The Games Journal | A Magazine About Boardgames

An Introduction to German Games

Greg Aleknevicus

March, 2002

So, you just stumbled onto the site and are intrigued by some of what you've read. However, you're a little overwhelmed by it all and are not sure where to begin. Don't panic!

I've never heard of any of these games! What are they all about?

"These" games are called by many different names: Euro games, designer games, strategy games, etc. Very often they're German in origin and are sometimes called "German-style games". They vary greatly in skill, from simple, silly games such as Galloping Pigs to more complex and thought provoking titles such as Tigris & Euphrates. Playing time can be as low as 5 or 10 minutes but is more commonly 60 to 90 minutes. Generally they're designed for 4 players although some handle more and some are designed specifically for 2 players.

I don't speak German, will I be able to play these games?

Yes! First off, there are several companies that publish English language versions of these games. Rio Grande Games and Eurogames are two such companies whose product line consists almost entirely of such translated games. Other companies such as Fantasy Flight, GMT and Mayfair have several games that are translations of German originals. You can play these games without even being aware that they are translated from another language.

Not every German game will receive an "official" English translation though. However, even this is not always a problem as most of the games are very "language-neutral". That is, the actual components of the game do not contain much, if any, text. It's one of the hallmarks of German design that descriptive icons are often used instead of a text description and this makes it much easier for non-Germans to play. The greatest difficulty in these cases is acquiring a translation of the rules but fortunately, there are many people who create translations and these can often be found on the Internet without much difficulty.

What game should I buy?

Ok, you're convinced, now what game should you buy? In some ways this is akin to asking "What book should I buy?" There are many choices available and tastes vary greatly. Your favorites are likely to be different from someone else's. That's hardly a useful answer though so I'll offer the following recommendations:

Settlers of Catan: (Mayfair Games) This is perhaps the easiest recommendation to make. Many "German game players" got their first taste of the genre with Settlers of Catan. Players each control one faction on the fictitious island attempting to achieve victory by constructing the best colony. Settlements produce resources and the players trade these amongst themselves in order to build roads, cities and knights. This trading keeps the game lively and all players involved even during other players' turns.
Bohnanza Bohnanza: (Rio Grande Games) A very interactive game where the players are bean farmers! Bohnanza is all about trading and so everyone is involved throughout the game. There are several varieties of beans that you must plant but since you only have two fields you must trade away the varieties you can't use for the ones you can.
Carcassonne Carcassonne: (Rio Grande Games) Build the famous city of Carcassonne in this tile laying game. Tiles feature fields, castles, roads and abbeys. Each turn you add a tile to the growing city and (possibly) add one of your followers to that tile. Where you place him determines his occupation; on a road he's a thief, a farmer if in a field, he's a monk if placed in an abbey and in a castle he's a knight.

Where can I buy them?

You won't find these games in large department stores or toy chains for the most part. You will be able to find many of the translated games in small game shops though. Your best bet is to look in your local Yellow Pages under "Games" and see what's listed. Stores listing "board games" are your best bet but also check for those selling role playing games (such as Dungeons & Dragons) or collectible card games (such as Magic: The Gathering)—such stores will very often also sell these types of games.

If you're interested in purchasing games that haven't been translated you'll probably have to do so via mail order/internet. There are several North American based companies that import these games with websites for you to browse. Searching for any of the above games will reveal many online retailers stocking these types of games.

Where can I find more information?

When I was starting out in this hobby, one of the biggest difficulties I faced was knowing what to look for. There are so many games and since every one has its proponents, I wasn't sure how to even begin! If this describes your situation then I heartily recommend checking out the Internet Top 100 Games List maintained by Aaron Fuegi. This is a compilation of ratings and gives a pretty fair view of which games are "the best". Armed with this list you can then search for reviews or comments about the individual games. There are plenty of sites with lots information about the games, check out our Links page for some of the better ones. Perhaps the best starting place is the Boardgamegeek, a very extensive and useful site.

Good luck! If you have any questions please feel free to send me an e-mail.

-Greg Aleknevicus

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