One of the questions we get a lot here at Engaged Family Gaming (especially since we launched our podcast) has been: “What is a “eurogame?” It makes sense that we would get that question a lot because it isn’t very easy to decipher what it means just from the context of a conversation.
Eurogame is a category of board games that is very diverse. The category is so diverse that you can’t even really call it a genre. In fact, I think it is easier to call the concept of a eurogame the result of a set of design philosophies being applied to a board game while it is being designed.
There will likely be disagreement from all over the place on this one, but I believe that there are six main pillars of design that, when present, qualify it as a eurogame.
Those design philosophies are as follows:
They are, generally, simple to learn.
One of the main driving factors behind Eurogames is that they are meant to be a social experience. This wouldn’t work if you had to assign someone a 50-page rulebook reading assignment in order to play. As a result many of these games feature rules sets that can be easily taught to new players OR learned quickly by observing players.
The reasoning behind this is simple. You can’t have a social gaming experience if you are playing alone.
They downplay luck and emphasize thoughtful strategy.
If you asked 100 people what they would find inside a board game box the number two answer (behind a game board of course) would be dice. They are considered so essential to the game play experience by the general public that the idea of a game without dice is alien to them.
The truth is that many eurogames do not rely on dice in the slightest. This is because they are designed to avoid players depending on the luck element of a dice roll in favor of encouraging thoughtful strategy. This creates better players and increases the tension between the people at the table.
This isn’t to say that dice are banned from the table. It just means that designers are very careful with how, and when, they decide to make dice rolling important for the outcome of a game. Instead, many games use dice as a way to add variety to gameplay. Catan is a good example here. The die is rolled on each player’s turn to determine what resources are generated and skilled players can expand their cities to mitigate the random effect of the dice.
They downplay direct conflict between players.
Many of the games we think about as “board games” pit one or more players directly against each other. The game mechanics involve directly taking resources or positioning from other players as you progress in the game. A good example is the much maligned Monopoly. The only way to truly win the game is to take all of your opponent’s money.
Eurogames avoid that type of conflict by having players compete indirectly. There may be competition for scarce resources, but rarely will you be directly taking from or eliminating other players in the game.
This strongly reinforces the social aspect of these games because it encourages competition without pitting players against each other directly.
They tend to focus on economic rather than military themes.
One of the most unique characteristics of eurogames is in their use of non military themes. In fact, a huge portion of the eurogame market focuses around economic themed games where players compete for shared resources and manage the efficient development of their own.
This might be the most important feature for us as family gamers since it is much more palatable to teach a younger child how to play a game about farming or city building than it is to teach them combat.
They tend keeps all the players involved in the game until the end.
Eurogames take the idea of being social experiences and carry them into all corners of design. Nowhere in their design process is this more evident than in their tendency to keep all players involved in the game until the very last turn.
This means that even if a play is losing, and badly, that they can have an impact on the game state and in some cases may even have a chance to catch up. In many cases scores, and even objectives, are hidden from players until the very end. This incentivizes all players to keep pushing to win regardless of where they THINK they are in relation to other players. Simply because the winner is not obvious.
They are, mostly, language independent.
Eurogames originated in Europe (I know. Crazy right?). This means that the game designers had to deal with multiple languages as their games spread. This created some barriers that limited the spread of text heavy games. The added cost of translating a game made it cost prohibitive for many games to move to other markets.
The result was a shift to language independent game components. Crafty game designers developed unique iconography for their games that could be used universally across all regions. This meant that in many cases the other thing that needed to be translated was the rulebook, which is much easier than, say, cardboard tokens.
There are by no means the ONLY things that define a eurogame. It is a very nebulous term with no universally agreed upon definition. But, this list includes what we feel are the primary pillars of their design.