Each May, a panel of German game journalists convene to nominate nine games for the country's "Game of the Year" awards. The average American has almost zero chance of knowing these titles, yet hobby gamers clamor for the news. The nominated titles won't mire in obscurity for long, so these gamers use the Spiel des Jahres (the award's name) new to get a glimpse into the future.
But why do gamers latch on to this specific award? The simple answer is that Germany was there first, and America hasn't been able to field a compelling award of its own. In fact, the award's popularity has played a big part in the modern board gaming boom.
While board game design had largely grown stale in the late 20th century, great titles were still being published in Europe. Germany's Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) awards put a spotlight on the best-of-the-best, allowing gamers worldwide to identify those titles and import them. The fame that early winners such as The Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne received was a major factor in lifting the board game industry to its current levels of popularity.
According to Scott Tepper of BoardGameNews, a nomination alone is good for 10,000 sales, and a winner can expect their game to sell several hundred thousand copies. These are huge numbers in an industry where games rarely reach such totals. In any case, this year's nominations are in, so read on for a look at the potential winners.
Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year):
- Kingdom Builder: Designed by Donald X. Vaccarino, published by Queen Games.
- Eselbrücke: Designed by Stefan Dorra and Ralf zur Linde, published by Schmidt Spiele.
- Vegas: Designed by Rüdiger Dorn, published by Alea.
Kennerspiel des Jahres (Advanced Game of the Year):
- K2: Designed by Adam Kaluza, published by Heidelberger Spielervlag.
- Targi: Designed by Andreas Steiger, published by Kosmos
- Village: Designed by Inka and Markus Brand, published by Eggertspiele.
Kinderspiele des Jahres (Children's Game of the Year):
- Die kleinen Drachenritter: Designed by Marco Teubner, published by HUCH! & friends
- Schnappt Hubi!: Designed by Steffen Bogen, published by Ravensburger
- Spinnengift und Krötenschleim: Designed by Klaus Teuber, published by Kosmos
I'd love to provide you some commentary on the above titles, but I haven't played them yet either!
While you won't be able to pick up most of these games for some time (Kingdom Builder and K2 are widely available at most American gaming stores, since they were released here prior to their German releases), you can read along with the flood of gamer impressions that are sure to hit sites such as BoardGameGeek.com as the nominees are imported.
In light of the awards' significance to the gaming community, it's important to also understand the context in which they are determined. These focus of the SdJ will always be on the quality of a game's play in a family setting, so these are more of a "best overall" designation rather than focusing on the best games for the "hardcore" audience. Looking at the full list of games that just missed the nomination cut, several recent favorites show up, including Hawaii, Ora et Labora, and Friday, all of which were beaten out by the actual nominees.
If you're interested in learning more about the Spiel des Jahres, I recommend the documentary Going Cardboard by Lorien Green, which looks at the effects of the awards as one of its topics.