When it comes to the tabletop industry, most games fall under one of two categories; ‘Eurogame’ or ‘American-style’ (sometimes called Ameritrash by the more cynical). For most serious gamers, Eurogames make up the majority of our favourite games; the artfully designed, lightly themed games that focus on mechanics and strategy over any other part of the game.
When it comes to Eurogames one country has stood head and shoulder above all else. For countless years Germany has dominated the tabletop scene in design, creation and sales. Although board games today are a truly global enterprise, Germany still holds a unique position as an epicenter of the hobby.
But what is it about this country that makes it so different to others? And where has Germany’s culture of tabletop gaming come from? Although these questions may seem rhetorical, exploring them can reveal a lot about our hobby – and show us some of the uniquely universal aspects that seem to exist across all countries and cultures.
Firstly, it wouldn’t be a huge exaggeration to claim that Germany had practically invented the Eurogame. When we look at the most iconic games that have shaped the hobby a huge amount have come from the country. Groundbreaking titles like Catan, Alhambra, Carcassonne and Puerto Rico have all emerged from German designers and companies – while many similarly influential titles borrow elements directly from the German school of design.
German creators have helped shape the design and mechanics of games played across the world. But most importantly, this influence comes from a shared design philosophy – from a culture in which board games hold a unique position in the national zeitgeist. The Germans’ success in tabletop design is more about their country’s rare love of board games than it is a sign of any uniquely innovative approach to design.
Board, dice and card games have existed in Germany for thousands of years (as they have everywhere) and have been played on all levels of society. Since before Germany became a single country the rules of games spread throughout the Germanic/Latin speaking world, leading to dozens of games that spanned cultures and borders Board games in Germany helped facilitate conversation and exchange across the often hostile divides in the early-German world. In some cases, games that are hundreds of years old continue to exist and be played today.
From this, board games evolved into a common pastime on all levels of German society. From the very poor to the upper elite, people of all backgrounds lived within a shared language of rules and mechanics. Throughout the turbulent history of Germany board games endured as a part of the national culture. In the 20th and 21st century board games were an important part of German family – something which helped shape the post-war German identity.
Unlike in many countries where some stigma still exists around board games (especially with adults playing them) Germans view the hobby as a perfectly normal pastime. Many Germans have grown up with board games in the home, graduating later onto more advanced games as teenagers and adults. This environment of gaming helped foster some of the most important designers and games that emerged in the 2000s to define contemporary tabletop gaming.
This very same environment not only created the wave of iconic games that Germany is famous for, but also positioned the country as a global hub for the industry as a whole. The country was home to leading companies that helped spread the hobby, and especially Euro-style games, to new markets and countries. At the same time Germany has also become home to a number of leading industry events, mostly notably the annual Essen Spieltage (playday) which has become a global standard for tabletop convention.
Frankly, there is no one singular answer to these questions, and no particular reason that Germany would exist above say, Thailand, Nicaragua or Sierra Leone when it comes to tabletop. However, looking at the multitude of reasons behind Germany’s strong tabletop culture can teach us a lot about the hobby, and give valuable lessons into how we can create and foster our own communities within the hobby.
Image: Die Skatpartie by Josef Wagner-Höhenberg (Via Wikipedia)