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On Defining Eurogames

On my last post, there was a bit of a discussion in the comments section that sparked a few ideas. We began to question the term “Eurogame” wondering what it was that precisely defined the genre. We found ourselves asking why it is called what it is called, what the boundaries of the genre are, and, ultimately, well, can we define a Eurogame once and for all?

It’s one of those things where, as a hardcore tabletop gamer, you intrinsically know what a Eurogame is and some of the games that fit into that genre. Catan, Carcassonne, and Agricola are but a few. As are Lords of Waterdeep, Stone Age, Terra Mystica, Five Tribes (which every time I mention, I have to point out that it has a maximum of four players), Kingdom Builder, Power Grid, Castles of Burgundy, and even the likes of Euphoria. That being said, when asked to define what a Eurogame is, it is somewhat more difficult.

How Can We Define Eurogames?

Let’s start off by quoting the introduction to a really good “so you’re just getting into games” style Board Game book I like called Ticket to Carcassonne by Steve Dee.

These ‘Eurogames’ tended to have peaceful themes like farming, building or trading, and the conflict was indirect, with players competing for scarce resources rather than fighting or otherwise eliminating each other.

Where that doesn’t give a pure definition of what a Eurogame is, it does give some idea. Firstly, a Eurogame tends to have a peaceful theme rather than one about warfare. This isn’t always true and, as Steve Dee points out, conflict can exist but it tends to be indirect. A good example of this is the assassin in Five Tribes or the aggressive cards that steal resources in Lords of Waterdeep.

Wikipedia, on the other hand, tries a far more direct approach, and provides another interesting take on the concept:

A Eurogame, also called a German-style board game, German game, or Euro-style game, is a class of tabletop games that generally have indirect player interaction and abstract physical components. Euro-style games emphasize strategy while downplaying luck and conflict. They tend to have economic themes rather than military and usually keep all the players in the game until it ends.

Again, not a perfect definition, but one that offers a similar interesting approach. One thing that Wikipedia gets right is that Eurogames tend to emphasise strategy; however, it is a very specific type of strategy. Wargames and American Style Board Games tend to be strategy focused; however, they are not Eurogames. Hybrid games like Scythe and Twilight Imperium exist, but they are not pure Eurogames. They just use Eurogame aspects.

I think there are a few core components that constitute a Eurogame.

So, let’s take a look at a few of the aspects a Eurogame needs in order to be a Eurogame. What is a Eurogame? Well…it’s funny you should ask.

But first – here are a few examples.

Theme

Abstract Pieces in a Literal Theme

Eurogames have all kinds of themes. There are a few aspects of Eurogames, however, that do seem universal across the genre. The first is that, whatever the theme is, it is approached in more of an abstract way than a literal one. In a game like Zombicide, for instance, it is obvious what a zombie is. It is the miniature that looks like a zombie. If, you find yourself saying “you see this cube, this represents X” then the odds are you are playing a Eurogame. Eurogames use abstract components within a literal environment.

“You see this island, well this stick is a road.” (Catan)
“You see this village, well this yellow block is gold.” (Stone Age)
“You see this meeple, well this is a robber if you place it on a road.” (Carcassonne)
“You see this city, well this orange block is a fighter.” (Lords of Waterdeep)

In fact, a Venn diagram can be drawn up to demonstrate this point to some degree, showing that Eurogames kind of sit somewhere in between Abstract and Literal games.

Screen Shot 2018-02-16 at 14.54.41

The Themes Themselves

Of course, abstract pieces in a literal theme is not the only thing that could constitute a Eurogame. Instead, we are also (mainly) thinking about themes about things that aren’t necessarily combat based. Where there are exceptions to this, this means that Twilight Imperium, Gloomhaven, Blood Rage, Dark Souls etc. cannot be considered Eurogames. Instead, generally speaking, we are looking at themes to do with building something up, rather than breaking something down.

Catan – Colonisation of a small island.
Carcassonne – The building of Carcassonne.
Agricola – Farming and building a farm.
Stone Age – The development of a tribe.
Power Grid – Creating an energy grid across a nation.
Terraforming Mars – The Colonisation of Mars

As it can be seen, all of those games have peaceful themes at their core. They are not about conflict or combat. Instead, they are all about creation or maintenance. They are about development.

Of course, once again, there are exceptions to this rule – Champions of Midgard as an example – but they tend to be few and far between.

Interestingly, when talking to a friend about it, he suggested that in an American Style game, the theme comes first and the gameplay gets developed on top of the theme. With a Eurogame, the development of the gameplay comes first, with the theme coming second. It’s a really interesting idea with considering.

Mechanics

The Mechanics of a Eurogame

Now we are starting to piece together what a Eurogame is (ish), but it is still not a full picture. Before we fully look at creating a full definition of what a Eurogame is, we need to look at the mechanics behind the games.

For this, we are going to draw up a simple chart to look at the core mechanics of the Eurogames mentioned in this article so far, plus a few others we have in our collection. This means we will be looking at Catan, Carcassonne, Agricola, Stone Age, Lords of Waterdeep, Power Grid, Terraforming Mars, Euphoria, Terra Mystica, Five Tribes, Castles of Burgundy, and Kingdom Builder. For these 12 games, we will look at the different components of the games in one big table, comparing how many times different components come up.

Eurogame Mechanics

So, as it can be seen, Hand Management and Set Collecting play a huge role (no pun intended) in those specific Eurogames. As do Area Control, Worker Placement, and Route/Network Building. These are traditionally mechanics associated with thinking games and strategy, rather than luck or wargames.

Dice and Eurogames

There is a common misconception surrounding Eurogames that Dice are very rarely used. Out of our sample size of 12 (okay, so not the largest sample size ever) 1/4 of the games used dice as a core mechanic (an additional one uses it as a minor part); however, it is important to note that the use of dice is used in a different way in each game. Catan, for instance, uses it to determine the yield of resources. Euphoria uses it to determine your workers and their intelligence. Castles of Burgundy uses dice to determine the actions available to the player each turn. Stone Age is the one that uses it as a secondary mechanic and as a part of the resource management associated with the game. These are all interesting and different ways to use dice.

Eurogames Mentality

Eurogames seem to have a specific mentality around them as well. They are generally easy to grasp but difficult to master. They make good family games, as the (general) lack of direct conflict and player knock out mechanics makes them perfect for ensuring all gamers feel welcome around the table. Eurogames tend not to make good solo experiences, encouraging community rather than solitude or conflict.

What Eurogames Are Not

The Wikipedia definition is a somewhat confusing one because it places emphasis in the wrong place, highlighting that a Eurogame can be called a German game. Yes, it can, but only because that is where they are believed to have originated from.

Interestingly, a Eurogame does not have to be European. This is just like an American Style game does not need to be from America. The best way to think of this is that Euro- and American- in this sense are not nouns. These are not games that belong to those places in the world. Instead, in this context, Euro- and American- are merely adjectives in order to categorise the game.

Conclusion: So, can we use what we have to define Eurogames?

Okay, so what we have learned across the course of this article is that Eurogames ride a thin line between abstract and literal games. They tend to be non-confrontational, competitive, and use several mechanics more than others. We have also discussed what Eurogames are not, which also helps.

So, with that in mind, to finish off we should be able to put together our own definition –

A Eurogame is a semi-abstract game (usually using abstract pieces in a literal theme) designed around the concepts of creating, developing, or nourishing. They commonly use strategic mechanics such as worker placement, bidding, and area control to create gameplay that is both engaging and competitive, without needing to be confrontational.

It’s not the most concise definition in the world, but it does give some idea that may be useful. It’s a bit more precise than Wikipedia, whilst also not ruling other types of gameplay out.

What do you think? Do you agree – Yes or no? What do you suggest could be a good definition? Let me know in the comments below.

Author Note (19/02/18) – Changed the title to “On Defining Eurogames” due to this piece being more speculative than an official definition. 

21 Comments »

  1. Not sure if I’ve played enough Eurogames, but I’m not sure that holding “peaceful themes” as a core tenet is the best idea. I haven’t yet played my copy of Gloomhaven, but dismissing it and Twilight Imperium out of hand because they contains teh violents and conflict isn’t the most useful. I also note the way you’ve avoided the term “Ameritrash” and instead used “Literal” and “American-style” games. I mean, if those are the common/default terms, you may as well use them! My first reaction was “wtf?” when I was learning about modern boardgames, but we don’t make the nomenclature when there’s already one in play.
    I’ve thought about Pandemic and the whole “Euros aren’t random” mantra, but of course, the deck shuffles are the epitome of randomness, and the players just spend the rest of the game reacting to the two decks.
    Back to the initial point. I think things like game genres need to be looked at in a much more fluid sense, particularly these days. Look at video/computer gaming. What are a couple of cores of RPG-style games going right back to Pen & Paper? Experience points and levelling? So.. like Call of Duty then? Quests? Like Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead then? Loot and gear upgrades? So like Star Wars Battlefront 2 then?
    Or a RPG like Mass Effect 3. An RPG with menus and NPCs to interact with and a party to manage and mining and quests and …real-time 3rd person combat like …Gears of War?

    The boxes are broken and the lines are blurred. Things can still be a thing, but disqualifications for not adhering completely to an aspect doesn’t work anymore. Core tenets can help to define what fits in but can’t always define what’s excluded anymore.

    Liked by 2 people

    • As always mate, you raise some very fair points.

      I see what you’re saying – the question about Ameritrash is a really interesting one. There is a BGG wiki page dedicated to Ameritrash, and it mentions the controversy surrounding the name (http://bit.ly/2oa2hvm). In all honesty, though, I don’t know why I used American-Style over Ameritrash – I guess it’s because I’ve always known them as American-Style due to the gaming Youtube channels that tend to be more polite. The controversy surrounding the name has caused a more delicate approach to come forward and I subconsciously prefer it to the perception of calling something “trash”. I should rip that band-aid off and use Ameritrash as a term, especially as a guy who writes stuff about games, but part of me just can’t bring myself to do it.

      I agree with your point about genres. The more I think about it the more I am sure it is easier to take a step down in the board game world. Wargame is kind of its own category, but when we talk Ameritrash (American Style, Amerigame, Amerigold, etc.), Eurogames, and Hybrids it’s actually far easier to talk about the mechanics or themes instead. I think this will also work with video games. When we’re talking about Stone Age, for instance, or Lords of Waterdeep, we describe them as Worker Placement. Carcassonne is a tile placement game. Blood Rage (an Ameritrash game) is about Vikings fighting for glory. Euphoria is about running a dystopian society. Catan is…well…Catan. Games automatically start getting reduced down to the easiest way to refer to them. So yeah, you’re right on the money when you say lines are blurring.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sorry about the delayed reply – I certainly understand the hesitation at using what seems (especially at first) to essentially be a slur. I guess I got to the point where I stopped caring – also I’m not active on BGG beyond occasional lurking and looking stuff up, and neither term (Euro/Ameri) gets used in my actual social gaming circles.

        I did get to thinking about where Hybrid Boardgame/Wargames fit in. Things like Space Hulk are pretty safely boardgames, but even a mostly-boardgame experience like Blood Bowl has wargame elements in it, such as the range rulers that basically just disregard the squares on the board. I haven’t played Shadespire yet so I’m not sure where their mechanics fall, but games like Zombicide deal with Line of Sight, range, then there’s X-Wing/Wings of War/etc which is ..a miniatures game but marketed a bit more like a boardgame. I guess we’re talking a sub-genre of “Miniatures Boardgame” where the miniatures represent a thing in a 1:1 sense in a 1:1 environment, and the action is (almost) completely literal on that scale while still using boardgame mechanics like hexes or a movement grid and such – as opposed to Blood Rage, where there’s still a lot of Abstraction going on.

        Sorry a bit of a ramble. But hey!

        Liked by 1 person

        • No worries mate. To be honest, I think you hit the nail on the head with your first response. I think you’re right. We’re standing at a crossroads where games and the definitions behind them become blurred and explode. Like with theatre where we first had comedy, history, and tragedy back in the day – now we have a thousand genres, each a different take on the medium. I think we’re going to see the same with games, with games like Shadespire becoming a genre in its own right, so much so that thinking Ameri/Euro becomes outdated. The same with Blood Bowl, and other games as well. It’s exciting.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. As I was reading the article and Azazel’s response as well, I was thinking about how you would really need to compare ‘American-style’ games before the influence of Eurogames. ‘Amerigames’ from my youth and RPGs in my teens, rely heavily on dice for outcomes. I think Eurogames had a major impact in changing modern boardgames, by relying a bit less on dice.

    I know a number of boardgames who “hate rolling dice”. Which I found really odd, given my background, as I thought most all games involve dice. It’s certainly not definitive that a game that uses dice is an Amerigame, but if it relies heavily on dice for outcomes and winning, then I tend to classify it as an Amerigame.

    Going back to comparison and overlap. Tiny Epic Kingdoms popped into my mind. It’s a game that uses somewhat abstract meeples and cubes, but it’s not one that I would consider a Eurogame. Instead it feels more like a Amerigame that has borrowed elements of Eurogames. There are probably even better examples out there, but it was the first that popped into my head.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, that would be an interesting article. I’d need to read up on my Amerigame/Amerigold/Ameritrash histroy, but I think you are right. I wonder what the first American and Euro games were.

      Hating dice as a gamer – I can understand the dislike, but we need some luck in our games 🙂 not everything can be heavy strategy all of the time.

      Ahh yes, the Itemeeples and their RPG elements. So I own TEK, but have only played it once, and played it solo. I need to play more, but yes, I get what you mean 🙂 it is kind of a hybrid.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Itemeeples were a later addition. Those first came out with Tiny Epic Quest.

    At first I missed dice in games, when switching over to a boardgame group. Nowadays, I find enjoyment split pretty evenly between dice/no-dice games, as I sometimes play Blood Bowl (uses a lot of dice, with often penalizing outcomes) and the more traditional (non-wargame) boardgames. They each have their plusses and minuses. Actually, that might be a good comparison post, war-games vs rpgs vs boardgames. There are expense, duration, learning investment, and a number of other factors there. There are so many of those games though, that you’d probably want to take a small sample of well known games from each genre. Like you did with the Eurogames in this post. Food for thought.

    Oh, that reminds me if you ever do a ‘Amerigames’ post, it would be cool to see a chart with different Amerigames like you used for Eurogames in this post.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A large element of Eurogames is that they are usually geared around everyone playing until the end, if not being in a position to score for the win. Said end can often be quite close as a result. A classic example is Power Grid, an excellent game with heavy simulationist feel where, with good players, it’s a race right up to the finish. American-Style games frequently seem to reward the leader – a fact that my recent SeaFall campaign experience reminded me about – and reinforce that leading role. A great example is the Firefly game. At some point in the game it becomes obvious who the leader is and at that point nobody can usually do anything. Another element is that an American-Style game might allow for player elimination whereas Eurogames seem all about inclusion. I’ll have to think about whether I can offer an enhanced definition. I like yours better than the Wikipedia entry, although part of me thinks that a nod to the country of origin (Germany) might still be fair?

    Liked by 1 person

    • You raise some very fair points. Yes, I’ve heard that about Eurogames as a definition – that they promote inclusion. That being said, I’m sure they’re probably an exception to that rule as well. They are so difficult to define!

      Also, a completely unrelated point, but I’ve been looking at SeaFall recently – what’s it like?

      Liked by 1 person

      • My short take on it is that it’s fun and my friends and I are playing a second round. SeaFall is a brilliant concept that advanced legacy games to a new level. Look at Charterstone – so many things learned from SeaFall moved into it. SeaFall has story, plot twists and an investment process among the players where you create a shared world and name all the things. It has gotten some deserving and undeserving publicity. The rules would have benefitted from more editing (especially as it seems the editor hadn’t been able to play the campaign through) as well as playtesting. Essentially it’s a very good beta game that could stand to be refined. I’ll have a better opinion after the second full campaign which could be six months to a year.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve been trying to find the time to give this article the time I felt it deserved. It was a bold undertaking and your infographics really help illustrate your point, especially surround core mechanics – I wonder what that would look like over a greater sample – I was surprised to see trading featuring so low, and yet is a cornerstone (in my opinion of Eurogame mechanics). It was a great, thought-provoking read though, thank you.

    I fundamentally believe we should, as a community, do-away with such archaic terminology, as I don’t believe it is relevant or even descriptive, as you said, “Euro” is an adjective, yet it is an adjective that insufficiently describes the game, and is, as you have proven, vague and difficult to actually define. What is the point of a descriptive word, when no one can agree what that word actually means?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not the author but you make an interesting point that I want to comment on. I like the idea of discarding uneven definitions in favor of more effective ones. I think some of that taxonomy is already in place – worker placement games for example is a reasonably consistent term that folks seem to understand. However the meme – an idea that successfully propagates itself – is already out there? I think the terms “Ameritrash” and “Eurogame” are widespread, especially on Board Game Geek. Rationally one can avoid use however casual use will likely continue to propogate.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree with both of you. This article opened a whole debate about whether we should just change how we refer to games. I think you’re both right, and where Eurogames and Ameritrash were names used 10 years ago, the whole industry has revolutionised since then. Those terms were fitting near the beginning of this board game revolution, however as we continue developing different games they become obsolete. It is time to move on, and I agree with the idea that mechanics become a way of refering to games – Worker Placement as an idea. Awesome points.

        Liked by 1 person

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