Or, what the heck’s a pöppel?
If you’ve heard anything about board games for more than a minute you’ve heard of the Spiel des Jahres – the German game of the year award is considered one of the most prestigious awards in the industry. The French offer up their own game of the year called the As d’Or (awarded at the Festival International des Jeux in Cannes), while an American effort is only a few years old at this point.
Disclaimer: Chris received a copy of the e-book from the author.
The book is written by James Wallis, the guy who designed Once Upon a Time and The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen, published RPG’s from 1994 to 2003, and founded the Diana Jones Award for “excellence in gaming” amongst other accomplishments over a 30+ year career.
Everybody Wins is an effort to track both the award, it’s mindset, its impact on the board industry, and the parallel track that board games have run alongside over the past four decades. Even before Catan put board games on the map in the 90’s, the German game of the year award was given to games that have sadly fallen out of print and mostly out of memory. There are still lessons to be learned, both from these older games and more recent ones. For anyone newer to the world of board games, this is a history lesson, albeit a history that may not stretch much before your birth.
Since this isn’t clickbait, I won’t leave you wondering any longer – the pöppel is simply the German word for the game pawn, the basic component that the award’s trophy is based on:
Photo credit: Wikipedia
The opening chapter describes the origins of the award, thanks in part to a thriving culture of board games… In the United Kingdom. Much of what inspired early German game design came from the United Kingdom, as evidenced by the games awarded the German game of the year.
What makes an award winning game is vague, yet it’s official eligibility is described by a simple rule: it has to have been released at retail in German-speaking countries in the past year. The book also explains why the biggest German board game festival of the year is held in Essen, but I’ll let you buy the book to read that bit for yourself.
Once you’re past the introduction, the focus shifts to the winners of the word as expected – a brief overview of the designer and game, complete with sidebars offering vocabulary primers in case some of the terms are new to you. It’s nice to see where some of these games are today. Some games have held up remarkably well and continue to delight new generations decades after they were first released, where others have gone out of print or are looking longer in the tooth.
The author is not afraid to point out the award’s missteps along the way. It’s an imperfect history, but it’s told honestly and interestingly. I’m reading and enjoying it from the perspective of a game designer curious about innovation, but you can easily enjoy it as a coffee-table style book or as a look back at how far board games have come in a few decades.
Sections focus on the shifts about a decade or so in length, on the awards process, its effects in Germany, but also how it tastes and the industry also changed.
The book ends with 2022’s winner, Cascadia, along with a fun section on ‘The Ones That Didn’t Win’. This section focuses on some well-known and well-loved games yet to win or be considered, and have become iconic games all the same.
It’s a fantastic book, allowing a number of games their moment in the spotlight, and a chance to go into depth about the industry without going too far down the rabbit hole. James was the perfect person to write it, and he was able to marry his breadth and depth of knowledge with an easy-to-read writing style.
Where to buy
Bookshop (US): hardcover coming March 2023.
Bookshop (UK): available now.