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[rec.games.board] "German" game FAQ


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THE REC.GAMES.BOARD 'GERMAN' GAME FAQ v4.1

(c) 2000, 2001, 2003 by Keith Ammann


QUESTIONS

1. What are "German" games?  What are "family strategy" games?
2. What characterizes a "German" game?
3. Which ones should I get?
3a. A friend introduced me to ___.  Will I like ___?
4. Where can I find them?
5. What is the Spiel des Jahres?  What is the Deutscher Spielepreis?
6. What does that name mean?  How is it pronounced?
7. Why Germany?
8. Hey!  I bought this game you told me to buy, and the rules are in
German!
9. Where can I learn more?


ANSWERS

1. What are "German" games?  What are "family strategy" games?

They're pretty much the same thing.

"German" games are a genre of board and card games that has recently
become popular in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and
elsewhere after years of popularity in Europe.  They are commonly called
"German" games because most of them -- including the ones by which many
players have been introduced to the genre -- are designed and produced in
Germany.  However, some "German" games come from France, Belgium, the
Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom or the United States.  In its
end-of-year roundup, Games magazine refers to most games in this genre as
"family strategy," which sums up these games' hybrid nature and crossover
appeal.

In response to some dissatisfaction with the "German" label, a poll was
taken in 2001 on rec.games.board in which "family strategy" and "designer"
were favored as leading alternatives.  The term "designer" was suggested
because it alludes to the prominence of these games' designers and also
connotes quality, attractiveness and a "connoisseur" market.  Neither
"designer games" nor the only other strong finisher in the poll, "social
strategy games," has been widely accepted, and "family strategy" has seen
little use outside Games magazine.  "German" has become cemented as the
default term.


2. What characterizes a "German" game?

"German" games are defined by what they aren't almost as much as by what
they are.  They aren't simplistic, as are many games produced for the U.S.
mass market.  They are not rules-heavy, as are many games produced for the
U.S. hobby market, nor do they take an inordinately long time to play.
They are not military simulations, owing in part to Germany's post-World
War II stigma against militarism in popular culture.

As for what they are:  They are attractive, with a lot of attention paid
to quality of components and graphic design.  They are accessible, with
rulebooks that top out around six pages and typical playing times of 30 to
90 minutes.  They are easily grasped by older or smarter children. They
are involving, both strategically (there are always decisions to be made)
and socially (players are not left out of the action when it's someone
else's turn).  They contain unusual and innovative play mechanisms.  And
they're also expensive and hard to find compared with American mass-market
games, largely because they haven't been widely promoted or distributed
outside a core community of hobby gamers and the rec.games.board
newsgroup.

Finally, they're credited.  That is, the designer's name is printed on the
box and is often a selling point.  This is in contrast with most games on
the U.S. market, for example, whose designers either remain anonymous or
are buried in the back of the rulebook.


3. Which ones should I get?

Depends on your tastes and your budget.  Here is a selection of the most
popular family strategy games (most of which happen to come from Germany),
based on Aaron Fuegi's Internet Top 100 Games List
(scv.bu.edu/~aarondf/top100).  That list is not (and is not intended as)
an objective description of the relative quality of various games, but it
is a good indicator of which games are most popular within the gaming
hobby -- that is, among the people who play these games and know them
well.  Prices given are U.S. suggested retail.

* Settlers of Catan (Die Siedler von Catan).  By Klaus Teuber.  Mayfair
(U.S.), Kosmos (Germany).  $35.  If any game can claim to have
singlehandedly opened the international market to German games, it's this
one.  It's simple enough to learn by watching others play, complex enough
to pump up its replay value.  The object: Outpace your opponents at
settling a (formerly) uninhabited island by gathering, trading and
consuming commodities (wood, bricks, stone, grain and -- this is the
stroke of genius -- sheep!).  The board is made up of illustrated
cardboard hexagons that can be rearranged for a new experience every time.
Several expansions are available, the most popular of which is Seafarers
(Seefahrer, $35), which lets you move around from island to island.

* Puerto Rico.  By Andreas Seyfarth.  Rio Grande (U.S.), Alea (Germany).
$35.  A relative newcomer, this title took the gaming community by storm
almost as soon as it was released.  It takes a long time to set up, and
there are a lot of different things going on once you get started, but
Puerto Rico stands out because of its elegance, high degree of player
involvement and variety of possible winning strategies.  Players earn
victory points by colonizing the island of Puerto Rico, planting crops and
selling them and developing the capital city of San Juan.  During each
round, each player chooses an action to take place -- planting, selling or
shipping goods, bringing in more colonists, etc. -- and receives a related
bonus.  Timing is crucial.

* Tigris & Euphrates (Euphrat & Tigris).  By Reiner Knizia.  Mayfair
(U.S.), Hans im Glück (Germany).  $50.  This is the upper end of the genre
with regard to complexity and length of playing time, but it was praised
by many as the most strategically sophisticated until Puerto Rico came
along.  The object: Triumph over your neighbors as you sow the seeds of
civilization in the fertile crescent. Victory is determined by your
ability to accumulate points in four different categories at once --
whoever has the highest lowest score wins! E&T is what's known as a
"tile-laying game," meaning that one of the elements of play is the
placing of tiles on the board.  Knizia is probably the single most popular
German game designer; he is certainly one of the most prolific.  His game
Samurai (Rio Grande/Hans im Glück, $40), set in feudal Japan, shares the
mechanisms of tile-laying and multiple-category scoring.

* Princes of Florence (Die Fürsten von Florenz).  By Wolfgang Kramer and
Richard Ulrich.  Rio Grande (U.S.), Alea (Germany).  $35.  In contrast
with the soloist Knizia, Kramer is known as a prolific collaborator.  In
this gorgeous game, players represent renaissance patrons trying to gain
prestige by attracting great thinkers and artists to their estates.
Auctions are a popular mechanic in German games; in Princes of Florence,
each round (there are seven altogether)  consists of an auction phase and
an action phase.  In the former, players bid on the amenities that inspire
the thinkers and artists to create great works; in the latter, players pay
fixed prices to introduce freedoms and construct buildings, then try to
recoup their investments as the works are completed.  The same design team
is responsible for ...

* El Grande.  Rio Grande (U.S.), Hans im Glück (Germany).  $40.  El Grande
is the earliest of a number of games involving the distribution of pieces
around the board for the purpose of amassing "influence."  The object: To
curry favor with the king in medieval Spain.  To gain influence, you have
to get soldiers ("caballeros") onto the board.  But the system for bidding
on action cards, which allow you to pull various stunts in the hopes of
gaining the upper hand, poses a dilemma:  The more likely you are to get
the action card you want, the fewer caballeros you can raise.  In
addition, a movable pawn representing the king freezes the action wherever
it's placed, because you can't let the king see what connivers you all
are!  There are also several El Grande expansions, which Rio Grande sells
in the United States as one $25 set.

* Carcassonne.  By Klaus-Jergen Wrede.  Rio Grande (U.S.), Hans im Glück
(Germany).  $20.  This uncomplicated game combines influence-building with
the laying of square landscape tiles in a domino-like fashion.  Players
place tiles featuring roads, fields, walled cities and cloisters next to
other matching tiles, then place pawns to control the various landscape
features.  But the number of pawns is limited, and a pawn cannot be reused
until its road or city is completed or its cloister is surrounded, at
which point the controlling player collects points and takes back his
pawn.  Pawns placed in fields are not taken back and score no points until
the end of the game.  Players do not get to choose their tiles -- every
one is drawn at random, individually, at the start of a player's turn.
Though basic in its rules, Carcassonne offers many opportunities for
tricky tactical plays.  An expansion set ($12) adds a variety of
interestingly configured new tiles.

* Citadels.  By Bruno Faidutti.  Fantasy Flight (U.S.), Hans im Glück
(Germany).  $20.  Faidutti, a Frenchman, is known for developing light,
fast-moving games.  Citadels is the least light and runs the longest of
all his games, but it's still lighter than many other "German" games yet
just as sophisticated.  Each turn, players choose from a selection of
stylized heroic figures (a king, a magician, a merchant, a bishop, an
assassin, etc.), keeping their identities secret.  Each role provides a
certain special ability, such as trading cards, collecting extra money or
causing another player to lose a turn.  Meanwhile, each player races to
put up eight buildings in his own city.  But being first doesn't guarantee
victory:  The player with the most valuable city takes the prize.

* Vinci.  By Philippe Keyaerts.  Descartes/Eurogames.  $30.  This is about
as close to a theme of military conflict as "German" games get -- then
again, its designer is Belgian, and its publisher is French.  The
object:  Gain the most points by expanding your fledgling nations and
conquering their neighbors.  The plural is important there, because as
soon as it's obvious that a nation can grow no further, it's thrown on the
scrapheap of history and replaced by a new one.

* Modern Art.  By Reiner Knizia.  Mayfair (U.S.), Hans im Glück (Germany).
$30.  Another of the "first wave" German games (along with Settlers),
Modern Art is built around an ingenious auction mechanism.  The object:
Make a pile of dough by buying and selling works by several pretentious
painters.  But you have to judge whether you'll make more money by
collecting the works of a popular artist and cashing in on them or by
being the one who sells them at outrageous speculative prices.  A
fast-moving game with a lot of appeal for "non-gamers."

* Bohnanza.  By Uwe Rosenberg.  Rio Grande (U.S.), Amigo (Germany).  $15.
The object:  Make money by raising and selling different kinds of beans.
Since you have to plant them in the order you get them, you have to trade
off the ones that are getting in the way of your profits.  Sometimes, to
avoid premature harvest of potentially valuable bean fields, you have to
offer your opponents incentives to take the unwanted beans off your hands!
Bohnanza is very easy to learn and play, making it another favorite among
non-hobbyists.  (The name is a pun on the German word for "bean.")

These are the "stars," but there are many, many other popular and easily
obtainable family strategy games, including Through the Desert (Knizia,
Fantasy Flight/Kosmos, $38), Taj Mahal (Knizia, Rio Grande/Alea, $40),
Medici (Knizia, Rio Grande/ Amigo, $30), Ra (Knizia, Rio Grande/Alea,
$35), Tikal (Kramer and Michael Kiesling, Ravensburger, $35), Torres
(Kramer/Kiesling, Ravensburger, $40), Acquire (Sid Sackson, Avalon Hill,
$40), La Città (Gerd Fenchel, Rio Grande/Kosmos, $40), Löwenherz (Teuber,
Rio Grande/Goldsieber, $40) and Web of Power (Michael Schacht, Rio
Grande/Goldsieber, $30).


3a. A friend introduced me to ___.  Will I like ___?

"German" game designers shamelessly pillage mechanisms from both their own
games and others'.  This results in a number of games' having a similar
feel.  If you like the feel of one game, you may enjoy another that shares
the same mechanisms.  Here's a sampling of games that can be considered
members of the same "family":

  Settlers of Catan, Settlers of Catan: The Card Game, Settlers of
  Nuremberg, Starfarers of Catan

  Torres, Tikal, Java, Mexica

  Tigris & Euphrates, Through the Desert, Samurai

  Medici, Quandary, High Society

  El Grande, Carolus Magnus

  Puerto Rico, Princes of Florence, Citadels

  Reibach & Co., Freight Train

  Tikal, Fossil, Ra, Time Pirates

  El Grande, Ra, Aladdin's Dragons

  Manhattan, Big City, Acquire

  Chinatown, Rette Sich Wer Kann, Bohnanza, Quo Vadis

If this approach strikes you as high-risk (and well it may, given the
price tags that these games usually carry), visit the Board Game
Recommendation System at boardgamestuff.com:8000 (yes, that's a Web
address).  The BGRS takes input on which games you like and dislike,
matches your tastes with those of other registered users and provides
recommendations based on those users' opinions.  The results are fairly
reliable.  (Mainstream games and old-school hobby games are included in
the system as well.)


4. Where can I find them?

Typically, family strategy games, especially the imported ones, are
available only through hobby stores (the ones that also sell wargames,
role-playing games and/or collectible card games) and "specialty" game
stores (the ones that also sell traditional games, such as chess,
backgammon and go, as well as more mainstream family games).  If you're
looking for a particular game, check the Game Store Database
(boardgamestuff.com/cgi-bin/gamestore.pl) or the manufacturer's Web site
for a retail store near you.  (Because I'm writing this FAQ, I get to plug
my favorite: the Old Game Store, Manchester, Vt., 800-818-GAME.)  If
there's nothing close by, try one of the following online retailers:

Boulder Games, www.bouldergames.com
Fair Play Games, www.fairplaygames.com
Funagain Games, www.funagain.com

For customers in Canada:

The German Boardgame Co., www.germangames.com

Secondhand games are frequently offered for sale on
rec.games.board.marketplace and through Board Game Geek
(www.boardgamegeek.com).  Board Game Geek also allows users to set up
trades with each other.


5. What is the Spiel des Jahres?  What is the Deutscher Spielepreis?

Board games are a big enough industry in Germany that awards are given
out.  The Spiel des Jahres ("Game of the Year") is a juried industry
award, sorta like Cannes.  The Deutscher Spielepreis ("German Game Award")
is primarily a critics' award, sorta like the Golden Globes.  However,
unlike their analogues in the movie world, the SdJ tends to reward simple
games with mass-market or family appeal, while the DSP favors "gamers'
games" with more challenging rules and unusual mechanisms.

Most of the games listed above are either winners or nominees of one or
both awards.  You can look up past award winners and current nominees at
www.spiel-des-jahres.org (English, German) and
www.kmwsspielplatz.de/spielarchiv/indxtemp.html?/spielarchiv/dsp.htm
(German only).


6. What does that name mean? How is it pronounced?

A lot of gamers refer to German games by their German names.  Here's a
handy guide for English speakers (pronunciations, especially of umlauted
vowels, are extremely approximate; some of these games' English editions
go by different names, as noted):

(Die) Siedler (von Catan) [dee ZEED-ler fawn ka-TAHN]: (The) Settlers (of
      Catan)
   Seefahrer [ZAY-far-er]: Seafarers
   Städte & Ritter [SHTAYT-uh oont RIT-ter]: Cities and Knights
Die Siedler Kartenspiel [dee ZEED-ler KAR-ten-shpeel]: The Settlers Card
      Game
Die Macher [dee MAKH-er]: The "Movers and Shakers"
Funkenschlag [FOONK-en-shlahg]: Electric Shock
Ursuppe [OOR-zoop-puh]: Primordial Soup
Löwenherz [LUR-ven-hayrts]: Lionheart (absolutely not to be confused with
      Hasbro's ultra-crappy Lionheart!)
Adel Verpflichtet [AH-del fer-FLIKH-tet]: Noblesse Oblige (a.k.a. By Hook
      or by Crook)
Meuterer [MOY-ter-er]: Mutineer
Die Händler [dee HEND-ler]: The Merchants
Um Reifenbreite [oom RY-fen-BRY-tuh]: By a Tire Width
Rette Sich Wer Kann [RET-tuh ZIKH ver KAHN]: Every Man for Himself
Verräter [fer-RAY-ter]: Traitor
Dampfross [DUMPF-ross]: Iron Horse (a.k.a. Railway Rivals)
Entdecker [ent-DECK-er]: Discoverer

By the way, it's Klaus "TOY-ber," not Klaus "TOO-ber."  Also, Knizia is
pronounced "k'NEET-see-a."


7. Why Germany?

The best anyone can surmise, Germany just happens to have a long tradition
of game-playing.  Combine that with a long tradition of high-quality
design and manufacturing, and you have a market for well-designed,
well-manufactured games.

However, as a number of people have pointed out, the fact that Germany has
the most robust adult/family board game industry in the world doesn't mean
that board games are a form of mass entertainment in Germany, on par with,
say, television.  It's a hobby there, just as it is in other countries.
It just happens to be a much bigger hobby.


8. Hey!  I bought this game you told me to buy, and the rules are in
German!

Many imported "German" games are available in translated editions, but
many are not.  Fortunately, the board gaming community has made a number
of rulebook translations available on the Web.  Board Game Geek
(www.boardgamegeek.com) has a large selection of archived rule
translations.  In addition, most of the companies that import and/or
reprint games from other countries have rule translations available for
free.


9. Where can I learn more?

Luding (SunSITE.Informatik.RWTH-Aachen.DE/luding) is a database of game
information with links to reviews in German and English.

Board Game Geek (www.boardgamegeek.com) features lots of news and reviews,
along with a comprehensive guide to game mechanics.



-- 
Defenceless under the night our world in stupor lies;
yet, dotted everywhere, ironic points of light
flash out wherever the Just exchange their messages...
                                          --W.H. Auden
······················································
 Keith Ammann is geenius@cifnet.com  -§-  Lun Yu 2:24

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