Unplugged: The Awards Shows

There aren’t any ceremonies with half-naked movie stars falling out of their clothes, but there are several major awards given out for board games.   A few of the biggest include:  the Spiel des Jahres, the Deutscher SpielePreis, and the Games Magazine Game of the Year .

Movies have the Academy Awards, television has the Emmys, journalists receive Pulitzer prizes, and board games can win the Spiel des Jahres. From a world-wide perspective, its probably the most prestigious award given out for new board games. This week we take a look at the Spiel des Jahres as well as two other prominent game awards. If you’re looking for a new board game to enjoy, looking over past winners of these awards is a great place to start.

Spiel des Jahres
Germans are big fans of board games. In one writer’s opinion, adults seem to feel as if its their duty to play board games with their children. Unsurprisingly, the Spiel des Jahres is arguably the most prestigious game award in the world. Founded in 1978 by a group of German game critics to promote awareness and the cultural value of games, the award is given for games based on originality, playability, organization, clarity of the rules, presentation, and educational value of the game. Journalists (yes, there are board game journalists in Germany) cast ballots and select honorees as well as the main prize winner. The winners are announced at a large hotel party. There are also two special awards that are usually, but not always, given out for the Most Beautiful Game and Best Children’s Game. Although many of the games winning awards are not in English, the success of imported games such as Settlers of Catan, has caused many of the better games to be translated into English and imported to the U.S. Here’s a quick list of some of the recent winners, along with my own lightning short description for those that I’ve played.

Spiel des Jahres Winners
2007 – Zooloretto (2-5 players)
Players bid on sets of tiles that represent animals they place into their zoos.  Zoo enclosures are limited and animal species can’t share the same pens.  Careful bidding, planning, and placement of animal tiles are required to win this family-friendly game.

2006 – Turn and Taxis (2-4 players)
Collect cards and then turn them in to form mail routes throughout Germany.  Score victory points by making the longest routes, connecting to sets of cities, or by connecting to one city in each area.  Somewhat similar in feel to past winner, Ticket to Ride, but with enough changes to make it distinct.

2005 – Niagara (3-5 players)
A beautiful family game that simulates paddling up and down the Niagara river in canoes attempting to collect gems.  Move too fast and the river, represented by nice clear plastic discs that fit snugly into the box top to form an actual river, will sweep your poor canoes off the board.  Move too slow and your opponents might get there first.

2004 – Ticket to Ride (2-5 players)
The game that spawned umpteen more versions and a few expansions.  It plays and feels a lot like a set collecting card game, but players use their collected cards to link up various cities on the game board map.  Connect up pairs of cities as designated on your ticket cards to earn the most points.  The game is a fun, family-friendly mix of completing your own routes while trying to find ways to block your opponents.

2003 – Alhambra (2-6 players)
Buy cards from those available using four currencies, taking another turn if bought using “exact change”. Place your card to build a structure or store it for later. The structure with the longest continuous external wall wins.

2002 – Villa Paletti (2-4 players)
Sort of an extreme version of Jenga with long rods that support platforms. There is always one person who is designated the leader, and they win under specific conditions or if anyone else topples the tower.

2001 – Carcassonne (2-5 players)
A tile laying game where points are scored for markers you place on top of the tiles, but there seems to never be enough markers to go around. Its easy to learn and plays almost as well with 2 players as it does 5.

2000 – Torres (2-4 players)
Build towers and claim them for points with your knights. Move knights or raise towers using action points, but you’ll always wish you could do more than you’re allowed.

1999 – Tikal (2-4 players)
Explore the jungle and excavate Mayan pyramids using the limited action choices during your turn. Score points for controlling pyramids and discovering treasures on this luscious jungle-themed game board.
1998 – Elfenland (2-6 players)

A traveling-salesman style game where you must visit as many places as possible in as few moves as possible. Cards allow you to travel over different terrain. Has a fun theme and a very pretty board.

1997 – Mississippi Queen (3-5 players)
A lighter game, designed around steering steamboats down a stream. Picking up passengers or changing speed or direction are necessary but cost coal. Manage your coal wisely to come in first in this race.

1996 – El Grande (2-5 players)
A game of managing limited resources. Bid high for turn order to place more pieces on the board, but then you may end up without enough pieces available to place. Score by having the most pieces in a territory. Planning when to take your turn is as important as what you do during your turn.

1995 – The Settlers of Catan (3-4 players, up to 6 with an expansion)
Develop your settlements and gather resources or trade for them in order to upgrade to cities as you try to earn more victory points.   With a game board made of randomly placed hexagonal tiles, this game is different every time you play.

Niagara game in play

Dr. Matt’s Recommendations: You can’t go wrong with Settlers of Catan’s player interaction. Carcassonne is one of the few that also plays well with only 2 players. Tikal and Elfenland are wonderful to look at, with Elfenland and Villa Paletti both games accessible to a younger set. El Grande and Torres are both fun, but more abstract.  The newer games tend to be even more family-friendly than some of the older titles.  Niagara gets the nod for the prettiest game in the bunch.

Spiel des Jahres Best Children’s Game
2000 – Arbos (Ages 6+)
1999 – Kayanak (Ages 6+)
1998 – Chicken Cha Cha Cha (Ages 4+)
1997 – Leinen Los! (Cut the Painter) (Ages 6+)
1996 – Vier zu mir! (Ages 5+)
1995 – Karambolage (Ages 6+)
1994 – Looping Louie (Ages 5+)
1993 – Ringel Rangel (Turtle Tangle) (Ages: 4+)
1992 – Galloping Pigs (Ages: 6+)
This award category is not given out every year. Games in italics are may no longer be in print.

Deutscher SpielePreis
The other German game award, given out by a German game magazine in October during the huge game convention, Essen. This is often seen to be an award for “gamers’ games”, or games that appeal to people who play a lot of board games. They may be a bit more complex than the Spiel des Jahres winners which tends to lean towards more family games.

Deutscher SpielePreis
2006 – Caylus
2005 – Louis XIV
2004 – Saint Petersburg
2003 – Amun-Re
2002 – Puerto Rico
2001 – Carcassonne
2000 – Taj Mahal
1999 – Tikal
1998 – Tigris & Euphrates
1997 – Lowenherz
1996 – El Grande
1995 – The Settlers of Catan

Dr. Matt’s Recommendations: Note the overlap with the Spiel des Jahres winners, which should be a good signal. Puerto Rico is one I would highly recommend and is hugely popular in the board game community, but is hard to describe in a few words. Tigris & Euphrates is a tile laying game that is popular, but I find it makes my brain hurt trying to sort out the possibilities during my turn.  Caylus and Saint Petersburg are among my current favorites.  Anyone looking for a more involved game that lasts an hour or two can’t go wrong with any of these choices.
Games Magazine 100
Every December issue, Games Magazine lists the top 100 games of the year, placing them in various category winners. Each category has a winner, and an overall game of the year is also chosen. Far more games on this list will be recognizable to typical Americans. The Games 100 doesn’t exclude games from previous years, with only the true classics excluded and relegated to a Hall of Fame. One game is chosen to be listed as the Game of the Year. It often falls under the Family Strategy game style. Here are past winners, along with the winners in the Family Game category, which targets an audience a bit younger than the Family Strategy category.

Games Magazine Game of the Year
2008 – The Pillars of the Earth
2007 – Vegas Showdown
2006 – Australia
2005 – Buyword
2004 – New England (Ages 12+)
2003 – Dvonn (Ages 9+)
2002 – Evo (Ages 12+)
2001 – Aladdin’s Dragons (Ages 10+)
2000 – Torres (Ages 12+)
1999 – Fossil (Ages 10+)

Dr. Matt’s Recommendations: Evo is a fun competitive evolution game on an island, while Aladdin’s Dragons is another beautiful game with fun gameplay targeted at families. Torres is a bit on the abstract side for a family game, while Dvonn is a unique, distinctly abstract 2 player game.  Pillars of the Earth is a great slightly more advanced family game, and Vegas Showdown is a fun action bidding game that can frequently be found on the cheap on the internet or in your local mega-mart.

Games Magazine Best Family Game
2008 – If Wishes Were Fishes (Ages 10+)
2007 – Tricky Town (Ages 8+)
2006 – The Downfall of Pompeii (Ages 10+)
2005 – Vanished Planet (Ages 8+)
2004 – I’m the Boss! (Ages 12+)
2003 – Emerald (Ages 10+)
2002 – Africa (Ages 10+)
2001 – CafT International (Ages 10+)
2000 – Moonshot (Ages 10+)
1999 – Montgolfiere (Ages 7+)
1998 – Take it Easy (Ages 10+)

What about the Kids?
It is rare to find board games with edgy themes, and those are usually easily recognized. However, figuring out the age appropriateness of a game’s complexity can be another matter. The Deutscher SpielePreis is widely considered an award given out to games that appeal to dedicated fans of board games. Those games will tend to be more complex, best appreciated by high school or at least advanced middle school students. The Spiel des Jahres, however, is often given out to games that play well in a family setting. They might still be a little difficult for younger children, perhaps 8 or younger. The Games Magazine Game of the Year also tends to favor games in the 13 and over range. For younger children, check out some of the specific awards for that category. Games Magazine has Family Game and a Family Card game categories which are often playable by the younger set. The Spiel des Jahres has a special award, Kinderspiel, which is given out for the best children’s game. Unfortunately, the Kinderspiel winners are not translated into English as often as the Spiel des Jahres winners.

5 Responses to “Unplugged: The Awards Shows”

  1. Sorry, you lost me when you said there weren’t any “half-naked movie stars falling out of their clothes” 😀

    Also, you forgot that video games have the SpikeTV awards … oh, wait, on second thought …

    Seriously, though – what a grand and glorious list. Thanks for putting that all together. Of course one great thing is the timelessness of board games. The movers noticed one of my old games on my kids game shelf – Chopper Strike. This is from the mid-70’s and is a over-under strategy game that is pretty fun and that my kids play on a regular basis. It is nice that you can just grab these things and get going quick, even when they’re more than 30 years old!

  2. Well… you’ve just shown me a good way for me to do my own GD GOTY overview article. Thanks!

    For the record. Matt Carlson’s Unplugged work here at GamerDad has caused me to buy (despite the fact that my kids are too young, my extended family doesn’t like games much, so I rarely have a chance to play them):

    Apples to Apples
    Ticket to Ride
    and a WWI one that looks cool

    All the above are great games.

  3. The whole “timelessness” of boardgames is great, but makes it all the harder to do the annual “best of the year” round-ups that are so common in video gaming.

    Boardgames continue to improve and evolve, but usually in a far lesser amount than the graphics (and other) changes found in video games.

  4. Yes – and the only reason to ‘upgrade’ is if you lose enough parts … which is why my family bought me new copies of Risk and Stratego last year. My childhood copies didn’t have enouhg pieces left anymore …

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