For the past few years, our group of gamers has taken their best guess at trying to read the minds of the Spiel des Jahres jury members. The nominations for the Spiel des Jahres and Kennerspiel des Jahres will be announced Monday, and the award winners will be revealed on July 23 in Berlin.
As has become our habit, we will do this in two parts. This first survey is done prior to the actual release of the lists, when just about any game was open for consideration. Once the lists are out, we will then do a second round of voting, limited only to the actual nominees.
The usual caveats still apply. It’s hard for us to know which late releases in 2018 make the cut for eligibility. Also, as we only have two or three active OG writers in Germany, there are probably a few games that are big over there that we simply don’t know about as there is no English version. We did not really generate a list of games and have people pick from it; OG writers were just told to vote for five games.
This year, we used a similar system to what we’ve used the past two years. Each OG writer was invited to rank up to five games that they feel will win the SdJ and KdJ, with the most likely game receiving 5 points, the next likely 4 points, and so on. Totals are below.
If you’d like to see the official information on and criteria for the award, please check out the Jury’s website.
Our Track Record
We have a decent track record predicting the Spiel des Jahres nominees. Before 2015 we made individual predictions, but since then, we do it as a group. We’ve had 5 of the last 9 SdJ nominees in the top three slots of our pre-nomination prediction lists, and 6 of the last 9 SdJ nominees have made our list of guesses.
We do less well when the games are only available on the German market: the three games we missed (The Game in 2015, Imhotep in 2016, and El Dorado in 2017) all only had late-release German versions at the time.
Once the nominations were announced, we’ve correctly called all three past SdJ winners.
We’ve had far less success with the Kennerspiel des Jahres. We’ve only had 3 of the past 9 nominees in the top three slots of our pre-nomination prediction lists, though 6 of the last 9 KdJ nominees have made our list of guesses.
Once the nominations were announced, we’ve only correctly called the winner once, which was the Exit Series last year.
SPIEL DES JAHRES 2018 Predictions
Our list of guesses this year was shorter than our list in the past few years. There’s a strong consensus around the top picks, but beyond that, voting is a bit scattered. Hyperlinks are to our past reviews.
Our choice for the Spiel des Jahres is Azul!
Azul – 98
The Mind – 60
Ganz schön clever – 20
Memoarrr! – 17
Bunny Kingdom – 17
Sagrada – 10
Woodlands – 9
Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg – 5
Dragon Castle – 5
Menara – 3
Pioneers – 2
For a couple of the SdJ items above, there were questions about whether they would qualify given the timing of their German release. The same goes for the Kennerspiel below.
We also did the similar project with the Kennerspiel des Jahres. This has traditionally been a more difficult list for us to pick, as the complexity thresholds for this award seem to constantly shift. As you can see, there is considerable uncertainty here, with far less consensus than there was for SdJ.
Our choice this year for the Kennerspiel is Heaven & Ale!
Heaven & Ale – 29
Photosynthesis – 23
Rajas of the Ganges – 22
Clank! – 20
Pandemic Legacy Season Two – 12
Nusfjord – 9
Ganz schön clever – 4
Noria – 3
Pandemic: Rising Tide – 3
THOUGHTS FROM THE OPINIONATED GAMERS
Chris Wray: I think Azul is the most likely to prevail this year, so that’s my prediction, but my heart is with The Mind, which I also think has a great chance. But I’d be happy if either of those got a nomination and ultimately won. My third choice was for Majesty: For the Realm, which I greatly enjoyed, but I’m not sure how great of a prediction that is, since at least one jury member gave it a mediocre review in spielbox. My other two votes went to Ganz schön clever and Woodlands.
I’ve never been good at predicting the KdJ. I believe Clank! is eligible this year, but it is hard to be sure: I think it was released last year in limited form but got a bigger release this awards year. If it is eligible, I think it becomes the favorite. Heaven & Ale is excellent and deserves award-season recognition, but it does seem a bit heavy for the KdJ, but nonetheless I voted for it with hope. Rajas of the Ganges, The Rise of Queensdale, and Pandemic Legacy Season 2 rounded out my voting.
Joe Huber: The one thing I’m sure of this year is that Azul is going to win an award. I am far less certain that the award it will win is the SdJ; it’s well within the range of KedJ winners. If it’s nominated for the KedJ, my guess for the SdJ will switch, with reservations, to The Mind.
My favorite suggestions from folks are Woodlands and The Quacksalber of Quedlinburg, either of which could well receive a nomination. As usual, I only vote for one choice for each award, so one of my SdJ nomination picks (Fast Forward: Fear) doesn’t appear on the list above.
Jeff Allers: I really think Woodlands or Memoarrr! could be nominated, along with Azul and The Mind. Memoarrr! is in an interesting position, in that it could also be nominated for the Kinderspiel des Jahres (children’s game of the year), which is no stranger to memory games. But when was the last time a memory game was nominated for SdJ? In any case, it will be tough going for any game that takes that 3rd nomination slot. For the record, I have not tried The Mind, and it’s clearly very polarizing, but it’s still flying off the shelves of every game store in Berlin that stocks it.
Matt Carlson: This is a rare year for me, as I have played a fair number of the games (rather than just a couple in past years.) I’m a big fan of The Mind but people either love it or could care less, there isn’t much middle ground. The simple play and classy pieces of Azul make me give it the nod for the award. In a strange twist of fate, I’ve even been able to play Ganz schön clever, but after I put in my votes. It would have risen to number 3 at least, maybe even my second choice since The Mind has two camps of fans. For the KdJ, I don’t see Pandemic getting yet another nod, and personally I don’t care for Clank! (although many do.) I’m leaning toward Photosynthesis for its beautiful pieces (and interesting play.) I haven’t played Heaven and Ale, but while many enjoy it I’ve also heard more lukewarm praise lately. I think I’m stuck with a Photosynthesis prediction since I don’t have experience with the other games on our list.
Melissa: The Mind? Seriously? The best description I’ve seen of it is “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” It’s a gimmick not a game, and not much of a gimmick at that. I quite enjoyed The Game, but this is just ridiculous. For the next iteration, perhaps they will offer us The Darkness, where everyone will have to play all their cards with their eyes closed and see how that works. Ugh ugh ugh. The only reason this will ever come out at game night is to show friends how ridiculous it is. I firmly believe that it is a joke being played on the world by the game industry. This Emperor is definitely naked.
Azul, on the other hand, is a great choice – popular with everyone I’ve played it with, even those of us who don’t usually like abstracts. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it appear in the Kennerspiel category, though. My second choice for SdJ is Majesty: For the Realm, which I think is a marvellous game and crying out for expansions – just what the SdJ team usually like. For Kennerspiel, if Azul doesn’t go that way, I would hope for Heaven and Ale – another marvellous game which isn’t as heavy as it appears. My left-of-field prediction for SdJ is Bärenpark, which I think may have been just a smidge too late for last year’s nominations, although I freely admit to being doubly biased as (1) it’s designed by an Australian and (2) my younger daughter spent large chunks of last Essen teaching it at the Lookout Games booth. It has the cuteness, accessible theme and straightforward gameplay to be a contender.
And for Kinderspiel, I think Rhino Hero Super Battle has to be in there with a chance. It’s nowhere near as good as the original Rhino Hero, to my curmudgeonly mind, but it’s enormously popular and looks fantastic.
Andrea “Liga” Ligabue: Concerning the SDJ I think both Azul and Majesty have the greatest chances, two game both really fitting the SDJ criteria in complexity, duration and target. Also Dragon Castle looks like a perfect SDJ candidate but I’m not so sure it got enough exposure to German market. Concerning the KDJ both Heaven & Ale and Photosynthesis have good chances but it could be that Dragon Castle or Majesty will be “promoted” to the gamers award as well.
Brian L: Azul seems to me to be a clear pick for SdJ. It’s simple rules mean it can be played in a more relaxed manner or with significant depth. Combined with the beautiful presentation, it makes a good choice. KdJ is less certain and so I didn’t vote, but seeing the groups selection I note that both Heaven and Ale and Clank! I believe to have too much going on for the prize, including the possibility of really putting yourself out of contention with poor early game choices. Rajas of the Ganges is a borderline complexity but I rank as a contender. Photosynthesis is a strong runner for the top spot due to the simple rules and beautiful presentation, although it does have some rules nitpicks and spatial games can have a narrower appeal in my experience. So, I’m rating those my top two contenders with Majesty as a wild card; along with a heavy dose of who knows what the jury thinks is the right KdJ complexity and weight.
Alan How: I’m agreeing with Joe that I think Azul will a win an award and it could be placed in each of the two main categories. I have tried it with families, friends, gamers and non-gamer and it’s worked well with all of them as the rules are so easy to pick up but the subtleties only become apparent once you get into the game. As to the KdJ award, the games that have one in the post seem to have a simpler appeal and certainly not the complexity of many medium or heavy end boardgames. So I also think that Azul could do well in this category with my runners up being Photosynthesis and Clank! both of which offer something fresh without being too complicated.
Tery N: I agree with Joe and Alan that Azul could be in either of the two main categories. There is more strategy there than I initially thought, and it seems to be universally popular with gamers of all complexity preferences around here, which is rare.
I do not understand all the love for The Mind. To me it’s more of an exercise than a game, and not a fun one at that. Usually if I don’t like a game I can see reasons that others might, but in this case I just don’t get it.
I am a big fan of Sagrada, and if it were my choice this would win, but I am not sure how well known it would be to members of the jury.
Heaven and Ale and Clank! are two games I have really enjoyed over the past year and I would not be surprised to see either of them win, although I think Heaven and Ale will win. I finally got to play Rajas of the Ganges, and based on my two plays I think this deserves a nomination, although I don’t expect it will win. I enjoy Nusfjord, but there’s nothing new or innovative here.
Mark Jackson: I also think that Azul is a lock for a nomination – but similar to Joe Huber, I wonder if that won’t be for KdJ rather than SdJ.
I also am curious is Pandemic Legacy: Season Two will make showing for KdJ… giving the jury a chance to reward the entire Pandemic line (kind of like the Oscars awarded Return of the King for the whole kit & caboodle.)
Fraser: Of the games that I have played I think Azul and Majesty: For the Realm are in there with a good chance. Heaven & Ale and Sagrada probably deserve to be as well.
The Mind potentially will, but I don’t think it should. As an activity, particularly after a few drinks back many years ago maybe, but a game?
I like Clank! but I am not convinced that it will win anything. Ditto Nusfjord.
I agree with Melissa about Rhino Hero Super Battle and would only play it with the original Rhino Hero rules not the rules that come in the box.
Dale Y: This year, the SdJ field seems narrower than usual. I don’t have a good explanation nor rationale for this, it’s just my own observation. Normally, it seems like I have about a dozen games that quickly come to mind when I think of SdJ candidates – and this year, I had maybe 6. Based on our group voting, it appears that many other OG writers had the same feelings. Normally, we have a pretty good tail of vote-getters in the 1-2 pt range, but this year, not so much.
For me, the SdJ should be the Mind. Which is a game I hate. Seriously, I don’t get it. I’ve tried it a few times, and I just don’t enjoy it. BUT… I have seen the love it gets from other people. Watching the reactions of folks at the Gathering cemented my belief that while it’s not a game for me, it’s definitely a game worthy of SdJ status. It can be played by anyone, and for those that enjoy it, it’s positively addictive. It generates a fervor unlike any game I’ve seen in recent years.
Some have said that Woodlands might be a decent choice here. It’s German-language only, and I haven’t played it. I have read the rules, and I think it might end up on the nomination list (big publishing house, rules similar to Doodle Quest, etc).
For Kennerspiel, I love Photosynthesis, and I think it has the visual appeal that the jury members seem to like. If there were more time though, I would change my votes… I have Quacksalber von Quedlinburg as a SdJ game, but after playing it a few more times, I would make it my #2 choice for Kennerspiel. It is too complicated for SdJ, and the ruleset is simply too long for SdJ. I failed to change my vote in our internal spreadsheet in time, but at least I’ll put it down here.