Tag Archives: Rummy

Boardgames in the News: So, What Are Euro-Games?

A couple of months ago at our game night, one of the gamers commented that there were a lot of good games from Europe.  This prompted a discussion about “traditional games”, “Euro-games”, “American games” and their relative merits.  Most people know all about traditional games even if they don’t know what gamers mean when they use the term:  traditional games are the games we all used to play as a child including Scrabble, Cluedo and love it or loath it, the dreaded Monopoly.  Some people also include in this list games like Chess, Go and Backgammon as well as traditional card games like Whist, Hearts and Rummy.

Go
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ManCorte

But the front page of the boardGOATS website says, “We generally prefer to play “Euro” style games,” so, what do gamers mean by “Euro-games” or “Euro style games”?  Well, most of the traditional games we used to play as children were produced by publishers in the United States of America, companies like Milton Bradley (who made Scrabble) and Parker Brothers (who made Cluedo and Monopoly).  Incidentally, both these companies are now part of Hasbro, but the aggregation of smaller companies to form a larger one is a topic that’s been covered elsewhere.  While the “English” market was dominated by big players that concentrated on producing a few top sellers, in Germany there was no such dominance.  The effect this had was that the market consisted of a large number of small manufacturers producing more varied products.

Scrabble
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Susie_Cat

This coupled with the traditionally strong German toy industry encouraged the growth of a culture of families playing games together on a Sunday afternoon. It was in this environment that the annual German Game of the Year, or Spiel des Jahres Award, highlighted a range of games from Rummikub in 1980, Torres in 2000 and Camel Up last year.  Over the years, the red pawn of the Spiel des Jahres logo, has become a mark of boardgaming quality, and for many German families, buying the game of the year is something they do every Christmas.  Therefore, the qualities espoused by these awards heavily influence the concept of the “Euro-game”.

Rummykub
– Image by BGG contributor OldestManOnMySpace

But what are these qualities that make a game “European”?  Well, that fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia, describes them as characterised by “simple rules, short to medium playing times, indirect player interaction and abstract physical components”.   It goes on to say, “Such games emphasize strategy, downplay luck and conflict, lean towards economic rather than military themes, and usually keep all the players in the game until it ends.”  On the whole this is not a bad summary, except that it is not very specific:  how simple are “simple rules” and how long are “short to medium playing times”?  Clearly these features are more about contrast, and although there are lots of different types of games including party games and war games, this comparison is usually between European style ames and American-style Games, aka “Ameri-Trash”.

Last Night on Earth
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Bilben04

Although common, use of the term Ameri-Trash (or Ameritrash) is controversial as some see it as unnecessarily negative, however, although other terms have been suggested none have proved as popular or as persistent.  The term itself is over fifteen years old and was probably originally used disparagingly and applied to genuinely bad American games as a comparison with the much higher professional standards of games in Germany at the time.  Since then, the scope has been expanded and many fans of those American games have adopted the term as a badge of honour.

Merchant of Venus
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

American-style games tend to be long, usually over two hours, and classically involve a lot of luck and often feature dice rolling.  They are often considered to be a lot less “cerebral” or “puzzle-like” and, as a result, are sometimes described as “more fun”.  The reference to “trash” may in part reflect the style of the pieces which tend to include a lot of plastic pieces to go with the dice.  There is also often a lot of direct conflict in American-style games, where European games tend to be much more family friendly with indirect player interaction.  Classic Ameri-Trash games include:  Arkham Horror, Merchant of Venus, Cosmic Encounter and Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game.  Sometimes there is also a book or film tie-in leading to games like Battlestar Galactica and Dune.  Even just comparing the titles with those of classic Euro-games like Puerto Rico, El Grande, Tikal and Agricola, the difference can clearly be felt.

Arkham Horror
– Image by BGG contributor igorigorevich

The most essential part of American-style games is the theme, however, which is often integral to the game mechanisms.  This encourages people fantasize they are part of the action when playing the game.  The miniatures, the long playing times, the complex interwoven rule-set and the interaction (often culminating in players being eliminated) all combine to draw players into the drama of the game.  In contrast, for Euro-games, the mechanisms are the focus, and the games can often be re-themed without much effort.  The theme is therefore used more as an introduction to the more abstract European strategy games, making them more accessible, rather than being an essential part of the emotional investment.

Relic Runners
– Image by BGG contributor cnidius

But things are not as simple as that.  The nature of modern boardgaming encourages cross-fertilisation.  There are more highly-themed, strategy-games available now and more long, strategic games with miniatures – these are sometimes referred to as “hybrid games”.  For example, games produced by the Days of Wonder (based in the USA), like Ticket to Ride and Relic Runners have a lot of plastic pieces, though the games themselves are quite strategic and generally run for no more than an hour.  Similarly, games like Escape: The Curse of the Temple and Space Alert use real-time and a sound-track to draw the players in, yet they are both short (Escape takes just ten minutes to play) and have no player elimination.  Vlaada Chvátil’s Dungeon Lords series of games, also have a lot of theme, but are also playable in a manageable time-frame, have a lot of strategy and a reasonably streamlined set of rules.

Dungeon Lords
– Image used with permission of BGG
contributor PaulGrogan

Confusingly however, “hybrid” has more recently also come to mean games that include some sort of mobile device application (and thus require a smart phone, tablet or similar).  Now, lots of games have Apps that help them a long a little (e.g. One Night Ultimate Werewolf), but games like Alchemists and XCOM: The Board Game don’t really function properly without them.  The question is, are these still boardgames?  In truth, they are a sort of hybrid computer-boardgame, but the point is, however appropriate the name, it is all about the game and the other people playing:  the bottom line is, if you enjoy playing it, it doesn’t matter what it is called.

Alchemists
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Mouseketeer

31st December 2014

The first challenge of the evening was to set up a track for our “Feature Game”, the gorgeous, dexterity car-racing game, PitchCar.  We started with getting pieces out of the box, then we decided the table needed to be expanded, then we struggled to make the ends of the track meet!  After a bit of pantomime, we eventually resorted to one of the suggested tracks, including chicanes and the bridge/tunnel from the first expansion.

PitchCar Track 31/12/14

Once the track is set up, the game itself is very straight-forward, with players taking it in turns to flick their little wooden “cars”, and the winner the first to complete (in our case) two laps of the track.  The rules are simple: a flick must be a flick (not a push), and cars must end their turn the right way up on the track.  Leaving the track is allowed, but cars must not fly more than two track sections or touch the table.  The leading player always plays first in each round.  Anyone who violates the rules forfeits stroke and distance, but any consequential moves to cars that stay on the track are valid.

PitchCar

Blue missed out on the practice lap as she was preparing food, so started from the back of the grid.  Black got off to a flying start and led round the first couple of corners before the rest of the pack caught up. Blue and Pink had caught up by the bridge, but Black held them off through the chicanes before they finally passed going into the bridge.  It was short-lived however, with Black retaking the lead before Pink passed and took a commanding lead going into the second lap with a disputed two wheels off the track.  Even with an eventually agreed penalty of a missed turn, his position turned out to be unbeatable.  Meanwhile, Blue and Black tussled before Blue got stuck on the bridge on her second pass and Black romped away, finishing second.  That left Blue and Purple to fight it out for the honour of the wooden spoon.  This was a competition they both seemed determined to win, with a series of miss-flicks, and over-flicks, but Blue eventually made it across the line first, with a cloud of smoke.

PitchCar

While tea was cooking, we played a couple of quick games of Belisha. This is a Rummy-based game with cards that depict a trip from London to Oban.  The game was a Christmas present and appears to be an original 1937 edition which probably makes it the oldest game we’ve played.  The cards run one to thirteen in four colour suits, but each card also has a road sign.  Like Rummy, players first draw a card from the face down draw deck or the face up discard pile.  They then play any runs or melds they want, with the difference being that the melds can be in numbers or road signs.  Turns end when the active player discards a card.   The game itself is fairly straight forward, though we still managed to play it wrong!  When laying runs of cards, we were playing any cards in sequence, whereas they are (of course) supposed to be the same colour/suit.  With this game it is usual to play several rounds and the game ends when a player to reaches a pre-agreed total, however, as we were only filling time, we just played a couple of hands with honours going to Black and Pink.

Belisha

After we’d eaten, we decided to play CO2.  This was the Feature Game two weeks ago, but we didn’t get round to playing it.  As only two people had played it before (and that was a long time ago), we spent quite a long time reminding ourselves of the rules, to say nothing of punching out all the pieces!  The game itself is quite an unusual one as it is cooperative, but also competitive.  The idea is that players have to cooperate to save the planet, but the player who is the most successful wins.  Alternatively, if players don’t cooperate, then the greenhouse effect will overpower the planet and everybody loses.

CO2

Each player is the CEO of an energy company responding to government requests for new, environmentally friendly power plants.  There are three stages to building a power plant:  proposing a project; installing the infrastructure for a project, and building the power plant.  Proposing a plant is rewarded by the local government grants (money, technical resource cubes or scientific sponsorship).  On the other hand, installing infrastructure has an environmental cost:  at the start of the game, each region starts with a certain number of Carbon Emissions Permits (CEPs, granted by the United Nations).  These CEPs are spent whenever the region needs to install the energy infrastructure for a project. Building a power plant earns victory points, but also has a cost associated with it which is paid in money and technical resource cubes.  This cost varies depending on the nature of the plant and also changes throughout the game.

CO2

The game is played over five decades and each decade comprises three rounds.  In these three rounds, the players need to try to satisfy the energy demand of the different continents.  At the beginning of each new decade, the energy demand of each region is evaluated and if they don’t have enough power plants, they have to build a fossil fuel plant to supply the deficit.  These are drawn at random from a pile and correspond to gas, coal and oil.  Each of these cost the region one CEP, but more importantly, they contribute to the burden of CO2 in the environment.  When the level of CO2 reaches 350 ppm, the world starts to suffer environmental disasters and at 500 ppm, the game is over and everyone loses.

CO2

At the beginning of each decade, money is awarded to each company based on their scientific expertise.  Each company starts with a scientist, though they can get more if they choose when proposing a new project.  The CEO of the company can assign their scientists to project, which earns them expertise in one of the associated scientific technologies each turn.  When a power plant is built, if there is a scientist working on the project they get the opportunity to do what scientists like to do best: travel to a conference to present their work.  When the conference has its full compliment of scientists, more expertise is awarded and they all return to the company.  Thus, through the scientists, the companies gain wealth which can be used for building power plants, however, they also need a given level of scientific expertise in each technology before they can build power plants of that type.

CO2

The game is quite fiddly and there are a lot of things to consider.  For example, a player may propose a solar power station or install its infrastructure, but they cannot build one unless they have sufficient scientific expertise.  Similarly, the location of solar power plants is also restricted to certain continents, so a solar project can only be proposed in certain regions.  The player who builds the most different power plants in a region gains control of that region and (more importantly) its CEPs.  CEPs are used when building the infrastructure to build a power plant, but are also worth points at the end of the game.  CEPs can be bought and sold on a market, and their price fluctuates throughout the game, with the final value affecting the number of victory points they are worth.  Points are also awarded to players who successfully complete their company’s personal goal (which is depicted on cards handed out at the start), or for achieving goals set out by the UN (which are cards laid out near the board and are available to players throughout the game).

CO2

We were very, very lucky with the set up.  Each region gets one fossil fuel power plant drawn at random and the total CO2 sets the initial CO2 level in the environment.  In our case, we had a lot of gas-fired power stations which are relatively environmentally friendly, so we started off well.  Purple started building in Oceania and Black in North America.  Meanwhile Blue started building up her expertise in solar and Pink just looked puzzled. Although were were unable to satisfy the worlds power demands, for the first couple of decades, we continued to be lucky and avoid the most highly polluting fossil fuel plants, which gave us a chance to start to get a feel for the game.

CO2

After a brief break to admire everyone else’s fireworks and sharing a bottle of dodgy rosé champagne, we continued playing.  Pink was now somehow in the lead, despite having to be woken up for his turn each round.  Blue suddenly realised that she’d proposed a couple of nuclear fusion projects that weren’t allowed in those regions, but everyone just shrugged and carried on with Black commenting that it “was that sort of game”.  Eventually, the CO2 level reached critical and disaster struck North America.  As Blue was the only player without a power plant in the region, she had to pay the price (a valuable technical resource cube).

CO2

It was then that Black claimed a UN goal card, to choruses of, “Oooo!  What did you do there?  What does that do!?!?” as Black surged along the score track taking the lead.  Inevitably, everyone suddenly looked to see what power plants they had built and tried to match them to the cards that had been sat quietly beside the board for the whole game, totally ignored.  Then there was a flurry of people claiming them as the game came to an end.  It was only then that Pink noticed how many CEPs Blue had amassed – with her company goal card giving her extra points for each CEP she had in hand.  Black’s company goal on the other hand, gave him points for achieving UN goal cards, which explained how he knew what they did and had paid so more attention to them than anyone else.  As the people reading the rules, Black and Blue had a better grasp of the game and it was not surprising that they finished fighting it out for the lead, but in the end it was Blue who took the first win of 2015, albeit having mess-up in the middle.

CO2

Learning Outcome:  Late at night is not the best time to learn to play long and complicated games…