Gamers that won’t be bored
German-style board games emphasise quick play and co-operation, and appeal to a broader market
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.
OUT WITH THE OLD: Newer, German-style board games are being favoured above older ones, like Monopoly.