Thursday, 20 September 2007

Let's talk about Eurogames!

Well, since we seem to have a lot of "visitors" lately from the link a noble Dutch AT'er posted over at the Leading Board Game Site, why don't we talk about Eurogames for a while! Maybe that'll get 'em to stop bitching. So, SETTLERS OF CATAN. It's on Xbox Live, and has no expansions. What a shame. In this edition of Cracked LCD, I talk about the CATAN expansions and why they rock. SETTLERS is the one true Euro, and the only one that at the end of the day really matters.

Let's all go over to!


Juniper said...

It's frustrating to me that Settlers is only ranked #27 on BGG. What the hell is wrong with everyone?

Michael Barnes said...

It's probably because there's enough folks on there who think it's somehow a badge of credibility or elitism to stop short of rating the game in the upper echelon. It's almost fashionable to state how tired you are of playing it, or how there's "better" games out there now. It's like people are somehow embarassed to talk about how great it is because it's the most mainstream of the Eurogames.

Look at the list and see what esoteric, members-only kinds of crap outranks SETTLERS...IMPERIAL? TAJ MAHAL? Fucking GOA? BATTLELORE???? TWILIGHT STRUGGLE is barely even 2 years old! Sure, there's plenty of things I love on there too, but it really an effect of people giving SETTLERS a 7 just to prove how elite they are as they rate DIE MACHER a 10?

But you know really doesn't matter anyway. SETTLERS outsells every single one of those games exponentially, and the market success and penetration of it far outstrips anything PRINCES OF FLORENCE or EL GRANDE will _ever_ experience. SETTLERS, in any incarnation, is probably played more times every minute of every day somewhere in the world than any of the favored sons of BGG.

So it's irrelevant in the long run, but it is disappointing that a place that is supposed to represent the hobby community has it so very wrong.

SETTLERS is the _only_ game of the Eurogame boom that I think is an unabashed, timeless classic. It has a tremendous amount of crossover appeal, it's hugely accessible, and it offers almost infinite replayability. And it's a hell of a lot of fun too.

TimB said...

I am not fond of Euros and this one is no exception.

I don't like that you can get into a situation (few or no cards, robber on your high probability spots) where you have nothing to do for for 4 or 5 or even more turns.

It is not my idea of fun to sit and watch other people play a game.

But I wouldn't say I hate it. I will play but only after going through 'What else ya got?' and deciding there's nothing better.

Juniper said...

Actually, Taj Mahal is pure fucking genius. You probably have to play it many times to see that, though.

One of the problems with BoardGameGeek is that it's effectively an echo chamber for hype about new games. It promotes a world view in which it's normal to have 150 games stashed in a closet, and to play each one only once or twice, because everyone is always itching to buy and play the latest-and-greatest title. Because folks only play each game a handful of times, they're really engaging only the tactical details of that game. Even if a game has an interesting strategic aspect, it will be hard to appreciate that, because you need to experience the game arc several times before you can discern a broad strategic picture from the narrow tactical details. And those several plays don't quite happen, because something new was just released, and it comes with sandtimers and a CD. Or it has a number on the side of the box.

Settlers isn't very interesting, tactically. It's a strategy game. You have to know where you're going, and you have to have a pretty good idea how you're going to get your ten points. From turn to turn, though, you're rolling dice and doing what your resource cards will allow you to do. Folks who don't think strategically will think that the game is solely about those dice.

Many Eurogames lack any strategic dimension; they are purely tactical. And many BGG users won't notice the strategic dimension of a game anyway -- they're really only looking for tactical complexity. That's why boring beancounting games like rule the Geek, and truly strategic games like Settlers can't even break the top-25.

Taj Mahal wasn't always a top game on BGG. I remember when the received wisdom about the game was that it was a game of "card management" with a board that was about as spurious as its theme. The game was seriously misjudged, because the early critics weren't sufficiently familiar with it to recognize that it's all about gut-wrenching strategic decisions.

Michael Barnes said...

I just can't get with TAJ MAHAL, but I don't think it's terrible. I think there's a strange amount of clutter there for a Knizia design, and I thinks he's really done that kind of card game better with IVANHOE- it's more stripped down, less strategic, but I think it's a better game in the long run. I'd definitely try TAJ again- it does seem like a pretty subtle design with a lot going on. I do like a good card game.

Juniper's definitely right about replay- the problem is, I believe, that the games have to support replay by having actual strategic depth or solid, engaging atmosphere. The routine Euro has neither.

It's definitely a different culture than it used to be...I remember when buying a new game was like a milestone- you'd be playing it all summer, your friends would learn all the details, and you'd eventually come to master playing it and sessions would be these amazing, ass-kicking contests between great players. If someone new was coming in, you went down the library and photocopied the rules so they could study them before they played. Now it's all about 2 page rules, 90 minute playtimes, "gotta play it now", and "gotta catch 'em all".

J de said...

guys, you are projecting. Most people I know have played Settlers many time. Friends of mine used to write the name of the winner in the box and needed to buy a new game because the box was full.

Instead of trying to be dr Phil, stick to why you think it should be up there in the hall of fame and deal with the sour comments later.

Settlers is a classic game, just like Risk. But rating is a very personal thing. And our mileages may vary.

I like the way hype rolls over BGG. That gives it a good dynamic. Would you check out a game site daily or even weekly that had most discussions on risk or settlers?

Personally I like the Rome version of settlers. Just like I like my version of Wallenstein (Real 30 years war) better. Burn and pillage is som much more fun than building!

ps 'noble'? My ass!

Pat H said...

Id rather play Awful Green Things From Outer Space.

Anonymous said...

So, why don't we see more Ameritrash games in the online venue?

Some thoughts on my blog

I want Arkham Horror online, dammit!

Shryke said...

Yeah, like I said on the last post, the low ranking of Settlers at BGG was one of my major tip offs that what they liked wasn't what I liked. At all. PR better then Settlers? Pft, gimme a break.

Of course, this great little game has alot going against it. It has dice for production (OMG RANDOMNESS!!! RUN!!) and it requires actual human interaction. You have to negotiate and trade, which requires actually understanding people and how they thing. And the random production forces you to deal with what you've got instead of laying out your perfect strategy days before and just sitting down at the table to execute it. All huge strikes against it at BGG I imagine.

And yeah, I agree Barnes, after trying it with Cities and Knights, I find the original too simple. I can't go back.

Juniper said...

Friends of mine used to write the name of the winner in the box and needed to buy a new game because the box was full.

Isn't that exactly the situation that a 10-rating should denote? "I played it so much that I needed to buy a second copy." And yeah, I am on my second copy of Settlers.

Anonymous said...

And the other extreme of the spectrum are the miniature gamers and CCG players who only buy their one system, only play their one system, and ignore all titles other than the one they're invested in.

There's plenty of guys who only play one game and play it over and over again for life. They're the majority customer at game stores and conventions. Boardgames are just a minor sideline compared to them.

I'd rather be with the variety of the boardgamers and their exploration of the latest titles and mechanics ...than with the CCG or miniatures crowd stuck in their one game for life.

Puerto Rico for a while looked like it was going to become another "one game for life" title. Thankfully better titles eventually came and no one plays it here anymore. But for almost two years, that's all some people would play.

MWChapel said...

Hey I rate Settlers a 9(The same level as Imperial) Do I think Die Macher is better? Hell yeah, that game is god damned genius! But I will always love me my Settlers, it too is almost a perfect package of fun and thought.

I'm sure I'll be playing more settlers than most games on my top 10, not because I think it's a better game, but because it will always be more widely acceptable across the board. I can't just get 5 people to play Die Macher any day of the week, but Settlers, no problem. But would you define a game like that as a "higher rated" game?

Shellhead said...

Pat H: "Id rather play Awful Green Things From Outer Space."

Me too. Lemme play the crew!

The most Euro game that I am always willing to play is Acquire. My dad taught my mom and I how to play when I was about 5, so that he could always get a 3-player game of Acquire going. Now I can practically play it blindfolded and still win routinely against most players. I think that it's a great design, not really my style, and I probably like it mostly for the fond family memories.

Michael Barnes said...

Shit, Mike...if you're ever in Atlanta, we're gonna have an ACQUIRE throwdown. I'm fuckin' ace at it. I don't know why, I'm just the best. ACQUIRE is untouchable as far as I'm concerned, it's just a great, classic game.

I'm on my third copy of SETTLERS...I went Mayfair 1st, German (complete with all expansions), and now Mayfair again (complete with all expansions). And yes, I absolutely will buy the new Mayfair edition as well. Still don't have the chest though.

I'll be the first to admit that after the first 4-5 games of PUERTO RICO I thought "this is a classic"...but then after 10-15 games, it became a routine, and all of the fun suddenly vanished from it. It became more of a procedure than a game. Which is sad, because it's at heart (figuratively speaking) a pretty amazing piece of design. And there's no doubt it's gone on to inspire both any number of disposable clone Eurogames as well as TI3.

BTW Gabe- I'd love to see an ARKHAM HORROR online...that'd be a great idea. Good blog post.

AWFUL GREEN THINGS? Man, I haven't played that in 15's a good one though.

mtlawson said...

Okay, Mike, what do you think of Struggle for Rome? My wife was curious about it, and after I gave up trying to convince her that she'd have fun with Arkham Horror (haven't given up on Prophecy/RotH/Runebound yet), I figured I'd ask. I'm not so sure of the "Catan does Rome" concept, but it has enough of Settlers there that it might be pretty good if done right.

--Mike L.

Clarissimus said...

Would you check out a game site daily or even weekly that had most discussions on risk or settlers?

I would.

Unlike those who "have 150 games stashed in a closet, and to play each one only once or twice," I mostly play the same few games over and over -- the ones I like the most.

Malloc said...

I own settlers and have never managed to play it. I picked it up ages ago when WoTC was closing all its retail stores. Every time I tried to play someone in the group wold moan about how it is not that good of a game and it wold get shelved.

I would certainly play it over Die Macher again. I got a huge list of 5 hr games that get played before that snooze fest returns to the table.


Michael Barnes said...

STRUGGLE FOR ROME is far as SETTLERS variant games go, I think it's not as good as STONE AGE or STARFARERS but WAY, WAY better than CANDAMIR, ELASUND, or the previous historical scenarios. There's some pretty neat ideas but it does feel a little static after a couple of games. It just makes me want to play CITIES AND KNIGHTS, really.

Mal, sounds like you're running into the ol' "Too Hip for SETTLERS" routine. Because you know, anything popular outside of a niche is automatically bad.

Michael Barnes said...

But you know Lawson...if you're looking for the best possible 2 player SETTLERS experience, it's the card game. I think it's _almost_ as good as the board game...actually, there's times when I've played it and thought that it may actually be. It's a brilliant, brilliant game with some really rich long-term planning, tactical cardplay, and a huge amount of variety. The expansions add a lot to it, you can even build decks if you see fit. It seems like I rarely get to play it (usually if I'm doing 2 player we're gonna do a wargame), but when I do it's always satisfying.

MWChapel said...

WAY better than CANDAMIR, ELASUND, or the previous historical scenarios.

I am surprised you didn't like Elasund. It has a similar feel than settlers, and has way more "evil" player interaction. I mean player hosage is the best part of Elasund.

Michael Barnes said...

Yeah, I'm surprised too...but something about it is just flat. It feels like a zoning exercise more than anything else. There's some kinda cool ideas, but I played it three times and never felt like I'd touch it again.

I need to play ENTDECKER's not very interactive, but for some reason I kind of liked it. I think.

mtlawson said...

If there's an option, go for Cities and Knights over Struggle for Rome? Hmm. Okay, I think we can swing that.

We do have the Settlers 2 player card game, but we haven't gotten around to playing it yet. I've got a pile of 2 player games that I have to work through, including Dungeon Twister, Saratoga, Age of Napoleon and Fjords. (Don't ask.) When Hannibal ships, that moves to the front of the line, however.

--Mike L.

Michael Barnes said...

AGE OF NAPOLEON and FJORDS. Wow, that's a range. I've only played AoN a couple of times but it was pretty good, incredibly hard to teach to somebody for some reason.

I'm with you though...when HANNIBAL pops up, that's all I'm playing for a while. Which means on game night I'm going to have to do that uncomfortable pairing off and telling everybody else to go play games elsewhere. I love WE THE PEOPLE but I've never played HANNIBAL, the rules look right on the money

EJM said...

"Unlike those who "have 150 games stashed in a closet, and to play each one only once or twice," I mostly play the same few games over and over -- the ones I like the most."

To each their own. I know some people that are constantly getting new music and other who listen to there favorites over and over again. Just a matter of personal preference.

Michael Barnes said...

Now, EJM...that's actually a good point and one that I can abide. I'm very much a music whore. I listen to new music almost all the time. However, listening to music can be both passive and active so it becomes easier to re-listen to favorites because you can do it all the time and they're always going to be the same records, unlike games which have variables that make them different every time- at least they should be. When I'm working, I almost always have music on. So I'm listening to 40-50 hours of music a week,not including in the car and on the weekends.

So it's something that I can do a HELL of a lot more than I can game...but since gaming time is at a premium, I do usually prefer to get the most out of my favorite games. But yeah, when there's a new game I'm into, I have to admit weakness...

J de said...

As an avowed music whore myself, I did 30 bands in 3 days last festival, I can not completely agree with Michael.

While an album stays the same, we however change. I listen to albums differently now than when I heared them first, sometimes over 20 years ago.

All of a sudden the beauty of a song can dawn on you, a line can catch your ear. But it can also be a mood shift.

Similarly, playing a game you have played only a few times can draw you back to those times. That's why I have fond memories of Civilisation, even though I haven't played it in ages.

I'd say music and games are very similar to me in that sense.

But there can be a different way in approaching games and music between people, like ejm says. Sometimes you don't dig that deeply into a game at first and only later discover its strengths.

And sometimes you just follow the hype. Grasp for the next big thing. In the hope that it will be the alpha and omega of gaming. It won't be, but the Strokes weren't the end or renaissance of rock 'n'roll either. Damn nice debut album though.

Pat H said...

I can't seem to stop playing East Front II on the PC (it was re-released recently) despite having several new titles on the hard drive like World in Conflict. I am the re-discover guy. I have games that just fell flat for me when I bought them but I kept them. Years later all of a sudden I'm digging them out with enthusiasm. Time does strange things along with healing (read: forgetting)and moving faster...

Michael Barnes said...

Never played East Front II...but a PC version? Hmm...that may bear investigation...

Pat H said...

John Tillers Campaign series - tactical. All three games with expansions re-released in one disc. East Front, West Front, Pacific. I'm playing the first battle on the central front on divisional scale. Pushing around all of the toys in a division and it's getting dirty. The turns take a long time but there are sound effects and the tanks rumble etc... It's an old game but modeled well. The only drawback is having to move and watch each piece move slowly - when you have 75 + trucks ferrrying infantry and guns to the front and can't double click to automatically place them, can drag the time out but there is a little cheat around that.

Check out Matrix games.

Michael Barnes said...

Ah, for some reason I was thinking it was a PC version of Columbia's EAST FRONT...still sounds cool though...I'm still trying to get into HEARTS OF IRON 2 though. And I still miss PANZER GENERAL.

EJM said...

Really for me and music, I tend to go in streaks.

I will go 6 to 8 months listening to the same 10 or 15 albums over and over again and with just a sprinkling of new stuff.

Then I will go on a new music binge trying all sorts of new stuff for 4 to 6 months and then sort of settle into a new 'playlist' for 6 months or so.

I'm kind of the same way with games.

I have 6 or 8 favorites I play over and over again. I will play those plus a few others I am exploring for a good 6 to 8 months.

Then I go on a new game binge where I am trying a bunch of new things before I pick one or two favorites of those and some of my old favorites and settle back into a new "playlist" for another 6 to 8 months.

Of course that oversimplifies things for both music and games and there are plenty of exceptions but generally speaking thats how things go.

pronoblem said...

"Look at the list and see what esoteric, members-only kinds of crap outranks SETTLERS...IMPERIAL? TAJ MAHAL? Fucking GOA? BATTLELORE???? TWILIGHT STRUGGLE is barely even 2 years old!"

Seriously... Imperial and Twilight Struggle are much better games than Settlers. Who cares how old? 1830 and Acquire are not ranked higher than Settlers. Who cares in general? Settlers is just OK.

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