It is “Oscar Season” for the board game industry! The Spiel des Jahres, or German Game of the Year, award nominees were announced on Monday. It is the most sought after award in the hobby, as just being nominated means more sales for your game, and winning ensures exponentially greater sales.
The award began back in 1978 and deals specifically with family style board games. A jury of judges reviews all games released in the German market over the past 12 months and selects games based on their originality as well as their accessibility. There are other awards that have cropped up over the years, with specific country best game awards (Portugal’s Jogo Do Anno), more hobby or publication specific awards (Board Game Geek’s Golden Geek Award, the Dice Tower Awards), but the Spiel des Jahres has remained the most prestigious, and most influential in the game market. In 1989 a Kinderspiel des Jahres, or kids game of year was introduced. Unfortunately many of these kids games don’t get released in the United States, so I won’t cover them in depth here. In 2011 the jury determined that there was a need to award games of greater complexity and introduced the Kennerspiel des Jahres, or expert game of the year, and I have loved many of the games announced for this new category.
The award is not just good for publisher sales though, it was also been useful in identifying games that are worth your time and money. In my own collection I have 10-12 spiel nominees or winners, and three of my favorite games of all time (Dominion, Kingdom Builder and 7 Wonders) were awarded the prize. As the board game industry continues to grow it is really helpful to have that award sticker on the box to separate the great games from the also rans.
This year’s Spiel des Jahres nominees are:
Codenames by Vlaada Chvatil. This is the best party game since Apples to Apples, and my vote to win it.. in part because it’s the only one of these nominees I’ve played so far! I have written about it previously when it made the rounds at Barnes and Noble. Below is Eric Martin’s fantastic overview.
Imhotep by Phil Walker-Harding. This game has not made it to the U.S. just yet, but with the award nomination announcement, its release date has been moved up to late June. It looks to be a great family game about building Egyptian monuments. Players assign blocks to different shared boats that then ferry them over to different building sites. However any player can move any boat so there is lots of room to cause havoc in the plans of other players. The order of the blocks on the boat itself also matters for how each block scores. Much like other Spiel Des Jahres nominees, the game uses simple actions to create a strategic experience.
Karuba by Rudiger Dorn. A fantastic looking game that combines the best things about bingo and tile laying games. Players all have a board with a start and end points for 4 different adventurers marked in the same spots. One player draws tiles and yells out the number on the tile, and they and all other players place that tile on the board, or discard it to move an adventurer. So everything is symmetrical, but how you use the different tiles announced will determine your success.
This year’s Kennerspiel des Jahres, or Expert Game Nominees are:
Isle Of Skye by Andreas Pelikan and Alexander Pfister. This is an innovative tile laying auction game. All players draw three tiles each round and use coin tokens to secretly set the price for two of them, while axing the third. Then players reveal their prices, and in turn order each player can buy one tile from another player. Players keep any tiles not sold, but must pay the price they set. So there is a wonderful tight rope act of trying to price tiles to be attractive other players, but not pricing them out of the market. Players use these tiles to build a village and work to accomplish certain scoring goals that vary from game to game. In another interesting twist, all goals score at different times over the course of the five rounds, so timing is crucial as to when to go after any given goal.
Pandemic: Legacy by Matt Leacock and Rob Daviau is a fantastic Legacy style games. I covered these games with permanent consequences previously, and it’s no surprise to see this great concept get recognized by the jury. As a recap, in Pandemic Legacy each game is a month of the year, and decisions in any given game change the game permanently. There is also a storyline that plays out through a “legacy” deck of cards that introduces new twists as players work through the games.
Time Stories by Manuel Rozoy is an adventure game system. I also talked about this in a previous blog, specifically about the single use nature of the game’s set up. Each game is a module that represents one story and players work together to solve the case, kind of like a mystery. However, once a story is solved, its secrets have been revealed and replaying it would be like rewatching a movie, or rereading a book. However the concept has allowed the designers to create some very compelling story content in board game form, and deserves recognition.
The winners will be announced on July 18th, and I will post then to celebrate the winners. Best of luck to all the nominees, and I am looking forward to trying out the three games I haven’t played on this list before the winners are announced.