Tag Archives: Tikal

Spiel des Jahres Nominations 2023

This year’s nominations for the three Spiel des Jahres categories were announced last Monday.  This is arguably the most prestigious award in board gaming and, as such, is the one everyone wants to win.  There are three categories, the Kinderspiel (children’s game) , the Kennerspiel (“expert’s” game) and the most desirable of all, the family award, the Spiel des Jahres.  The nominees for this year’s awards have been announced as:

  • Kennerspiel des Jahres
    Kennerspiel des Jahres 2023 - nomineesChallengers! by Johannes Krenner and Markus Slawitscheck
    Iki by Koota Yamada
    Planet Unknown by Ryan Lambert and Adam Rehberg

In recent years, there has been a marked change the complexity of the games—compared with previous winners like El Grande, Tikal and The Settlers of Catan (all of which won the “Red Pöppel” as they preceded the inception of the Kennerspiel award), for example, even this year’s nominations for Kennerspiel are extremely light games that have been called party games by some.  This is at least partly because the criteria or rules for the Spiel des Jahres Awards are very clearly and strictly laid out.

Heat: Pedal to the Metal
– Image used with permission of Henk Rolleman
(@namellor on Instagram)

For example, one of the most popular games of the year, Heat: Pedal to the Metal, was not eligible, allegedly due to lack of ready availability in the German market.  Similarly, the German release for another popular game, Earth, marginally failed to make the entry date, but may therefore be eligible for next year.  Another favourite amongst the GOATS is Die Wandelnden Türme (Wandering Towers), which also failed to get a mention either this year or last, presumably because it too fell foul of one of the rules. Iki, on the other hand was first released in 2015, but did not get a “full German release” at the time and therefore the recent re-release with new artwork is eligible, so there is still hope for all those that have missed the boat.

Die Wandelnden Türme
– Image by boardGOATS

It is also worth remembering that the “Red Pöppel” Spiel des Jahres Award is specifically aimed at German families, not necessarily families that play lots of games.  Even the “expert” Kennerspiel des Jahres Award, is aimed at families that are “just ready to move on to the next step”—neither award are aimed at people who regularly play games.  For this, the Deutscher Spielepreis is a much better fit, but the Spiel des Jahres Awards are still the industry’s headline award, and therefore are of great significance.

The Spiel des Jahres Awards
– Image from spiel-des-jahres.de

The winners will be announced on 16th July in Berlin.

Spiel des Jahres Winners – 2022

The 2022 Spiel des Jahres (German Game of the Year) winner has just been been announced as Cascadia.   Cascadia is a token-drafting and tile laying game featuring the habitats and wildlife of the Pacific Northwest.  Players take turns expanding their terrain area and populating it with wildlife by taking a terrain and wildlife pair of tiles and adding them to their territory.  Players are trying to create large areas of matching terrain to create wildlife corridors, while also placing wildlife tokens to achieve the goal associated with that animal type (e.g. separating hawks from other hawks, surrounding foxes with different animals and keeping bears in pairs).

– Image by BGG contributor singlemeeple

In recent years, there has been a marked change in the sort of games winning the award with a noticeable shift to lighter games with a general drift away from “traditional board games” like past winners, El Grande, Tikal, The Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride: Europe.  This was epitomised by last year’s winner MicroMacro: Crime City, which is arguably more of an activity than a game.  Although this may make games more relevant to a wider cross-section of the public, it also means the Spiel des Jahres awards are increasingly less applicable to more traditional gamers.  This year’s winner, Cascadia is something of a throwback in this regard, being a more conventional modern board game and not as light as some of the recent winners.

– Image by Ludonaute

That said, the introduction of the Kennerspiel des Jahres or “connoisseur” award eleven years ago, was aimed at filling the gap left by the drift of the Spiel des Jahres Award, with a move towards lighter games.  As such, it is usually a better fit for the experienced gamer, though not necessarily those who enjoy classic Euro board games.  This year, all three nominees were more traditional Euro-type games, guaranteeing that the winner would be too.  The Kennerspiel des Jahres winner is announced at the same time as the winner of the “Red Poppel”, and this year it was another nature game, Living Forest, a game where players are a nature spirit trying to save the forest and its sacred tree from the flames of Onibi.

– Image adapted by boardGOATS from the
live stream video on spiel-des-jahres.de

The Kinderspiel des Jahres award winner was announced last month and went to Zauberberg (aka Magic Mountain), a game where players move sorcerers’ apprentices down a mountain, and ride the influence of the will-o’-the-wisp.  As usual, congratulations to all the winners and nominees.

Boardgames in the News: Games making Cameos on TV

Board games are an integral part of family life and growing up and, as such, they have a long tradition of appearing on TV programs.  For example, Kramer and Newman get wrapped up in a game of Risk in Seinfeld, Scrabble features in the second series of Hamish Macbeth and in The Simpsons, while Stratego was the game Fox Mulder was playing with his sister the night she was abducted in the X-Files.  Often, games are used to highlight something “geeky” or otherwise “cerebral”.  So, Rimmer was known to maintain a “Risk Campaign Diary” and often recounting games turn-by-turn to his crew mates in Red Dwarf, and in Star Trek: Voyager, Tom Paris and B’Elanna Torres were shown playing Quarto (though it is probably known by a different name in the twenty-fourth century).

Escape From Colditz
– Image from bbc.co.uk

More exiting games have started to appear on TV recently though.  A few years ago, we commented on how Mage Knight featured in the BBC romantic drama Last Tango in Halifax but that is by no means the only TV program to use a designer board game to create atmosphere.  The BBC has a bit of a penchant for including board games in their programs, and when they do, they often choose games that are outside the mainstream.  For example, in the 1970s police drama, Life on Mars featured people playing Escape from Colditz, and more recently, the second series of Killing Eve showed Villanelle playing Dixit.

Dixit on Killing Eve
– Image from bbc.co.uk

In this case, it is a plot device, as Villanelle’s protagonist is commented, “You are struggling with the rules of Dixit, a simple story telling game for players aged eight and upwards, and yet you claim to have two philosophy degrees.”  The BBC doesn’t have a monopoly on showing modern board games, however.  The Channel 4 program, The IT Crowd regularly featured a stack of games in the background that variously included Memoir ’44, Ticket to Ride, Shadows over Camelot, Mystery of the Abbey and War on Terror, while Settlers of Catan, Talisman, Ticket to Ride, and Race for the Galaxy are all shown on shelves in The Big Bang Theory, highlighting how games are still often seen as something for “geeks”.

– Image from youtube.com

The “geeky” angle may be changing though.  The Amazon thriller Reacher shows people playing Settlers of Catan in a safe-house, and there is a game shown in every series of the Canadian thriller, Orphan Black because co-creator John Fawcett is a gamer and the show has a “Board Game Advisor” (games featured include Gloomhaven, Runewars, Agricola, Descent, Dead of Winter and Scythe)Tikal even appeared in Glee during the fifth season where the cast sing, “What does the Fox Say?”  Some of these appearances may be paid product placement, in particular Arkham Horror in Limitless and Race for the Galaxy in Silicon Valley, with Rio Grande Games allegedly having confirmed that they have paid for games to appear in shows.  That is not the reason in all cases though.

– Image from itv.com

Last week, Wingspan appeared in the ITV soap-opera, Coronation Street with people shown reading the rules and references to having played later.  Designer Elizabeth Hargrave confirmed that this was not a case of product placement, commenting that the show got in touch and no money had changed hands.  It is possible that one of the script writers is a fan of modern board games as “Corrie” did something similar just over a year ago with Billy Mayhew shown struggling to fathom the rules to Mysterium shortly after Christmas. With the appearance of modern board games in programs like this, it is clear they are no longer solely the preserve of the “geeky”, though it would probably help if we could get rid of the “frowning over difficult rules” stereotype.

– Image from itv.com

9th September 2021

Burgundy, Pink, Blue, Green and Lilac arrived early for food, and while they were waiting squeezed in a very quick game of No Thanks!.  Lilac was new to the game, but it didn’t take long to explain: take the card in the middle and any chips on it, or add a chip to the pile to pass the problem on to the next person.  At the end of the game, players total up the face value of their cards and the winner is the player with the lowest score.  The clever part is that any runs only score for the lowest card, but some cards are removed from the deck before the start.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue started off picking up cards, but unfortunately for her she continued picking up cards and was unable to connect them leaving her with a massive score of eighty two.  Lilac finished a very creditable joint second with fourteen, tying with Burgundy.  Green was the eventual winner though with only ten points for his cards and seven chips left over giving a final score of just three.  As the game came to an end food arrived and as they tucked in, everyone else started to arrive too.  It was about then that Pink got himself into a spot of bother, appearing to suggest that Blue should look more like Keira Knightley…

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

Everyone was aghast, and as Pink tried to explain that he was referring to how organised she was in The Devil Wears Prada, until Burgundy commented, “When you reach the centre of the earth you should stop digging.  It was only some considerable time afterwards that Pink realised that Ms Knightley wasn’t in Devil Wears Prada after all, but it was actually Anne Hathaway (she of cottage fame).

– Image by boardGOATS

After a bit of ribbing and some shenanigans with gnocchi and ice cream, the group split into two and settled down for the “Feature Game“, which was Fossilis.  This is a game with an unusual theme where players are collecting dinosaur fossils for their museum.  It uses an “action point” mechanism which is perhaps best known from the “Mask Trilogy” of games (Tikal, Java, Mexica), but has been widely used over the last twenty years in games as varied as Torres, Bus, Pandemic, Tawantinsuyu, Takenoko, Dinosaur Island and many more.

– Image by boardGOATS

It is a very simple idea: each action has a cost and players have a set number of “points” they can spend doing actions on their turn.  In some games this mechanism is present, but hidden, while in others it is the main driver of the game; Fossilis falls into the latter category.  Players have four action points to spend on their turn, using them to move stone, clay or sand (dig), collect plaster (for making fossils) or use tweezers to fish in a nearby pit (in a manner reminiscent of Operation) to find a hammer or use plaster to claim a fossilised bone.  Once per turn, players can also trade eggs, resin and “footprints” for Tool or resource cards, and take a dinosaur card from the market and add it to their lab.

– Image by boardGOATS

The idea of the dinosaur cards is that they allow players to exchange fossilised bones for identified dinosaur bones which are more valuable.  If a player manages to collect all the bones for a given dinosaur, they are more valuable still.  At any point during their turn a player can claim a dinosaur from the market if they can complete it fully, otherwise, dinosaurs have to go via their lab. This is not the only way to score points though—dinosaurs also have three characteristics and at the end of the game, players who have more than three of a type score points for it.

– Image by boardGOATS

Players also score points for a full set of nine and having the majority of in a characteristic.  The game uses an interesting timer, where a set amount of plaster is made available and when this has been used an event card is revealed.  After the event has been resolved, the pool of plaster is replenished and the game continues.  Once the third event has been revealed, there is one final pool and one last round before the final scoring.  The player with the most points is the winner.  This time we had two games running, one with Pine, Ivory, Green and Lilac, while Burgundy, Blue, Purple, Pink and Black played on the next table.

– Image by boardGOATS

On the first table, Ivory & Pine were new to the game. Pine said he had always been useless at Operation, but liked the dinosaur theme, while Ivory admitted to being initially sceptical about it. Ivory went through the game without any additional hammer bonuses instead concentrating on getting all nine of the dinosaur characteristics using the supplies to good effect.  Pine took an early lead collecting artefacts for tools and supplies.  Green obtained the Jack Hammer power tool and in the later part of the game used it to open up centre of the dig site only to destroy the first skull found in the game and mangle a hammer, thus making that square useless.

– Image by boardGOATS

Lilac had won her previous game of Fossilis (played against Green, Purple and Black a few days earlier) and tried the same strategy of gaining extra points for complete dinosaurs. Unfortunately she got the bonus too late in the game to make it work for her and with Pine and Green targeting the same dinosaur characteristics they ended up cancelling each other out.  That left only one winner, Ivory, who trampled Pine as he passed leaving him in second place.  Although the game clearly took longer than the advertised forty-five minutes the game moved along swiftly and finished well before the other table.

– Image by boardGOATS

Adding the fifth player clearly slowed things down for several reasons.  Firstly, although people tried to plan their turn in advance, inevitably the game state changed meaning players had to start again.  Worse, players struggled to see into the dig site to see what was available in the pits.  This meant players often had to wait for their turn and have the dig site passed to them and plan from there.  The length of the game was exacerbated when the Patronage event card appeared and everyone except Purple took six pieces of plaster.  Purple and Black had played the game a few days before, but Burgundy, Pink and Blue were new to the game, though Burgundy had done some research online.

– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy’s research suggested that the best strategy was not to focus on completing dinosaurs fully, but to concentrate on getting as many dinosaurs as possible.  This leads to a loss of value for the dinosaurs when they are scored during the game, but can pay off at the end of the game when the bonuses for characteristics are scored.  This is because each dinosaur has three characteristics each of which can score three times:  once if the player has three, twice if they also have the most, and three times if they have a full set of nine.  This can more than make up for points “lost” by failing to complete it fully.

– Image by boardGOATS

Pink had not done any research in advance so tried the opposite and focussed on completing his dinosaurs and took a skill tile that enabled him to pick up the top tool tile for free every time he did so.  Blue took a skill tile which allowed her to move stone for one less action point while Black took a skill which allowed him to work on two dinosaurs in his lab at once.  Purple could have done with a skill tile that would help her stay on the dig site or get back on for free, because people kept pushing he off, but unfortunately there wasn’t anything like that available.

– Image by boardGOATS

In the closing stages, Blue and Pink had a significant advantage, but Burgundy picked up a few more dinosaurs at the end of the game and then started raking in the bonus points.  He finished some twenty points ahead of Blue and Pink who were separated by a single point and took second and third.  There was quite a bit of chit chat about the game as they ended.  Ivory said he liked it, much more than he was expecting and would definitely like to play it again. As for Pine, well, the game has dinosaurs and anything with dinosaurs gets his approval, even if some of them look like they’ve been drawn by that kids, playing that game where they drawing different parts and put them together at the end.

– Image by boardGOATS

Blue was less impressed.  The feeling on the other table was that the scoring was off a little and there wasn’t a strategy that would beat the “get as many dinosaurs as you can” plan.  Certainly five players was too many and perhaps three would be a sweet-spot.  Pink was keen to give it another go, but although everyone else on that table would play it again if someone else wanted to, they all said there were other games they would choose first.  That said, it is a fantastic theme and very unusual and the deluxe edition of the game comes with a lot of expansions to add variety, and it is possible that they might add changes to the balance of scoring too.

– Image by boardGOATS

Green, Lilac, Ivory and Pine finished a long way ahead of the other table, and as Lilac had never played Love Letter, it got its third outing in as many sessions. They were a tired little group though and in the end, Lilac chose to sit it out and watch.  The game is a really simple one where players start their turn with a card, then draw another and choose one to play.  The aim of the game is to be the player with the highest card at the end of the round, or in practice, be the last player standing.  The winner of each round gets a token and the first to a given number is the winner.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine started well, guessing Green’s card before he even had a chance to play. He went on to win the first two rounds. In the third round, Pine did it again to Green, but Ivory won the round.  There was one more each to both Pine and Ivory and Green was beginning to wonder if he’d ever get a go.  Green then promptly won two rounds on the trot; with three players, the winning line is five tokens, so suddenly Green thought he was in with a chance.  Then Pine won two more rounds to complete his rout, winning his fifth token and with it, the game.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  The thigh bone is not necessarily still connected to the hip bone…

Spiel des Jahres Nominations 2021

The nominations for the Spiel des Jahres have been announced.  There are three categories, the Kinderspiel (children’s game) , the Kennerspiel (“expert’s” game) and the most desirable of all, the family award, the Spiel des Jahres.  The nominees for this year’s awards have been announced as:

  • Kinderspiel des Jahres
    Kinderspiel des Jahres 2019Dragomino by Bruno Cathala, Marie Fort and Wilfried Fort
    Fabelwelten (aka Storytailors) by Wilfried Fort and Marie Fort
    Mia London by Antoine Bauza and Corentin Lebrat

Last year, the winner of the Spiel des Jahres was Pictures, a game where players model the picture on their card using the available components, e.g. shoelaces, coloured cubes, etc.; players get points for correctly guessing other players images and for other players guessing their image.  This is considerably lighter than some of the earlier winners, notably, Tikal and El Grande, or even some of the best known winners like The Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne or Ticket to Ride.  As the main award winners have become lighter over the years, we have found the Kennerpiel des Jahres better fits to our tastes.  The Kennerspiel nominees are not especially complex games, but are typically a step up from the light, family-friendly games of the main prize, the Spiel des Jahres.

– Image by from spiel-des-jahres.de

Last year the Kennerspiel award went to The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine a game we have still been unable to play thanks to the global pandemic.  The Crew beat our preferred choice, Cartographers.  In contrast to The Crew, as a “Roll and Write” game, we have played Cartographers a lot.  So far, we are unfamiliar with the nominees this year and likely won’t get the chance to play any of them until some time after the winners have been announced (19th July in Berlin for the Kennerpiel and Spiel des Jahres Awards; 14th June for the Kinderspiel des Jahres).

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS


Spiel des Jahres Winners – 2017

The 2017 winner of the coveted German Game of the Year or Spiel des Jahres award is Kingdomino.  Kingdomino is a simple little tile laying game with elements borrowed from other games, in particular, Carcassonne and Dominoes.  These are combined to make a well presented family game where players taking it in turns to add to their kingdom by placing dominoes that depict different terrains types.  We have played Kingdomino several times on a Tuesday evening and everyone who has played it has enjoyed it.  Discussing it among the group, everyone has felt that it is a fun, light filler that is very accessible and is a worthy winner.  The Kennerspiel des Jahres was awarded at the same time.  This honours more challenging games and was first introduced in 2011 to make up for the fact that the main, Spiel des Jahres award had moved away from the slightly more involved fare (like El Grande and TIkal) towards lighter, more family friendly games (like Dixit and Qwirkle).

– Image by boardGOATS

Unusually, this year the Kennerspiel des Jahres award went to a series of games:  EXIT: Das Spiel.  These are cooperative games that reproduce the experience of an escape room by providing a series of puzzles inside a game box.  There are currently five of these games, though the award is for the first three, The Abandoned Cabin, The Pharaoh’s Tomb, and The Secret Lab.  Unfortunately, as a group we rarely play cooperative games and are not huge fans of the modern trend for social deduction type games, which  means we are unlikely to play this soon on a Tuesday evening.  The Kinderspiel des Jahres award was announced last month and went to Ice Cool which is a beautiful dexterity race game with cool little “weeble” penguins and wooden fish pegs.

Ice Cool
– Image used with permission of punkin312

Boardgames in the News: So, What Are Euro-Games?

A couple of months ago at our game night, one of the gamers commented that there were a lot of good games from Europe.  This prompted a discussion about “traditional games”, “Euro-games”, “American games” and their relative merits.  Most people know all about traditional games even if they don’t know what gamers mean when they use the term:  traditional games are the games we all used to play as a child including Scrabble, Cluedo and love it or loath it, the dreaded Monopoly.  Some people also include in this list games like Chess, Go and Backgammon as well as traditional card games like Whist, Hearts and Rummy.

– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ManCorte

But the front page of the boardGOATS website says, “We generally prefer to play “Euro” style games,” so, what do gamers mean by “Euro-games” or “Euro style games”?  Well, most of the traditional games we used to play as children were produced by publishers in the United States of America, companies like Milton Bradley (who made Scrabble) and Parker Brothers (who made Cluedo and Monopoly).  Incidentally, both these companies are now part of Hasbro, but the aggregation of smaller companies to form a larger one is a topic that’s been covered elsewhere.  While the “English” market was dominated by big players that concentrated on producing a few top sellers, in Germany there was no such dominance.  The effect this had was that the market consisted of a large number of small manufacturers producing more varied products.

– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Susie_Cat

This coupled with the traditionally strong German toy industry encouraged the growth of a culture of families playing games together on a Sunday afternoon. It was in this environment that the annual German Game of the Year, or Spiel des Jahres Award, highlighted a range of games from Rummikub in 1980, Torres in 2000 and Camel Up last year.  Over the years, the red pawn of the Spiel des Jahres logo, has become a mark of boardgaming quality, and for many German families, buying the game of the year is something they do every Christmas.  Therefore, the qualities espoused by these awards heavily influence the concept of the “Euro-game”.

– Image by BGG contributor OldestManOnMySpace

But what are these qualities that make a game “European”?  Well, that fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia, describes them as characterised by “simple rules, short to medium playing times, indirect player interaction and abstract physical components”.   It goes on to say, “Such games emphasize strategy, downplay luck and conflict, lean towards economic rather than military themes, and usually keep all the players in the game until it ends.”  On the whole this is not a bad summary, except that it is not very specific:  how simple are “simple rules” and how long are “short to medium playing times”?  Clearly these features are more about contrast, and although there are lots of different types of games including party games and war games, this comparison is usually between European style ames and American-style Games, aka “Ameri-Trash”.

Last Night on Earth
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Bilben04

Although common, use of the term Ameri-Trash (or Ameritrash) is controversial as some see it as unnecessarily negative, however, although other terms have been suggested none have proved as popular or as persistent.  The term itself is over fifteen years old and was probably originally used disparagingly and applied to genuinely bad American games as a comparison with the much higher professional standards of games in Germany at the time.  Since then, the scope has been expanded and many fans of those American games have adopted the term as a badge of honour.

Merchant of Venus
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

American-style games tend to be long, usually over two hours, and classically involve a lot of luck and often feature dice rolling.  They are often considered to be a lot less “cerebral” or “puzzle-like” and, as a result, are sometimes described as “more fun”.  The reference to “trash” may in part reflect the style of the pieces which tend to include a lot of plastic pieces to go with the dice.  There is also often a lot of direct conflict in American-style games, where European games tend to be much more family friendly with indirect player interaction.  Classic Ameri-Trash games include:  Arkham Horror, Merchant of Venus, Cosmic Encounter and Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game.  Sometimes there is also a book or film tie-in leading to games like Battlestar Galactica and Dune.  Even just comparing the titles with those of classic Euro-games like Puerto Rico, El Grande, Tikal and Agricola, the difference can clearly be felt.

Arkham Horror
– Image by BGG contributor igorigorevich

The most essential part of American-style games is the theme, however, which is often integral to the game mechanisms.  This encourages people fantasize they are part of the action when playing the game.  The miniatures, the long playing times, the complex interwoven rule-set and the interaction (often culminating in players being eliminated) all combine to draw players into the drama of the game.  In contrast, for Euro-games, the mechanisms are the focus, and the games can often be re-themed without much effort.  The theme is therefore used more as an introduction to the more abstract European strategy games, making them more accessible, rather than being an essential part of the emotional investment.

Relic Runners
– Image by BGG contributor cnidius

But things are not as simple as that.  The nature of modern boardgaming encourages cross-fertilisation.  There are more highly-themed, strategy-games available now and more long, strategic games with miniatures – these are sometimes referred to as “hybrid games”.  For example, games produced by the Days of Wonder (based in the USA), like Ticket to Ride and Relic Runners have a lot of plastic pieces, though the games themselves are quite strategic and generally run for no more than an hour.  Similarly, games like Escape: The Curse of the Temple and Space Alert use real-time and a sound-track to draw the players in, yet they are both short (Escape takes just ten minutes to play) and have no player elimination.  Vlaada Chvátil’s Dungeon Lords series of games, also have a lot of theme, but are also playable in a manageable time-frame, have a lot of strategy and a reasonably streamlined set of rules.

Dungeon Lords
– Image used with permission of BGG
contributor PaulGrogan

Confusingly however, “hybrid” has more recently also come to mean games that include some sort of mobile device application (and thus require a smart phone, tablet or similar).  Now, lots of games have Apps that help them a long a little (e.g. One Night Ultimate Werewolf), but games like Alchemists and XCOM: The Board Game don’t really function properly without them.  The question is, are these still boardgames?  In truth, they are a sort of hybrid computer-boardgame, but the point is, however appropriate the name, it is all about the game and the other people playing:  the bottom line is, if you enjoy playing it, it doesn’t matter what it is called.

– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor Mouseketeer

Boardgames in the News: Spiel des Jahres Awards

This week, Colt Express won the Spiel des Jahres Award.  Although it may seem strange, this German award is highly sought after and is the most coveted award in the world-wide world of boardgames.  The reason for this goes back nearly forty years when the “English” market was dominated by companies like Milton Bradley (who made Scrabble) and Parker Brothers (who made Cluedo and Monopoly).  These concentrated on producing a few top sellers, however, in Germany there was no such dominance.  So, the German market consisted of a large number of small manufacturers producing more varied products.  This, coupled with the traditionally strong German toy industry, encouraged the growth of a culture of families playing games together on a Sunday afternoon.

Spiel des Jahres
– Image from spieldesjahres.de

It was in this environment that the annual German Game of the Year, or Spiel des Jahres Award, began in 1978, with the stated purpose of rewarding excellence in game design, and promoting top-quality games in the German market.  The red pawn of the Spiel des Jahres logo, has since become a mark of quality, and for many German families, buying the game of the year is something they do every Christmas.  Thus, the award has been such a success that it is said a nomination can increase sales from a few hundred to tens of thousands and the winning game can be expected to sell up to half a million copies or more.

El Grande
– Image by BGG contributor Domostie

Over the last fifteen years, years, the Spiel des Jahres has generally gone from highlighting games like El Grande, Tikal and Torres (1996, 1999 & 2000), to rewarding lighter games like Dixit, Qwirkle and Camel Up (2010, 2011 & 2014).  The problem was particularly brought to light in 2002 when Puerto Rico, arguably one of the best games ever made was not rewarded because it was perceived as too complex.  The problem reared its ugly head again in 2008, but this time the jury awarded Agricola a special “Complex Game” award.  These two games are widely considered to be the pinnacle of “Euro-Games”: between them they’ve held the top position on the BoardGameGeek website for the best part of ten years, yet neither were awarded the top prize. The problem was that these games were not mainstream enough for the German family game market:  they were too complex for those families making their annual purchase. On the other hand, for frequent and dedicated boardgamers, these Spiel des Jahres games are too light.  So, for this reason, the Kennerspiel des Jahres or “Connoisseurs’ Game of the Year” was introduced in 2011 and for more serious gamers, this has largely superseded the Spiel des Jahres.  This year it was awarded to Broom Service, a reimplementation of Witch’s Brew which was itself nominated for the Spiel des Jahres in 2008.

Adel Verpflichtet
– Image by BGG contributor Henco

The Kennerspiel des Jahres is not the only prestigious award available to strategy games however.  In 1990, the German magazine “Die Pöppel-Revue”, introduced the Deutscher Spiele Preis or “German Game Prize”.  This is announced in October every year at the Internationale Spieltage in Essen.  In contrast to the Spiel des Jahres, the Deutscher Spiele Preis has gone from rewarding lighter games like Adel Verpflichtet (aka Hoity Toity, in 1990) and our group’s current favourite filler, 6 Nimmt! (winner in 1994) , to highlighting games like Russian Railroads and Terra Mystica (in the last two years).

Deutsche Spiele Preis
– Image from wikimedia.org

Boardgames in the News: The Hobby Grows and Grows

In the UK in the 1960s and 1970s, boardgames were only available from toy shops, and the range was limited to a relatively small number of “traditional” games, like Chess, Monopoly, Game of Life or Cluedo.  With the appearance of bigger, supermarket-like stores like Toys “R” Us in the 1980s and 1990s, a wider range became available and, occasionally, games like the early Spiel des Jahres winner, Rummikub, made their way onto our shelves.  As children grew up, they might graduate into playing Risk and eventually move onto longer, more complex games like those produced by Avalon Hill.  However, if you liked playing games, but war themes were not for you, it was quite difficult to find good alternative games to play.  They were there though:  games like Acquire and the 18xx railway games had been about for a long time, but these were the exception rather than the rule and were still an acquired taste.

– Image by BGG contributor OldestManOnMySpace

In contrast, in Germany, games like Scotland Yard were starting to become readily available and genuinely very popular.  The success of the Spiel des Jahres, which rewarded good games like Ra, El Grande, Tikal, and the 1995 winner, The Settlers of Catan, meant that boardgames were receiving a lot of publicity in Continental Europe.  The characteristics of these “German Games” (or “Euro Games”) typically include balance, with only a small amount of luck, and lack of player elimination.  As the market developed, beautiful boards and lots of wooden pieces also became an essential component.  Unlike war games, “Euro Games” tend to be less confrontational and much more suitable for family gaming.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

In the 1990s, UK designers like Alan R. Moon and Richard Breese started publishing small numbers of “designer games”.  These were often largely assembled by hand and generally had a limited print run.  For example, only 1,200 copies of Elfenroads (precursor to the later, Spiel des Jahres winner Elfenland) were ever made and Keywood, the first of the highly acclaimed “Key Series“, was hand-made and had a print-run of just 200.  Given the exclusive nature of these games, it was not surprising then, that many teenagers either gave up on boardgames or moved on to collectable card games, like Magic: The Gathering or Role-Playing Games.

– Image by BGG contributor dougadamsau

So it was with the growth of the internet that “Euro Games”, or designer boardgames became available to people in the UK.  Firstly, this was because it enabled people to find out about the games that were available, with sites like UseNet and eventually BoardGameGeek in 2000, providing a valuable source of information.  Secondly, internet shopping made “German Games” much more accessible.  The growth of the hobby meant an increase in boardgame publishers, and the appearance of designers like Reiner Knizia who were sufficiently prolific and successful to make a living from designing games.  Over the last fifteen years or so, the hobby has grown and grown and games like Carcassonne and The Settlers of Catan are now available in Waterstones and WHSmith, there are regular comments in The Guardian, there are repeatedly TV appearances, and boardgame cafés are sprouting up all over the place.  The question is, will it continue to grow, or have we reached a high water line?

– Image from boardgamegeek.com