W. Eric Martin
The Spiel des Jahres — Germany's "game of the year" award — turns forty in 2019, the award having first come into existence in 1979 with a list of nominees that included Sid Sackson's Acquire and Sly, Alex Randolph's Twixt, the electronic games Simon by Ralph Baer and Merlin by Bob and Holly Doyle, and eventual winner Hare & Tortoise by David Parlett.
For its first few awards, despite the "Jahres" in the award's name, the jury of journalists who ran the SdJ selected nominees that had been released within the past few years rather than only the year immediately preceding — a practice that makes sense given that the award was meant to shine a spotlight on modern games for an audience of casual players that might not have been paying attention to everything that was being released.
These days the purpose of the award remains the same — highlight and suggest games appropriate for an audience of casual players — but the jury focuses solely on games released in Germany within the past twelve months. From my understanding, a game needs to be available in a German edition prior to the end of March to be considered. This cutoff date gives the jury members enough time to play potential nominees and consider them against one another before settling on three nominees in what is now three categories: the original Spiel des Jahres (SdJ), the Kinderspiel des Jahres (KidJ) for children's game of the year, and the Kennerspiel des Jahres (KedJ) for enthusiast's game of the year, that is, for those already comfortable with learning and playing new games.
As part of its fortieth anniversary, jury chairman Harald Schrapers attended an exhibit about the SdJ at the Deutsches SPIELEmuseum in Chemnitz, Germany and announced the SdJ nominees during a live broadcast on Facebook:
• Just One, by Ludovic Roudy and Bruno Sautter from Repos Production (video overview)
• LAMA, by Reiner Knizia from AMIGO (video overview)
• Werwörter, by Ted Alspach from Bézier Games (and in Germany from Ravensburger) (video overview)
In commentary on the nominees, Schrapers pointed out that the three nominees are all small games that you can learn and play almost immediately. Later in his commentary, Schrapers writes, "We now have a large number of titles on the table that are very high quality compared to decades past. Of the games that the ten jurors have played intensively over the last twelve months, probably more than one hundred would have been a candidate for the leaderboard in the 1980s."
Aside from these nominations, the SdJ jury recommended the following six titles: Belratti, Dizzle, Imhotep: The Duel, Krasse Kacke, Reef, and Sherlock, a series of three standalone games from GDM Games that were released in Germany by ABACUSSPIELE: Sherlock: Death on the 4th of July, Sherlock: Last Call, and Sherlock: Tomb of the Archaeologist.
Note that the Spiel des Jahres award is primarily aimed at family gamers, i.e., those who play games but aren't heavily into the gaming scene.
Nominations for the Kennerspiel des Jahres went to:
• Carpe Diem, by Stefan Feld from alea (video overview)
• Detective, by Ignacy Trzewiczek from Portal Games (video overview)
• Wingspan, by Elizabeth Hargrave from Stonemaier Games (and in Germany from Feuerland Spiele) (video overview)
The SdJ jury recommended four other titles at the Kennerspiel level: Architects of the West Kingdom, Lowlands, Newton, and Paper Tales. The winners of the Spiel and Kennerspiel des Jahres will be announced in Berlin, Germany on July 22, 2019.
The titles nominated for Kinderspiel des Jahres 2019 are:
• Fabulantica, by Marco Teubner from Pegasus Spiele
• Go Gecko Go!, by Jürgen Adams from Zoch (video overview)
• Tal der Wikinger, by Marie and Wilfried Fort from HABA
The Kinderspiel des Jahres jur, which differs from the SdJ/KedJ jury, also recommended seven other titles: Bauernhof Bande, Concept Kids: Animals, Magic Maze Kids, Monster Match, Monster-Bande, Octopus, and Voll verwackelt.
The winner will be announced in Hamburg, Germany on June 24, 2019, roughly one month prior to the winners of the other awards.