It’s our favourite time of the year again: time for Spiel des Jahres nominations! On Monday, May 17th, the jury will once again announce their longlist (aka recommendations) and shortlist (aka nominations) for Spiel des Jahres, Kennerspiel des Jahres and Kinderspiel des Jahres 2021. Just like last year, I’ll try to produce a list of the most promising games to land on the longlist for Spiel and Kennerspiel. (I’ll promise to get around to Kinderspiel predictions in a couple of years.)
Unlike last year, I won’t use hard filters though to distinguish between red and anthracite games, but will rely on the Kennerspiel score I developed a couple of months back. This model tries to predict if a game is a Kennerspiel or not based on some key features, like complexity, play time, age recommendations and game type. The jury’s decision this year what list a game belongs to will be the first actual test for that model too, so let’s hope it actually made sense! 🤞
Even more so than the previous year, I’ll take an algorithmic approach. That is, I do not follow my own taste or gut feelings, but I let the numbers talk. First, I took all eligible games1 and separated them into two lists: one for Spiel des Jahres and one for Kennerspiel des Jahres, depending on their Kennerspiel score. Then I ranked those games in a couple of different ways, and finally combined those into the final result:
- Sorted by the Recommend.Games recommendation algorithm (90%). This has proven to be a powerful and reliable method to capture the jury’s taste, but it’s slow to recommend new games with few ratings.
- Spiel des Jahres probability (5%). Similar to the model that calculates the Kennerspiel score, I’ve trained a model that tries to predict a game’s chances to end up on the jury’s longlist. This is particularly designed to unearth candidates with few votes, but it’s still rudimentary at this point.
- Average BoardGameGeek rating (2.5%). Let the gamers speak! In order to give new games a chance, we’ll take a look at the simple average rating.
- Geek score (aka Bayesian average, 2.5%). This score starts out at 5.5, and gets closer to the actual average the more ratings come in. It’s more reliable, but also strongly favours games that have been around for longer and hence gathered more ratings.
Candidates for Spiel des Jahres 2021
1–4 players, 15–45 minutes, 10+ years, light (1.1), 99% Spiel
Some games can be played without reading any rules. MicroMacro goes one step further: You can start playing the game right on the box. This alone makes it a strong contender. I wonder though if the jury will consider a game full of murders and crimes a pleasant pastime for families.
1–5 players, 30–60 minutes, 10+ years, medium light (2.2), 88% Spiel
#3: Detective Club
4–8 players, 45 minutes, 8+ years, light (1.2), 100% Spiel
Light and social, just like the jury likes their red games. Detective Club requires at least four players though, and the jury generally wants three players as well.
#4: Fantasy Realms
3–6 players, 20 minutes, 14+ years, medium light (1.7), 100% Spiel
Quite an old game by international standards, but it garnered its share of positive review. A breezy card game might just be what the jury is looking for!
2–4 players, 45–60 minutes, 10+ years, medium light (2.2), 89% Spiel
#6: Point Salad
2–6 players, 15–30 minutes, 8+ years, light (1.2), 100% Spiel
By all accounts, this seems to be a light and fun card game that could well be in the jury’s wheelhouse. I love the self-ironic title, but will the average gamer get the joke?
#7: Trails of Tucana
1–8 players, 15 minutes, 8+ years, light (1.3), 100% Spiel
Yet another simple roll/flip’n’write. It reminds me a lot of last year’s Silver & Gold which I had high hopes for, but was completely ignored by the jury. Might not be the best omen for Trails of Tucana.
1–4 players, 15–20 minutes, 8+ years, medium light (2.0), 99% Spiel
#9: New York Zoo
1–5 players, 30–60 minutes, 10+ years, medium light (2.0), 96% Spiel
Another puzzle game by Uwe Rosenberg, this time filled to the brim with cute animals. Who could resist this proposition?
2–4 players, 60 minutes, 10+ years, medium light (1.7), 99% Spiel
As a very recent release, Robin Hood doesn’t have many ratings yet, so it’s hard for the algorithm to pick up. But by all appearances, Michael Menzel of Andor fame pulled off another great story game.
My two cents
Alright, that’s what the algorithms say. But just like last year, I’d like to let my guts have some say as well. These are the three games I consider having the best shot at ending up on the jury’s shortlist:
- MicroMacro: Crime City
- The Adventures of Robin Hood
- The Key: Murder at the Oakdale Club & Theft at Cliffrock Villa
Candidates for Kennerspiel des Jahres 2021
#1: The Isle of Cats
1–4 players, 60–90 minutes, 8+ years, medium light (2.3), 94% Kennerspiel
The Internet loves cats, and, apparently, so does the BGG crowd. Card drafting and tile laying combined with lots of cats – what’s there not to like?
1–4 players, 30–45 minutes, 13+ years, medium light (2.2), 62% Kennerspiel
More cats, more puzzling – I sense a theme here. Calico is held in high regards as well, even for Spiel des Jahres by some. It’ll be exciting to see if the jury has it on their list, and, if so, on which.
1–4 players, 30–120 minutes, 12+ years, medium (2.8), 100% Kennerspiel
This game seems to be on everybody’s mind, and even though nobody seems excited by it, the consensus is that Lost Ruins of Arnak perfectly executes its combination of deckbuilding and worker placement.
2–4 players, 60–120 minutes, 14+ years, medium heavy (3.9), 100% Kennerspiel
Certainly a fan favourite, it climbed to #3 on BGG before it finally received a German release. It’s definitely way too heavy to win Kennerspiel, but that wouldn’t stop the jury from recommending it.
#5: Yukon Airways
1–4 players, 60–90 minutes, 14+ years, medium (2.7), 100% Kennerspiel
The only thing on my mind about this game: Would the jury really award a game about flying after we’ve been collectively grounded for over a year?
#6: Switch & Signal
2–4 players, 45 minutes, 10+ years, medium light (2.2), 83% Kennerspiel
Train games have a long tradition in board gaming, but Switch & Signal is the first one I know of to approach the topic co-operatively. Colour me intrigued.
1–4 players, 45–60 minutes, 10+ years, medium (2.6), 88% Kennerspiel
Paleo already received so much love for the game, and so much criticism for the rule book. The jury is known to exclude games when they just put an undue burden on the players to learn, but in this case the qualities of the game probably win.
1–50 players, 35 minutes, 10+ years, medium (2.9), 100% Kennerspiel
The jury ignored the original Welcome To…, but will it notice this more complex version set in Nevada?
1–5 players, 90–120 minutes, 12+ years, medium (2.9), 100% Kennerspiel
Stonemaier Games sure knows how to put out beautful products, but I think in the case of Tapestry the result is just too big and too expensive for a Kennerspiel des Jahres.
2–4 players, 90 minutes, 12+ years, medium (2.7), 100% Kennerspiel
The K&K of board gaming show no signs of slowing down, and their latest brain child Paris has received a lot of love.
My two cents
Finally, here are my three top candidates for a spot on the shortlist for Kennerspiel des Jahres 2021:
Again, I think this is another year of fantastic games, so competition for the awards will be fierce. I’m certainly looking forward to learning if the jury agrees with my (algorithm’s) assessment!
Last but not least I want to send you off with a couple of games that didn’t make the algorithm’s cut, but are still interesting in their own rights and might end up amongst the recommendations:
Spiel des Jahres
- Paris: La Cité de la Lumière: Highly rated by the algorithm, but no chance for the main award as a two-player-game.
- Aqualin: Ditto.
- Krazy Pix: Not many party games on this list, so here’s one.
- Abandon All Artichokes: Such a fresh and unexpected theme, would make a great entry level deckbuilder.
- Cantaloop: Book 1 – Breaking into Prison: Point-and-click adventures as a board game could draw in a lot of new gamers.
- The Fox in the Forest Duet: The competitive version has been recommended last year, so maybe the co-operative version has a chance this year.
Kennerspiel des Jahres
- Barrage: A heavy-weight that might receive a recommendation.
- It’s a Wonderful World
- Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion: This lighter and more approachable version of BGG’s #1 might be a candidate for Kennerspiel des Jahres.
- Under Falling Skies: The jury loves to cover all aspects of gaming, so here’s a solo game that received a lot of praises.
- The 7th Continent: Classic Edition
- Anno 1800
- Pandemic Legacy: Season 0: The jury has a well-documented love for this series, so it seems unlikely they’ll say goodbye silently.
- Aeon’s End: Another very late arrival to Germany. Thematically probably outside the jury’s comfort zone, but they do love their deckbuilders and co-ops…
As every year, it’s not straightforward to determine what games are eligible for the awards. Generally speaking, it’d be those games release between April 2020 and March 2021 into German retail (though because of COVID–19 hitting in March last year we might see a few latecomers this year). Hence, filtering by BGG release year will exclude games that were released earlier elsewhere, but only recently in Germany, and likewise let some games pass that have not seen a German release in that time window. I did my best to catch what I could, but there’s always some that get away. ↩︎