OK, here’s a fun idea to talk about… Let’s say you have a colleague at work who has just starting to play Euro-games. For kicks, let’s call him Jim. Jim has been playing games seriously now for about a year, and it is primarily with his family (wife and teenaged kid). They started out with games like Arkham Horror, Munchkin, and the like but have since moved into things like Dominion, Kingdom Builder, Carcassonne, Settlers, etc. A lot of his euro-games so far have been gateway games because that’s what the guy at the local game store has been recommending to him.
Now that he’s started to widen his gaming radar, what games would you recommend that he try and why? Jim is pretty interested in seeing all the different styles/genres of games out there. Let’s assume here that he has access to a fairly comprehensive game collection – i.e. either my game collection or the huge library at a game group like CABS – this way, you can feel free to choose just about anything mainstream in the past 10 years. Bonus points to you if it is a game that is still readily available (you know, in case he really likes it).
I’ll suggest that each of us that participates offers up no more than 5 games – and try to choose different games than those already mentioned by other OG writers… I’ll go first:
1) San Marco – I love this one, and I’m one of the few that thinks it plays well with either 3 or 4 players. The game still boils down to the “I split the piles, you choose the piles” decision, but that never seems to get old. Now that I think about it, it’s been probably 2 years since I’ve played this one, and it definitely needs to get back on the table soon.
2) Kohle Kies & Knete / I’m the Boss – This used to be a weekly game in my house. This grand old game of negotiation has been largely forgotten lately, but with the right group, this is always a boisterous game of bluffing and negotiation. I’ll admit that this go go over like a lead balloon in the wrong group – i.e. if the group consistently picks on one player – but this doesn’t happen often.
3) Hansa Teutonica – IMO, this is one of the best Euro-games in the past 5 years. Admittedly, it’s a bit dry, which might not be the best choice for Jim’s family as they started out with the more thematic games, but mechanic-wise, this one can’t be beat. Players definitely feel the struggle of always wanting to do one (or two) things more each turn than they have actions for, and I’ve always loved that sort of game.
4) Ghost Stories – well, I know they like cooperative games – and this one is one of the few that I like. The artwork is incredible, and the constant feeling of Wu-Feng doom keeps all the players in the game at all times.
5) D-day Dice – another co-operative game, but for some reason, the dice seem to make the co-op nature less susceptible to quarterbacking. I have only played this once, but it was a lot of fun. Admittedly, we only played a basic scenario, but even with that limitation, the game was plenty complex, and I definitely wanted to play it again. And I figure I should include at least one new-ish game in my 5 suggestions – so it sneaks on at the end.
Puerto Rico – This is still the go-to game for brilliant design and game play. It has replayability and has stood the test of time. In addition, it plays quickly and once understood, is easy to get going. After Arkham, any rules should be easy. I love the role selection, the turn-within-a-turn, and the look-ahead. The only real downside is the left-right binding, but if Jim is worried about that, he does not need my advice on games to play. (if someone else really wants PR, I could put Homesteaders here)
Sun, Sea & Sand – A clean game with a fresh theme, bright colors, and real choices. It does not outstay its welcome, but offers plan-ahead and some min-maxing, but not too much. I like that the choices have importance, but that the game as a whole is lighter and the turns are short. If there is a downside, it is that the backpacker is hard to explain and seems to clutter the design.
Steam – You need a rail game and I’ll go with basic Steam, as I know plenty of newer gamers who get stressed by auctions. It takes a while to learn what things are worth, so the role selection works here. This is also longer and more involved, so perhaps Jim will learn if he likes longer games or wants shorter ones.
Race for the Galaxy – I hesitate to add this, as it is really the third role selection game on the list, but it offers so much in so little time as well as having worthwhile expansions that it needs to be here. This would probably be my desert island game and I’d hope that if Jim likes it, we could get some lunchtime games in.
Tales of the Arabian Nights – Logic is great, but so are stories. Tales of the Arabian Nights shows how great games can be in a totally different way. Get immersed. Laugh at the bad luck of others. Make silly jokes that compound over the course of the game and survive decades of friendship. A wonderful experience game, which is what gaming is really all about for me.
1. Tikal – Great game that is attractive to mixed groups of gamers because the mechanics are very straightforward, the theme is extremely attractive, and the game actions fit the theme wonderfully, making it easy to teach. Plays very well with 2, 3, or 4 and the gorgeous components also draw newbies in. The only issue is potential AP. The basic game is good enough; I’d hold off on the auction version until later (if ever).
2. Power Grid – This is a bit of a leap, as there’s a lot of rules and not all of them are intuitive, but there is a solid history of this appealing to gamers of all stripes. It scales well to a wide variety of players as well.
3. San Juan – Great way to illustrate to new gamers that there’s more to cards than Spades or Rummy. The pickup might be a little bit slow, due to the number of different cards, but the learning curve is pretty short with this one. Again, it plays well with 2-4 players.
4. Navegador – A challenging game, but fairly easy to teach, because, as with Tikal, the actions match the theme very well. Once you know the game, it plays very fast. Even experienced gamers need a game to figure out what good strategies are, but if a new group learns this together, it should go smoothly and the discovery of the many strategies could be very rewarding.
5. Notre Dame – The gameplay is smooth, but there’s still plenty to think about. There’s something appealing and relaxing about this design that makes it suitable to a wide variety of gamers. And piecing together the player boards for the different number of players has a high coolness factor.
Also considered: Montage and Tichu.
The choices above and below are for the most part excellent. A person could have a fantastic gaming weekend being limited to just these games alone. Here are my additions:
The king of card games offers so much depth and replayability. The nice thing is if Jim is starting out learning with his family then they can all make their mistakes in peace, without having to worry about bringing a more experienced player down (which is often more a perceived problem than an actual one). Admittedly, there is some learning curve, especially with learning how scoring works (it took me forever to distinguish scoring for the dragon and the phoenix, but I’m pretty slow on the uptake sometimes). But for someone moving beyond gateway games, it should present no serious obstacles.
2. Princes of Florence
Anyone looking to experience good solid games will always get this recommendation from me. Some gamers shy away from auction games, but generally speaking I love them. I particularly love the power they put in the players’ hands; if you want something enough, you can usually have it. And sometimes, you can get away with a real bargain. Of course with Princes, experienced players generally know that you can’t let jesters go cheaply. But Jim and his family will figure that out on their own when little Jim Jr. juggles his way to the victory the first couple times.
3. Liar’s Dice
Liar’s Dice is not the cleanest bluffing game; that honor probably belongs to either Kakerlakken Poker or Skull and Roses, both of which work better as gateway games. But for my money, it has the most going on. In addition to the bluff element, Liar’s Dice introduces the ability to play the odds of the die rolls. Mentally, each turn players have to calculate the pure odds of a bid being true, fudge numbers based on bids and human factors, decide to call or not, consider rolling and exposing some of their dice, and consider flat out bluffing themselves. Quite a lot of mental activity for a light closer with dice.
4. Traumfabrik / Dream Factory
Reiner had me at “classic movies”. Actually, that’s not entirely true; I’ve played a lot of movie themed games that were crap. But to say I am predisposed to like this is an understatement. I don’t know if Jim cares for all things movie like I do, but I’m sure counting on him liking auction games. Here, the closed economy of contracts, which are also worth victory points, going back to the non-winning players makes each auction a tense battle. This is even more true when winning an auction means you are first or best at something and will get an award for a turn or two. Countless important decisions throughout, and the end result is a set of fantasy movie pairings to contemplate. I love it.
5. Vegas Showdown
Yet another auction game, but this time there is a nifty little twist. Like Homesteaders and Amun Re, Vegas Showdown has multiple auctions going simultaneously, each with a track of distinct available bids. If you’re outbid on one thing, you can change horses and try for something else. What I really love about the game is how much planning and look ahead is required to succeed against quality opponents. And yet, it doesn’t feel like work, because any given calculation is fairly simple, and everything in the game is open. A much better game than the crappy “let’s play roulette” cover would lead you to believe.
Oh I wish I’d done this sooner, all the good games that have been chosen so far were on my list too.
1. China – I don’t consider it quite as good as its predecessor Web of Power, but China is still in print and if you want more of a challenge you can use WoP rules. Card driven, area majority it plays quickly and is relatively easy to learn. Plays best with 3. Also you can print and play a bunch of maps for more variety.
2. El Grande – For more of a challenge to area majority games, El Grande throws in bidding cards for special action cards. Plays best with 5 on those days when you have extra players.
3. Code 777 – Relatively easy to learn deduction game. Fun and generally engaging to all participants. Best with 4 players.
4. Medici – Scales well with different number of players 3-6. Bidding in one of its simplest and most elegant forms.
5. Show Manager – Plays well with 6. Another auction game which has been amongst our favorites for a long time. Also introduces the fun of watching the card you had coveted the whole game be washed away by someone clearing the board. This game gets some of the loudest groans and laughs as we try to put on the best shows.
Clearly I need to simply edit myself higher on the page here to get out my good games. Navegador and Hansa Teutonica are extremely high on my recent favorite list and Puerto Rico and El Grande are clearly a classics. If he/she hasn’t exhausted all the great gateway games yet, I’d be sure to have them give 7 Wonders, No Thanks!, Ticket to Ride, Ra, Small World, etc… all a try as well..
1) Goa – Recently rereleased, there’s something about this game that draws me in. Sure, it has auctions so it is self-balancing once players become familiar with the game, but anyone (like me) who enjoys playing with a tech tree will eat this game up.
2) Caylus – Another game with a bit of a “tech tree”, combine it with a well done worker placement mechanism and allow players “build” their own stuff.
3) Through the Ages – An excellent, although slightly more abstract, civilization building game. A four player game is probably too long, but exceptionally good with 2 or 3 if you have the time to put in on it. (It is more of a 2-3 hour game rather than a 1 hour Euro…)
4) Memoir ‘44 – It’s part Euro, part wargame, but if you’re trying to explore the space of Eurogames it is worth a look. I prefer this version to introduce people to the command and colors system as it has the most easily grasped theme (World War 2) and can still be found in print.
5) Nexus Ops – Not really a Eurogame at all anymore, but it is the simplest and fastest playing version of a light wargame with purchasable units of varying costs and abilities. Play it in teams of two for more fun (and to eliminate a bit of the luck of the draw issues…)
Greg Schloesser: Hey, Jim! Ready to move on to even more exciting and deeper European-style games? Here are a few suggestions:
El Grande: An early and still one of the best area majority games. Lots of tough choices and balancing acts required. At the same time, it is easy to learn and doesn’t get bogged-down in an avalanche of rules. El Grande is still my top-rated game.
Princes of Florence: While I am not a huge fan of auction games, it works extremely well here. There are numerous strategic paths to pursue, with lots and lots of options. The auctions are usually fast and tense, but there are so many options that losing one auction doesn’t necessarily handicap a player. All of my games have been tense and exciting.
Torres: Pure strategy. Yes, it is rather abstract, but it never feels that way to me. This is a true test of one’s ability to use limited action points to optimize one’s performance. I always find the game mentally stimulating and challenging … and always exciting and satisfying.
Puerto Rico: Another deep game with lots of choices and options. Can you tell that I enjoy lots of options in a game? As Jonathan Franklin says, this is still the “go to” game for brilliant design and game play. The role selection process is terrific. I need to play this more often.
Power Grid: Unless you are an engineer, extending power to cities doesn’t sound terribly exciting. Don’t let the theme deter you, however, as the game is a delight. Game-play offers lots of options, tense bidding for factories, and a strangely exciting dynamic wherein you don’t want to be in the lead until the end.
Tigris & Euphrates: Another brilliant design from Reiner Knizia. Lots of strategy, but also some push-your-luck aspects to the combat system. I always have those nervous butterflies in my stomach when trying to absorb a neighboring empire, wondering if my opponent has the proper resources to defeat my incursions. Always a tense and exciting game.
Tikal: Another “action-point” gem from Wolfgang Kramer, the king of action point games. The theme of uncovering long-lost temples from the dense jungle gives players the feel of exploration and adventure. The challenge is to creatively use your limited action points to optimize the score and beat your opponents to the big discoveries. I would also recommend the other games in this series: Java, Mexica and Torres.
Hey, Jim. What’s going on? So, see that list up there? All those cool games? Totally euro mainstream (except for the excellent inclusion of Nexus Ops, and also Memoir ‘44 ). But, remember those old confrontational games from your youth? The ones that ended up being totally imbalanced and a bit rough around the edges? Those games that evoke great memories, but end up being not as fun as you remember when you play them again? Well, there are some newer great games in that genre, that have taken some of the euro sensibilities and applied them to confrontational games. These new streamlined, but still exciting, games have led to some of my most fun and memorable experiences lately. And all this is coming from a former self-professed “eurosnoot.” There are great games in this genre. So, if you want to laugh and yell and exclaim, while also, you know, not having a totally unbalanced experience, take a look at this list.
1. Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Duel at Mt. Skullzfyre
Player eliminating take-that, done right. Hilarious spell titles, effects, characters, treasures and even a completely superfluous Mt. Skullzfyre cardboard standup. So, what’s different? 2 things make this work. Almost all effects specify the target. (ex. the player to your left, everyone with a treasure, your weakest opponent, etc.) This virtually eliminates the game devolving into Diplomacy. Second, when you are eliminated, you draw Dead Wizard cards, that keep you a little bit involved in the round. Your dead time is short lived, as the next round starts quickly.
2. King of Tokyo (Nexus Ops probably would have had this spot if not taken already)
A dice based, roll 3 times, attack-y game, that again removes the ability for targeted vengeance. It’s a race to 20 points, or to be the last one standing. When you attack, you either hit the current king of the hill in Tokyo, or if you are the king, everyone else. The risk/reward for standing on the hill to get some points, but suffering everyone else’s wrath, is compelling. Add in a deck of special ability cards that you buy with energy earned during your rolls, as well as a short play time, and you have the makings of an all time great filler.
3. Summoner Wars (or Neuroshima Hex)
Two player, card based, faction combat, resolved with dice, played on a grid. The Master Set comes with 6 armies to try out, or you can go with just 2 in the Starter set. Add on to your heart’s content. I love asymmetrical matchups in games, and that’s what this game is. The rules are dead simple, and the complexity and fun come from the cards themselves. Earning magic to summon more dudes to the board when you kill units is all the incentive you need to attack, and not turtle. The goal of killing your opponent’s Summoner allows for tactical strikes. (N. Hex is also a faction based combat game, but uses tiles on a hex grid, and resolution is determinative. Much more puzzle-y, but no less fun.)
This is the current, in vogue 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate) game of choice. Multi-player space conquest. The euro inspired economy mechanics do a lot to streamline the experience, and allows you to get to the good stuff (the techin’ up and the ship battlin’) that you are playing the game for. Seven different races to choose from allow for pretty widely varied strategies, and make the game feel different each time. You are rewarded for fighting, win or lose, so fights happen plenty. Also, all fights happen at the end of each round, so the down time during the action-taking part of the game is very low, considering the genre. All this adds up to a great 4X experience, in a manageable time frame.
5. Prophecy (or Mage Knight: The Boardgame)
And for the dungeon crawl/pseudo-rpg portion of these recommendations, I’m going with this Talisman-inspired gem. I’ve tried a bunch in this genre, but for me, this one has the best balance of playtime, adventure, luck, and control over your destiny. Battles are resolved by dice, but defeat isn’t the end of the world, either. The expansion adds more player customization, places to go, length, and co-op/solo options. (Mage Knight: tBG, by the same author, is essentially Super Prophecy. Everything is handled by cards, all with multiple uses. It’s the better game, if you love the genre, but the game is very long and complex. I love it, but play someone else’s copy first.)