Walk down the game aisle, or a look around the game store, and you will see a Spiel des Jahres emblem. But, what is the Spiel des Jahres Award? Why is it important? And how is it that a German Game Award became so prestigious worldwide?
Quick Look at the Contents
What is the Spiel des Jahres Award?
I grew up playing games; Card Games, dice games, Mühle, Mensch Aerger Dich Nicht and more. I still look for fun and interesting new games to play with my friends and family, so I was delighted to discover that a group in Germany has come up with a way to find the best of the best. Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) is an award given to special games that are the best, both in playability and quality. The organization, made up of game reviewers in German speaking countries established this award for games, in order to promote games as a cultural asset and to encourage families to play games together.
Although the award is given to games released in Germany, Spiel des Jahres is acknowledged world-wide in the game playing community as a sign of excellence. Since 1978 a wide variety of games were awarded based on concept (playability), rule structure (are they clear), layout (box, board and rules) and design (workmanship). Naturally, the games released in the US are printed in English. There is no “prize” for winning this coveted award… other than a nice logo that goes on the box (and an incredible uptick in sales).
The awarded games aren’t just for kids… included in the list are family games, war games, card games and even roll playing games. Recently, children’s games have been given a separate award… and a special award “Kennerspiel des Jahres” (Connoisseur Game of the Year) is given to more complex games for serious gamers.
The three to five games in each category are nominated in May, and the Spiel des Jahres Award is presented in July.
What I notice about the Spiel des Jahres award winners is that they are always games that my family and I really enjoy playing. They are engaging and very playable for all ages. And it’s clear that these games are designed with quality construction… with thoughtful attention to detail. The boxes and game boards are solid. The pieces are well constructed, and nice to hold. These are games that can be played for years, not just used a few times then tossed aside.
A new trend in these games is Co-operative gaming... games where everyone works together towards a common goal. The team wins together or loses together. This makes it especially easy for younger children to play games that may otherwise be more complex. (Which means parents don’t have to keep playing Candy Land…)
How Did Games Become Such an Important Part of German Culture?
There are several theories about how Board Games became such a bit deal in Germany. Board games are considered a wholesome activity, and much better for brain development and interaction than Television or playing at war games. It is not unusual for German families to pull out a game after the evening meal, or when they have friends visiting, and just play. Add to this, the Ravensburger company has been producing high quality games that last since the 1930s.
Since there isn’t just one National Game (like Chess is in Russia), different and interesting games were developed to keep up with demand for more. In fact, some people compare the game market in Germany to the Book Market in other countries. There is even a HUGE game fair in Essen where thousands go each year to see the newest Board Games that are coming to market.
Spiel des Jahres nominations and awards are a great way to weed through the vast numbers of new games, and discover new ones for your family to enjoy.
Try it… turn off the TV, put aside the phone, pack away the electronic games… and pull out a Spiel des Jahres winner. Who knows, it could become a habit. It has for my family.
2016 Spiel des Jahres
I thought Codenames was an unusual choice for Spiel des Jahres. It feels more like a party game, although you can play with as few as 4 people. The game is based on two teams of Spies trying to determine figure out code names. One member of the team acts as a spymaster. A grid of words is laid out on the table, and the spymaster gives one word clues for the team to work out what word belongs to their group. The game reminds me a little of an old fashioned game show… for example, the Spymaster says a word like Vegetable in order to clue his team that the word in the grid that they are looking for is cucumber…The first team to correctly identify all their code names without accidentally hitting the assassin wins. Our family has been having fun with this one at game night… you don’t need to be a strategy player to do well.
Some of our favorite Spiel des Jahres winners are:
Carcassonne is a tile laying game, where everyone works to create a map. Points are awarded for building cities, roads, and for farming. It’s simple to learn, and there is some strategy involved for getting ahead. Every time you play, the map changes, and there are expansion modules or card sets for Carcassonne, making play limitless.
The game is easily playable for anyone 8 and up. The basic set is enough to get you started, and you don’t need much else, but a place to lay the cards. There is no reading involved.
One nice thing is that the game is semi-cooperative. You are looking to score points, but everyone can work together to make the map work right.
Ticket to Ride (2004)
Ticket to Ride is a train route game developed by the famous game designer Alan Moon (he also developed Elfenland, a similar game). The board is a map – either the US, Germany or Scandinavia (depending on which edition you buy), and players must plot routes between stations. Cards with specific colors and symbols are collected to buy segments of the route… and there is some strategy trying to work around other players and their routes. (Plus, you get to learn a bit of geography along the way.)
We have several versions and expansions for this game, and play it frequently. Our favorite it the Marklin Edition… it’s a map of Germany! Good for ages 8 and up.
Qwirkle Board Game (2011)
Qwirkle is a great entry level game for all game players. It’s a bit like dominoes, you have wooden blocks with different symbols or different colors, and you place them in rows that connect with each other. Points are awarded for pieces played. If you complete the set of 6 (color or shape) you have a Qwirkle and it scores double.
My kids started playing this when they were 6 or 7… but it’s also a favorite for my mother. We take it along whenever we travel together, because we can all play together (even my dad joins in).
Ravensburger Enchanted Forest (1982)-
Enchanted Forest looks like a simple kids game, but to me it’s proof that German kids like complexity in their game play. It’s a memory game based on fairy tales. Fairy tale symbols are hidden under trees in the enchanted forest. When a player lands on a set spot, they get to look at the symbol, and have to remember WHERE it is. In the castle, cards are shown with matching symbols. If you know where the symbol is, you head to the castle to claim the card. Sound simple? There are a lot of symbols… and all the trees start to look alike….
This game is for ages 6 and up… which leads me to believe there are a lot of smart 6 year olds out there…
The Settlers of Catan (or Catan)( 1995)
Catan has recently gained a lot of traction in the US when it was discovered that the Green Bay Packers football team plays it to relax. This is what they call a gateway game. Somewhere between a simple roll the dice and move game, and a roll playing game. Each player is trying to gain points by establishing settlements and building roads. Dice are rolled, cards are played, and trades are made. This one is a little tricky to learn from just reading the rule book (especially if you are new-ish to gaming), but it is quite engaging… and playable for ages 12 and up.
I even saw a few 20 somethings playing it in a restaurant.
Our family has been playing Rummikub for years, and it comes along with us on ALL vacations. The game is loosely based on the card game, Rummy, but is played with tiles. You lay down runs of tiles (1, 2, 3….) or groups (4,4,4), while trying to clear your rack. According to the rules, you should be keeping track of points (count the value of tiles left in your tray) but we never bother… mainly because only 4 can play at a time, and we rotate or play teams.
This is definitely a game for all ages. The kids hauled it out at Oma’s house during a party once, and everyone there had to put their 2 cents in on the best play. My mother even takes it along on cruises and finds others to play along with her. It’s addictive and fun.
Alhambra has become a new family favorite. You buy tiles, using specific currency, to build the best Alhambra (Palace or Fortress). Points are awarded for each tile, but some tiles are worth more than others… and… you only get the points if you have more of them than the other players. With four currencies in play, it can be tricky to get the pieces you need. You can also plot against your opponents by buying up choice pieces that you can’t use… and putting them into your “reserve” pile.
The game is easy to play… and quick to teach and learn. We get new players up and going in 5 minutes. For ages 8 and up.
Other Spiel de Jahres Winners
For a complete list of the Spiel des Jahres… click this link –>https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiel_des_Jahres
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