Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Lessons from Eurogames

In contrast to Eurogames, North American boardgames are heavy in theme and a streak of simulation-ism I guess you would say. Take axis and allies, infantry are better at defense and tanks better in Attack (at least in the edition I play) because that's the nature of how tanks and infantry operate. Battleships were powerful but too expensive for their use, it was a waste to build more (this changed for balance in future editions I believe). Axis and Allies had a bit of a curve. Eurogames such as Catan or Carcassonne tend to have the mechanics as the purpose for the game, the theme is covered over top to make it pretty. The game itself however is about the mechanics with the theme being equivalent to the colour of an appliance. Pretty but with no real purpose. Eurogames are very easy to pick up and appeal to a much wider variety of people than North American games (on the level of individual games).

Why? Because the mechanical underpinning is a (often THE) source of fun it is very easy to enjoy the game without a lot of knowledge of the subject matter. One needs know nothing of France to have a lot of fun playing Carcassonne, in fact playing Carcassonne may lead to an interest in France.

How can you apply this to RPG design? If the goal of your game is to hook new players you need to have a solid mechanical underpinning even if the game doesn't featuring role-playing. Yes the goal with introducing new players is the role-playing...but role-playing can be a more difficult concept to pick up than many gamers realise. Its a case of "obvious if known", that is to say role-playing seems easy and natural because we are already familiar with it. Its like riding a bike, you just do it. That said, the first time you tried to ride a bike you probably fell off.

In the case of Adventuring Party! as an introductory game I made sure the dice resolution mechanic could be fun on its own. It is its own mini-game of betting pairs and runs to try and beat an opposing roll. Because that portion of the game is entertaining enough on its own, it has had a lot higher retention rate of new players willing to give it a second, or third go and in doing so they get more time to try their hand at role-playing. Even if they do not end up liking RPG's, they give the other players at the table who might a chance to keep playing (as if one spouse has stopped playing the other often will in short order at a social event, it is just manners not to run an activity in which half the guests have no interest)

Catan and Carcassonne are often called gateway games for a reason and they have a lot to teach.


  1. Have you explored the newer American games? Memoir 44 comes to mind in terms of letting go of the overly simulationist aspect and replacing it with simpler, faster mechanics.

    What I wouldn't give for a functional reboot of Car Wars using modern mechanics.

  2. I am actually a HUGE board game aficionado, both new and old (I've unfortunately had to trim down in the last 8 to 10 months). And you are right, alot of the newer North American games are picking up a lot of Eurogame habits (the good ones). But going over the emerging trends in detail might have derailed my point :p

  3. /anti-social commentary/

    Apart from Wargames, I loathe board games, and as such, admit to very little knowledge of the appeal of sitting around rolling dice simply to move pieces, harvest fields, build walls, etc. I don't need players to do that, nor do I need to roll dice to achieve what could be done simply by thinking or reading non-fiction.

    I suppose I prefer live laughter to canned, as well. In other words, the games I prefer help me make decisions about how situations can be resolved, but aren't about those decisions in and of themselves.

    While Games within Games is an interesting subject, and great when well executed, I cannot imagine purchasing Rails West or -Tycoon simply to simulate the process of building a railway. I'd rather scrub dirty dishes.

    \end antisocial commentary\

    As far as introductory statements in RPGs: Frankly, some games don't need them because they aren't starter games. While the subject ought to be addressed so as to warn players to the degree of 'involvement' the rules concern themselves with, a 'What is RolePlaying?' statement on something like Living Steel is just ludicrous in comparison to the complexity and crunch of the system --however great it may be deemed.

    I folks want to learn RPGs, I send them straight to Tunnels & Trolls, or Moldvay B/X D&D. They want to play professional tomb raiders entering mutant-filled ancient complexes secured by automated lasers and nerve-gas, I tell them how to make their character in my game, and nurse them along from there.

    Sorry if this post reads a bit pissy.

  4. I actually liked your post, It was not pissy at all. Your view is something very closely echoed about Role-playing games by some of the board game clubs I joined. How role-playing games don't really need players because its just one guy reading his novel to others, etc etc etc.

    Boardgames are often more competitive than RPG's, being in the middle between an RPG night an a Poker night (I also enjoy poker games). Above all else, all three events are social get togethers. You also often see alot of disdain for the other two groups from any particular group. The difference (for me) is in the amount of time you are in group work. Poker is almost always everyman for himself (not suitable for the jerks who can't play such a game in a friendly way), RPG's are almost always teamwork while Boardgames are often about a shifting coalition of the players in last place versus the person in the lead. In all three cases though they boil down to problem solving and deciding on risks versus rewards.

  5. Thanks. :)

    I can, and have, seen the above phenomenon at the LGS: I invited a minis-wargamer to play Panzer Grenadier, and his response was: 'I don't play board games.' I was speechless, and simply nodded as I shlepped off.

    Anyway, thinking again about the main thrust of your post (Adventuring Party!), I certainly can't disagree, and I am interested in reading more of your system-speak/'the why of crunch' posts.