Why Many Eurogames Are Inherently Single-Player Games

pic1078232_lgBack around 2010 or so, I discovered the world of “designer boardgames”. If you don’t already know about them, they’re very, very different from “boardgames” most of us are used to finding stuffed in the top shelves of our closets – the Risks, the Monopolys, the Sorrys. Designer boardgames were almost the opposite of the old, shallow and predictable experiences many of us grew up associating boardgames with. These were fresh, challenging and new little machines – machines that were designed, and they proudly bore the name of the designer on the cover as proof of that fact.

Some of these games interested me more than others. The most system-y ones were referred to by people as “Eurogames”, so I tended to focus on those. I got really into a bunch of these games, and even found some digital versions which let me play whenever I wanted! It was a very exciting time for me.

However, in more recent years, I’ve found my interest in getting new physical boardgames on a sharp decline. I’d much rather just play many of these games on the digital versions, single-player, or against bots. It seems like when I do, I’m getting a lot of the stuff I love about these games, only faster, and kind of more pure. Today, I’d like to unpack why that is, exactly, and make a recommendation to Eurogame designers.

 

What Are Eurogames?

In general, “Eurogame” is a term that loosely refers to a system-oriented, often highly deterministic boardgame, usually coming out of Europe (even more usually out of Germany, specifically). In this article, I’ll be talking about a specific kind of Eurogame – the “machine-builder” types that make use of a worker placement or role selection mechanism.

Some popular examples of games that do meet this criteria are Puerto Rico, Agricola, and Caylus. These kinds of games stand in stark contrast with so-called “Ameritrash” games, which tend to rely heavily on hard output randomness such as dice-rolls to support some kind of fantasy simulation, and tend to be more closely related to Dungeons & Dragons as well as hex-and-counter simulation wargames. These kinds of Euros are also far less “interactive”, player to player, than games that use area control, bidding, or other inherently-multiplayer mechanisms.

Just a quick side note: even though not all or even most Eurogames meet the criteria for this article, I’ll be using the word “Eurogame” as a shorthand.

Overall, as far as I’m concerned, Eurogames currently represent the cutting edge of strategy game design. I consider designers like Uwe Rosenberg and Reiner Knizia to be hands down by far the best game designers who walk the planet today.

However, that’s not to give them too much credit, because I also think Eurogame designers are more or less also the only designers who understand the values of the strategy game form. They are not concerned with presenting a story, or a fantasy simulation of any kind, because that’s not what strategy games are about. They are not interested in delivering a social message, and they’re not interested in pushing the boundaries of computer graphics technology. They are simply trying to make robust little machines that present players with interesting decisions to make.

I say “simply”, but of course this is actually a monumental task.

 

Interactivity

One of the more accurate criticisms of Eurogames (at least, the type of Eurogame I’m talking about) is that they tend to have very little player to player interaction. Unlike wargames or even abstracts wherein you’re typically removing the opponent’s pieces from play, Eurogames tend to deal more in a “race” dynamic. Most Eurogames feature a complicated game system that rewards players with “victory points”, and at some point, the game ends and a winner is announced based on the number of victory points scored. “Multiplayer solitaire” is the phrase often derisively aimed at many Eurogames.

“Racing”, in general, is a mechanism more suited for contests than it is for games. This is because it’s linear and generally un-interactive. Many of us have had the experience of getting an exciting new racing game and playing the hell out of it. Then you invite some friends over to play with you, and it’s a miserable experience because you’re halfway around the track from where they are. While it’s true that any skill-based game has a problem of skill deficits, in races it’s particularly bad because of the inherent disconnect between the players. The only racing games that tend to kinda work are super-random ones like Mario Kart which add all kinds of rubber-banding to make sure that your skill isn’t being measured too much.

The same problem tends to affect Eurogames. Let’s take the game Agricola, for example, a flagship Euro designed by Uwe Rosenberg. All players are basically just racing for victory points in this game, without much regard for what other players are doing. Yes, there are the occasional times where you’ll take an action that prevents someone else from doing what they wanted. There might be a bit of wood that you want, and that the other player also wants, and you took it, and now he can’t take it. I’ve heard people argue that this is part of the strategy of Agricola – you should be paying attention to what the other players are doing, and take advantage of their strategies.

Many players are better than me at the game, and so if I were told by an expert player that this is in fact what you have to do to win, I have to accept that that’s the case. Maybe optimal play does indeed involve doing that. However, I think doing that is also contrary to what these kinds of games are inherently all about.

 

The Core of Euros

It’s really easy to modify the rules of a Euro to make it single-player, and many Euros even come with a one-player “mode”. This is not the case for more interactive multiplayer games like Outwitters or chess. Turning these games into single-player games would require a lot more game-design legwork.

If it is indeed the case that optimal play of Agricola is some “constantly interactive, trying to starve each other out of needed resources” type of affair, then I think that highlights a serious design issue. This is because the core, central idea of Euros is “building a machine”. You take elements from the middle, buy them with resources, and add them to your machine which makes it bigger and more productive. It produces more resources, and the loop continues. This machine-building thing is really what they’re all about.

“At The Gates of Loyang”, a fun, but inherently single-player game that suddenly has trading sometimes

Because that’s the case, there isn’t really any direct connection between what I’m doing in a Euro and what my opponent is doing. It’s more that we’re just both pulling from the same “bank”, and once in awhile there is some very indirect connection made through that bank. Mostly, though, we’re just looking at our own little boards and doing our own thing.

Now, a lot of people might be saying, “but that’s what’s so great about Euros!” Many people feel that Eurogames, as compared to much more direct Ameritrash-style games or most multiplayer videogames, are much more strategic due to their indirectness.

Well, yes, that is true. The directness of StarCraft or Street Fighter are major game design liabilities for those games. Even chess, you might argue is “too direct”, which is part of why it often ends up a “look-ahead contest“. However, there’s something in between “completely in each other’s face constantly”-direct (as is the case in Street Fighter) and “almost never interacting at all“.

The “almost never” is really the key problem here. If it was “actually never”, then we’d be talking about literal multiplayer solitaire, which I’m not sure exists (I’ll get back to this in a second, though). In my experience, playing a Euro multiplayer means that 70 to 100 percent of the time, you’re literally just sitting there doing your own isolated thing. Then just “sometimes”, the thing you were doing was unwittingly interrupted because another player took the thing you were planning on taking. It’s not strategic or clever. It’s just annoying and disruptive.

Or if it isn’t a random, unwitting “steal” of your resources, sometimes it’s a brutal “knife fight” scenario where both players are just taking resources they don’t want because they don’t want the other player to be able to build anything. End result: two players who built nothing in a game about building stuff.

 

Social Fun?

A counter-argument is commonly made that the reason Euros should be multiplayer is that they’re “social”. Are they, really, though? If I’m trying to play Agricola or Puerto Rico, and one of the players is trying to talk or be social, I find myself mostly annoyed, because I have so much crap to think about. These games are far too dense to be good social games.

Party games are great at facilitating social-fun, because they’re light as a feather. There’s almost nothing going on in the game so there’s plenty of room for players to call each other names and whatever.

 

Single-Player Weight Times Five!

Another huge issue with Eurogames in multiplayer situations is the sheer amount of stuff you’re supposed to be keeping track of.

Okay, so I already told you Agricola has a single-player variant. This variant modifies very few rules from the normal multiplayer game – you use some different cards and there’s a couple other modifications, but that’s about it. The experience is largely the same. And in single-player mode, the game is decently complex. It’s complex enough so that the average person can play it at least a few dozen times without completely solving it. You have a hand of 14 cards to combine together, plus a dozen or more actions that come out on the board, and another dozen or so building cards you can build, and a bunch of different resources to manage, etc. It’s a *lot* of stuff to think about!

Now imagine playing a two-player version. Okay, so now I have to think about all the same stuff, except now I also have to keep track of the opponent’s board. At this point, it’s getting to be a bit crazy, but it’s still theoretically manageable.

Now understand that Agricola supports up to five players. There is no way anyone can keep track of that much crap happening everywhere. Even for a four-player game, the sheer amount of stuff going on, resources disappearing suddenly, means the game is totally unplayable in terms of strategy. All you can possibly hope to do is look at the game state on *this turn* and make the best decision available.

The point is, if a game system works at one-player, “multiplying that up” isn’t going to work. Any game system is going to have some optimal number of players, and for Eurogames, that number is almost always one.

 

My Advice: Focus on Single-player!

I think one of the reasons we don’t see a lot of “primarily single-player boardgames” is because the concept of taking out a boardgame, laying out all the pieces and playing it by  yourself is… very strange to most people. I’ve done this myself and it’s fun, but it’s kind of a weird feeling.

In the past few years, however, there have been an increase in the production of “digital boardgames”, primarily on iOS, and that is a fantastic place to put Eurogames in the future. The iOS versions of Agricola and Le Havre have gotten tons of play on my iPad. Agricola even has a sort of “metagame” campaign mode, which interestingly also existed for the tabletop version.

agricola-ipad-screen

Playing these games single-player is vastly better than multiplayer because “other players” don’t add anything to the experience. If there must be bots, I want them to be as predictable as possible so that I can factor their actions into my machine-building.

If you need there to be other players, use bots, and make them as predictable as possible. Apps like Tropic Euro (Puerto Rico) and Androminion (Dominion) have gotten hundreds or maybe even thousands of plays from me, because they allow me to explore the actual, understandable gamespace of those systems. Trying to guess what a bot is going to do isn’t part of what makes Puerto Rico Puerto Rico… and frankly, this applies to players as well.

I can’t help but wonder how much better these systems could be if they just really focused on being single-player. If they focused on having a great single-player metagame, or on just building rules that are designed around being single-player and tuned for single-player, as opposed to the single-player version just being some “mod”.

With mobile games being such a huge part of gaming, it’s kind of sad that we don’t have a huge, booming generation of strictly single-player strategy games that are as deep and robust as Eurogames are. I’m looking forward to more designers like Knizia and Rosenberg focusing their efforts on some really strong single player strategy games.

 

Enjoyed this article? Consider becoming a patron on Patreon.com!

  • 6523114897

    Password protected?

  • It’ll be up later today. Experimenting with a Patreon patrons only thing for a day. http://www.patreon.com/keithburgun.

    Anyway it’ll be up in a couple hours.

  • Article’s up!

  • Kevin John

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot! Euro style games are begging for single player adaptations.

    One thing to consider is that euro games have way more variety than you’re indicating; you mostly focus on “worker placement” games where you compete over public action spaces, which is indeed often criticized as “multiplayer solitaire”. Other mechanics are way more interactive. In area control games like Smallworld you fight over owning spaces on the board, which feels more like a warfare and is richly interactive. In card drafting games like 7 Wonders you draft cards from sets that are passed around; you have to read into your opponent’s strategy and mindset to know what to keep and what to pass to him. Bluffing games like Coup or Battlestar Galactica have a critical human element to them that could never be translated to a single player game without losing its essence.

  • Do you like Reiner Knizias Roto? I can’t quite identify what kind of game or puzzle it is, but it is fun and single-player.

  • Anthony

    Wow. I massively disagree with this entire article. I disagree with his definition of Eurogames. I have significant distate with him using Agricola as his only example of a Eurogame and then trying to generalize to the entire genre. I disagree with his assessment about Agricola not being interactive. He even concedes in the article that better players might say that you need to keep track of what the other players are doing … and you absolutely should. He writes off those interactions as minor disruptions, but they are key to that game. That said, I really dislike that game and would not use it as a benchmark for Eurogames.

    I want him to put Ticket to Ride, Power Grid, and Settlers of Catan on the table and see if he still has the same criticisms. There are electronic versions of these games, but they are totally different than playing with people because AIs can be easily exploited.

    I believe that he utterly missed the mark.

  • Bob

    Keith i think you need to put a little more thought into your thoughts on game design. Yes many euro games are light on interaction. But picking a few games and judging the whole genre by a couple of examples is a really weak argument. There is a difference between limited interaction and no interaction and many euro games as Anthony stated have a lot of interaction. To add to his examples i would add Brass, Dominant Species, and Keyflower. These are euros that you cannot play as if you are disregarding your opponents and expect to be competitive.

  • It’s funny you mentioned DS as an example. Dominant Species has often been identified as a mixture between Eurogame and Ameritrash before. The classic (“German Boardgame”) Eurogame parts certainly are not what makes for the increased player interaction. Sure, you can make a multiplayer game that doesn’t quite fit the genre with actual player interaction, that’s fine. The article is only objecting to the traditional engine-building games. If your *only* problem with the piece is the label that’s used, then the content actually can’t be too far away from what you’re thinking yourself. And if you still want to call things like DS Eurogames, then just put a “most” into the title.

  • TTR: Basically a party game, super random. Not what I would consider a Eurogame colloquially and certainly not for the purposes of this article. But yes – it is pretty interactive.
    PG: PG is a good example of an exception. I agree it’s considered a Eurogame. However, I’ve always felt that the “map” part of PG is kinda out of place in the rest of the game. I think the main “engine” of the game is really in the buying new plants and manipulating the prices of resources. The map aspect just feels the same way as “he stole my wood” in Agricola.
    SoC: Wouldn’t be considered a Eurogame if it weren’t THE GAME to introduce the world to European boardgames. It’s actually super random, super messy, not systemic. Yes, it’s interactive, but it’s also such a mess that that doesn’t really matter.

  • There are exceptions, but I think when people think about “Eurogame” they think about “Puerto Rico and Agricola” not “Dominant Species”. Either way, I will put more thought into my thoughts on game design, thanks for the tip!

  • Haven’t tried Roto but I’m a big Knizia fan in general. Will have to check it out.

  • Jason Carlough

    If you are playing Puerto Rico, Agricola or Caylus without spending a large amount of the time thinking about what the other players are doing than you are just not playing them well. The competition for limited resources in Agricola is not an annoying side effect of the game, it is the game.

    Optimal play of Agricola is definitely not about “trying to starve each other out of needed resources”. It is about understanding your opponents goals, understanding where those goals might conflict with your goals and then using that knowledge to gain an advantage. This might mean taking an inefficient pile of resources because they are important to your strategy and they are in high demand or it might mean adjusting your strategy to take advantage of resources that are in low demand. Focusing on just denying your opponents is about as good a way to lose as is ignoring them.

    I absolutely disagree that these games are better or even close to as good when played solo or even with two. When played solo Agricola is just a pure optimization exercise which has much more in common with a puzzle than a game.

  • The interactivity in many eurogames is hidden behind layers of complexity. The problem is, we are trained to recognize some form of influence as interactivity while ignoring others. High interactivity is often defined as the ability to directly influence your opponent’s resources (base, buildings, units), but I think it’s not about resources, it’s about influencing your opponent’s decisions.

    Imagine RTS game where you can push a button to automatically send a squad to attack enemy base. If the squad is always the same, you can influence you opponent’s resources (by destoying them), but not his decisions (he always builds same defences). I wouldn’t define this game as hugely interactive, because your actions don’t matter to your opponent.

    When I first got Race for the Galaxy, I considered it little more than a little set collection filler (I was playing Twilight Imperium at that time). Now, I guess it’s 7 years later, I consider it one of the most tension-filled duel games. It actually is a kind of weighted rock-paper-scissors, where you build the weights in the course of the game by building up your engine. No matter how good you “execute” throwing rock, you’ll lose to paper, so you can’t afford not to watch your opponent. Another example is 7 Wonders, which is tremendously interactive, but requires a good understanding of the game (which I, for example, am mostly lacking :] )

    Of course there’s always cheap agricola-style “interactivity”. Wanna get multiple solitaire players together? Throw in some worker placement! :]

  • theft

    This whole argument is silly. Space Alert is a Euro. It can be played solitaire, and it is the most social a game can possibly be.

    However, this comment illustrates the source of the disagreement. The article is specifically bored by economic worker placement and role selection games. That’s a naive view of role selection – Race for the Galaxy, for example, is usually won by the person who best anticipates the role selection of their opponents. Worker placement makes player interaction less directly confrontational than area control, but it’s still interaction. This isn’t a good defense of multiplayer worker placement, but my friends won’t play Caylus because they hate that interaction.

    So if we are focusing on worker placement and role selection, that’s one conversation to have. However, the essence of Euro games isn’t those two mechanics: it’s mechanics that give the player less open-ended options (“which of these 7 roles would you like to select”, rather than “use 7 move points to move in any direction”), where those options still present meaningful strategic choices. Everything else comes from that. For example, if a player is eliminated from the game (or losing so badly that they will almost certainly lose in a few hours) then they are no longer making meaningful choices.

    So I disagree about those specific mechanics, but let’s be real: Uwe Rosenberg’s games are also great for solitaire. Do that all you like. I prefer to play them with friends.

    Some excellent Euros involve every player in meaningful decisions constantly through trading: Settlers of Catan and Traders of Genoa.

    Some excellent Euros are pure interaction because your economic engine is just as effective for your opponents: Roads & Boats, Neuland, The Great Zimbabwe. Indonesia combines both of these mechanics.

    If one considers other simultaneous action selection games to be basically solitaire, there are some very social solitaire games out there. Would you call Bunny Bunny Moose Moose a solitaire party game? Galaxy Trucker has limited player interaction… but it is extremely social.

    I hope that I have revealed myself as the world’s biggest Vlaada Chvátil & Splotter Spellen fan. Uwe is great too.

  • sedj

    Well, that’s irritating. I spent 30+ minutes composing a long, thoughtful, detailed response, and when the blog made me log in to post it, the text disappeared – from multiple tabs I had open (to protect against that very thing).

    Unfortunately, I don’t have time to re-create that, so a much less elegant version follows:

    Keith, your post gives me the impression that you don’t understand indirect interaction, its value, or how it can influence players’ decisions.

    Role Selection is one of the most interactive mechanisms out there – when you choose a role, you literally give other players the opportunity to act. Games like Puerto Rico (and Race for the Galaxy, and Glory to Rome, and etc) are ALL ABOUT figuring out which roles players will choose, and setting yourself up to benefit when they do.

    Indirect interaction is when another player’s actions make you re-think your plans, even if those actions don’t remove your pieces from the board. In fact, I might argue that some cases of actions which remove pieces from the board really aren’t all that interactive – sometimes they don’t make you adjust your play, they just make your position more or less strong. A random event or a game rule could take your units off the board with the same effect, that doesn’t take player interaction.

    If you’re interested enough to write this article, then I’d suggest seeking out more games featuring indirect interaction and playing them more thoroughly to get a better background in the genre.

  • I do understand indirect interaction, actually. I’ve played thousands of matches of Puerto Rico and RFTG.

    I wish your comment contained more of a counter argument beyond “you don’t understand indirect interaction” since that’s just factually untrue and instantly easy to dismiss. 🙁

  • Torbjorn van Heeswijck

    “Eurogame” is a much broader tent than you want to acknowledge. Your ideas won’t get very far until you do, I’m afraid.

    By voter numbers on BGG (and sales in general) people are more likely to think “Catan, Carcassonne or Dominion” when talking about Eurogames. By rating they’re more likely to think “Through the Ages”. Of course only Dominion fits your ‘low interaction engine builder’ model, right? You don’t mention it either of course despite being almost exactly what you suggest designers focus on, because you don’t personally like it and this article is more about your own biases than a coherent or informed design philosophy.

  • Dominion is *not* what I suggest designers focus, on first of all. Does Dominion even have a 1 player mode? Because that’s what I suggest Euro designers focus on.

    >”Your ideas won’t get very far until you do, I’m afraid.”

    Being condescending doesn’t actually help your case.

  • Torbjorn van Heeswijck

    I’m not being condescending – the response to your article has been overwhelmingly negative here, on BGG and on Reddit. It is not condescending to note that and suggest why that might be. Whether or not your ideas are correct, you are having difficulty communicating them to your audience and part of the problem is you redefine accepted terms and concepts and just assume nobody will pick you up on it.

    Dominion doesn’t have an explicit 1-player mode but a board with no attack cards is as close to multiplayer solitaire engine building design as you will find – it’s effectively “how many turns does it take you to get X victory points?”. Certain cards complicate this but you are of course in complete control of the setup at all times and do not need to include them. You can quite simply create a single player experience by goldfishing with the “big money” strategy as a baseline dummy opponent. You should try the Dominion app Androminion, it includes a Big Money AI and several other AIs that take different approaches to the game.

    Whether you believe that’s the direction you’re suggesting or not is irrelevant, by the way. Your intention is less important than the text presented and its implications.

  • I don’t want multiplayer solitaire. I want it to be 1 player. It makes no sense that I could *lose* in “2 player noninteractive dominion”, even if I played well, because the other guy just drew cards super well and got like a ton of VPs. That has nothing to do with what I did, so why am I losing?

    I have played like 10,000 matches of Androminion. Playing it against the dumb bots is part of what led me to my conclusions here.

  • Torbjorn van Heeswijck

    “Or, if you must be multiplayer, try being actually multiplayer solitaire. Don’t let players interact at all.”

    I must have misinterpreted your writing!

    If you don’t like competing against people that’s your preference. The issue with your article is that you take games designed for those who DO like competing against others and claim that they would be better solitaire. For us, solo engine builders and AI players are almost without exception too trivial to maintain interest.

    The core issue with your article is this assumption: “This is because the core, central idea of Euros is “building a machine””. This isn’t actually true just because it is the thing that you personally enjoy about them the most. Agricola is not a game about “building stuff” it is a game about “building stuff in the face of adversity and competition”. The game’s tight economic system is deliberately designed to exacerbate the impact of player interaction because every resource counts. Your knife-fight scenario where not much gets built is not a failure of the game system – it’s the mark of a competitive game with depth, multiple playstyles and meaningful player interaction. You might as well define Starcraft as a game about building capital ships and then complain that early rush builds are strategically viable. If these factors mean a game is not enjoyable to you then that is understandable but suggesting they are universally failures of game design is presumptuous in the extreme.

    Again, until you acknowledge that how you define these games is at odds with player experiences and designer intentions you will struggle to build relatable or influential theories.

    edit: Is this the kind of thing you want?
    http://terrycavanaghgames.com/grabthembytheeyes/

  • I agree that “solo engine builders” that exist today are indeed trivial. This is, however, because they are all mods of games that were intended to be played primarily multiplayer. The designer was thinking that it would make a better multiplayer game, but hey, we can add on a single player mode so why not. If single-player were made the focus, it would not have to be trivial at all.

    And while Agricola single player is a bit trivial and puzzle-ish as it is, the fact is that the game *does* in fact function single player. So to say that the competition is a “core” part of it seems just flatly incorrect.

    I do actually like competing against people, a lot. I just prefer to compete with people in systems that are inherently multiplayer.

    You are making assertions about my “ulterior motives” for my arguments. Between that, the “reminder” that lots of people on reddit agree with you, and the condescending attitude, it seems like you perhaps aren’t very confident in your counter-arguments?

  • Torbjorn van Heeswijck

    Friday and Robinson Crusoe are two examples of single-player-focus games with engines to build. They already exist and aren’t generally very interesting unless the complexity and variance are both quite high (Mage Knight and Robinson Crusoe, for instance). You’re not posing hypothetical statements here – these things have been done, they are rarely successful or interesting and the good ones tend to break other design principles you have expressed (principally the role of randomness in games).

    Agricola single player is not the same game as Agricola multiplayer. It’s not even a worker placement game (the definition of which is inherently multiplayer) and the economy is almost entirely reversed because of this. The multiplayer analogue of solo Agricola would be an action-point-allowance game where each player could only take a given action once in a turn, not a worker placement game. It comes in the same box and uses the same components but in game design terms it is not the same game. Competition is absolutely a core part of the multiplayer game, worker placement is an inherently multiplayer mechanic, your dismissal of it as a single player game is fundamentally incorrect.

  • I understand that there are a small handful of single-player focused boardgames out there. That is not compelling evidence in my opinion for the claim that it appears you’re making, which is that single player engine building games can’t be great.

  • Torbjorn van Heeswijck

    That’s not what I’m saying (again, I think Mage Knight is a great game and RC promising if flawed). Its also not what your article was saying.

    If you’d stuck to saying that Euro-style solo engine builders are a potentially interesting and underutilised design space I doubt you’d have had many arguments. I’m glad we could reach that point 🙂

  • That’s half my point. The other half is that the existing interaction is out of place in many engine-builder type games.

  • Laszlo Molnar

    For many, Eurogame means tableau-building and worker placement. So what about the Eurogames that were made before the 2000s? And Eurogames that are still not tableau-/deck-building nor worker placement Euros? I’m an Eurogamer and some of my favorites are Samurai, Tigris & Euphrates, Mexica, Tikal, Modern Art, El Grande, San Marco and so on. Just… Do not identify a genre with some of the currently most highly regarded games of it. That’s just as silly as looking at the imdb top 10 – http://www.imdb.com/chart/top – and saying things like “the main problem with movies is that they are dark and violent”.

    Some Eurogames I liked from the past years: Five Tribes. Lords of Xidit. Qin. Santa Cruz. Amerigo. Orongo. Temporum. Play some of them and tell me how these fit your (otherwise interesting, but sadly wrong) analysis above.

  • Torbjorn van Heeswijck

    You’re looking at these games backwards. Let’s stick with Agricola as the example. The core mechanic of the game is action drafting (aka worker placement). This is the most common and fundamental decision point in the game. It is also an inherently multiplayer mechanic – without other players there is no draft.

    Now let’s strip the game right back to its core – imagine an action draft in which every action is “gain 1 VP”. Trivial to solve and no meaningful choices, so the actions need to be differentiated. You add 1 VP to each successive action (so they are worth 1,2,3,4 etc.) and now each player has choices but they’re obvious and the game is still trivial.

    Here’s where the “engine building” comes in. Instead of VP, each action now gives you something that can be converted in to VP by an action or some other means, with varying inputs and outputs. Now you have differentiated spaces and non-obvious choices and your core mechanic finally works. The engine building is in effect an abstracted scoring mechanism for player decisions made during the draft. Of course the design goes further to increase variability and dynamics (random occupation cards, stockpiling spaces, resource requirements that change across the game etc.).

    These aren’t engine building games with unnecessary interaction. They are games with an intrinsically multiplayer central mechanic (worker placement, auction, role selection etc) that use engine building to add meaning to player choices.

    A single player engine builder can be interesting and it should be designed as aa fundamentally single player engine builder. That’s uncontroversial and kind of a trivial statement to be honest. Your assertion that Euros are fundamentally single player indicates a severe misunderstanding of how they work and the goal of their design. Your view that they are “better” single player or against AI is a quirk of your own preferences, not a rule.

  • I mean you’re *saying* the core mechanism of Agricola is action “drafting”, rather than what it’s usually called which is “worker placement” or “role selection”. Of course when you use the word drafting you’re biasing the question towards the conclusion you’re looking for. The reality is, though, that again – Agricola *does* work 1 player. The Worker Placement mechanism does not require other players.

    I understand that you think they are intrinsically multiplayer at their core. I just think you’re wrong. I’ve tried to explain why. As one last piece of anecdotal evidence, I would submit to you that there is a reason why people call these games “multiplayer solitaire” in the first place.

  • Torbjorn van Heeswijck

    I see the issue here is you don’t actually understand any of these terms. Go look up “worker placement” on BGG and read the first line. I don’t even know how to respond to the conflation with “role selection” which is quite a different mechanic. And for the last time solo Agricola works precisely because it is NOT the same as the game you think is intrinsically single player. One is action point allowance, the other is worker placement.

    The reason people call them “Multiplayer Solitaire” is because most people are too loose with their language, the same reason the term “worker placement” is applied erroneously to almost any game where player tokens are placed on a board (e.g. Robinson Crusoe) or some people think Eurogame means farming games designed after 2005. This ignorance is understandable in the general public but hardly acceptable for a game designer trying to create game design principles.

  • Mathue

    “Worker Placement” is “Action Drafting”. Here is the BGG definition: “More precisely referred to as “action drafting”, this mechanism requires players to draft individual actions from a set that is available to all players. In a given round, drafting is done one-at-a-time and in turn order until all players have had a chance to draft individual actions. There is usually(*) a limit on the number of times a single action may be drafted each round. Once that limit is reached, an action can no longer be taken until a subsequent round or until the action space is no longer occupied by a worker. As such, not all actions can be taken by all players in a given round, and action ‘blocking’ occurs.

    Actions are commonly drafted by the placement of game pieces or tokens on the selected actions. Each player usually has a limited number of pieces with which to participate in the process. From a thematic standpoint, the game pieces which players use to select actions often represent workers of any given trade (this category of mechanism, however, is not necessarily limited to or by this thematic representation). In other words, players often thematically “place workers” to show which actions have been drafted by individual players. For example, in Agricola you start with two family members who can be placed on action spaces to collect resources or take certain actions like building fences. When someone places a piece on a given space, that action is no longer available until the next round.”

  • Mathue

    Yeah, Role Selection doesn’t make any sense in regards to Agricola….

  • Fair point, I misused the term “role selection”. Anyway, you get what I was trying to say.

  • sedj

    In your article you say that one of the most interactive mechanisms out there (Role Selection) would be better if they were designed to not have opponents to interact with. You say the interaction in those games amounts to an annoying disruption, when in fact it’s the whole point.

    In reply to one of these comments you ask “why should I lose in Dominion just because somebody else scored more points?”

    The answer to that question is (fairly obviously) “they built a better, more efficient deck than you did.” Sure, it’s a card game, and occasionally you’ll have times when one player gets better draws, or better luck, than another player. But you seem to believe that those times are the overwhelming majority — I think many players of those types of games would disagree.

    When playing a multiplayer game, part of the deal is that you’re trying to beat the other players. If you’re ignoring the other players, then it’s hard to argue that you shouldn’t lose the game.

    I am not sure how much more counterargument you’re looking for here. I had suggested that if you were interested enough to write this article, then it might be worth seeking out MORE games that are indirectly interactive, and you responded that you’d played Race and Puerto Rico a thousand times. People have written Excel Spreadsheets that play Puerto Rico a thousand times, and those programs are still defeated by human players.

    Role Selection is highly interactive. Playing a solitaire Role Selection game doesn’t make a lot of sense.

    Worker placement (AKA Action Drafting) is different, but is still interactive. As one commenter pointed out, playing a Worker Placement game solo completely changes the dynamic.

  • Tardis1

    So only games that kind of support your argument count as ‘real’ Eurogames.

  • It doesn’t matter what anyone considers “real Eurogames”. Forget the term Eurogame. There’s a kind of game that exists, call it what you will, that is inherently single player and everyone is making them into multiplayer games.

  • Tardis1

    You are confusing what you personally want in a game with what the games actually are. You want a single player game, so you view any of the multiplayer elements as flaws that get in the way of that. In reality, the games were designed as multiplayer games. The player interactions are much more significant than you give them credit for.

  • Bankrupt

    Assuming a quick15 min. per game, you played a bot 8 hrs. per day for 11 months? No wonder you have problems with social interaction.

  • Generally, it’s not good form to assert someone else’s ulterior motives, because you can really never demonstrate them to be true. That’s why it’s better to just address someone’s claims directly.

    Anyway, I actually do not “want a single player game”. I want games that are built inherently for the number of players that they are for.

  • Actually Androminion matches can be as quick as 4-5 minutes. And I have no problems with social interaction in social *games*. Great joke, though!

  • sedj

    In a thread on BGG, Oliver Kiley fairly eloquently pointed out that the point of Keith’s post is to open up a deeper line of questioning about games and game design, not really to define or decry eurogame design.

    Oliver said: “the bigger question he raises is really about the validity of boardgames being intentionally designed as solo-experiences. This is a trend that I feel is growing. More and more games are “tacking on” solo-rules or being house-ruled to work as a solo game. The abundance of solo-able cooperative games as well as just outright solo games is on the rise. The complexity and systems-first (as opposed to player-first) basis for certain slices of the eurogame spectrum appear well suited to support solo boardgaming. Keith was making a call to be more deliberate in pursuing these goals, since in many ways the designs are setting the stage for it in the first place.”

    That’s an interesting point, and if that’s what Keith was after, I wish he’d just said that.

    Related: Oliver also mentions “a fair number of people are coming to the realize that if they want to play a highly puzzle-y optimization game, why not just do so as a solo-experience, and save the face-to-face game time for more
    interactive and social games that you CAN’T play solo.”

    To which I responded with my personal opinion: playing a multiplayer game solo (vs A.I.) is not the same experience as playing it against another player.

    So to answer the question… it doesn’t make sense to say “I should play something else with you, because I could play this game solo,” because in every case I can think of, it’s not the same game solo as it is vs another player.

    For example, playing Dominion solo is not playing a game. It’s just shuffling cards. I suppose you could play Dominion Solo over and over again, trying to get a higher and higher score (with the same setup of Kingdom cards, or else you can’t really compare the scores anyway), but that’s still not a game, and furthermore, for me anyway, it’s not fun.

  • sedj

    I had thought the crux of your post was about indirect interaction, but perhaps I was wrong. See my new comment in this thread – maybe that’s what your post was after…

  • Tim Koppang

    Your terminology needs more precision, and I think you need to broaden the horizon of your examples, but the general point is well taken.

    Certain games are about optimizing your personal machine. While there is interaction in games like Agricola (or most recent Rosenburg games, Feld games, etc.) that interaction is about resource denial — and there is satisfaction in building your farm up regardless of what the other players are doing. Compare that with a game like Settlers of Catan, where the challenge is about the direct interaction of negotiation, and you have an entirely different feel. Settlers of Catan is an amazing game, but it depends on player interaction to be fun. Play it in “solo” mode, where you focus only on building your network without too much trading, and it quickly becomes a boring exercise that relies heavily on dice rolls (which is why so many players unfairly consider it a poor game nowadays). Agricola, on the other hand, easily plays in “solo” mode. It may not be the most effective way to play the game competitively at a high level, but it certainly works as a successful game in this mode — meaning the challenge of optimizing points is enough to keep players interested.

  • Michel

    I totally get where you coming from. Even though you’re only talking about a specific kind of eurogame (as admitted), of which there are nevertheless a multitude, the player interaction within does, to me also, often feel like a needless addition. I am a fond solo player, as I am often by myself, and have thus seen both sides of many games. In the type of game you’re talking about it does seem that the interaction is simply the result of playing off of the same board (or taking from the same stack). Take away this trivial part and you could just as well put a screen in front of everyone and compare scores afterwards. Too often these games seem to be about who can solve a puzzle the fastest. The interaction is simply another part of that puzzle.
    They ARE however, in my opinion, still very much enjoyable in this form. Simply because I find them an almost perfect representation of the most comfortable social interaction. Being in a friendly environment, among people who feel comfortable enough to keep doing their own thing, while still being part of the conversation. You only act and react to eachother as far as needed. And in the end, I don’t think you ever really lose these kind of games, other people simply did a better job (this time).

  • Eric

    I think this reply best summarise my thoughts. The author is too free with equating anything he doesn’t like (or I guess his design philosophy) as a design flaw of this type of game. There are a few inherent contradictions e.g. where on the one hand complexity is bad then the next paragraph he’s saying complexity is good. Another examples how he sees this game as non social because he doesn’t like being spoken to during a game. I personally think it’s fine and I like them as a ‘social’ game, because the depths allow more bantering and screwage. Just two of many examples of the flaws with this article.

  • Rickard Elimää

    I sort of agree. Most Eurogames out there are multiplayer solitare, with Ticket to Ride as the best example of that. You just sit there and draw cards until you can put something on the board. It’s a very unsocial game. I noticed this in games like Dominion, Carcassone, and Splendor (all of which I both own and think are great games): messing with the opponents will make you loose in the long run. It’s only at rare occations where you can benefit from messing with others (like wanting the same cards, or placing your road so it points to an opponents town).

    It would be interesting to see these game designers do solitaire games. I hope they do.

  • Rickard Elimää

    When I thought about this, and it’s a topic worth it’s own so I take this in a separate post, is that these games rely a lot in blocking. Blocking resources, blocking options for the others, or in other ways limit the opponents. But so is chess. It feels like the impact of the blocking is too low with some Eurogames, like Ticket to Ride, where you can easily build around any blocked paths. The blocking has a bigger impact with the roads in Settlers of Catan, and the knight.

    I remember a recent game in Dominion, where the attack card was Militia (all opponents discard down to three cards) with no defense cards. I won with a combination of using the opponent’s Militia with Library (draw cards so you got seven on hard) with Crossroads (+3 extra actions, draw a card for each victory card in your hand). I wish Dominion had more cards that could work together like that (drawing advantage of when the opponent plays cards) because that game has very little impact on the other opponents. Yes, there are attack cards but it’s totally random when they appear so you have very little control over it. The only area where you can somewhat control the blocking is to deplete a pile so no one else can get that card.

  • Guest

    It seems like most Eurogames are a hybrid of a solo game and a multiplayer game. The engine-building aspect is mostly a solitaire experience and the selection aspect is mostly a multiplayer experience. That constant movement between the solo and social elements is the fun of a Euro for me. Because they’re hybrid games I can’t think of a Euro I’d rather play solo than social, when given the option. Even Mage Knight is much better with that little bit of player interaction.

    If you could isolate that engine-building aspect, Keith, and come up with something solo for the selection aspect, you wouldn’t have a Eurogame, but you might have a compelling computer strategy game. I’m not sure such a game would need to be cardboard, though. The engine-building focus would make it a highly cerebral experience, and the reason to have cardboard seems to be for the social and tactile element.

  • LoreeKitson2

    Thought-provoking suggestions ! Coincidentally , if someone is wanting to merge PDF files , We encountered presentation here http://goo.gl/1jWNNd

  • I think this article is getting way too much flak. While it’s true that it’s over simplifying by treating all Eurogamer as one genre which I’d rather call an “engine building” game, the point Keith is making is actually quite sensible and I get it.

    The “engine builder” games like Puerto Rico or Splendor or whatever really have very, very minimal player interaction and are basically just solitaire games. Opponents exist more to give you a timer than to provide any kind of social interaction.

    As a boardgamer I look through my collection and find myself exceedingly drawn towards “Ameritrash” and party games because they’re just more suited to a tabletop game with friends. If I wanted to do engine building and things like that I’d play on my PC and I’d have a game that’s far more complex and suitable for single player, because the gaming environment is much more capable of handling complex engines.

    For tabletop games, they key to me is player interaction. You’re at the table top sitting with firends, right? It’s like the “keep your smartphone when at the table” argument where you should be talking to people rather than fiddling with your phone. So I prefer games that maximize that kind of experience over a min-max engine builder.