German-Style Designer Strategy Boardgames
from the 1990s–2000s

Last updated:  29 May 2010, Joe Czapski

New boardgames began to be published in Germany in the 1990s that were a different playing experience from American mass-market boardgames.  They involved novel game mechanics, beautiful artwork, and engaging, often historical, themes.  The popularity of the games spread among hobbyists worldwide and peaked from 1999 to 2005, a period of great innovation in boardgame design, during which over five hundred titles were released from a growing number of designers and publishers.  Boardgaming groups aided by internet forums formed in every US city, drawing people who were previously into war gaming, role playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, or the card game Magic: The Gathering, in addition to people who played backgammon, chess, go, and traditional boardgames.  The better game publishers in Germany have been Kosmos, Alea, and Hans im Glück.  In the US, Rio Grande Games, Mayfair Games, and other gaming hobby companies republish many titles shortly after they come out in Europe.

A German-style designer strategy boardgame typically has:

A quality of these games is that you can play just for fun or you can get serious.  Each of these games has enough depth of strategy that you can make a study of it if it interests you.  Also, players have different tastes.  A game will feel relaxing and fun to one player but to another player will feel like too much work.  None of these games is what you would call a "party game."

I've listed below what I think are the best, most interesting, most fun boardgames.  The list is divided into two sections, Starting Games and Advanced Games.  After you've played some of the starting games, and you want to try something with more depth and complexity, try the advanced games.  Note: I've specifically excluded war games and other games involving combat, which form another popular genre.

The games on this list play best with 4 players, although many also play well with 3, 5, or 6 players as noted.  At the bottom of the page, there's a separate list of games designed specifically for 2 players.

The buy link under each game title brings you to GameSurplus.com, a fine online retailer.  The study link brings you to BoardgameGeek.com where you'll find strategy and rules discussions, rules summary sheets, opinionated comments, and in-depth reviews.  On BoardgameGeek, German-style designer strategy boardgames are known simply as "eurogames."

All game pictures and titles are copyright their respective designers and publishers.


 

Starting Games


Settlers of Catan

road and town building on an island in medieval times - buy  study

Designer: Klaus Teuber

Currently Available Edition: 2007 Mayfair 4th Edition

Original Edition: "Die Siedler von Catan" 1995 Kosmos (Germany)

Number of Players: 3 or 4, best with 4

Features: trading, resource management, factory building, route planning and blocking, variable map board

Objective: Be the first to reach a fixed number of points, which you get by building towns and cities.

Turn Summary: Roll the dice to decide which goods are produced by which players, trade goods with other players, and build roads, towns, and cities.

High Points: The Settlers of Catan was the first big hit in German-style designer strategy games.  Since 1995 it has been published in dozens of languages and has become an international favorite in the boardgaming hobby.  People new to the hobby find it a fun game to start with, primarily due to the excellent trading dynamic and rising tension.  The use of dice is rare in the genre, and this game uses dice well without being too luck dependent.

Expansions and Follow-ons: More than 30 titles.  Most owners find it necessary to buy the 5&6 Player Expansion.


Acquire

hotel chain business in the 1950s - buy  study

Designer: Sid Sackson

Currently Available Edition: 2008 Hasbro/Avalon Hill

Original Edition: 1962 3M Bookshelf

Number of Players: 3 to 6, best with 4

Features: buying and selling shares, money management, drawing tiles, tile hand management, hotel building, grid board

Objective: Have the most money at the end, including the value of your shares.  A key way to get money is to merge hotels that you own shares of.

Turn Summary: Place a tile from your hand onto its spot on the grid, possibly creating a hotel, adding to a hotel, or merging two hotels.  Buy shares in hotels of your choice.  Draw a tile into your hand.

High Points: Acquire is American prolific game designer Sid Sackson's masterpiece, first published in 1962 by 3M when they made boardgames in addition to tape and post-it notes.  It's the only game on this page without a European design or publishing origin, and the only one published before 1990, but it fully belongs because of its strategic decision making and money management features.


Chinatown

small business deals in Chinatown in 1930s New York - buy  study

Designer: Karsten Hartwig

Currently Available Edition: 2008 Z-Man

Original Edition: 1999 Alea (Germany)

Number of Players: 3 to 5

Features: creative trading, company building, city blocks board

Objective: Have the most money at the end.  You earn money by building income-producing businesses.

Turn Summary: Draw storefront cards, draw tiles, and trade tiles, board positions, and storefront locations.  Build your companies, and collect income.

High Points: Chinatown has the most interesting trading among players of any game I know.  There is no taking turns in the usual sense.  Everyone does everything simultaneously in each phase of each round, which in this game is a great feature.  It's strongly recommended that you keep your tile faces hidden from the other players by using borrowed Scrabble tile holders.


Carcassonne

city and road building in medieval France - buy  study

Designer: Klaus-Jürgen Wrede

Currently Available Edition: Rio Grande

Original Edition: 2000 Hans im Glück (Germany)

Number of Players: 2 to 5, best with 3 to 5

Features: tile drawing, landscape development, region majority, meeple reserves management

Objective: Have the most points scored at the end.  You score points by placing your meeples on farms, on roads, in cities, and in monasteries as the landscape is being built.

Turn Summary: Draw a tile and place it adjacent to the growing landscape of tiles, optionally place a meeple, and score completed roads, cities, and monasteries.  Farms are scored at the end.

High Points: Carcassonne is pretty, charming, popular, and relatively quick and simple.  The term 'meeples' for the pawns was coined by a woman in the Boston gaming group I frequented in 2001, and the term quickly spread and stuck.  It's strongly recommended that you use Hans im Glück's current scoring rules rather than the rules that come in the box (English language Rio Grande edition).

Expansions and Follow-ons: Carcassonne has a ridiculous number of expansions and follow-ons.  Most players find that adding the Inns & Cathedrals and Traders & Builders expansions improves the game without making things too complicated, and those allow a 6th player.


Citadels

city building in medieval times - buy  study

Designer: Bruno Faidutti

Currently Available Edition: Fantasy Flight

Original Edition: "Ohne Furcht und Adel" 2000 Hans im Glück (Germany)

Number of Players: 2 to 8, best with 4 to 6

Features: secret selection of role each round, city building, second-guessing attack, bluffing, cards with special abilities

Objective: At the end, have the highest total value of buildings (laid down cards) that you built into your city during the game.

Turn Summary: Draw money or cards, perform your role's special action, and build if you can pay the cost.

High Points: Citadels is a card game with a unique appeal.  It has the feel of an adversarial party game.  Play it with a large group of friends who don't mind a jab or two.  The designer Frenchman Bruno Faidutti is a great historian/scientist of boardgames.  He encourages game designers and frequently collaborates on designs.  He hosts an annual multi-day event that includes testing boardgame prototypes and publishing discussions.  Bruno's website includes his Ideal Game Library, in which each game is thoughtfully reviewed and compared.  He has some leaning toward chaotic, "Take that!" games.

Expansions and Follow-ons: The current (2006, small box, Dark City) edition from Fantasy Flight includes the additional cards that were added to the game through its different European editions.


Wyatt Earp

hunting outlaws in the Old West - buy  study

Designer: Mike Fitzgerald, Richard Borg

Currently Available Edition: Rio Grande

Original Edition: 2001 Alea (Germany)

Derived From: rummy traditional card game

Number of Players: 2 to 4

Features: set collection, hand management, maximizing income, minimizing others' income

Objective: Be the first to have collected at least $25k at the end of a hand.  The game usually runs 3 hands.

Turn Summary: Draw a card or cards, optionally play a special action card, and lay down sets of cards or melds onto other players' sets.

High Points: Of all the games listed on this page, I've played the Wyatt Earp card game the most.  People are always up for it because it's fast, fun, and not a brain burner.  I've liked rummy since I was a little kid, and Wyatt Earp is the best form of rummy I've played.


San Juan

plantations, markets, and city building in the Caribbean in the 1600s - buy  study

Designer: Andreas Seyfarth

Currently Available Edition: Rio Grande

Original Edition: 2004 Alea (Germany)

Derived From: "Puerto Rico" 2002 Alea (Germany)

Number of Players: 2 to 4

Features: card game, hand management, factory building, goods production and selling

Objective: At the end, have the most points worth of cards laid down in your "city."

Turn Summary: Choose an occupation (one of the remaining role cards), perform that occupation's action and owner's bonus action, and then each player gets a chance to perform the action himself.  Occupations include builder, producer, trader, councillor, and prospector.

High Points: In 2002, the game Puerto Rico was released and quickly gained in popularity among enthusiasts.  It became the highest ranked game on BoardgameGeek and retains that ranking.  The game was innovative with its occupation selection and buildings with special powers.  When I tried the game, I found it too fiddly and ugly and said that it should be made into a card game.  Two years later, it was made into a card game, the superior San Juan.

Some players complain that the game is not interactive enough and is really just multi-player solitaire.  They have a point, but multi-player solitaire can be pretty fun.  However, when you select an occupation that you know the next player was planning to select, you impact that player's score.


Domaine

territory acquisition in medieval times - buy  study

Designer: Klaus Teuber

Currently Available Edition: Mayfair

Original Edition: "Löwenherz" 2003 Kosmos (Germany)

Derived From: "Löwenherz" 1997 Goldsieber (Germany)

Number of Players: 2 to 4

Features: territory enclosure, hand management, money management, factory building, variable map board

Objective: Be the first to surround with walls a specific number of points worth of territory.

Turn Summary: Play a card from your hand and pay for the action on the card, perform the action, and draw a new card.  Actions include adding wall units to the board, adding a knight to one of your castles, taking a square of territory from an opponent, and others.

High Points: Domaine is unique, beautifully designed, moves along nicely, and is a joy to play.  Some players don't enjoy it, however, due to its adversarial nature.


 

Advanced Games


Steam

railroad building and freight hauling in the 1800s - buy study

Designer: Martin Wallace

Currently Available Edition: 2009 Mayfair

Derived From: "Age of Steam" 2002 Warfrog/Winsome

Number of Players: 3 to 5

Features: route planning and building, goods pick-up and delivery, money management, auctions, occupation choosing

Objective: Have the most points at the end.  You earn points by delivering goods over track that you own.

Turn Summary: Raise money you expect to need, choose an occupation, lay track, deliver goods, and earn income.  That's a very rough summary.

High Points: Steam is currently my favorite game to play!

Expansions and Follow-ons: The Steam Barons expansion provides two more maps designed for 5 or 6 players, and includes rules and pieces for an excellent, different game that involves buying and selling shares of railroad companies in addition to the route building and goods delivery of the base game.


Princes of Florence

craftsmen, artists, and builders in Renaissance Italy - buy study

Designer: Wolfgang Kramer, Richard Ulrich

Currently Available Edition: Rio Grande

Original Edition: "Die Fürsten von Florenz" 2000 Alea (Germany)

Number of Players: 3 to 5, best with 4 or 5

Features: auctions, limited actions spending and optimization, money management, set collection, package construction and release, city building and arrangement

Objective: Have the most points at the end.  You earn points primarily by producing "works" of art, craftsmanship, architecture, etc.

Turn Summary: Bid on elements you need for your city (builders, landscapes, jesters) or for your hand of cards, buy additional elements (buildings, freedoms), and produce works.

High Points: The Princes of Florence is an elegant, very well designed game that is multi-player solitaire except for the intense, game changing auctions.  It has a strong flavor of Renaissance Italy, and it has enduring appeal for German-style boardgamers.


Tikal

adventurer archeologists exploring the jungles of Mesoamerica - buy study

Designer: Wolfgang Kramer, Michael Kiesling

Currently Available Edition: Rio Grande

Original Edition: 1999 Ravensburger (Germany)

Number of Players: 2 to 4, best with 3 or 4

Features: action point spending and optimization, exploration, landscape tile drawing and laying, region majority

Objective: Have the most points at the end.  You earn points by uncovering temples and finding artifacts in the jungles of Mesoamerica.

Turn Summary: Draw a tile and place it, and then spend your 10 action points by moving your archeologists, uncovering temples, digging for treasure, establishing a camp, or other actions.

High Points: Tikal is finely illustrated and highly thematic as you watch the jungle be explored starting in one corner of the board.  There is a good amount of player interaction as you vie for position, especially in controlling the taller temples.  The action point allowance system was an innovation that makes for a challenging and tense game.  Tikal is fine group fun if you play it with the right attitude and avoid the "advanced" game in which tiles are auctioned instead of simply drawn.

Expansions and Follow-ons: The authors followed up with two similar games called "Java" and "Mexica."


Power Grid

electric companies building plants and vying for territory - buy study

Designer: Friedemann Friese

Currently Available Edition: Rio Grande

Original Edition: "Funkenschlag" 2004 2F (Germany)

Number of Players: 2 to 6, best with 3 to 6

Features: auctions, network planning and building, factory building, money management, variably priced fuel buying, map board

Objective: At the end, be actively supplying the most cities with your power plants.

Turn Summary: Bid on power plants, buy fuel, build power network branches to cities, and spend fuel to power cities and collect income.

High Points: Power Grid is a clever design involving many puzzling aspects and has been a big favorite in many gaming groups.

Expansions and Follow-ons: many more boards depicting different countries around the world, and sets of more power plant cards


La Città

city and population building in Renaissance Italy - buy study

Designer: Gerd Fenchel

Currently Available Edition: Rio Grande

Original Edition: 2000 Kosmos (Germany)

Number of Players: 2 to 5, best with 4

Features: limited actions spending and optimization, variable map board, money management, city building, citizen feeding, strength challenging

Objective: Have the most citizens and the most well-balanced cities at the end of the game.

Turn Summary: Choose and perform an action such as adding a building to one of your cities, taking income, or a special action card.  Each round of five player turns ends with some citizens moving to more favorable cities and some citizens leaving cities with inadequate food supplies.

High Points: La Città is unique and tense and has wonderful artwork on the board and cards.  I like the combination and design of the action cards, buildings, placement, and turn suspense.


Entdecker

exploring and colonizing the South Pacific in the 1700s - buy study

Designer: Klaus Teuber

Currently Available Edition: "Entdecker: Exploring New Horizons" Mayfair

Original Edition: "Die Neuen Entdecker" 2001 Kosmos (Germany)

Derived From: "Entdecker" 1996 Goldsieber (Germany)

Number of Players: 2 to 4, best with 3 or 4

Features: exploration, variable growing map board, region majority, tile drawing and laying, bluffing, money management

Objective: Have the most points at the end.  You earn points by having the strongest presence on an island when it's completed.

Turn Summary: Choose a starting point for your ship along the edge of the board, sail your ship along a sea route that has evolved, purchase tiles, lay tiles and sail onto them, and optionally place a scout, fort, or town on the island piece you just placed.

High Points: Everyone has a good time watching the islands form, sailing their ship, and vying for strength on each island.


Caylus

kingdom building in medieval France - buy study

Designer: William Attia

Currently Available Edition: Rio Grande

Original Edition: 2005 Ystari (France)

Number of Players: 2 to 5

Features: group linear city building, worker placement, factory building, resource management, money management

Objective: Have the most points at the end of the game.  You earn points primarily by building buildings and helping the king build his castle.

Turn Summary: Take turns placing one worker at a time on different buildings and sites along the road.  Then going down the road, each worker performs his action.

High Points: This innovative design ushered in years of "worker placement" games.  It's a tricky, luck free battle of optimal points earning.

Expansions and Follow-ons: a card game version called Caylus Magna Carta


China

regional influence in ancient China - buy study

Designer: Michael Schacht

Currently Available Edition: 2005 Überplay

Derived From: "Kardinal & König" 2000 Goldsieber (Germany)

Number of Players: 3 to 5

Features: region majority, map board, card selection, hand management

Objective: Have the most points at the end.  You earn points by building the most or second most houses in a region and by building a string of houses along a road.

Turn Summary: Play cards to place houses or emissaries into a region on the board, and draw cards to refill your hand to 3 cards.

High Points: For a card game, there's very little luck involved.


Reiner Knizia

In the games above, I don't list anything by prolific designer Reiner Knizia, so I'm giving him his own section.  The quiet doctor of mathematics's designs are clever and varied and have led to more than one hundred published games.  They tend toward the abstract and mathematical, often requiring some work to calculate the score, and are therefore not to everyone's taste.  Below are my favorites.  Also see the Knizia entries in the Two Player Games section below.


Days of Wonder

In the games above, I don't list anything published by the French company Days of Wonder, so I'm giving them their own section.  The production quality and attention to detail in their games are excellent.  However, the gameplay is just a little below the quality of the games listed above, although some are omitted from the list because they are combat games.  I highly recommend the World War II combat game Memoir 44 and its many expansions.  It's an enjoyable 2-player game that's faster and lighter than most war games.


Two Player Games

When you have just two players, it's best to play a game designed specifically for two players.  Below is a list of my favorites.  7 of the 9 listed are from the wonderful 2-player series from the German publisher Kosmos.  Each comes in a 20 cm square mini-pizza box.  Many of that series are published in the US by Rio Grande.