Revisiting the Spiel des Jahres Winners: A Geeklist of All the Histories/Reviews
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A couple of years ago, I wrote histories and reviews of the Spiel des Jahres winners. This 37-part series originally appeared on The Opinionated Gamers. I originally called the series "SdJ Revisited" and used the English names of the games, but the OG changed the title and went with German names. I've been updating the histories/reviews in recent days and posting them on BGG. Folks have asked for a Geeklist of all of the entries, so here it is.

The series is, in total, the length of a book. If you're looking for the best entries, my personal favorite histories are Um Reifenbreite, Liar's Dice, and El Grande.

If you have anything to add to the game history, I'd love to see your comments below.
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1. Board Game: Hare & Tortoise [Average Rating:6.65 Overall Rank:1072]
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1979: Link to review.

Fun Historical Fact: The game was selected as a winner in 1978, but the announcement was made official in 1979.
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2. Board Game: Rummikub [Average Rating:6.31 Overall Rank:1551]
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1980: Link to review.

Fun Historical Fact: Ephraim Hertzano and his wife, Hanna, loved the card game rummy, but playing cards were outlawed when they lived in Romania in the 1930s and 40s. Hertzano, a toothbrush manufacturer, dreamed up a legal way to play the game he loved, replacing cards with elongated plastic tiles that would sit in wooden racks.
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3. Board Game: Focus [Average Rating:6.46 Overall Rank:2693]
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1981: Link to review.

Fun Historical Fact: Sackson self-published and sold copies of his game, although it isn’t clear whether he was just selling copies of the rules or the components too. Either way, his papers document the names and addresses of individuals buying it in October/November 1963.
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4. Board Game: Enchanted Forest [Average Rating:5.74 Overall Rank:5157]
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1982: Link to review.

Fun Historical Fact: Randolph heard that Ravensburger was looking for a fairy-tale themed game, and he remembered that Matschoss was knowledgeable of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The duo started designing a race game, and they isolated themselves in Sababurg Castle (a.k.a. the Sleeping Beauty Castle) to work on the project. Over breakfast one morning they abandoned the idea of a pure race game, instead mixing in the mechanic of collecting treasures. They had a prototype four weeks later, which they presented to Ravensburger.
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5. Board Game: Scotland Yard [Average Rating:6.51 Overall Rank:1056]
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1983: Link to review.

Fun Historical Fact: The design team, using the working title “Manhattan,” took nine months to develop a prototype. In theming Scotland Yard, the designers asked themselves what type of games they liked to play as children, and decided to make a game based on “cops and robbers.”
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6. Board Game: Dampfross [Average Rating:6.31 Overall Rank:3109]
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1984: Link to review.

Fun Historical Fact: Watts designed more than 70 maps for Dampfross. In this regard, Dampfross was the first SdJ winner to have several expansions and extensions, a trend that would become commonplace in the mid-1990s. Fans created many more maps, possibly as many as 300 (including a popular Middle Earth variant).
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7. Board Game: Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: The Thames Murders & Other Cases [Average Rating:7.83 Overall Rank:66] [Average Rating:7.83 Unranked]
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1985: Link to review.

Fun Historical Fact: One of the credited designers, Anthony Uruburu, doesn't appear to exist.
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8. Board Game: Heimlich & Co. [Average Rating:6.45 Overall Rank:1538]
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1986: Link to review.

Fun Historical Fact: Heimlich & Co., a 1985 SdJ nominee and the 1986 winner, is widely regarded as being the first board game to feature a score track running around the gameboard. In Germany, gamers refer to such a score track as the “Kramer Leiste,” in honor of the game’s designer, Wolfgang Kramer. The first published game to have the the mechanism was 1982’s “Das große Unternehmen Erdgas”, a promotional game Kramer had designed for a natural gas company. Nonetheless, the “Kramer Leiste” (or “Kramerleiste”) was first used on a early prototype of Heimlich & Co., so that is the game credited with the first use.
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9. Board Game: Auf Achse [Average Rating:6.26 Overall Rank:2467]
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1987: Link to review.

Fun Historical Fact: Auf Achse, which roughly translates to “On the Road,” is arguably the only SdJ winner to have never received an English language release. I asked Wolfgang Kramer why that was the case, and he indicated that he had indeed developed a similar game called “Trucker” in the late 1980s for release in the United States. After more than a year of consideration, Hasbro rejected it, although one of their employees, Mike Gray, had pushed for it. Given that Auf Achse has gone on to sell more than 900,000 copies in only German-speaking countries, it seems like Hasbro might have missed out on a lucrative opportunity, to say the least.
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10. Board Game: Barbarossa [Average Rating:6.39 Overall Rank:2215]
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1988: Link to review.

Fun Historical Fact: In 1981, Klaus Teuber — then a dental technician — was unhappy with his company and his profession, so he started developing games in his basement. He had been reading Riddle-Master, a fantasy trilogy by Patricia McKillip, and as he would later tell the New Yorker: “I was sorry to see it come to an end, so I tried to experience this novel in a game.” This inspired him to create Barbarossa, a game in which a man wins a contest of riddles against a ghost. It was Teuber's first hit, launching his game design career.
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11. Board Game: Café International [Average Rating:6.27 Overall Rank:2069]
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1989: Link to review.

Fun Historical Fact: Café International was in development for nearly 20 years before its 1989 publication by Mattel. When Hoffmann originally conceived the idea it was not different nationalities seated in a cafe, but rather different folklore groups seated in a Bavarian-themed tavern. The points for visiting the bar in the middle of the gameboard represented the ups and downs of alcohol consumption when drinking alone: first comes fun with each additional drink, but that soon triggers a drunken downward slide. The bar was abstracted in the final game because alcohol consumption was considered too touchy of a subject.
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12. Board Game: Hoity Toity [Average Rating:6.54 Overall Rank:1196]
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1990: Link to review.

Fun Historic Fact: Adel Verpflichtet, a.k.a. Hoity Toity, is most notable for introducing the U.K. and U.S. to German games. The German game hobby had been separating from that in the rest of the world since the early-to-mid 1980s, but in 1990 Adel Verpflichtet became one of the early ambassadors of German game design. Avalon Hill published the game under its German name in 1991, going as far as to use the same art and German wording on the cards. Notably, the Avalon Hill edition was the first game by a publisher in the United States to carry the Spiel des Jahres logo, and the cover prominently called Adel Verpflichtet Germany’s “Game of the Year.”
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13. Board Game: Wacky Wacky West [Average Rating:6.32 Overall Rank:2231]
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1991: Link to review.

Fun Historic Fact: Drunter und Drüber, a.k.a. Wacky Wacky West, is perhaps most significant for being Hans im Glück’s first SdJ win. The publisher was founded in 1983 and by 1991 had released about a dozen games, most notably Die Macher. The pace of game releases picked up dramatically after Drunter und Drüber’s SdJ win, and Hans im Glück would go on to publish five more SdJ winners: Manhattan (1994), El Grande (1996), Carcassonne (2001), Thurn und Taxis (2006), and Dominion (2009).
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14. Board Game: Um Reifenbreite [Average Rating:6.85 Overall Rank:1124]
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1992: Link to review.

Fun Historic Fact: A fire destroyed most of the units of the game's predecessor, Homas Tour. It isn’t clear how many copies of the game were destroyed, but a few hundred to a few thousand were already on the market. Today versions of Homas Tour are rare and sought after by collectors. Later, a legal battle ensued for the rights to the game, making it one of the more interesting game histories out there.

This is my personal favorite entry in the series, even if it isn't my favorite game in the series.
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15. Board Game: Liar's Dice [Average Rating:6.92 Overall Rank:560]
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1993: Link to review.

Fun Historic Fact: Borg had initially made the game to play with friends, but later, he and his wife, Sandy, decided to self-publish the game under the title Doubters Dice and sell it at the next Gen Con. The Borgs invested significant time – and a large portion of the family savings – in doing so. They rented a booth at Gen Con, but they only managed to sell six copies. Richard Borg told me that the drive back to their home in Springfield, Illinois, was “was very long and very sad,” but “as luck would have it and by the grace of God, one of the sales was to a guy that worked for Milton Bradley, and the rest you can say is history.”

For all of the aspiring game designers out there, this is one of the more touching stories.
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16. Board Game: Manhattan [Average Rating:6.70 Overall Rank:992]
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1994: Link to review.

Fun Historic Fact: A story in Süddeutsche Zeitung (one of the largest daily newspapers in Germany) called Andreas Seyfarth a designer that was “virtually unknown.” Seyfarth had published a few games, but none of them had gained any traction in the marketplace. The newspaper observed that Manhattan was Hans im Glück’s second win, noting that large publishers didn’t necessarily have an advantage during awards season. In a rather odd comment, the story said Manhattan seemed, at first glance, to be a little like Monopoly.
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17. Board Game: Catan [Average Rating:7.23 Overall Rank:279] [Average Rating:7.23 Unranked]
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1995: Link to review.

Fun Historic Fact: Everybody knows the history of Catan, but here's what I find most interesting: The game was originally a massive project, and development lasted four years. As Teuber slowly reduced the game to its essentials, it started to look like the game we know today. The big breakthrough moment came in 1993 when Teuber started using hexagonal tiles instead of squares. He also removed an element simulating discovery from the game. Some of the more complex ideas from early Catan prototypes were later worked into other Teuber games, particularly Löwenherz and Entdecker. Those games have been marketed as rounding out the “Catan Trilogy.”
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18. Board Game: El Grande [Average Rating:7.79 Overall Rank:53]
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1996: Link to review.

Fun Historic Fact: One of Wolfgang Kramer’s friends, Richard Ulrich, approached him in 1992 with a prototype he called “Das Trojanische Pferd,” or “The Trojan Horse.” Kramer liked the game, which featured the Trojan Horse deploying troops as it traveled to various neighborhoods. Kramer and Ulrich agreed to jointly develop the game. They showed it to publishers in 1993, but it was rejected as being too complex. Development continued until 1994, when Kramer traveled to the Nuremburg Toy Fair with the prototype in his suitcase. Much to his dismay, he saw on his arrival that Alex Randolph and Jumbo had already published a game with the same theme. The designers went back to the drawing board, acknowledging that, despite having different mechanics, two games couldn’t be published so closely together with a similar subject.
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19. Board Game: Mississippi Queen [Average Rating:6.37 Overall Rank:1584]
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1997: Link to review.

Fun Historic Fact: Klaus Teuber, of Catan fame, was working with Goldsieber at the time, although he was also still running the dental lab he had inherited from his father. Teuber made components for early Mississippi Queen prototypes out of materials from his dental lab. It was also Teuber’s idea to have the rule about picking up two passengers.
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20. Board Game: Elfenland [Average Rating:6.74 Overall Rank:793]
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1998: Link to review.

Fun Historic Fact: The earliest parts of the game Elfenroads, which would eventually be reduced to Elfenland, came to Moon in the late 1980s or early 1990s. The game originally had a railroad theme, but when Moon got the idea to use different types of transportation in the game, he switched to a fantasy theme. The game was released in a limited edition of 1200 copies at Essen 1992. It received immediate acclaim: Mike Siggins’s account of Essen 1992 said, “Along with Modern Art, [Elfenroads and Santa Fe] were clearly the stars of the show and having played both already I can say that the enthusiasm is justified. Both games should be reviewed elsewhere this issue and I recommend them both very highly. If neither of these games is nominated for Game of the Year next time, there ain’t no justice.”
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21. Board Game: Tikal [Average Rating:7.35 Overall Rank:217]
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1999: Link to review.

Fun Historic Fact: Kiesling approached Kramer about creating a game based on a city at the bottom of a lake which would occasionally rise to the surface. Kramer liked the idea, and the two started experimenting with mechanics to simulate the city emerging and then submerging again. One day, Kiesling faxed Kramer a picture of hexagonal tiles connected by ladders. The image reminded Kramer of the Mayan Temples, and he immediately contacted Kiesling to suggest that they change the theme to archaeologists excavating Mayan ruins. That game would become Tikal. Tikal is the only game to have won the SdJ, the DSP, and the International Gamers Award.
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22. Board Game: Torres [Average Rating:7.17 Overall Rank:402]
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2000: Link to review.

Fun Historic Fact: Kramer and Kiesling started their collaboration on Torres while they were still working on Tikal. Some of the mechanics in Torres were part of Tikal’s original design, and the similarities between Torres and Tikal have led Torres to be considered an honorary member of the Mask Trilogy (which includes the games Java and Mexica). But Kramer’s flirtation with what would eventually be called Torres actually goes back much further, to an exceptionally rare game called Burgenland. In 1986, ABRA produced a wooden version of Burgenland, an abstract strategy game that used a very basic action point allowance system. The goal of the game was to get your pieces on each of six different levels. Only 150 copies of Burgenland were produced, making it one of Kramer’s rarest games.
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23. Board Game: Carcassonne [Average Rating:7.43 Overall Rank:139] [Average Rating:7.43 Unranked]
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2001: Link to review.

Fun Historic Fact: The first ideas for Carcassonne came to Klaus-Jürgen Wrede when he was touring the south of France on vacation in the late 1990s. He was tracing the history of the crusade against the Cathars for a novel he was writing, and his travels took him through a region covered with castles and walled cities. He fell in love with the landscape, everything from the countryside to one of the huge fortressed cities, Carcassonne. His trip gave him an idea for a game where the players imitate the growing of cities and castles.
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24. Board Game: Villa Paletti [Average Rating:6.48 Overall Rank:1391]
Chris Wray
United States
Harrisonville
Missouri
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2002: Link to review.

Fun Historic Fact: Bill Payne was babysitting his nephew, Joey, who was playing with wooden blocks that came in a tray. Payne suddenly got the inspiration for a new game, so he grabbed some kitchen pans, a few Jenga pieces (which Payne jokingly calls his “kryptonite”), and started making a game that would eventually be Villa Paletti. After many variations and after a couple of years, the prototype was complete.
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25. Board Game: Alhambra [Average Rating:7.03 Overall Rank:393]
Chris Wray
United States
Harrisonville
Missouri
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2003: Link to review.

Fun Historic Fact: Alhambra’s earliest predecessor was Al Capone, a gangster-themed game released by db-Spiele, an independent publishing company run by Dirk Henn and his wife, Barbara Weber Henn, out of their living room. Dirk designed the game, and Barbara did the illustrations. They assembled the games by hand and would sell them out of backpacks at Essen.
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