disqualify you from being selected. “No-one who designs, develops or sells games, or works at a games publisher, can become a juror.” It seems to be a secretive and quite selective process. One juror, Udo Bartsch, shared his story of how he was invited to join the jury. Apparently, one day out of the blue, he received a phone call and the S.D.J was on the other line. 

Since the official Spiel des Jahres website does not list any criteria of how these designer are games are judged, I had to look at other sources. According to Wikipedia – 

The jury meets a few times a year to vote on a slew of board games based on:

  1. game concept (originality, playability, game value)
  2. rule structure (composition, clearness, comprehensibility)
  3. layout (box, board, rules),
  4. design (functionality, workmanship)

This is a little different than I would have expected, however, I understand why many other factors are taken into account outside of “how good is the game.” While I don’t find the design and layout to be factors in what I choose to play, many other gamers love the design and workmanship of the pieces and the intricacy, thought, and clever references that make the whole package.

In addition to the general public and diehard gamers having way more amazing game options than they have ever had before, board game publishers and developers are also inundated with hundreds of games to select from and distribute. Games like Container and Brass: Lacashire that have been re-published to great demand, and let’s not forget Kickstarter who has a burgeoning game division that brings in millions each year in fundraising. There are board game cafes in the US and across the world, and of course, players, like me, who have benefited from this and get many takeaways from playing as many board games each week as humanly possible.

Finally, in addition to the Game of the Year award, the Spiel des Jahres also awards a Children’s Game of the Year, the first which was first given in 1989, and the Connoisseurs’ game of the year for more complex games, of which the first game to win in 2011 was 7 Wonders, followed by Village in 2012.

If you are wondering what took the GOTY award in 2018, it was Azul by Michael Kiesling, with a nomination for the game The Mind, and a Special Prize set aside for Pandemic: Legacy 2.