When my husband and I first started dating, we discovered a mutual appreciation for board games. Over the years, we’ve amassed quite a collection, most of which would fall into the genre of “Eurogames.” While this type of game is not new, it seems to be enjoying a wider and wider appeal in the United States. According to Wikipedia, a “Eurogame, also called German-style board game, German game, or Euro-style game, is any of a class of tabletop games that generally have simple rules, short to medium playing times, indirect player interaction, and abstract physical components.”
I’m not sure if that definition really hits at what I would consider the biggest differences between what I perceive to be a typical American-style game and a typical German-style game. To my mind, American games are more cheaply made (the feel of the actual boards is different, playing pieces are usually plastic), are more focused on amusement, and generally are very easy to learn to play. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but German-style games, on the other hand, are almost completely the opposite: they feature high quality, beautiful artwork on heavy duty boards or mats and playing pieces are generally made from wood (gamers call these “meeples”). Game play is usually much more strategic, often set during a certain historical era or within a geographical area, making them especially attractive to kids who are obsessed with certain subjects (WWII, trains, or outer space, for example). Finally, because of the added complexity of the games, they are usually more difficult to learn to play, although certainly within the ability of even young children to understand.
Since Black Friday is coming up this week and everyone is making their Christmas lists, I thought I’d create a list of my family’s top Euro-style games. These are games that my family of 5 has played and enjoyed, and that I believe would make fabulous gifts for you or someone you know who loves to game. They aren’t arranged in any type of order since on any given day, our favorite game will change! 🙂
One final note: the links below are to Amazon, where you’ll find personal reviews from other people who have played these games, as well as information on the recommended ages, duration of play, etc. Please do check out that additional information, especially if you have questions about a specific game, or post a comment below.
This is considered a “gateway game” to Euro games. It’s a cinch to learn and easy to switch up with different landscape and port combinations. With add-ons for Seafarers, Cities & Knights, and Traders & Barbarians, the possibilities for unique gameplay are truly endless. We love to incorporate the Helpers of Catan, a supplementary card set that gives each player a unique special ability on their turn. We’ve also recently discovered the excellent CatanMaps website, which provides map ideas and even custom tiles to add jungles, volcanoes, and icebergs to your game! Note that the base game and add-ons mentioned above are for 2-4 players. If you intend to play with 5 or 6 players, you’ll need the expansions for each add-on: Seafarers for 5-6, Cities & Knights for 5-6, and Traders & Barbarians for 5-6.
- 2-4 players (5 or 6 players requires the expansion sets above)
Like Catan, this card game has lots of possibilities for unique game play. Unlike Catan (and most of the other games listed here), the game doesn’t include a board but rather is a complex set of action cards. The base game comes with 25 different action card sets, each of which enables a player to take a certain action during the game. The way it works is that from the complete set of 25 stacks, you choose 10 card stacks (10 of each card) to play with. Because you can choose 10 different card types each time you play, there are endless variations, especially if you combine one or more of the other Dominion card sets (listed below). We typically play with at least 3 different Dominion variants (current favorites are Alchemy and Hinterlands); obviously, the more sets you have, the more options you’ll have for varied depth and breadth in your card choices. Speaking of cards, my husband *always* uses card sleeves when he gets a new game to protect them from the grubby hands of little boys. 🙂 These are very high quality cards and are probably fairly durable without the sleeves but if you, too, want to give your cards an extended life, these fit the Dominion cards well.
- For 2-4 players
I wrote a detailed review of this game fairly recently, which you can find here. What I will say is that this is consistently one of the most requested games when we try to negotiate which one we’ll play as a family. As you can probably tell, we love variety and most of the games that we enjoy playing allow for varied game play somehow in the way they’re set up. This one provides variety because of the choices for wonders that each player plays (even more if you have the Cities add-on), as well as the additional expansion packs that provide additional strategies. We’ve played with the Babel add-ons a few times but almost always add Leaders now when we play. Heads up: be sure you have a fair amount of space for each player before starting: these card stacks take up a good bit of room! Also, you may want to invest in this game organizer from Broken Token. With all of the small pieces involved in this game, this organizer is an invaluable way to keep track of it all. These card sleeves fit the 7 Wonders cards perfectly.
- For 3 to 7 players
This game is another good entry level Eurogame because of its simplicity and strategy. Players compete to see who can build the most routes across the United States, with bonus points for the longest contiguous route. As long as kids can read the routes and find them on the board, they can enjoy this family game.
Prefer a different geographic area? No problem! Additional variations include Europe, Asia, Nordic Countries, United Kingdom, Africa, India, and the Netherlands. Each of these geographic areas–including the U.S.–is its own standalone game. However, if you’d like to add a few extra cards–and bigger ones, at that–you may want to also purchase the 1910 and/or 1912 expansion packs. Both of these feature larger format playing cards which my family prefers over the very small ones that come with the games. It looks like the 1912 card set can be used with any of the standalone games whereas the 1910 set is specific to the original.
- For 2-5 players
Both of these games are made by the same company with the same mechanics so I’m lumping them together. We discovered Forbidden Island first and so that one is my favorite, but Forbidden Desert adds a different spin so they definitely don’t seem like two versions of the same game. It’s very quick to set up and learn, which makes it a great choice to take if you’re going to play a game somewhere else: at a friend’s house, on vacation, etc. I wrote a blog post on this one a while back, which you can read here.
- Forbidden Island (2 to 4 players)
- Forbidden Desert (2 to 5 players)
To be perfectly honest, I’ve never played Castle Panic. We purchased this game at the same time we got 7 Wonders, and I’ve always loved that one so much that I never attempted this one. My boys *love* this one, though, and I love the cooperative aspect of it: when they play it, it always ends with very loud collective groans or screams of victory! Definitely a great family game and one that boys especially will love to play with their friends.
- 1 to 6 players
When I asked each member of my family to help me compile this list, Puerto Rico was surprisingly my husband’s pick for his #1 game. It was surprising because we haven’t played it in over a year! It’s a role based game where each round, each player chooses a specific role and then carries out actions associated with that role: mayor, captain, settler, trader, prospector, craftsman, or builder. The mechanics of the game are determined by strategy, not luck, so it’s usually a hardcore gamer favorite.
- For 3 to 5 players
In this beautifully designed game, each player represents a member of the Florence nobility who is actively trying to attract artisans—builders, artists, inventors, and jesters—to his principality. Game proceeds by way of two phases in 7 rounds: an auction phase followed by an action phase. There’s plenty of strategy (you design your principality with Tetris-styled pieces that once placed cannot be moved) and very little luck as you work to make your principality the most prestigious in Florence. I adore this game!
- For 3 to 5 players
This is another big favorite of my husband and me. The storyline is essentially that you are building yourself an empire in St. Petersburg. To do that, you need craftsmen, buildings, and aristocrats, each of which are featured on specific card sets. Another game with no dice, players randomly choose markers which determine play order, then switch for the next round. There never seems to be enough money in the beginning so there are definitely strategic moves you must make depending on how your fellow players are choosing to play (I always front load on craftsmen myself and that’s worked well for me!). I love the way that turns are taken when each round is started so that no one maintains an unfair advantage over any one type of card. This one has been very popular with our adult friends as well as our 9-year old!
- For 2 – 5 players
Finally, I’m including links to three war-themed games that my husband and oldest son have enjoyed playing together. I have no firsthand knowledge of any of these but I know that the two of them have spent many an afternoon playing them together. If you, too, have family members who are history buffs or interested in WWII, then you may want to check these out. Thanks to my husband for helping me out with the descriptions!
Memoir ’44 is a World War II land combat game that pits German versus American armies in various battles across France after D-Day in 1944. It uses a large mapboard divided into three zones and the terrain is made up of dozens of cardboard counters depicting hills, trees, buildings, bunkers, bridges, and more. Each army is depicted with plastic playing pieces representing infantry, tanks, and artillery units. Command cards are used to activate individual units each turn—victory is based on achieving various victory conditions that are different in each of the many scenarios included in the game. There are several game supplements available that add the British, Russian, and Japanese armies to the game.
- For 2 or more players
Wings of Glory is a World War II air combat game played with highly detailed 1/200 scale miniatures on a table top. Each plane model has its own set of movement cards that each player selects from before simultaneously revealing them. Damage counters are randomly drawn if an enemy plane is within firing range. There are several missions to choose from that include bombing and escort, and interceptions. Additional planes are available, as well as large playmats that depict various types of landscape. There’s also a version of the game depicting World War I biplanes that fly much slower than their World War II descendants but are much more maneuverable (and much more colorful).
- For 2 or more players
Axis and Allies 1942 is the latest incarnation of the original game published in the 1980s by Milton Bradley. Axis and Allies is a game simulating World War II that is played on a large board depicting the entire world divided into individual zones. Each major power includes 75 plastic game pieces representing infantry, planes, tanks, artillery, battleships, carriers, submarines, and more. The game is a few levels beyond the complexity of Risk, but is still one that can be learned within a couple of playings. It can last 3-5 hours if everyone is new to it, but the tempo picks up to 90 minutes to 2 hours when players are more experienced.
- For 2 to 5 players