Articles Analysis The game that ruined Eurogames
 

The game that ruined Eurogames The game that ruined Eurogames Hot

princes_of_florence.jpg

It strikes me that this game, released in 2000, was kind of the turning point where the "German game" era sort of ended and the "Eurogame" era began...and all of the really great stuff that the European designers had been doing for like, 20 years prior was suddenly undone and Eurogames began their descent into a brown morass of over-designed, linear, and anti-interactive designs.

If you go back and play some of those pre-PRINCES Eurogames, it's kind of suprising how awesome a lot of European designs were...and it's no wonder that the games attracted a new international audience because they were damn good. And original too- there was much less artistic cannibalization than there is now.

But after PRINCES OF FLORENCE, it all turned into games that look and play like something designed exclusively for grumpy, boring old men. The aesthetics, format, and gameplay styles that PRINCES mainstreamed in the hobby wound up driving Eurogames to ruination.

The article is at Gameshark in its usual place.

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Comments (36)
  • avatarwaddball

    Isn't artsy stuff right-brained? ;)

    Anyway, nice article. I think your strongest point is the development of the "boutique" feel to a genre whose initial wave screamed accessibility. I know that I got into euros mostly because I wanted something to play with my wife and my friends that wasn't so niche-oriented. But my wife recently observed, while playing Le Havre, that the game felt very inaccessible, unusually so for a "german" game.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking stuff.

  • avatarMichael Barnes

    It's one or the other, smartass! Look, I wrote the article under the influence of an Optimator, OK? Besides, in all of this I have to ask, _where was Bill Abner_?

    But yeah, the main idea I'm trying to get across was that this was the game that sort of announced the shift from the "hey, this is easy to play and anyone can enjoy it" concept to "this is a game for serious hobbyists so all you sheeples get out".

    Ironically, it's the really simple games like TICKET TO RIDE and CARCASSONNE that have adhered more closely to the old style German idiom. But even those have wandered far afield into expansions.

  • avatarMad Dog

    Princes of Florence may be the game that ruined Eurogames (I haven't read your article yet), but I didn't really notice until Goa. At least for me that was the game that made me realize a good portion of my fellow game-night attendees were more excited about the latest efficiency design than any other games on the shelf or being released. That those types of games were starting to dominate the Eurogame crowd selections of what to play because stuff like Catan, Mystery of the Abbey, etc wasn't brainy enough. Then I watched over the next several months the exodus of casual or newbie gamers from local game nights as the excited Europlayers would rope them into a game of as if it were the greatest game ever. You can see it in the eyes of a casual gamer when they realize the game they were talked into playing is in fact a boring math exercise and not the lighthearted negotiation fun they had the previous week with Bohnanza. Its like the thousand-yard stare and once they get it they won't come within a thousand yards of that game night again.

  • avatarJuniper

    PRINCES OF FLORENCE is my subjective choice for "first Eurogame," too.

    I'll note, though, that the brownest game of all time actually predates PRINCES OF FLORENCE by over a year. Check out MEDIEVAL MERCHANT. It's even browner than THURN & TAXIS.

  • avatarSouthernman

    Good choice - I think Princes of Florence was the first high profile euro I played in my group that I absolutely abhored and could find nothing of interest anywhere when playing it. And Goa was the next 'high profile' euro that I thought what the fuck and what am I doing playing these games. Unfortunately my group liked them both, and as the euros got even more dire and repetitive over the next couple of years I had to bail from the group.
    And yes, Medieval Merchant is a damn brown game.

  • avatarshryke

    I was really curious what your choice would be Barnes, and I'm impressed. I never thought of Princes of Florence (probably cause I'm trying to forget it exists) but you are dead on.

    The funny thing is, you are right, they DID stop being "German Games" and became a new genre. The "Eurogame". The Boutique, stodgy, brown efficiency engine game.

    Looking back at something like Settlers, you can see the huge shift from "Inclusive Family Game" to "Only For The Initiated Game".

    Doesn't Essen always give out awards to actual German Games, to the moaning and bitcing of everyone over at Clearclaw's House of Fun Murder?

  • avatardave

    http://fortressat.com/index.php?option=com_kunena&Itemid=712&func=view&catid=15& id=31251&limit=10&limitstart=290#37218

    Yay to me for nailing it.

  • avatardave

    And in that thread when I said PR was the "right answer", I misremembered which game was released first. So, yup, this is it.

  • avatarBlack Barney

    wow, I'm one of the biggest Eurogame fans of my group (probably the biggest) and I totally agree with this article. I don't know what this game's problem is but it's the first time I really began to question how the hell can this type of gameplay be fun. Solvable game, etc...

  • avatarMichael Barnes

    Looking back at something like Settlers, you can see the huge shift from "Inclusive Family Game" to "Only For The Initiated Game".

    Branham and I were talking about it (after playing BIG BOSS and GALOPP ROYAL, two German games but not Eurogames) and he actually said SETTLERS was the ruiner. I don't agree, because I think SETTLERS really represents how the qualities of the German game can be applied to a more complex and versatile gaming system.

    Years ago, Robert Martin and I were talking about it and his way of phrasing it was that the Germans were doing it right when they were turning out all these trading and negotiating games. Games like PoF started to push those aside.

    Doesn't Essen always give out awards to actual German Games, to the moaning and bitcing of everyone over at Clearclaw's House of Fun Murder?

    You know, that's actually true. I've not really thought about it that way but that's exactly the case. It's probably because those guys are all old-school German games people and a lot of the post-PRINCES internet/boutique/hobbyist games aren't appealing to them- let alone most people.


  • avatarshryke
    Quote:
    Branham and I were talking about it (after playing BIG BOSS and GALOPP ROYAL, two German games but not Eurogames) and he actually said SETTLERS was the ruiner. I don't agree, because I think SETTLERS really represents how the qualities of the German game can be applied to a more complex and versatile gaming system.

    Blasphemy!

    Settlers is everything Eurogames are not. Random, competitive and highly interactive. Shit, the very core of the game is the trading, which is nasty, brutal and more often then not, completely irrational and spiteful. It's what makes the game great.

    Hell, the expansions pretty much prove your end point there. The simple system does a fairly good job of supporting a longer more complex game (ie - Cities and Knights)

    Settlers is colourful, easy to teach, fun and highly interactive. It's pure German Game (or at least, non-stodgy Eurogame).

  • avatarmetalface13

    Glad I've never played Princes of Florence. Glad Primordial Soup got a shout out.

    The real question however is, which game caused Michael Barnes to implode?

  • avatarJuniper

    This is an especially newb-unfriendly game, because you need to play it a few times to get a handle on the auction value of the jesters. In a three-player game, you need to make sure that the jesters are especially costly, or else the winner will certainly be the player that got the most of them. I hate that.

    Basically, you can (and must) learn the approximate value of each item at auction. Jesters are initially worth a lot, and decrease in value with each round. The relative value of a jester decreases with each additional player you add, too. The Freedom chits are initially valuable because they're likely to run out. Other items are not scarce, so you can afford to wait for a good price on them.

    Given that the auction is the only thing that ensures that the game is different each time it's played, I find it disappointing that you can kind of tell what things are going cost before you even start playing. You wouldn't think there's much variability there. The strength of the game, though, is that you can occasionally pull off a win in unexpected ways. For example, if no single player gets lots of jesters, then you can buy a lot of parks, and then cash in with a bonus card that rewards you for each park you own. It's usually a marginal strategy, but it's really sweet when it does work.

    Anyway, the game isn't my favorite, but it's better than PUERTO RICO, anyway. I do not like PUERTO RICO. No sir.

  • avatarJuniper
    Quote:

    You know, that's actually true. I've not really thought about it that way but that's exactly the case. It's probably because those guys are all old-school German games people and a lot of the post-PRINCES internet/boutique/hobbyist games aren't appealing to them- let alone most people.

    I still maintain that the Eurogames thing is the result of a huge cultural misunderstanding.

    The German Games of the 20th century were mass-market games. You could buy them in German department stores. Once an American audience discovered the existence of these games -- first through ADEL VERPFLICHTET and then through SETTLERS OF CATAN -- they assumed that Germany was full of fatass hobby gamers just like them. They didn't see these games for what they really are: delightful, broadly appealing games for children to play with their parents and grandparents.

    The Spiele Des Jahres award has *always* represented the tastes of the mass market. They didn't pick VILLA PALETTI over PUERTO RICO because they're "old school German Games guys." They chose it because VILLA PALETTI is an excellent game for that particular market, and PUERTO RICO isn't.

    The "heavy Euro" that is so beloved by the American Eurogamer just isn't a mass-market phenomenon in Germany. Never has been. It's as marginal there as it is here. Maybe more so.

    I was in Frankfurt last month, and I went to the two big department stores in the city's main shopping district there. I saw lots of games, but no ALEA titles, no RACE FOR THE GALAXY, no CAYLUS, and no POWER GRID. I did see a lot of KELTIS and UBONGO and CARCASSONNE and CATAN product. Rather surprisingly, one of the stores had AGRICOLA. However, there is no hobby games store in Frankfurt. If you're in Frankfurt and you want the latest Warfrog release, you'll have to order it online.

    I don't think that the German Game has died. I'm even willing to call AGRICOLA a German Game. After all, a mainstream German retailer stocks it. I do think, though, that American hobby gamers never really embraced the "inclusive fun for the whole family" concept of German Games. You know what the Germans especially like? SKAT. And dice games.

  • avatarshryke
    Quote:
    I still maintain that the Eurogames thing is the result of a huge cultural misunderstanding.

    You know what, I think your completely right here.

    American Hobby gamers saw German Game Mechanics and were blown away. But they completely missed the whole other part of those games, where they were mainstream and easy to pick up.

    They basically recreated the slightly esoteric, inaccessible gaming of something like Dune, but replaced the theme and complexity with german game mechanics and stodgy tacked-on settings.

    They missed the point. Instead of embracing mainstream, easier games they simply created a new inaccessible hobby genre with slightly differing ideas.

  • avatarSagrilarus


    One of the things I've been turning over in my head is that the nature of modern eurogames is better designed for Internet discussion groups than what came prior to it, That nature may get a boost simply due to the community that comes along for the ride. Games where tactics can be boiled into short text bursts get a lift from the chatter that occurs the following morning.

    So eurogames may not be better games, but they may be better debate material, and that may account for part of their popularity in the Internet age.

    Sag.


  • avatarRyan B.

    Mad Dog wrote:

    That those types of games were starting to dominate the Eurogame crowd selections of what to play because stuff like Catan, Mystery of the Abbey, etc wasn't brainy enough. Then I watched over the next several months the exodus of casual or newbie gamers from local game nights as the excited Europlayers would rope them into a game of as if it were the greatest game ever. You can see it in the eyes of a casual gamer when they realize the game they were talked into playing is in fact a boring math exercise and not the lighthearted negotiation fun they had the previous week with Bohnanza. Its like the thousand-yard stare and once they get it they won't come within a thousand yards of that game night again.

    That hit the nail on the head, sir. You win a prize.

    -----

    Michael,

    That was the best article you have written to date. Prime stuff. I really liked the reference to the mechanic of victory points as a representation of "great works". In terms of victory points, we see that too often in today's games. Potentially great game objectives reduced to a mathematical calculation.

  • avatarJuniper
    Quote:

    American Hobby gamers saw German Game Mechanics and were blown away. But they completely missed the whole other part of those games, where they were mainstream and easy to pick up.

    Exactly. Competent design of anything involves trade-offs. The German Games were radical in their willingness to trade off just about everything in order to achieve ease of play. Immersive themes, variety, and depth were sacrificed, but broad accessibility was attained as a result, so in many cases it was a reasonable trade. After all, a deep, immersive game is no fun if you can't convince anyone to play it with you.

    Things went wrong when the Eurogamers learned the wrong lessons from the German Games. If theme could be sacrificed, according to their reasoning, then it had no value at all. The result was terrible designs like CAYLUS, which has no theme AND little accessibility. NAPOLEON'S TRIUMPH has a simpler rulebook than CAYLUS

    The "heavy Euro" represents, to me, bad design. It's not about making careful trade-offs and sacrifices in order to achieve an optimal, appealing whole. It's about ignoring the value of theme, aesthetics, accessibility in order to conform to some narrowly preconceived idea of the ideal game. That ideal is based on the side effects of the design decisions that produced the early, great German Games. It's like watching a classic old movie for the first time and thinking "wow, that was good because the soundtrack was in mono; in the future, I will demand that all movies have monophonic sound."

  • avatarMattLoter

    So first off, I enjoyed the article. PoF is pretty much all the worst Euros have to offer without any of the good wrapped up in a grumpy brown package.

    Also, I never really thought about the idea that a lot of these games are even more niche in Germany than they are over here and how that is where is a big division between "Euros" I really like and "Euros" I really don't.

    But to drop a little constructive criticism, I wonder who exactly is the gameshark audience? I'd expect that many of the readers are not hobbyist boardgamers but get there from the video gaming end of things. So it strikes me as a little odd to have such a specific negative theory type of article in the column. For most non-hobby gamers the article just serves to either bore them to death or get them thinking negatively about games in general. I think such a criticism would be much better taken if served up with a big dose of "now that we talked about what sucks, here's what rules..."

    For example, I enjoy comics but am by no means a comic hobbyist, so if there was a comic column on here, I'd be frustrated to read an article that was an in depth explanation of why Image comics ruined the indie scene and all their books are total shit. I'd much rather be hearing about stuff that's awesome, be it specific stuff in reviews or positive theory stuff like how you think creator controlled content is so awesome for comics as a medium or interviews with great creators. (my example doesn't actually make sense for real comic nerds I think, but hopefully you get the point)

  • avatarNotahandle

    Excellent article, Michael. But Shakespeare, Plato, and Dante? Name one decent game that they designed!

    The boutique feel is still evolving, e.g. you can buy the even more special Caylus Premium Limited Edition. I expect this trend to continue, hopefully without multiply redundant ways of saying 'special'. The Caylus Tenth Anniversary Super Deluxe Premium Limited Edition with Bonus Tiles due out at Essen 2015 will be a sell-out! :)

  • avatarmoofrank

    I adore Settlers and Settlers is a great game. It did blast open the door for more complicated designs, but Barnes it right in that it didn't set them off in that awful direction.

    There is a period where Kramer set the awful trend in motion. Tikal was a second large milestone, as it cemented the idea of Action Points, workers, and 30 million ways of scoring. It also won the SdJ. (That said, I still rather like Tikal, almost like Torres, but do properly loathe Princes of Florence.

    It is completely criminal that Euro clones can get released while a reworking of the absolutely awesome Big Boss is having trouble finding a publisher.

  • avatarSagrilarus


    So now "dice" games are spitting out of the far end of this machine -- similar is concept and theme to their namesakes, but easily accessible due to simpler rulesets and less cerebral play. They're selling, largely to the same crowd, and they're seen as refreshing because they're not so heavy. Is the pendulum starting to swing back in the other direction?

    Sag.


  • avatargeneralpf

    I completely agree that PoF ushered in a new age of brown auction games, but that doesn't mean it's a bad game. I've almost completely sworn off Euros and now lean towards AT and wargames, but I'd still drop everything in a heartbeat to play PoF with four other experienced players. It's THE most tense game I've ever played. If you are playing PoF and find it lacks conflict, screwage and interaction, you're probably playing with a bunch of morons.

  • avatargeneralpf

    I also agree with Matt Loter... who exactly is the audience of Gameshark that you'd think they'd care about this article? Over there you're preaching to an empty crowd, and over here you're preaching to the choir.

  • avatargeneralpf

    Great writing BTW. I enjoyed reading it.

  • avatarMichael Barnes

    I also agree with Matt Loter... who exactly is the audience of Gameshark that you'd think they'd care about this article? Over there you're preaching to an empty crowd, and over here you're preaching to the choir.

    That's a good question. We're not really sure who the audience of Gameshark is. When Abner and I have talked about it, three things are clear:

    1) A lot of traffic comes over from BGG somehow
    2) A lot of traffic comes from outside the US
    3) WAY more people read the column than are on F:AT

    So there's a big audience, the four articles I do are routinely in the monthly top 20 pieces they run. Some of them have outdone the big 360/PS3 reviews.

    My idea though is that articles like this one can open up a new way of thinking about board games to a new audience. A lot of people reading the column may never have considered things as simple as "board games have authors", "board games have an evolutionary history", or even "board games can be assessed along critical lines". Somebody that may be new to board games thanks to the WoW games or STARCRAFT or whatever might read the column and realize that there's a lot more to the medium and hobby than they realized.

    But I hear what you're saying, and I do try to only drop an article like this one every so often. Matt, I think your idea of a follow-up saying "now, this is what's good" is a great idea.

    Is the pendulum starting to swing back in the other direction?

    I thought about it, once again calling to mind Vlaada Chivtal and some of the newer Eurogame designers but I kind of think this is not the case at all. Some of the new Euro designs are every bit as removed from the classic German games as PoF was. I mean, GALAXY TRUCKER? SPACE ALERT? Sure, they're innovative and bold designs that have broken out of the PoF/PUERTO RICO/CAYLUS rut but they're still way more esoteric an inaccessible than a SETTLERS or RA.

    It is completely criminal that Euro clones can get released while a reworking of the absolutely awesome Big Boss is having trouble finding a publisher.

    I think it's pretty telling that classic AT games are reprinted practically a dime a dozen but Eurogame reprints are much rarer- it shows that the Euro market is totally tuned into the Cult of the New. It seems like a few times a year we hear about a classic German game getting reprinted but it never happens. SHOCKO & CO., EXTRABLATT, BIG BOSS...I was amazed to see DIE MACHER actually make it out.

    The Freedom chits are initially valuable because they're likely to run out.

    Yes. It's a metaphor for the way the game reduces player choices.

    The "heavy Euro" that is so beloved by the American Eurogamer just isn't a mass-market phenomenon in Germany. Never has been. It's as marginal there as it is here. Maybe more so.

    But...but...the people on the internet told me that families sit around and play PUERTO RICO rather than watch television and that CAYLUS is the national pastime! DID THEY LIE?

    I think you're right though, there is a cultural misunderstanding at work. The misunderstanding is that Germany was/is a nation of games hobbyists.

    I think there's a lot in common with the Western popularity of manga and anime and the Eurogames phenomenon. There's that same xenophilic denunciation of native cultural products, the assumption of maturity and sophistication in the foreign diaspora, and an elitist, "in the know" tone to it all. However, manga really is hugely popular and read by practically everyone in Japan.

    The real question however is, which game caused Michael Barnes to implode?

    SKAT.


  • avatarmoofrank

    Um....Barnes....have you actually PLAYED Shocko & Company?

    Some games should remain classics. Never speak of that game again. Someone might actually get the idea that it should be reprinted. Zillions of auctions and some random events.

  • avatarJuniper
    Quote:
    However, manga really is hugely popular and read by practically everyone in Japan.

    Yeah, but the manga that are popular here are not even remotely representative of the market in Japan, just as the BGG top 100 is not representative of what German families are actually buying and playing. We're viewing these other countries' cultural products through a strange, distorting prism.

  • avatarStonecutter

    So there's a big audience, the four articles I do are routinely in the monthly top 20 pieces they run. Some of them have outdone the big 360/PS3 reviews.

    That's interesting, and good for you, but I have to say, as someone who video games first and board games second it's not all that surprising to me. As a board gamer, Cracked LCD is required reading for me, not trying to stroke you, it just is, there's literally no where else to read feature pieces on board games with an Ameritrash point of view.

    That said, when it comes to video games, Gameshark isn't even on my radar. It's not that I find their writing or opinions bad, just that they don't register. Until I found Cracked LCD "Gameshark" was the N64 era cheat device that replaced Game Genie, nothing more. I'd never go to Gameshark for video game info when there's Giant Bomb, 1Up, Kotaku, Joystick, the penny-arcade forums, NeoGaf forums, platform nation and even IGN/Gamespot.

  • avatarbill abner

    Stonecutter -- I don't take offense to that (before they hired me, I felt the same way) but something needs to be made clear:

    There are a lot (lot) of videogame "review" sites on the internet. Most are hobby sites. GameShark isn't as big as GBomb, IGN, etc. I'll put our writing next to theirs, though. And the net is a big place. Gameshark brings in enough traffic to:

    -Pay my salary every month

    -Pay my staffers' freelance fee -- something that the vast majority of videogame sites cannot do. Even though Mike will be the first to tell you he doesn't get rich doing these columns. He does in fact get paid. I get freelance submissions all the time from writers looking for a gig. It's tough out there.

    There's a lot we want to do with the site -- from video work right down the line. Plus we have been trying to fix the 1998 web design for a while now. (Which is taking much longer than we'd like..)

    So while I totally understand that the site isn't on your radar -- someone's reading it. To give you an idea -- 20,000 people read my release day review of Madden 10. 16,000+ read Brandon's Fallout 3 Mothership Zeta Guide. I have no earthly idea how that compares to the other sites you mention. But I'll take it.

    As for the audience -- it's hard to say. But columns come and go. I have been in this biz for 15 years and one thing I know: columns are TOUGH. Tough to find an audience and tough to maintain readers. Very few survive.

    I have known Mike for a few years now and consider him a friend. Still just a net friend but a friend nonetheless. I genuinely like him. But I'm also running a website and if Mike's column had 400 readers a month it would no longer be on the site.

    Oh, and I like it when Mike goes into detail like this PoF column. If it were all mainstreamy stuff it wouldn't be Mike.

    And yes, we get a lot of traffic from BGG. More from BGG than we do F:AT. This PoF column in particular did pretty well.

  • avatarscitadel

    You know, I must agree I didn't find Princes of Florence that interesting. Played it once, found it too dry, dropped it to try others. Wouldn't have pegged it as the turning point, but then I don't have the same level of 'history' per se.

    I think though that there are a ton of good games that don't fit the traditional Eurogame model - Small World, Snow Tails and Arctic Scavengers - great selling games at our site come to mind. And having introduced those games to non-gamers, they still teach well and are highly accessible.

  • avatardaveroswell

    I never noticed that line of demarcation before; of course I really got into "German style gaming" around 2002.

    What I noticed about Princes is the "copycatting" of it's game mechanics in general: Vegas Showdown and even Cleopatra and the Society of Architects comes to mind.

    Dominion is the freshest idea seen in game mechanics for a long time, but I feel the expansions will eventually kill the originality of this game.

    Can anyone stand Traders of Genoa? That game gets absolutely mired in bidding wars and negotiation whenever I attempt to play.

  • avatarvandemonium

    Oh boy.... [dons flak jacket] Just played Princes for the first time yesterday.

    I liked it just fine. I thought all the mechanisms worked well together for a fun Euro game, that played quickly and worked well with five people.

    The art is frumpy, I'd agree with that, but beyond that, I thought it was fun.

    One thing that is sometimes difficult in talking about games, is the tendency to say, well Game XXXX is just game YYYY with some tweaks and YYYY is far superior yada yada. Well that is great but if I haven't played YYYY I think it is perfectly valid to still enjoy game XXXX for what it is. In this case, I think Princes is a rather good game and I will happily play it again.

    Color me frumpy I guess. *shrug*

  • avatarJuniper

    INFIDEL!

  • avatarMichael Barnes

    Eh, Van is a closet Eurogamer anyway...I'm not surprised at his treachery. I'm more surprised that he committed thread necro to demonstrate it.

  • avatarvandemonium

    Heh. Not closeted, never have been... I had just read this article in the last month, had missed it originally so it was fresh to me. Anyhoo, so any new games you can recommend? Maybe with a space theme?

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