Tom Felber - Spiel des Jahres
When it comes to card- and boardgames in German speaking countries the term "Spiel des Jahres“ is famous and important. It’s translation simply means "Game of the Year“.
Association Founded in 1978
There are two things indicated by this term, which are tightly connected to each other. On the one hand it is the name of a non-profit organisation of game review columnists, which was founded in 1978. “Spiel des Jahres” is a registered association (e.V.) with its company headquarters in Jülich, Germany.
On the other hand it’s also the name of the annual critic’s award, which was granted for the first time in 1979 to the game "Hase und Igel“ (Hare & Tortoise), designed by David Parlett.
The "Kinderspiel des Jahres“ critics' award was established in 2001 as a second main award. It replaced the previously-awarded "Special Award for Children's Game." The emphasis lies on games enjoyable for children up to the age of 8, but also includes those games that can be played with parents and older siblings.
In 2011 a third award was established, the "Kennerspiel des Jahres“. This award is intended to give guidance to those people who have already been playing games for a longer time and are experienced in learning new rules.
Promoting Games as a Cultural Asset
The main goal of the association is to promote games as a cultural asset to encourage gaming amongst family and friends. It is not only about the awards. The jury also publishes a shortlist of nominated and recommended games for a given year. The association has an online presence, prints information brochures and finances booths at trade fairs and further activities. Each year the association supports various projects, for example promoting the work of day schools, promoting libraries and games libraries, promoting games events, festivals, exhibitions, publications and campaigns as well as awarding games designer grants for new designers etc.
Games for Everybody, not just for Geeks and Nerds
The target group of the "Spiel des Jahres“-award is simply everybody. This is an extremely heterogeneous audience, of which only a small section consists of specialist gamers. What would interest and excite these players would possibly be too challenging for normal players, dissuading them from playing this and other games. Therefore the important thing for the jury members is to evaluate and play the games with different types of players, with casual gamers as well as games addicts, because this can show the different sides of a game. Each jury member has their own relatively wide circle of friends, acquaintances or colleagues they meet on a relatively regular basis.
The jury consists solely of people working full-time or part-time as journalists who specialize in game reviews, have worked for extended periods for newspapers, magazines, broadcast organizations or are well-known bloggers and have thereby proven their competency and ability to make sound judgments. Independence of the members is crucial. The association's charter forbids jury membership to any person involved in any way with games publishing and sales. In order to preserve its independence the jury rejects all forms of external financing. Its work is financed solely through from the license fees for the logo.
It is widely believed that the succes of the award is only possible because of the consistent competence, independence and incorruptibility of the jury members.
There is no target figure of members. At the moment (2015/2016), the association consists of 12 members (3 female, 9 male, 10 Germany, 1 Austria, 1 Switzerland).
9 of the jury members are judging for the Spiel des Jahres and Kennerspiel des Jahres, which ist he same jury. The jury for the Kinderspiel des Jahres consists of members of the Spiel des Jahres association (three at the moment) and an external advisory committee (2015/2016: five people)
The Spiel des Jahres critics' award is a merit award with no monetary prize included. But because of the award’s reputation it ist expected, that the award winner will sell at least 200 000 copies during the first year of sale, some winners made over half a million in the first year. On the list of the past winners there are a lot of longsellers with millions of copies like „Catan“, „Carcassonne“ or "Ticket to Ride“.
Award winners can use the award for advertising and publicity. Use of the Spiel des Jahres logo requires the additional payment of a license fee. The jury only receives revenue through these licensing fees, which the association charges for use of their own logo for publicity purposes. If an award-winning publisher wants to advertise using the title “Spiel des Jahres”, they can do this for free. But if they want to print the “Spiel des Jahres” logo on the box, they need to pay a very small licensing fee per game sold. There are different regulations regarding licensing fees and length of use for the main awards, nominated games and the special awards. With the license fees the association is financing all the activities described further above. In the first ten years, the jury members met all costs out of their own pocket. There were no expenses payments. During this period the award grew in importance. Producers and merchants made a great deal of profit because of the award, without any additional publicity. Because the public’s need for information increased considerably, the duties and responsibilities of the jury increased too. This situation was untenable. Back then the association’s only source of revenue was its members’ contributions. In order to ensure the continued independence of the jury, the association introduced the licensing model in 1989.
The jury members themselves are responsible to get in touch with the games. The core activity for all jury members is the work as a games reviewer, which includes keeping an eye on the games market and watching out for interesting new games. The members of the “Spiel des Jahres” association are in regular contact and conduct energetic discussions on the current game universe, keeping each other informed about intriguing trends and publications.
The jury will theoretically consider ALL new family and adult games published during the current and previous calendar year. There is no separate request for submissions. It is not up to the publishers to decide which games will be eligible, but rather a matter strictly for the jury members themselves.
Not all games are eligible for the award. In order to be considered in the selection process, the game must meet the following basic requirements:
1. Rules and any additional texts relevant for game play must be available in German.
2. The game must have been published in the current year or in the previous year. Broadly unchanged new editions or anniversary editions of existing games are excluded.
3. The game must be available at retail at the time of the award selection in May. The jury will not consider prototypes, mockups, or short runs.
4. The game must be distributed and sold in German-speaking countries.
5. The game must be playable as a standalone game. Expansions, extensions, and supplements to existing games will not be considered.
After a long evaluation phase, which is lasting from August to May, the jury meets in conference to create a list of candidates. Games need a majority of jury votes by the middle to the end of May to be placed on the lists of nominated and recommended games. From this list a shortlist of three nominees is selected in each category for the main awards. The winners are elected the evening before the announcement of the awards, in June for the Kinderspiel and in July for the other two awards. .
Ultimately, it’s the overall impression that counts, the enjoyment of playing the game that can’t be broken down into individual measurable pieces. Nevertheless, there are criteria which help evaluate a game: Does it have a completely new concept or does it bring existing elements together to create a new experience? Has the concept been realised in such a way as to engage the player? Does it seem organic and whole or artificial and constructed? Are the rules sensibly constructed, clear, understandable, free of gaps, contradictions and errors? Do the components match their function, are they sturdy and durable? Is the design attractive, do the box, game boards, rules and components complement each other? The jury only judges the quality of the games. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a small card game or a large board game. It’s not important who published or designed the game or whether either have won any awards in the past.