You have a game. Maybe you made it, maybe you bought it, and you want to play it with someone else. When they ask you what kind of game it is, all you tell them is “it’s a Euro”. They don’t feel up to a 3-hour engine building game about farming, so they say, “No thanks”. But what if the thing you actually held in your hands was a 45-minute tile-laying game they actually would have liked?

What’s a Euro?

Euro and “german-style” board games have been around since the 1960s and 70s. If Euro still literally meant “games designed in Europe”, it would be descriptive enough. But the tabletop game arena has evolved, and game designers all over the world design use the aesthetics of early European games, as well as mix and rematch mechanics in new ways.

Opinions are very divided because they’re often complex and subjectively nuanced. The term “euro” contains too many qualifiers that aren’t universally held.

euroameritrash_manhattanproject

I guarantee you a game about building atomic bombs would never come out of Germany

What’s Ameritrash?

Ameritrash, with roots back to the year 2000, is similarly vague, unhelpful, geographically inaccurate jargon, and littered with caveats now that game design has evolved. It has the added negative slant of the word “trash” in it, which is off-putting to newcomers to our hobby.

euroameritrash_machikoro

Japanotrash…?

Why both terms belong in the trash.

What do people mean when they use the words “Euro” and “Ameritrash” to describe their games? Way too many things. And it’s become useless to the community of game designers and enthusiasts:

  • It makes us lazy about describing our game to our playtesters and potential publishers.
  • It unnecessarily polarizes opinions in our own communities.
  • There are so many exceptions to the rules of what fits into what camp that the terms have no meaning.
  • It creates a wall of indecipherable jargon between gamers and people who are new to board gaming and want meaningful recommendations.

A bigger, better dictionary

Here are some terms I like to use when describing games. Note that even if you don’t 100% understand what a term means, you can break it down and make some reasonable deductions:

Viticulture
Worker placement – You have a pool of pieces, which are used to activate different parts of the board.

Zerpang!
Variable player powers – Players have different powers and abilities.

Tiny Epic Kingdoms
Limited action selection – Your options are reduced as the game continues.

Puerto Rico
Engine building – Creating a system to generate the maximum number of points.

Stone Age
Dice rolling – Dice play into the game.

Ascension
Hand/Deck Building – You will be assembling a personal hand or deck through the course of the game.

Bohnanza
Set Collection – The strategy of this game revolves around collecting resources of certain types or combinations.

Homesteaders
Bidding – You will be wagering in-game currency to give yourself some advantage in this game.

Kingdom Builder
Territory Control – The strategy of this game revolves around claiming the most territory and strategically cutting off your neighbors.

Get Bit
Player Elimination – Players will be removed from the game until only a single winner remains.

Focus on terms that are objective and descriptive

We need to ditch Euro, Ameritrash, and similarly useless blanket terminology. The more we practice using stronger and more accessible descriptions, the better we can explore the nuances of our own games and guide newcomers to game experiences they’ll enjoy.

  • Tzolk’in is a worker placement game with a scarce resource availability, several upgrade paths, and features that make timing very important.
  • Concordia is a hand-building game with aspects of territory control and resource management.
  • Carcasonne is a tile-laying game with area control strategy.
  • Keyflower combines map-building, worker placement, and bidding.
  • King of Tokyo is a press-your-luck dice-rolling game about giant monsters fighting over Tokyo.
  • Tsuro is a light “last-man-standing” tile-laying game where you’re trying to connect pathways.

Mark Major

Game Designer at Whirling Derby

Mark Major wears hats and makes games of many different varieties (in both cases).

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  1. Eric @ Devious Devices on October 28, 2015

    Guilty as charged. While most times I let slip one or the other it is often accompanied by air quotes, I just end up describing the game more thoughtfully anyway. This is definitely an important habit to break, as it will only serve to help the community. Through educating those new to tabletop and helping designers better categorize their blossoming designs we all stand to benefit.

  2. Norv Brooks on October 28, 2015

    ” It has the added negative slant of the word “trash” in it, which is off-putting to newcomers to our hobby.” That was the way I felt the first time I heard “Ameritrash” used and still am put off by it. Really good article, Mark. I like your examples at the end of the post.

  3. Al Leduc on October 28, 2015

    I find it’s also very useful to give the weight and play time of a game as part of it’s description.

  4. joey vigou on October 28, 2015

    I agree – it is really annoying when people automatically assume that just because they haven’t already heard of a game, it must be a copy of something else. so I indulge those people- this is ameritrash, move along. they don’t deserve a game they want a label for. But the descriptions for the various mechanisms don’t really indicate the manner in which a game is fun, either. that’s why i think THEME is so critical in describing games. and games that are TOO themeless or mechanical don’t deserve a new word other than “euro.”

  5. Joseph Vales on October 28, 2015

    Terms like “Ameritrash” are widely spread by the media through articles, video reviews, and podcasts. Changing the vernacular is something that should be started on the media level, not the designer level. Regardless of how us as designers “describe” games, the media will ultimately put their little spin on it and call it whatever they want.

  6. AWilson on October 28, 2015

    While I understand the desire to classify games each by the dominant mechanic, I do feel like there needs to be a larger classification term that becomes the standard in describing modern non-mainstream board games. I like the term indie games though it could be confused with the publisher by the same name. What if we brought back the term Designer from when it was used to describe a type of new drug? “Oh so you like Monopoly and Uno?” “No way, dude. I only play designer games.”

  7. Paul Bauman on October 28, 2015

    There’s nothing wrong with binary terms as long as we understand that they’re a contrived shorthand and usually occupy a spectrum.

    Making a more granular, generic-sounding taxonomy doesn’t really get away from the problem of creating “indecipherable jargon.” You’re using plain sounding words that actually describe nothing to an outsider. “Limited action selection”… What does that even mean to a layman?

  8. Helloy on October 29, 2015

    – “It makes us lazy about describing our game” : Just like a gun doesn’t kill by itself, the one using it yes. Same with those words, they aren’t lazy or make you lazy (how can a word do that, explain me seriously), YOU yourself decide to be lazy.

    – “It creates a wall of indecipherable jargon between gamers and people who are new to board gaming and want meaningful recommendations.”
    Please explain how saying “This game is a bid collection for territory seize & control over variable engine rolling without player elimination” can be meaningful for newcomers?

    – “It unnecessarily polarizes opinions in our own communities.”
    With your logic, we shouldn’t be saying this is Italian/Chinese/Japanese pasta but ONLY saying it is spaghetti, macaroni, udon, and so on.

    We shouldn’t be saying this is a Japanese/American RPG (video games) but ONLY saying this is an RPG with dragons in a realistic design based in a medieval world where you have to level up to become an archwizard with a red rod, or whatever the game is.

    We shouldn’t be saying this is an American/Japanese/Korean horror movie but ONLY saying this is a movie with white ghosts with long dark hair covering their face coming out the roof or cellar and killing their preys in an unknown scary way, or whatever the movie is.

    How about you try to understand that all the countries have different cultures and this is what makes this world (and the board gaming world) rich?

    ==
    So yes American games, Euro games, Japanese games is a real thing. And trying to be more precise with your dictionary doesn’t mean it is better. It only speaks to people who know board games.
    You can combine both, your dictionary doesn’t replace the Euro/Ameri/Japan wording.

  9. Carl on October 29, 2015

    Helpful article, thank you. I still get confused on “deckbuilder” sometimes – I feel like it means different things to different people. But I still prefer describing games with the lead mechanics as opposed to broad types.

  10. Gino on October 29, 2015

    The first time someone described a game I liked as Ameritrash I was super offended, then he said how much he liked it and I was confused. It’s a terrible term.

  11. Lewis Pulsipher on October 29, 2015

    “Euro”s original meaning of “family games on steroids” was useful, but so many people now mean “games I like” when they say Euro. Some even want it to mean heavy-strategy games that grew out of Euros, but are nothing like “family games on steroids”.

    But describing games with mechanics is of very limited value. There are lots of characteristics of games that are more important, such as whether there are always-correct solutions (puzzles), how much direct conflict is involved, how many possibilities and decisions you must make each turn.

    As I said in a video about pitching games, if you characterize your game by a primary mechanic (“this is a worker placement game”), you’ve already failed. https://youtu.be/rAG_eZowZg4

  12. Bernd on October 30, 2015

    Fair points but my heart goes out to you as the terms aren’t going anywhere fast least of all with finely nuanced and inadequate replacements.

    Your new categories totally fail to make the key distinctions I understand exist between the (admittedly aged and unhelpful) stereotypes of Eurogame and Ameritrash.

    Your categories are valid and make sense, and are useful terms (and I dare say mostly in use already, not meaning to steal your thunder though) but can’t replace the two you dislike as theyse two still serve to usefully let people know what to expect because interestingly there is a market for both. Ameritrash may have been coined by Eurogame lovers but there is a community of passionate Ameritrash lovers who use the name with pride now ;-), mainly because they more into strong themes than strong mechanics in my experience and find Eurogames often thematically a little wanting.

    1) Does the game actually end inside of 2 hours?
    2) Are the rules brief and clear or a veritable tome of details?
    3) Is the game designed from the ground up as a game that works well and a good theme added, or is it a well selling theme (zombies anyone?) with a poor excuse for a game whipped up to drum up some cash in the games market which would sell near zero copies without the well selling theme to prop it up?

  13. Eric Francis on October 30, 2015

    Just adding my kudos to those above. You can apply this metric everywhere in society, and I hope we gamers can serve as good role models.

  14. mike on November 26, 2015

    I actually think “gamer”, “non gamer”, “the hobby”, “the community” or really any discourse that frames playing board games as a lifestyle with insiders and outsiders is far more destructive than any of the polarizing insider lingo that naturally follows. I can buy Catan, Ticket to Ride, Pandemic, Dixit etc. in the local supermarket toy aisle at this point. Heavier weight games are in all the local bookstores. So I’m not sure I know what “non gamer” even means at this point.

  15. Adam Redwoods on November 26, 2015

    I’m not liking your descriptors, hard to say in one breath. I need quick descriptions because it’s getting harder and harder to get games to the table. I really need to *SELL* the game to others, such as:

    Tzolkin: A meaty worker placement, with big, cool gears.
    Carcassonne: A light tile-laying fun game.
    Concordia: A rich, thinky euro, with a map.
    Keyflower: An amazing meeple bidding game.
    King of Tokyo: A light dice chucker… with monsters!
    Tsuro: An extremely light game, with a zen-like experience.

    …etc…

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