Wednesday, September 18, 2013

In Which The Warlock Expands Upon an Unloved Position...

Friends and neighbors, if you're a frequent reader of this blog, you know something about me that puts me in a distinct minority of gamers. I don't like Eurogames.

Lots and lots of fiddly bits in Archipelago.
I bring this up because a weekend or two ago, the PlatinumChick and I spent some time up with some friends in Columbus playing games.  I introduced them to Sentinels of the Multiverse, while they returned the favor with a complex Eurogame called Archipelago.  I had a reasonable time, primarily because I was among friends that I rarely see, though I was swiftly reminded of all the things that I can't sand about Eurogames.

Unfortunately for me, Eurogames occupy a pretty pervasive position in gaming culture.  Mayfair Games, creator of the mother of all Eurogames, Settlers of Catan, is easily one of the biggest gaming companies worldwide.  Asmodee, as well, has made an empire on Eurogames, with thousands of players pushing small cubes and meeples to and fro with abandon.

So what don't I like about these games?  Let me set the record straight and count the ways...

1) The ability to play for hours, doing nothing.  Sonya got to experience this firsthand after being put in a precarious position at the various start of the game.  By chance, her starting location ended up being one rich in ore, one of the randomly-determined victory conditions.  Naturally, this caused a rush on her location, driving her out of the area before her turn even started.  For the rest of the game, Sonya was playing from behind, unable to contend in any reasonable way.

Precisely this.
2) Passive-aggressive conflict.  In Archipelago, players are supposed to be rival colonists exploring the New World, in an attempt to build successful towns, markets, and the like.  However, there's next to no ability to actively confront a rival colonist!  You can't sink ships, you can't declare war and conquer your enemies.  The worst you can do is the aforementioned "move into their territory", kicking them out.  Without the threat of actual, head-to-head conflict, not only does the theme suffer, but it limits significant options that would be otherwise interesting or entertaining.  Catan falls in this same trap with the Robber; the game becomes a match of bouncing him back and forth, with the character who can manage him best usually winning.

3) Theme.  With little fail, Eurogames tend to rely on the same theme over and over:  build civilization.  Either you're building a farm, building a castle, building a state, building a space empire.  In all cases, your entire point is to grow bigger and bigger, with victory points as secondary objectives at best.  There's no variance, there's no change.  While your resource cubes might represent ore in one game, chickens in another, and dilithium crystals in a third, in the end they're all the same:  X wood plus Y clay makes a city/woodshed/starship, while Y clay plus Z uranium makes a city/farmhouse/capital fleet.

Great theme, great PvP gameplay, with none
of the problems of a Eurogame!
There's simply nothing unique.  Arkham Horror and Mansions of Madness use primarily the same foes and even theme, but their mechanical differences make them unique animals, even as both are cooperative games.  And, in both cases, they're rich in the 1920s Lovecraftian theme.  A game like Chaos in the Old World utilizes unique mechanics and direct conflict to establish different victory conditions for each player...without resorting to X+Y=victory points. And, when playing, you feel like a Chaos God, spreading your tendrils throughout the Warhammer universe. 

4) Standing on the fence.  This one's a matter of taste entirely.  You see, I love Player vs Player games.  I have a reputation in Munchkin, simply because of my cut-throat tactics.  Ninja Burger is a perennial favorite, simply because of the balance between personal motivation and sheer dickery.  But, concurrently, I love cooperative games.  As I've mentioned, Arkham Horror and Sentinels of the Multiverse are fixtures at my game table.  But, Eurogames tend to ride an uncomfortable fence between the two that makes playing them unpleasant.  Settlers of Catan is a killer here, where the trade economy involves a passive-aggressive balance of self-improvement and prevention of others from doing the same.  That balance is rarely executed well and I find that devotion to one or the other provides a better game experience overall.

Obviously, I'm not the be-all and end-all of gaming.  People have different things that they enjoy.  I simply haven't come across any Eurogame that really scratches any itch for me, while most have the same flaws over and over, which tend to get my goat.  But, to each their own!


  1. My issues with Eurogames is more that you can't plan a long term strategy and there is little to no randomization. One or the other would be fine: you either make a strategy to play out for several turns or you make a short term strategy that will increase the probability that the random results will be favorable in the long term.

    But Eurogames by and large do neither. You can't leave things up to chance, so you might try to make a long term strategy. But since each term is generally "pick the best option that your opponents haven't picked" (especially in worker placement games), you might try to plan your strategy by out-thinking your opponents. But this almost always is like trying to have a battle of wits with a Sicilian: all the analysis in the world isn't going to help you figure out which cup is poisoned. In the end, you have an uncomfortable situation of going through the game without having a plan.

    Granted, I think Settlers of Catan is alright because there is a suitable degree of randomness. Worker placement games on the other hand I typically hate, although Kingsburg is decent, again because of the randomness.

  2. Good thoughts, there. In a Risk-type wargame, it's easy to say "My next target is lacking air defenses here; time to buy some zeppelins/planes/helicarriers".
    But, in a Eurogame, there's no finite mechanical advantage saying "You should build the chicken coop before the stable!"

    ...Catan still makes me mad, though! :D