Dozens of new games are introduced in Europe every year, and they're generally much more interesting and challenging than anything you'll find in stores here in the US. Forget games like Monopoly, Life, and Trivial Pursuit. Eurogames are about strategy, not random luck or obscure knowledge. Many of the creators of these games have become so well-known that the game companies advertise their new games by issuing press releases like this:
Los Altos, CA; Paris, France - January 29, 2007. Days of Wonder, a leading publisher of top-quality board games, today announced their newest game, Colosseum™, designed by critically acclaimed game designer Wolfgang Kramer and Markus Lübke.
There's a whole Eurogame sub-culture-- Go to Board Game Geek and see for yourself. As a proud member of that sub-culture, here's a list of Eurogames that I can recommend...
- Carcassonne - by Klaus-Jurgen Wrede
Ahhh, the gateway drug! This game is fairly easy to learn, and it's sort of like working a puzzle, only you're doing it in competition with other people. While we were on vacation this summer, we taught this game to my grandparents. My 84-year-old grandfather (who loves puzzles) won every game.
There are also a few expansion sets that you can buy for Carcassonne, which subtly change the mechanics of the game. I recommend Inns & Cathedrals and Traders & Builders. Or you can just skip a step and buy the Big Box.
- Settlers of Catan - by Klaus Teuber
This game became so wildly popular that it spawned a whole series of expansions, extensions, and spin-offs. I like this game a lot, but the learning experience is a little tougher than Carcassonne. The game board is made up of tiles, which are shuffled and dealt so that the map is different every time you play the game. Each player gets to place two settlements during the first two rounds of the game, and your success in the game depends a lot on the locations of your first settlements. The unfortunate thing about playing the game for the first time is that you won't understand enough about how the game works to make good decisions about where to place your first settlements. But you'll enjoy the game a lot more the second time you play it! What I like is that there are a lot of different strategies that can win the game-- It's not just about who can build the most settlements and cities.
- El Grande - by Wolfgang Kramer and Richard Ulrich
While Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan can bring out a little healthy competition in some people, El Grande is an all-out melee. This game involves a lot of strategy and planning, and yet every plan that you start to execute is instantly obliterated by every other player at the table.
We have a friend who has been nicknamed Glinda (the Good Witch) because she is the epitome of sweetness and light. When we sat down to teach her this game, my husband said, up front, "This game is all about scheming, back-stabbing, and sabotage." She said, "Oh, I'm probably going to lose. I'm never any good at stuff like that."
She kicked our butts, and she did it with a smile on her face!
- Puerto Rico - by Andreas Seyfarth
The downside to this game is that it takes awhile to set it up, and it also takes a decent amount of time to explain the rules to new players. But the upside is that once you start playing, you're going to have a good time. (Plus you get to say, "P'whertow R-r-rico!") Like Settlers of Catan, there are a lot of different ways to win, so you can experiment with a new strategy every time you play.
- Ticket to Ride - by Alan R Moon
Like Settlers of Catan, there are several different versions of this game available. (We have TTR: Europe.) This is probably the simplest of all of the Eurogames that we've played, and it's one of the easiest to learn, so Ticket to Ride may eventually replace Carcassonne as the game of choice for introducing our friends to Eurogames. On the luck vs. strategy spectrum, Carcassonne and TTR are weighted a bit more toward luck, while the other games listed above are almost pure strategy.
- Tigris & Euphrates - by Reiner Knizia
We've only played this game once so far, and it made my head swim. The rules aren't terribly complicated, but the mechanics of the game really challenge your mind. To say that it's complicated is an understatement. Reiner Knizia is a mathematician and one of the more famous game designers. (Lost Cities and Lord of the Rings are two of his other games.) There are certainly plenty of Tigris & Euphrates fans out there, but I wouldn't recommend this game to a newbie.
- Lord of the Rings - by Reiner Knizia
This game is really unique because everyone works together to try to beat the game. Or rather, you're trying to beat the odds, which are stacked heavily against you. Beware of the Mines of Moria!
- Lost Cities - by Reiner Knizia
This is a very simple and elegant two-person card game. And one of the best things about this game is that you can play it online!
- Citadels - by Bruno Faidutti
This is one of my all-time favorite games. It only takes a couple of rounds to get a feel for how the game works, and the mechanics are very well-balanced so that there are pros and cons for every character and every strategy. And it's a very portable game. You can easily make room for it in your bag, so you can take it with you when you're travelling, and you don't need a big table to play it.
NOTE: If you buy Citadels, I recommend getting the character cards laminated. They get handled a lot during the game, and they can start to wear out. Plus, it's makes it easier to keep them from getting mixed in with the other cards.
Where can I buy Eurogames?
I linked everything to Funagain Games because they've got a really great website-- They include photos, summaries of the rules, and magazine reviews for almost all of the games, and they allow customers to write their own reviews. (I'm amazed by how much thought and effort people put into their reviews.) Their prices are pretty fair, and they've got an excellent selection.
and Time Well Spent
As far as I can tell, these two companies generally have the best prices, and we have a couple of friends who have recommended them. I haven't bought anything from either company yet, simply because I feel a certain amount of loyalty to Funagain Games. (As I said before, I like their website, and they also have a "frequent buyer" program, and I'm a sucker for that sort of thing.)
They carry some of the more popular games, and of course their selection is growing all the time. But games at Amazon are generally more expensive than at Funagain Games or Fair Play Games.
So go have some fun!