Commentary of the Jury Chair Tom Felber on the games of 2018

We’ve done it again, namely we’ve played hundreds of games over the course of a year and finally put together a list of especially interesting, entertaining, fun, original and innovative titles, in which everyone who plays games will be able to find a game that will bring joy to them, their family or their social circle – guaranteed. It was a strong year: 23 titles have finally made it onto our list, it could easily have been a few more. We are aware that other great new games are missing but we had to limit ourselves. 

Unfortunately, we are increasingly under the impression that ever more very good games are being hastily put together at the last minute in order to meet release deadlines, without sufficient attention being paid to the comprehensibility and completeness of their rulebooks. We have never had to rule out so many in and of themselves very good games as this year, simply because their rulebooks did not meet the quality we expect. We jury members no longer wish to see ourselves in the role of beta-testers for rulebooks, which are only made adequate on the second printing run. Several times we have amended the age and playing duration recommended by the publishers on our recommendation lists because they just didn’t match our own experiences.

 

Our lists of recommended and nominated games are – as usual – separated into three categories: Blue is for children’s games, which are decided by a separate jury. The co-ordinator of this jury, Sabine Koppelberg, has written her own commentary on this list. Red marks games for everyone, especially people who have little experience with games. Even this group will have little difficulty getting to grips with these games. The charcoal-grey category is for those players who have a little more experience in learning and applying tactical thinking to rules systems.

The most remarkable thing about this list is: for the first time since 2010, the “Spiel des Jahres” jury is awarding a special award. This goes to the game “Pandemic Legacy – Season 2” by Matt Leacock and Rob Daviau. Three times have its precursor games, which are based on the same basic system, found their way onto our nomination lists, without ever winning the main award: 2009 “Pandemic”, 2011 “Forbidden Island” and 2016 “Pandemic Legacy Season 1”. In “Pandemic Legacy – Season 2” the already brilliant game concept has been developed to a higher level. The designers have invested themselves in creating not only a functioning game system but also an interesting back story. The legacy concept changes the game board – not to mention the game components and rules – in exciting and sometimes surprising ways. This game is the yardstick by which all future legacy games must measure themselves.The jury would like to honour this extraordinary achievement by this designer duo with this special award. 

This year’s ten-person jury for the “Spiel des Jahres” and “Kennerspiel des Jahres” awards recommends 14 further games: within these games it is often the case that familiar elements are changed in surprising ways or even elegantly simplified, creating something new and unique. Once more, the list covers a wide variety of themes, genres, systems and formats. “Santorini” we recommend as a purely two-player game. With “Facecards” we’ve managed to get a small, relaxed party game onto the list. “Woodlands” appeals to a logical sense of spatial awareness. “Memoarrr!” requires a good memory, “5-Minute-Dungeon” is co-operative teamwork under time pressure and “Majesty” is a classic improvement game. In the more challenging arena there is a deck-building game in the fantasy genre (“Clank!”) and a strategic Western adventure (“Pioneers”).

For each of the categories “Spiel des Jahres” and “Kennerspiel des Jahres” we have once again nominated three titles for the main prize. What links the games in the red category is that they appear to be very simple but only reveal their true depth after several plays. “Azul” is a calm, abstract tile-laying game with beautiful components.”Luxor” is a tactical race to collect treasure in ancient Egypt and “The Mind” is a pared-down co-operative small-box card game with an ingenious twist. In the “Kennerspiel” category, the award winner will be either the challenging dice game “Ganz schön clever”, the tactical beer-brewing game “Heaven & Ale” or the emotion-filled, push-your-luck symphony of “Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg”.

The lists were constructed based on the quality of the games and the experience of playing them – not on publishers or designers. Ultimately, it’s impossible to overlook that within the six nominated games, two designers are particularly prevalent. The Austrian newcomer Wolfgang Warsch is represented by three completely different titles (“The Mind”, “Ganz schön clever!” and “Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg”). The old master Michael Kiesling, who in the past won the “Spiel des Jahres” award twice together with Wolfgang Kramer for “Tikal” and “Torres”, has been nominated twice. Once as sole designer for “Azul” and once as co-designer with Andreas Schmidt for “Heaven & Ale”. These are joined by Rüdiger Dorn, who won the “Kennerspiel des Jahres” award in 2014 for “Istanbul”.

On a technical note, we considered games released onto the German-speaking market within the last two calendar years. Crucially, for international producers this isn’t the first short run available in Germany but rather the point of a German-language edition from a secured publisher. A game may still be considered if it becomes out of print in the meantime due to great demand, as long as a new print run has been announced or is in production.

Which titles will win the “Spiel des Jahres” and “Kennerspiel des Jahres” awards will be decided in two months’ time, on Monday 23 July 2018 at the awards ceremony in Berlin. The event will once again be broadcast via Live-Stream. You can easily reduced the waiting time until then by playing games.

 

Tom Felber
Chair of Spiel des Jahres