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Subject: Eurogames vs Amerigames - A gaming philosophy conundrum? rss

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Gina and Adam
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I'd welcome some input from you fellow gamers on this age-old divide.

I've spent the past two years trying to acquire a liking for so-called 'Eurogames'. I'm a European, living in Europe, playing with Europeans - you get my drift.

Generally, I tend to be a good sport and go along with whatever the people I care about wish to play, and it's been fairly varied, from hardcore hex-and-counter wargames to fairies-trains-and-merchants stuff. But time and again, I'm faced with a dilemma. When folks ask me what kinds of game I like, as in, enough to play them again and again, I tend to mutter something inconclusive about 'intuitiveness', but generally struggle to put it into words.

There certainly is a pattern that some of you might be familiar with and have perhaps found better ways to express.

I'd welcome your thoughts on the following phenomenon.

I truly enjoy:
- the breadth and scope of GMT's historical grand strategy games (Supreme Commander, Triumph & Tragedy, Genesis, etc)
- the well-rounded, detailed accuracy of Conflict of Heroes (we played it to bits with my wife)
- the card-driven tapestry of historical narratives in Twilight Struggle & co.
- the intuitiveness of streamlined games like Ticket to Ride
- the story-driven flow of Eldrich Horror and Dead of Winter
- weekend-long epic wine-and-cheese-soaked sessions of Axis&Allies 1914 and Diplomacy with armies of friends (a year later, our gaming group still recounts anecdotes about those parties)

But I can't really get that much enjoyment out of:
- games that rank high on BGG
- arithmetic drudgeries with pasted-on themes (like Tzolkin)
- 'get red and pink thingies and move the white cube on the black track to gain access to purple bingbongs which will yield double victory points on some other obsure yellow track later' type games with colourful graphics (like Nippon)
- over-complicated games with excessive levels of abstraction (Through the Ages)
- over-simplified games with excessive levels of abstraction (Pandemic)

It's not like I diss Eurogames because I'm not good at them. I won at Terra Mystica by the second playthrough against more experienced players, and I'm unbeatable at Grand Cru. But they don't excite me, I think of them as mere exercises in mental arithmetics. I'm good at maths, so I can beat most other players - if I can be bothered.

But the thing is - my mind never returns to these type of games, whereas a good, deep hex-and-counter wargame will leave me thinking about it between playnights and looking forward to the next session. (We usually leave things on the gaming table and pick up where we left off.)

The bottom line - What makes a well-designed game truly great?

-The mechanism should intuitively fit the theme it tries to simulate. (I should be able to look at it and readily grasp what's going on and how everything hangs together. Hence a well-conceived GMT game with a 60-page rule book takes me on average half as long to learn as yet another generic worker/resource-placement game that tries to be different.)
-The game should reward time investment with a satisfying level of immersion.
-The rules should not be overly concise and sacrifice credibility for simplicity. (I don't want a colourful slotmachine with arcane mechanics, but a simulation of a consistent actual or fictional setting that responds to my actions with realistic feedback.)
-The player experience should reward winning as well as losing and daring to experiment. The game should not railroad players into a limited set of winning combos, but be as sandbox/open-world as possible. (Take Triumph and Tragedy - what epic narratives arose from our three-player evenings: building, plotting, fighting for survival, engaging in a futile arms-race, only to be nuked by the third player in 1944. All of it was glorious and exhilarating for winners and losers alike.)

Life is finite, so it matters what games we chose to play. I've got family now, so I don't have time for casual stuff anymore - time's precious, so if I play, it's got to be the super-immersive, hard-core type.

So, any thoughts, suggestions, angry rants? I'd truly appreciate any input on this and will react to all comments individually.
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April W
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I read all of that simply because it was so well written. Thank-you for your beautiful use of grammar and punctuation.

It seems to me that you have honed your personal gaming preferences through experience and now know exactly what it is you like. We can't always put a name to our individual tastes. I understand being selective as gaming time is precious for those of us with families. Find what you love and play it when you can, but it's also important to make time for what other people like (which, I'd venture, you have done).
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CARL SKUTSCH
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I dunno, it's all been said before. However, I like seeing myself type, so...

I like both. My basic preference is for a game that rewards skill. I want my decisions to matter. In Fortress America, I win more than I lose because I'm good at that game. I love the dice chucking and the drama but I also like to make smart decisions and see them pay off. I like the Gallerist. It's a brain-churny Euro but my decisions matter. When my kid beats me and my wife. Again and again. We know it's because the giant teen brat outplayed us. I like other things too. I like pretty components, but they aren't required (Innovation ain't that pretty and I like it). I like an appealing theme, but it isn't required (Concordia is another darn trading in the Mediterranean game, but I still like it).

You like the things you like. There are no rules.
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Leonardo Martino
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wargamer inside?
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Chris Laudermilk
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You seem to have fine tuned what it is you like and dislike in games. So don't get hung up on the labels; just get what you like regardless of the label or ranking that gets put on it.
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Jason Long
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I agree with other posters that it sounds like you've spent a lot of time realizing what you do and don't like in games, regardless of what category other people place them in.

While there has been a historical divide between pure Eurogames and Ameritrash games, those terms (and, more importantly, games themselves) have been blending more and more recently. Designers have become increasingly conscious of the divide and have charted new territory with that in mind. My own collection has started to fall more in the middle of the two, with games like Blood Rage, A Study in Emerald, Scythe, and Hyperborea, among others. For me, and my gaming group, these games bridge the divide, combining rock solid Euro mechanics and the story/theme from Ameritrash.

We call them Themed Euros.

There is one point that confuses me a bit from your post. You suggest that you enjoy aspects of the following games (and, yes, I truncated for emphasis):

M2EU wrote:

I truly enjoy:
- Twilight Struggle
- Ticket to Ride
- Eldrich Horror and Dead of Winter


Yet, you suggest this:

M2EU wrote:

But I can't really get that much enjoyment out of:
- games that rank high on BGG


Isn't Twilight Struggle ranked extremely highly on BGG? Like Overall #2, #1 in War, and #3 in Strategy? And, while the others might not be top 10 Overall, they seem to rank impressively well to me.

Ticket to Ride = #10 in Family games (top 100 Overall)
Eldritch Horror = #10 in Themed games (#31 Overall)
Dead of Winter = #9 in Themed games (#25 Overall)

Just wondering why that particular criteria? And what "ranked highly" means to you?

Thanks for an interesting and thoughtful post.



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Russ Williams
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Well, I guess my only reaction is:

"Euro vs Ameritrash" is an absurd bogus false dichotomy.

First, there are more games and genres than "eurogames vs amerigames". E.g. wargames and abstract strategy games and word games and party games and dexterity games ... are neither eurogames nor amerigames.

And the definition of what is a "euro" or a "AT" game is really quite nebulous and typically self-contradictory.

You say you like Twilight Struggle and Conflict of Heroes and Ticket to Ride; well, TTR seems considered a "euro" by many (surely you don't consider it ameritrash, if those are your only 2 bins to categorize games into, do you?), and many wargamers dismiss Twilight Struggle as a "euro" and consider COH to be very a "euro-ish" wargame.

(And of course TTR and COH and TS are all highly ranked at BGG, so it's weird that you think you "can't really get that much enjoyment out of games that rank high on BGG".)

So I'd say: let go of the silly "euro vs AT" dichotomy. It generates more useless noise than useful insight.
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Gina and Adam
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Thanks, April, for your kind compliment. I'm glad you enjoyed reading the post, with grammar and all

I guess you are right and there's no short-hand label that I could apply to 'justify' my preferences.

I like your left-most microbadge, by the way. My wife is my number 1 gaming partner - makes for a truly joyous (if somewhat competitive) marriage. All the best to you and your other half!
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Gina and Adam
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Thanks for sharing your views, Carl. I'll be sure to check out Fortress America. And it's great that your family plays together - I guess as long as that's the case, it matters not so much what you play but whether you get maximum enjoyment out of it. It sure beats sitting in front of the tellie, as far as quality time is concerned.

So here's a rule to be added to my design list:
- A game should, ideally, be more interesting than watching television.
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Jonathan Deroo
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While I have nowhere near the experience of Adam, I can only surmise that how you experience the story being told in the game determines the enjoyment. If you enjoy the story the story that is unfolding before you, you will enjoy the game. If the game mechanics get in the way, you lose the immersive effect and it turns into a number-crunching exercise.

The same thing applies to the people you play with. Some people like to get "into character", others turn into human computers who just want to win. Guess which type of person I prefer to play with .

Ever tried role-playing with a good games master?

devil
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Gina and Adam
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Yes, Leonardo, I think I'm currently being diagnosed as a closeted wargamer. Good thing my wife displays similar tendencies
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Bryan Thunkd
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Different strokes for different folks
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Gina and Adam
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Thanks for your reply, Jason. One learns something new every day: I was not familiar with the expression 'themed euros' thus far. (I realise I like labels. )

You are correct to point out that some of the games I mentioned actually hold a high BGG ranking. My mistake, I was too quick to generalise. I had the impression, without looking too closely, that cheerful 'Euros' tend to outrank serious GMT-style heavies. But I guess that is to be expected when looking at an aggregated table of all titles.

Of the games you mentioned as good compromises between 'Ameri' and 'Euro', our weekly co-gamer just purchased Blood Rage and Scythe, so I'll be sure to lobby him to give them some table time soon. Thanks for the hint!!
 
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Gina and Adam
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Thanks, Russ. It seems I have been misusing the 'ameri' label. I've always thought of hex-and-counter wargames as prime examples of 'amerigames', but it appears I was mistaken. I shall henceforth banish the euro vs AT dichotomy from my dictionary!


russ wrote:
Well, I guess my only reaction is:

"Euro vs Ameritrash" is an absurd bogus false dichotomy.

First, there are more games and genres than "eurogames vs amerigames". E.g. wargames and abstract strategy games and word games and party games and dexterity games ... are neither eurogames nor amerigames.

And the definition of what is a "euro" or a "AT" game is really quite nebulous and typically self-contradictory.

You say you like Twilight Struggle and Conflict of Heroes and Ticket to Ride; well, TTR seems considered a "euro" by many (surely you don't consider it ameritrash, if those are your only 2 bins to categorize games into, do you?), and many wargamers dismiss Twilight Struggle as a "euro" and consider COH to be very a "euro-ish" wargame.

(And of course TTR and COH and TS are all highly ranked at BGG, so it's weird that you think you "can't really get that much enjoyment out of games that rank high on BGG".)

So I'd say: let go of the silly "euro vs AT" dichotomy. It generates more useless noise than useful insight.
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Gina and Adam
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Hey Jonathan,
good point, I agree that the human factor is a defining element and the same game can be fun or excruciating depending on who you play it with.

I'm all for trying a game-master-led RPG at one of our future sessions - are you volunteering?
 
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Jason Long
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M2EU wrote:
Thanks for your reply, Jason. One learns something new every day: I was not familiar with the expression 'themed euros' thus far.


To be fair, we created the "Themed Euros" nomenclature (so, I'm not surprised you haven't heard of it). But it was crafted only as a fun reminder that we like crossover games, as well as bunches of others, and that we very much dislike the artificial and silly rift between certain "Euro" and "AT" fans. This way, we can force a truce.

M2EU wrote:
Of the games you mentioned as good compromises between 'Ameri' and 'Euro', our weekly co-gamer just purchased Blood Rage and Scythe, so I'll be sure to lobby him to give them some table time soon. Thanks for the hint!!


I hope you enjoy them.! While Blood Rage has its issues, it's generally been a hit on my table. And Scythe is a satisfying blend of mechanics and theme.
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Bryan Thunkd
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russ wrote:
So I'd say: let go of the silly "euro vs AT" dichotomy. It generates more useless noise than useful insight.
And yet, this...
Quote:
- arithmetic drudgeries with pasted-on themes (like Tzolkin)
- 'get red and pink thingies and move the white cube on the black track to gain access to purple bingbongs which will yield double victory points on some other obsure yellow track later' type games with colourful graphics (like Nippon)
...screams Eurogame to me.

Which suggests that he should be on the lookout to avoid games billed as eurogame-y. So I think the label has some utility for him.
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CARL SKUTSCH
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Since you like story you might try Ryan Laukat's games. They're kinda light Euros with an emphasis on look and feel. Above and Below even has mini adventures.
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Cris Whetstone
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I'm coming to a similar realization. Having come back to gaming after many years away I've tried many games over the past year or so. So many Euro style games just fall flat or worse for me. They feel so empty after the points track is completed. So many seem like mechanics for mechanics sake.

There are exceptions and some that I like playing as a diversion or something quick but overall I'm missing that involvement and satisfaction I can get even when getting crushed into something more involved.

Now to find more like minded players locally...
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Russ Williams
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Thunkd wrote:
Which suggests that he should be on the lookout to avoid games billed as eurogame-y. So I think the label has some utility for him.

But avoiding such games would also have made him avoid various different games which he loves. So I think that thinking beyond the binary dichotomy "I dislike euros and I like AT" has more utility.
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russ wrote:

But avoiding such games would also have made him avoid various different games which he loves. So I think that thinking beyond the binary dichotomy "I dislike euros and I like AT" has more utility.


It's only a binary dichotomy if it's used that way.

I think it's more valuable if you see it as a descriptor of trends in a game's design than a hard and fast category.

If you see it like that, it has utility for the OP. It's not that more eurogamey games should be a "no, under any circumstances" for the OP. It's that he should be more cautious about investing in them, because it's more likely he won't like them.

I'm pretty fond of 1960: The Making of the President which is seen as pretty eurogamey on here. But it doesn't alter the fact it's something of an outlier for me and I don't like most eurogames.
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Russ Williams
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Abiezer Coppe wrote:
russ wrote:

But avoiding such games would also have made him avoid various different games which he loves. So I think that thinking beyond the binary dichotomy "I dislike euros and I like AT" has more utility.


It's only a binary dichotomy if it's used that way.


"Eurogames vs Amerigames - A gaming philosophy conundrum?" seems like a very binary dichotomous use of the concepts to me.
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M2EU wrote:
I'd welcome some input from you fellow gamers on this age-old divide.

"A gaming philosophy conundrum?" No, it's just different tastes and psychologies.

To show how much this is the case, take an example away from BGG. Huge numbers of people go to casinos and really, really enjoy putting money in a slot machine and pulling the handle. "I might win! I might win! I might win!" The game teases them just long enough, and pays off just enough to keep them putting their money in (irregular reinforcement training), and they get to compete with other slot machine players (model-rival training).

M2EU wrote:
It's not like I diss Eurogames because I'm not good at them. I won at Terra Mystica by the second playthrough against more experienced players, and I'm unbeatable at Grand Cru. But they don't excite me, I think of them as mere exercises in mental arithmetics. I'm good at maths, so I can beat most other players - if I can be bothered.

That's fine! Sure, a few people on BGG are so excited by some class of game they become convinced it's The One True Gaming Experience and get all evangelical about it, but different people like different games, different games meet different psychological needs. You find mathy games boring, other people like them; it's all fine.

You have a long list of what you like. That's fine. Not everyone will agree, and that's fine, too. Some people want immersion, some want a problem to solve, some want to see what luck brings; some want a quiet, thoughtful time, some want a noisy, exciting time--it's all good.

I don't think there's a bright Ameritrash-Euro divide any more: it's a spectrum. I still think there's a Marketing difference between investing heavily in games a game company tries to keep going forever, whether Monopoly or Ticket to Ride, and going after the Cult of the New, releasing a new game every month, which is somewhat inconsistent with Ameritrash. But, again, that's up to the player's taste: some people only play games they know very well; some people want to play something new every time; some do both.

Wargames are usually considered a distinct genre of games, but they vary from traditional hex-and-counter, roll-dice-for-resolution wargames to wargames with Euro elements. I'm out of wargames for now, but at one time wargames were pretty Cult of the New, with a standard set of rules (for each company) and some variations in a new setting every month.

Play what you like. Like what you play.
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Bryan Thunkd
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Abiezer Coppe wrote:
russ wrote:

But avoiding such games would also have made him avoid various different games which he loves. So I think that thinking beyond the binary dichotomy "I dislike euros and I like AT" has more utility.



It's only a binary dichotomy if it's used that way.

I think it's more valuable if you see it as a descriptor of trends in a game's design than a hard and fast category.

If you see it like that, it has utility for the OP. It's not that more eurogamey games should be a "no, under any circumstances" for the OP. It's that he should be more cautious about investing in them, because it's more likely he won't like them.
Exactly. In the same way, when I hear a game described as Ameritrash, it doesn't mean that I won't necessarily like the game, but it does mean it's more likely I won't. So I don't rule the game out, but I do approach with caution.

I think Russ is hung up on wanting clearly defined terms that can unambiguously applied, but language is often ambiguous and unclear, and all categorization systems are by nature somewhat arbitrary. There's almost never going to be a hard and fast line between one category and another. But if you relax that restriction and accept that the definitions are a little fuzzy, then they can offer great utility.

I'm not going to like every Eurogame and hate every Ameritrash game... but I'm probably more likely to like a Eurogame and dislike an Ameritrash game. And when the line between the two gets blurred, sure, it's going to be hard to predict how I'll react to a hybrid game. It's nowhere near a perfect categorization system, but it's better than nothing, and it usually does a good job letting me predict if I'll like a game or not. And if occasionally I delay trying a good game, or rush to play something I don't care for, it's not the worst fate in the world. The times it works more than offset the few misses.
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Jason Long
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Tall_Walt wrote:
Play what you like. Like what you play.


This.
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