The Games Journal | A Magazine About Boardgames

Letters - October, 2004

Marco Vazquez: Hi Greg, I want to first say that I enjoy reading your site and your game reviews has helped me buy some great games. I just wanted to know why German games have not made their way into stores like Walmart, Toys R Us, and Target? It seems like more and more people are getting into German games and I would think that these retailers would catch on. I also think they games might be more affordable compared to specialize games stores.

GGA - While it's true that many game players are discovering "German style games", these numbers are still very low for the mass retailers you name. Rio Grande Games would likely be overjoyed to sell 50,000 copies of Power Grid but Walmart would consider such sales to be abysmal. The number of people playing these types of games needs to be orders of magnitude greater than they are currently for such retailers to take notice.

Henrik Johansson: I really enjoyed reading German Games are Fraudulent, and it reminds me of an internet incident long time ago when the German game genre was new. My own experience of German games at the time consisted of reading reviews in rec.games.board newsgroup, other sources in the internet and a few Knizia games in my possession. The common judgement that could be filtered out from these sources was simple German games tended to be more abstract and thematically light, with a theme just painted on for the graphics, with more emphasis on game mechanics than on simulation. The first version of the "German games FAQ" was about to appear in the rec.games.board, and there was no mention of "theme" or "abstract" anywhere in it, so I suggested the author that this obviously was missing by accident, and easily fixed. I also contributed a text on the matter, compiled from the sources I knew about from the internet, rather like an early version of your article but of course not so elegantly put, not being English speaking by birth. I really thought that this would be accepted into the FAQ, and claimed no original thinking by myself, only putting together what everybody else already knew, for the beginners to read when the German game genre was to be explained. There was no intent to criticize the German game genre at all, just to explain. Much to my surprise my contribution to the FAQ was repeatedly rejected, and it stirred up an enormous campaign in the rec.games.board, where I was accused of trolling, and I am still remembered there for being one of the worst newsnet trolls of the times, only by writing as many as four messages to r.g.b. It was both amusing and horrifying to be regarded as a newsnet troll, and I showed it to some colleagues at work, who verified my story using different internet searches much to their surprise. P.S. One of the later versions of the German games FAQ did contain a few lines regarding theme, triggered by my messages, but it disappeared soon after.

Ray Eifler: After reading your German Games Are Fraudulent article in the July issue of The Games Journal, I thought to myself, Finally someone else is willing to say it! This month, I see some letters submitted addressing this article so I thought I had to get the following off my chest.

I do believe that American games are more theme and graphics oriented, whereas Euro-games (aka German games) are more abstract strategy. I think we all agree on that. New England will go down in history as the greatest example of what constituted a Euro-game (both pro and con). But let me cut to the chase here. I don't believe for a second that the current wave of gamers wants an American type game with more theme and graphics. They think they do, but they would complain endlessly about it. Bull! I hear you say? Well, let me throw out some justifications.

What would make a Euro-game more American? This was the question that I was committed to answering a year ago. A fellow gamer came to me with an idea for a game. It was based on the cotton trade in the 1800s and had an intriguing idea for an economic model. The more we talked about it, the more we liked it. The timing could not have been more fortuitous. We had recently been playing exclusively Euro-style games and were pining for the days where games like Stratego and Diplomacy and yes, dare I say, board games like Billionaire. My all time favorite was always Careers where the player decided his own victory formula before the game began. Careers and Billionaire were heavy on theme, but resorted to roll your dice, move your mice mechanics to generate progression.

Now imagine that you have invented this hybrid Euro-American game and have decided publish it. What kind of reviews would you get?

I don't like dice rolling. Here is the interesting thing about dice, it is not as random as it seems. I mean 39% of the time, you'll roll a 7. Dice are a statistical curve, one that the wonderful Strat-O-Matic games took advantage of in ingenious ways. My point is that just because a game has dice rolling, does not mean that the game is too random. This argument always floors me because it's just as random to be dealt cards or to draw a tile or produce resources like in Settlers, or anything else that introduces non-predictable elements. Want a game with no random elements? Then play Chess.

I don't see why I have to bargain for resources. Diplomacy may have been the least played-most loved game of all time, but could you today base a game on just Diplomacy and get a positive review? I doubt it. Let's look to my all time favorite game, Cosmic Encounter, as a less extreme example. (Now, this example may be tainted by the fact that Magic was based on it. Sorry about that. Really I am.) But the concept of seemingly always having a hand full of average cards and everything else being out of the ordinary, forced players to bargain, attack, defend, and retreat, sometimes all in one turn. It's still in print, but I notice it doesn't exactly sit in the front of the Mayfair booth. The Euro-games market seems completely devoid of this mechanic in any of its thinking.

The rule about <X> may be historically correct, but unbalances the game. Says who? Life is unbalanced. Want a perfectly balanced game? Then you are stuck outside of the American genre. If a design choice (or a rules choice) was made for theme as apposed to playability, the designers would have to sit and read the endless list of reviews calling his game broken. This requires quite a lot of constitution on the part of the designer.

The game has no replay-ability. One thinks of games in terms of abstract strategy and less about theme and graphical immersion. In the current game market, the emphasis is on elegance, strategy and replay-ability. I find the latter most amusing. If you think back to the heyday of American games, one of their big selling points was replay-ability. Just because a game is not completely abstract based does not mean that each game is not incredibly different in flavor each time it is played.

I feel the need to reiterate my point at this time. In order to make a Euro-style game with elements of American game themes and graphics, you must introduce some non-abstract mechanics. This often results in negative reviews and screams of too much randomness (among others). But, the next wave of gamers, especially American gamers that are not warming up to abstract German games, don't feel this way and don't mentally review games based on the how strategic is the game checklist.

So who is going to take the risk? Who is going to lay it out there on the proverbial limb? Committed to the idea that there were already plenty of good Euro-games already, we stuck to our guns and decided to make this hybrid game. One that combines the elements of Euro-strategy game, but also has some dice, diplomacy, and direct conflict (Euro-games seem to emphasis indirect conflict, but that's another topic). Eagle games, best known for their high end component games, decided to take that risk by publishing Bootleggers. So, if you are wondering if it is possible to make hybrid games, keep an eye on that release this fall.

When we changed the theme early in development to that of the 1920s prohibition era, most of the mechanics were designed to fit the theme. The theme is integrated into every mechanic. There are dice, diplomacy, and some good abstract strategy mechanics based on a complex 3-tier economic model. My prediction? Everyone who likes New England will hate it, everyone else will love it. But that's ok with us. Isn't that how most game genres started?

Sandy Psiurski: I used to play a game we called Saratoga but I can't find it on the internet and I can't remember how the scoring goes... but here is the dealing. Do you know what it is really called or where I can find information on something like this?

2 decks of cards (I think), 4 players

Deal Lay Down
7 2 sets of 3
8 1 run of 4, 1 set of 3
9 2 runs of 4
10 1 run of 4, 1 run of 5
11 1 set of 3, 1 run of 7
12 2 runs of 4, set of 3
13 2 sets of 3, run the rest out with no discard

GGA - The best site for card games is www.pagat.com but they have no listing for Saratoga. Perhaps one of our readers can help?

Richard Dewsbery: Regarding Jim Deacove's concerns that his copyright has in some way been breached, he might care to check with a lawyer. Expensive no doubt, and he'll probably not like the answer he gets, but at least he'd know for next time.

In all the jurisdictions that I am familiar with, it's not generally possible to copyright a single word, when that word is already in the dictionary. The US Copyright Office (whose website can be consulted without paying any lawyers' fees), states 

"WHAT IS NOT PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT? Several categories of material are generally not eligible for federal copyright protection. These include among others Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring; mere listings of ingredients or contents".

Copyright is not some catch-all process, either. For a boardgame, copyright will subsist in the board artwork; the box art is also protected, but as a separate copyrighted work. It's not possible to simply add the game's title into the mix, as some sort of package deal. The situation might be different if the title comprised a word that had been invented to describe the game, but for an ordinary everyday word, forget it. My own expertise concerns the English law—and that's no different on the copyrighting of a single word.

The publishers of titles such as Monopoly will usually seek to protect their property by trademarking the word or phrase. This will almost always be limited to a certain class of goods, and may be restricted further by reference to its typeface for example. Trademarking a word or phrase can be a costly and detailed process. The reason that publishers go to this expense is because they have done enough simple research to realise that copyright gives game publishers very little protection—the artwork on the box and components will be protected, as will be the precise wording of the rules. However, there remains a possibility that a complete re-write of the rules would not involve breaching the original copyright.

As to prior use arguments, they don't work for single words or short phrases, either. Although I'm pretty certain that Dr. Knizia's Through The Desert was being referred to by that name some considerable time before its publication in 1998.

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