|"Ore & Labora" — a heavy euro-game by designer Uwe Rosenberg.|
There are several "types" or catagories of board games. The two most commonly referenced are euro-games and ameri-trash games. Euro-games are typically considered to be thick on mechanics and light on theme and ameri-trash are the opposite. I have a problem with this generalization. You see I love heavy euros but usually the theme seems to come through just fine for me. If it doesn't then I don't really consider it to be a euro-game — it falls into a different category all together i.e. it's an abstract game (and I generally really do not care for abstract games).
Yup, it's confession time -- I like games that really qualify as heavy eurogames but that are still thematic. I tried to fight it... well... I sort of tried to fight it... a little bit. You see when I first started playing board games I really wanted to like ameri-trash games. It's because the stereo-type of such a game is that they have tons of heart, passion and are intensely thematic. This sounds like the type of game that sucks you and tells epic stories. They sound like a door to another world. YUM! Right?! Unfortunately, for me too many of them seemed to lack depth. To me it seemed that the themes tried to run deep and thick but without a rich, sophisticated framework of mechanics they fell woefully short of my expectations. In fact on many occasions I could not make it through a game.
Please don't misunderstand — I have an enormous respect for many ameri-trash games. It's not a difference in quality — it's more of a difference in genre. But, as my preference for euro-games has emerged and developed it's become harder for me to speak lovingly about ameri-trash games. In my mind it shapes up something like this — amer-trash games tell you a story and euro-games give you a framework but leave you sort of on your own to make up your own story.
In my mind there are other more telling characteristics than the theme versus mechanisms debate that divide these two categories of games. Here are some wild and careless generalizations...
direct conflict — ameri-trash is much more likely to have direct player-versus-player combat.
luck — luck based mechanics are a good and necessary element to any game -- almost all games have some luck. But, euro-game designs usually try to minimize luck based mechanics.
multiple scoring mechanisms — it is not uncommon for a euro to have many ways to score points. Often these are not tallied until the end of the game leaving players uncertain as to where they stand. This forces a player to pay close attention to the actions of other players.
economics — euro-games often have at their foundation economic mechanisms. This can be hidden under strange and/or mundane themes but it's usually there. Economic mechanisms include action drafting or worker placement, resource management and conversion, market mechanics that drive resource or action values.
strategic — while tactical play often holds a critical role in euro-games they are still more likely than ameri-trash games to have strong strategy based game-play.
tactical — while strategy often plays a critical role in ameri-trash games they are still more likely than euro-games to have strong tactical mechanics.
engine building — while this is by no means exclusive to euro-games this is a mechanism that is more likely to be found in a euro-game than an ameri-trash game. Usually it is a combination of mechanisms that enable the players to create small subsystems within gameplay for converting resources. Good examples of this can be found in many of Uwe Rosenberg's games where players construct buildings that generate resources or convert combinations of resources into new more valuable or different resources — the right combination of buildings constitutes a powerful engine for generating desired resources.
player elimination — player elimination is becoming less and less common in ameri-trash games. In euro-games it has always been uncommon.
Last week I interviewed many interesting game designers. One of them (Corey Young), when asked about theme versus mechanics or ameri-trash versus euro-games, said he preferred "mid-Atlantic" games. I LOVE THIS! The implication here is that somewhere in between american style and european style games lies a better alternative — games that use sophisticated mechanics that are inseparably attached to theme.