December 5, 2005
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TEKKA: New Games

In the new TEKKA, David Fristrom has a terrific survey of a the new Eurogame -- specifically, a look at games that are about Competition without Conflict. Can we get beyond total war, without winding up in CandyLand?

In the last decade or so, there has been a real renaissance of board game design. Led by European, and particularly German, designers and publishers, this new wave of games has put an emphasis on elegant, innovative designs combined with good graphics. The games are generally easy to learn to play in a reasonably short time, yet present real strategic challenges as well as the opportunity for social interaction. While this style of games can be traced back to earlier examples, especially in the games designed by Sid Sackson in the 1960s and 70s, the phenomenon reached critical mass in the 1990s, as the games found a worldwide audience and revitalized the board game hobby.

One sign of the intellectual maturity of Eurogames, contrasted with the computer games to which New Media people tend to point, is that they are crafted by people.

One of the most popular recent games to be based on trading - indeed, the most popular and widely known of the recent wave of games - is The Settlers of Catan, designed by Klaus Teuber.
One such mechanism, which can be called 'loosely coupled actions' appears in the game Puerto Rico, designed by Andreas Seyfarth; Puerto Rico is one of the most highly regarded of the new crop of games.
One way designers have avoided conflict between players is by putting them all on the same side in a cooperative game (which under our strict definition makes it no longer a game). Perhaps the best example of this approach is The Lord of the Rings game designed by Reiner Knizia.

The emphasis on competition without confrontation is, I think, social: if you're playing games to have fun and also to meet attractive, intelligent and wonderful people like yourself, the whole thing is more likely to work out if you're not required to spend the evening in conflict with the Object Of Desire. There will be plenty of time for that, later. Willingness to face genre limitations, accept them, and address them is a sign of artistic maturity.