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? To me… the emblem means that the game is perfect for my family!
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).
Games for EVERYONE
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. In fact, EVERY time I visit Germany I pay a visit to Game stores and bring home something new.
Looking for those Traditional German Games you grew up playing? Look HERE–> Traditional German Games
Spiel Des Jahres 2021
When I first saw Micro Macro- Crime city, I was baffled. How can you solve crimes by staring at a poster? But what a poster it is… think of it as an elaborate Where’s Waldo with lots of tiny people and situations… and CRIME! Spread the poster out on a table, or pin it to a wall (it’s like being a real detective!). One person reads from the cards giving you a situation. You find the crime, then work backwards to see how it all unfolded. It can be tricky at first, but there are easy crimes included to get the idea. My true crime loving daughter really enjoys this one. Just be sure you have your glasses on… details are tiny!
Kinderspiel des Jahres 2021
I do want to give special recognition to the Kinderspiel /children’s game of the year, Dragomino. This wonderful tile laying game is similar to one of our favorites, Kingdomino, the 2017 winner, and can be played by children as young as 5, but is also enjoyable for their parents. (As someone who had to play hundreds of games of Candyland, I really appreciate it.)
Spiel des Jahres 2020
Pictures beat out my favorite game, Nova Luna,a suprising upset… but not a bad choice at all. If you enjoy creative games, then Pictures is for you. Think of it as Pictionary, but you build your image with included components. For example, if the photo you pulled out of the bag is of a mountain… you now get to recreate it with a string or blocks. This fun family game is perfect for people like me who have no drawing skills at all.
Spiel des Jahres Winner 2019
This surprise winner is a cooperative word game that reminds me of a 60s game show where you have to guess the word with clues. Great for parties and family gatherings. (Quick side note, the runner up was a game called L.L.A.M.A…. I picked it up in Germany, and my family ADORES it)
Kennerspiel des Jahres 2019
Wingspan was a surprise hit last year… It’s a fabulously beautiful game about birds, designed by a scientist, with loads of accurate information. But don’t let that put you off! It’s is a competitive, medium-weight, card-driven, engine-building board game! (Does that makes sense?) Basically, you collect bird cards that fit into certain environments… and each card also gives you abilities that affect your board, and how you collect other birds. The game is currently a bit expensive, mostly because of the amount of bits and pieces you get, but also because they keep running out of them (the company is working overtime to make more. If there is a bird lover in your world… this is the perfect game for them.
Wingspan plays 2-4 players, the game says age 10 and up, but it’s not really a game I’d hand to the average 10 year old and expect them to play independently with friends. There is a new European Birds expansion that I’m itching to get my hands on….
Spiel des Jahres 2018
Azul is a beautiful game based on the decorative tiles created by the Moors. In this game, you collect tiles to place in patterns on your board. Each player is collecting from the same pool, and there is a danger losing points by missing out on tiles, or from collecting too many. Players have their own player board and scoring track. The tile pieces are well made, and nice to play with. We found Azul easy to learn, and even better, easy to teach, so most people can start playing well in just a few minutes. This doesn’t meant that the game is too easy or boring. There is an element of luck, depending on how the tiles come out of the bag, and over time, players learn to use strategy to collect the best selection of tiles for their board. Players can even begin to play offensively, to stop their opponent from scoring .
This game plays well with 2 to 4 players, and there is no reading needed. This is a great game that my mother enjoys playing with my teen kids.
Kennerspiel des Jahres 2018
Believe it or not, after seeing this game, I did some research, and realized I HAD to go to Quedlinburg! Quacks is a fun “push your luck” game where you make potions out of the contents of a bag of ingredients. Fun and sort of silly, but also a bit thinky. Different ingredients meant that the game is never the same twice. It comes to the table quite often at our house.
The game can be played with 2-4 players (there is an expansion to allow up to 5-6) ages 10 and up.
2017 Spiel des Jahres Winners!
In 2017, the Spiel des Jahres Award winners really had a something for everyone feel. A twist on classic Dominos… a puzzle and escape game… and a fun flick game for kids.
Spiel des Jahres
Kindomino quickly became a favorite here in our house. Take old-school dominos with numbers, and substitute geographical areas… build them up to create the perfect kingdom, and score massive points. The game is simple to learn, but you can apply strategies to make it more complex. The game is for anyone ages 8 and up (so Grandparents can play with grandchildren, and neither will feel overwhelmed…. or bored) It’s playable by 2 to 4 people… and feels different every time you play.
Added bonus, the pieces feel good, and the artwork is lovely.
Kennerspiel des Jahres
Exit is actually 3 different games (You can buy them as a group, or separately) …. Exit the Abandoned Cabin, Exit the Secret Lab, and Exit the Pharaoh’s Tomb. These “locked room” games are perfect for puzzlers! In each game there are a series of logic puzzles and riddles that you must solve in order to escape. The puzzles build on themselves, so you must go from one to the next (no skipping ahead). Added bonus, the games are fantastic at setting up the theme, so you feel as if you really ARE locked up.
Exit games are not necessarily for children, but tweens and teens should be able to play. Since the games are designed for 1- 6 people, you can choose to play solo, or in a group.
Kinderspiel des Jahres
Penguins on ice are the theme for this fun and active game! The “school” set up looks like an ice rink with doors. Your task… sneak your Penguins past the Hall Monitor to get extra fish for lunch. How do you do this? You FLICK the penguins so they spin off walls, through doors and even over barriers!
This game is not quiet or subtle… but it is LOADS of fun! While it’s considered a “children’s Game”… Ice Cool can be very fun for child-like grown ups too.
Past Winners of the Spiel des Jahres Award
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 version is the Germany edition! (It’s great for learning basic German Geography, and remembering where we’ve been) 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…
There is also a version of Enchanted Forest for younger players … Since the Original Game is out of print, this version is a bit cheaper.
The Settlers of Catan (or Catan)( 1995)
Catan is probably the game that deserves the most credit for the Board Game Revival here in the United States. Created by Klaus Teuber (a German), the game has spread from Germany to the world! Recently it has 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 –> Spiel des Jahres winners