Mary Russell

Tags Eurogames

Eurogames are how Mary and I got into modern board games. My ambition, almost from the start, was to design medium-weight eurogames with broad appeal, and the only reason why I instead dedicated myself to designing weird wargames was that the wargames sold but the eurogames never did. You often hear from folks who say that once you start designing your own games, you never have time to play anyone else's, and while that's not entirely true, I can say that once the shift was made to designing and publishing wargames, I more-or-less stopped playing eurogames with any regularity. 

Once in a blue moon, we'll get together with some friends and we'll play some games, and usually these will be eurogames. And they're usually enjoyable for all the reasons that we got into eurogames in the first place: they're not too long, they're not too mean, and they usually have some clever, novel mechanism at the center of the thing. As a designer I can appreciate clever, novel mechanisms. A good eurogame is like a well-calibrated machine, every part in perfect balance, every gear and lever necessary, nothing out of place, nothing that isn't needed, nothing that's missing (in a purely mechanical sense). And as a designer, as someone who constructs somewhat different machines but still with an eye toward elegance, I can appreciate the craftsmanship and the skill of a clean yet intricate system. Some of these things are wonders to behold.

Another thing that interests me about eurogames is that I hate them. That, of course, is a paraphrase of and a nod to the rock critic Robert Christgau's famous 1972 piece, "Trying to Understand the Eagles", which starts with a couple of paragraphs praising their "chemistry", "raw talent", and their "basic commitment to rock and roll," then takes a hard turn in its third graf:

"Another thing that interests me about the Eagles is that I hate them. 'Hate' is the kind of up-tight word that automatically excludes one from polite posthippie circles, a good reason to use it, but it is also meant to convey an anguish that is very intense, yet difficult to pinpoint. Do I hate music that has been giving me pleasure all weekend, made by four human beings I've never met? Yeah, I think so. Listening to the Eagles has left me feeling alienated from things I used to love."

I still play light and medium-weight eurogames with our euro-y friends, I still admire them, I still learn from them. They're fun in the moment, but there's nothing that lingers after, nothing that pulls me back to the table anymore. Playing eurogames used to be like eating chicken with a lemon caper sauce, a culinary delight, and now it feels a little like eating frozen pizza: it's fine, nothing explosive, nothing revelatory, just simply and aggressively okay

"But Tom," some of you might say, "don't you guys publish a few eurogames? Isn't that what An Infamous Traffic is, isn't Dynasty a eurogame, isn't For-Ex? How can you say you hate eurogames if you publish them, you doofus?"

I mean, I guess, in that those games resemble eurogames more than they resemble wargames, but that’s a little like calling Chicago deep dish an example of Italian cuisine. Categories are useful, but only to a point, which is why I've never gotten the fuss over whether or not this game or that one is "really" a wargame. Games aren't meant to be put into discrete buckets, they're meant to be played, and terms like eurogame, wargame, train game, and weird game are only useful insomuch as they allow us to reference commonalities the games share. When someone calls Supply Lines a "logistics game", they're not saying that it isn't a wargame, but are saying something about its emphasis on planning and supply. Someone could likewise call The Campaign for North Africa a logistics game, but that doesn't mean that it and Supply Lines have anything in common.

So, sure, you can point to some of our games and call them eurogames, but at the same time, they're not the sort of games that I'm talking about. When I leave the table after playing one of those, I'm absolutely jazzed and over the moon. The player dynamics are exciting and interesting. We've together had an experience, created a narrative. The mechanisms exist to provide that experience and create that narrative, to embody the theme and the thesis.

Whereas with eurogames, it often feels like the mechanisms are there for their own sake, divorced from all other considerations. There was a time when that alone was enough, but as I get older, and as I move deeper into wargames, eurogames can't help but feel pretty but hollow. Even the heavier eurogames are leaving me dissatisfied: they become increasingly more ornate, more complicated, and yes even more beautiful. I enjoy playing them, and yet there's less and less there that I find legitimately compelling.

Do I hate new eurogames? Yeah, I think so. Playing them has left me feeling alienated from things I used to love.

1 comment

  • I have been going through a similar process. Can’t say I hate them, but have less and less patience with eurogames, but continue to like well themed games in addition to war games.

    I am impressed that you are perhaps familiar with Christgau. Next you will be quoting Lester Bangs.


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