Eurogame is a term often heard in board games terminology. It is also often used incorrectly or people don’t even know what it means and use it because someone else speaks that way and it sounds cool. We’re going to have a look at what is an eurogame, what characteristics are typical for an eurogame and look at some examples.
History and Origins
Eurogames are also often called German-style board game, because, you guessed it, they originate from Germany. Legend implies that after the second world war, which in Germany was a time of rebuilding the country and economic development, the board games also took on a more peaceful note. Agriculture, building and trading was more welcomed over fighting and destroying. It is the exact opposite of an American type board game (another vaguely used term), which focus on conflict, elimination, and (one) winner-takes-all play style.
Genre began picking up the pace in the 60s, 70s and 80s, but it was in 1995, when it really took off: 1995 marks the publishement of Settlers of Catan. Even though it wasn’t the first eurogame in Germany or the first that made it out abroad, it was the first that became a mainstream hit, scored some big sales number and gained popularity among players all over the world.
That opened up the market for other popular games like Tigris and Euphrates (1997) Carcassonne (2000), Puerto Rico (2002), Power Grid (2004), Ticket to Ride (2004) and many others. These days the genre has really boomed and more eurogames are published every year that anyone can even count, let alone play or review.
Definition of the Term
One thing the eurogame is not: it’s not a geographical term. It was in the beginning, but in our era of globalization, such things do not exist anymore.
It’s not easy to define the term exactly, because eurogames often have very different game mechanics and themes from one to another. Even the “official” Wikipedia definition admits, that it’s an “imprecise label”.
But eurogames do have a lot of common characteristics, and I believe it is by these characteristics, that they are best described.
Characteristics of Eurogames
1. Designer games
Eurogames started the trend of exposing and branding the designer. (Although now everybody does it.) Some of them (you probably heard of Reiner Knizia, Uwe Rosenberg, Klaus Teuber, Jamey Stegmaier and Klaus-Jürgen Wrede among others) became quite famous and used their following to launch other games also designed by them.
2. Reliance on luck is minimal
Eurogames rely on skill rather than luck. Although there may still be some random factors involved (drawing of cards or tiles, setup of the board or victory conditions), these factors do not affect the outcome of the game, but diversify the gameplay and increase replay ability.
If there is a random factor, it usually happens before the player acts, so he has enough time to think and react. For example – in Carcassonne player draws a random terrain tile and then decides where to place it. In Catan, die throw decides about resource distribution, but after that it’s player’s choice how to spend them.
3. Theme is very pronounced but not necessarily gameplay related
Theme in eurogames is often well-thought-out and executed to the detail (artistic style, quality wooden tokens and miniatures), but they are not essentially connected to the gameplay, but act as a tool to name abstract game elements (tiles, resources, meeples). It is not unusual for games to be given a re-branding as a completely different theme (for example Catan: Star Trek uses outposts and Starbases as settlements and Dilithium, Tritanium, Oxygen and Food as resources), but the gameplay mechanics stay exactly the same.
4. Players do not get eliminated
Contrary to “American” type board games, in eurogames, all players remain in the game to the very end. Winner is determined by victory points and is often unknown until the very end, when the points are counted. Late twists, like hidden victory points, often turn the tables and one can never be sure in victory until the very end. Often, more paths to victory points are available.
Games can’t drag on forever, but are limited by either victory points or depletion of resources, turns or tiles. Therefore, they are easier to plan an evening around, because you always know how long it takes to finish a game. Most of eurogames try to hit the “movie-length” sweet spot of around 1-2 hours per game.
5. Game mechanics
Game mechanics follow the rule “easy to learn, but hard to master”. Single player is rare to find, games are designed around the 2-6 player limit, but 3-4 is most commonly the sweet spot. Combining this with their play time and no-player-elimination, eurogames are ideal family games or gateway games (board games with game mechanics and theme that appeal to wide audience – making them great for novice players).
Players do not interact directly on board (combat is almost unheard-of eurogames), but rather indirectly: competing for victory points, resources, tiles and trading (often with each other with free market rules).
Mechanics used are common, but often implemented in fresh and original variations, including: engine building (upgrading your resource or points gathering ability), controlling areas on the board (by placing tokens or meeples), trading and auctioning (with bank or other players) and collecting resources (and buying or upgrading with them).
As eurogames have made it big all around the globe, so have their distinct characteristics blurred and mixed. Board games, that are published nowadays, commonly feature many euro and non-euro characteristics (i.e. Scythe is a hybrid of an eurogame and wargame), trying to be original and stand out in a very densely populated market.
As a conclusion, an eurogame term today is not something that strictly defines a genre of board games, but rather a term that defines a group of board games of different genres, themes and game mechanics – which have a common philosophy on how a board game should look, be made and be played.
If you’re new to board games, games like Ticket to Ride, Catan or Carcassonne good gateway board games. I’ll try to make a list of best (gateway) eurogames in the future.
Have a question or an opinion? Post it in a comment below!