Eurogames

02 October 2013

I'm a fan of Eurogames - a style of approachable, yet thoughtful board games. I like them because you can usually learn and play one in an evening, yet they provide enough strategic interest to play many times. I sometimes get asked more about them and what and what my favorites are. So here is a short article explaining them and an interactive list of the games on my shelf.

What is a Eurogame? 

Eurogames (also known and German-style Board Games) are a particular variety of board game. If the phrase 'board game' conjures up Monopoly or Risk in your mind, that the wrong image. Eurogames are a relatively recent phenomena that's a whole new class of games which I really enjoy. (Sadly I don't get to play often enough as many of my gaming friends are in Europe which is a long way from Boston.)

Eurogames are called that because the center of activity in developing them is in Europe, more precisely Germany (hence they are often called German-style boardgames). The Eurogaming community developed a style of board games which are thoughtful, but not overly complex. Good Eurogames can be learned and played in a couple of hours. yet are interesting enough to play repeatedly.

A large part of this is a focus on good and clever mechanics. Die-roll movement (such as Monopoly) is something you don't see. Much of the interest in Eurogames is the varied mechanics people come up with to make an interesting game.

Eurogames are sometimes abstract, but usually have some kind of theme. (Settlers of Catan is settling an island, Puerto Rico is developing a colony.) However the theme is usually pretty loose, and there's no attempt to create a good simulation. In that way Eurogames are different to simulation games. The latter were usually long and complex, Eurogames don't hesitate to sacrifice realism in order to get a game that works well. Some people dislike this, arguing that the theme is "pasted on". I find the theme tends to add flavor to the game, but I also appreciate the fact that mechanics and playability are put first. Those who are bothered by imprecise simulations would find this much more off-putting.

A key element of Eurogames is that you can usually learn and play a new game in an evening. There is some variation in complexity, but even the more complex games (like Puerto Rico) play in a couple of hours and are fun on your first attempt.

A big problem with many older board games, like Risk and Monopoly, is that players are eliminated before the end. This leaves people disengaged from events. Worse still the climax can easily be a drawn out attrition where it's clear who will win eventually, but it takes a while to finish the last opponents off (*cough* Monopoly *cough*). Eurogames avoid these problems by working hard to keep everyone engaged to the end, often by increasing the tempo as the game goes on so that things move slowly at the beginning (so you can learn while playing) but finish fast to get a close and exciting climax.

Eurogames tend to have indirect conflict. Rather than attacking another player's position (as in Chess or Risk), you concentrate on building up your own position while competing for resources. While there can be blocking of other players, it's usually a minor part of the mechanics. As a result it's no surprise that war themes are rare in Eurogames.

Games can easily drag if you have to wait a long time while other people make their move. So Eurogame mechanics try to reduce waiting time by keeping lots of short rapid moves. Several games have simultaneous moves, or at least look for ways to allow you to do most of your decision making while others are having their go.

There's a lot of variation in randomness between different kinds of Eurogames. Some (eg Agricola, Puerto Rico) have only trace elements of randomness, others introduce randomness through mechanisms like card draws (Race for the Galaxy) or tile draws (Carcassonne). Greater randomness increases the luck element in a game, but can also increase the variation that makes repeated play enjoyable as well as making it more enjoyable for the less skilled at the table. On the whole, however, I find that even those games with greater randomness will see more capable players winning more often.

The Eurogames world has an influential award, the Spiel des Jahres.

How to use this list 

This is a list of most of the games that I'm familiar with, mostly because I have a copy. I've included various notes about them and my opinions of them, together with links to suitable sites for more information. You can use the panel on the left to filter the games list. Each game has an expander button which you can use to get more information on the game.

I'm a casual gamer, who gets to play at most half-a-dozen games a month with other casual players. I like games as a social experience, usually with a fair bit of tippling. So I don't get deep into the tactical nuances of games.

I've given each game a personal rating out of 5 where "1" indicates a game I'd rather not play (Monopoly or Risk would score this), "5" is a game I'm very keen to play, and "3" is a game I enjoy but don't push to play more than occasionally. Ratings are my current rating, I expect these will change (they have over the last few years).

For each game, I provide links to three particularly useful sources on the web. BoardGameGeek is a treasure-trove of information on games, a good place to seek rule clarifications, game reviews, and variants. Amazon is good place to buy games from (especially since using my link will help fuel my gaming habit). Wikipedia often has useful entries on these games. These will all expand considerably on my rather brief notes.

I've scored each game with a complexity, which is my estimate of how much effort it is to learn and play the game to the casual gaming standard my gaming circles. None of these are horribly complex to learn, most of my friends can pick up and have a reasonable game of any of these in an evening. 4 gears represents a game that needs a good bit of concentration and planning to play, 2 gears is more tactical than strategic and feels less "heavy" in play. 1 gear is for a game that I think is particularly easy to pick up for players who aren't much into gaming and younger children.

My notion of complexity summarizes how easy it is to learn a game and how easy it is to play it at our casual level. Often these aren't the same thing. For example, Go is a game where it's very easy to learn the basic moves, but hard to play to a decent level. The rating conflates these notions, but I try to indicate the nature of the complexity in the text.

One area of complexity that has struck me is the range of potential options. The fun in games comes from having to choose between various options, but some games lead you to a very large range of potential choices. Some players find these games to be particularly hard work (Caylus and Race for the Galaxy are examples of this).

Gateway games are those I've found successful to hook people who have never tried Eurogames before. Travel games are those that pack small when travelling, and often can be set up easily in a bar or cafe. Cooperative games are those where the players collaborate against the game, rather than play against each other.

On the whole I prefer to avoid extensions to popular games - I'd usually rather get a new game that introduces new mechanics and theme. Increasingly, however, games are designed with extensions planned right from the start (eg Race for the Galaxy and Dominion). I've only mentioned extensions here that we have - look to the other links to find out the full range of extensions.

I've taken the playing time directly from BoardGameGeek. Cover photos reflect the copy of the game we have, many of these have changed with updated box covers. The player counts reflect the extensions we have, you may be able to get more players with other extensions - again check the links.


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