Gamers that won’t be bored

Ger­man-style board games em­pha­sise quick play and co-op­er­a­tion, and ap­peal to a broader mar­ket

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOOD GAMES - PAUL CHRIS­TENSEN

G ERMAN-STYLE board games are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar in the English-speak­ing world. Games like Car­cas­sonne, Set­tlers of Catan, Puerto Rico and Ticket to Ride are start­ing to give more tra­di­tional games like Mo­nop­oly a run for their money.

Not all of th­ese “Ger­man-style” games are ac­tu­ally Ger­man – some may be from France, Scan­di­navia, or the US – but most are from Ger­many, and the name seems to have stuck. Some peo­ple call them “Eurogames”, and they could also be called “so­cial strat­egy” or “fam­ily strat­egy” games. Ger­man-style games are more about so­cial­is­ing than heavy com­pe­ti­tion.

There are sev­eral rea­sons for the grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity of the games. Firstly, their aes­thetic ap­peal. Wooden pieces are favoured over plas­tic ones, and the boards them­selves are of­ten beau­ti­ful.

Se­condly, they ap­peal to a broad range of peo­ple. The rules are usu­ally sim­ple and con­cise, and older chil­dren can usu­ally grasp them with min­i­mal ef­fort. “A minute to learn, a life­time to mas­ter” is the gen­eral rule (al­though some games, like Agri­cola, are more com­pli­cated).

The run­ning time is usu­ally 30 min­utes to two hours – un­like Mo­nop­oly-style games, which can drone on in­def­i­nitely. An­other fea­ture which makes Ger­man games more fun is a lack of player elim­i­na­tion – every­one keeps play­ing to the end. The win­ner is of­ten a sur­prise un­til the last minute, so there is no sit­ting around in bore­dom for some play­ers while the rest play on.

Ger­man games rarely have mil­i­tary themes, but nearly ev­ery other kind of theme has been used. Play­ers may take the role of farm­ers, zoo own­ers, builders in 17th Cen­tury St Peters­burg, ex­plor­ers in the jun­gle, sci­en­tists try­ing to stop a global dis­ease out­break, set­tlers in outer space, rail­road barons, and so on.

There are also games for preschool­ers, such as Or­chard, where chil­dren must har­vest an or­chard full of fruit trees be­fore a bird eats them.

The more pop­u­lar games like Set­tlers of Catan and Car­cas­sonne also of­fer ex­pan­sion packs. Some of th­ese are mere gim­micks, but oth­ers of­fer a new spin on a fa­mil­iar game which makes them worth ac­quir­ing.

Why are so many qual­ity board games com­ing out of Ger­many?

There are a few rea­sons, one of which is the stim­u­lus of­fered by the many Ger­man trade fairs and con­ven­tions for board games de­sign­ers. The big­gest is the Essen Game Fair, which lasts four days, and is the big­gest con­sumer games fair in the world, at­tract­ing up to 150 000 vis­i­tors from many dif­fer­ent coun­tries.

Then there is the Game De­signer As­so­ci­a­tion, which lets de­sign­ers ex­change ideas. The big­gest de­sign­ers have a kind of rock star sta­tus in Ger­many. Klaus Teu­ber (Set­tlers of Catan), Reiner Knizia (Lost Cities, Tigris and Euphrates) and An­dreas Sey­farth (Puerto Rico) are widely known names.

Per­haps the big­gest stim­u­lus of all is the pres­ti­gious Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) award. This was in­tro­duced in 1979, and has be­come some­thing of an in­sti­tu­tion in Ger­many. While there is no of­fi­cial prize money, the winning game is cer­tain to sell hun­dreds of thou­sands of copies in Ger­many alone.

But while board games have a long his­tory in Ger­many (the pop­u­lar man­u­fac­turer Ravens­burger has been around since 1883), the cur­rent ex­plo­sion did not take place un­til the 1990s.

Board games have been around for thou­sands of years, with the an­cient Egyp­tians and the Vik­ings known to have played them.

Many fa­mous board games were a prod­uct of their place and time. Mo­nop­oly in its cur­rent form was de­vel­oped dur­ing the Great De­pres- sion, while strate­gic mil­i­tary games like Risk and Diplo­macy came about dur­ing the Cold War.

It was Set­tlers of Catan, re­leased in 1995, that re­ally set the ball rolling for the Ger­man gam­ing in­dus­try. In Set­tlers of Catan, play­ers must build set­tle­ments, cities and road in or­der to colonise an is­land.

Set­tlers has sold over 15 mil­lion copies world­wide. While it hasn’t yet out­sold Mo­nop­oly, the mak­ers of Mo­nop­oly are start­ing to pay at­ten­tion to the Ger­man-style games, even chang­ing some of their re­cent edi­tions to help get the game mov­ing faster.

Some Amer­i­can man­u­fac­tur­ers are now pro­duc­ing co-op­er­a­tive, Ger­man-style games, like Arkham Hor­ror (based on the hor­ror sto­ries of HP Love­craft), where play­ers must join forces to win, in­stead of com­pet­ing against each other.

In South Africa, many board games (both Ger­man and non-Ger­man) can be or­dered from www.boardgames.co.za.

PIC­TURE: AP

OUT WITH THE OLD: Newer, Ger­man-style board games are be­ing favoured above older ones, like Mo­nop­oly.

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