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THE DAD GAME

Better games make better family time

Saturday, November 23, 2013 - 12:01 am

At last, we're finally going to dive into the realm of designer board games. It was a long time coming, but at last, we're here. Thanks for sticking with me.

So, with that introduction out of the way, let's talk about chocolate.

Even though I'm sure most of us agree on how awesome chocolate is in general, when you get down to specifics, things get chocolatey in very different ways.

German chocolate isn't the same as American chocolate, and both of them are different than English chocolate. And let's not even start bringing Swiss chocolate into this. Even if you limit yourself to America chocolate, you have a continuum that goes from mass-produced industrial chocolate to lovingly crafted local chocolate.

The same thing is true of board games, even the part of about different types of chocolate - er, games - all coming from America.

Let's take a stroll down the toy aisle of your favorite big-box chain store. For the most part, it's a descent into the mass market wasteland of industrial American game design.

Mass market American games typically focus on race-style mechanics where you win by being the first person to do something: first to land on some spot on the board, first to gather all of the cherries, or first to drive your opponent into the ground like a tent stake.

Because eliminating the opposing players takes such a central role in many mass-market American games, pretty much everything you see at the big stores has a reality TV-like “last person standing” aesthetic to it.

Unfortunately, the whole “turn Timmy into a tent stake” thing doesn't work very well for parents trying to improve their connection with the kids.

That's where European board games come in.

European board games are known in the United States as “Eurogames”, “Euro-style games” or simply “German board games,” even though the games may actually hail from Germany, France, Italy, Czechoslovakia, or elsewhere in Europe.

You might also hear them called “designer board games” or “specialty board games” but that's most likely to happen if you have gamer-geek friends like me. (For the purposes of this article, I'll stick with Eurogames, since it's avoids getting specific countries involved and it's reasonably easy to type.)

Many things set Eurogames apart from typical mass market American board games, but five differences really stand out: playing time, player interaction, playing style, physical quality, and price.

If I had to pick one thing that marks the difference between Eurogames and American games, it's the playing time. Eurogames play quickly, typically between 30 and 90 minutes, with many games ending in 20 minutes or less. That's a mighty big difference compared to Monopoly, Risk, Scrabble, or even a party game such as Balderdash.

Many Eurogames finish quickly enough to play two or more complete games in a single evening of family time.

But more importantly than that, Eurogames keep all of the players involved and engaged in ways that American games don't even come close to mimicking. Most Eurogames keep all players in the game until something like drawing the last card of a deck or running out of victory point chips triggers the game's end.

Because of that, all players have a stake in the game for the whole time they're playing. Nobody gets ejected in the middle because they ran out of money or got a bad die roll. Because everyone is involved for the whole game, Eurogames give families time to sit together, talk together, strategize together, and laugh together.

I know that I teased you with just a taste of Eurogame goodness this time around, but I'll make it up to you next time when we dig into more details. I promise!

Fort Wayne resident John Kaufeld is a best-selling author, speaker and dad. He enjoys playing games with his family and letting others know about them. You can email him at john@johnkaufeld.com and read more of his work at www.johnkaufeld.com. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.