Eurogames Explained

What is Europe?

If you’re English, depending on who you are, Europe is either the greatest thing in the world, or the worst thing in the world and you would like a bus about it. But what is it?

It was invented by Darren Europe in the early nineties by combining Wine (France, Spain, and Portugal), Beer (Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Austria, and Czech), Guinness (Ireland) Amaretto (Italy), Ouzo (Greece), Vodka (all of Eastern Europe & Scandinavia) and Rainwater (The UK)

But eurogames are one the most popular, most significant types of games ever made, so much so that their rise in prominence in the mid-2000s is credited by some as the renaissance of board gaming, so what are they?

What Is A Eurogame?

 First of all, it’s worth saying that Eurogames aren’t really EUROgames, they’re called that by the vast American market, because they came from Europe’s general direction. They actually originated in Germany and the genre more accurately can be known as German-style games.

The rest of Europe taking credit for innovations and advances made in Germany by association, unheard of.

We’ll get to the history aspect in a second, but actually defining what these specific games are is tricky. Eurogames or Euros is one of the most bandied about terms in the hobby, and it can be very confusing because no ONE thing makes a Eurogame a Eurogame, rather they’re a gaming family.

Eurogames require their players to make a plan based on the resources, options, and limitations that the specific game gives them. And because plans have to be quite complex, the element of luck in building that plan is often seen as hugely frustrating, so dice especially are hugely frowned upon in most Eurogames.

Normally the only thing stopping you from executing your perfect plan is your own dumb brain or people taking a thing you need from a central supply before you can get it. In a lot of Eurogames that’s the sum total of players interacting with each other. Because the best fun is individual but near someone else.

And it’s in other, more conflict-based games, where players might invade each other’s territory, steal money, attack, deceive and betray often on the roll of dice, and these are referred to in the industry as “American-style” or even “Ameri-trash games” – sick burn.

So basically Eurogames are smart games for smart people making smart plans, and American-Style games are for people who like lamping each other in the face, nicking their wallet, and wiping their arses with their own hand. Can’t imagine why people think that Europeans are pretentious… with their little pastries and delicate slices of cheese for breakfast, cheese being the fanciest form of milk.

Eurogames are generally much more solo-oriented experiences, where you’re tinkering away with your own separate engine making it work more and more efficiently, only really looking up when you need something to make it run faster or produce more, so yes, German-style games.

Almost entirely, this style of games rose out of West Germany after the end of World War 2. For fairly obvious reasons, there was a massively decreased appetite for conflict and war-based games in Germany at the time. It’s not a coincidence that pretty much all of the industry’s most famous combat games – Risk, Diplomacy, Cosmic Encounter, Twilight Imperium, Memoir 44, Axis and Allies – were all invented by The Allies.

German culture underwent a massive shift as togetherness, the family unit, and avoidance of conflict were all prioritised, and as a result board gaming became not what it’s still like in the rest of the world – something you do when it’s raining – but rather a mainstream established part of family life. They were reviewed in major papers, and Germany was even the birthplace of gaming awards like the Spiel des Jahres which provided incentives for designers to try daring new ideas. Also, this idea that gaming was a benchmark of German familial culture meant an emphasis on games that made sure the group playing stayed involved throughout, which led to two other key features of GOOD board games. Players should not be eliminated, and the player who’s actually winning should be obscured for as much of the game as possible so everyone stays engaged.

For decades Germany quietly mastered the art of board game design while the rest of the world largely stuck to established “classics” like Monopoly, with fun mechanics like “getting eliminated one hour into a three hour game” and “Auntie Angela being so far out in front that there’s no point and why won’t you just end the game Ange, why are you dragging it out, you monster?”

It would take a single board game achieving insane market dominance in Germany for Eurogames to spread globally. In 1995, a game of trading and city building called Die Siedler Von Catan won the Spiel des Jahres award and became a mainstream sensation. Es war wunderbar. It was also everywhere, one of the first board games to make it into supermarkets, and it caught the attention of US publishers. German copies with German instructions were even imported to the states.

Soon an English version, now called Settlers of Catan was being produced, and this led to a hunger for other Eurogames, as well as a whole raft of US designers being influenced by German-style games and their principles.

Slowly but surely the mechanics so often found in Eurogames – no player elimination, no clear winner, building an engine, indirect conflict – began to dominate the US hobby market. In 2004, Ticket To Ride, a US-made Eurogame became the new benchmark for family games, going on to sell over 8 million copies, while Catan has sold over 32 million copies and has become a new staple for family game night. “Stop stealing my wool, Auntie Angela. You have enough.”

Pandemic and the rise of co-op games are directly inspired by the principles of co-operation and forward-planning founded by Eurogames. Even in non-Eurogames, player eliminations, clear and obvious winners emerging early, and an over-reliance on luck have become general hallmarks of bad game design.

All these mechanics and game types – area control, hand management, deck-building, resource gathering – that were established by older Eurogames designers, are now used as the building blocks for their new titles, especially heavy and complicated Eurogames which often feel like remixes of a bunch of classics mashed into one exciting hybrid, like one of the most highly acclaimed Eurogames off the last 5 years, Terraforming Mars, a strategic board game where players act as corporations in the 2400s, tasked with making Mars habitable. Through resource management, they aim to increase the planet’s temperature, create oceans, and develop green areas. The game is celebrated for its strategic depth, offering multiple paths to victory via terraforming, city building, and scientific achievements.

The design elements of Eurogames have become so wide-spread and entrenched in gaming that it’s becoming more and more difficult and confusing to determine what is and what isn’t a Eurogame. Gloomhaven may be all about combat and hacking and slashing monsters, but it’s all about the puzzle of hand-management so I guess it’s kind of a Eurogame, but does it actually matter what pigeonhole fun slots into?

I guess it kind of does, because the increasingly heavy, or complex Eurogames, with myriad options and a tendency to reward careful strategic planning, seem to be thought of as ‘proper boardgames’ by a certain sect of the internet. Even looking at Boardgamegeek and their top 100 board games of all time list, 80 of them are euro-style games with more than 60 being towards the heavy, complex end of Euros.

But these complicated, more solo-orientated games, for as much as they would seem to dominate the hobby, aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, nor should they be.

Regardless of your personal preference, Eurogames are a big deal. It was their migration to the global market and their sudden influence on modern board game design that caused this huge boom of tabletop gaming that we’ve been in for more than a decade now. You may prefer thematic dice-chucking games, games that have you screaming the word LIAR at each other, or you might enjoy lighter Eurogames like Catan, Splendor, and Pandemic. You don’t have to find your happy place in the crunch of building an incredibly layered and complex engine, but you’re gonna have to accept that by introducing exponentially more gameplay variety into the hobby, Eurogames have fundamentally changed board gaming for the better.

Want to read more? Check out The History of Social Deduction games here.