Sunday, June 30, 2013

Review: Eurogames, by Stewart Woods

Eurogames - Stewart Woods
2012 McFarland & Company

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of the book. Also, some of my articles and my game are referenced in the book.


A nice introduction to Eurogames and to some game studies topics in general. Well written, accessible, covers the topic without much industry detail. Could have used more about specific Eurogames and its culture and less about other topics.


Eurogames is around 200 pages, excluding 50 pages of preface, introduction, end-notes, and bibliography.

Chapters 1 to 4 (about 70 pages) cover the history of board games in general and Eurogames in particular.  The history does not reach back to ancient cultures, but sticks mostly with modernity. After dividing games into classic, mass-market, and hobby games, hobby games are then divided into genres, each with a short history. The book analyzes the origins of Eurogames in America and Germany and briefly mentions game awards and conventions.

Chapter 5 (40 pages) categorizes Eurogames, mostly through mechanics, with a brief introduction as to how the categories were chosen. This section also includes talk about elements, rules, mechanics, goals, themes, information aspects, chance, and the end-conditions of Eurogames.

The remaining 95 pages discuss players and the motivations behind play. They spend a lot of time on a 2007 survey of BoardGameGeek users conducted by the author, giving us the makeup of a typical circa-2007 BGG user (one type of Eurogamer). They discuss collecting games and the relationship that gamers have with publishers and designers.

Why gamers play is then discussed, including an overview of "flow", social interaction, luck, and the other elements of games that are fun, as well as goals, and the tension between fun and striving to win. Social problems with games (such as cheating) are also discussed. The book concludes with a few pages on games and culture.


This book is aimed at the general public, i.e. not academic and not business. It is easy and friendly, and covers the general idea of Eurogames very well. It also covers, slightly more than necessary, various topics in game studies: what gamers are like, why people play games and why they cheat. These topics are covered in order to flesh out the idea of the kind of person who plays Eurogames, but the analysis really applies to any gamers of any genre, and even tp anyone who plays games at all.

It's a fair survey of these topics; for more depth, you can read many of the titles referenced in the bibliography. I found the topics to be only peripherally concerned with Eurogames and gamers, and so were not really necessary. Instead, I felt that the book should have spent more time going into depth about certain Eurogames.

For example, a couple of pages on how Settlers of Catan or Ticket to Ride was designed, how it is played, how the mechanisms interact, and how sessions go. Maybe focus on a dozen other popular games. Also missing were details about the game industry; how the industry arose in general is covered, with mentions of Z-Man Games, Rio Grande Games, Mayfair Games, etc, but not a look at real facts about the current game industry: number of companies, profits, distribution, penetration, country statistics, etc.

I say this only FYI. You can't blame a book for what it's not trying to be.

The book provides good coverage of many parts of the social scene of the die-hard gamers: the early Internet groups, the awards, the evangelists, and so on. It includes many quotes from BGGers on every topic from what makes a game fun to what makes a game serious.

One problem I fault the book for is that its data about gamers and their motivations comes from a voluntary survey of BoardGameGeek users. I don't think that BGG users necessarily represent Eurogamers, or even gamers, in general. They are a certain type of active social gamer/collector, and tend to have a myopic view of the world. In my own town of about 40,000 people, only a handful of people come to game nights and have BGG accounts, but dozens or even hundreds play or have played a Euro or hobby game.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the read. Those of you who are unfamiliar with the history of modern hobby games, or with the various topics covered, such as what makes a gamer enjoy games, will find this book to be a pleasant overview and a nice read.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Shabbat Gaming

Nadine, Mace, and I played on shabbat afternoon.

I taught Mace how to play Homesteaders. I started with steel and gold buildings and some debt. All very nice, but this left me shy in money and trade goods, which I spent the next several rounds acquiring. Still, I didn't think I was doing too badly, as I was able to get the buildings I wanted in 3 of the last 4 rounds. Nadine, as usual, complained a blue streak, while she had Market, tons of trade tokens, and tons of cash, as well as the Bank which let her trade trade tokens for cash. She let too many auctions pass, however, and ended two points behind me.

Mace had the feel for the game from the get go. He passed on the first round and spent a lot of time calculating in later rounds. It paid off as he won 53 to 46 to 44.

After this Mace and I each played one of Nadine's training decks of Magic cards. Mace's was blue and artifacts, mine was green and white. The decks are pretty evenly matched. Mace had some early mana trouble. By the time he recovered, I was attacking with a band and all he could do was put up creatures to die. My pivotal card in play was a simple Elf Archer that for 1G could tap to keep one of his cards tapped (I kept his Tim tapped). I finally got through with a Giant that could lob forests to deal the last 2 points of damage.

Board Gamers and Volunteering: a Perfect Match

A worker in a local hospital let our synagogue know about a guy who is going to be stuck there for the foreseeable future. He has no local friends and no family in Israel. We organized some volunteers to visit. After my initial visit to get to know the guy and to see what he might enjoy playing, my next visit was to play a game of Scrabble (without scoring points). He enjoyed it, though he's not particularly good at it, and we agreed to have me teach him Go on my next visit. If that doesn't work, I'll try a few other games until we find one that works for him.

Board gamers have skills that include enjoying meeting new people and playing, teaching, and arousing interest in board games. These skills are in high demand at your local hospital, nursing home, or other facility housing mentally alert people who are desperately lonely and bored.

You have probably wondered at some point what you can contribute to others that doesn't involve a great deal of money or time. You probably live very close to one of the above types of facilities.

Pick a few simple age-appropriate games and go for a visit. You can adopt one person - a child whose family can't be there all day, an adult who has no family in the area, an elderly person - or you can invite anyone who is willing to play (and not throw the pieces) to join you. The visit might require some basic coordination with the child's parents or the hospital staff.

An hour or two visit each week is almost effortless and can make a big difference in someone else's life. Even if the facility has internet access for each patient, there is no substitute for face-to-face contact. You get to play games and do something good at the same time.