Tuesday, October 4
Introduction to Euro-Games
The pastime of playing board games has certainly evolved from those games of childhood memory, but you wouldn't know that from a visit to your local toy store, where many long familiar titles such as Sorry, Risk, Clue and Monopoly continue to fill the shelves. These titles seem self perpetuating, surviving on nostalgia and familiarity alone. They are the games everyone seems to think of when I mention that I enjoy playing board games…but they’re not what I mean. When I mention board games, I’m talking about EuroGames (At least that is what I am calling them. To others they are also known as Designer Games, German Board Games, Family Strategy Games, and even TGOO, an acronym for ‘these games of ours’ popular among some internet discussion groups. More on all that later…).
But what are EuroGames? Well, the title EuroGames cover a surprisingly diverse variety of games which are generally distinguished by several common traits:
- Playtime: Most EuroGames are designed to be played in one to two hours or less, perfect for an evening's entertainment.
- Active Involvement: Throughout the game, players are faced with interesting decisions which directly impact the game's outcome. Within the spectrum of available games the level and type of decision making required is very diverse, from very light and humorous to the brain melting opposite extreme. Plus, most games do not feature player elimination, keeping all participants involved to the end.
- Mechanics over Theme: A EuroGame's rules are often built around a central mechanic -- the component that guides a player's decision making during the game. This is the core of the game and is often the spark that generates the excitement found in playing the game. A game's mechanic is the how in 'how do you play?'. This differs from theme, which is what the game is about, its environment or ambiance. EuroGames tend to emphasize the mechanics of gameplay over thematic elements. Historically, American boardgame designs tend to reverse that relationship with rich storylines supported by special rules exceptions to fit the theme.
- Production Quality: The graphic design and production quality found in EuroGames is generally far superior to that of traditional American games. Many games feature solid wood components, thick cardboard playing pieces and boards that are simply beautiful to look at. The EuroGames in the title image are fine examples of the genre's design presence. Represented from left to right are Ticket to Ride, Medina, San Marco, Tikal, and Finstere Fleure.
- Designer Recognition: Lastly the game's designers feature prominently in the marketing of EuroGames (thus the suggestion to call them Designer Games). The publishers of EuroGames recognize that each designer produces different types of games and that consumers will seek out games based on a designer's previous games...in a way this is no different than with books or music.
There is great variety within the games included under the umbrella title of EuroGames. This variety is generated by the diversity in game mechanics upon which these games are designed. The evolution of board game design continues with the development of clever and elegant new mechanics and the refining and intercombination of different mechanics (a cross-breeding of sorts). By looking at a game's mechanic, Eurogames can be further categorized into different types of play:
- Area Control:
Games featurng this mechanic have players trying to maximize their control over areas of the board. Points are often scored most and second most in an area and different regions are often scored at different times throughout the game. The process in which pieces are added or moved on the board will often integrate other mechanics such as bidding for turn order or use of special action cards. El Grande integrates both of these secondary mechanics while Trias adds an innovative concept of a moving/expanding playing board. There is an interesting Area Majority Geeklist at BoardgameGeek which provides many further examples of these games.
- Resource Management Games: This mechanic has players collect, spend and trade resources to maximize their personal gain. Settlers of Catan, a game that is often single-handedly credited creating the EuroGame market and certainly is one of the leading sellers, incorporates resource management and trading on a modular board.
- Negotiation Games: Deal making pure and simple. Traders of Genoa and I'm the Boss are both classic examples.
- Tile Placement: As you'd expect this mechanic has players add tiles (or in the case of Medina wooden blocks) to the board (sometimes there is no board as the tiles are the board, such as with Dominos). Tile placement is a clasic mechanic that designers have used to produce a great variety of EuroGames. Some example games include Fresh Fish, Carcassonne, and Tigris And Euphrates.