I recently had twice the opportunity to play eurogames. The first one was Queendomino. As I understand it, it’s an enhanced version of Kingdomino, though I’ve never played the latter. Queendomino looks like a typical specimen of its kind: There is an intricate scoring system, so you only know if you’ve won (or even if you’re leading) at the very end of the game. There are no dice, chance is limited to drawing the terrain tiles. There are many different ways of acquiring points and many strategies are possible. The mechanics look well thought-out and balanced and I’d say that, objectively, it’s a very good game.
However, I didn’t enjoy it that much. I don’t play many eurogames, and when playing Queendomino I was reminded of the reason for this. There is a theme, but it is irrelevant. Everything is very abstract. There is no story, the only purpose of the game is to understand and exploit the mechanics well enough to accumulate the most points. In the end, it feels a bit like a lesson in accounting.
The other eurogame I played was Lords of Waterdeep. One could call this a eurogame disguised as an adventure game, and of course I liked it. There are all of the usual eurogame mechanics: worker placement, set collection and resource allocation, as well as the intricate scoring system. However, there is an actual story behind the game: The players are, well, lords of the city of Waterdeep, famous from D&D lore. They assemble and send out adventurer parties to do all kinds of jobs while also building their influence within the city. While it’s still about accumulating points, it feels more like a story is developing. The players are actually invested in the game world and not just trying to be better at exploiting the mechanics. It is also a surprisingly friendly game: Although there are intrigue cards, there a few opportunities to actually harm another player – most of those cards just give an advantage to you, without taking anything from the opponents.
Now I’m not really into games where backstabbing and being mean is the only way to win, as I prefer to play in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. However, one thing that I notice about eurogames is that player interaction tends to be rather low. People tend to play parallelly instead of with or against each other. Everyone is concentrating on optimizing their moves and collecting points. Sometimes, there is a short interaction when a sheep is exchanged for some wood, but that’s about it.
Apart from the narrative aspect, which is the single most important aspect of gaming for me, the centrality of player interaction may be the reason miniature wargames and co-operative games are my favourite types of games. In wargames, player interaction stems from direct conflict. You are constantly engaged with what your opponent does (or doesn’t) do and you have to react to each and every of his or her moves. With co-op games, the conflict is between the players and the game itself. This, however, means that the players have to interact and coordinate their actions so as to beat the game mechanics.
Eurogames have been at the forefront of the boardgaming renaissance and have been an area of innovation for many years. And don’t get me wrong: I like games that use eurogame mechanics. I’m just not interested in the bare, abstract mechanics in themselves. If there is a well-integrated theme and a story, like in Lords of Waterdeep, I enjoy them very much.