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Four Days In The Center Of The Board Game Universe

November 7, 2007 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

While they don't have much direct relevance to the video game market, the design ideas introduced in board games do evolve into video game mechanics. Further, popular board games showcased this year at Essen may end up digitized and popularized on gaming consoles, as with The Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne. Gamasutra was lucky enough to attend the biggest board game show in the world, in Essen, Germany, and presents this on-the-floor report on the latest developments.

The Essen Internationale Spieltage

Held every October in Essen, Germany the "Internationale Spieltage Essen Spiel" (Essen International Game Days) has been the premiere event for European board game fans for 25 years. Essen is a medium-sized city of about half a million, located in the westernmost part of Germany, near the Netherlands and Belgium. While a relatively small city, Essen boasts a world-class facility in the Messe Essen convention center. This event is several times larger than any North American non-electronic game events. This year attendance was down, mostly due to a German rail strike, but over 100,000 managed to attend.

The Spiel Fair consists of mostly publisher booths, big and small. Big companies like Ravensburger and Amigo will have a "booth" that's more like a small complex, with dozens of tables for folks to try new games as well as displays and folks to teach games. There are also several large retailers featuring many of the new games that have been timed to debut for the show. Additionally, there are a dozen or so dealers each with hundreds of used and rare board games priced from 5 to 800 euros.

In Germany, most board games are released either for the Nuremberg Toy Fair in March, or in October for Essen. Nuremberg is like the New York Toy Fair in that it is mainly a trade event. Essen is for the general public, although a lot of business also gets done. This year there were over 400 new games released for Essen, and more than 150 of these will find their way into an English edition when they are picked up by an American publisher, such as Rio Grande Games, Z-Man Games and Mayfair Games. The most popular games, such as Settlers of Catan, have also found their way into several electronic game formats including PlayStation 2 and Xbox Live Arcade.

A Brief History of Euro board games

The origins of the Euro board game can be traced to the line of bookshelf games produced by the 3M Corporation from 1962 to 1975. These were games designed for adults and included such titles as Acquire, Bazaar, Executive Decision, Facts in Five and TwixT. These were very successful when imported to Germany and helped to stimulate an already hearty appetite for board games. Soon, more board games were being published in Germany, per capita, than any other country.

What distinguishes a Eurogame from a typical American board game? Unlike many American games which are net sum (you gain by taking directly from other players) in Eurogames players are generally competing against the game itself. They may compete for limited resources or the best action, but rarely do the spoils come directly from an opponent, but instead from the game itself -- usually in the form of victory points. German games are generally shorter to play, ranging from 20-90 minutes. There is usually a good social aspect to the game as well. Players are almost never eliminated from the game, for example.

Settlers of Catan brought the Eurogame to North America in 1995. This year, a couple of hundred Eurogame titles will find their way to store shelves in North America. This is generally accomplished by gang-printing the different editions of the game. An effort is made for the board and components to be language-neutral so the North American publisher can produce the box and rules with English text and the same time the German version is printed. I've seen rule sets in as many as eight languages included with some games.

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