Camel Up? Really? OK, I kind of called it. I had the fortune of being able to play all of the nominated games prior to the release of the information while at the Gathering of Friends earlier this year. Most people there really liked Splendor and were giving it the nod, but there was something about it that just fell flat with me. Camel Up, on the other hand, is mechanically a less stringent game but it creates stories and fun and has people engaged with each other during the game itself; definitely more so that Splendor.
The SdJ award is not to find the best game in the world, contrary to popular belief. The mandate of the Jury is to promote boardgames in culture much like books and movies are. They hope to award the coveted prize to games that can help accomplish that goal.
So…what makes a good SdJ candidate?
I had the pleasure of meeting up with Tom Felber of the Speil de Jahres jury at Snakes and Lattes this week.
He gave an excellent talk and held a Q&A session afterwards, discussing what makes a game worthy of the prestigious award. For those of you who weren’t there, here’s the highlights:
The SdJ jury is comprised of just 10 journalists with absolutely no direct fiscal ties to the gaming industry. They are people who write about games as their job. They play and vote and play and vote and play and vote etc. until the lists for the Kid’s, Strategy, and Overall nominees are compiled. Each jury member plays in the area of 400 unique games a year, some multiple times.
Tom noted that even though Germans play tons of games as a country, the average German is not educated on what makes a good game, and so the SdJ has become a “seal of approval”. This has lead to huge sales for the winners. The lowest print run of a SdJ game that used the award seal was estimated at 200,000 units. Hanabi, for example, had a print run of 700,000. just for Germany. This is why the SdJ is announced in the summer; to allow lead time for the companies of winning games to manufacture and ship out the necessary volume in time for Christmas, as games are a traditional Yuletide gift.
However, the misconception of the SdJ is that the award is for the best game of the year. It is really for the most accessible game; the game that will be a great ambassador to the world at large for the hobby of boardgaming. Tom stated that it is unfortunate that the game buying public spends
99% a large percent of their money on the winners of the SdJ, leaving other good games to languish sales-wise. So that’s why the Jury publishes the runner up and recommended list. They also want to limit the awards to only the 3 current categories to keep it simple and understandable to the general public.
The winners of each category have the right to use the SdJ seal to advertise their accomplishment for a small licensing fee based on unit sales (2-3%). This money goes towards financing the awards themselves, participation in fairs like Essen, publications like brochures/websites/etc., and other expenses. The SdJ program also funds a ton of great gaming-related activities like bringing games to soldiers on peace-keeping missions, etc. to further their mandate.
Tom went on to answer some questions on the topic of what makes a game a solid candidate for a SdJ:
- it can be played again and again
- it is well balanced
- it elicits positive emotions
- it has a solid rulebook that is available in German
- the game has high production standards for the graphics and components
- there is no to low violence in the game, so there are no wargames and the rules should be carefully worded around touchy subjects – anything overtly violent or war-like is not going to receive Jury approval, no matter how good a game it is otherwise.
The biggest take home point for me was something that I regularly espouse – rules are an essential part of any game system. Without them, you just have bits on a board. The Germans as a people have a technically precise culture and thus hold rulebooks to a very high standards. Tom stated that the number one reason for a game being excluded is poor rules. He pointed to Queen Games and Hans im Gluek as being companies that traditionally have well-written rules. For the SdJ, the Jury will not consider any supplemental aids (videos, web-based FAQs, etc.). If they can’t play the game solely with what comes in the box, it is immediately excluded.
Tom noted the collegial nature of the German publishing houses – the editors meet yearly to discuss how to write better rulebook. Tom stated that good rules are clear and simple, use plenty of pictures and give good examples. He added that good rules need to be readable and a bit of humour can help with that.
Hope some of our readers find this article helpful – maybe you’ll design the next SdJ! We’re certainly trying our best!