This article is from the German Board Games FAQ, by Keith Ammann email@example.com
Depends on your tastes and your budget. Here is a selection of the most
popular family strategy games (most of which happen to come from Germany),
based on Aaron Fuegi's Internet Top 100 Games List
(scv.bu.edu/~aarondf/top100). That list is not (and is not intended as)
an objective description of the relative quality of various games, but it
is a good indicator of which games are most popular within the gaming
hobby -- that is, among the people who play these games and know them
well. Prices given are U.S. suggested retail.
* Settlers of Catan (Die Siedler von Catan). By Klaus Teuber. Mayfair
(U.S.), Kosmos (Germany). $35. If any game can claim to have
singlehandedly opened the international market to German games, it's this
one. It's simple enough to learn by watching others play, complex enough
to pump up its replay value. The object: Outpace your opponents at
settling a (formerly) uninhabited island by gathering, trading and
consuming commodities (wood, bricks, stone, grain and -- this is the
stroke of genius -- sheep!). The board is made up of illustrated
cardboard hexagons that can be rearranged for a new experience every time.
Several expansions are available, the most popular of which is Seafarers
(Seefahrer, $35), which lets you move around from island to island.
* Puerto Rico. By Andreas Seyfarth. Rio Grande (U.S.), Alea (Germany).
$35. A relative newcomer, this title took the gaming community by storm
almost as soon as it was released. It takes a long time to set up, and
there are a lot of different things going on once you get started, but
Puerto Rico stands out because of its elegance, high degree of player
involvement and variety of possible winning strategies. Players earn
victory points by colonizing the island of Puerto Rico, planting crops and
selling them and developing the capital city of San Juan. During each
round, each player chooses an action to take place -- planting, selling or
shipping goods, bringing in more colonists, etc. -- and receives a related
bonus. Timing is crucial.
* Tigris & Euphrates (Euphrat & Tigris). By Reiner Knizia. Mayfair
(U.S.), Hans im Glück (Germany). $50. This is the upper end of the genre
with regard to complexity and length of playing time, but it was praised
by many as the most strategically sophisticated until Puerto Rico came
along. The object: Triumph over your neighbors as you sow the seeds of
civilization in the fertile crescent. Victory is determined by your
ability to accumulate points in four different categories at once --
whoever has the highest lowest score wins! E&T is what's known as a
"tile-laying game," meaning that one of the elements of play is the
placing of tiles on the board. Knizia is probably the single most popular
German game designer; he is certainly one of the most prolific. His game
Samurai (Rio Grande/Hans im Glück, $40), set in feudal Japan, shares the
mechanisms of tile-laying and multiple-category scoring.
* Princes of Florence (Die Fürsten von Florenz). By Wolfgang Kramer and
Richard Ulrich. Rio Grande (U.S.), Alea (Germany). $35. In contrast
with the soloist Knizia, Kramer is known as a prolific collaborator. In
this gorgeous game, players represent renaissance patrons trying to gain
prestige by attracting great thinkers and artists to their estates.
Auctions are a popular mechanic in German games; in Princes of Florence,
each round (there are seven altogether) consists of an auction phase and
an action phase. In the former, players bid on the amenities that inspire
the thinkers and artists to create great works; in the latter, players pay
fixed prices to introduce freedoms and construct buildings, then try to
recoup their investments as the works are completed. The same design team
is responsible for ...
* El Grande. Rio Grande (U.S.), Hans im Glück (Germany). $40. El Grande
is the earliest of a number of games involving the distribution of pieces
around the board for the purpose of amassing "influence." The object: To
curry favor with the king in medieval Spain. To gain influence, you have
to get soldiers ("caballeros") onto the board. But the system for bidding
on action cards, which allow you to pull various stunts in the hopes of
gaining the upper hand, poses a dilemma: The more likely you are to get
the action card you want, the fewer caballeros you can raise. In
addition, a movable pawn representing the king freezes the action wherever
it's placed, because you can't let the king see what connivers you all
are! There are also several El Grande expansions, which Rio Grande sells
in the United States as one $25 set.
* Carcassonne. By Klaus-Jergen Wrede. Rio Grande (U.S.), Hans im Glück
(Germany). $20. This uncomplicated game combines influence-building with
the laying of square landscape tiles in a domino-like fashion. Players
place tiles featuring roads, fields, walled cities and cloisters next to
other matching tiles, then place pawns to control the various landscape
features. But the number of pawns is limited, and a pawn cannot be reused
until its road or city is completed or its cloister is surrounded, at
which point the controlling player collects points and takes back his
pawn. Pawns placed in fields are not taken back and score no points until
the end of the game. Players do not get to choose their tiles -- every
one is drawn at random, individually, at the start of a player's turn.
Though basic in its rules, Carcassonne offers many opportunities for
tricky tactical plays. An expansion set ($12) adds a variety of
interestingly configured new tiles.
* Citadels. By Bruno Faidutti. Fantasy Flight (U.S.), Hans im Glück
(Germany). $20. Faidutti, a Frenchman, is known for developing light,
fast-moving games. Citadels is the least light and runs the longest of
all his games, but it's still lighter than many other "German" games yet
just as sophisticated. Each turn, players choose from a selection of
stylized heroic figures (a king, a magician, a merchant, a bishop, an
assassin, etc.), keeping their identities secret. Each role provides a
certain special ability, such as trading cards, collecting extra money or
causing another player to lose a turn. Meanwhile, each player races to
put up eight buildings in his own city. But being first doesn't guarantee
victory: The player with the most valuable city takes the prize.
* Vinci. By Philippe Keyaerts. Descartes/Eurogames. $30. This is about
as close to a theme of military conflict as "German" games get -- then
again, its designer is Belgian, and its publisher is French. The
object: Gain the most points by expanding your fledgling nations and
conquering their neighbors. The plural is important there, because as
soon as it's obvious that a nation can grow no further, it's thrown on the
scrapheap of history and replaced by a new one.
* Modern Art. By Reiner Knizia. Mayfair (U.S.), Hans im Glück (Germany).
$30. Another of the "first wave" German games (along with Settlers),
Modern Art is built around an ingenious auction mechanism. The object:
Make a pile of dough by buying and selling works by several pretentious
painters. But you have to judge whether you'll make more money by
collecting the works of a popular artist and cashing in on them or by
being the one who sells them at outrageous speculative prices. A
fast-moving game with a lot of appeal for "non-gamers."
* Bohnanza. By Uwe Rosenberg. Rio Grande (U.S.), Amigo (Germany). $15.
The object: Make money by raising and selling different kinds of beans.
Since you have to plant them in the order you get them, you have to trade
off the ones that are getting in the way of your profits. Sometimes, to
avoid premature harvest of potentially valuable bean fields, you have to
offer your opponents incentives to take the unwanted beans off your hands!
Bohnanza is very easy to learn and play, making it another favorite among
non-hobbyists. (The name is a pun on the German word for "bean.")
These are the "stars," but there are many, many other popular and easily
obtainable family strategy games, including Through the Desert (Knizia,
Fantasy Flight/Kosmos, $38), Taj Mahal (Knizia, Rio Grande/Alea, $40),
Medici (Knizia, Rio Grande/ Amigo, $30), Ra (Knizia, Rio Grande/Alea,
$35), Tikal (Kramer and Michael Kiesling, Ravensburger, $35), Torres
(Kramer/Kiesling, Ravensburger, $40), Acquire (Sid Sackson, Avalon Hill,
$40), La Città (Gerd Fenchel, Rio Grande/Kosmos, $40), Löwenherz (Teuber,
Rio Grande/Goldsieber, $40) and Web of Power (Michael Schacht, Rio