I attended a panel at BGG from the chair of the Spiel de Jarhes jury. It was fascinating. After sharing my notes with some other game designers I was encouraged to share my notes here.
Spiel des Jahres Panel BGG Con 2014
Speaker: Tom Felber, jury forman of Spiel des Jahres jury.
Tom is a journalist writing for the major Swiss newspaper. Every other week he writes a 1/2 page game column in the newspaper.
The Jury forman serves a 2 year term.
Jury is 1 Swiss (Tom), 1 Austrian, 11 Germans
Tom made it clear that the Spiel des Jahres is NOT for the board game geek. Not for the hobbyist or hard core player. Spiel des Jahres is for the general public. Games that EVERYONE can play.
In the 1980s as Spiel des Jahres was growing, there were 30-40 games published per year in Germany. Now they look at 300-400 games per year.
A game must be published in German in Germany to qualify. That is because the Jury speaks German. It is for the ease of the Jury. All games published in German are automatically eligible.
Every Jury member can not play test games or have any industry involvement or affiliation. No connection to game companies. Must be fully independent. The jury is almost all journalists. Maybe some librarians or teachers. You can’t work at a game store, or even a store that happens to carry some games.
The jury discusses via a private forum online.
Games have a 2 year window to qualify. NOT 1 year. So if your game was published in Germany in 2014, it could still be nominated win in 2015. That is because some games may get overlooked or are late.
Tom prefers to only play games with exactly 4 players or 8 players. He keeps a list of 400 people he schedule game nights with. He values diverse players and wants to run potential nominees through a lot of different players. He plays each game 3 times to form an opinion. If he likes it, he will play 10 times. If a game is recommended for the Spiel list, he will play it 20+ times.
Each jury member recommends 20 games, then narrows to 15 games around April.
When the jury meets after April 50-60 games are left.
A game can make the recommended list with only a few plays if it fits a type/need.
Any jury member can veto a game off the list unless they are convinced otherwise.
3x games in each category nominated for the prize. These form the jury's recommended list.
June kids game winner is announced.
July other two prizes are announced (main award and advanced award).
They take the final vote the day before the announcement to prevent leaks.
60-70% of game sales in Germany are for Christmas. Thus the award is in July to give time for a print run to be ready for Christmas. Lots of shops carry the winner for the Christmas gifts market and this drives prices down. Expect the price of the winner to face lots of downward pressure.
The Jury likes games that play 2-5 players.
There are no length or complexity requirements to be nominated.
Tom plays each nominee (game) 50 times between April and July with different people. The winner is subjective, its based on emotion. What games are memorable. What games produce big emotional moments. Memorable plays. If you game is a flat numbers based euro with little emotion, it will not go far with the jury.
Camel Up changes character with different players and experiences. The emotions are strong, hence why it won.
The rules must be very clear. Great games with poor rules are thrown out. The rules must be clear andy easy for the general public.
They make money from the Spiel des Jahres logo. There is license fee to put the logo on the box for your game. Not for profit organization. Jury members are not paid. Money goes to award ceremony, jury hotel room, taxes and prize awards/scholarships for young game designers.
They get games as review copes as journalists.
Hanabi was a controversial winner because it was just a card game.
Tom has played 10k games during his life.
Winning the award will probably sell 200k to 500k additional copies of that game.