Five Years of the “Kennerspiel des Jahres” award

Thursday, 22. October 2015

The past and present situation

“Yeeeeeees!” – Alexander Pfister lifts his arms in triumph. His game BROOM SERVICE has just won the “Kennerspiel des Jahres” award. Pfister’s co-designer Andreas Pelikan has also jumped to his feet and has started to applaud. Together with the product manager of Ravensburger, Thomas Zumbühl, they form a three-man victory parade in front of the stage.

If you had seen the winners’ outburst of emotions at the award ceremony in Berlin in July 2015, you’d understand: The relatively recent award really is hotly contested; to win the accolade of “Kennerspiel des Jahres” feels almost like a blessing.

2015: Andreas Pelikan, Alexander Pfister and Thomas Zumbühl celebrate their victory.

Pfister and Pelikan’s BROOM SERVICE was the fifth winner of the “Kennerspiel des Jahres” award. The first winner was 7 WONDERS in 2011, followed by VILLAGE, THE LEGENDS OF ANDOR and ISTANBUL.

But what’s the story behind this third award, given by the critics’ jury alongside the “Spiel des Jahres” and “Kinderspiel des Jahres”?

Let’s go back in time to 1978, when eight board game critics founded the “Spiel des Jahres” association. By awarding an annual prize for the “game of the year”, they wanted to show that there was more out there than just DRAUGHTS, CHESS, NINE MEN’S MORRIS and CHINESE CHECKERS. They wanted to show that new games were being released every year. And that these new games often had some excellent qualities which deserved wider public attention.

The accolade “Spiel des Jahres” was intended to create a greater awareness of these exceptional games. This worked perfectly – not least because the first winner, HARE AND TORTOISE, proved to be the perfect ambassador for this new award. Today, the situation is a little different. In the ’80s and ’90s, board games enjoyed an enormous surge in popularity and board gaming was established as a leisure activity. The majority of people are now aware that new games are released each year.

And how! These days there are not just two or three dozen annual releases – but over a hundred! Over the years, the market has expanded to offer everything from the simplest game for small children to a strategic heavyweight lasting several hours: every target group has a huge selection to choose from.

2011: 7 WONDERS was the first winner.

The accolade “Spiel des Jahres” hasn’t lost its importance throughout this development; in fact the exact opposite is true. With so much choice it’s increasingly difficult to make an informed decision; that’s where the “Spiel des Jahres” brand offers guidance and dependability. When you buy a “Spiel des Jahres” winner, you should be able to trust that you’ve got your hands on an exceptionally good game.

“Exceptionally good” can be applied to many types of game: card games, dice games, tile-laying games, party games, tactical games and so on. There’s only one type of game you won’t find winning the “Spiel des Jahres”: highly complex games designed for a handful of experts. The aim of “Spiel des Jahres” is to promote games as a cultural asset within the family and society. And that can be best achieved through exceptional games for everyone.

2012: The “Kennerspiel des Jahres” winner was VILLAGE by Inka and Markus Brand.

So the introduction of a third award category “Kennerspiel des Jahres”, in addition to the existing “Spiel des Jahres” and the award for children’s games “Kinderspiel des Jahres”, needs explaining. Because now alongside the “Spiel des Jahres”, there’s an award which by definition isn’t aimed at everyone, but rather at experienced gamers. How come?

If you look at the list of “Spiel des Jahres” nominees in the years before the introduction of the “Kennerspiel des Jahres”, you’ll see the need for a huge balancing act. The award needed to encompass an enormous range of different games, stretching in 2008 from SULEIKA to STONE AGE, in 2009 from FITS to DOMINION, in 2010 from DIXIT to FRESKO. Or, to put it briefly, from very simple to very demanding.

2013: THE LEGENDS OF ANDOR by Michael Menzel.

In the same way that the selection of games had expanded, target groups expanded too. Alongside the regular “Spiel des Jahres” clientele of less experienced players, there now exists an increasingly large group of players who have grown up with “Spiel des Jahres” and who have moved on from the original award-winners to more intense hobby gaming, but who would still like to build on the guidance and dependability of the “Spiel des Jahres” brand.

It’s hard for the “Spiel des Jahres” award to serve the needs of both of these groups. And from this need to offer guidance to the more experienced players the “Kennerspiel des Jahres” was born. This award too is intended to promote the game as a cultural asset within the family and society – in that it allows a deeper engagement with the hobby.

Secondly, the award should promote innovation and offer an incentive to publish exceptional games in this often not especially lucrative sector. Last but not least, the “Kennerspiel des Jahres” should preserve the “Spiel des Jahres” as what it is: an exceptional game for everyone.

2014: Rüdiger Dorn won with ISTANBUL.

Based on this conception, it was clear that the “Kennerspiel des Jahres” wouldn’t reach the same breadth of audience as the “Spiel des Jahres” award. Nevertheless, the new award was an immediate success and established itself quickly in the market and in public perception. We members of the jury see this great success as confirmation that our assumptions were correct: 1. The target group we envisaged really does exist. 2. It consists of a large number of people. 3. These people still rely on the recommendations of “Spiel des Jahres.” 4. They trust our brand.

The “Kennerspiel des Jahres” isn’t and doesn’t want to be an award for experts. An award intended to offer guidance is superfluous to those who already know their way around the market. There is no need to recommend anything to experts because they’re – well, experts.

That’s why the concept of the “Kennerspiel” was chosen. Up until five years ago, such a concept didn’t exist, but it appeared more and more in the language of the business and came to classify games which were “not for beginners” and “not for experts” but rather something in between. So a “Kennerspiel”, a game for more experienced players.

The previous winners have also shown that “Kennerspiel” shouldn’t be equated with a complex game, a numbers game, a brain game. The 2013 winner, THE LEGENDS OF ANDOR does present the players with complex challenges but thanks to its exemplary rulebook for first-time players, it manages to engage even less advanced gamers. And although you’ll need to use your brain in the 2015 “Kennerspiel des Jahres” BROOM SERVICE, it’s not the be all and end all. Players also need courage, intuition and luck.


Finally, there’s the question of whether other award categories are going to be created in the near future. From the past we’ve learned to never say never but at the moment there are no changes planned.

The most important aim of the “Spiel des Jahres” is still to offer guidance to players. Each new award runs the risk of creating confusion and devaluing the existing awards. Each new award must be necessary and justified and differentiate itself clearly from the existing categories. With the trio “Kinderspiel des Jahres”, “Spiel des Jahres”, and “Kennerspiel des Jahres” we’re covering three distinct categories and focusing on the three largest target groups. This structure has stood the test of time and at the moment there’s no need to change it.