The field of board gaming is in a state of ongoing revolution. While the new wave of board games, sometimes called “Eurogames,” is highly variable, they tend to share some traits in common. I’m hardly an expert, but I’ll try to lay out a description…
1) They are relatively less luck-based and more skill based then most board games. At the same time, they contain at least some measure of luck or at least randomization, which makes them difficult to “solve” or to determine an optimal opening sequence (When I was in high school chess club, the part of chess that always bored me was learning the various openings and gambits, etc.)
2) They have a medium complexity of rules. They are in general more complicated than most of the games you probably played as a kid, but less complicated than the war games that have long enjoyed a fanatical following. The best of them (in my opinion) have rules that may seem rather complicated, but fit into an intuitive whole such that after having played them once they mostly make sense.
3) They take a medium length of time and have a defined endpoint that consistently gets closer rather than farther away. A good example of a game that fails this criteria is Monopoly. Not only does this game go on forever, at any given moment there’s very little way to determine just how much longer it will take to end…unless one person is very dominant, in which case the game will still drag along, bumming the other players out, until that prson wins. Eurogames are thus far easier to get together and play in the evening for busy people who need to go to work the next morning.
Now some individual reviews, from a fairly arbitrary list of games…
Settlers of Catan: This is probably the Eurogame you’ve heard of if you’ve only heard of one. The rules are relatively simple, the trading system makes for lively games with lots of interaction, and there’s enough luck to provide an excuse for losing but enough skill that you can still brag when you win. Works far better with four players than any other number. A very good way to introduce yourself or others to Eurogames.
Puerto Rico: A very dense, quite abstract strategy game. Probably not the best to start off with…but an extreme diversity of tactics and a very interesting system. There are a lot of rules, but they fit together well and eventually start to make good intuitive sense. Frequently, when people are introduced to it for the first time they are quite confused the first game, but immediately excited to start a new game so they can use their newfound knowledge. Maybe my favorite game. Works very well with anywhere from 2-5 players, too, unlike many other games that are far better within a small range of players. Very little chance.
Around the World in 80 Days: A quality game that plays more like a “traditional” “move a piece that represents you across the board” than most of these games. It’s not that deep stategically, I think. Still, it’s very easy to get into, relatively simple, gives you loads of choices, and it’s fun.
Traders of Genoa: This is one of my favorites. The box might say two-player works…it doesn’t. Even three-player is a little too few. You want more players to keep the incentive for trading with other players high. Lots of interactions, lots of strategy. Complicated, but if you tell people to make trades a lot of the time they’ll probably do all right for a first pass.
Ingenious: I’ve had unanimously positive responses to this game. It’s a light game with lots of pretty colors, and you’ll do all right with a basic grasp of tactics, but the more I play it the more I realize how important strategy is to actually winning. This game is another good starting game. People who like Othello will love this one.
Caylus is my new favorite game. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s a _better_ game than Puerto Rico, but it’s certainly on the same plane…including in its complexity. This is a quality game, though, with very small amounts of chance and many strategic and tactical decisions every turn.
Amun-Re is another of my favorite games. Relatively simple rules and fast gameplay, but with a ton of strategy packed in.
-posted by Rick