Monday, July 9, 2012

Oscars....for Board Games?

Germany's prestigious Game of the Year award was announced today in Berlin.  The international buzz surrounding the event demonstrates that Germany is still the axis around which the gaming world turns, even when innovation in board game design has spread to other countries--including the Czech Republic and Finland.  In fact, a German game designer has not won the main award since 2008.

The Spiel des Jahres was created in 1979 by a jury of journalists wanting to promote innovative game design in their country.  Now, it has become such a boost in sales here that most German publishers intentionally try to cater to the jury, in the hopes of being the next company to be able to sport the "red pawn" on its game boxes--and increase their game's sales tenfold.

Now, there are many other awards based on this model in other countries, but none match the attention and prestige of Germany's award.  There's the Vuoden peli Finnish Game of the Year, the Japan Boardgame Prize, the Nederlandse Spellenprijs, the Australian Games Association Game of the Year, and the Austrian Spiel der Spiele

In the U.S., however, nothing comes close.  A magazine that features boardgames chooses their own games of the year in different categories, a large gaming convention publicizes their own picks for their favorite games featured there, and Mensa has their own system of determining their Mensa Select choices every year..  

Then, there are awards based on polls of gamers, open to the public, such as Germany's Deutscher Spiele Preis, Brazil's Prêmio JoTa and the U.S.A.'s Meeple Choice Awards.

There's even an award from an international jury of board game critics called, appropriately, the International Gamer's Awards.

There is certainly no shortage of awards for board games, although one could argue the relevance of many of them.  One type of award is missing, however: one which spotlights the best game design of the year chosen from those who should know--other game designers.

The Academy Awards are arguably the most influential awards for film, and the winners are determined by the academy's members, made up of actors, screenwriters, directors and producers.  Actors nominate and vote for other actors, etc.  

With all the board game awards that have been sprouting up around the Spiel des Jahres, perhaps we should also think about adding something different to the mix.  Why not have a peer-based award for board games as well? There's something special about being rewarded for your work by those with whom you are competing, and the respect these types of awards communicate can only strengthen the industry.

The closest organization we have to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is the Spieleautoren Zunft (SAZ), or Game Designer's Association, based here in Germany.  It has the largest paying membership of any organization representing game designers in the world, including many internationals being added to its German majority.  And perhaps an award like this would boost membership even more.

The heartbeat of the board gaming industry is still Germany, thanks to the Spiel des Jahres, the Essen and Nuremberg conventions, and a thriving domestic and export market. The SAZ could provide us with yet another reason to train our eyes on the country that has given us so many ways to discover new games. And designers would finally be given the opportunity to reward their own, even as they compete against each other for the coveted red pawn.


Lance said...

I'm curious further, and it's probably the same issue with the Oscars and I want to think they may have done something about it, but not all designers play others' games. It seems Knizia has been open about this. Some of the busy ones, even Donald X., may or may not have time to play others' games with all the play testing and expansion work and new development they could be doing.

I'm also curious what you would see that I wouldn't (and trust me, I think it would be a lot). Would you see the pacing of the game, how the mechanics flow together, possibly get a feel how it was designed? Can you see how well a game is developed beyond being the designed? Would you include game developers (as I understand it, very important and probably under appreciated people that work for companies)? Would a designer that was part of SAZ immediately be eligible to vote or what would the qualifications be?

Being in the USA, not saying that any USA game award is worth anything, but which one(s) do you like the most (the best of the worst possibly)?

Jeffrey Allers said...

Good point, Lance, about the time it takes to play other designer's games.

I think that that it's important, however, for designers to know the current market, and that usually means playing others' games. Perhaps Knizia does not play many games other than his own, but he certainly reads about them and perhaps even reads the rules.

The main award I am proposing is a Game of the Year award decided by the SAZ members. But it might also be interesting for a few other awards that are not usual, such as Designer of the Year and Newcomer of the Year. In addition, there could also be a Publisher of the Year and Developer of the Year, but that is even more difficult to determine, as publishers and developers work with a small percentage of the designers, and many SAZ members have not yet published a game.

Peer said...

It would also have the side effect of negating the "authors should not critise other designs, because they are biased" - argument ;-)