Boardgame Award Spiel des Jahres

After work one evening, fellow TA Shad invited me out to a dinner with a focused discussion on board games. Slightly interested, I decided to tag along. Although I wasn’t expecting to see Instructors Jay and Graeme, it wasn’t a surprise since they are definitely huge board game enthusiasts! After everyone went around the tables introducing themselves and food was ordered, the special guest introduced himself as Tom Felber. Although I did not know him before or the Spiel des Jahres beforehand, I most certainly will remember it now!

Tom is a board game enthusiast from Switzerland where he writes major board game review articles for a large paper as well as owns a warehouse and bar specifically for allowing others to come and play the hundreds of board games he has available. He was in Vancouver because he was in Canada on vacation where he was driving across the country, giving talks similar to this and enjoying his time. Here I was thinking this would be a casual dinner, and here I was blown away by everything he was telling us!

He talked at length about a major board game award in Germany called the Spiel des Jahres, which I later found out to likely be the largest award for board games in the world! The main purpose behind the award is to allow board games to be a much more common place item in people’s lives, to share the joy of playing a good game with friends, families or strangers with others! They further emphasize this with how they choose the varying nominations, which I will get to later.

Although that goal may not be as powerful in America, it’s definitely much more practical in the awards home of Germany. Part of the requirements for a game to be included in consideration of the award is that it must be published for the German market. They haven’t achieved their goal of high popularity in the household, but they have made a strong impact, creating a lot of trust in the award itself and allowing board games to be viewed very positively.

He went into great depth into who gets to be on the jury as well as how they narrow down to their top list, eventually arriving upon their winner. In regards to the jury, the individual needs to be disconnected from any and all board game publishing companies, as to have 0 ties to any specific game or company. They also need to be common game reviewers, publishing their work in paper or online in German. Last but not least, they must be voted onto the jury by existing members.

Before the judges meet at a conference to narrow down upon the nominee’s, each jury member must have a list of their top 15 games that they think would be good contenders for nomination. To narrow down on their top 15 of the year, they often play many board games over the year, including private forum discussion, suggesting for other jury members to try some games, potentially having others to suggest not playing one. There is often plenty of conflict, resulting in jury members playing many board games, even ones that were suggested to avoid. Between all jury members, they are likely to have a total of approximately 50 games that they will have to go over in detail.

At the start of the 4-5 day conference, the jury members will first play every board game from the compiled lists of top 15’s. After a day or two of playing and talking, they will then work towards their final top 15 list of nominations. The list must be 100% approved by everyone on the jury, and they will not leave until they have come to 100% agreement, not a majority. On this list, they often try to include all types of board games, not just the ones that they thought were the best, but also ones that are cheaper, ones that are for party game players, and ones that are for more players, etc. to try to have a diversity of game types. This is because they are aware of the impact that the Spiel des Jahres has on every day consumers, as their award is a trusted symbol for individuals who may not know much about board games. This makes it easier for consumers to purchase games upon the recommendation of the nominations. Once they have their list of 15, each judge votes on their top 3, where the majority of votes decide the top 10 for nominations.

In the following month and a half, jury members will play all 10 games many more times to try to narrow down on a winner. Votes are collected for the winner and is kept anonymous. None of the jury members themselves will know the winner until the day it is announced.It’s a very tight and rigorous system that has ensured successful results year after year. The winner of the Spiel des Jahres is often guaranteed at least 200,000 sales in the coming year after winning and is quite often expected to reach the millions. Such winners include Settlers of Catan (Die Siedler von Catan, 1995), Ticket to Ride (Zug um Zug, 2004) and Dominion (2009). Although the award is based in Germany, many of the games after winning the award are likely to go onto have successful global releases. With results like this, they are definitely making a strong effort towards their goal of increasing cultural acceptance of board games.

Overall it was quite the pleasure to meet with Tom and hear all the interesting details about the award. If I ever make another board game, I’ll make sure to have it translated and published in Germany!


Westley Bassett is an alumni of VFS Game Design and a TA for Programming for Games, Web & Mobile at VFS