Monday, March 21, 2016

How audiences define games

Boardgame hobbyists have a tendency to really break things down into categories. Frankly, it's something that probably every hobby does but since this is my hobby, I'm really aware of that.

When I first started playing hobby board games, everyone called the games that came out of the European family-style German games, mostly because there were a lot of Germans who were designing them. Of course, you could also easily point to Americans and Englishmen and Frenchmen, just to name three other countries. Eventually, people just started calling them Euros.

However, for me, there started to be a disconnect within the category. I was coming across more and more games that didn't have the feel of the 'German' games that I have discovered when I got into the hobby. The games were becoming more intricate and complex, more like puzzles to be solved and less like family activities.

Then I read an article by blogger and game designer Oliver Kiley who broke the category into two distinct groups. German Family Games and Euros. Personally, I found this really helpful for how I chose to wrap my head around games.

As I have grown older and more jaded and more generally accepting, I have found that labels and categories aren't really that helpful. In this case, I do find it helpful. Not as a way to pigeonhole games but understand where the designers are coming from. The crucial difference between these two groups, at least in my arrogant opinion, is that they are aimed at different audiences.

German Family Games are for a more general, mainstream audience, accessibility a key goal. Euros are for more dedicated hobbyists, who are looking for a more intricate design. Mind you, those dedicated hobbyist probably got into the hobby playing German Family Games.

Frankly, I enjoy them both but, now that I am a dad, I see my future involving a lot more German Family Games. And, when I walk through stores like Target and see games like Catan or Carcassonne being sold there, I have a feeling I'm not alone.

I also have a feeling that both categories are very important to the long-term health of the hobby. On the one hand, I think it's important for boardgames to become more developed in the eyes of the mainstream audience. There has to be games that can bring new people into the hobby. On the other hand, it's also important to push the boundaries and to discover new levels of innovation.

I also don't think that it is easier to develop German Family Games.  Being able to communicate complex choices in understandable ways isn't easy. Making a good game, no matter what label you slap on it, is an art form.

You know, I started this whole blog out in order to talk about Reiner Knizia some more. I just got really carried away talking about my idea of the shape of the hobby.

You see, what got me thinking this way in the first place was that, while Knizia does have some designs that could fall under the Euro umbrella and are really brilliant (Tigris and Euphrates comes to mind. I haven't played Taj Mahal or Stephenson's Rocket but I have a feeling that those would qualify as well), I think where his real strength lies is in German Family Games.

(On the other hand, Stephen Feld seems to have a gift for Euros)

Ra, Modern Art, Medici, Lost Cities (and the whole Keltis family), Through the Desert, Samurai, High Society, Battle Line, and Ingenious (and plenty more I can't think of offhand) all fall under the German Family Game umbrella and are games I think folks will still be playing twenty years from now.

I think Knizia is a designer who creates gamers.

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