German Games

We are Brigitte and Wolfgang, and we are Germans. In the last years we discovered that more and more games on the US market were earlier published in Germany, and were often released as a licensed product. A new expression was created for those games: German Games, or in contrast to computer games sometimes referred by German Board Games. But what are German Games?

Before we start discussing German Games, let us take a look back into game history when we bought games from the US. It started in the early 80ies with the role-playing game D & D (TSR), and was continued with a lot of fantasy games like Wizards and Magic Realm (Avalon Hill). We bought all these games in special game stores which imported those games, and they were really expensive. In the beginning of the 90ies we were often in the US and we could take a direct look at US games. In contrast to the German market, games in the US were either relatively easy games or highly complex. While a lot of the easy playing games were also released in Germany, e. g. the Trivial Pursuit (Parker, now Hasbro) there were no counterpart for the complex games and their long duration. These games could be divided into two categories according to their themes: fantasy and science fiction games and war game. What was missing were games "in the middle", games with a moderate duration, requiring some tactical skills but which were not that complex. Between 1994 and 1996 we were not in the US. But when we returned in 1997 the market has changed. The number of complex games were reduced and instead we detected a lot of games we already knew from home. German games made it onto the US market. But what are German game and what is the new quality they brought?

An easy definition of a German Game is to say "it's a game from Germany". Then the whole variety of games from Snail Rail (Alex Randolph, Ravensburger) to El Grande (Wolfgang Kramer & Richard Ullrich, Hans im Glueck) would be German Games. The location does not help us in explaining German Games. What about games from Reiner Knizia who lives in Windsor, UK? What about games released by Jumbo, Netherlands or Piatnik, Austria? Is Web of Power German because it contains Schwaben and Franken while El Grande containing a map of Spain isn't? No, German Games must have something special, so we will take a look at their properties and qualities.

Let us consider four games to find out a little bit more of German games: the classic Settlers of Catan (Klaus Teuber, Kosmos), Tigris and Euphrates (Reiner Knizia, Hans im Glueck), Web of Power (Michael Schacht, Goldsieber), and the current winner of the Game of the Year Torres (Michael Kiesling & Wolfgang Kramer, F.X.).

Klaus Teuber's Settlers of Catan, German version by KosmosWhen the settlers were released in 1994 the variable map, the interaction, the luck, the progress in colonization the island altogether provide a game feeling we never had before. The first edition stated ages 12 and up and a playing time up to 90 minutes. While nearly all players liked the settlers, a discussion arose whether the complexity of the settlers will prevent them from winning the game of the year title. That's history, the settlers won and they were a break-through for more games of that duration, complexity, and interaction although the success could not be copied until now.

Tigris and Euphrates won the other important German prize, the Deutsche Spielepreis in 1998. While the game design is more abstract and the duration a little bit longer than for the settlers, the game is highlight for its tactical elements. Once the rules were understood, it provides a fast playing, highly interactive game which outcome is unknown until the very last playing piece is set on the map.

Web of Power is the opposite of Tigris and Euphrates. No longer than an hour to play, reduced to 28 playing pieces, a map and a pile of cards it provides a very fast game with also a high level of tactical possibilities. Winning is achieved by points you can gain in several ways, a concept you can find in many games.

The Game of the Year 2000 Torres added the third dimension to board games. While it wasn't new in general, it was new to German Games. Again duration is about an hour, again various tactics are possible, again they is a lot of interaction on the board. And it adds the skill levels from beginners to masters.

There were so many games providing a high level of playing fun that we can't mention them all. This small selection shows some high-light and enables us to generalize criteria for German Games:

  1. Tactics: German Games usually allow many tactics to win the game. Thereby the games are not so much strategic and do not require a long planning. But they require a reaction to the current situation.
  2. A moderate luck factor: most games contain a little bit of luck. Most common mechanism to involve luck are drawing cards or rolling dice. In many games the luck can be calculated and is therefore reduced to probabilities, e. g. by selecting a single card out of five.
  3. Interaction: in German Games players do interact with other players by negotiations, auctions, trades or by conflicts on the board.
  4. Duration: most times it is between 60 and 90 minutes. It may vary with the number of players.
  5. Equipment: it combines functionality with aesthetics. Playing pieces are often made of wood and are 3-dimensional. Pieces, which are laid on the board once and remain in position for the rest of the game are often made of carton and are kind of counters. Game-specific pieces could be made of other materials, e.g. plastics, but we also found plexi-glass. In addition board and cover are designed to provide a game feeling.
  6. Author(s): German Games are designed by individuals or in teams of two. Like common for books the authors' names are on the box. In addition, the names of the designers are found either on the back of the box or in the rules.
  7. Rules: the rules are provided as a booklet of 8 to 12 pages. The length is adequate the number of rules a player has to learn to play the game and therefore a measurement for the game's complexity.
  8. Theme: A lot of German Games do have historical theme, playing in the ancient world or in the middle-age, but exceptions are possible.
  9. German games do not simulate any historic event, although some games are developed by looking at the history. Especially due to German history German Games never simulate a war or a battle part of a war.

Alan R. Moon's Elfenland, German version by AmigoWe can use the list above as a check list to determine whether a game should be called a German Game, or not. We will show it on Elfenland (Alan R. Moon, Amigo), a game designed by Alan R. Moon, who is American and not German but the game was first published by Amigo, a German publisher: (1) tactics are required because you have to react on the transportation markers other players place on the board. (2) A luck factor is given by drawing cards but modified by the selection of the transportation markers. (3) Interaction happens on the board by using other players transportation marker and by putting obstacles on the other players' ways. (4) Duration is approx. 60 minutes. (5) Doris Matthaeus work combined with the wooden pieces incl. the boots don't require any comment. (6) As mentioned before Alan R. Moon is the author, and the name is shown on the box. (7) Rules are presented in a 12 page booklet. (8) Theme is fantasy, no real counterpart exists; this is the only criteria Elfenland fails. (9) It's simply no simulation. Overall we can call Elfenland a German Game.

That leads us to another fact about German Games. There are not necessarily from Germany. One of the best examples are Acquire, a game which also fits most of the given criteria, but the author is American, it is first published by 3M, an American publisher, and it is also published a long time before the expression German Game was created. On the other hand there were a lot games released by German publishers which are no German Game according to our list. An example for such a game is the very successful 6 nimmt (Wolfgang Kramer, Amigo). It met just a few criteria, but author and publisher are both German.

Let us end this article considering a game released in 2000: La Cittá (Gerd Fenchel, Kosmos). Although we would call La Cittá a German Game it is slightly different to all the aforementioned games. The duration is - at least when played with more than 3 players - longer than 90 minutes. And despite the historical theme it has elements of a simulation but it has no real counterpart. La Cittá is a step towards the complex American games we purchased in the 80ies. Here we will stop as we are now where we started from.

Wolfgang Kramer's and Michael Kiesling's Tikal, German Version by RavensburgerBrigitte and Wolfgang Ditt

P. S.: while reading our article again, there is one fact in addition we must mention: since 1994 all winners of the German Game of the Year award are German Games. The last winner which is no German Game was Liar's dice (R. Borg, F.X.) in 1993, a typical fast playing American game.

About the authors:

Brigitte, born 1959, and Wolfgang, born 1960, are married since 1987 and have 3 children, age 12, 10 and 1 (Status September 2000). They wrote for the biggest German game magazine Spielbox. Since 1997 they publish a web magazine called the "Poeppelkiste". Most parts are in German but a few content is provided in English. They also started to develop games and game variants. Their Catan scenarios were so popular and widespread, that even a Japanese translation can be found on the web. Their first own game will probably be published October 2001.