Euros vs. Ameritrash Games

Blood Rage

You don’t need to spend too long hanging around boardgamers before you’ll hear them talking about Euro games and Ameritrash games (with one side often championing the merits of their preferred type!).  What do these terms mean?  And what is the difference between them?

When I was a child, my parents used to host international students.  I would say exchange students, but it was more like ‘experience’ students as no exchange actually took place.  These students would come over and stay in our house for about 3 months at a time to help them improve their English and provide an ‘experience’ of English life.

To this day, I’m not quite sure why my parents did it.  It was rather disruptive for us as a family.  Since I was the eldest child, I had the largest bedroom, and so I was always the one that got kicked out and had to bunk with my brother whenever we hosted these students so that they could sleep in my room.

Despite the disruption, I liked having them though, as many of them were like big brothers/sisters to me.  As guests, they were polite and friendly, but humoured the requests from me and my siblings to play games.  And they didn’t really stay long enough to become annoying!

If there’s one thing the Germans know about, it’s boardgames.

Fortunately for us, several of them were German and if there’s one thing the Germans know about, it’s boardgames.  For some reason that I’ve never been able to work out, the Germans started designing ‘modern’ boardgames before pretty much anyone else.  The annual Spiel Des Jahres award probably helped with this.

One of these German students introduced our family to a game called Heimlich & Co.  It was a hidden-role racing game.  On your turn you could move any coloured pawn you liked, but it was possible to move pawns backwards as well as forwards.

You obviously wanted your coloured pawn to win, but if you always moved your pawn forwards, everyone would work out who you were and then they’d keep moving it backwards and then you’d never win!

It was simple, but elegant.  And completely different from the monstrosities (like Monopoly) that we were used to previously.  I loved it and we played it a lot!

As the years went by, we acquired more and more of these German games (Catan was a really significant one), which always seemed to have the following in common:

  1. Very little (or no) combat/direct interaction.

No more tears because you just wiped out your little brother’s army?  Great!

  1. An in-built time limit/end condition.

No more 4-5 hour games of Risk that just won’t end?  Excellent!

  1. Variable board/setup.

A different game each time you play?  Revolutionary!

These games weren’t exclusively German, but they did seem to be exclusively European, and were philosophically so different to the combat-focussed games coming out of the US that they were collectively known as Euros.

By contrast, American games tended to involve a lot of fighting and rolling dice, and could go on for hours.  Those people who had been scarred by experiences of Risk and Monopoly as a child raved about the modern Euro and referred, rather denigratingly, to the American offering as ‘Ameritrash’.

Now, in fairness, game design has improved significantly on both sides of the Atlantic.  Although the Ameritrash name seems to have stuck, it doesn’t have the negative connotations it used to have.

I’m a big fan of both genres.

Personally, I’m a big fan of both genres.  The big selling point for Ameritrash games is that they have a lot more theme usually.  Euros, for all their clever mechanisms, can be rather dry.  Theme is often an afterthought with Euro games and you will hear people talking about the theme being pasted on for this reason.  Ameritrash games often integrate the mechanisms with the theme far better.

In more recent times, there have been a number of number of games that have attempted to bridge this gap.  Blood Rage is the prime example.  It looks like an Ameritrash game: it has gorgeous miniatures, a great Viking theme and lots of combat.

And yet, when you start playing, you realise it’s actually a Euro.  The winner is the person with the most points at the end, not the person who has conquered the most territory.  In fact, you gain points when your warriors die gloriously in battle so you don’t necessarily want to win every fight.

There’s lots to think about, lots of strategy, but the theme really comes through.  It’s definitely a Euro, but it’s definitely an Ameritrash game as well.  I highly recommend it if you’ve not tried it.

Are you a Euro gamer?  Or do you prefer Ameritrash games?  Or do you like a bit of both?

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Jonathan Hicks

Jonathan is the director of Maven Games. He blogs and records podcast episodes several times a week. Whenever he isn't doing anything else, he designs games.

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