What is “Spiel des Jahres”?
“Spiel des Jahres” is an award for analogue tabletop games in German-speaking countries, which was first’ awarded in 1979. German-language games released in the current and previous year can be considered for the award. Two additional equivalent prizes are also awarded: the “Kinderspiel des Jahres” (since 2001) and the “Kennerspiel des Jahres” (since 2011). There is no prize money associated with the title of “Spiel des Jahres”. The prize winners may use the award in their publicity, which incurs licensing fees. This revenue is used to meet various expenses: “Spiel des Jahres” is a registered association (e.V.) with its company headquarters in Kerpen.
Who gives the jury the right to award the “Spiel des Jahres”, which has a considerable economic effect?
No-one. Simply because of the independence that would be needed, there is no superior private or state authority able to assemble a jury and equip them with the necessary skills. These come from their long years of proven successful service, as long as they have authority and credibility. The right to make decisions with far-reaching consequences requires the consistent competence, independence and incorruptibility of the jury members. And regardless of all that, it was nevertheless the jury who founded the award – they gave themselves the right.
What influence do other groups (publishers, designers, organisations) have on the work of the jury?
None – the jury comes to a decision independent of external influences. This has been known for over 30 years so there are never any such attempts.
Does the jury give the “Spiel des Jahres” award to the “best” game of the year?
No – for two reasons. Firstly, it is impossible to objectively measure the quality of games’ external attributes, just as with other cultural products such as books or films. The designation “best” ultimately always remains subjective. Furthermore, the jury always has to consider the target group when making their decision; this is an extremely heterogeneous audience, of which only a small section consists of specialist gamers. What would interest and excite these players would possibly be too challenging for normal players, dissuading them from playing this and other games.
The “Spiel des Jahres” Jury
Who is on the “Spiel des Jahres” jury?
The jury consists of critics from German-speaking countries. There is no target figure, it is not automatically assumed that old jury members have to leave when new ones join and vice versa. Jury members work as journalists and write about games. They work for “Spiel des Jahres” on a voluntary basis.
The current juries
Who can be a member of the jury?
Jury members must be games critics working for German-language media – and have enough experience to have proved their competence. Jury members keep a look out for colleagues who meet this description and decide on new admissions by a vote. You cannot make an application yourself. Anyone who has anything to do with games design, production or marketing cannot become or remain a jury member.
How often do the jury members play and with whom?
Each member has their own relatively wide circle of friends, acquaintances or colleagues they meet on a relatively regular basis. It’s impossible to give exact figures, because each member’s day job takes up different amounts of time and because over the course of the year there are different phases – the most intensive is the period between February and May. The important thing is to play with different types of players, with casual gamers as well as games addicts, because this can show the different sides of a game. And of course the jury and its individual members play each other when they meet up.
How do I contact the “Spiel des Jahres” jury?
Via our company headquarters. Here you’ll find answers to all your questions.
The Jury’s Rules and Decision-making Criteria
What are the important dates for “Spiel des Jahres”?
The winners of the “Spiel des Jahres”, “Kinderspiel des Jahres” and “Kennerspiel des Jahres” awards are announced each year in June and July. The nomination of the candidates and the announcement of the recommendation lists takes place in May, after the closed meeting of the jury. New releases should be made available to the jury by the end of March of that year at the latest, so that enough time can be spent playing the games.
Do publishers submit their games like in a competition?
No. In their capacity as games critics the jury members receive or request review copies – as all other games critics do. So it’s not the publishers who decide which games make it into the selection process but rather the jury members themselves. This is why it makes no sense to send a game to the jury’s headquarters. The games aren’t judged here. The jury members who live in German-speaking countries do this at home. Games producers can inform the jury members about new releases directly, via e-mail.
Is there a “closing date” for entries?
Theoretically, yes. In order for the games to be considered, their final version must be available early enough to be put under close scrutiny in the annual selection process. In order to be considered for the nomination and recommendation lists in mid to late May, a voting majority of the jury is required, i.e. more than half the jury members need to vote for the game. This is only possible if there has been sufficient time for several test plays, where the quality of the game can be confirmed. This is why the jury can only guarantee to consider games which arrive by the end of March of that year. According to our rules, games which arrive later can be considered for the following year.
Are all new releases genuinely considered or is there a pre-selection process?
If they are available in time, the jury will consider all games known to them. A pre-selection process takes place only in as far as that some games place themselves out of the running at the first or second glance, for example because the manual is unreadable or because they are the nth variant or expansion of an existing game.
Can any game really win the main prize?
Yes – if the quality of the game corresponds to the target group of the award, i.e. “family and friends” in a broad sense. Nevertheless, the game must also fulfil the following basic conditions:
- The rules and all other text relevant to the game must be written in German.
- The game must be released in the current or previous year. Practically unchanged new editions or anniversary editions are excluded.
- The game must be available in the shops at the time of the judging in May. The jury will not consider prototypes, drafts or very small print runs.
- There must be a German language distributor.
- The game must be playable on its own. Expansions cannot be considered.
What are the game-related criteria the “Spiel des Jahres” needs to fulfil?
Ultimately, it’s the overall impression that counts, the enjoyment of playing the game that can’t be broken down into individual measurable pieces. Nevertheless, there are criteria which help evaluate a game: Does it have a completely new concept or does it bring existing elements together to create a new experience? Has the concept been realised in such a way as to engage the player? Does it seem organic and whole or artificial and constructed? Are the rules sensibly constructed, clear, understandable, free of gaps, contradictions and errors? Do the components match their function, are they sturdy and durable? Is the design attractive, do the box, game boards, rules and components complement each other?
Do any of the decision criteria not have anything to do with the games themselves?
In principle: no. The jury only judges the quality of the games. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a small card game or a large board game. It’s not important who published or designed the game or whether either have won any awards in the past.
How does the voting process work?
The elimination process has multiple stages, whereby all the games being considered are reduced to three nominees each for the “Spiel des Jahres”, “Kinderspiel des Jahres” and “Kennerspiel des Jahres” awards. Each stage ends in a vote; a game must have the backing of a majority of jury members. Between March and May, the discussion between the jury members regarding possible candidates for the recommendation and nomination lists becomes more intensive. This forms the basis for the decisions in the closed meeting in mid to late May. Here is where the nominees and recommendation lists are determined. The award winners themselves are only chosen directly before the announcement on the day before the award ceremonies, which usually take place in June (“Kinderspiel des Jahres”) or July (“Spiel des Jahres” / “Kennerspiel des Jahres”).
Does the award mean that all jury members are in complete agreement?
If that were the case there probably wouldn’t be any award. The jury members fundamentally come to the same decision but of course some of them reach it with a little more difficulty, as they personally would have chosen something else. The games on the recommendation list, the nominees and the “Spiel des Jahres” are the result of a vote after extensive discussions; they reflect the opinion of the majority, not necessarily each individual. There is not really any other way an association can work, as its members each have their own individual preferences and dislikes.
Why doesn’t the jury give justifications for their decisions?
In the event of a positive decision, so when games receive a nomination or recommendation, the merits of each game are mentioned in a general sense and in the material released alongside the announcement of the award. In the event of a negative decision, it wouldn’t be practical to publish a justification. In order to justify their decision each individual jury member would firstly have to say whether they voted against a game – just for this reason it’s impossible, the demands of independence means individual voting records cannot be published. The internal discussions are confidential and must stay that way. There can only be exceptions when a game is excluded from the running due to objective conditions – if the manual is unusable or the components didn’t survive the test plays. Furthermore, all jury members regularly publish games reviews and voice their opinions there.
Revenue and how it is spent
How does the association receive revenue?
The jury only receives revenue through licensing fees, which the association charges for use of their own logo for publicity purposes. If an award-winning publisher wants to advertise using the title “Spiel des Jahres”, they can do this for free. But if they want to print the “Spiel des Jahres” logo on the box, they need to pay a very small licensing fee per game sold. There are different regulations regarding licensing fees and length of use for the main awards, nominated games and the special awards.
What are the historical reasons for the licensing fee?
In the first ten years, the jury members met all costs out of their own pocket. There were no expenses payments. During this period the award grew in importance. Producers and merchants made a great deal of profit because of the award, without any additional publicity. Because the public’s need for information increased considerably, the duties and responsibilities of the jury increased too. This situation was untenable. Back then the association’s only source of revenue was its members’ contributions. In order to ensure the continued independence of the jury, the association introduced a licensing model in 1989.
What exactly does the association charge licensing fees for?
Every producer may refer to the fact they received an award in their publicity. The widely-recognised symbol – the playing pawn ringed by a laurel wreath with the words “Spiel des Jahres”, “Kinderspiel des Jahres” or “Kennerspiel des Jahres” (and additional elements such as “Nominated for the Spiel des Jahres award” etc. where appropriate) – is property of the association and represents a million-fold recorded sales value. The licensing model applies exclusively to the use of the label. If an award-winner wishes to make use of the symbol, they must sign a contract with the “Spiel des Jahres” association. This regulates principally the manner in which the symbol may (and may not) be depicted, the duration of use as well as the sum and date of licence payment. The association specifies the symbol’s colour, form, text and maximum size; intended to prevent misuse. The association regards itself exclusively as a representative of the interests of the games consumer and will not tolerate any use of the label that is not clear and accurate.
Why are there time restrictions on the use of the logo?
In order to limit the number of games in the shops with the “Spiel des Jahres” symbol, there is a time restriction for the use of the logo on recommended and nominated games. A “label flood” would be damaging to the clarity and character of a particular recommendation. The licensing agreement with winners of the main awards is unrestricted, the licence-holder may cancel the agreement at any time and refrain from using the label in future. The nominated games and winners of a special award may use the symbol for three calendar years. Of course, producers may refer to the award in their publicity after this period but they may no longer print the symbol on the box. Games on the “recommendation lists”, introduced in 2004, may use the corresponding logo with all three playing pawns for free for two calendar years but only on the reverse side of the box.
Aren’t the licensing fees transferred to the sale price, making the games more expensive?
On the contrary: In our experience, due to the higher print runs, the sale price for award-winning games is significantly reduced.
What does the association use its revenue for?
The revenue serves exclusively to finance the work of the jury and the greater task of promoting games within the family and wider society. The association runs its headquarters in Kerpen, has an online presence, prints information brochures and finances booths at trade fairs and further activities towards the promotion of the tabletop game as a cultural asset. Each year the association supports various projects, for example promoting the work of day schools, promoting libraries and games libraries, promoting games events, festivals, exhibitions, publications and campaigns as well as awarding games designer grants for new designers etc. In addition, the association also pays tax.
Is the association a registered charity?
No, an application was made in the early days of the association but the authorities at that time did not accept it. The current generation has discussed and weighed up the pros and cons of becoming a charity. As a result, the association has decided not to make a new application.
Are members of the jury paid?
“Spiel des Jahres” board members receive expenses of 20 Euro per hour as compensation for their work. The same amount is paid to association members for certain duties in excess of their normal member duties, for example speaking appearances or editing the website.
The job of a jury member in and of itself – i.e the testing, evaluation and discussion of games as well as related work for the association – is done voluntarily by all members. They do receive compensation for expenses incurred – travel, accommodation and sundry costs, when travelling to trade fairs, meetings or other events in their capacity as jury members.