German-style board game
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A German-style board game, also referred to as a German game, Euro game or Euro-style game, is any of a class of tabletop games that generally have simple rules, short to medium playing times, indirect player interaction, and abstract physical components. Such games emphasize strategy, downplay luck and conflict, lean towards economic rather than military themes, and usually keep all the players in the game until it ends. German-style games are sometimes contrasted with American-style games, which generally involve more luck, conflict, and drama.
German-style games are usually less abstract than chess, but more abstract than wargames and train games. Likewise, they generally require more thought and planning than party games, such as Pictionary or Trivial Pursuit, but less than classic strategy games, such as chess and Go.
Definition and variations
Not all German-style board games are German, and not all German-style games are board games. As a result, various other names have been offered for the class. Eurogame is a common, though still imprecise, alternative label. Because most of these games feature the name of the designer prominently on the box, they are sometimes known as designer games. Other names include family strategy game and hobby game. Shorter, lighter games in this class are known as gateway games, whereas longer, heavier games are known as gamers' games.
Contemporary examples of modern German-style board games referred to as German-style, such as Acquire, appeared in the 1960s. The recent genre as a more concentrated design movement began in the late 1970s and early 1980s in Germany. Today, Germany publishes more board games than any other country per capita. The phenomenon has spread to other European countries such as France, the Netherlands, and Sweden. While many games are published and played in other markets such as the United States and the United Kingdom, they occupy a niche status there.
The Settlers of Catan, first published in 1995, paved the way for the genre in the United States and outside Europe. It was neither the first "German game" nor the first such game to find an audience outside Germany, but it became much more popular than any of its predecessors. It quickly sold millions of copies in Germany, and in the process brought money and attention to the genre as a whole. Other games in the genre to achieve widespread popularity include Carcassonne, Puerto Rico, Ticket to Ride, and Alhambra.
German-style games are usually multiplayer and can be learned easily and played in a relatively short time, perhaps multiple times in a single session. A certain amount of socializing might typically be expected during game play, as opposed to the relative silence sometimes expected during some strategy games like chess and go or restrictions on allowable conversations or actions found in some highly competitive games such as contract bridge. German-style games are generally simpler than the wargames that flourished in the 1970s and 1980s from publishers such as SPI and Avalon Hill, but nonetheless often have a considerable depth of play, especially in some "gamers' games" such as Tigris and Euphrates and Caylus.
German-style games tend to have a theme (role-play element or a background story)—more like Monopoly or Clue, rather than poker or Tic Tac Toe. Game mechanics are not restricted by the theme, however—unlike a simulation game, the theme of a German game is often merely mnemonic. It is somewhat common for a game to be designed with one theme and published with another, or for the same game to be given a significantly different theme for a later republication, or for two games on wildly different themes to have very similar mechanics. Combat themes are uncommon, and player conflict is often indirect (for example, competing for a scarce resource).
Example themes are:
- Carcassonne – build a medieval landscape complete with walled cities, monasteries, roads, and fields.
- Puerto Rico – develop a plantation on the island of Puerto Rico, set in the 18th century.
- Imperial – as an international investor, influence the politics of pre-World War I European empires.
- Bruxelles 1893 – take the role of an Art Nouveau architect during the late 19th century and try to become the most famous architect in Belgium.
Games made for everyone
While many titles (especially the strategically heavier ones) are enthusiastically played by gamers as a hobby, German-style games are, for the most part, well suited to social play. In keeping with this social function, various characteristics of the games tend to support that aspect well, and these have become quite common across the genre. For example, generally German-style games do not have a fixed number of players like chess or bridge; though there is a sizable body of German-style games that are designed for exactly two players, most games can accommodate anywhere from two to six players (with varying degrees of suitability). Six-player games are somewhat rare, or require expansions, as with The Settlers of Catan or Carcassonne. Usually each player plays for him- or herself, rather than in a partnership or team.
In keeping with their social orientation, numbers are usually low in magnitude, often under ten, and any arithmetic in the game is typically trivial.
Playing time varies from a half hour to a few hours, with one to two hours being typical. In contrast to games such as Risk or Monopoly, in which a close game can extend indefinitely, German-style games usually have a mechanism to stop the game within its stated playing time. Common mechanisms include a pre-determined winning score, a set number of game turns, or depletion of limited game resources. For example, Ra and Carcassonne have limited tiles to exhaust.
No player elimination
Another prominent characteristic of these games is the lack of player elimination. Eliminating players before the end of the game is seen as contrary to the social aspect of such games. Most of these games are designed to keep all players in the game as long as possible, so it is rare to be certain of victory or defeat until relatively late in the game. Some of the mechanics, like hidden scoring or scoring at the end of the game, are also designed around this avoidance of player elimination.
Balancing mechanisms are often integrated into the rules, giving slight advantages to lagging players and slight hindrances to the leaders. This helps to keep the game competitive to the very end.
These games are designed for international audiences, so they are not word games and usually do not contain much text outside of the rules. Game components often use symbols and icons instead of words, reducing the amount of text to be translated between localized editions. Gameplay also tends to de-emphasize or entirely exclude verbal communication as a game element, with many games being fully playable if all players know the rules, even if they do not speak a common language.
Some publishers design games that contain instructions and game elements in more than one language, e.g. the game Ursuppe comes with rules and cards in both German and English; Khronos features instructions in French, English, and German, and a Swiss game, Enchanted Owls, provides French, German, Italian, and Romansh rules. However, this is usually not the case if the rights to sell the game outside its country of origin are sold to another publisher.
English editions are often available, either published in the USA or co-published by a German company cooperating with a USA company, or the reverse (example: Dominion).
A wide variety of often innovative mechanisms or mechanics are used, and familiar mechanics like rolling dice and moving, capture, or trick taking are avoided. If a game has a board, the board is usually irregular rather than uniform or symmetric (like Risk rather than chess or Scrabble); the board is often random (like Settlers of Catan) or has random elements (like Tikal). Some boards are merely mnemonic or organizational and contribute only to ease of play, like a cribbage board; examples of this include Puerto Rico and Princes of Florence. Random elements are often present, but do not usually dominate the game. While rules are light to moderate, they allow depth of play, usually requiring thought, planning, and a shift of tactics through the game and often with a chess- or backgammon-like opening game, middle game, and end game.
Although not relevant to actual play, the name of the game's designer is often prominently mentioned on the box, or at least in the rule book. Top designers enjoy considerable following among enthusiasts of German games. For this reason, the name "designer games" is often offered as a description of the genre. Recently, there has also been a wave of games designed as spin-offs of popular novels, such as the games taking their style from the German bestsellers Der Schwarm and Tintenherz.
Designers of German-style board games include:
- Alex Randolph created over 125 games and is responsible for the placement of the author's name on the rules and box.
- Reiner Knizia is one of the most well-known German game designers, having designed over 200 published games. He usually works as the sole designer. Recurring mechanisms in his games include auctions (Ra and Modern Art), tile placement (Tigris and Euphrates and Ingenious), and intricate scoring rules (Samurai). He has also designed many card games such as Lost Cities, Schotten-Totten, and Blue Moon, and the cooperative board game The Lord of the Rings.
- Klaus Teuber has designed a small number of games, many of which became extremely popular. Some have won the Spiel des Jahres Award. Titles include The Settlers of Catan and Adel Verpflichtet.
- Stefan Feld is a German designer with a unique style of his own. He has designed games such as Castles of Burgundy and Trajan, and has been nominated for the Spiel des Jahres.
- Wolfgang Kramer often works with other game designers. Some of his best-known titles include El Grande, Tikal, Princes of Florence, and Torres. His games often have some sort of action point system, and include some geometric element.
- Andreas Seyfarth has designed the award-winning games Manhattan, Puerto Rico, and, with Karen Seyfarth, Thurn and Taxis.
- Alan R. Moon is a British-born designer with numerous games to his credit, often with a railway theme, including the Spiel des Jahres winning Ticket to Ride and Elfenland. His games are often characterized by selecting a single action from a choice of several (e.g. gather new cards or use existing cards)
- Uwe Rosenberg designed Agricola, a highly ranked game on BoardGameGeek, as well as Bohnanza, Le Havre, and several others.
- Leo Colovini is best known for his board games Cartagena and Carcassonne: The Discovery.
- Sid Sackson was a prolific American game designer.
- Antoine Bauza is a prolific French designer, best known for his work on 7 Wonders.
There are many German companies producing board games, such as Hans im Glück and Goldsieber. Often German producers will try to establish a line of similar games, such as Kosmos's two-player card game series or Alea's big box line.
The rights to sell the game in English are often sold to separate companies. Some try to change the game as little as possible, such as Rio Grande Games. Others, including Mayfair Games, substantially change the visual design of the game, and sometimes the rules as well.
The most prestigious German board game award is the Spiel des Jahres ("game of the year"). The award is very family-oriented. Shorter, more approachable games such as Ticket to Ride and Elfenland are usually preferred by the committee that gives out the award. In contrast, the Deutscher Spiele Preis ("German game prize") is often awarded to games that are more complex and strategic, such as Puerto Rico. However, there are a few games with broad enough appeal to win both awards: The Settlers of Catan (1995), Carcassonne (2001), Dominion (2009).
Xbox Live Arcade has included popular games from the genre, with Catan being released to strong sales on May 13, 2007, Carcassonne being released on June 27, 2007. Lost Cities and Ticket to Ride soon followed. Alhambra was due to follow later in 2007 until being cancelled.
The iPhone has released versions of Settlers of Catan and Zooloretto in 2009. Carcassonne was added to the iPhone App Store in June 2010. Later, Ticket to Ride was developed for both the iPhone and the iPad (boosting sales of the board game tremendously).
- Going Cardboard (Documentary about German-style board games and their community)
- List of game designers
- Cooperative board game
- BoardGameGeek Glossary Retrieved on October 20th, 2008.
- "German recreation: An affinity for rules?" The Economist, August 28, 2008.
- Bob Schwartz. "One Retailer's Perspective".
- Ingenious is one example of an exception to this.
- "Bruxelles 1893 Review".
- Xbox Live's Major Nelson: Xbox Live Activity for week of 4/30
- Porcaro, John (2007-06-25). "Build a Medieval Empire on Xbox LIVE Arcade with the Popular German Board Game Carcassonne".
- Days of Wonder CEO explains how iPad Ticket to Ride boosted sales of the real thing
- Brett and Board with information on German-style games (has not been updated in some time)
- Luding.org – board game database with over 15,000 English and German reviewed games
- BoardGameGeek – Large internet database of boardgames and online fan community.
- Gamerate.net – Internet database of board, card and electronic games.