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What Is a Eurogame?

Almost every day we have people come into Game Empire who’ve never seen the kinds of games we sell. We carry a lot of exotic games that are nearly impossible to find anywhere else.  One of the most popular genres we sell are Eurogames. What is a Eurogame? Glad you asked.

Eurogames are a style of board game that originated in Europe, but that come from many places now. Specifically, they originated in Germany, and most of the best ones still come from there. Eurogames are different from traditional American board games like Monopoly, Risk and Clue in three important characteristics. American board games generally have these three common features:

1. Winner-Take-All Mentality. American board games are excellent at generating a single winner and no real second place. One player wins and everyone else gets crushed. One player gets all the money and everyone else is bankrupt. One player conquers the world and everyone else is subjugated. One player is declared smart and all of the other players are not. American games are really good at putting the winner on a pedestal and making the losers feel like, well, losers.

2. Players Eliminated One-at-a-Time. American board games tend to kick players out one-at-a-time. You’re bankrupt, you’re out (Monopoly). You’re conquered, you’re out (Risk). You guessed wrong, you’re out (Clue). This can be embarrassing and no fun if you’re eliminated early. Many people think they don’t like gaming because of this. They feel embarrassed because they were eliminated early and feel like they now have to wear a dunce cap until the game is over.

3. Players Put into Direct Conflict with Each Other. American games tend to put the players into direct conflict with each other. You owe me money! (Monopoly). I’m invading you! (Risk).  I can answer this question and you can’t! (Clue). This direct conflict between the players can add a lot of stress to a game, and can end in hard feelings. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game of Monopoly or Risk where someone didn’t get upset and decide that all they were going to do was make sure that some particular opponent didn’t win. Also, once many people play an American board game they put it away for a week or two (or more!) before pulling it out again to let people cool off.

Eurogames don’t do any the above, as spelled out below:

1. The Scoring Track. Eurogames generally involve scoring points for achieving goals, and have a scoring track that keeps a running total of the points each player has scored. This is important because at the end of the game each player’s score is compared to determine the winner. Usually, the winner has scored some number of points but most of the other players will not be far behind. This is great because no one feels like they were humiliated on national television when they lose. Often, the losing players will want an immediate rematch because “if they just do a little better” they can win. Customers are always telling me how last night they played Settlers of Catan, Dominion, or Carcassonne many times until the wee hours of the morning.

2. Everyone Is in Until the Very End. Eurogames never eliminate players until the game is completely over. In fact, many Eurogames have a secret scoring mechanic which makes it hard to figure out who is going to win until the game is actually over. You may think you’re winning big time, only to find out that someone else has really racked up points on the secret score. Ticket to Ride is famous for this. It took me forever to win a game against my wife because she was really good at earning points on her tickets and getting the “Longest Line” bonus (I always forgot about that Longest Line bonus).

3. No Direct Conflict Between the Players. Eurogames almost never put the players into direct conflict with each other. Rather, players score by achieving certain goals: who built the most productive farm, who shipped the most product, or who built the most entertaining amusement park or zoo. Players have a very limited ability to interfere with the other player’s scoring. This keeps the stress levels between the players low and keeps the fun factor high. But beware, there are some interesting exceptions to this rule that can prove to be disastrous. The best example is “The Princess and the Dragon” for Carcassonne. Carcassonne, by itself and with most of the other expansions, is a classic Eurogame. But “The Princess and the Dragon” expansion introduces a game mechanic that allows the players losing the game to gang up on the person winning the game. I’ve seen adult players cry after playing with this expansion because twice they were in the lead, and twice the other players manipulated the dragon to eat most of the leader’s “Meeples”.  Not good.  Personally, I like “The Princess and the Dragon” expansion, but then I am more comfortable playing confrontational games like war games. Many gamers are not.

Another interesting and valuable characteristic about Eurogames is that they tend to have fewer moving parts than many American games. But they push a particular game mechanic much further than an American game. One of the results of this is that Eurogames are unique in that it’s pretty easy to lose gracefully. In other words, if you employ a B level strategy, you will probably score a respectable number of points, but you probably won’t win. If you use an A strategy, you are either going to win or you will lose relatively badly. This is important because many gamers aren’t really trying to win the game, they are simply trying to not be humiliated when they lose. They enjoy the communal aspect of gaming and defeating the other players is not a priority for them. Eurogames are perfect for this type of gamer. They are also perfect for the really competitive gamers as well because the A strategy is hard to pull off, particularly with experienced competitors in the same game.

So that’s it – Eurogames in a nutshell. If you haven’t tried one yet, I urge you to do so. They really are a different style of game from what most Americans have experienced. And none of this is intended to disparage American games. I love games like Monopoly, Risk and Clue, but I know that many people don’t. The shame of it is that they therefore don’t think they like any board games. The reality is that they like interacting with other people in a communal experience, and they even like some level of competition. But what they don’t like is feeling embarrassed when they lose. Eurogames avoid this.

If you want to try a Eurogame, then I suggest Ticket to Ride (either the U.S. or the European map version) and Carcassonne. These are both classic Eurogames, but they have fairly simple rules and you will probably be playing the game correctly right out of the box. Other excellent Eurogames are Settlers of Catan (the King of the Eurogames), Dominion, Puerto Rico, Power Grid, and Agricola. But these games are a bit more advanced and may be too much at the beginning. Also, it’s important to figure out what kind of games you like and are good at playing. Later, I will be writing a blog about the difference between analog and digital thinking, and how to tell which one you employ as a default. This will very much determine what kinds of games you’ll enjoy the most.

If you want to learn Eurogames (and happen to be in Sunny Southern California!), then come on down to Game Empire Pasadena on a Wednesday or Friday evening, or on a Sunday afternoon or evening. We have a regular board game crowd that meets at those times and they are eager to teach games to new players. It’s a great way to meet new people, learn new games, and just have a lot of fun.

Happy Gaming!

Game Empire Pasadena


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