Industry Focus: Spiel des Jahres & the BGG Community - Part 1


Though some table top gaming enthusiasts believe that the Spiel des Jahres annual awards are not relevant for them, there is no doubt that these awards are important drivers in table top games in general. There is enough urban legend and pontificating about the awards that don’t report the facts that a deep dive into the statistics related to the awards is perfect for an article in the Analysis Paralysis series. Through this analysis, we will have a better idea of what makes a Spiel des Jahres game, the common aspects of the games that have been named in the awards – as winners, nominees, or recommendations – and how the awards have changed over the years. In particular, we will viewing this information through the lens of the BGG community (as expressed in the game and user data available on the BGG website). Eventually, we will also be able to compare data for the 2017 nominees before and after the awards to gauge the impact.

Round 1: What is the Spiel des Jahres

From the Spiel des Jahres website FAQ: “’Spiel des Jahres’ is an award for analogue tabletop games in German-speaking countries, which was first’ awarded in 1979. German-language games released in the current and previous year can be considered for the award.” The Spiel des Jahres is awarded annually by a jury of independent “games critics”; journalists and analysts that report on the German language table top game market. A complete description and the awards can be found on the official Spiel des Jahres website. The website is natively in German, but an English version is available for most pages. Currently, the award is actually three awards differentiated by their expected audience, but that has not always been the case and will be the subject of future articles. The awards are:

  • Spiel des Jahres (SDJ) – The original award commonly referred to as the “family and friends” board game of the year. (First awarded in 1979.)
  • Kennerspiel des Jahres (KSDJ) – Focuses on games for more advanced gamers or “connoisseurs”. These games are often popular games on BGG and are included in this analysis. (First awarded in 2011.)
  • Kinderspiel des Jahres – Focuses on games specifically for children. These games often do not make it to the North American market and are typically not of great interest to the BGG community, so I have not included them in this analysis. (First awarded in 2001.)

We will also look at the games mentioned in the awards that were not winners – what we will call the Award Level. These are generally:

  • Finalist – the games nominated for the award, but did not win.
  • Recommended – other games considered that did not make the nominations, but are recommended by the jury.
  • Special – other games that received special recognition in addition to the recommended games. Usually a game that was considered to meet the quality criteria for the awards, but is outside the specific audience.

Round 2: A Very Brief History of the Award(s)

The first Spiel des Jahres was awarded to Hare & Tortoise in 1979 which, as we will see, seems very appropriate given how well this game represents the collection of games that have won the SDJ over the years. Since then, the award has been consistently awarded annually, but the number and type of awards and nominated games have changed over time. The number of nominees for any of the awards has typically been three games, but that is not a hard rule.

Although the award had a relatively specific target audience, the range of qualifying games spanned a greater audience than a single award could represent so in 2001 the Kinderspiel des Jahres was introduced to acknowledge children’s games and in 2011 the Kennerspiel des Jahres was introduced to give similar recognition to more advanced games.  Along the way there were 1 to 3 special awards given in 21 of the 31 years between 1980 and 2010.

Round 3: The Statistical Data to be Analyzed

The data presented in this series of articles is completely derived from and available on the Spiel des Jahres website and I have not listed the game pages individually, but all credit for the acquisition of the data goes to the BGG team and user community. I have consolidated the data and analyzed the results. There are 232 games mentioned in the awards. The specific data used from BGG includes:

  • BGG Rank
  • BGG Category Rank
  • BGG Rating
  • Average BGG User Rating
  • BGG User Game Weight
  • Published Game Play Time
  • Published and BGG Community Age Range
  • Published and BGG Community Player Count
  • BGG Game Type Categories
  • BGG Mechanics Categories

Round 4: Challenges within the Statistical Data

As always, there are some challenges in analyzing the BGG data. In this case the greatest challenge is the time it takes to collect, evaluate, and report the data compared to the mobility of the data. So I can’t say that this data represents a point in time. It more accurately represents several points in time. The impact to the data and analysis should be negligible since we are looking at averages and trends over several years. In particular, however, the data for the 2017 nominees (and to a much lesser degree the 2016 nominees) is changing rapidly as these games are being discovered and reviewed for the first time by a much larger audience than before the announcement of the nominees. However, the change in the data is instructive as well. For the 2017 nominees we may be able to gauge the impact of the awards.

There is also a slight limitation in that some of the mentioned games are not listed on BGG. This is a small number, though, only 3, so does not have a large impact on the data. Another 6 games do not have a BGG Rating or Rank (they have too few User Ratings), so the data is limited on these. Several others also have a small number of user responses to the community statistics (Player Count, Weight, etc.), so do not have a statistically good numbers for those aspects. However, I used all of the data available.

End Game

Over the next several articles we will look at BGG statistics regarding Spiel des Jahres mentioned games from its first year (1979) through the current year (2017). If you have any interest in the awards, you should find this information interesting. Even if you think that the awards are too focused on children and family games, you may be surprised by the data. This analysis will include many graphs for you to make your own judgements. If the analysis sounds interesting, subscribe to the series or watch for future articles to stay informed.

Additional parts to this article are available here:

Your Turn

Do you pay attention to the Spiel des Jahres awards? Do you find that the Kenner Spiel des Jahres award is more relevant to your gaming preferences? Before getting into the data, think about what you believe about the awards and check how that changes when you see all the data.

Flavor Text

I have staged a significant amount of data and analysis for these articles, but am waiting on the 2017 award winners to be announced to publish it. With the awards for SDJ (Kingdomino) and KSDJ (EXIT: The Board Game) yesterday (July 17), the series will be published over the next several weeks. (Note: after having immersed myself in these awards for the last few weeks, my unpublished predictions were correct – you’ll have to take my word on that). I will update this article with an index of the other articles so you can jump to the ones that most interest you.

Based on the dialog about the awards on gaming podcasts and forums, I was originally interested in the game weight and the rank/rating, but expanded my discovery to the other statistics.