Daily Archives: 11 February 2006

In praise of: German boardgames

Carcassonne Expansion: The River IIJust got back from a London shopping spree. Given that I’m utterly skint, it was probably unwise to spend what I did, but there you go.

One of my purchases was the latest expansion set for Carcassonne. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, Carcassonne is boardgame (if by board, you mean lots of little ones!) in which the players place tiles to build up a landscape of interconnecting roads, cities, fields and rivers. It’s great fun, especially with the innovation of firebreathing dragon that gets to eat people on a regular basis.

The latest expansion is the “River II” which expands the river (the game’s first expansion set which is now available in the basic set) and adds a few extra options. Nothing too dramatic and just four quid, but it does clear up one very minor anomaly which the dragon expansion caused.

Regardless of the detail, I thought I’d just write a short post praising the renaissance of boardgames, seemingly entirely due to a couple of fiendishly clever Germans. Carcassonne, despite being based on a region of France, was created by Klaus-Juergen Wrede. The game which got the whole ball rolling back in 1995, Settlers of Catan, was created by Klaus Teuber. Both games have deceptively simple mechanics, are non-militaristic, non-genre and have charming wooden components compared to the tendency to make everything out of plastic these days.

And both games have branched out into a plethora of different editions. Catan has, among others, a kiddie edition, a space edition, a travel edition and, bizarrely, a Mormon edition. Both games have their own stone age and Jerusalem editions.

Why does any of this matter? Well, for decades we’ve been cursed with bad boardgames. Let’s face it, Monopoly is rubbish: lots of obscure rules and a tendency for whoever does well in the first few rounds to end up winning the game, with no chance of anyone else catching up (me being me, I should of course mention at this point that the idea for Monopoly was ripped off from a game originally created to teach people the virtues of land value taxation). When I was growing up, boardgames were eclipsed by the Games Workshop hobby game. These had three main attributes: first, they are only really suitable for two players; secondly, you have to spend a fortune buying their bloody miniatures; and thirdly, they are all bloodthirsty combat and fantasy games and thus have rather limited appeal.

Now we are finally entering a Golden Age where anyone can reasonably spend an evening playing games. Almost everyone I’ve forced to play Catan or Carcassonne has enjoyed it a lot more than they expected to. Notwithstanding the golden rule that “Chicks Dig Zombies,” most games tend to be very boyish, yet these ones have appeal to both sexes. And without the bad experiences when growing up of Monopoly and Games Workshop, whole new generations of people will grow up comparatively well adjusted.

Yes, from tiny acorns mighty oaks grow. The German people, through this small gift to the world, may ultimately be blessed with sowing peace and greater understanding across the globe. It’s got to have a more positive impact on world politics than Diplomacy anyway.