A Eurogame? I can hear you asking now, “Hey, RockyMountainNavy, has that quarantine thing sent you batty? I thought you were a wargamer?”
Yes, I am still a grognard, but I always look for new and innovative games. That’s why AuZtralia ended up in my collection. According to the ad copy:
AuZtralia is an adventure/exploration game for 1-4 players set in an alternate reality 1930s. The theme is inspired by Martin Wallace’s A Study in Emerald. Following the Restorationist war, the northern hemisphere lands lay poisoned and starvation was the norm. Intrepid adventurers set out to explore and settle new lands. Little did they know, after the war, the surviving Old Ones and their remaining loyal human armies made their way to the outback of Australia to lick their wounds.
Build a port, construct railways, mine and farm for food. You’ll need to prepare for the awakening. You’ll need to fight.
Everything you do in the game costs time, which is one of AuZtralia’s most valued resources.
At a point in time, the Old Ones will wake up and become an active player. They begin to reveal themselves and move, with potentially devastating outcomes.
You’ll need to prepare wisely for the awakening and may have to co-operate with others to defeat the most dangerous Old Ones.
Military units will help you to locate, fight and defend against the nightmarish beings that may be lurking on your doorstep. As well as hardware, you’ll need to recruit some Personalities who have the skills and resources to help you.
Well, that pretty much sums up the entire game. The first part of the game is almost a pure Eurogame; build railroads, farms, mine resources, and recruit Personalities with special powers. The key mechanic is Time. Everything you do takes Time.
Then the Old Ones start to awake. They stalk you. They Blight your farms. You have to defend yourself before they destroy everything, especially your Port.
This is when the “conflict” game starts. For those squeamish Eurogamers out there you can breathe easy because you don’t fight another player – you fight the Old Ones driven by their own deck of cards. There are even no dice in this game; everything is resolved by another special deck of cards. Players will need to cooperate to defeat the Old Ones. To use designer Brian Train’s description of another crossover game, it’s a “militarized Eurogame.” I prefer the term Waro.
AuZtralia is designed for 1-4 players. I played the Solo Mode. My randomly drawn Solo Objective was Frenetic Farmer – Reward: 20 VP, Place at least TWO of each type of Farm and end with at least FOUR non blighted Farms. Uh…alot easier said then done!
I lost, but I had a good deal of fun. Playtime was a little bit under an hour. As always the real stressor is finding the balance in time and resources between building your infrastructure and preparing – then fighting with – your military. This is not a serious game by any stretch of the imagination but nor is it cheesy. Strategy choices are real and supported by the game mechanics and play.
Looking at the BGG Stats on AuZtralia, I guess the boardgame community embraces the game far more than grognards. At the time of this writing, AuZtralia is ranked #682 Overall and the #362 Strategy Game. This makes it the #47 BGG Overall ranked game and the #10 BGG Strategy Game in my collection.*
That’s too bad. I know grognards often like to focus on “the fight” and don’t always want to be involved in the “why” or “how” of the situation. Especially if the “how” involves logistics (resources). AuZtralia challenges those notions by combining elements of a Eurogame with a wargame. The resulting Adventure game is both fun and interesting – even for this grognard.
*My Top 10 BGG Ranked Strategy Games in collection
I want to thank all of you who took the time to make my post RockyMountainNavy’s influential #wargame from the 2010’s my most-read article this year. Sensing a good thing and wanting to keep try and keep the bandwagon going, I now will regal you with my fifteen most influential boardgames that I own or played that were published between 2010 and 2019.
Like I said in my wargames of influence post, I ‘rediscovered’ the hobby boardgame industry in late 2016. Sure, I had some hobby boardgames, but I had not seriously tried to get the family into gaming. In late 2016 we started playing more games and by late 2017 we had instituted a Family Game Night on Saturdays.
As a grognard wargamer, moving from wargames to boardgames was a bit jarring. I mean, you often times play with more than one opponent? Although they were not new to me, I really came to understand the Ameritrash vs Eurogamer battle and started looking at games from both a thematic and mechanical perspective. Along the way, I never gave up on wargaming and introduced the RockyMountainNavy Boys to the wargame niche. The challenge was finding good multiplayer wargames that could be played in an evening.
Here comes the Waro
I needn’t have worried, for in late 2017 a new ‘genre’ of boardgames was starting to be talked about. Here came the waro, or wargame-Eurogame. There is no single definition of what a waro is, but to me it is a wargame that incorporates elements, be it mechanical or component-wise, of Eurogames. In 2019 Brian Train used the term, “militarized Eurogame” which I find both very simple and highly descriptive. So the list you are about to see has more than a few waro games on it. That is because as a wargamer these titles often speak to me and have brought gaming joy tot he RockyMountainNavy household.
Unlike my previous list which was presented in order of year of publication, this one will be a vain attempt by me to rank them. Please don’t ask me to define my criteria; this is really a ‘gut feel’ of how I rank these games. Like before, the list is light on pre-2016 games because it was then that I turned hard into the hobby. I am sure some real gems from earlier in the decade deserve to be here; I either don’t own them or simply missed them as I took in the later-half of the decade.
The ‘dungeon crawl’ is a very popular boardgame format. In the RockyMountainNavy house we tend to stay away from fantasy but the RMN Boys are Star Wars fans so we own and played Star Wars: Imperial Assault after it came out. I recognize that the game is very popular (currently #37 overall on BoardGameGeek) but as big fans as the Boys were the game never really clicked. Indeed, the entire dungeon crawl gaming genre (as well as man-to-man scale skirmish games in general) seemed kinda lost on the Boys and myself. That is, until I played Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon.
Maybe its the 3D terrain. Maybe its the fact I am not familiar with the setting and therefore more open minded. Maybe I am more accepting of modern superpowers vice always fighting Star Wars ‘canon.’ Whatever the reason, I really enjoy the game. I really like the character and unit tableaus and how they enable handling them in a very easy manner. There is no need to lookup a table or chart; its’ all really in front of you.
Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon makes my influential list because it shows me how a skirmish / dungeon crawl-like game can be made fast, fun and furious (to steal another RPGs tagline).
According to BGG and Stronghold Games, AuZtralia is an “adventure/exploration game.” To me, I think they forgot “wargame.” To me, AuZtralia is a waro but in a slightly different sense of the word. In the first part of the game, AuZtralia is a Eurogame of building railroads and seeking resources. At some point, however, it switches over to a wargame where your armed forces (supported by certain individuals) are fighting the Old Ones. I like this schizophrenic design approach. It is certainly one way to approach a waro; in this case one I really enjoy.
AuZtralia is influential because it shows the very direct marriage of a Eurogame and wargame.
I think Cataclysm has an identity crisis. Thematically, the game covers the Second World War periods. Published by GMT Games, it just must be a wargame since that is what GMT publishes, right? To all of you I say, wrong! To me Cataclysm is not a wargame of military conflict, but a game of politics where military action is one possible tool in your kit. Yes, I declare that Cataclysm is a political game. Like the ad copy says, “This is not your father’s panzer pusher.”
Cataclysm is influential because it forced me to stretch my definition of wargame and give serious consideration to the politics of conflict, not just the military confrontation.
The RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself are not really into cooperative games. That said, we always have fun playing the original Pandemic and have used it to introduce hobby boardgaming to others. That said, we are not huge fans so have not sought out other Pandemic titles. That is, until Pandemic: Fall of Rome came out. At first I bought the game because I had dreams of enticing the oldest RMN Boy (the non-tabletop gamer) to play because he loves ancients. That didn’t work, but I discovered a new Pandemic, one that included ‘battles.’ Like AuZtralia, I categorize Pandemic: Fall of Rome as a waro because it very successfully mixes both Eurogame and wargame.
Pandemic: Fall of Rome is influential because it demonstrates the power of mixing a very cooperative ‘stop the spread’ Eurogame with key wargame (battle) mechanics.
As I really discovered hobby boardgaming (and wargaming for that matter) in late 2016 I heard about this thing called the COIN-series. At first I was not interested because professionally I tend to pay more attention to rogue nations and peer competitors and never really got into the counterterrorism or counterinsurgency areas. At the same time I also had moved to the East Coast of the US and was studying more Revolutionary history. I passed on COIN until I saw GMT Games getting ready for a second reprint of Liberty or Death. The approach of the game was intriguing; framing the American Revolution as an insurgency? I bought it and was confused at first. This is a complex game! But I persevered and eventually, after several plays, it started to click.
Liberty or Death is influential because this game showed me that games can be used to teach and explore very serious political topics.
Brian Train, co-designer of Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest, writes in the designer’s notes how this title is a “militarized Eurogame.” I adit I bought this game at first because it is a Brian Train design and I like how he sheds light on smaller or less known conflicts in history. The topic of Nights of Fire is very niche, the Soviet invasion of Budapest in 1956. Nights of Fire, however, uses a very Eurogame-approach to model this battle with cards and area control and blocks and tokens. This is really a card game with hand/action management and block wargame put together. I also respect the designers that were able to make the same game play competitive, cooperative, or solo.
Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest is influential because I consider it the best example of the ‘bleeding edge’ of waro design.
Root is a wargame, right? Look at BoardGameGeek where as I write this it is the 19th-ranked wargame (as well as the #33 Strategy Game and #39 overall). With all the battling in the game it must be a wargame, right? As much as I want to agree, I see two games here, but neither of them are truly a wargame. On the mechanical level, I am in awe of the design of Root that incorporates so many different game mechanisms into a well integrated package. Every faction plays differently, be it set collection or action-selection or hand management. I am totally amazed that Cole Wehrle makes this all work together. But none of those mechanisms are ‘wargame.’
On the second level, I see Root as a political game. Each faction has a different way to victory and battling is just one lever of power a faction can wield. Once again, you can play Root as a ‘wargame’ but, like Cataclysm before, this is really a political battle where fighting is a tool that can be chosen.
Root is influential because it shows me how one integrates many different game engines into a political game that is vicious despite the cute and fuzzy animals. Truly a wild kingdom!
Spoiler Alert – you’re going to see Kingdomino a bit later in this list. As much as we like that game, the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself also really enjoy Queendomino. That is because we view Queendomino as the ‘gamers version’ of Kingdomino. We really enjoy how the designers took the simplicity of Kingdomino and added jus the right amount of new mechanisms to make the game vastly more interesting yet still simple to play.
Influential because Queendomino demonstrates how to take a great simple game, add a bit of complexity, but still keep it easy and fun to to play.
Finally, you say! A game from before 2016! I think I actually bought this game in 2011 from Petrie’s Family Games when I lived in Colorado Springs. I seem to remember the owner, Cameron, giving me a strong recommendation and, seeking a game to play with the RockyMountainNavy Boys, I purchased it. Then life got in the way and I moved to the East Coast for a job while the RMN Family stayed in Colorado. It was not until 2013 that we were all back together again, but then I was concerned that all the reading on the cards and how to put a strategy together would be too much for my middle boy who is on the Autism Spectrum. As a result, we really didn’t get this game to the table until 2017.
Suffice it to say I was stupid. The RMN Boys can handle this game quite well. They love it so much they both put their own money forth to buy expansions.
Quarriors! is influential because it is one of the most-played games in the RockyMountainNavy collection and often used by the Boys to beat up on old Dad because they are much faster at building synergistic dice pools than I am.
A yellow- box game from HABA is for kids only, right? Sure, the box says for ages 5-99 but we all just know its really a kids game. WRONG! I cannot even start to count all the hours (and I mean hours) of fun play this game has occupied int he RockyMountainNavy house. Not only hours of fun for the RMN Family, but Rhino Hero is a title we use to introduce others to hobby gaming.
Rhino Hero is influential because it has opened the eyes of many non-gamer friends to a different type of family game and shown them good family fun.
When I pulled Kingdomino out the first time the RockyMountainNavy Boys were dubious. After all, how hard could it be to place dominos on a 5×5 grid? Years later this game is often the go-to when we need a quick filler game before dinner. Or when we want to introduce somebody to gaming. It is very easy to teach. I also enjoy watching a new player as they play their first game; you can literally see the lightbulb go on in their head as they realize what they can do when selecting a tile. You can see their eyes dart between the tiles and their kingdom, and eventually the other players, as the strategy develops in their head.
Kingdomino is influential because not only do we enjoy every play, it is our gateway game of choice to introduce others to hobby boardgaming.
Somewhere I think I heard that Terraforming Mars was a good science lesson. Wanting to encourage the youngest RMN Boy to pursue the sciences I purchased this game. At first I was doubtful as the sheer number of cards seemed overwhelming. I also was concerned (again) whether my middle boy could handle all the reading and assemble a strategy. Well, the youngest was taken by the game (“See Mom, it teaches me!”) while the middle boy caught on (maybe faster than I did). Once we added the Prelude expansion that jump-starts your Corporations we find ourselves playing this game even more often than we did before. Now our neighbors have the game, making a inter-family game night a real possibility.
Terraforming Mars is influential because it showed that we all can enjoy a good middle-weight Eurogame and are not limited to simpler titles or wargames.
(Yes, another pre-2016 title!) Alas, I did not discover this game until I had a conversation with Uwe Eickert of Academy Games at the wargaming conference CONNECTIONS 2017. While discussing his excellent Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear second edition (Academy Games, 2012) I mentioned I was always looking for a good family wargame. Uwe immediately sold me on his Birth of America series so we soon had 1775: Rebellion on the table. We now own the entire Birth of America and Birth of Europe series and we will surely buy any new game in the future.
1775: Rebellion is influential because showed us that a lite family strategy/wargame does not have to be Risk; indeed, there is much better out there that not only is fun to play but also teaches good history.
The lite family strategy/wargames of the Birth of America series (Academy Games) were such a big hit in the RockyMountainNavy house I went looking for more. Given the oldest RMN Boy’s interest in Ancients I chose Enemies of Rome as a good candidate game. Little did I realize how much the other Boys (especially the youngest) would be taken with the game. Enemies of Rome is one of the most-played games in the RMN collection and there is no sign the Boys are going to lose interest. Heck, even I will probably not lose interest because every play has been different. Just last week, I started out in Syria and halted my expansion across Africa because I was sure that card that brings hoards of ‘Enemies of Rome’ out across North Africa was going to come out next. It never did because it was one of the cards removed at setup. But I was so sure it was going to come I I followed a strategy that defended against a non-existent threat. Now the RMN Boys are looking to use this game for the Neighborhood Gaming Gang since it plays up to five.
Enemies of Rome is influential because it is our most-played lite family strategy/wargame that is simple to learn yet offers deep play time and time again.
Another recommendation from Uwe Eickert at CONNECTIONS 2017. I had never played a Eurogame of this sort before and my first reading of the rules were daunting. I played it solo a few times then tried to teach it to the RMN Boys.
Second is the game mechanics. Middle-Heavy Eurogames are not in our usual wheelhouse. Scythe was so different than anything we played before. But the asymmetric powers of the factions and economies makes no two games alike. The expansions are clean and add good flavor; the campaign is an incredible journey.
Scythe is influential because it opened our eyes to a whole new type of boardgame and it keeps us coming back with innovative expansions and endless replayability. I think we will still be playing this game in 20 years.
Raiders of the North Sea is set in the central years of the Viking Age. As Viking warriors, players seek to impress the Chieftain by raiding unsuspecting settlements. Players will need to assemble a crew, collect provisions and journey north to plunder gold, iron and livestock. There is glory to be found in battle, even at the hands of the Valkyrie. So gather your warriors, it’s raiding season!
Raiders of the North Seais a Eurogame using a worker placement mechanism. Every turn players use their worker (err…Viking) to Work or Raid. Workers Vikings come in three colors and not every action space is accessible by all colors. Players start with the black Viking which is the most common color. A white Viking is is most powerful with access to the best spaces. There is also a gray Viking that is more versatile than the black Viking but cannot access the better spaces like the white one. Each turn players get two actions; the first uses the Viking in their hand which is placed on the board and the second is from another Viking taken from the board into their hand.
Like so many Eurogames there is little actual player interaction. A few cards have a “take that” effect on another player but it usually is limited to taking a few items, trading cardsTownfolk, or at worst swapping a worker Viking on the board.
Raiders of the North Sea is rated at 60-90 minutes. In our first game, which took nearly 2 hours as we learned, we quickly discovered the game can drag. The turns may be quick but the game is not. I think this is because there is a limit to the number of cards, coins, and Townfolk/Hired Crew you can have in your hand or on the table. This means your “game engine” has a governor on it. It takes a few rounds to assemble your teamHired Crew and gather Provisions to make a Raid. That assumes you get the right color worker in your hand at the right time….
After playing the game and considering it, I have two major problems with Raiders of the Lost Sea. One is the game, the other is me.
First, Raiders of the North Seaappears to hit the Viking theme to a T. The artwork is highly evocative of the theme (even if it is a little cartoonish). However, the use of the worker placement game mechanic doesn’t fit what I expected in a Viking game. Sure, the reality is that Vikings needed to do more than just raid and plunder (i.e Work) but I want to Raid! In the end, the Viking worker placement mechanic actually doesn’t support the theme. The players are nothing more than a Chief Operating Officer (COO) of a unit trying to organize their workers Vikings by Working in the town and occasionally getting out of the officeRaiding. Indeed, the players are not really in charge as they need to make offerings to the CEO Chieftain!
Now, I am not ready to trade away Raiders of the North Sea just yet. I think it has a place in our collection, just not the prominent role that I was expecting given the ratings and hype around the game. Our reaction to this game does make me worry about another game I have on pre-order, AuZtralia (Stonghold Games, 2018). There is alot of buzz about that Martin Wallace title and I jumped at it because it was described as a waro. I certainly hope it is.
As the BGG posting notes, the Spiel des Jahres are primarily aimed at family gamers. Of the three nominees, I don’t own any (although I have come close to ordering Azul). If BGG rankings are to be believed, Azulshould be the run-away Gloomhaven-like hit given it is ranked as the #1 Abstract and #1 Family Game on BGG.
The Kennerspiels des Jahres, the “connoisseur’s game of the year” according to BGG, is an even weaker category for me. I know nut-thing about the nominees nor am I likely to anytime soon. As I have stated before, my gaming tastes tend to be more narrow and reflect my legacy of playing wargames. I just don’t buy into full eurogames or the “heavy cardboard” part of the hobby.
On the other hand, the Kinderspiel des Jahres (Children’s Game of the Year) is a category I watch out for because of my wife’s teaching and a new niece that I hope to introduce to proper gaming someday! Alas, I don’t recognize any of the nominees, nor do they look interesting to me for family play. I am pleased to see that the jury recommended Rhino Hero: Super Battle which I do own and the family finds enjoyable.
So what do I personally take away from the Spiel des Jahres nominations? I see another sure sign that the boardgame/tabletop gaminghobby is alive and well. But as much as hobbyists will try to say that there is no split between Eurogames and Ameritrash, a straight up comparison of the Spiel des Jahres and 2018 Origins Awards nominees or (worse yet) the 2017 Golden Geek [Fan Service] Awards shows that there is still a difference. This is not bad for the hobby. This year I tend to be an outlier in the hobby; I refuse to bow to the Cult-of-the-New (COTN) nor do I spend my precious dollars frivolously chasing away a FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)-phobia. As a result, the awarded games and my collection are diverging.
The divergence doesn’t bother me; indeed, it makes me happy that the hobby is strong enough that I can build my collection to my tastes and not have it dictated to me like so many mass-market game companies try to.
The Expanse, a board game based on the Syfy television series of the same name, focuses on politics, conquest and intrigue similar to the board game Twilight Struggle, although with a shorter playing time. The card-driven game uses key images from the show, along with action points and events that allow players to move and place “Fleets” and “Influence”. (BGG)
It is not often that a publisher’s blurb captures a game so completely as WizKids has done for The Expanse Board Game (TEBG). After purchasing the game and playing it a bit, I am torn in my feelings for the game. To me, TEBG feels very much like a “classic” Eurogame – in a negative connotation of the definition; great mechanics with a pasted on theme.
“Eurogames (or alternatively, Designer Board Games or German-Style Board Games) are a classification of board games that are very popular on Board Game Geek (BGG). Though not all eurogames are European and not all of them are board games, they share a set of similar characteristics. A game need not fit ALL the criteria to be considered a Eurogame.
Most Eurogames share the following elements:
Player conflict is indirect and usually involves competition over resources or points. Combat is extremely rare.
Players are never eliminated from the game (All players are still playing when the game ends.)
There is very little randomness or luck. Randomness that is there is mitigated by having the player decide what to do after a random event happens rather than before. Dice are rare, but not unheard of, in a Euro.
The Designer of the game is listed on the game’s box cover. Though this is not particular to Euros, the Eurogame movement seems to have started this trend. This is why some gamers and designers call this genre of games Designer Games.
Much attention is paid to the artwork and components. Plastic and metal are rare, more often pieces are made of wood.
Eurogames have a definite theme, however, the theme most often has very little to do with the gameplay. The focus instead is on the mechanics; for example, a game about space may play the same as a game about ancient Rome.”
TEBGhits all of these points, but with mixed results.
TEBG does a good job of capturing the feel (theme) of The Expanse TV series. Using Eurogame mechanics the players place influence (tracked using small wooden cubes) on various bases throughout the Solar System. To place influence usually requires a fleet in the orbital above the base. Although the game mechanics are simple, each player/faction has unique asymmetric abilities which allow them to “break the rules” in thematically appropriate ways. For instance, while is usually cost 1 Control Point (CP) to take the second action card, the United Nations (UN) player has Planning as their initial Technology which means the first two action card slots cost 0 CP. As the game progresses, more thematically-appropriate technologies are gained by each faction.
“Combat” in TEBG consists of removing influence or fleets (which can be rebuilt). This is not a cooperative game; ruthlessly building your influence while reducing your opponents is the real core mechanic.
TEBG uses much artwork from The Expanse TV Series. Although this makes the game appear like The Expanse, some of the artwork does not have a clear connection to gameplay. For instance, the action card Scopuli can be used for 2 Action Points or as an Event by the Martian Congressional Republic (MCR) or UN. The Event states, “Place 1 influence on each Saturn Base where you do not have influence.” I do not see how this is related to the Scopuli in the TV series which is [SPOILER ALERT]:
To me this is a thematic disconnect. I think Scopuli should be used as an Event to the advantage of the Outer Planets Alliance (OPA) or ProtoGen. Granted, most of the action cards have a picture that ties well to the event described, but I think to make the connection one must be a real fanboy. If a player is not knowledgeable of The Expansethe immersion into the game will not be served by the graphics.
The full impact of all these design and graphics decisions is an area control game that looks like The Expanse. The game comes across as very functional; simple game mechanics with some asymmetric differences in a kinda staid, plain package.
Finally, I have an issue with the component quality in TEBG. The board uses a non-glossy finish that, while good for pictures, has already shown rubs and scratches after just two plays. I also have a major problem with the Quick Start Rules which use white text on a semi-transparent background over a starscape page. The font, smaller than that used in the main rule book and the third layer of printing has lost all its edges and is nearly impossible to read.
It is going to be interesting when The Expanse Board Game lands on the Family Game Night table. All of the RockyMountainNavy Boys know a bit about The Expanse, but none are fanboys, Thus, the success of this game will stand not on theme alone (which appears to be much of the buzz around the game) but on its ability to blend graphics and gameplay into a enjoyable gaming experience.