Commentary of the Jury Co-ordinator on the children’s games of 2018

Play is demonstrably a basic human need. Children meet this need as often as they can. Rolling dice and musing over board games – that was popular even in ancient times. People rolled dice with astragals and played games on ‘boards’ they just etched into steps. The components were reduced to the basics but the joy in playing was great.

This natural impulse in children to play games is unchanged today. Equally unchanged is the desire that playing should be lots of fun. And this is also the goal of today’s game designers. To the delight of children they develop ever more detailed game components and ever more refined game mechanics. This year’s crop of games helps to convince us of this fact. Each jury member has requested over 160 children’s games from publishers and has played them countless times together with children and families – at home, in day care centres, in school.

Our conclusion: 2017/2018 offered a wide selection of games for the age range 5 – 7 year-olds especially. In terms of game mechanics, there is a majority of simple dexterity and memory games, while the classic race game and child-friendly card game seem to be missing this year. Thematically speaking, designers seem to have focussed on stories around classic fairy tales. Alongside that we have once again encountered many animals, including any number of dinosaurs and creatures from the world of phantoms and fantasy: cute ghosts, night-time shapeshifters and fearless superheroes.

However, the realisation of some of this year’s games was anything but heroic or fantastic. Already after very few play-throughs, the critical points became clear: Extraordinary concepts, whose different mechanics appeared to work very well together at first glance, turned out to be poorly balanced. So, for example, a game may underestimate children’s dexterity skills and yet make too many demands on their memory skills. Or children are unable to use the game’s materials, needing help to move their playing pieces over inexactly cut wooden blocks or to move a cardboard rail on the game board. Indeed, cardboard components were not created out of stable enough material to last several plays, so that for instance trees, mountains or volcanoes were already damaged or frayed after a couple of games.

What most annoyed us this year, however, was rulebooks which were full of mistakes, and which lacked any careful editorial revision. Especially with international publishers, sometimes misleading and incomplete translations led to helplessness and a shrugging of shoulders around the gaming table. Only adults experienced in playing games were able to play correctly purely by intuition. That’s why certain extraordinary and stunning game concepts, and ones children really enjoyed, haven’t made it onto our recommendation lists. That’s an incredible shame, sometimes these shortcomings were evident even after the first play. We‘re wondering where this comes from. Are the publishers or the German distributors really under such high pressure that new releases have to be rushed out onto the market in such haste?

Other generally strong new releases didn’t make it onto our current list, as their nationwide availability in stores is only marginal or not at all guaranteed. That is also a real shame. 

For these reasons we have not recommended the maximum number of 10 children’s games this year, instead suggesting eight very different games for children aged between five and seven. We hope they will bring lasting joy to a great many children. These include the three candidates for the “Kinderspiel des Jahres 2018” award, which we found to be particularly strong, with an unusual game concept, a comprehensible rulebook, stable, child-friendly components and above they are a great deal of fun for children and older players.

With Emojito!, the Günzburg-based publisher Huch! & friends have once more made it to the final round. The designer Urtis Šulinskas, together with the illustrator Tony Tzanoukakis, have succeeded in packing a lot of emotion into this witty, child-friendly and varied party game for children aged 7 and up.

Dragon’s Breath is a family production by Lena and Günter Burkhardt. Here, daughter Lena and her extremely successful game designer dad have created a wonderfully atmospheric dragon family story, which the experienced (children’s) game publisher Haba has turned into an exemplary collecting game for children aged 5 and up. 

With Panic Mansion the French publisher Blue Orange has made it onto the podium for the first time. With their incredibly simple shaking mechanic and the game’s multiple variants, the designers Asger Sams Granerud and Daniel Skjold Pedersen have created a dexterity game that will be a challenge for children aged 6 and up as well as for adults.

We warmly congratulate all designers, artists and publishers on their fantastic games ideas.

 

It is still undecided which of our three games will receive the “Kinderspiel des Jahres 2018” award. That will be decided in a secret ballot shortly before the award ceremony on 11 June 2018 in Hamburg.

Until then we – and maybe you too – will happily be playing all three candidates again with children.

Sabine Koppelberg
Coordinator of the “Kinderspiel des Jahres” jury