Spotlight on Games > Features > Stuttgarter Zeitung Excerpt

Translation of a piece that appeared February 22, 2003 in the German newspaper Stuttgarter Zeitung (page 92).

Hobbies · Play · Leisure
(photo caption) After 7 PM there are already several games in progress at Muddy's Coffeehouse
Settlers of Catan the Favorite
Game fans in San Francisco meet every Friday evening at Muddy's Coffeehouse

by Ingrid Kölle


Quality Concept "German Games"
German Games popular in USA

By Udo Bartsch

"I'll trade sheep for wood," announces Brendon Long to his three opponents. No one takes up the offer. Concentrating they study their cards and plan their next moves. Long confesses that for two years he has been under the spell of of the game Die Siedler von Catan by the German game author Klaus Teuber. He has brought the US version to the San Francisco cafe where every Friday he meets with 30 to 40 game friends. "I like board games, but I especially like this game. Maybe because it's different every time."

Shortly after 7 o'clock there are already games in progress on five different tables. Tin, a 24-year old Thai, is still looking for players. He doesn't need to wait long: soon a third round of Settlers of Catan begins. "In terms of board games," Tin declares, "it's the absolute favorite." The card players prefer Hearts, Spades and 500 Rummy.

"What gets played depends, of course, on who comes and which games they bring," says David Kaye. He called the San Francisco game evenings to life in 1995. "The idea was to bring people together to play games. Without ulterior motives, without cost, without delusions of grandeur, without that by which someone would get rich."

The cafe owner quickly admits that he isn't making the big money from it. In the seven and a half years of their existence the "SF Games" members have therefore had to change their meeting place seven times already. At the moment they meet at Muddy's Coffeehouse. Kaye has till now always managed to find a place every Friday – and that without group dues. "Come and play with us" says the motto he has had printed on his business cards, on bulletin boards and broadcast on the Internet.

Kaye also likes it much better when a game stimulates thinking. Meanwhile similar loosely organized groups of people who love card and board games exist in every city in greater San Francisco. "The hobby players in Silicon Valley are much more serious about it than the people here," observes Grant May, a 38-year old bookkeeper. His calendar shows that it's also serious to him: on Monday and Wednesday he plays in Silicon Valley, on Friday in San Francisco and since "SF Games" has started an evening just for card players on Tuesdays, he is a regular attendee there as well. "Besides that, last Saturday I also participated in a Games Day. We played from ten in the morning until ten at night."

His favorite game is Titan, a war game that can last up to twenty hours. He appreciates that German board games are so family oriented. "We don't eat together at home even once. Playing a game together is completely ruled out." Dave Anderson, the proud owner of 400 board games likes German strategy games. "Ours are very war oriented," he says. "That comes from the fact that we live in a culture that strongly promotes competition."

The German Samurai, which he compares with the Chinese Go, is one of his favorite board games. Playing is "intellectual stimulation" for him. "Besides, it's a good way to get to know people." Many of his best friends participate in the game evenings and even he even got to know his business partner in this way. "Sometimes we also go to the cinema together or to a party at a house. Shortly many of us will have breakfast together before the demonstration against the war in Iraq."

The 57-year old textile artist Joy-Lily appreciates the social get-together as much as the games. She also has an ulterior motive. One of her girl friends got to know her partner at a game evening. Joy-Lily has not has yet had this good fortune. "I have met many gay men here. But it doesn't matter. They are all very nice." Joy-Lily likes the feeling of knowing that she has some diversion on a Friday evening. She is also a Siedler fan and has happily played board games all her life. In her search for a partner she now attends singles events.

"German Games" – this is the term used for our board games in the USA. The concept describes not only the origin, but refers also to a very distinct type of game: "German" means strategy and family games, which are the main ones here, but in the USA are almost completely unavailable for purchase. There trivia and party games dominate the market. Nearly luck free, board games which feature haggling and bluffing with refined oblique moves and above all a harmonious thematic presentation. Into this niche thrust "German Games".

"Our sales in the United States have grown distinctly in the last few years," says Lothar Hemme, product manager with Ravensburger-Verlag. "The goal target group is still quite small, but it's growing." Ravensburger profits in the US market especially with games for children. "The typical US game for children continues to be about characters," explains Hemme. The product is marketed on the title character: the game contents are peripheral. This trend is also growing in Germany, however, independent game worlds are still a hallmark of German children's games.

The Stuttgart-based Kosmos-Verlag is also pushing into foreign markets. "Our series of two-player games services a market gap," says a pleased Fritz Gruber, Kosmos press spokesman. The publisher's Siedler game has been the main one since 1995 to first awaken the interest in "German games". About 100,000 Settlers, estimates Gruber, have been sold in the USA so far. A less impressive number when compared with the three million copies in Germany. It is at the same time proof of the significantly small importance of board games in the USA. "The inner European market is much more important for Kosmos," says Gruber. "What the demand for Settlers of Catan entails is the amount that, for example, Holland Amerika sticks in its pocket."

Thus also it's mainly insiders who deal in "German Games" in the United States: it is no mass phenomenon. Going the other way games with American licenses also continue in Germany in the millions: Trivial Pursuit and Monopoly count as the most known. With annual six figure sales numbers these titles enjoy the standing of classics. And ever new examples (Monopoly – Die Börse, Star Wars Monopoly, Monopoly Euro Edition) continue to occupy the sales channels.

The large and many-dimensioned German market carries both: polished strategy games on one side, simple game ideas for the broad public on the other. Lothar Hemme therefore also looks regularly in the USA for new things, undertaking there contacts with inventors and agents. The present bestselling Ravensburger card game Phase 10 originated in the States. Nevertheless "German games" are also becoming accepted here at home more and more: the latest best-loved games, Die Siedler von Catan and Carcassonne arose from German idea smiths.

[Udo Bartsch formerly wrote game reviews for Fairplay, a German games magazine, but now has switched to rival Spielbox. He is also a member of the prestigious Spiel des Jahres (German game of the year) award jury.]

Spotlight on Games > Features > Stuttgarter Zeitung Excerpt