GoPlayListen: Europe Divided - Walking a Euro/War Game Design Tightrope
Blending elements across genres is an interesting route to take when searching for originality. But it can be difficult to get the balance right. I thought I’d talk a little about what David Thompson and I ended up with in Europe Divided; our upcoming post-Cold War euro/war game, which is currently on Kickstarter.
David is a fan of both war and euro games. With Europe Divided, he brought me on board a way down the design line. He knew I was big into euro games, so hoped I could give a little insight from a non-war game perspective. Check out the design diary for the full skinny; I just want to talk about the process of blending two genres into a cohesive whole. And which will hopefully keep fans of both genres happy!
What makes a war game
History, theme and simulation are words you’ll come across a lot in the war game field. In general a degree of historical accuracy is a must, which brings the theme with it. And simulation is similarly common, with anything from a squad battle to dogfight to complete battle or even way being recreated to varying levels of detail.
This naturally creates asymmetry, as war gamers tend to enjoy pitting themselves against relatively accurate historical scenarios with clear objectives. So you may find to ‘win’, a player needs to hold a position for X turns. They wouldn’t go on to win in the traditional sense, but that’s not the point. By holding on for this long, they equalled or did better than the real-life forces from history.
What makes a euro game
The euro gamer is a different beast. They’re looking for balanced play (although asymmetry is welcomed), and multiple paths to victory (rather than a set scenario). For this reason, themes tend to be ‘pasted on’, with players trying to solve the puzzle the game confronts them with on even terms. And they often prefer indirect conflict (such as denial/blocking of actions or areas) with no player elimination.
For this reason, euro players tend to much prefer input, rather than output, randomness; while many war gamers seem happy with both. Input randomness is where a random event happens, them players work out the best way to deal with it via set game mechanisms. Output randomness is where players set themselves up to do something; and then whether they succeed is determined randomly.
Europe Divided: For the war gamer…
for the average war gamer, I think (and hope) Europe Divided ticks most of the preferred boxes. David has been working as a Department of Defence Analyst throughout most of the period the game is set: 1992 to the present day. All the cards in the game are based on actual events and include historical flavour text. Players are simulating the ebb and flow of political influence and troop movements throughout the period, meaning the game is full of theme and has the feel of a political simulation.
There’s also asymmetry, with an eye on historic simulation. The EU/NATO player starts cash rich, but juggling a lot of countries (a large starting deck of cards) – many of which aren’t members of both organisations. So some cards can’t be used for certain actions (you can’t use the Sweden card to do a NATO action, for example) – while some countries are weak, clogging up your hand. On the flip side, Russia has less income and a poorer starting position – but its cards represent parts of the nation’s machine (the president, oil industry, media etc). It has a smaller deck of well-balanced cards, that refreshes rapidly – meaning it is more likely to be able to act quickly to achieve its goals.
…and the euro player
But fans of euro games will be pleased to hear both players have the same goal (the most victory points); which is achieved in the same way: making historical events happen at the right time, and by maintaining dominance over Eastern European countries at key points in the timeline. At the end of around half the 20 turns in a game, events (chosen by the players) will be checked – and points awarded to the relevant player if the conditions have been met. For example, the Russia player will score a point for ‘Cyberwarfare Waged on Estonia’ if – when checked – they have more influence in The Baltics than their opponent.
We worked hard to make the two sides feel different to play, while keeping a balance between the them overall. The EU/NATO player starts out strong but will often start to struggle as they try to keep so many plates spinning; while the Russia player can stabilise their poor starting position and come on strong later in the game. It’s all part of that puzzle euro players love: is it better to maximise your points, or deny points to your opponent? Do you spend big and try to overwhelm with military strength; or flood the board with influence to prepare for later conflicts?
And don’t be put off by all those dice! Their used to mark influence, not roll for attacks. The only real luck in the game is in the card draw (which usually works out in a balanced way by the end), while there’s no actual combat. Units placed will simply cancel each other out in locations. Sure, it’s conflict – but as a euro fan it feels like the kind of conflict I’m used to (abstracted and predictable). Finally, raising influence to complete goals will end up giving you the card for that country. This deck-building element will be familiar – but here, these cards tend to weaken your deck rather than enhance it; giving more weight to the decisions you take.
Europe Divided on Kickstarter
If Europe Divided sounds like it might be of interest, please check the game out now on Kickstarter (the campaign runs until June 26). Publisher Phalanx has done a fantastic job in terms of components and development, so I’m super excited ab out the final product. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them here.