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The Design of a Soulless Euro

How To Make Euros (Take One)

Components. Any soulless Euro starts with components. You’ll want a board, of course, with lots of different spaces. Don’t worry if it coheres or not: the play’s the thing. Then you’ll need some pieces to move around that board. For classic euro style, use cubes. New-fangled games shape those cubes into wheat or cows or bricks to pretend they have theme. Don’t fall for this trick. For modern euro style, use meeples.

If shouldn’t need to be said, but your cubes and meeples must be made out of wood. Don’t even think of using plastic. In fact, if you try to offer painstakingly molded plastic bits as  a Kickstarter upgrade, your backers will probably insist that you offer wood as an alternative, and then they’ll never use those plastic bits that you spent months molding and OKing, at the cost of your schedule.

Resources. Your euro must feature lots of resources. If you can fill your over-sized box with so many resource components that it’s not as vacuous and space-wasting as most eurogame boxes, you’ve done well. Most of your resources will do mostly the same thing, but nonetheless create some artificial rules so that some are required in certain situations and others in different situations. Catan created the idea of arbitrarily combining otherwise identical resources for specific purposes, and that’s stuck, even if Catan fails other soulless-euro tests.

If you’ve done well, strategic players will want to acquire all of your wooden cubes (or meeples or whatever) during the game, lusting after blue cubes when only red cubes are available, and dreaming of green meeples when the board is filled with red, yellow, and blue. Make sure that they constantly have to decide between these different resources, and they’re never able to get everything that they want. Any good soulless euro is about prioritizing some colors of components over others, then angsting over the colors not taken.

Mechanics. Your soulless euro must have a mechanic. Obviously, this should be worker placement. Unless you’re trying to go for the nostalgia market, in which case you might use majority control instead. The other possibility for nostalgic play is, of course, auctions. It’s unclear why anyone ever thought that was a game mechanic instead of an administrative nuisance, but somehow it caught on. If anything, auctions are more soulless than the other options.

Once you have one mechanic, you’ll need to add a second one. Integrate them. And voila!, you have the core of a soulless euro. If you’ve carefully adhered to the souless euro mechanics, your game will either be worker-placement/auction (Keyflower), worker-placement/majority-control (Dominant Species and definitely not Scythe, which is neither), or majority-control/auction (El Grande).

Don’t be seduced by the more evocative mechanics that have invaded the euro market, particularly not deckbuilding. Though Dominion does have some soulless elements, with its abstracted cards and victory points, Donald X. is a New Yorker, not a Euroer, and the deckbuilding genre that he created is in danger of giving soul to euros, thanks to all the words and pictures you can include on a card.

Conflict. Don’t let your players fight. Warfare is entirely out. So is take-that. No nasty cardplay. No offensive actions. In fact, no direct conflict. It makes euro players cry. Do include conflict, but make sure it’s entirely indirect. Maybe players want the same action spaces, maybe they want the same very limited components, maybe they want to accomplish the same goals. If you can make your conflict so indirect that reviewers complain that your game is multiplayer solitaire, you’ve nailed it!

Randomness. Catan used dice. Do not follow in its footsteps. Though Catan is one of the foundational designs of the eurogame community, its dice were clearly a mistake. Dice are bad, m’kay? They’re too random.

Instead you must hide your dice away. Most games prefer to do that with cards. They work just like dice, but they have room for pretty pictures and lots of text*. (* Actually, they work nothing like dice, because they draw without replacement instead of drawing with replacement, but that’s just design, so don’t worry about it.)

In addition, you can hide randomness in the chaos caused by player interactions. That’s the almost invisible conflict noted above. If players can empty resource supplies, get actions in advance of other players, or take those limited spaces on the board, they’ll mess up other players actions, and that’s almost as good as the roll of the dice. Imagine a meeple stamping on a worker-placement space forever; that’s good euroconflict design!

Victory. Finally, someone’s got to win. Well, you could give players the chance to celebrate their shared victory, but unless it’s a co-op game, everyone thinks that’s a cop out.

Make sure your players score lots of points. Lots and lots. You need to know definitively who was in first, who was in second, and who was in third (and no one cares after that). If you have just have a few goals in your game, people will argue about whether they were on the verge of getting the rest, but if you have lots of points, the score is pretty obvious.

How do players earn those points? Through everything. Just look at all the things that players can do in the game, and assign point values to the end result of each thing. Maybe you should do some playtesting to balance out all the points, to give more points to high risk things or difficult things and fewer points to obvious and simple things. Maybe … .

You’ll need a score track to go with all of those points. Make sure that the top players will wrap around the track. Maybe even two or three times. Because that gives them some psychological benefit that they’re smashing the game or something. And if you get your score track drawn out around the board and it wraps at some weird number like 80 or 73, don’t worry about. The players will figure it out.

And that’s how you make a euro.

How To Make Euros (Take Two)

Step One, go out and find yourself some wood,
You could get cubes, but discs are also good.
Not cylinders because they roll,
Avoid plastic, it has no soul.

Build a board with lots of placement spaces
Take those cubes (or discs) and place them.
Create conflict by limiting the spots,
Make sure some spots will be wanted lots and lots.

Score the game in many different ways,
Spaghetti scoring is all the craze.
Victory depends on what they chose,
Now you know how to make euros.

How To Make Euros (Take Three)

1. Place cubes on board.
2. Push cubes around board.
3. Arrange cubes to score points.
4. Codify all of your rules.

(Euro design is simple!)

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The original article can be found on the great Mechanics & Meeples