Design Philosophy

We want to be on the cutting edge of exploring what wee see as the emerging Euro-American hybrid genre.

Johnny Ramone (RIP) was once asked why they started the band. "We wanted to play the kinds of songs we wanted to hear on the radio."
 

We wanted to play Euro-American games.  These games feature more
elaborate Euro-style mechanics than the traditional American board game, but stop short of the abstraction (i.e theme as an afterthought) that German or Euro games are known for.
 
Let’s talk about traditional American board games. For decades, these were the Roll-your-dice, move
your-mice-games.  Monopoly is a prime example.  A die roll determines a movement value which is  applied to your token on your turn. These games were so centralized around the board mechanic, that in order to differentiate themselves, they had to resort to heavy graphics and themes.  Careers was my all time favorite example.  The game was reissued every 5-10 years, with updated career tracks based on the popular job of the decade.  (I remember being amused years later when the Space track I loved so much as a kid turned into the Computer Science track.)

 

Why did the new Euro-games not catch on as quickly in the U.S.? Yes, it’s true that Americans prefer a game they can open and just start playing.  It’s true also that they really like the theme almost as much as the game itself.  Being a gangster or a sheriff is just way too much fun, especially when you talk in funny character voices.

 

But there are a couple of often overlooked reasons for the popularity of American games.  The first one is that everyone feels like they have a chance to win, even the first time they play.  The mechanics themselves allow for a certain amount of statistical luck.  That is not to say the winner is random, far from it.  But try winning at chess the first time you play versus say, Euchre.  Everyone thinks they are a good Euchre player, and everyone thinks they have a chance every hand. 

 

The other often overlooked influence is that American’s love to talk.  They can’t seem to sit still and concentrate without talking (or yelling).  The social aspects of the game become important to the experience.  Risk was a very popular game (and still is).  Often times the player who could talk himself into the right situation ended up having the right size army at the right time.  Risk may have been a war game, but the winning strategy consisted of diplomacy and timing.


Let’s talk about the new Euro-style games.  These great games are elegantly designed and are wonderfully abstract.  Not turn based in the traditional sense, many of the games allow for action phases which prevent down-time.  They rarely have dice (although cards are popular) and often have non-random set-up instructions.  They also tend towards indirect conflict.  You are often competing for things or competing to do something better than (or sooner than) your opponent.  These games offer a rewarding game experience in their own right.  They may have even saved the board game industry.


So what is missing?  The themes are not immersive.  They add nothing to the playability or enjoyment of the game.  If you ever played New England, I can assure you that at no time do you feel like a peasant in New England.  As a matter of fact, if you remember the theme at all it’s a miracle.  Yet New England can be a rewarding game experience.  You’ll need to outplay and out think your opponent to win.  


A great player can win 10 out of 10 games against weaker opponents in the abstract game genre.  He out thinks his opponent, therefore he defeats the opponent.  But in the American game genre, he just shouldn’t win as consistently.  This may seem irritating to you at first, especially if you are that player, but our concern is also for the fun of the other 9 players.  They need to be able to win sometimes, though guile, deception, luck or even an illogical leap of faith that works out in their
favor.  Heck, sometimes you can just wait for the others to knock each other out and waltz to
victory under the radar.
 
The Americans love games where they feel they are right in the thick of things and have a chance to
win, even if it’s a small chance.  Dice are a great tool for this, as you can cheer for a good roll, and gasp at a horrific one.  The trick is to offset those random dice rolls with statistics so that good choices still benefit the player more than good dice rolling.  The combination forces a good player to hedge his bets, while a beginner player can just lay it all on the line in bold high risk moves. Americans also like to fight over things.  Many abstract games put you in a position to indirectly compete for resources.  American games are much more direct in their conflict and resolution.  I always think of Through the Desert as the Euro-version of Risk.

So with all of this in mind, SDR Games (www.sdrgames.com) designed Bootleggers.  Here is a game that takes the best parts of Euro-games and combines them with the best part of American games.  The result is a game with interesting mechanics coupled to a strong theme, and includes diplomacy, direct conflict, and a little bit of luck.  The theme, which is the 1920’s prohibition era, is a rich part of American history, and cinema offers a nice array of fun gangster voices to choose from.