Settlers of Catan may seem like a household name, but it is just one of the few exceptions to the many games of its kind that never escape European borders. Germany, the birthplace of Catan, is the foremost producer of creative board games in the world, but even its unique masterpieces fall under a greater term, one that most Americans have never heard, which is Eurogames. This genre of board games focuses on strategy rather than luck, and requires ingenuity from creators to be successful on a competitive market. But how do these minor publishers spread the word about their new games? Spiel. Spiel is the largest board game convention in the world, and is annually held in Essen, Germany. Its exhibitions range from established franchises like Catan to some games that push the boundaries of reasonable subject matter. An article published in September looking forward to the October convention details some exciting new releases.
“Treasure Island is an adventurous bluffing game where one player is Long John Silver, trying to mislead other pirates in their search for his treasure. Played in rounds, players question Long John Silver about the location of his treasure while they explore islands. The game ends when Long Silver Silver plans his final run to the booty himself!” (nerdsonearth)
Games like this Treasure Island resemble traditional ideas of how a board game works, considering that although one player occupies a unique role, that person still attempts to win and everyone is in direct competition. However, as with most Eurogames, no player can be eliminated before the game ends. This mirrors the German belief that board games should be a social experience, and thus no one should have to leave before the game’s conclusion, as in Monopoly or Risk. Also, the role of Long John Silver bluffing others creates a greater strategic element of figuring out how to outsmart one another.
“Set at the end of the Carolingian Empire, circa 850 AD, Architects of the West Kingdom asks players to compete to impress their King by constructing various landmarks throughout his kingdom. Players collect raw materials, hire apprentices, and manage their workforce.” (nerdsonearth)
Architects of the West Kingdom illustrates another common aspect of Eurogames, their compelling backstory. This game has a historical element in its setting, and a believable motivation for competition that makes the game more interesting to play. The story still occupies a relatively normal storyline of players being in charge of armies of soldiers, or in this case workers. However, many games at Spiel do not follow such a typical thread.
“From the publisher: ‘Geothermal energy on [Iceland] allows you to cultivate the most unexpected fruits and vegetables—an oddity that no tourist would want to miss. You are not the only farmer in Reykholt who is looking to make a fortune out of this, however, so you better be quick! The tourist season in Reykholt is short, and there are more people coming every year. Making use of the right people and having the right vegetables at the right time in Reykholt will give you the advantage you need!'” (nerdsonearth)
Now that definitely would not go down well with an American audience. At least not in the current state of board games, which is still vastly a limited number of mainstream classics, apart from the isolated geeks that explore Eurogames and similar small-market productions. I find this game about growing vegetables in Iceland a perfect representation of how much more creative Spiel allows its creators to be. The fact that a huge audience could potentially buy and play such an odd game is really impressive, and enough to make me consider that maybe one day I’ll stop by Germany to have a look.