Classic Eurogames vs Modern Eurogames — The Importance of Distinguishing between the Two
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I like many different kinds of games, from simple games like Kakerlaken Poker to advanced games like Go, but Eurogames have a special place in my heart. Nevertheless, I hesitate to use the label "Eurogamer" to describe my taste in games.

The reason is that the label "Eurogamer" has come to be associated with a special breed of games which I generally have a lukewarm interest in. These games are characterised by "enginge building" and "resource management", to speak with fans, or "multi-player solitaire gameplay" and "cube pushing", to speak with detractors. Such games are not really my cup of tea.

No, my cup of tea is classic Eurogames. By this, I mean the kind of games that popularised Eurogames around the turn of the century, i.e. the works of Knizia, Kramer, Kiesling, Teuber, Moon, and Wrede. Examples of newer games in the same vein could for instance be Takenoko, Pandemic, Forbidden Island, Splendor, Innovation, Airlines Europe, Tobago, Glen More, Five Tribes and Sheriff of Nottingham; admittedly, whether all of this games actually can be labeled Eurogames, and classic Eurogames at that, is disputable, but I'd say that they at least are related to classic Eurogames. To clarify, the terms "classic" and "modern" are not used here to denote when the games were designed, but how they are designed.

A Eurogame is a Eurogame is a Eurogame, you might say, but I respectfully disagree. As I see it, there are several distinct differences between classic Eurogames and modern Eurogames, to the point where I actually think that they should be regarded as two different categories, just like recreational wargames like Small World and Nexus Ops aren't lumped together with elaborate wargames like Path of Glory and Advanced Squad Leader.

I should point out that the purpose of this geeklist isn't to show that classic Eurogames are better than modern Eurogames, although I realise that it certainly may appear so. The purpose is to really emphasise the differences and thus, hopefully, make it clear why it's important to make a distinction between the two.

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EDIT:

Acting on Mat628's suggestion, I'll include links to three articles which put this geeklist into context. If this topic interests you, I really recommend that you read them. Quality stuff.

1. Posted for posterity: Barnes' article on 'the game that ruined Eurogames'

2. Non aligned Movement! (aka People first games) [not euro, not AT, not wargame]

3. Schools of Design and Their Core Priorities


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1. Board Game: El Grande [Average Rating:7.80 Overall Rank:50]
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Interaction.

I don't think it's controversial to say that modern Eurogames aren't particularly interactive. Even if their detractors may go too far when they describe them as "multi-player solitaire", it's quite clear that there's very little direct confrontation in them, and that players to a comparatively high degree can mind their own business while playing. A player's actions don't necessarily affect another player's actions to any significant degree; if one option is blocked, there are usually several others to choose between.

Classic Eurogames, on the other hand, are decidedly more interactive. In fact, I'd go as far as saying that interaction is an integral part of the gameplay in most classic Eurogames. The interaction can for instance take the shape of open confrontation as in El Grande and Tigris & Euphrates, negotiation as in Settlers of Catan and Chinatown, auctioning as in Modern Art and Ra, or even cooperation as in Lord of the Rings. The interaction can take many different shapes, but it is there, and it affects the gameplay.
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2. Board Game: Top Race [Average Rating:6.77 Overall Rank:1486]
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Streamlining.

This is possibly the most important difference between classic Eurogames and modern Eurogames. I don't think it's particularly controversial to say that classic Eurogames have fewer, better interlocked, and more intuitive mechanisms than modern Eurogames; one could almost say that they are a bit minimalistic. Consequently, they have shorter and more comprehensive rule sets, and the rules can be explained faster and more easily. Obviously, this quality gives these games a broader appeal than modern Eurogames and make them more more suitable as family games and gateway games with some exceptions, such as Amun-Re and Tigris & Euphrates.

I believe the following quote by the good doctor, as Reiner Knizia used to be called, captures how designers of classic Eurogames reason when they design their games:

Quote:
Having fun, having enjoyment, a good time with other people is the objective, the motivation why people play games in my eyes. So why hunt them through twenty pages of rules if I can design a game with one page of rules which plays faster, is cheaper to buy, and gives people the same level of enjoyment, but reaches many more people.

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3. Board Game: Tigris & Euphrates [Average Rating:7.72 Overall Rank:63]
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Depth.

Although there certainly are exceptions, classic Eurogames usually have very good complexity-depth ratios, i.e. they have simple rules, but nevertheless require much thinking. Generally speaking, the depth is generated just as much, or even more so, by the interaction between the players as by the mechanisms. Usually, they are described as having "hidden depths", or that there's "more than meets the eye"; a bit more controversially, this is also said to be "elegant design". Argueably, only some card games and abstract strategy games can match classic Eurogames when it comes to this. The poster boy for this quality is no doubt Tigris & Euphrates, which has comparatively simple rules, but is devilishly difficult to master.

Modern Eurogames definitely have depth too, often more so than classic Eurogames, but from my admittedly very biased point of view, this depth is usually convoluted and contrived. Contrary to classic Eurogames, the complexity is generated more by the game mechanisms than by the interaction between the players. Adding more mechanisms will more or less automatically make a game more complex, and I think that's what designers of modern Eurogames do. I'd like to compare this difference to Chess and Go; Chess has more complex rules than Go, but Go has more depth than Chess. Of course, this kind of, so to speak, quantitative complexity doesn't have to be something negative, as many Eurogamers obviously find this enjoyable and stimulating. However, it's a distinct and significant difference between classic Eurogames and modern ones.

Again, I think that Reiner Knizia captures how designers of classic Eurogames evidently reason:

Quote:
I like to reach people and I like to do games which have very simple rules but nevertheless have a certain depth of gameplay so people can understand them very quickly, and then they play it, and then they notice where the depth is. What I am trying is less to generate this by putting in lots of details from the game point of view, but by opening it up for the different strategies, and a different viewpoint for the different players. For me, the new element in the game is the other players. The game is a platform for each player to do their own approach, so the game plays differently with different players, which I find challenging and most exciting.
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4. Board Game: Niagara [Average Rating:6.53 Overall Rank:1048]
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Originality.

From my point of view, modern Eurogames are, generally speaking, very derivative when it comes to gameplay. Typically, one game popularises a novelty like worker placement, role selection, card drafting, deck building, or something else, and is then followed by a dozen games which utilise the very same mechanism; usually, the only originality comes from how this new mechanism is combined with other mechanisms in the game.

In my opinion, there's considerably more diversity among classic Eurogames. To take a few notable examples, Carcassonne, Modern Art, Settlers of Catan, Samurai, El Grande, Ticket to Ride, Tigris & Euphrates, and Niagara offer completely different gameplay; to this we can add newer games like Tobago, Via Appia, Five Tribes, and Sheriff of Nottingham. It seems that designers of classic Eurogames really try to make an effort coming up with something new and original instead of recycling old ideas.


A game of Niagara in progress.
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5. Board Game: TransAmerica [Average Rating:6.67 Overall Rank:871]
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Time.

I don't think that anyone will challenge the notion that the average playing time of classic Eurogames is shorter than the average playing time of modern Eurogames. Classic Eurogames typically have a playing time of 30-90 minutes, whereas most modern Eurogames seem to typically have a playing time of 60-180 minutes. Some hopefully representative examples, as stated on the games' respective BBG pages:

Classic Eurogames

TransAmerica: 30 min
Carcassonne: 30-45 min
Modern Art: 45 min
Torres: 60 min
Tigris & Euphrates: 90 min
Modern Eurogames

Trajan: 90 min
Keyflower: 90-120 min
Terra Mystica: 60-150 min
Le Havre: 100-200 min
Dominant Species: 120-240 min










Obviously, gamers have different experiences in mind when they choose games with shorter or longer playing times. A shorter playing time allows for a more casual approach with weekday evening sessions, and the option of playing the game repeated times or playing several different games in an evening. A longer playing time often requires a more serious approach with gaming events at weekends or holidays, and invites to more epic and in-depth sessions. Regardless of which preferences one might have, I'd say that this is a significant difference between classic Eurogames and modern Eurogames.
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6. Board Game: Kingdoms [Average Rating:6.63 Overall Rank:1015]
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Aesthetics.

Eurogames, both classic and modern, tend to have rather sober aesthetics; Ameritrash kitch is generally frowned upon. However, I'd say that there are some differences, albeit not as profound as other ones mentioned here.

Modern Eurogames tend to have quite dull pallettes dominated by earth colours and graphics which can be described as static and lifeless. Classic Eurogames can definitely share these aesthetic characteristics, with El Grande as an obvious culprit, but brighter colours and more vivid graphics are certainly more common in classic Eurogames.


Components in the original edition of Reiner Knizia's Kingdoms.

Admittedly, this is a somewhat superficial difference. However, I would claim that this difference may affect how accessible games are for non-gamers; classic Eurogames have a somewhat less dead-serious and intimidating look.
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7. Board Game: Ticket to Ride [Average Rating:7.47 Overall Rank:112] [Average Rating:7.47 Unranked]
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Settings.

I wouldn't say that classic Eurogames are more diversified than modern Eurogames in terms of settings. On the contrary, modern Eurogames probably offer a little bit more diversity. There are probably more classic Eurogames with an Egyptian setting than there are modern Eurogames with a Renaissance setting. *tongue in cheek*

However, I'd say that classic Eurogames usually, albeit far from always, have more accessible settings. The reoccuring and much derided Egyptian setting has its advantages: pyramids and pharaos are familiar, mildy exotic, and probably more exciting for non-gamers and casual gamers than caravels and Atlantic trade routes. Some settings in modern Eurogames may certainly appear obscure, dry, and intimidating for non-gamers and casual gamers: castle building in 13th century France, glass-making in 17th century Bavaria, cave farming by dwarves in a fantasy world, evolution of animal species 90,000 BCE, shell collection on a Polynesian island in pre-industrial times, and so on. This is of course not a problem for experienced gamers who appreciate original settings, but it is a difference between classic Eurogames and modern Eurogames.
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8. Board Game: Lord of the Rings [Average Rating:6.78 Overall Rank:669]
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Themes.

All board games are abstractions, so it may seem a tad strained to discuss themes, but I'd say that there are themes in most board games, however abstract. I'm of course not talking about pseudo-thematic gimmicks like bombastic artwork, text-filled cards, and plastic figures, but about how themes are conveyed through mechanisms and gameplay, i.e. through the actual game.

I think most gamers would agree that modern Eurogames aren't characterised by thematic diversity. As I see it, they almost invariably deal with themes like the thrills of entrepreneurship and venture, the building of empires, and the desire for order and efficiency. If one wants to be malicious, one could also say that they incorporate corporate versions of the ever-present, humdrum, crypto-authoritarian themes in Ameritrash games: the will to power, might is right, and the survival of the fittest. Needless to say, I'm intentionally being a bit provocative here, but I believe I can drive home the point more efficiently by doing so.

Classic Eurogames offer more thematic diversity, in my opinion. Some examples: Tigris & Euphrates deals with the rise and fall of civilisations, and the transcendation of time by dynasties; El Grande deals with the will to power and the dangers of sychopancy; Blue Moon City deals with the desire for order and civilisation; Niagara deals with the dangers of greed and taking risks; Lord of the Rings deals with the strength of comradeship and self-sacrifice; Settlers of Catan deals with the conquering and exploitation of nature and the interdependence between societies. Admittedly, these themes are as abstract as in other games, but they are there and they are comparatively diverse.
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9. Board Game: Carcassonne [Average Rating:7.43 Overall Rank:131] [Average Rating:7.43 Unranked]
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Accessibility.

Taking all of the above into account, I think it's quite clear that classic Eurogames are more accessible. They are considerably less intimidating than modern Eurogames for non-gamers, thanks to simpler rules, shorter playing times, less serious-looking aesthetics, less obscure settings etc.

Is this a good or bad thing? Obviously, that depends entirely on one's preferences; although there are plenty of exceptions, there's often a negative correlation between accessibility and depth. However, no matter how one looks at it, it is a significant difference.
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10. Board Game: Agricola [Average Rating:8.04 Overall Rank:15]
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For the record...

This geeklist might make me come through as a hater of modern Eurogames. That, however, is not the case. Agricola is a glaring anomaly in my collection; I absolutely love this game, because Agricola is Agricola. I don't mind a game of Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization, Navegador, The Castles of Burgundy, or even Vasco da Gama, and I would certainly not turn down an opportunity to try out any of the new modern Eurogames which have been released in recent years.

First and foremost, I'm a classic Eurogamer, though. The thing is that I simply find classic Eurogames to be much more inviting, entertaining, and fulfilling than modern Eurogames, and I think it's important to make a distinction, because as I see it, they are two different breeds.
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