Thursday, May 5, 2016

Why I Love Euro-Games and Resist Modernism

"Cuba" — design by Michael Rieneck and Stefan Stadler with art by Michael Menzel

A brief intro here about who I am as a gamer. It's no secret — I play a ton-o-games. Indeed I average about 6 games a week. These days about 3 of the games that I play every month are new to me and I am almost always the one to learn and teach a new game. Most of the games I play are what are commonly described as "euro-games" and most of them are 90-120 minutes in length. On the weight scale the games that I tend to gravitate towards are medium to heavy.

I love boardgames. But, it's not purely recreation for me. I am an academic/researcher who studies board game designers — their processes, methods and culture. An integral part of this is of course studying the games themselves. Other, related and relevant interests of mine are systems and complexity. I teach college courses in design and I often tell students that the old reductivist tenant of modernism to simplify must be re-thought. We are living in a world of rapidly accelerating complexity. Stripping designs down purely because we want to simplify them is no longer a desirable strategy. Instead I say let's embrace complexity and as designers try to bring clarity rather than simplification to our designs.

So, what does this have to do with boardgames and why they are important? Well... a lot! Complex euro-games in particular relate to these ideas of mine as I believe that they are a powerful precedent that designers can learn from. They excel at embodying extremely complex systems of interaction and at doing so with great clarity. A good game designer can strip away the clutter and streamline game mechanisms while still maintaining a strong theme in their game. This is one of the hallmarks of a good euro-game. This is in part the why and how of their ability to make their games language independent. It is also why I am drawn to euro-games — extreme complexity with amazing clarity. The design objectives of — few if any rules exceptions and a low threshold for extraneous in-game text act to drive the complexity/clarity dogma even deeper into the design of these types of games.

It's worth noting that many games that do this well may not be considered strictly as "euro-games." Many people may not consider games designed by Martin Wallace to fit neatly into the euro-game category. And yet they maintain many of the characteristics I have described here. So, while I will ever be drawn to "euro-games" for the reasons I have described here I am not an exclusive a devotee. Rather they provide a base of operations for me to explore the world of complex/clarity that I find so compelling in contemporary boardgames.

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