Do you play board games? Most readers probably indulge in the odd game of Monopoly, Scrabble or Cluedo. Some will opt for the more cerebral Chess or Go. Then there are quiz games, party games and drinking games. This entry is not about those games.
Ignore the 'Games' section of your local WH Smith's, which is touting the The Only Way Is Essex 'hilarious' party quiz game, and search down the side streets for a small shop with shelves are bulging with hundreds of boxes, and tables laden with dozens more. This is where the serious gamers go for their fixes.
The games these afficionados like are divided broadly into two categories: Ameritrash1 games have lots of random events, handfuls of dice, and engrossing theme. Eurogames, also called German Games, have several of the following:
- A name like Friedmann Friese, Donald X Vaccarino, Reiner Knizia or Vlaada Chvatil displayed prominently on the box. This is the designer.
- Very little randomness, or a random element that affects the whole game rather than just one player.
- A theme that sort of fits the play, as long as you don't think about it too much.
- Lots of little coloured wooden cubes.
- Lots of boards.
- A 48-page rulebook including instructions for the basic game, an advanced game, a 'family' (ie simplified) game, a 2-player variant, a solo variant, and an FAQ that fails to answer the one question your group is arguing about. In seven different languages. And lots of small print2.
- A player aid for each player, reminding you of the rules3. These can be so concise that you wonder why the rulebook needed 48 pages.
Worker Placement Games
Worker placement is the stereotypical Euro mechanic. There are several action spaces, and players take turns putting their pieces on these spaces. Better get the one you want before someone else nabs it.
Agricola, by Uwe Rosenberg
Agricola is set in the exciting world of subsistence farming. Available actions include: 'Plow 1 field'4, 'Sow and/or bake bread', 'Build minor improvement' and 'Family growth'. As players each have their own farm, on a separate board in front of them, it's a bit odd that only one person can plough in a turn. Presumably there's a shared village plough. That doesn't explain why someone else picking 'Family growth' will stop your farmer and his wife from making a baby.
Every few turns there's a harvest, where grain and vegetables are brough in from the fields (if you got round to planting any), the family have to be fed, and animals breed if there are any left after feeding the family. It can be a real struggle to have enough food, but if you end up having to beg it will count against you at the end of the game.
Network Building Games
Players compete to expand their network across the board, giving them access to useful stuff (or just more money) and blocking the other players from the stuff.
Settlers of Catan, by Klaus Teuber
Settlers is probably the most widely-owned Eurogame, and commonly cited as a "gateway game" for introducing new players to the hobby.
The island of Catan is made up of randomly placed hexagonal tiles which produce resources. Players build settlements at the corners of the tiles, linked by roads, and upgrade these to cities. Settlements and cities allow you to collect resources when the right number is rolled. At the beginnning of your turn you roll two dice. If you get a five, look for the two '5' tokens on the board. If there is one on a field, then every settlement on the corner of that field gains its owner a grain card, and every city two grain cards. These cards can then be traded in on a player's turn to build settlements, roads and cities, or take random development cards. Players can also trade resources with each other at any agreed exchange rate, or with the bank at a very disadvantageous one. Later in the game, cries of 'Don't trade with him! He's nearly won!' can be heard.
There are no sevens on the board. If a seven is rolled, the player who rolled it gets to move the robber (who starts on the unproductive desert tile) to a new tile. The tile the robber is on will not produce resources, and the player who places him can steal a resource at random from any player with a settlement or city on that tile. A player can also move the robber on his turn by player a Soldier (Knight in the second edition) development card that they drew earlier.
Ah yes, winning. First to ten points wins, where points are earned for settlements and cities, longest road and largest army, and directly from some development cards. As development cards are kept secret, there can be an element of uncertainty as to how many points each player has.
As seen on TV
Settlers has been featured in the sitcom The Big Bang Theory. An oblivous Sheldon offers a trade to the giggling Howard and Raj with the words 'Who has wood for my sheep?' This joke had previously been made in 84% of all games of Settlers.
Power Grid, by Friedmann Friesse
This game was called Funkenschlag in the original German. Friesse likes his games to begin with F: Fauna, Finstere Flure (published as Fearsome Floors in English), Freitag (Friday), Flussfieber (Fast Flowing Forest Fellers5.
In Power Grid, you run an electricity company. You have to buy power stations and fuel for them (coal, oil, garbage or uranium; there are also 'ecological' power stations that don't need fuel), and spend money extending your network. You then get money for the number of cities you supply. The board is double-sided, with Germany on one side and the USA on the other, but there are lots of extra boards available.
Power Grid has a notable 'catch up' mechanism that helps those who are behind. The leader will get last pick at buying fuel, which is bad because the price goes up when more people buy it; last chance to expand to new cities; and first pick in the power plant auction. First pick is bad because the plant you buy will probably be replaced by a better one.
Tile Laying Games
Each turn players play a number of tiles from their hands onto the board (or directly onto the table).
Carcassonne, by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede
Carcassonne is a town in southern France, centre of the Albigensian heresy in the early thirteenth century. Arnaud Amaury, the papal legate was supposedly asked how troops would know the difference between the heretics and the loyal Catholics, and responded "Kill them all, and God will know his own." This game has nothing to do with that.
Each turn, players draw a tile from the deck and place it on the table adjoining one or more other tiles. The tiles have landscape on them made up of parts of cities, farms and roads, and the occasional monastery. The edges must match - farm to farm, city to city, and road to road. The player may then place one of his or her meeples on that tile, where it will, hopefully, earn points. Cities, fields and roads spread over several tiles, and meeples cannot be added to a feature if there is already a meeple there. However, it is possible to have two separate cities, for example, joined into one larger city, in which case it is now owned by the player with the most meeples in it. This player will score the points for the feature, the others will not (in the case of a tie, both players will get full points).
Points are scored during the game and at the end of the game. Roads and monasteries score the same whether completed during the game or left uncompleted at the end, but cities only get half the amount at the end. Farms are scored based on how many completed cities they supply (ie are next to). You cannot get meeples back from farms even if the other players have contrived to surround you with roads, thus making your farm worthless.
Devious players can muscle in on features that others have spent time and tiles building up, or can render cities uncompletable (the base game has no tile where the sides go city, road, city road, so if you can surround the one blank square your oponent needs to complete this city with these edges, then he or she is stuffed).
'Base game?' you ask. Carc has had numerous expansions since it was published in 2000, making for a more complex game. There are also stand-alone offshoots, such as the stone-age Hunters and Gatherers, and children's game The Kids of Carcassonne.
Tigris and Euphrates, by Reiner Knizia
Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilisation. Dynasties rise and fall, and try to collect as many little cubes as possible.
Deck Building Games
Not deck building, but dice building6.