Designer of the Year Awards: 1955-2018
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There are several annual awards that select a Game of the Year. But since there are quite a few designers who create multiple games every year, why not consider a Designer of the Year award? That was the question I asked myself during the early 00's, so I decided to do something about it. I began writing an annual series of articles, first for the old Boardgame News website (the one Rick Thornquist originated) and more recently for the Opinionated Gamers website. Each article listed my picks for the leading designers each calendar year, together with my selection of the Designer of the Year (DotY). People seemed to like the writeups, so it's become an annual tradition.

After the 2013 article was posted, a couple of people asked for the complete list of winners, preferably in a Geeklist. This list is in response to those requests. I'll be updating the list after every subsequent article.

So what kind of games am I considering when I assign the awards? I'm excluding standard wargames and children's games, which for the most part have a completely separate set of designers (and which frankly I know very little about), but I'm including everything else: boardgames, card games, role playing games, collectible card games, dexterity games, etc. Expansions aren't eligible, but redesigns of earlier games are (although I give them less weight). I consider gamer's games, family games, Eurogames, Ameritrash, party games, the whole lot. Toss 'em all in the mix and see who has the best creations.

The criteria I use to select each year's best designer includes the quality of the games, how well received they were at the time of their release, and how well they have stood up to the test of time. In particular, I give heavy weight to games which have high average ratings on the Geek and which have garnered wins and nominations for the major gaming awards. In a few of the years, the decision between two designers was so close that I assigned joint awards (and I even split the award three ways a couple of times), but I try as much as possible to pick a single winner.

Since I've always been interested in the history of gaming, when I created the idea of the awards, I went back and looked at previous years, to see who I would have picked as the leading designer. I tried to take it back as far as I could and eventually stretched it all the way back to 1955. Prior to 1990, many of the awards went to designers with only one game, since there were very few folks cranking out multiple titles in a year. This means that many of these early awards are more or less Game of the Year awards, which really wasn't the original intent. Still, I found the exercise interesting and it allowed me to include all of the great designers we celebrate on the Geek with one set of awards.

My descriptions for those early years will be much shorter, since there's frankly less to talk about. Many times, there is just one logical pick for DotY. Starting with the 90's, I'll provide more detail, along with the other designers I also think had good years.

To show the award performance of each of the cited games, I use the following codes. The letters S, K, D, and I show that the design won Game of the Year honors from the Spiel des Jahres (SdJ), Kennerspiel des Jahres (KdJ), Deutscher Spiele Preis (DSP), or International Gamers Awards (IGA), respectively. The lower case letters s, k, d, and i show that the game was nominated for the indicated award, or, in the case of the DSP, finished in the top ten. r indicates a game that was a recommended SdJ or KdJ game and $ shows that the game won an SdJ special award (for example, Most Beautiful Game or Best Children's Game). "A" shows a game that won Fairplay's a la carte award (best card game), while "a" indicates a top ten listing. g shows that the game was nominated as GotY for the Golden Geek awards or that it was a category winner; G indicates that it was the Golden Geek Game of the Year. t and T show the same thing for the Dice Tower awards. M shows one of the three winners of the Meeples Choice Awards and m indicates an MCA nominee. Z is for Games MagaZine's Game of the Year. H shows that the game is included in the Sumo/Counter Hall of Fame, while h indicates that it's in the Games Magazine Hall of Fame. Finally, if a game is italicized, it indicates that it's a redesign of a previously published title by that designer.

Please feel free to comment on my picks, particularly if you think I've missed an obvious choice. Just remember, I'm not trying to reward the best game of the year, but the best designer of the year. Very often, that will mean that someone who creates a fabulous single game will lose out to a designer with a larger portfolio. In fact, during the last 20 years, it's been almost impossible to win the DotY with just one game, no matter how great it is.

I hope you enjoy this list. If you do, check out my next DotY article on the Opinionanted Gamers website (http://opinionatedgamers.com); they usually appear in early March of each year.
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26. Board Game: Can't Stop [Average Rating:6.85 Overall Rank:691]
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1980
Sid Sackson - Can't Stop(sH), Samarkand, Corner
Darwin Bromley/Bill Fawcett - Empire Builder


We get to say goodbye to a gaming legend, as well as hello to a new kind of game. Darwin Bromley and Bill Fawcett are the co-founders of Mayfair Games and the company's debut design was their joint effort, Empire Builder, the first crayon rail game. The game itself was a big success and led to many spinoffs and sequels. The basic idea proved to be quite influential; even games like Power Grid drew their inspiration from crayon rails.

Meanwhile, 1980 gives Sid Sackson his sixth, and final DotY award and he certainly went out with a bang. Can't Stop, of course, is perhaps the greatest dice game, and greatest push-your-luck game ever designed. His other major game was actually called Bazaar when Abacus released it in 1980 (it's sometimes called "Bazaar II" to distinguish it from the earlier 3M game). Abacus then re-released a slightly altered version as Samarkand in 1998, and it met with much more success.

Thanks for the memories, Sid. There will never be another like you.
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27. Board Game: Civilization [Average Rating:7.51 Overall Rank:262] [Average Rating:7.51 Unranked]
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1981
Francis Tresham - Civilization(Hh)
Chris Haney/Scott Abbot - Trivial Pursuit(h)


What do you do for an encore after designing a game that launches an entire genre? If you're Francis Tresham, you create another game just as good! After inventing the "train game" with 1829, Tresham tackled the most ambitious theme imaginable: the rise and fall of civilizations, from prehistory all the way up to the Romans. The resulting game was so immersive, so innovative, and so insanely great that "The Civ Game" became a new category of games. But not for quite a while, since it took that long for other designers to catch up! (Tresham actually released Civ in 1980, from his own company Hartland Trefoil, but the version just about everyone remembers came from Avalon Hill in '81, so that's why I'm putting it here.)

Normally, a game like that means you're all alone on the DotY mountain, but another extraordinary gaming event occurred in 1981. That, of course, was Trivial Pursuit, which might be the biggest gaming fad of the last 100 years. Whether you love it or hate it, you have to agree that it brought more people to the gaming table than perhaps any other design. It was the brainchild of two Canadians, Chris Haney and Scott Abbot, and they share top designer honors with Tresham.
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28. Board Game: Illuminati [Average Rating:6.19 Overall Rank:2771]
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1982
Julian Courtland-Smith - Survive!
Steve Jackson - Illuminati


'82 gives us two games that have stood the test of time. Julian Courtland-Smith's Survive! is a great game concept that was also well executed. Keeping your people from being munched on by sharks (and sending your opponents' folks to a hideous death) was great fun in '82 and was just as enjoyable 30 years later, when a lavish reprint was released. Steve Jackson's Illuminati featured an irresistible theme (showing which well known groups are controlled by others, so, for example, the Mafia controlling the Boy Scouts) and very clever gameplay. Jackson released several different versions and expansions, all based on the same concepts, the most recent coming in 2010.

By the way, there are two gaming Steve Jacksons. The other one is British and is the co-founder of Games Workshop.
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29. Board Game: Talisman [Average Rating:6.36 Overall Rank:2060]
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1983
Robert Harris - Talisman


Speaking of Games Workshop, in 1983 it gave us one of the most polarizing games ever: Talisman. This fantasy-themed adventure game was an absolute smash, to the point that many players soon grew sick of it. But you can't deny its impact, nor its longevity. The game has undergone four separate editions, each with different rules, with the most recent one appearing in 2007. New expansions continue to be released for the game every year.

Talisman came from a fellow named Robert Harris, who has only a couple of other designs to his credit. But his most famous creation certainly hit a nerve with the gaming public.
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30. Board Game: Axis & Allies [Average Rating:6.56 Overall Rank:1322]
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1984
Larry Harris - Axis & Allies(h), Conquest of the Empire, Broadsides and Boarding Parties


1984 was the year of the Milton Bradley Gamemaster Series. This wildly popular collection of light wargames was the talk of the gaming world, thanks to their interesting mechanics and, most of all, their wonderful toy-like miniatures. All three games were the product of the fertile mind of Larry Harris. Each of the games had an earlier history before they were republished by MB. Axis & Allies was first released in 1981 by Nova Game Designs, which is best known for its smash hit Ace of Aces. The other two games were first published by a tiny company called Citadel Game Systems in 1982, with CotE bearing the title of VI Caesars. The original titles are very similar mechanically to the Gamemaster editions, but it is the marvelous physical design of the later games that made them the success they were.

Of the three, Axis & Allies was by far the biggest hit and the only title to retain its popularity. Almost 2 million copies have been sold and Harris has kept himself busy by designing 10 other versions of the game, most of them based on a single battle or theater of WW II.
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31. Board Game: Code 777 [Average Rating:6.74 Overall Rank:1554]
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1985
Alex Randolph - Code 777(s), Top Secret(s), Jago(s)


Randolph was one of the most important figures in the history of game design. After contributing five titles to the 3M line, he became a world traveler, eventually settling in Italy as his new home. But in the gaming world, his true adopted home was Germany, as he became the leading designer of German games during the 80's. His Enchanted Forest won one of the first SdJ awards and he released interesting designs in every year of the decade. 1985 is a particularly fine year, as all three of Randolph's games get an SdJ nomination. Code 777 is the highlight--it's credited to Robert Abbott, but Abbott has always been very open about the fact that this was a Randolph design, based on an older Abbott game called What's That on My Head?, and that Randolph refused to take credit for it. It's one of the best known deduction games ever created.
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32. Board Game: Die Macher [Average Rating:7.63 Overall Rank:242]
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1986
Francis Tresham/Bruce Shelley - 1830(H)
Karl-Heinz Schmiel - Die Macher(sdH)
Mike Gray - Shogun, Fortress America


Some remarkable games debut in 1986 and it leads to the first three-way tie for the DotY, as men from three different countries illustrate that this has truly become a world-wide hobby. Mike Gray is an important figure in American gaming, one of the first people in the industry to recognize the value of what was happening in Germany. He was responsible for Milton Bradley producing versions of some leading German designs, including Daytona 500, Bandu, and Quandary. He is also a fine designer and created the last two games of the celebrated Gamemaster series: Shogun (now called Ikusa) and Fortress America, both of which continue the tradition of quality that Larry Harris had begun.

Meanwhile, in Germany, Karl-Heinz Schmiel, who together with Bernd Brunnhofer had launched Hans im Gluck in 1983, released Die Macher, a true monster of a game about German politics. There was nothing else like it at the time and it develops a small, but rabid following. Even though the game didn't really become a hit until its re-release in 1997 (which included some significant differences introduced by Schmiel), the importance of the original game is enough to gain Karl-Heinz a share of the award.

Finally, probably the most important game released during the year was 1830, Avalon Hill's substantial reworking of the ideas in Tresham's 1829. This was the version that really launched the 18xx craze, with the vicious workings of the stock market in the new game particularly attracting gamers. Tresham was given sole designer credit, but Bruce Shelley, who was the developer of the game, contributed so many key ideas that he really deserves to be considered a co-designer. Shelley went on to even greater success in computer gaming, as he worked with Sid Meier to create the titanic hits Railroad Tycoon and Civilization, and was the lead designer on Age of Empires.
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33. Board Game: The Fury of Dracula [Average Rating:6.93 Overall Rank:1832]
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1987
Stephen Hand - The Fury of Dracula, Chainsaw Warrior, Chaos Marauders


Gaming, like any other creative field, has its share of one-hit wonders. But here we have the case of a one-year wonder. Hand designed three games for Games Workshop in '87 and then contributed hardly anything else over the rest of his career (Curse of the Mummy's Tomb the next year for GW, a Star Wars game in '90, and a couple of expansions). The really curious thing is that the three '87 games were quite innovative for their time and not at all typical of the usual miniatures-based things that were Games Workshop's stock in trade. The best known of the designs is Fury of Dracula, which draws some of its mechanics from Scotland Yard, but has many new touches and is dripping with theme. Chainsaw Warrior is a solitaire game(!), while Chaos Marauders is a card-based fighting game. Three unique and popular designs in 1987 and then next to nothing. One wonders if Mr. Hand simply ran out of ideas or if something happened that took him away from game designing. At any rate, his single burst of creativity makes him one of our most atypical Designers of the Year.
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34. Board Game: Kremlin [Average Rating:6.97 Overall Rank:1030]
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1988
Alex Randolph - Hol's der Geier(s), Inkognito($), Gute Freunde($), Fataler Fehler
Urs Hostettler - Kremlin(s)


We have a two-way tie between a veteran and a newcomer this year. Randolph has another nomination-filled year. The game with the greatest impact is also the simplest, as Hol's der Geier (also known as Raj) only has about two rules. But it was not only well loved, but proved to be quite influential. It gained an SdJ nomination, while Inkognito, a clever movement/deduction game, won the Most Beautiful award. Gute Freunde won the Kinderspiel, while Fataler Fehler was republished 8 years later as Venice Connection, which also won the SdJ Most Beautiful award. Not a bad collection of games!

The biggest hit of the year, though, came from a Swiss musician named Urs Hostettler. Kremlin was self-published in '86, but the Avalon Hill version from '88 was a smash hit. Gamers were delighted by this sly parody of Soviet politics, while appreciating the clever gameplay. It's enough to give Hostettler, who will give us many more fine games over the years, a share of the DotY award.
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35. Board Game: Café International [Average Rating:6.25 Overall Rank:2458]
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1989
Rudi Hoffman - Café International(S), Maestro(s)


I assume that one of the more popular SdJ award winners was when Rudi Hoffman won for the wonderfully politically incorrect Café International in 1989. The Grand Old Man of German Gaming (who still had some good years left in him) had finally won the big prize. Pair that with Maestro, which got an SdJ nomination the same year, and Hoffman's a pretty easy choice as our DotY.

We've finally gotten to the point where there are multiple designers worthy of mention each year. So starting with the next entry, I'll list the DotY winner, along with other prominent designers each year. I'll then briefly discuss the output of each of the nominees.
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36. Board Game: Hoity Toity [Average Rating:6.53 Overall Rank:1397]
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1990
Klaus Teuber – Adel Verplichtet(SD)

Wolfgang KramerDaytona 500, Holiday AG(d), Tabaijana(s), Terra Turrium
Alan Moon – Airlines(H), Wer Hat Mehr

Klaus Teuber takes the honors this year, as Adel's influence is not only felt around the world, but as the first true Teutonic megahit, changes the German gaming industry for good. It wins the SdJ and the first DSP award as well. Wolfgang Kramer scores with a solid collection of designs, including Terra Turrium, which will eventually be expanded to become Torres a decade later. Alan Moon's first foray into German gaming is a success, as Airlines (and its successor Union Pacific) achieves Hall of Fame status. And to top off an historic year for gaming, Reiner Knizia has his first published designs released.
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37. Board Game: History of the World [Average Rating:7.12 Overall Rank:705]
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1991
Gary Dicken/Steve & Phil Kendall – History of the World(dH)

Klaus Teuber – Drunter & Drüber(Sd)
Alan Moon – Elfengold, Pony Express, Fishy, formation of White Wind
Urs Hostettler – Tichu(aH)

The game that has everyone talking is the Ragnar Brothers' ambitious History of the World, created by Gary Dicken and brothers Steve and Phil Kendall. Its impact is enough to give them the award for '91. Teuber, with a second consecutive SdJ winner, shows the previous year wasn't a fluke. Moon launches White Wind and the first few designs show promise. Finally, Switzerland's Urs Hostettler, best known as the designer of Kremlin, creates an adaptation of a traditional Chinese card game and calls it Tichu--the rest is, uh, history.
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38. Board Game: Modern Art [Average Rating:7.38 Overall Rank:218]
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1992
Reiner Knizia - Modern Art(sDH), Quo Vadis(sd), Pirat(A), Revolution

Alan Moon – Elfenroads(H), Santa Fe, U.F.O.s(a)

Knizia has his coming out party with the release of an all-time classic and three other fine games (Pirat became Korsar and Revolution became Atlanteon). Moon's impact is less felt, but his year is almost as good as Elfenroads is hailed as one of the great gaming achievements and Santa Fe finds favor as well.
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39. Board Game: Magic: The Gathering [Average Rating:7.49 Overall Rank:155] [Average Rating:7.49 Unranked]
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1993
Richard Garfield - Magic: The Gathering(AHh), collectible card game concept

Reiner Knizia – En Garde(a), Tutanchamun(sd), Attacke, Das Lezte Paradies

The focus returns to the U.S. for the first time in a decade, as an unknown college professor teams up with a little known game publisher to produce M:tG and set the gaming world upon its ear. The impact of the CCG concept is still being felt and Richard Garfield's Magic continues to be widely played throughout the world. In Germany, Knizia produces another interesting batch of games (including Attacke, eventually republished as Ivanhoe), with the ultra-quick Tutanchamun snaring a couple of nominations.
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40. Board Game: Manhattan [Average Rating:6.72 Overall Rank:1079]
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1994
Wolfgang Kramer - 6 Nimmt!(sDAH), Big Boss
Andreas Seyfarth – Manhattan(Sd), Waldmeister

Reiner Knizia – Auf Heller und Pfennig(d), Flinke Pinke(a), Olix, New Games in Old Rome collection
Karl-Heinz Schmiel – Was Sticht?(sdam), Das Regeln Wir Schon

A veteran designer and a new kid on the block share the DotY for '94. Kramer, in something of a slump since 1990, returns to form with Hall of Famer 6 Nimmt!, which until Dominion came along was the only card game ever to win a major German award, and Big Boss, a well received takeoff on Acquire. Andreas Seyfarth's SdJ winner Manhattan has obviously been overshadowed by one of his subsequent designs, but in 1994, it was probably the most widely played game of the year and was just as widely admired. Knizia keeps cranking them out (Auf Heller is better known today as Kingdoms) and reaches new heights with his New Games in Old Rome boxed collection. Schmiel showed the two sides of his design style with the enduring trick-taker Was Sticht? and the highly chaotic Regeln.
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41. Board Game: Catan [Average Rating:7.18 Overall Rank:345] [Average Rating:7.18 Unranked]
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1995
Klaus Teuber - The Settlers of Catan(SDMHh), Galopp Royal(sdm)

Wolfgang Kramer – El Grande(SDMH), Auf Achse: Das Kartenspiel(m), Terra X, Duel of the Shamen
Richard Ulrich - El Grande(SDMH)
Reiner Knizia – Medici(sdMH), High Society(dam), Turf Horse Racing, Formula Motor Racing

The Golden Age of Gaming begins as Teuber produces the unparalleled gaming phenomenon, Settlers. Not only is it far and away the best selling modern boardgame ever, it inspires countless expansions and spinoffs and, perhaps more importantly, becomes the Killer App that finally penetrates the vast American market. Kramer discovers the joys of partnering (with Richard Ulrich), but they have the misfortune of producing their all-time classic El Grande in the same year as "The Game". Knizia continues in his bridesmaid role with another Hall of Famer (Medici), the super-fast filler High Society, and Turf (eventually redesigned as the popular Royal Turf).
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42. Board Game: Entdecker [Average Rating:6.46 Overall Rank:2388]
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1996
Klaus Teuber - The Settlers of Catan Card Game(sdam), Entdecker(dM), Hallo Dachs!($)

Stefan Dorra – MarraCash(m), Streetcar, Yucata(d)
James Ernest – Kill Doctor Lucky(m), Give Me The Brain!(m), The Very Clever Pipe Game(m), Before I Kill You, Mr. Bond, Ben Hvrt, formation of Cheapass Games

Teuber doesn't have another blockbuster up his sleeve, but the Settlers Card Game--a superior spinoff--and the fluffier Entdecker are enough to dominate what is a somewhat off year for games. Stefan Dorra hits his stride with two fine original designs and Streetcar, a redesign of the previous year's Linie 1. Meanwhile, back in the States, James Ernest forms the brash Cheapass Games and proves less can be more with a huge number of thematic, quirky, and above all, cheap games.
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43. Board Game: Tigris & Euphrates [Average Rating:7.70 Overall Rank:76]
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1997
Reiner Knizia - Tigris & Euphrates(sDMH), Titan: The Arena(m), Mole Hill(m)

Klaus Teuber – Löwenherz(sDm), Seafarers of Catan, Die Ritter von der Haselnuß($),
Stefan Dorra – For Sale, Njet!(am), Zum Kuckuck(am), Volle Hütte(m)
Dirk HennShowmanager(sdaM), Iron Horse, Texas
Uwe Rosenberg - Bohnanza(sdAMH)

Knizia begins a brilliant four-year period unparalleled in gaming history with the release of the superb strategy classic Tigris & Euphrates. Adding Titan: The Arena, a redesign of the previous year's Grand National Derby, and the quirky Mole Hill is just icing on the cake. Teuber is almost as good, contributing the marvelous Löwenherz and the popular Settlers expansion Seafarers. Dorra has another fine year, including one of the best fillers ever designed, For Sale. The heretofore self-published Dirk Henn hits the big time, as Queen reprints his earlier Premiere as Showmanager. He also sets the stage for future success, with Iron Horse (which will become Metro) and Texas (which will become Rosenkönig). Finally, newcomer Uwe Rosenberg shows he isn't full of beans with the release of the innovative and best-selling filler Bohnanza.
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44. Board Game: Through the Desert [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:463]
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1998
Reiner Knizia - Through the Desert(sdMH), Samurai(dM), Zirkus Flohcati(m), Exxtra, Katzenjammer Blues(m), Honeybears, Jumbo Grand Prix, Ohio

Wolfgang Kramer – El Caballero(sm), Tycoon(sdm), Hornochsen(am)
Reinhard Staupe – Basari(sdm), David & Goliath(sam), Kommando

Can you say trilogy? Knizia can, as Through the Desert (originally released as Durch die Wüste) and Samurai complete the celebrated set of tile-laying games, and he adds six more light designs for another superb year. Kramer has an impressive threesome of his own, featuring the underrated Tycoon and El Caballero, along with the bullish Hornochsen. And Reinhard Staupe has his best year, with three of his own designs being notable.
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45. Board Game: Tikal [Average Rating:7.34 Overall Rank:233]
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1999
Reiner Knizia - Ra(diMH), Lost Cities(IaMH), Schotten-Totten(iam), Money(sa), Stephenson’s Rocket(im), Rheinlander, Drahtseilakt, It’s Mine!, Tabula Rasa, Hong Kong, Diabolo, Zero
Wolfgang Kramer – Tikal(SDImH), Torres(Sdim), Die Handler(dm), Evergreen

Michael Kiesling – Tikal(SDImH), Torres(Sdim), Evergreen
Matthew Kirby/Alan Osterhaus - Apples to Apples(mh)

Knizia has perhaps the greatest year any designer has ever put together, with no less than 12(!) significant designs, including award winner Lost Cities, Hall of Famer Ra, and three other nominated games (Drahtseilakt, by the way, is better, and more infamously known as Relationship Tightrope). However, Kramer and Michael Kiesling make history as the only designers to release two SdJ winners in one year (Tikal and Torres). Tikal is also one of only two games to sweep all three major awards. With Kramer also combining with Ulrich to produce the DSP 5th place finisher Die Handler, the only fair option seems to be to make him and Knizia co-Designers of the Year. Kiesling, who also obviously has a fantastic year, is the hard luck runner-up. Kirby and Osterhaus' Apples to Apples is not only one of the most popular and enduring party games ever designed, it launches one of the first new American publishing companies of the Eurogame era, Out of the Box.
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46. Board Game: Taj Mahal [Average Rating:7.30 Overall Rank:373]
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2000
Reiner Knizia - Taj Mahal(sDimH), Traumfabrik(im), Lord of the Rings($im), Merchants of Amsterdam(dim), Battle Line, Ivanhoe(m), Vampire, Trendy

Wolfgang Kramer – Princes of Florence(dIMH), Java(d), Piraten-Pitt($)
Bruno Faidutti – Citadels(sdiAM), Castle, Bongo, Corruption, Democrazy
Richard Borg – Battle Cry(Im), Hera and Zeus(im), Wongar
Leo Colovini – Cartagena(sdm), Carolus Magnus(sdm), Doge
Klaus-Jürgen Wrede – Carcassonne(SDiMH)

If you're looking for best year ever by a designer, the only real competition for Knizia's 1999 is Knizia in 2000, as he releases four major big-box designs, all IGA nominees, along with four other pleasant diversions. (Traumfabrik, of course, also has editions called Hollywood Blockbuster and Dream Factory.) In a normal year, Kramer would be in serious contention, thanks to the brilliant Princes (co-designed with Ulrich) and Java, the follow-up to Tikal. Bruno Faidutti has his golden year, with his extremely popular and a la carte winning Citadels being the highlight of his five designs. Richard Borg and Leo Colovini both have notable years, with three well-received designs apiece. And Klaus-Jürgen Wrede's Carcassonne becomes the biggest selling German game since the immortal Settlers and continues to attract fans the world over.
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47. Board Game: San Marco [Average Rating:7.18 Overall Rank:618]
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2001
Alan Moon/Aaron Weissblum - San Marco(sdIM), Capitol(sdim), Das Amulett(sdm)
Martin Wallace - Liberté(im), Volldampf(im), Pampas Railroads(im)

Reiner Knizia - Royal Turf(sM), Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring(sa), Africa(m), Maginor

It would be hard to find two better matched years than that of Martin Wallace and the team of Alan Moon and Aaron Weissblum. Both have three major game releases, all of which are widely played during the year. Wallace's three IGA nominees are balanced by Moon and Weissblum's IGA winner (the brilliant San Marco) and two SdJ and DSP nominees. The end result is co-Designers of the Year. Knizia finally comes to earth, but his four notable games still make him one of the year's leading designers.
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48. Board Game: Mexica [Average Rating:7.22 Overall Rank:566]
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2002
Wolfgang Kramer - Mexica(dim), Pueblo(dim), Goldland(dim), Wildlife(im)

Andreas Seyfarth - Puerto Rico(sDIMH)
Martin Wallace - Age of Steam(IMH), Tyros
Reiner Knizia - Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation(IM), Rome, Too Many Cooks(m), Korsar, Wheedle, Clash of the Gladiators

Kramer, at age 60, puts together perhaps his finest year, with four major titles, all IGA nominees. Two of them (Goldland and Wildlife) are even solo efforts. Eight years after his previously published game, Seyfarth electrifies the gaming world with the masterful Puerto Rico. Wallace adds to his reputation as well, as many hail Age of Steam as the ultimate rail game. Knizia has his usual huge collection of designs, including the IGA winning LOTR: The Confrontation.
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49. Board Game: Coloretto [Average Rating:6.97 Overall Rank:518]
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2003
Michael Schacht - Coloretto(sdiAm), Industria(im), Magna Grecia(im), Paris Paris(sdi), Richelieu(s), Crazy Chicken, InterUrban, Dschunke: Das Legespiel

Reiner Knizia - Amun-Re(sDiM), Carcassonne: The Castle(rim), Scarab Lords, King Arthur, Fish Eat Fish
Leo Colovini - Magna Grecia(im), The Bridges of Shangrila(dm), Alexandros, Avalon(i), Corsari, Hector and Achilles
Aaron Weissblum - New England(dimZ), Europa Tour(am), Mammoth Hunters(i), King's Breakfast, Smarty Party, Thingamajig, Stop It!
Alan Moon - New England(dimZ), Europa Tour(am), Mammoth Hunters(i), King's Breakfast, For a Few Orcs More, Stop It!

Michael Schacht, whose career to date most resembles that of a young Knizia, has his coming out party with eight well received designs. The original Knizia's Amun-Re, his heaviest game in years, wins the DSP and barely misses adding the IGA; throw in a few other solid designs and it's another fine year for the good Doctor. Colovini has a strong year as well, with a sextet of his own releases. Moon and Weissblum come to the end of their productive partnership, but they go out with a bang, with five joint designs and a few other efforts as well.

NOTE: I began writing my annual Designer of the Year articles (for various online websites) in 2004, so the 2003 award and all subsequent ones were based on my impressions of the games soon after their appearance. The 2002 and earlier awards have the advantage (or disadvantage, depending on your views) of hindsight. This may explain the occasional reference in these later writeups to a "highly rated" game which, on the Geek today, has a very ordinary rating. While I acknowledge the significance of games with staying power (those which continue to get solid gameplay and good ratings years after their release), I also feel, in this Cult of the New age that we live in, that there is considerable value in the more immediate impressions that the games make during their first year or so of life. Many a fine game has been forgotten after just a few years by all but their most ardent fans. I like the fact that the DotY awards reflect (or, at least, tries to reflect) the views of the gaming world soon after the release of each year's games. I'd like to think that, in some regard, it's a storehouse of opinions that might otherwise be lost to the ravages of time. But this is only true of the awards since 2003; the earlier awards were based on a long-term view of how the games were regarded and the earlier the award, the more hindsight was applied. This is neither good, nor bad--it's just the way it worked out. But it does mean that there is a separation point between the two types of awards and this is where it starts, so I wanted to point that out.

(Thanks to Tom Lehmann for suggesting I include this note--it was a very good observation.)
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50. Board Game: Ticket to Ride [Average Rating:7.44 Overall Rank:156] [Average Rating:7.44 Unranked]
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2004
Alan Moon - Ticket to Ride(SdiMH), Oasis(r), Clocktowers, Warriors, Employee of the Month, Slow Freight, Immer oben auf!

Reiner Knizia - Einfach Genial(sdigm), Blue Moon(iam), Razzia!(a), Schotten-Totten(a), Marco Polo, Easy Come, Easy Go, Spy, Minotaur Lords, Hollywood Lives!
Wolfgang Kramer - Maharaja(sdim), Tanz der Hornochsen(r), Saga, Sunken City(r), Who’s the Ass?, FBI
Martin Wallace - Struggle of Empires(i), Runebound, La Strada, Australian Railways, Election USA
Rüdiger Dorn - Goa(diM), Jambo(iAm)
Bernd Brunnhofer - St. Petersburg(sDIm)

Moon combines a large output, much of it with former design partner Weissblum, with the great gateway game and SdJ winner Ticket to Ride to ride to the Designer of the Year award. Knizia and Kramer both have half a dozen or so notable designs, highlighted by games that receive nominations for all three major awards (Einfach Genial and Maharaja). Wallace’s varied output includes a heavy design (Struggle), his latest train game, and a trio of lighter creations. Rüdiger Dorn scores with a great gamer’s game (Goa, which loses the IGA in a tiebreaker) and an excellent two-player design (Jambo, which wins the a la carte). The most honored game of the year is Bernd Brunnhofer’s St. Petersburg, which wins the DSP and IGA awards and is a finalist for the SdJ.
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