Eurogames, aka German-style Board Games
An introduction to German- or European-style board games, with recommendations.
Many of the best board games released in the past two decades originated in Europe, but remain somewhat obscure due to very light marketing. Settlers of Catan, the best known of these in the U.S., became as popular as it did almost entirely by word of mouth.
Aside from European origin, there are few rigid rules as to what makes a board game a Eurogame or a German-style game, but there are a few attributes far more common in Eurogames than in mainstream American board games:
- Themes. Eurogames are very rarely simulations, but they are also very rarely abstract, even if they could be. In-game vocabulary is based on themes, such as colonization, farming, or mail delivery, even if gameplay is not realistic at all. Games also feature (usually colorful) artwork based on these themes.
- Players usually number from 3-5. 2 is rare. 6 is rare. Anything beyond 6 is extremely rare.
- No eliminations. Players are not usually eliminated over the course of a Eurogame, and if they are eliminated, it is only very close to the end. Nobody is left out while his friends play for another half-hour.
- Resource management. European game designers have found ways to work resource management not only into building games but even into racing or tile-laying games.
- Non-zero-sum play. Players' actions often cause progress for others, and players strive to find ways to benefit from others' progress.
- Trading. We Americans tend to think of Europeans as socialistic, but somehow they manage to work markets and trading into their games much better than American game designers. The simple bricks-sticks-rocks-sheep-wheat trading of Settlers of Catan, for example, takes on far more of the features of a real market than does the real estate market in most games of Monopoly.
For those who would like to try playing Eurogames, below are listed some of the most highly regarded.
Carcassonne, a great introduction to Eurogames
Carcassonne, winner of the 2001 Spiel de Jahres award, is one of the best European board games and perhaps the best choice for beginners, as its rules can be learned in several minutes even by children as young as 8, it works as a 2-player game, and gameplay is simple enough for a player to be at least somewhat competitive the first time around.
On each turn players draw tiles, featuring portions of fields, roads, walled cities (hence the name), or cloisters, and play them where they match. Optionally, a single feature of the current tile may be claimed by placing one of the wooden stick figures (called "followers" in the rulebook but more commonly known as "meeples") that have become the icon of European board gaming; points are scored when features are completed, and some are awarded for incomplete features at the end of the game. Since each player has a small stock of meeples, this is as much a resource-management game as a tile-laying game.
The game's strategic intricacy and much of its fun comes with figuring out how to profit from other players' building of features.
Settlers of Catan, the classic of the genre
The Settlers of Catan is the best-known and most popular Eurogame, and the game that introduced most U.S. gamers to German-style board games. It's a lot of fun even the first time around, but the rulebook makes it seem more complicated than it is. It's best learned by playing, and it's far better the second time around and thereafter.
Players compete to build settlements on an island with limited resources or to use those resources to acquire development cards. As players cannot at the start produce everything they need for themselves and later cannot do so advantageously, trading is central to the game, making it highly social.
One could also call it "educational", but that word tends to imply pedantry when applied to board games. Features of real-world markets including profit, fluctuating prices, and comparative advantage emerge without formal mention, then get distorted at end-game when the players start worrying about keeping the other players from winning.
Many "expansions" are available, most of which modify the rules in ways that muddle the gameplay and make it less enjoyable. Since the standard box only has enough supplies for a 3-4 player game, the 5-6 player expansion is a must. Other than that, the only other worthwhile expansion is Seafarers, which features several rules sets, some of which merely change the geometry or add extra ways of earning victory points, and some of which introduce elements of exploration.
Worthwhile Settlers of Catan expansions
Puerto Rico, the top game on Boardgamegeek.com
Puerto Rico has been the top-rated game on Boardgamegeek.com for most of the time since its introduction, displaced only briefly by Agricola.
It's a 3-5 player island-themed development and resource-management game, but manages to be very different from Settlers of Catan. There is no inter-player trading, nor do players even play on the same board. The way in which the players interact and possibly thwart each other is much more subtle.
Perhaps the best innovation introduced by Puerto Rico is its turn sequence. In each round of the game, each player in turn gets to decide a "role" that allows e.g. building, production of goods, or settlement, then the players in turn all get to perform that action, with minor bonuses going to the player who made the decision.
Rules are a bit complicated--leading to perhaps too much reference to the manual during play to resolve subtle questions--and it takes at least one play-through to learn good gameplay, as some good practices are very far from obvious. I found that it encourages a dawdling or over-thinking style of play from people not inclined by custom or manner to play briskly, and that it lacks the sociability that made Catan so fun. Nevertheless, it's a very well-structured game and can be quite enjoyable when played with the right group of people.
Several other well-regarded Eurogames
Joined:Nov 21, 2003
6 more weeks of data taking, once everything starts working again.
Copyright © 2000-2013 eBay Inc. All Rights Reserved