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What Are German Board Game Ideals?

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Joined: 12/31/1969


I have been on this board for a little while now, and I love to design different games/mechanics/themes. As long as I have been on here, I have heard others speak about German styled boardgames.

Since I am American, I know little about other country games. I am wondering what are German Ideals for board games?

My boardgames usually have an element of simplicity, which I think (from what I have heard) is a German Ideal. Maybe If I learned more about them, I would have a greater range of thinking up different mechanics. So can anyone help?


Rick-Holzgrafe's picture
Joined: 07/22/2008
What Are German Board Game Ideals?

I am wondering what are German Ideals for board games?

Here are a few of the German-style design goals. None of them are unique to German-style games, of course.

These games are usually designed so that no one gets "killed out" of the game. They're not wargames (which are usually for two people) and nobody wants to be kicked out of the game when it still has an hour to go.

They're usually designed in a way that limits a successful player's ability to extend his lead over the other players. It's no fun to play a game for an hour knowing you're going to lose. This feature is often called "balance."

German-style games are usually themed to some degree. Many people prefer games with a strong theme over weak-themed or themeless (abstract) games.

German games usually offer players little or no opportunity to attack other players, or to tear down what other players have built. Instead player interaction is mostly limited to things like trading and competing for unclaimed resources, territory, or other goodies. (Consider Settlers, where you can't steal or destroy another player's roads, settlements, cities, or development cards, which are the major sources of victory points. But you can "attack" in a couple of small ways, such as breaking someone's road by building a settlement on it, and perhaps by doing so stealing away the "longest road" award.)

Usually (in a good game, anyway) there is more than one effective path to victory. In Settlers, you might concentrate on building cities and going for the longest road, and neglect the development cards; or you might build less in order to buy more development cards in order to get points from the cards as well as the Largest Army award. You can try to get a balanced set of resource hexes, or concentrate heavily on one or two kinds and rely on trade to get what you need of the other resource types, and so on.

German games often have what I've heard called a "story arc," meaning that your tactics and strategy (if you play well) will change as the game progresses. In the early moves you may be developing infrastructure rather than going straight for victory points. In the middle game you'll be using your infrastructure to generate a steady stream of points; in the end game you may sacrifice all to grab as many final points as possible.

German-style games are usually for multiple players, and are to some extent designed for family play. They usually last no more than two hours, and may have mechanisms built into them to guarantee that they don't take all day. Often this means that the end condition is not one-player-wins-the-race, which might take a long time if players play poorly or concentrate on interfering with each others' progress. Instead the game will end when there are no more tiles left to place or cards left to draw, or after a set number of rounds, and the winner is then judged to be the player who has gotten the most victory points or acquired the most territory, or some other such measure.

There's gotta be more, but my Twilight Imperium crew is here and we have to continue battling for control of the galaxy, so I gotta go! I'm sure some other folks will chime in with more info.

Joined: 04/23/2013
What Are German Board Game Ideals?

Hmm this is one of those things that's easy to identify but hard to actually explain why.

To make it easier, let's compare the differences between german styled (sometimes called Eurogames or Designer Games) board games in contrast to American games.

Please forgive me in advance because I'm going to make a lot of assumptions based upon my personal observations. Some of them may be incorrect or only partially correct, but they are generalizations that I feel to be correct.

The history in American board games obviously starts for the most part with the game monopoly. One of the main mechanics that get's used a lot in American games is the roll and move mechanic. Now non american games like Parcheesi and Shoots and Ladders used this mechanic a lot, but I think Monopoly permamently engrained it into the psyche of the american board game mentality. Because of roll and move, American games tend to rely heavily upon dice and luck.

In contrast, German styled games tend to rely more upon strategy. One could make an argument that Settlers makes use of dice, but the use of dice in Settlers of Catan can be predicted somewhat and planning can be done accordingly.

American games also tend to lean more towards being simulations than german styled games. For that reason they can be more complicated, with lots of formulas and look up tables and such. As you stated German games tend to be more simple with streamlined, cohesive rulesets. The goal of a designer game is to give the players meaningful decisions to make, and those decisions will decide how well they do during the game.

Themes in American vs German games can be different as well. German games tend to stray away from pure war themes, instead relying upon interaction, bluffing and diplomacy type games. The beer & pretzel category of games (one of my personal favorites) also seems to be more prevalent in America, although there are some humorous themed german games.

Finally, I have found balance to be more prevalent in German styled games. Usually winning in German style games doesn't come down to who draws the most powerful card, etc.

Now that's not to say that the two types of games can't mesh. There are several games that share the best of traits of both types. Basari, China Town, Bootleggers are good examples of these types of games.

Hope this helps!

Rick-Holzgrafe's picture
Joined: 07/22/2008
What Are German Board Game Ideals?

Thought of another one: minimal down time. "Down time" is the time you spend twiddling your thumbs while you wait for other players to think and move. German-style games often try to keep all players constantly involved. In Settlers, you can collect resources and participate in trading on other players' moves. In Puerto Rico, you choose a role card on your turn and execute it, then everybody else gets a "mini-turn" doing something related to that role.

I don't think it's possible to divide all games into "German-style" and "non-German-style" (not that anyone has tried :-). Wargames have been appearing that are clearly influenced by the European style, for example. I just finished that game of Twilight Imperium, and it makes a good example. Rounds are structured to minimize downtime and give every player the chance to do something on other players' turns. The goal is not necessarily to conquer the galaxy or eliminate other players; instead you collect victory points which can be won in a variety of ways including by being a successful trader or improving your technology levels. On the other hand, you can definitely attack other players and win points by doing so; you can destroy or take what your opponents have built (although you can't take away any victory points that they've already won); and you can even get killed out of the game, although that seems rare.

Joined: 08/03/2008
What Are German Board Game Ideals?

Rick-Holzgrafe wrote:
Wargames have been appearing that are clearly influenced by the European style, for example.

Yes, this is the new chic among America's big box publishers: rip off Puerto Rico's role selection mechanic, and, voila, you've got a "hybrid" game!

There's a pretty good essay about what makes a "German" game by Jy Avery here.

As Darke says, it's hard to put into words exactly what a "German game" is exactly, and I think it's perhaps best to learn from example. I would read through the rulebooks, and attempt to play if possible, the following games: Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Puerto Rico, and Acquire. These are well-known, well-received games that are very representative of the German game aesthetic, some aspects of which the other posters have indicated.

To be honest, I disagree with the simplification that "American games = simulation and luck, German games = no theme and skill". It's one of those things that's oft repeated and therefore accepted, but the exceptions to this rule overwhelmingly outnumber its exemplars. (I recognize Darke is just simplifying to try to make a point, and insofar as it goes, to quickly explain the distinction to those unfamiliar with games, I think it's fine; I think it's only a problem when we start thinking of games along those lines.)

Rather than talk about factors like player elimination and downtime, I would cut right to one factor, and one factor only: number of interesting decisions. The whole thing with German games is that they are all about giving the player interesting decisions. Everything else: minimal downtime, minimal luck, etc, all flows as a consequence of that.

In that sense, I think it's a mistake to set out to design games with "German" qualities. Just design games with interesting decisions, and you'll likely be well on your way to implicitly designing German games already!

Just my thoughts,


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