Where Do You Get All These Games?
An Introduction to Contemporary Board and Card Games
by Mike Petty
Part III: Where Do They Come From?
In the previous two articles of this series (Part I and Part II) I've introduced the new group of contemporary games inspired by games created in Germany. For those interested more in the origins of the games, I'm including this article to highlight the talented designers who create the games and the great publishers who bring them to the public.
Reiner Knizia - I'm starting with Reiner Knizia because if you play even five games from Germany, it's very likely at least one of them will be his. He's turned out more of these games in the last ten years than any other designer. In many cases, his "new" titles are remakes or reworked versions of previously released games. Still, there's no denying he's a master game designer. With the simplest of components and simplest rules he can create wonderfully agonizing decisions. While it's hard to pin down a list of notable titles, here are some that would be considered classics: High Society, Modern Art, Lost Cities and Tigris & Euphrates. Oh, and in case anyone is wondering, his name is pronounced RYE-ner Ka-NEET-see-a.
Wolfgang Kramer - Kramer's name and games are very well-respected among gaming fans. Two of the games I featured in the "essential games" article were his work. Unlike Knizia, Kramer has worked with many other designers to create fun games for young and old. These collaborations have turned out such classics as El Grande, Torres and Tikal. On his own, Kramer has created hits like Category 5 (originally 6 Nimmt) and Top Secret Spies.
Michael Schacht - Of all designers mentioned here, Michael Stacht is the most recent to burst on the scene. When it comes to simplicity of design, his games are often the best examples. While such trimmed down designs often make for themes that seem disconnected, there's no doubt he's mastered the art of creating great, simple games. Coloretto is a perfect example of a light "filler" game with rules so simple you'll never read them twice. Other notable titles he's designed or co-designed are Web of Power, Hansa and Fist of Dragonstones.
Klaus Teuber - No list of contemporary designers would be complete without mentioning Teuber. His first game ever - a contest of clay sculptures - won the Spiel des Jarhes in 1988! That was Barbarossa. Even more notable, though, is his runaway, world-wide success, Settlers of Catan. Settlers was originally conceived of as part of a larger game. That large game eventually turned into Settlers, Entdecker and Lowenherz (or now Domaine). All three of these games display Teuber's talent for excellent games with strong themes.
Bruno Faidutti - Faidutti, a French game designer, has enjoyed many great games that came out of the U.S. in the '80s and '90s. Consequently, his style blends unique mechanics from the European tradition with chaotic, rule twisting action cards inspired by games like Cosmic Encounter and Magic. I personally find Faidutti's games to be an enjoyable experience rather than something I have any hopes of winning! They're fun and interesting, but strategies are often cut short by his taste for chaos. Knightmare Chess, an early one of his designs, is the perfect example. It's simply a deck of cards used with an otherwise regular game of chess. Each card changes or creates some rule of the game. Other great games from Faidutti include Citadels, Dragon's Gold and Mystery of the Abbey.
Alan Moon - Not just by his games, Moon stands apart from these others by the fact that he's from the U.S.. Inspired by the great games coming from Europe, he created many of his own throughout the '90's. Perhaps his formal induction into the German game scene came in 1998 when his game Elfenland won the Spiel des Jarhes. He spent many years teamed up with Aaron Weissblum, also from the U.S., creating some of the best "eurogames" on the market. Moon's idea of a good game is one that presents players with several good choices from which they must make a wise decision. This is illustrated perfectly by wonderful games that bear his name such as New England, Ticket to Ride and San Marco.
This list of publishers is limited only to those who publish English versions of the games that are available here in the US. While most of the games in this featured style are originally published in Germany, it's usually the case now that one of these US publishers will acquire the rights to best games published there and make them available to us in the US. Many serious gamers will gladly order a German edition of a game to get it as soon as possible, but for our purposes of introduction here, a list of US publishers should suffice to set interested gamers headed in the right direction.
Since most of the games I've already mentioned elsewhere are available from the following publishers, I'm not listing popular games that each one produces. Instead, I encourage you to search by publisher name at the Fair Play Games website or just click on each link below to visit the publishers' websites. There you'll be able to see which games they carry and what new ones will be out in upcoming months.
Rio Grande Games - Perhaps no other publisher is more responsible for the heightened awareness of these great games than Rio Grande. Jay Tummelson heads the company. He works with German publishers to bring the exact same quality of games to us here in the US, with English language rules and components. While it used to take several months for the English versions to reach us, many very popular games in Germany are nearly simultaneously available here thanks to Jay.
Uberplay - Arriving on the scene in the second half of 2003, Uberplay has already established itself as a company that gets great titles from great designers. New England was one of their first releases and it was selected last year by Games Magazine as Game of the Year. Like Rio Grande, most of their titles are published in conjunction with the German editions. A few of their games are their own editions, but they still have a high standard for their productions. High Society is a great example of a game they re-released and produced in their own style.
Mayfair Games - Mayfair has been bringing us the best games from around the world possibly before any other major publisher. While they still sell a few imported titles in the original German, many of their eurogames are now printed in English. They are probably best known as the people who bring us the English version of Settlers of Catan and its many expansions.
Days of Wonder - These guys know how to produce a game! They spare no expense to provide great artwork and playing pieces that will help immerse gamers into the theme. Consequently almost all of their titles are on the pricey side, but they promise many years of enjoyment. Their list of releases over the past year boasts one hit after another. Most notably, their game Ticket to Ride (designed by Alan Moon) just won the Spiel des Jarhes award for 2004! They're the first non-German publisher to be able to claim this prize, so that speaks very highly of their ability to make great games from any standard of judgment.
So, now you know a little more about the minds that create these games and the people who bring them to us. This nearly finishes this series, but I've included a fourth and final article featuring the best online resources for learning more about these great games!
Other articles in the series "Where Do You Get All These Games?"