Sunday, July 3, 2011


The Spiel des Jahres, the prestigious German game of the year award, has just been announced, and it occurred to me that I had a hand in bringing Qwirkle to the attention of the eventual German publisher.

It was summer of 2007, and I was signing my first contracts for game designs, while writing for about my experiences as an American gamer and designer living in Germany.  I was also a bit frustrated that I could never seem to make it to the Essen game convention—the largest in the world—because of scheduling conflicts every year.  I finally decided to do something about it in a positive way instead of simply lamenting or complaining about it, like something I once heard about lemons and lemonade.

I talked to my friend, Spielwiese owner Michael Schmitt, and the “Annual After Essen Party” was born.  The Spielweise had become the new home of our game designers’ group, and since most of us made it to the convention every year—and many of us were releasing games there as well—I thought it would be fun to celebrate once more with friends back in Berlin after the convention was over.  And I would also invite all the other Berlin designers I knew, and even the ones I did not yet know.  Everyone would bring their new releases, and together with the stash that Michael would bring back, we’d play games with each other and with anyone else who wanted to join in. 

I immediately emailed invitations to all the gamers and game designers I knew in Berlin.  But I also thought that it would be even better to have international “special guests” at the party.  Essen did draw a large contingent of foreigners, after all, and many of these were gaming journalists and internet personalities, and it would be fun to have a diverse group of people who all had in common their interest in the gaming hobby.

My first international invitation was for my esteemed Boardgamenews editor, W. Eric Martin, who, with his wife, was planning to be in Germany for several weeks before and after the convention.  He and Linda accepted, and then Eric added, “I’ll have extra room in my luggage—is there a game I can bring for you from the U.S.?”   Since he’d lauded the game in a recent review, I requested Qwirkle.
Eric & Linda at the remnants of the Berlin Wall

After the convention was over, I had the pleasure of showing Eric and Linda around Berlin, and then we made our way to the party.  Along with the game designers who regularly attended our Spielwiese group, designer Andrea Meyer was also there, along with Thorsten Gimmler, a designer and developer for Schmidt Spiele in Berlin.  As I was taking care of my "Master of Ceremonies" duties, Eric and Linda took the opportunity to break out the copy of Qwirkle they brought for me and teach the game to Andrea and Thorsten.  The Germans' first reaction upon hearing the rules was that the strategy seemed too obvious, but Eric and Linda proved there was more to the game by handily beating both of them.
Andrea & Thorsten at the first After Essen Party in 2007

 Making "Qwirkle Sculptures" after playing the game at the After Essen Party

Afterwards, Eric and Linda gave me the game, which I’ve played and enjoyed many times since.  Every year, I wondered whether it would finally be released in Germany, and when it did in October, 2010, it was no surprise that Thorsten’s own Schmidt Spiele was the publisher.

Now that Qwirkle has won the most prestigious award in boardgaming, I can take some satisfaction that my little party had a small part in bringing the game to the attention of a German publisher, and eventually to the German public.  And even though boardgaming is a serious industry, it is encouraging to see that friendly game nights and the personal recommendations of friends still have a large role in getting good games published.

And as for my copy of Qwirkle, it may not have the iconic “red pawn” of the Spiel des Jahres award on its box cover, but it was probably the first copy of the game ever played in Germany.

Qwirkle box cover courtesy Mindware.  Photos courtesy Linda and Eric Martin.

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