Forget Game Of Thrones. The Best Board Games Are German-Style

Board games are big business now! I've been screaming this for so long that my lungs resemble two teabags flapping in a breeze. Excitingly, this means every week I get a tweet, email or text from someone who's started their board game collection.

I'm hoping that includes you, my favourite reader (I have other readers but you're the most beautiful, just FYI). But whether you've already bought enough board games to begin pointlessly re-arranging them, or your finger's hovering portentously over the Checkout button of your very first purchase, I want to share something.

When video gamers start buying board games, it's always the same. A big licence with lots of plastic. I'm talking about the lacquered playing pieces of the Game of Thrones board game, maybe the interstellar douchebaggery of Battlestar Galactica, or possibly tactical misery simulator Chaos in the Old World, which offers the (potentially) breathtaking set-up of letting all of its players be the four Chaos gods of the Warhammer Fantasy universe. Failing that, it'll be something with sodding zombies.

It's as if our adult purchasing power was following some decades-late spasm of childhood. Intrinsically, there's nothing wrong with this. But picture me, the board game sage, whispering darkly from beneath my angular cardboard cloak: "No good will come of this."

The above are all great games, and they play an important role. If you're new to the hobby, if you lift a shrink-wrapped board game to your ear you'll hear your parents discussing what they did wrong. I know this. You need something really tempting for that purchase, and so you buy a licence you love with glossy components.

These games are what the board game community calls "Ameritrash."

These games, by the way, are what the board game community calls "Ameritrash." But don't worry about that! It's a term of endearment. Nothing wrong with this at all.

It's simply that Ameritrash also focuses on an immediacy of entertainment, from unboxing the thing, to screwing over your friends, to rolling chunky handfuls of dice.

But where does it lead you?

Nine months from now, you wake up on the floor of your living room. You have a breathtaking hangover from the bottle of Jack you had to drink to make Tannhauser exciting. The stereo is playing the Star Wars soundtrack, even though your friends–-who are still here-–moved on to playing Star Trek: Fleet Captains hours ago.

You look over at them, and see your friend pushing around a perfect scale model of a Nebula Class science vessel, just like you guys did last week and the week before. With every round the novelty wears off a little more. You see your friends now, moving their fleets like dissatisfied toddlers pushing their food around. They've seen all the cards. They know all the exploits. One of them is crying. You try and stand up. You think you have a token up your bum.

"There has to be more to board gaming than this," you say aloud, Doritos and poignancy on your breath.

So you pick up a stool and chase your friends out with it. You go onto Board Game Geek or the Internet's greatest board game review site™ and look at what the other recommended games are. Not Ameritrash, but the other kind. The ones without cards with pictures of shotguns on them. The Eurogames.

So it is that your education begins. A week later, your copy of The Castles of Burgundy arrives, an acclaimed German-style game. 2-4 players racing to develop estates in high medieval France.

It has a lot of hexes. It looks like a cross between a maths textbook and motel room art. You hold it in your hands, uncertain whether to immediately insert it into the bin. But you don't. You invite your friends over, and... it's exhausting.

This makes no sense. You've flown spaceships and commanded armies. Why are little sheep tiles bringing you out in a cold sweat? Look at you all now — heads down, threading together fragile economies, loosing unthinkable trade combos, narrowly avoiding mistakes that would halt your progress like a bicycle going into a concrete wall. Being tested — really tested — for the first time in your gory board game careers.

Eurogame designers are free to make nothing more, or less, than a great game, a rich game, that'll get better every time you play it.

And you'll see the truth. Eurogames aren't boring, despite their themes ("developing a postal service," "trading with 15th century Latin America," "who can farm the best beans"). They're simply free. Free from the need to immediately appeal, to lurch out from the shelves like Nyquil hallucinations, and to keep everybody entertained in an unstable tornado of cards and dice. Eurogame designers are free to make nothing more, or less, than a great game, a rich game, that'll get better every time you play it.

For all of Ameritrash's bravado, here are the games that'll f**k you if you don't pay attention, and the games where the smartest player is free to wield their grasp of the game like a knife.

The very next week you pick up El Grande, an intimidatingly blunt game of area control that makes dropping wooden cubes onto a board feel like stags cracking their antlers against one another. El Grande was a classic when it came out in 1994, and you'll thrill at the fact that it's still a classic because board games age so well.

Maybe down the line you'll branch out again, going yet heavier. You'll pick up A Few Acres of Snow, a beautiful entry-level wargame, and find out just how intensely personal the hobby can be. Or maybe you'll go lighter than ever, getting into party games — The Resistance: Avalon filling your living room with syrupy mistrust, Jungle Speed letting you forget the overblown rules explanations, for once, and just laugh together.

Finally, you'll be enjoying everything the hobby has to offer, and you will be at peace. Because a board gamer cannot survive on theme alone.

You'll still remember your Ameritrash days fondly. Maybe one day you'll be vacuuming behind the sofa and you'll find a loose portal token from Arkham Horror. You'll thumb it in your hand, like a totem from Inception, and you'll smile.

Then you'll remember the exact evening you must have lost it. Five hours at the table, battling the unthinkable horrors with your friends, before the wrong card from the Mythos deck ended the game at the wrong time, just as you were getting into it.

And aloud, head of the vaccuum still in hand, you'll speak the same words you did all those months ago: "That was bullshit."

Quintin Smith is a games columnist able to identify different board game manufacturers by the smell of the glue they use. He is not proud of this. You'll find his analogue ramblings at Shut Up & Sit Down, his board game site, and @quinns108 on Twitter.


Comments

    A few years ago I went to the comic book store in Christchurch to buy a boardgame. I wanted something big and flashy with lots of plastic bits. The owner told me to get settlers of catan. I was hesitant so he gave me the store copy to take home and try. Next day I came back and brought settlers, and some big flashy game to. 6 years later the settlers box is worn out. I don't even know what the other game was.

      Settlers is a favourite of my group, although we have the six player expansions and the sea expansion all hopelessly mixed together.

    I disagree that "Ameritrash" is used as term of endearment in the board game community. It is almost always used as a pejoritive term.

    Your article reeks of condescension towards popular thematic board games.

    The resurgence of interest in board gaming probably has more to do with the emergence and popularity of thematic board games (what you call Ameritrash) such as Descent, Game of Thrones and Arkham Horror than with euro games such as Castles of Burgundy.

    Wil Wheaton's Tabletop has and will continue to popularise board gaming in a way that an insular and snobbish site like Board Game Geek cannot and does not really want to.

    I think it is great that Kotaku are publishing articles on board gaming but save the snobbery for your own web site. We get enough of that with video games.

      I totally agree with that. I'm an avid and long time boardgamer, and I can enjoy a eurogame as well as Game of Thrones or Arkham Horror. Quintin, you don't represent the "community" of board gamers, only a small intolerant and snob section of it, and boardgamegeek is far from being accepted as the "greatest board game website", far from it - just read this week feature on Rock Paper Shotgun about it, it summarises my point of view on bgg quite well.

    The Game of Thrones board game is bloody amazing though. Ive played it three times (won twice wooo!) and every game has devolved almost immediately into a web of lies, betrayal, and fairly constant yelling at each other (so win-win-win as far as I am concerned).

    Only Euro board game I have played is Ticket to Ride Europe, which was fun, but no where near as exciting as Game of Thrones.

      Yeah - I'm the one guy in the world who doesn't watch Game of Thrones, but that is a great piece of board game. One person screwed me over at the start, and the rest of my game was about demolishing her entirely up until someone else playing the bottom of the board snuck his way to victory. Kind of like how it happens in the real world, I suspect.

    Great article Quintin, I look forward to seeing you on here more often ok.

    Battlestar Galactica is a fantastic board game.

    Huzzah Euros! (German Boardgames = Euros)
    I play the occasional Ameritrash (my group uses the term in a joking way, similar to PC gamers calling themselves the Master Race) and I have played my fair shair of TCGs... but at the end of the day there's nothing like a Euro for some brain burning challenge.

    Euros for Brain Burning competitive fun.
    Ameritrash for thematic luck based fun.

    Re-read the article... yeah I'm a euro fan but this Quitin fella is trying to stir the water, probably feels that been condescending towards Ameritrash fans will provoke more responses.

    I prefer Euros.
    I hate luck, I want to win or lose by my own decisions not the roll of a dice.

    PS
    Castles of Burgundy uses dice heaps... wtf, not a good example of a true euro.

    I recommend these...
    http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/68448/7-wonders
    http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/96913/lancaster
    http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/104006/village
    http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/3076/puerto-rico
    http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/40692/small-world
    http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/66362/glen-more
    ....to any one interested in trying some good board games.
    (7 wonders would be my first recommendation as it's easy yet fast to play... and in my top 3)

    Some of the best Gateway game
    (thinking about it now these are probably the more appropriate games to show you)
    http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/822/carcassonne
    http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/13/the-settlers-of-catan
    http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/14996/ticket-to-ride-europe
    http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/6249/alhambra
    It's a brilliant hobby to get in to.

      Four of my favourites right there :)

    What game it is on the very first image (with town New-york, ...) ??

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