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 board games on my shelf.
What is a Eurogame?
Eurogames are a variety of board game. If the phrase 'board game' conjures up Monopoly or Risk in your mind, that the wrong image. Eurogames are a style of games that took off in the 1990s, leading to a revolution in modern board game design.
Eurogames are called that because the center of activity in developing them was 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. In recent years the boundaries between Eurogames and other modern board games, never sharp, have become even more fluid, but there are some general themes.
Eurogames are sometimes abstract, but usually have some kind of theme. (Settlers of Catan is settling an island, Agricola is developing a farm.) 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.
- 1: is for a game I would actively try to avoid playing (eg Monopoly), preferring to read a book instead.
- 2: is a game that I would play, and may even enjoy, but can't see me picking again compared to others in my collection. I really ought to get rid of it.
- 3: is a game I like, and want to keep in my collection. But if my house burned down, I wouldn't buy it again.
- 4: is a game I want in my collection, and would replace if anything happened to it.
- 5: is for my favorite games - the ones I would take to a desert island (as long as there were other gamers there to play with me).
(I periodically update these ratings.)
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 (my handle there is martinfowlercom). 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. In particular there are lots of videos that do run-throughs of games, which are well worth watching to get a feel if you'd like a game. Such videos are fully indexed on the relevant BoardGameGeek page for the game.
I've scored each game with a complexity, which is my estimate of how much effort it is to learn to play the game.
- 1 gear: is a game that I can comfortably teach to non-gamers, knowing they should get hang of the rules (if not the strategy) within a few turns.
- 2 gears: is something I would bring out once I sense someone has a bit of experience with these kinds of games, but still is a game that I think they would get the hang of after a few turns.
- 3 gears: is for games that I don't feel most people can grasp until they've played a full game. I'd only offer these to people who I think are likely to have (or develop) a taste for heavier games.
Gateway games are the ones I'd choose from my collection to introduce modern games to 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 expansions to popular games - I'd usually rather get a new game that introduces new mechanics and theme. Increasingly, however, games are designed with expansions planned right from the start (eg Race for the Galaxy and Dominion). I've only mentioned expansions here that we have - look to the other links to find out the full range of expansions.
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 expansions we have, you may be able to get more players with other expansions - again check the links.
If any of these games sound interesting, a good way to find out more about them is to watch a video play-through. I particularly like the ones from Heavy Cardboard, particularly for the more complex games. Since Heavy Cardboard moved to Boston, I've become a frequent player on their videos. Rahdo is another good choice for getting a feel for game.
Number of Players
Playing Time: 90 minutes
Players: 3-5 (additional rules for 2)
Complexity: ⚙ ⚙