Each summer, a jury of board game critics from Germany, Switzerland and Austria announces its choice for Game of the Year, or “Spiel des Jahres” (SdJ). The board game world has its fair share of awards, but none are as prestigious or important as the SdJ. The award ensures broad promotion and a healthy sales boost, both in Germany and abroad; previous winners have been undisputed classics like Katan and Qwirkle. Most of the games nominated for the 2016 award were first released in 2015; to be eligible for the award, they had to have been released on the German market within the last 12 months.
Last weekend, we took a deep look at all the nominees in two categories, in 8,000 words, and waited patiently to hear who would come out on top. The winners were announced today.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the “Spiel des Jahres” grand prize went to the word association parlor game Codenames. Released late last year, Codenames has taken the board game world by storm; Board Game Geek users have quickly voted the title the best board game of all time (with good reason, too). We’ve never introduced the game to anyone – from kids to gamers to grandparents – who didn’t instantly fall in love with it.
In the game, two teams race to cover up cards on a 5×5 grid through word association. Each card contains a single word and the mission is to select only those words that belong to your team. Choosing a word that belongs to the opposing team can give away points, while accidentally selecting the hidden “killer” card immediately ends the match. The only clue as to which cards are safe to select comes from the team’s spymaster, and it can only be one word followed by the number of cards it applies to.
The other nominees for the SdJ were maze game Karuba and huge Egyptian themed cube pusher Imhotep.
The second category up for grabs was for the “Kennerspiel des Jahres”, which tackles slightly more complex games (although they should still be accessible to a wide audience). Here the winner was a bit more surprising. Tile laying auction game Isle of Skye took the top prize, beating out the powerhouse nominees Pandemic Legacy and TIME Stories. If the prize were only awarded on the basis of huge popularity, pandemic legacy would have been the obvious choice. But Isle of Skye makes sense if you’ve paid attention to previous years’ winners, and the game certainly deserves the recognition. This is the second win in a row for Alexander Pfister and Andreas Pelikan; for which the team also won the Kennerspiel last year Broom service.
In Isle of Skyeplayers place tiles around one Carcassonnelike kingdom – but they buy those tiles from each other. Each round, players prize tiles to sell to their opponents. After a buying round, they build their kingdom based on simple tile placement rules. At the end of each round, one or more of the four scoring conditions are activated and players collect points. It’s a simple game that leaves a lot of room for tough decisions.
The winner of the children’s “Kinderspiel” category was announced earlier this year and that award went to My first stone age. Lion and Mmm! were the other finalists.
Those who want to dig deeper than the three finalists for each award can check out the judges lists with additional “recommended” games for the Spiel des Jahres and the Kennerspiel. The Kennerspiel list in particular is full of great games, including the Viking card layout fighter Seething angerwhich we reviewed earlier this year.
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