What Makes Ze Euro?

Post by: Grant Rodiek

During my commute this morning I began thinking about Flipped and realized I may not be fully designing against the principles that make a Euro, well, a Euro. One of my goals for Flipped is for it to be a light, accessible euro, which means it’s something I’ve never designed before.

What is it, then, that makes a euro? This is a well tread topic and something that can be discussed forever. But, it’s always useful to reconsider “solved” topics within the lens of what is pertinent to your needs. I need Flipped to be a fun euro, so I see relevance here. Keep in mind, these are just my opinions based on what makes a successful euro, viewed through the lens of what I want for Flipped. Feel free to disagree (and chime in with comments).

Here are the characteristics I think are most important.

Systematically driven mechanics before content driven mechanics. This means many things, but most importantly, it means I don’t have huge reference cards laden with text, or 50 different cards that cannot be explained with simple icons. Yes, I know many euros use icons in order to be language independent, but it is also indicative of the clean, systematic design principles of euro game creators.

Euros have a few core mechanics with very few, if any, exceptions, that govern the entire experience. You’re learning a system, a simple body of rules in which to play, not details and minutiae. For example, in Ticket To Ride, cards have a color. You use colors to build trains and connect routes. Building trains earns points. Connect long networks earns more points. You don’t have different types of trains, or action cards. You have a narrow set of choices within a system that present a surprising amount of depth.

Interaction driven by scarcity, not aggression. This will be difficult for me! Farmageddon is very aggressive with its take-that action cards. Blockade and Battle for York are quite aggressive as they are war games. I think interaction is important for any game, but for a euro, you need to be fighting over limited resources and opportunities, not engaging in full-on fisticuffs.

By scarcity, I mean there are only so many resources. Only so many cards. Just a few slots to fill. Timing is everything and it really comes down to what you think you need the most and when you think you can wait to take it. I enjoy aggressive games. I think a euro can be aggressive, but really it’s a twist in a very “public relations” style fashion. I bet if you hooked up heart-rate monitors for two identical games, but in one game said “I’m attacking you” and in the other said “I’m buying this before you,” you’d get two very different emotional spikes from your test subject.

A euro is about competition, interaction, theft, and plans gone awry, but is NOT aggressive or mean. It’s just business, really. The Speicherstadt is probably my favorite interactive euro. You can overbid someone or buy something they really wanted. You still get the “you bastard!” vibe but without all the hurt and pain of a take-that.

Friendly, positive, optimistic theme. I’m sure you can make a post-apocalyptic auction game about buying parts to manufacture mutant armies, but I think a good euro is more optimistic, bright-eyed, and positive about the world. I think it’s important to build something, not tear things down.

Good euros let you build a kingdom, build a business, or win an election. These are all positive, spirited outcomes, and I think that’s an important distinction.

One of the reasons euros like Ticket to Ride and Settlers of Catan sell so well is that they are positive and nourishing. This is important for all people of all ages and genders and maturity levels, not just the commonly targeted 18-24 male demographic. Building things is accessible. Tearing things down is more niche.

Player choices determine the winner far more than luck. With euros I think randomness is still fine, but it should serve the purpose of adding variance to choices, not varying outcomes. Euros, to me, are more about out-thinking an opponent, far more than out-drawing and out-rolling an opponent.

Euros reward identifying a weakness in an opponent’s strategy or taking advantage of an overlooked opportunity. Euros reward cleverness, sly rogues, and analytical chaps. They don’t tend to reward the bold, Patton-esque jerk who often quotes Clausewitz and Theodore Roosevelt.

Subtlety. Planning. Strategy.

Multiple paths to victory and/or ways to score points. This is the difficult one. There need to be a few ways to go about the big V, but, in my opinion, these ways need to be thematic and intuitive. Many euros are criticized for being a “point salad” that reward every single possible thing you can do.

How many strategies are required? How many make sense? How many layers are needed to reward advanced players? This is something I can only answer through testing and development. I don’t want players to feel they’ve mastered it after just a few plays, so ideally we’ll identify opportunities for new scoring paths as we test.

What are some things that you think are required for a euro?

13 thoughts on “What Makes Ze Euro?

  1. Nice article!

    I think another distinctive of Euros is that a lot of the tension is in that players cannot do everything they want to. There are multiple good things for players to choose from, but they must choose. This is similar to “multiple paths to victory,” but the emphasis is a bit different, especially since in really good Euros, these good options are interdependent, and players are usually penalized in some way for avoiding any choice consistently.

    • This is a really good point and worth adding to my mental checklist. I shall keep these in mind. For with this game, it needs to be enjoyed by YOU.

  2. I think the big difference is when the “luck” occurs. In a Euro, randomness happens, and then the player reacts to it. In an American game, a player will take an action, and then randomness will determine the outcome.

    Have a listen to Brent Lloyd on the “On Board Games” podcast (from maybe 9 months ago).

    • Change the word ‘luck’ to ‘chaos’ and I agree 100% with AI.

      Also, way to push your comfort zone, Grant. Respect.

    • Hi Al! That was what I was trying to convey with my “player choice more than luck” comment. Euros tend to vary players’ options, but other games tend to vary the outcome of their actions.

  3. I think this is a great overview of what makes euros great. I will definitely come back to this checklist on the next game I design. Usually I shoot for a middle ground between a euro and ameritrash game. I’m not sure what you’d call it, but it’s worth fighting for.

    I’m extremely curious to see what comes out of your euro type game.

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