As we’ve documented in the past, the Spring is often a somewhat slower time for boardgame releases – and it’s a good time to write about some topics that have spent the winter on the backburner.
I was approached by a new writer, Christopher Wray, with the idea of doing a series of reviews of all of the Spiel des Jahres winners – seeing how they have held up over time. In our usual fashion, the other OG writers will also share their opinions on the games as we look at them again.
Before we start, a short introduction from Christopher about the series:
This is the first entry in a series reviewing each of the Spiel des Jahres winners. The Spiel des Jahres (SdJ) – German for “Game of the Year” – is awarded each summer by a jury of professional game reviewers from German-speaking countries. The prize was established in 1978 (and first awarded in 1979) to “stimulate the idea of playing games with family and friends,” “give orientation within the large choice of games available,” and promote games as cultural assets.
The SdJ is arguably the most influential award in gaming, with winners often receiving at least a tenfold increase in sales, and sometimes a hundredfold increase. Several past winners have sold millions of copies. By my count, 27 of the 36 winners are still in print. The award is widely credited with spurring innovation in modern gaming and spring-boarding Eurogames into popularity.
The modern SdJ jury evaluates winners on game concept (originality, playability, game value), rule structure (composition, clearness, comprehensibility), layout (box, board, rules), and design (functionality, workmanship). Though there are exceptions, most winners are family-oriented, original, and light to medium weight.
The award has undergone many changes over its 36-year history, perhaps most notably in the eligibility criteria. In early years the jury tended to carry nominees from one year forward into the next. For example, when Rummikub won in 1980, Focus and Dampfross were also nominated. Those two games would win in 1981 and 1984, respectively. In modern times, to be eligible for the award, a game must be made available in Germany for a period roughly running from early April to early April (or possibly late March to late March).
I have played all 36 winners, and playing through the SdJ games has been a trip through board game history. Many of the games — particularly the older ones — have a fascinating history. Many designs from early SdJ winners are replicated in the games we play today. It is a story worth telling, but to my knowledge, it is not a story that has been compiled in one place, at least not in English.
This series will “revisit” each one, discussing both what it contributed to the hobby and reviewing it against today’s games. As always, the entire Opinionated Gamers team will share their thoughts on a game’s design and merits.
In preparing for each entry I have played each game at least five times, though generally far more. I’ve also researched the history of each game using a variety of sources, including (but not limited to) materials provided by the game designers, books on the history of board games, and, of course, Board Game Geek.
If you’re curious about how I became such a big fan of the SdJ, here’s the synopsis. The first SdJ winner I played was probably Sagaland (a.k.a. Enchanted Forrest): I vaguely remember an elementary school teacher of mine having a copy. At some point in the 1990s my grandparents taught me Rummikub. In 2004, a college roommate taught me to play Catan and told me about the SdJ and German board games. I first learned about Call My Bluff (a.k.a. Liar’s Dice) after watching one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. At some point in 2010 I picked up Ticket to Ride. That was soon followed by Carcassonne and a couple of others. Soon I made it my goal to play (and own) them all. I met my goal this year.
If you have any feedback or material that might aid in the series, I’d be glad to hear from you: I can be reached on BGG as chriswray84.
We’re already working on collaboration on the first two reviews, and they should be posted in the very near future! We will continue on with the series throughout the year.