Question of the Month | Gaming Awards


The 2016 Spiel des Jahres (SDJ) nominees have officially been announced. They are:

Codenames | Imhotep | Karuba

Considering the award criteria,

  1. game concept (originality, playability, game value)
  2. rule structure (composition, clearness, comprehensibility)
  3. layout (box, board, rules),
  4. design (functionality, workmanship)

Having not played Imhotep, because basically no one has, what game do you think will win and why? What is it about your choice that sets it apart; in what criteria does that pick excel? In what ways are the other games less successful in those areas?

Can the hype of Codenames be overcome!? Remember that the SDJ is an award specifically targeting the German family-game market. Previous winners can be found here.


I think and/or hope that Karuba wins the Spiel des Jahres this year. I don’t know anything about Imhotep, so maybe that one will win because I have no frame of reference for it: it might be totally wonderful and embody everything that the Spiel des Jahres represents.

Codenames is wonderful, don’t get me wrong: I love that game and I will play it any day of the week. I think what holds me back as far as Codenames as the winner is simply the originality aspect of the award criteria. When I think of Codenames, I am immediately reminded of Taboo and Catchphrase. While Codenames is different, in terms of end goals and combining clues to apply to several words, it is still very similar.

Karuba, on the other hand, feels like its own game. While each player is playing what amounts to essentially the same game—each player has the same map tiles and the same start and end positions and could, if they wanted, play the same actions—the maps always come out differently. Karuba encourages players to problem-solve independently in a situation that is initially the same across the game. It’s a simple game, but each game plays out differently based upon explorer and temple placement and the randomized tile-draw: you can play it numerous times during a game night and not feel like you’re playing the same exact game over and over. I can’t say with any certainty the clarity or how well the rules are composed, because someone else taught me the game and I’ve never actually needed to look at the rule book. The board and components are attractive—brightly colored, clearly illustrated and well-produced. It’s a lovely game all-around and has been a wonderful addition to the community as a whole.


In recent memory, there has always been a game that stands out as an obvious choice when it came to dealing the SDJ award. This time around is different and it’s a tough one to consider. My heart is telling me, “Karuba is the easy winner!”, while my head is telling me, “Codenames is going to win, y’dingus!” (Both are also telling me, “What is Imhotep and why haven’t you played this yet?”) Codenames was well-received and has become quite popular. It accommodates a large group of people or can be played cooperatively among two people and is always fun. Karuba, on the other hand, is a clever puzzle game that offers a ton of decisions and light strategy but is essentially a solo experience with virtually no player interaction. To me, this knocks Karuba down a peg from the necessary player interaction of Codenames. I am hoping that Karuba wins the award so it gets the recognition it deserves, but I have a feeling that Codenames will win out by a “Follicle; 1.”


While both Codenames and Karuba are great games in their own right, only one can win the Spiel des Jahres. Actually, neither could win and the mysterious Imohotep could take top honors, but let’s stick to the games I’ve had a chance to play. For me, the winner of those two is clear because of the simple fact that one feels more like a game. And, that game is Karuba. Codenames is a fantastic game that is equal parts accessible and enjoyable, but it’s one that doesn’t hold my attention for long. It’s almost too casual! It should be commended, though, for its creativity in terms of how clues are given. But, ultimately I can’t shake it being in the party game category. Karuba, on the contrary, has depth to it. As you make decisions to optimize your route from point A to B, you’ll need to adapt to the ever-changing board you’re creating. What is most appealing is Karuba’s depth never overburdens and remains engaging as you race to the temples. Then, to look over and see how distinct everyone’s paths are compared to your own is charming. Karuba’s path leads to…victory!


The Spiel des Jahres winner is a tricky one for me this year. I believe that all three have excellent qualifications and I cannot fault the committee for their choices:

Karuba – This is my personal favorite on the list. Mr. Dorn has created a wonderfully elegant system in which to explore, all explainable within 5 minutes of sitting at the table. I love that everyone starts the game with an identical setup and finishes with a completely unique board of their own creation. Simple, streamlined game play with thoughtful choices and quality production, Karuba is a game that I never want to play just once.

Codenames – When I first picked this up at Gen Con 2015, I was blown away by how Vlaada was able to create such an engaging party game simply using words on cards. I said it then and I will continue to say it – this game is genius! While my enthusiasm for playing it has waned in recent months it does not change the fact that it’s a great game and well deserving of the nomination.

Imhotep – I have yet to play this game but I have seen it demoed.Imhotep appears to represent this year’s tactile/toy factor nominee. Similar to former winners Camel Up and Colt Express, this game has excellent table presence, easily grabbing the attention of those passing by your table. I look forward to trying this when its released widely in the US.

I do not envy the jury for having the difficult decision of picking a winner from this strong list of nominees. I am having a hard enough time trying to pick a winner as I write this blog. My heart wants Karuba to win however, my gut tells me the viral breakout of Codenames, a more universally accessible and beloved game, has the slight edge here. Either choice would be worthy in my eyes.

Winner – Codenames


Please feel free to discuss in the comments below!



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CONTENT MANAGER/PODCAST HOST : Perpetual consumer of all things board, card and game. Lover of dice, card sleeves, and fancy meeples. Jack-of-all-games, Master of none.