RPGs And Eurostyle Games: When Opposites Attract
  • RPGs And Eurostyle Games: When Opposites Attract


    A large subset of board games is Eurostyle games. These games are almost exactly the opposite of RPGs in many ways. Keep in mind, board (including some card) games are a vastly larger segment of tabletop gaming than RPGs in monetary terms, and Eurostyle games are a large part of that segment. So even if you have no interest in non-RPGs, a comparison may help you understand what you do (and could do) with your own campaign or RPG design.



    The original general description of Euros was "family games on steroids". But people often disagree at the most fundamental level, about what a Eurogame is - I've even heard my game Britannia described as a Euro (NO!) - so you'll certainly see exceptions to the following generalizations.

    Player to Player Interaction
    Most RPGs are highly interactive player to player games. During adventures, you cannot afford to ignore what the opposition (or your own comrades) are doing, you've got to react well or fail. Euros are usually low interaction games, where you can do your thing (frequently, solving what amounts to a puzzle) with little or no concern for what other players are doing. RPGs are directly competitive (in the sense of competing with the bad guys) while Euros are parallel competitions, sometimes called "multiplayer solitaire", where the object is to outdo the other players while rarely affecting them directly.

    Avatar Basis - or Not
    You have three types of avatar in games: the "do-er" (as in one doing actions) versus the King/general (the one giving the commands) versus the mysterious, omnipotent controller. RPGs popularized the single entity (usually humanoid, almost always alive) from which all the player's actions emanate, and which is at risk - if it dies, the player fails. This is the do-er avatar.

    In Euros, typically the player is the mysterious, omnipotent controller, occasionally the one giving commands, rarely the do-er avatar.

    Closed vs Open
    RPGs usually have no goal that ends the game as a whole; if they do, it's often after a long series of adventures. Adventures may have a goal, or not. Euros rarely have an organic goal (one that derives from the situation), typically there's an arbitrary end (as "play 5 rounds"). They have clear objectives, often expressed in victory points

    Euros rarely last as long as one session of an RPG (let alone many sessions in succession). When the game is done, there's no more, no continuing assets. Campaign RPGs continue from session to session with a continuing narrative.



    Abstraction
    Euros are often abstract games with a "theme" tacked on. RPGs usually model some situation, whether historical or fictional. The mechanisms that work for Eurogamers often don't work for an actual model of something.

    Corporate Management vs Command
    RPGs are usually "Command" style games, Dynamic games, where players look for direct, bold solutions to their in-game problems. Euros are often mid-level corporate management games, Incremental, about small improvements rather than big changes. (This is a future game styles topic.)

    Dice
    Dice tend to be avoided in Euros (though chance may be involved, often through cards). Most RPGs use lots of dice.

    Co-operation
    RPGs are usually co-operative endeavors against opposition controlled by a human GM. While there are co-operative Euros (Pandemic etc.), most are parallel competitions with the winner being the person who executes their task most efficiently. When RPGs are competitions, they may be parallel (whoever completes the adventure best among competing groups) or direct (one player group fighting another).

    Simple Rules
    Euros tend to have short rulesets; people often try to read the rules the first time while playing the game! RPGs mostly have long rulesets. The core book of a top-line RPG has more words than a hundred Eurogames!

    Positivity
    Euros generally use positive scoring mechanisms (you cannot lose points, e.g.). They're about building up, not tearing down or taking away. RPGs usually involve gain and loss, of hit points or character life, certainly the opposition lose their possessions and their lives, even as characters improve.

    The Players
    Many Euro fans don't get RPGs. Many RPGers don't play Euros. I think this is significantly generational, as avatar games (and co-op games) are the preference of Millennials, while Euros attract older players (though Baby Boomers are often wargamers).

    If you want additional analysis of Eurogames, a dozen years ago I wrote a detailed description of the "Essence of Eurostyle Games." Things have changed, but most of it still applies.

    contributed by Lewis Pulsipher
    Comments 28 Comments
    1. AngusA's Avatar
      AngusA -
      I've, personally, found a lot of crossover between the two groups of players you talk about. There is only one player in our RPG group that isn't also keen on Eurogames, for example, and pretty much all the RPG groups I've played with over the years have also been just as happy breaking open a board or card game - either for a change or if some one can't make the regular games night but the rest of us still fancy a game of some sort.

      I do know RPGers who don't boardgame - and even more boardgamers who don't roleplay. Part of that is certainly down to preference, but some of it is also down to opportunity. I know a lot of old RPGers (for example) who these days predominantly play boardgames because they are less time consuming (no prep; can be shorter games) and easier to find players (bigger pool of interest) and less commitment than a regular RPG night. Plus with a host of games - such as Gloomhaven - which are almost 'roleplaying games with a board' many find is easier to attract other non-RPGers to play those than they would an actual RPG, so still kind of get their fix in.

      It's fantastic to see the way the 'hobby' has grown in popularity and really been booming.

      (And no, I'd certainly not call Britannia a Eurogame either!)
    1. pemerton's Avatar
      pemerton -
      I haven't seen much evidence that RPGing and Eurogaming are preferences that push against one another.

      And the emphasis in a lot of contemporary RPGing on careful measures of mechanical effectiveness (this is really evident in 5e compared to (say) AD&D, and can be seen in many indie RPGs) is consistent with cross-pollination from Eurogame ideas.
    1. TwoSix -
      Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
      I haven't seen much evidence that RPGing and Eurogaming are preferences that push against one another.

      And the emphasis in a lot of contemporary RPGing on careful measures of mechanical effectiveness (this is really evident in 5e compared to (say) AD&D, and can be seen in many indie RPGs) is consistent with cross-pollination from Eurogame ideas.
      Yea, I look at a game like Fiasco and it seems like the "Eurogame" version of an RPG. Simple rules, fairly abstract, little randomness except for setup, play has more parallel turns, focus on build up (of story and drama, rather than points).
    1. Arilyn's Avatar
      Arilyn -
      Gamers in my neck of the woods happily play board games as well as rpgs, and a fair percentage of the board games are Euros. As far as I can tell, there is no differing attitudes which splits the groups into "camps."
    1. Jhaelen -
      I also enjoy Euro games _and_ RPGs. However, I still care about theme, so I prefer Euro games where the mechanics have at least some resemblance to what they're supposed to represent in the game. Still, if the game mechanics are great, I'll play it. E.g. 'Glen More' is superficially about Scottish clans, but it's obviously a theme that is just pasted on. The theme could be anything and you wouldn't have to change the rules at all. But the game design is brilliant: simple but deep, and very elegant.

      There's a few thematic board games that borrow a lot from Euro games, e.g. 'Legends of Andor', 'Robinson Crusoe' or 'Mage Knight'. For me these 'hybrid' games are the best of both worlds. Clean and elegant mechanics to drive a developing story with just the right pinch of randomness to make the game infinitely replayable.
    1. Olgar Shiverstone's Avatar
      Olgar Shiverstone -
      Need more crossover Euro-RPGs.

      "You all meet at a tavern to trade wood for sheep..."
    1. Tony Vargas -
      I got back into D&D c2000 because a group of college friends started getting together to play Settlers of Catan. I feel like there's a fair crossover between RPGers and boardgamers, in the sense of lots of RPGers play boardgames, obviously not the other way 'round or our tables'd be really crowded. I'm not sure I see the contrasts as 'opposites,' either, just as differences, some of them a little technical.

      Cooperative boardgames, like Pandemic or Betrayal at House on the Hill, seem like they have some things in common with RPGs.
    1. Olgar Shiverstone's Avatar
      Olgar Shiverstone -
      Next we'll have "PowerGrid: The RPG" where everyone plays a power generation tycoon out to make deals, build infrastructure, and deliver electricity. The highlight of each game is usually roleplaying the board meeting when you decide how to set prices and where to invest next.
    1. TwoSix -
      Quote Originally Posted by Olgar Shiverstone View Post
      Next we'll have "PowerGrid: The RPG" where everyone plays a power generation tycoon out to make deals, build infrastructure, and deliver electricity. The highlight of each game is usually roleplaying the board meeting when you decide how to set prices and where to invest next.
      Please tell me you have a link to the Kickstarter.
    1. Blue's Avatar
      Blue -
      Also of note: driving a car and driving a golf ball, while both using the word driving, have many differences between them.

      Sorry, normally if I don't like an article I just don't comment. But this one seems like it reaches really hard to find differences. "Oh noes, this uses a random element generator based on picking cards instead of rolling a die - THEY ARE SOOO DIFFERENT". "But, but, a card could have something besides a number." "Yeah, looking up a die roll on a table for 'more than a number' has been around for decades, chum".

      And even there there it seems to ignore RPGs and Eurogames that don't match it's critera. For example, there's a large movement for simple RPGs. Fate Accelerated springs to mind. There are "closed" RPGs (as defined in this article of having a set goal), like Lady Blackbird.

      And then it ends with an un-sourced conclusion that there isn't a lot of overlap in players between these. Just as un-sourced, I can say that there's a huge overlap of people who like both that I know.
    1. aramis erak's Avatar
      aramis erak -
      Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
      I haven't seen much evidence that RPGing and Eurogaming are preferences that push against one another.

      And the emphasis in a lot of contemporary RPGing on careful measures of mechanical effectiveness (this is really evident in 5e compared to (say) AD&D, and can be seen in many indie RPGs) is consistent with cross-pollination from Eurogame ideas.
      I've seen some separation... but not enough to make a statistically viable correlation between euro enjoyment and RPGing — I've seen people on all 4 positions (Love Euros/hate RPGs, Hate Euros/Love RPGs, Love both, hate both but still boardgame)

      What I've noticed is that people playing 1-2 controlled character boardgames and cardgames usually can easily transition to full on roleplaying, given the right cues and/or group, with or without a "proper" RPG.

      Many Car Wars fans ran it as an RPG. Many, not most. Well, all the guys I played with did, and many of their friends. A very combat intensive RPG.

      Gorilla Games' Battlestations! is explicitly designed to be whichever the group sees it as, tactical boardgame or RPG. And the designers have steadfastly refused to lock it to either one.
    1. Jhaelen -
      Quote Originally Posted by Olgar Shiverstone View Post
      Next we'll have "PowerGrid: The RPG" where everyone plays a power generation tycoon out to make deals, build infrastructure, and deliver electricity. The highlight of each game is usually roleplaying the board meeting when you decide how to set prices and where to invest next.
      That actually doesn't sound all that different from an Ars Magica RPG session of a Tribunal of the Order of Hermes meeting... The fun lies in trying to further your political (or financial) agenda by making deals. There's lots of roleplaying opportunities in trying to get others to vote in your favor.
    1. CubicsRube's Avatar
      CubicsRube -
      I was really hoping this thread was going to be about rogs that use eurostyle mechanics.

      The author i think makes too many assumptions about rpgs, which are much broader that made out to be. For example, some games use no dice whatsoever.

      As i understand gymshoe uses a points based system for investigative skills. And i believe amber is diceless.

      Certainly they are not major games, and i think there is a lot of room for development in rpgs with inspiration from eurogames.
    1. pemerton's Avatar
      pemerton -
      Quote Originally Posted by CubicsRube View Post
      I was really hoping this thread was going to be about rogs that use eurostyle mechanics.
      I'm no sort of boardgame expert. But I think one difference between boardgames and RPGs is that the latter involve the creation of shared fiction which matters to framing and resolution. Whereas boardgames don't have this.

      So any adaption of Euro-style mechanics will have to account for that. Eg if there is piling up of tokens of different sorts, and spending them on cards, well that has to somehow correlate to something meaningful in the fiction.

      I think that some of Vincent Baker's designs are interesting in this respect. Poison'd, for example, involves doing stuff out of combat to build up tokens, which then can be spent for advantage when a fight inevitably comes. But the resource management isn't purely abstract, as the out-of-combat stuff actually shapes the shared fiction, which in turn feeds into the framing of the combat.

      I don't know that I'd call it fully Euro (as I said, I'm not enough of a boardgames guy) but it's interesting!
    1. CapnZapp -
      There are a lot of rpgs that would fit the "euro" label.

      D&D might be what people are playing, but it's downright archaic when it comes to RPG design.

      You just need to look further.
    1. aramis erak's Avatar
      aramis erak -
      Quote Originally Posted by CubicsRube View Post
      I was really hoping this thread was going to be about rogs that use eurostyle mechanics.

      The author i think makes too many assumptions about rpgs, which are much broader that made out to be. For example, some games use no dice whatsoever.

      As i understand gymshoe uses a points based system for investigative skills. And i believe amber is diceless.

      Certainly they are not major games, and i think there is a lot of room for development in rpgs with inspiration from eurogames.
      Part of the problem is defining "Major RPG's"

      By sales, if you go Top Magnitude (as in powers of 10), D&D is it. Period. More players at any given time than the next 3-4 combined, and often more than the next 10 combined.

      Pathfinder may be as much as 20% of the number of 5E in terms of players, but it's been hinted it's more like 10% on sales. I'd seldom argue against it being major.

      Fate Core is well known, but not nearly as well bought/played. But I think it counts as major, due to notoriety alone. Same for Apocalypse World.

      FFG Star Wars and WEG Star Wars, for their times, absolutely in the major category, even if only 1/20 the sales of D&D - name recognition, even if "Oh, yeah, the star wars with the funky dice" for FFG-SW.

      Warhammer is less spectacular sales-wise, but well known. I think it should be considered major, but many don't.

      Das Schwarze Auge also should count as major - it was the best selling RPG in Germany (and several other German speaking areas) for decades.

      Traveller has sold about a million total core units since 1977... by 2000, Classic had sold over 200k alone before the late 90's reprints, and was nearly half-a-million overall. The sales, counting MGT, have recently brought the number up rapidly for total system, as has PDF sales of every edition on CD or Thumb Drive. Note that Marc considers Cepheus Engine to be "a part of the Traveller family" and he and I agreed it should be supported actively at TravellerRPG.com. (I'm the lead admin there.) Most older gamers have heard of Traveller. I think it's pretty major.

      Call of Cthulhu, RuneQuest and Basic Role Play probably should combined count as Major - they're all the same engine. And RQ was 1978, BRP was out by 1982, so some flavor of the engine has been in print continuously since 1978. It's well known, too.

      GURPS and Hero System both should count as major - most decent game stores carry one or the other, if not both.

      Gumshoe has a lot of recognition. Lot less sales and plays, but it's talked about well out of proportion to sales.

      Fundamentally, the euro-like RPG's aren't even in the second magnitude of sales nor plays. Even tho' I like several of them, they just aren't going to catch up with D&D any time soon. Let alone D&D+Pathfinder+Starfinder+StarWars+StarTrek.

      I do think Modiphius' Star Trek and Conan and Burning Wheel's games (BWG, Burning Empires, Mouse Guard, Torchbearer), plus Fate and Cortex Plus, all feel to traditional RPGs much as euro-styled consims (Vinci, Small World, BattleLore, Memoir 44) compared the combination range of "Ameritrash" consims (Axis and Allies, Samurai Swords, BattleLore, Memoir 44, C&C Ancients), (Hex/Square/Space)-n-counter single-box wargames (Johnny Reb, 1776, Invasion Earth, 5th Frontier War, Imperium, Succession Wars, NATO)... the theme is pasted on, but seems to work well enough.

      Now, I find Star Trek Adventures does NOT help me make a Star Trek feel by the rules mechanics themselves - they're much too light to do genre enforcement. They don't get in my way, either - if everyone agrees on what "Star Trek" should feel like, and sticks within, it works really well. If they don't, it can hurt the experience badly. FASA-Trek, by comparison, had TOS Genre enforcement in the Character Generation, in the ship combat systems (both STRPG 1E core's, and ST III boardgame tie-in), and in the extensive gear lists. What it didn't do well is capture the rapid flowing feel of TOS brawls. STA can do those brawls, and the TNG "snapshots across the room from cover," and the TOS:A Piece of the Action thompson submachinegun drive by... but unlike FASA, if allowed to drop down to just rules, without the colorful flourishes, there's no ST feel left, in the same way that Puerto Rico, St Petersburg, King Me!, Colosseum, ticket to ride, or Reiner Knizia's Knights are respectively math/economy engine, ibid, hidden agenda bidding, Asset auction and set completion, rummy variant with a bizarre scoring system, yachtzee variant with a bizarre scoring system. Conan, Mutant Chronicles 3rd, and Star Trek all use one engine, with light mechanical theme changes, and heavy use of fluff text to define the intended genre.

      @pemerton - Most boardgames have a shared emergent story - it's just not a character driven one. Listen to the Power Grid or Advanced Civ "No S__t, there I was..." stories. Or any consim. Or even Settlers of Catan. Players will see story in their play almost any time they can "empathize with the pieces"... Twilight Imperium players especially, speak of their factions in a personified way, as to Advanced Civ players; Diplomacy players tend to see their opponents as the story element, but still, it forms a narrative that, when exceptional, becomes a legend amongst the players (and the bane of us waiting in line at the FLGS register).

      Making stories is one thing that humans are genetically adept at doing - EVERY culture has the ability to tell stories (with the possible exception of the dozen or so uncontacted known tribes), and to relate the actions of others, including fictional others.
    1. pemerton's Avatar
      pemerton -
      Quote Originally Posted by aramis erak View Post
      Most boardgames have a shared emergent story - it's just not a character driven one. Listen to the Power Grid or Advanced Civ "No S__t, there I was..." stories. Or any consim. Or even Settlers of Catan. Players will see story in their play almost any time they can "empathize with the pieces"... Twilight Imperium players especially, speak of their factions in a personified way, as to Advanced Civ players; Diplomacy players tend to see their opponents as the story element, but still, it forms a narrative that, when exceptional, becomes a legend amongst the players (and the bane of us waiting in line at the FLGS register).

      Making stories is one thing that humans are genetically adept at doing - EVERY culture has the ability to tell stories (with the possible exception of the dozen or so uncontacted known tribes), and to relate the actions of others, including fictional others.
      I agree that boardgame play generates stories that can be enjoyed, related to others, etc.

      But those stories don't factor into resolution as a constraint on, or context for, the application of the mechanics.
    1. pemerton's Avatar
      pemerton -
      Sorry for duplicating replies.

      Quote Originally Posted by aramis erak View Post
      I do think Modiphius' Star Trek and Conan and Burning Wheel's games (BWG, Burning Empires, Mouse Guard, Torchbearer), plus Fate and Cortex Plus, all feel to traditional RPGs much as euro-styled consims (Vinci, Small World, BattleLore, Memoir 44) compared the combination range of "Ameritrash" consims (Axis and Allies, Samurai Swords, BattleLore, Memoir 44, C&C Ancients), (Hex/Square/Space)-n-counter single-box wargames (Johnny Reb, 1776, Invasion Earth, 5th Frontier War, Imperium, Succession Wars, NATO)... the theme is pasted on, but seems to work well enough.
      I can see why you put Cortex Plus into this camp. I don't think I agree about Burning Wheel, though. Mechanically (in PC build, and the basics of resolution) BW reminds me a lot of other high-sim skill list-based RPGs like RQ and RM. And even though Duels of Wits, as resolution, are clearly modelled in general terms on the prior Fight! system, it's highly adapted to correspond to the particular fiction.
    1. CubicsRube's Avatar
      CubicsRube -
      To me a eurogame is primarily differentiated by the extreme limitation -or complete elimination - of luck, shfting the emphasis on strategy.

      I'd be curious to see an rpg fully embrace this. I'm not sure what it would look like though. Perhaps it would be pools of poinrs a la gumshoe and the player can choose when to succeed at an action and when to fail. Perhaps choosing to fail would increase their pool for success later, so they have to choose a tradeoff between success or immediate consequences and later gain.


      Hmm, I'm going to have to think about that...
    1. dragoner's Avatar
      dragoner -
      Quote Originally Posted by lewpuls View Post
      Many Euro fans don't get RPGs. Many RPGers don't play Euros.
      My board game group sometimes plays RPG's, and we play a decent amount of euros. That's me being somewhat facetious because I could say my RPG group mostly plays board games. The big difference I see is that board games are much easier to play, throw catan down at the tavern and play a game over pints. There is no prep, you just play; on the rpg front we have played D&D, CoC, Traveller, and Paranoia. The big difference there is that all the rpg's take a decent amount of prep before playing, not just world building, but knowing the rules. We get all games, and if people were consistently motivated to do the work for rpg's, someone volunteering to GM mainly, they would never lack for players. There are other dynamics going on, such as people often single me out to be GM, I like to be a player too, not always GM, and I'm not adverse to trying new games; nobody in the group is adverse, it's just the time investment in the prep for an adventure and learning new rules. I feel those two factors are going to always be a stumbling block for rpg's.
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