The Impact of Spiel and Kennerspiel des Jahres on the Board Game Industry

One of the hottest topics in the upcoming months will be the Spiel des Jahres 2020. If you're not familiar with this, here's an excellent article by user Isaiah Kim that will quickly get you up to date.

Widely regarded as the most prestigious award in the board game industry, this annual German award actually encompasses three separate categories:

  1. Spiel des Jahres: "Family-style" Game of the Year
  2. Kennerspiel des Jahres: Connoisseur-Enthusiast Game of the Year
  3. Kinderspiel des Jahres: Children's Game of the Year

The nominees for each of these categories are typically announced in May. And soon enough, you'll notice discussion threads popping up all over the various online board game communities, covering topics such as speculations of the nominees, predictions on which games will win it all, and possibly some complaints voiced here and there.

But in the end, the significance of this award is not just in the prestige. It's one of the major drivers in a game's number of sales, and a nomination alone can boost sales from a typical 500-3000 copies to 10,000 copies. A winner can even expect additional sales in the 100,000's.

With this in mind, here's a look at the Spiel's impact on the amount of exposure to its associated games. My method is identical to the one I used in my article A Look at the History of Shut Up & Sit Down's Impact on Board Game Trends, where I compared the number of views on a game page a week before vs. a week after SU&SD's review, and presented the % increase in traffic after looking into their 100+ reviews. (Note: I will only cover the winners starting from year 2014, as our database can't go as far back. I'm also leaving out Kinderspiel des Jahres, as I found it more difficult to see a significant impact on traffic to the game pages).

2014

SDJ Winner - Camel Up (+640%)

Chaotic camel racing game where the players aren't the camels, but are the bidders in the race. On top of the camels' bizarre tendency to carry each other on their backs when they land on the same space, each player has a stake in the race and will do their best to intervene with the outcome. In the words of user nealkfrank, the ending of this game is like "Mario Kart of the board gaming world" in its unpredictability till its last moment. And the 2nd edition from Eggertspiele only adds onto this chaos by introducing "crazy camels" that run backward.

Rank: (2nd edition) #93 Family on BGG

KDJ Winner - Istanbul (+82%)

In Istanbul, players are merchants weaving around the alleys of the bazaar collecting rubies by delivering as many goods with their assistants. It will test your ability to efficiently manage your assistants to do your bidding while you go off to take care of bigger items. Of the games listed in this article, it has the highest complexity rating on BGG (2.59).

If you've never tried, you can find the digital adaptation on numerous platforms including iOS, Android, Steam, and even the Nintendo Switch.

Rank: #90 Strategy and #105 Overall on BGG

2015

SDJ Winner - Colt Express (+1020%)

In Colt Express, players are bandits competing to become the richest outlaw in the Old West. All players are on a 3-D train and start out the Schemin' phase by "programming" a number of actions they will take for the round. Once the Stealin' phase commences, you can sit back and watch how everyone's best laid plans are soon foiled as the silly antics take place.

Rank: #81 Family on BGG

KDJ Winner - Broom Service (+300%)

As witches, players manage a handful of cards to gather potions and deliver them throughout the magical realm.

Rank: #91 Family, #290 Strategy, #459 Overall

2016

SDJ Winner - Codenames (+29%)

This is a competitive word game where two opposing teams compete to get in contact with all of their secret agents first by discovering their codenames. Each team has an assigned Spymaster who possesses a key card that reveals the location of all of the team's agents, and he/she must give a one word clue to help the team discover their agents. Take a risk by offering a clue that will point to as many of the secret agents, but you may unintentionally alert the assassin instead.

Undoubtedly the most commercially successful game in this list, the simplicity of Codenames' formula has produced 10 different sequels and variations over the years, featuring themes such as Harry Potter, Disney, Marvel, and others.

Rank: #2 Party and #75 Overall on BGG

KDJ Winner - Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King (+196%)

As chieftains of famous clans, players compete to build the best kingdom by laying tiles of different terrains.

Rank: #23 Family, #138 Strategy, and #177 Overall on BGG

2017

SDJ Winner - Kingdomino (+180%)

In Kingdomino, players compete as lords trying to acquire the best plot of land/terrain to expand their kingdom. Each additional land is represented by domino-like tiles with two sections, which can be added onto the kingdom by laying the tile so that at least one of the sections is adjacent to an existing, matching terrain. Players can't expand past a size of a 5x5 grid. Quick, simple, but satisfying puzzle game for the family with expansions and variants to increase difficulty and complexity.

Rank: #33 Family and #211 Overall

KDJ Winner - Exit: The Game (+167%)

Escape room experience in a box. Players work cooperatively to solve numerous puzzles by gathering different clues and objects. The award was given to three different Exit games at the time.

Rank: #19 Family, #42 Thematic, #195 Overall on BGG

2018

SDJ Winner - Azul (+168%)

In Azul, players are tile-laying artists who draft various colored tiles from a shared supply to decorate their walls. Grab as many tiles as possible to make the best patterns and combos, but take too much and you will pay a heavy price for any wasted tiles.

Like many other Spiel des Jahres winners, Azul is a family classic with great staying power. It may not be for everyone though, because it does invite some potential for mean plays. And lastly, the starburst-like tiles provide some of the best tactile experiences you'll find in board games.

Rank: #1 Abstract, #2 Family, and #42 Overall on BGG

KDJ Winner - The Quacks of Quedlinburg (+2391%)

In Quacks, each player takes on the role of a charlatan trying to make money by selling off your other worldly potions. Players will simultaneously draw one ingredient from their bag and throw it into the their own pot, and the more ingredients you manage to fit into your cauldron, the higher its value. Be careful though, because if you draw one too many cherry bombs, your pot will explode and set you back for the round. Will you take the risk and keep brewing your mixture to experience the thrill of drawing those perfect ingredients? or bust and have less money to spend on quality ingredients to help your next batch?

This game introduced me to the bag-building mechanic and I immediately fell in love. It's a nice balance that satisfies the thrill seekers and those who love engine-building. This one was almost completely off the map on our 2018 google analytics until the Spiel announcement.

Rank: #7 Family and #83 Overall on BGG

2019

SDJ Winner - Just One (+259%)

Just One is a cooperative word game where you and your team will take turns to help each other guess 13 different words. The catch is that the guesser will only have unique clues to go by, so before the big reveal of the clues, the teammates have to throw out all identical ones. So if the word is "Alcatraz" and the clues were "SF," "island," "prison," and "SF," you will have to guess the word based on the remaining clues "island" and "prison". That's on the tame side though—would you be able to guess "Mario" based on "red" after the clue "plumber" is thrown out?

I love the simplicity of Just One, and like many other word games, it immediately gets everyone trying to read each others' minds and anticipate their every move. And with only 13 word cards for the round, your group will likely want to go for another round right away to challenge your high score.

It's a great sign for success if it continues to sell out every time it comes back on the shelf at Target.

Rank: #3 Party and #182 Overall on BGG

KDJ Winner - Wingspan (+43%)

Wingspan was the talk of 2019. Contrary to its charming and harmless theme, it was a subject of extreme controversy but also adoration, and perhaps the most influential board game of 2019 in its ability to draw in an entirely new group of people into the hobby. It was featured across numerous non-board game media and sparked the interest of those in the sectors of science, nature studies, bird enthusiasts, and more.

It's a brilliant package that gets the details just right. It may not be the best game, or the most innovative, but Wingspan is proof that attention to the small details go a long way. Plus, it comes with a great story of Elizabeth Hargrave and her advocacy for more female presence in the industry, as well as the friendship of the two international artists who have known each other since school years.

Rank: #1 Family, #22 Strategy, and #20 Overall on BGG




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4 months ago

I'm really enjoying these analytical articles, Phil! Keep up the great work.

Supporter4 months ago

Thanks for the read Jamey! Very appreciated. Now, I mentioned in the beginning of the article about the impact of Spiel on sales. It's a number I pulled up through research, but as a publisher (and especially since Wingspan won the last award), would you say the numbers are realistic projections for the increase in sales?

Also, any idea which games are highly likely to be nominated for the Spiel/Kennerspiel 2020?

4 months ago

It's hard to say how it's impacted our US sales, as Wingspan was getting so much publicity regardless of the award (and I saw very little publicity in the US in regards to the award). However, I think it probably provided a nice boost to German sales.

As for 2020, I have no idea. I play a lot of games, but I don't pay much attention to awards or exactly when games are released to the German market. :)

5 months ago

Thanks for the article!  I definitely pay attention to past and present award winners.  I haven't played Just One, but from reading about it, it sounds like a dud.

Supporter4 months ago

Glad you enjoyed it, are there word games that you've liked in the past?

4 months ago

We enjoy Codenames and used to play Taboo, Banangrams, and Scattercories years ago with family. Letter Jam also looks like a fun word game 

5 months ago

Very interesting. I wonder if how popular a game is before winning has an inverse relationship with boost in sales. For instance, Codenames was huge before winning so you didn't see such a large impact.

4 months ago

It might also be interesting to know how a games popularity before the awards effects the likelihood of it winning, clearly some of these games were very well known and others much less so.

Supporter5 months ago

I had similar thoughts, especially while looking at Quacks. I didn't realize it was almost completely off the grid before the announcement. I'm not sure if there's a story behind this that I'm not aware of, but I was surprised that a great game like Quacks went completely under the radar for most people.

In terms of boost in sales though, I'm not sure about the timing. Was Codenames already widely distributed throughout major retail chains like Target prior to winning the Spiel? or after?

4 months ago

Thanks for another great article. I appreciate your research! 

Supporter4 months ago

Thank you! Now I have to decide what other data driven article I should write up.

Linked Games
Wingspan
Kingdomino
Codenames
The Quacks of Quedlinburg
Just One
Istanbul
Broom Service
Exit: The Abandoned Cabin
Colt Express
Azul
Exit: The Pharaoh's Tomb
Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
Camel Up
Exit: The Secret Lab
Linked Topic