The Opinionated Gamers take on the Spiel des Jahres and Kennerspiel des Jahres 2016


The short lists have been out for a few weeks now, and the writers here at the Opinionated Gamers have had a chance to play the games and try to guess at what the real jury will select for the award winners.  The press conference is set up for this coming Monday, so this seems to be a good time for us to publish our poll.

In this year’s version of the proceedings, the OG writers were simply asked to predict which game they thought the jury would give the awards to – NOT what the writers wanted to win.  There is room in the comments for our personal choices.  We had 26 writers vote this year, which may be our best SdJ turnout ever!

So, without much further ado – let’s start with the Kennerspiel this year….  In a runaway victory

The writers of the Opinionated Gamers have tipped Pandemic Legacy to be the next Kennerspiel des Jahres!

The full voting:

16 Pandemic Legacy

6  Isle of Skye

4 T.I.M.E Stories

And now for the big award – the Spiel des Jahres – in another runaway vote – we are predicting that Codenames will take home the big prize!

16 Codenames

7 Karuba

3 Imhotep

For me, it was helpful to look at the votes in a tabular format.

Pandemic Legacy Isle of Skye T.I.M.E Stories
Codenames Chris W

Larry L

Greg S


Erik A

Matt C

Michael W

Mary P

Patrick K

Doug G



Joe H

Jonathan F

Craig M

Alan Smithee

Alan How

Karuba Mark J

Brian L

John P


Mario P

Craig V

Eric E

Imhotep Liga

Karen M


Thoughts on the awards

Dale Y – For me, I wanted Animals on Board to win before the short list was announced for SdJ.  However, this didn’t happen, and I went back to my initial choice from Essen ’15 – Karuba.  For me, Karuba has the right balance of easy-to-learn rules, gameplay which is open to even casual gamers yet allowing for more interesting strategy decisions from veterans.  I love Codenames, and of the three, it might be my favorite to play – but from talking to my German friends, it doesn’t seem to have the same love there as it does here.  Maybe it’s that wordplay isn’t as cool in the German language.  After all, I could probably make a valid single word that means “cupcake baked in an iron oven in the village three miles away on a Saturday”.  A short search on the Internets tells me: Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz is a word.   Translation – “law for the delegation of monitoring beef labelling”.  I’m guessing that a game of Codenames in German might go two clues, but it wouldn’t surprise me if you could shoot the moon with one.

As far as the Kennerspiel goes, after playing the nominees, the game that I think best fits the tone of previous award winners is: Imhotep!  That’s right – the SdJ nominee…  For me, I would have thought Isle of Skye would have done better in the SdJ list and Imhotep in the Kennerspiel.  Imhotep is definitely on par with Istanbul and 7 Wonders in complexity, so it would be in good company.  As much as I love both T.I.M.E Stories and Pandemic Legacy, the fact that they are linear in play (and play best with a fixed composition of your game group) makes it less attractive as an award winner for me.  Thus, I will go with the more traditional style game of Isle of Skye.

While I have read some complaints that the jury doesn’t represent the needs/desires of serious gamers, I’ve never felt like they had to.  They have their own motivations, and they pick the game that they feel worthy of their award.  I have no complaints at all with the games, 4 of them look to become permanent members of my game collection (Codenames, T.I.M.E Stories, Karuba and Imhotep).  Pandemic Legacy is done as we’ve played through it, and as I don’t intend to play it again, so I’m not sure that I need to keep it.


Joe Huber – For the Spiel des Jahres, the question in my mind is whether Codenames is an evergreen game or not.  If it is – if it’s a game like Ticket to Ride or Carcassonne – then I’m sure the jury will select it; neither Karuba or Imhotep (while interesting games) seem to have any chance at that type of ongoing popularity.  While the Spiel des Jahres isn’t a popularity contest, the jury has rewarded similarly family-friendly popular titles.  If Codenames is perceived that way by the jury, I think the award is a toss-up.  The question for the Kennerspiel is more one of the jury’s reaction to disposable games.  My guess, from the start, has been that the jury would select a more traditional game.  But it’s just a guess; I won’t be surprised at all if Pandemic Legacy or T.I.M.E Stories wins, as the jury has often rewarded strong implementations of innovative ideas.  If I were picking, from among the nominees, I’d pick Karuba and T.I.M.E Stories, but I figured out long ago not to guess a game will win just because it’s a favorite of mine…


Jeff Allers – My experience in Germany contradicts what Dale’s inside sources seem to be telling him.  Codenames works fine in German (and I know Dale was joking, but large compound words are rarely used in anything other than lawyer-speak). I’ve even played the game with German friends in which we alternated between English and German rounds (I bought both versions), and the experience was about the same either way, other than the native speaker(s), understandably, had some advantages. In addition to my experience, I also noticed that one of the big gaming events over the Easter break in Oberhof ranked Codenames the number one game of the week, and Karuba (#5) and Imhotep (#10) each had half as many votes. Of course, the Jury does not necessarily have to pick what is currently the most popular game (Isle of Skye was the only KSdJ to make the list tied with Imhotep at #10) –that’s for the Deutscher Spielpreis.  But at least that proves that Codenames certainly has an audience here, and works quite well in the German language.  It’s still my pick, and my personal favorite of the 3 nominees.


Larry – I’ve been backing Codenames for the SdJ all along and I’ve seen nothing to dissuade me from that pick.  It’s a wonderful game and pitched at the Jury’s preferred weight.  But there are lots of games every year that meet that description that don’t get chosen, or even get nominated.  The reason why I think Codenames is such a strong favorite is that it’s amazingly versatile.  It can be played, and enjoyed, by virtually any kind of gamer, be they serious or casual, adult or child, and by families,  friends, or mixed groups.  It easily handles any number of players from 4 to 10 or more.  People can drop out or join in while the game is in progress with no negative effect.  It’s the Game for All Occasions and that’s exactly the sort of design that the award should be about.  I think it’s the obvious choice.


Pandemic Legacy, though, was not my first pick for the Kennerspiel.  I wasn’t sure if it had the same massive appeal in Germany that it obviously has in the States.  However, once it got nominated, I was convinced.  It seems like a genre-changing game, much like Dominion before it.  Dominion wasn’t really true SdJ material, but its popularity and innovation was such that the Jury had no choice but to pick it.  It even led them to creating the Kennerspiel, to handle similar cases in the future.  And Pandemic Legacy is clearly the more complex kind of game the KdJ was designed to reward.  I don’t really think it matters if the game has sufficient replayability, or that it’s cooperative, or if the theme doesn’t resonate enough.  It has the kind of sweeping popularity that transcends these questions and forces the Jury to acknowledge it.  These kinds of games appear once a decade or so and they are inevitably rewarded for it.  It should be no different this year.


Chris Wray:  I fully agree with Larry.  I think Codenames and Pandemic Legacy will take home the award, and given how much I love both games, I hope they do.  


Codenames seems, at least to me, to be a juggernaut.  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, with a solid production value.  Codenames is family-friendly, original, and highly addictive.  It doesn’t have the eye-popping production value of some recent winners, but the jury doesn’t always make that the highest priority, as 2013’s win for Hanabi shows  Imhotep is probably the most well-produced game, but like some others have indicated, it is a bit heavy — and a bit confrontational — for the SdJ award.  I enjoy Karuba, but I don’t see it as original as the others — I find it similar to the game “Take it Easy!” — and, like Joe, I don’t see it being all that memorable in five years.  


I’ve never fully understood what the jury is looking for in the KdJ, but I’m going all in on originality and guessing Pandemic Legacy.  What do 7 Wonders, Village, Legends of Andor, Istanbul, and Broom Service have in common?  They’re all middle weight Euro games, I suppose, and the first three were high on originality.  But the last two picks have confused me.  Seeing no clear trend, I’m thinking Pandemic Legacy will take home the prize.  The jury’s statements about Pandemic Legacy have been very favorable, and the game is a big step forward in game design.  Plus, Isle of Skye seems a bit light for the award (although I thought the same thing about Broom Service), and given how much emphasis the jury has put on replayability and value, I don’t know that T.I.M.E Stories will garner the support it needs.  You can expect at least a dozen plays of Pandemic Legacy out of the box, and the first T.I.M.E Stories scenario will give you up to three.  


All of that said, let’s take a step back and appreciate what a great group of games the nominees are this year.  I’d classify all of them as “I like it.” or “I love it!” on our Opinionated Gamers scale.  It has been fashionable in certain circles to bash the SdJ and KdJ in recent years for not picking “gamer’s games.”  That’s not their purpose, and I’ve suggested ignoring those voices in the past, because they misunderstand the goal of the awards.  But this year’s nominees are, for the most part, actually very popular with gamers.  Here are their current BGG rankings: Codenames, 17; Karuba, 592; Imhotep, 1454; Pandemic Legacy, 1; T.I.M.E. Stories, 27; and Isle of Skye, 210.  Three of the six are in the BGG Top 100!  And Karuba and Imhotep are on the rise.  


Mark Jackson: Not to take anything away from Codenames – which I enjoy immensely – but my pick for Karuba is based on the same family-friendly criteria as other folks have used to justify Codenames as the SdJ winner. Add to that delightful graphics and a jury nod towards HABA expanding into family gaming (as opposed to kid games that are family-friendly) and I think you have a winner.


For Kennerspiel, I’ll echo Chris’ comment that Time Stories has less replayability out of the box than Pandemic Legacy (my boys & I took 17 games to finish). With that, I think it’s a shoe-in for the KdJ… and a well-deserving winner.


Mary Prasad: I’m with the crowd voting for Codenames and Pandemic Legacy. Both games deserve the award. While I enjoy the runners up, Karuba and Isle of Skye, they aren’t as ground-breaking as the former two games.

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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