Guido Heinecke - Spiel des Jahres (SdJ) Winners and Importance


When I was a little boy, the Spiel des Jahres“ (Game of the Year) for me was one thing above all else: a promise. The red logo on the box promised something, that TV and books could just not deliver: fairy-tale characters, undercover spies, freight haulers, Emperor Fredrick Barbarossa, and the agents of Scotland Yard chasing after Mister X – those were interactive stories where I could try my best to be a part of.

I did not have all those games at home on my shelf, but someone from my circle of friends always had the current winning game. These days influenced my taste in games. Later I did get to know the classics like “Monopoly” and “Risk”, which did not interest me. No wonder, the "Spiel des Jahres" spoiled me with its winners, all of which propagated neither capitalism nor world domination, but a productive feeling of building something up or race to the most victory points.

At that time I did not know the background of the association. The fact that journalists tested all games of the year and then awarded nominations and winners, and that even the Federal Minister of Family Affairs was a patron at that time. This may not interest the customers even today, but they do enjoy the consistent quality of the annual selection and those milestones that "Spiel des Jahres" set on the road of cultural assets.

The "Spiel des Jahres" celebrates its 40th anniversary next year - and is gaining more and more worldwide, year after year.

“Spiel des Jahres” is an award for board games in German-speaking countries, which was first’ awarded in 1979. German-language games released in the current and previous year can be considered for the award. Two additional equivalent prizes are also awarded: the “Kinderspiel des Jahres” (since 2001) and the “Kennerspiel des Jahres” (since 2011).

There is no prize money associated with the title of “Spiel des Jahres”. But the prize winners may use the award in their publicity and marketing material and nearly always print the brand logo onto the box. It is a seal of excellence and customers trust it blindly.

To participate, publishers do not submit their games. The jury members, in their capacity as games critics, receive or request review copies as all other games critics do. They evaluate the games and produce reviews for different media: magazines, newspapers, blogs, websites and even on YouTube. All jury members are independent of external influence. They are doing this voluntarily, but receive compensation for expenses incurred – travel, accommodation and sundry costs, when travelling to trade fairs, meetings or other events in their capacity as jury members

There are several conditions that a game has to fulfil to be considered: The quality of the game corresponds to the target group of the award, i.e. “family and friends” in a broad sense. The rules and all other text relevant to the game must be written in German and the game must be released in the current or previous year. Practically unchanged new editions or anniversary editions are excluded. The game must be available in the shops at the time of the judging in May. The jury will not consider prototypes, drafts, small print runs or games that have been released via Kickstarter. There must be a German language distributor. And of course, expansions cannot be considered.

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 realized 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?

Winning the award means a lot!

  • Author, illustrator and publisher feel very honored and the game can expected to be sold in each and every toy or department store in the German speaking countries during Christmas season. The economic effect is huge.

  • Winning the “Spiel des Jahres” multiplies the number of copies sold by 300, winning a nomination by 50 and also getting a foot into the recommendation list increases sales noticeable.

  • With the rising awareness of gamer’s all around the globe, international licensing of winning games get more and more important.

This year’s jury consisted of ten members for the “Spiel des Jahres” and “Kennerspiel des Jahres” (an award for advanced board gamers, that want to step further into the hobby) and five members plus two advisors for the “Kinderspiel des Jahres” (kid’s game).

The winner of the “Kinderspiel” is “Dragons Breath”, designed by father-daughter team Lena and Günter Burkhardt, the authors combine a child-friendly story, a classic mechanic and fascinating components to create an adventure that will captivate children. Four dragon children have stumbled across a hoard of brightly-coloured sparkling jewels. But these are frozen solid in a thick column of ice. Luckily, Dragon Dad has come along and can use his fiery breath to melt the ice so that the children can collect the sparkling jewels. Players stack the nine plastic rings into a column and fill it up to the top with the colourful jewels. At the start of each round, each player chooses a colour of jewel tile. The start player carefully removes the top ring and everyone collects the jewels in their colour that have tumbled out of the ice. The end of this unusual collection game occurs once the last ice ring is taken off the board and the winner is the player who uses their dexterity, as well as a little tactics and luck, to collect the most jewels.

And the jury has elected the first special award since 2010. It is Matt Leacock and Rob Daviau’s “Pandemic Legacy – Season 2”. It continues the story of the fantastic Season 1 in just the same quality. The game principles continue, but this time the ingenious Pandemic mechanic is used to deliver supplies to survivors rather than simulate the spread of disease. “Pandemic Legacy – Season 2”, the best version of “Pandemic” so far, is the yardstick against which all future legacy games must measure themselves. The jury would honors this extraordinary achievement by this designer duo with the rare special award.

Nominated for “Spiel des Jahres” are three games: The tactical tile-laying game “Azul”, the race and collection game “Luxor” and the cooperative card game “The Mind”.

The abstract game “Azul” combines several supposed contradictions: the almost sober functionality of the game board is in marked contrast to the fabulous aesthetics of the mosaic being constructed. The feel of the tiles themselves increases the impression of value. The game components alone are a pleasure. The designer Michael Kiesling has succeeded in this masterpiece: giving so much depth to a supposedly simple selection mechanic, that you’ll want to play this again and again and again.

When the adventurers lift the lid on “Luxor’s“ ancient tomb they will be met not with a gust of stale air but with a delightful breeze. Designer Rüdiger Dorn presents a modern interpretation of the treasure-hunting genre, with an easily understandable yet challenging card-playing mechanic at its core. This proves to be an excellent basis for an ever-exciting jostling for position. Even the Pharaoh himself would be happy to play along.

The Mind feels strange at first: Over various levels, players all have to play number cards from their hand, in ascending order. The twist: not a single word may be spoken about your own cards. There are no defined turns, players play cards when they think the time is right. Playing a card too early will cost the team a life. Once all players have played all their cards, the team moves to the next level and repeats the challenge with a higher number of hand cards. Communication through nothing but a synchronized perception of time: an astoundingly fresh game concept that works surprisingly well. Emotional moments enrich the increasing amalgamation of mind and matter. An astonishing experience that every player should have tried at least once.

Nominated for “Kennerspiel des Jahres” are three games:

In “Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg“ (this is a hard task to pronounce for non-German native speakers), Mandrake root, ghost breath and toadstool get mixed up in a cauldron. As quack doctors, players brew up new potions out of all sorts of unusual ingredients. Each player gradually draws ingredients out of their own mixed up bag of supplies. Most of the ingredients have positive effects. But caution is advised when adding the cherry bombs, as too many of these can cause a cauldron explosion. With the profit made from brewed elixirs you can purchase new ingredients and therefore produce higher quality potions. The player who can best weigh up the risk of an explosion and make good use of the game’s tactical possibilities has a good chance of winning this competition of the quacks. Players oscillate between jubilation, lamentation and schadenfreude one after the other.

Players are on the hunt for points in the dice game “Ganz schön clever“. The more effectively players can use the results of three out of six dice on their score sheet, the more chain reactions they start. The colour of the dice being scored dictates on which area of the sheet you can cross off spaces or write in numbers. Sometimes you have to complete rows, sometimes specific boxes need to be filled in, so that later boxes can be filled or higher numbers can be written. An additional challenge: dice that show a smaller number than the one already chosen go into the pool of dice from which other players can select. It’s advisable to work on all spaces of the score sheet at once, so that at the end of the game you can clean up in the fox spaces: now that is clever.

“Heaven & Ale“ - a peaceful idyll of a monastery garden? No way! This is hard work. Players are trying to brew beer – preferably as much as possible and as high quality as possible. To get the necessary resources, players have to place resource and monk tiles in their cloister garden – the shady side is cheap but the sunny side costs more. The tiles produce valuable points, if a player chooses the right category to score for themselves. If a player decides to score all hops tiles in their garden, they receive hops and coins. The dilemma is that each player may only score each category once. You really want to wait as long as possible to score but you always need some ready money. Finding the right balance of resources and the best time to make use of the limited scoring possibilities is an engaging challenge for experienced gamers. Cheers!

The ceremony was on July 23rd and the winners are:

Michael Kiesling’s Azul for its "Game of the Year" award

Wolfgang Warsch’s The Quackers of Quedlinburg for the Kennerspiel des Jahres or "Enthusiast Game of the Year" award.

Designers Matt Leacock and Rob Daviau received a special award ("Sonderpreis") for Pandemic Legacy: Season 2.

The winner of the “Kinderspiel” is “Dragons Breath”, designed by father-daughter team Lena and Günter Burkhardt.

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