‘German-style’ boardgames certainly kicked off the boardgaming resurgence of the 90s, and back then gamers would often buy German games and puzzle out translations themselves. As the popularity of these kinds of games grew—games like Settlers of Catan—publishers like Mayfair began to make available English translations for the market.
One of the new companies to take advantage of the growing ‘Euro’ games market was Rio Grande Games, founded in 1998 by Jay Tummelson and previously an employee of Mayfair Games. His company works with the original European publishers to make available English versions of some of the most popular games on the market; and going full circle, more recently they’ve begun publishing their own games and licencing them to foreign markets. Rio Grande has published over 350 games, many of which are classics and award-winners: Carcassonne, Puerto Rico, Lost Cities, Power Grid, Bohnanza, and Race for the Galaxy.
Games from Rio Grande tend to be family games with an emphasis on players making choices and spending good social time together. As distinct from what has become known as ‘Ameritrash’ games, which feature fancy components, heavy themes, luck and often miniature figures, ‘Euro’ games put the emphasis more on strategy and less on luck. Generally, the theme of the game tends to be less important than the mechanics. Rio Grande also seeks to produce games that teach children in families to make good choices leading to good results—not only in gaming but in life!
Let’s have a very quick look at some classic Rio Grande Games, plus a closer look at a few brand new ones that have just become available at Games Paradise.
In Dominion, each player is the rulers of a small medieval kingdom, competing to hire minions, construct buildings, renovate his castle, and fill the coffers of his treasury. This game has had a huge influence on gaming since its release just two years ago, single-handedly kicking off the deck-building card game genre now populated by such games as Thunderstone and Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer, among others. Check out my earlier article on deck-building games.
Zooloretto is a great family game in which each player tries to attract as many visitors as possible to their zoo with small, large, wild, and exotic animals and their young. Your zoo must be carefully planned, because before you know it, you can have too many animals and no more room, and that means in losing points! Winner of the prestigious Spiel des Jahres in 2007.
Carcassonne was first published ten years ago and since then has spawned countless spin-offs and expansions, including a beautifully produced iPhone/iPad version. This deceptively simple tile-laying game involves creating a medieval land of roads, cities, fields and churches, scoring points as you go by laying claims with your pieces. In fact these wooden pieces, called ‘meeples’, have become a symbol of European board gaming.
Stone Age is a beautifully illustrated and produced worker-placement game in which players struggle to survive the Stone Age by working as hunters, collectors, farmers, and tool makers. As you gather resources and raise animals, you work to build the tools needed to build your civilization. Players use up to 10 tribe members each in 3 phases; placing their men in regions (like the hunt, the trading center, or the quarry), activating those regions, and feeding their populations. With a balance of luck and planning, the players compete for food to achieve victory in the Stone Age.
Be sure to check out other Rio Grande classics like Torres, Tikal, Elfenland, El Grande, Bohnanza, Puerto Rico, and Power Grid.
In the 15th century, the Portuguese Prince Henry the Navigator (Henrique o Navegador) summoned the best cartographers and top navigators of his time and instructed them to explore the shores of the African coastline. They thereby won expertise in navigation and shipbuilding, heralding the Age of Exploration and enabling Portugal to later to find a direct trade route to India and China. In the height of its power Portugal controlled the sea trade from Brazil to Japan and attained overwhelming wealth with the trade monopoly on spices.
The players in Navegadorrepresent wealthy trade dynasties helping to build up the Portuguese colonial empire. Tracing the routes of famous explorers they advance all the way to Nagasaki—but sailing into unknown waters is a dangerous venture. Founding colonies and building factories helps them to build up an economic base. But the prices for sugar, gold and spices fluctuate all the time, and only the trade dynasty that adapts to the market will be able to finance its lofty plans. Competing for new discoveries, colonies, shipyards, and churches it is very important to observe the actions of the other players.
Navegador is a challenging strategy game for 2-5 players with a little luck—because no-one knows exactly what to expect when navigating new seas… The game uses a rondel system of eight action choices, a system first seem in Antike , which players must navigate in order to plan their actions. There is a lot of planning ahead and interesting strategic possibilities. Fans of Puerto Rico, Imperial, and games with intersting economic systems will definitely want to check this one out.
From the clay pit to the robot factory, you must steer your burgeoning industrial empire through five different eras in this exciting auction game. Experience the discovery of steam power, electricity and the first machines—then put them to work for you. Build factories, then secure rail lines and shipping rights for your business; in the end these will be worth valuable bonus points. Good control and clever planning will make you the most successful industrial magnate!
In 1516 AD, you are a young sovereign are cultivating your small Furstenfeld to supply goods to the local breweries. Your status will eventually rise high enough to leave farming behind, demand taxes from the surrounding rural population, and finally realise your greatest dream—your own palace.
Harvest hops, barley and spring water and increase your wealth. Additional buildings help you to get the necessary funds for building your palace. There are only two problems: the demand for goods at the breweries is limited; the more goods the players produce, the faster the prices drop; and the palace needs more and more space. The closer you come to victory, the smaller is your personal field for farming.
Furstenfeld is a game with easy rules but interesting challenges by Friedermann Friese, designer of Power Grid, and will appeal to fans of that game and Agricola. When do you start to build your palace? Which goods do you produce? Which additional buildings are helping you the most? Start with the base game rules and once you’ve mastered them, move on to the expert game.