Well, yesterday you saw the brave (and hopefully not too misguided) attempt by the OG writers to predict the nomination lists for the Spiel des Jahres and Kennerspiel des Jahres. As Larry noted, the predictions for the Kennerspiel were all over the place – mostly because there simply wasn’t a lot of information available on the award. Since this year is the inaugural year, there were no previous winners to refer to… and the amount of information released about the game was minimal.
In the most recent German-language version of Spielbox Magazine, there was a fairly informative interview with Bernhard Löhlein, the current Speaker of the Jury, which sheds a bit more light on the new award. Unfortunately, we did not have this information when we made our predictions — but I believe that most of us had the right idea in mind when making our prognostications! In any event, we’ll soon know how well we did as the lists are to be announced this coming Monday May 23 – details will certainly be found at the Spiel des Jahres website.
Many thanks to Spielbox magazine for allowing us to post this translation, and even more thanks to Patrick Korner for getting the work done in such a small amount of time. (If any German game companies are looking for an English translator, I would heartily recommend PK for the job!) For those of you not familiar with the magazine, it is one of the premier print magazines for our hobby. I am in the process of writing a much more detailed “review” on the magazine which should be published in the coming weeks… DY
Translator’s Note (Patrick Korner): Where ‘pawns’ are referred to, the distinctive red, blue (and now anthracite) pawns that symbolize the various awards (and show up on the winners’ boxes) are meant.
In a previous Spielbox edition’s editorial, we mused about the newly-announced additional main prize that the Spiel des Jahres Jury will be awarding as of 2011. Well, the theory of it, anyways. How things will work in practice is something that Speaker of the Jury Bernhard Löhlein answers in the following interview.
Spielbox: So, a new prize. Will everything (jury, nomination list, main prize, pawn, press conference) now come in threes?
Bernhard Löhlein: There will in fact now be three sets of nomination lists – and also three pawns. Everything else will stay as it is: Two press conferences – one in Berlin and one in Hamburg. And we are naturally still one organization.
Spielbox: There is a separate Jury that awards the Kinderspiel des Jahres (Children’s Game of the Year). Who will choose the third main prize recipient?
Bernhard Löhlein: The same Jury that chooses the Spiel des Jahres, that is, the award that confers the red pawn.
Spielbox: Who is the new award geared towards?
Bernhard Löhlein: The new main prize should help guide those who have been playing games for a longer time and have experience with learning new games. That doesn’t mean the absolute experts, but rather those who don’t feel that the Spiel des Jahres is enough any more. We’ve whetted their appetite with our award choices in years past and they want more.
Spielbox: Likely not with Dixit, but rather with some of the previous Special Prizes. Can the new award be described as the final version of “Spiel des Jahres Plus”?
Bernhard Löhlein: You can look at it that way. We wanted to see with the Special Prizes how a prize would be received by this target group. The success thereof meant we were right. We just chose a new name for the new main prize.
Spielbox: What is it?
Bernhard Löhlein: The new prize is called the Kennerspiel des Jahres (Enthusiast’s Game of the Year). This name fulfils the requirements we had for it: It can’t be confused with the Spiel des Jahres, it can’t devalue the Spiel des Jahres award, and it must be clear for whom the award is intended.
Spielbox: What colour is the pawn?
Bernhard Löhlein: Anthracite (grey) with yellow laurels. This also ensures that, unlike the red pawn, it doesn’t stand out too much.
Spielbox: “Doesn’t stand out too much” seems to mean that all three prizes should be of equal value. The names, however, tend to disagree with this: Spiel des Jahres, Kinderspiel des Jahres, Kennerspiel des Jahres seems to indicate that a Children’s game or an Enthusiast’s game could also be Game of the Year. Will the average consumer be able to understand all of this?
Bernhard Löhlein: Yes, because the name and logo of the new prize provide clarity among a wealth of choices. When the Spiel des Jahres award was started 30 years ago, the industry was much, much smaller. Spiel des Jahres brought many people to the hobby. In the last few years, this has caused a new group to be created that didn’t exist when our prize first began: the enthusiasts. And this group now has an enormous and even for them impossible to fully overview set of game options. Because we want to be able to make recommendations for this group as well, the new prize exists.
Spielbox: Clarity may be the goal, but is it clear that from now on a Dominion or a Torres can’t be Spiel des Jahres any more?
Bernhard Löhlein: These two games actually have quite different challenge levels. According to the game box, Dominion is for 8 and up while Torres is for those 12 and over. That is exactly what has caused consumer uncertainty in previous years. The vast majority of those who buy a Spiel des Jahres want a game that is easy to understand and easy to start playing. And they should be able to rest assured that the Spiel des Jahres is exactly the right game for them, their family and their friends. That’s the only way to attract more and more people to games.
Spielbox: We hope that the Jury, when making its selections, relies on its own assessments of complexity rather than relying on what’s on the box. But if the red prize means “easy to learn and play”, then shouldn’t it be called the Familienspiel des Jahres (Family Game of the Year)?
Bernhard Löhlein: That wouldn’t work. Firstly, because “Family” in this context would be confusing and limiting. Would only families be allowed to play the game then? Secondly, because the Spiel des Jahres is now a trademark that is known and valued worldwide. We can’t and don’t want to give that up. And so a Spiel des Jahres will stay what it always was: a messenger to hopefully convince many of the cultural and sociable value of games.
Spielbox: The red pawn’s wings, which used to span the full breadth of games, have now been clipped by the new award. Red’s value has been decreased but is still called Spiel des Jahres. To defend this in the name of keeping a well-known trademark sounds more like business interests rather than game culture evangelizing – did the Jury lack the courage to make a clean break? Did the Jury discuss matching the names to the target groups?
Bernhard Löhlein: Objection! The red pawn is absolutely not being devalued. Quite the opposite, it can now breathe even more freely. Ultimately, both sides will benefit from the new prize: The experienced gamers as well as the casual gamers. Tying the keeping of a name that has gained the trust of the consumer together with business interests is something I find far-fetched. Especially since the introduction of the Kennerspiel doesn’t involve a major change, but rather a transparency necessary for all who are interested in games. As a result, the group never even thought about finding a different name for the Spiel des Jahres.
Spielbox: Do experienced gamers even rely on something like the Kennerspiel des Jahres? Can the success of the “Plus” Special Prizes not also be explained by a misunderstanding on the part of the consumer?
Bernhard Löhlein: I don’t think that anyone bought World Without End without knowing what to expect. The “Plus” did, however, result in some irritation about whether this “more” in the title should also be understood qualitatively. It is, of course, not. We have now set aside this misunderstanding. The Kennerspiel is not meant primarily for those who have deep roots in the gaming scene. We are doing this for those who have a good understanding about games, who read reviews and seek out specific games. And this group, that is growing all the time, is absolutely thankful for the recommendations.
Spielbox: How will you decide which colour the various games will be eligible for?
Bernhard Löhlein: We discuss our game experiences on a nearly daily basis. In that general discussion it already becomes clear which game is to be assigned where. The nominations made during our convention at the end of May then make the decisions final. It is clear that the dividing line between red and anthracite needs to be relatively flexible depending on the year.
Spielbox: Which games on previous nomination lists would fit on the Kennerspiel des Jahres lists?
Bernhard Löhlein: Examples from previous years would include Puerto Rico, Maharaja, Himalaya or Stone Age. But some of the games recommended in previous years would have also made the list; Pillars of the Earth, Vikings or Galaxy Trucker, for example.
Spielbox: Thank you for the discussion. We wish you much success.
This interview originally appeared in Spielbox Magazine Issue 2/2011 – German Edition. The interview was carried out by Matthias Hardel and has been translated here by Patrick Korner. Permission to reproduce (and translate) has been kindly given by Spielbox Magazine, Barbara Nostheide, Bernhard Löhlein and Matthias Hardel.
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