It was about 15 or 20 years ago. We frequently played Dungeons and Dragons—which had not yet evolved into AD&D—and a few parlour games. The most popular in our group were Swashbuckler, Battlecars, Amoeba Wars, Cosmic Encounter, Darkover, Hoax, Britannia, Kings and Things, Dune, Regatta, Warrior Knights—all English or American, and published by Games Workshop, Eon, or Avalon Hill, which were our publishers of choice. Civilization and Diplomacy had already annoyed us. From France, there were no big hits, but we got Armada, le Gang des Traction Avant, Zargos Lords, and a little later, Supergang.
The first German games which we talked about from Germany were Hare and Tortoise, followed by Scotland Yard. But it was only until the arrival of Targui, Adel Verpflichtet, and Ave Caesar that we started to look over the border for games. For ten years now, I have impatiently awaited the innovations coming from across the Rhine more than the ones coming in across the Atlantic. American games, continually spawning diplomatic simulations, seemed to be stagnated. From Germany, there were constantly new ideas, new systems, and games full of freshness. Even the best games from Americans, like the creations of Alan Moon, seemed to arrive only through Germany.
Would things ever change? The wave of frenzy produced by Collectible Card Games seems to have awakened the world of the Anglo Saxon parlor game. Right behind Richard Garfield, new designers arrives, with simple and fresh ideas which were not born from the monsters of the 80s. No game has spawned as many new ideas as Magic the Gathering—even if it owes much to Cosmic Encounter before it. Magic and its cousins shows the American public that adult games could occupy other shelves than those reserved for complex simulations.
At the same time, American gamers—or at least a few of them, discovered German games and embraced the best of them, like Euphrat und Tigris, The Settlers of Catan, and Elfenland (whose American author began his game development career long ago, at...Avalon Hill.)
Today, I am often surprised at what arrives from the other side of the Atlantic, and await those arrivals alongside the German immigrants. The German innovations do not thrill me as much as they used to.
What happened? Certainly, I have played too much, and have biased myself a bit. After having discovered over the course of 3-4 years the best German games of the previous fifteen years, I must from now on be satisfied with the best of the current crop of games—not an equal comparison. The fact still remains, however, that the German game industry seems not to be renewing itself. Games that are still excellent, and which I enjoy playing like Tikal and Die Fuersten von Florenz, lack new ideas. They are perfected, intelligently designed, carefully balanced, superbly presented, but they lack the freshness that made Hare and Tortoise and Settlers of Catan so beloved. Too many games are variants of the same mechanics, the same topics, and the same ideas.
The Lord of the Rings was so impatiently awaited, not because (like Euphrat und Tigris) it was promised to be the best of Reiner Knizia's creations, but because it was to be very different. On this point, at least, it did not disappoint. Owing to their integration of German and American influences, the creations of Martin Wallace (Way Out West) and Philippe Keyaerts (Evo) are most interesting to me today. In this vein are new publishers I will watch from now on, including the new Avalon Hill. The small game Orcz (Chris Petersen and Greg Benage) combines German influences—the mechanics—and Anglo-Saxon humor and graphics—and it's also what I'm trying to do on my side.
- Bruno Faidutti