Eurogames vs Ameritrash

This article is part three in a series of articles aiming to demystify the world of boardgames. The previous two articles are "Collectible Card Games (CCGs) and Living Card Games (LCGs)" and "Deck-Builders".

"Eurogame" and "Ameritrash" are words used to describe genre in the world of boardgames. They are quite controversial descriptors with a lot of overlap, but as you involve yourself in the boardgame community, you will hear them a lot, so it's worth knowing the differences between the two. Most of my comments are generalisations, like any discussion of genre often is, but they should help clarify things.

Sumeria. An excellent game which fits firmly into the Eurogame category.


A Eurogame is (technically) a European boardgame which eschews direct combat between players for a game which encourages efficient spending of in-game resources (or the ruthless denial of resources to other players). All this is often done in a battle to gain the highest number of victory points by the end of the game. In essence, Eurogames should be quite simplistic in terms of mechanics, but with emergent complexity. This means simple components, with almost no text, and simple rules for using those components, but with large repercussions for decisions that players make, forcing tough decision making. 

You can usually identify a Eurogame by it's use of simple components (little coloured cubes are a favourite) and, honestly, boring artwork.

Caylus: Magna Carta. Notice: no text, simple components, but a lot going on. (Image source:

Eurogames often attempt to focus on gameplay instead of theme, so thematically, they can end up being very dry -- farmers, land developers, transport planners and other things like that.

Many Eurogames use victory-points (where reaching certain goals awards you varying points which are tallied at the end of the game) rather than win-conditions like eliminating other players. This means that with Eurogames, there are often multiple paths to victory.

Games associated with the term "Eurogames" include:
  • Carcassone (see review). Players work as land developers, laying roads, farms, cities and churches, and trying to complete as many of these features as possible.
  • Dominion. A deck-builder where players are land developers (again!) trying to build the most lucrative domain.
  • Caylus (see review of the spin off, Caylus: Magna Carta). Players are town planners in this worker-placement classic.
  • The Settlers of Catan. Players are trying to develop settlements while trading resources in this fan-favourite.
  • Ra. An excellent auction game where players are trying to gather components for their Egyptian city, while avoiding catastrophe.
  • Dominant Species. Players take on the role of animal species, trying to spread and develop, so as to survive the impending ice-age.
  • Sumeria (see review). A simple game where players are traders who are forcing the rise and fall of various city states in ancient Sumeria.
Note: These are not necessarily the best Eurogames out there, but are representative of what some would call the Eurogame genre.

Carcassone with it's famous wooden meeples.


Ameritrash applies to games which are led by their thematic elements rather than by their gameplay mechanics - so they generally have a very prominent theme.

Ameritrash games often feature more elements of luck (with dice rolling as a popular mechanic), and more varied win conditions, such as being the first player to earn a set number of points (first past the post) or killing opponents (player elimination). 

Ameritrash games may include characters and factions with unique skills, and cards with lots of text. This amount of information that it is possible to convey in an Ameritrash game allows for often quite complex rules and more varied game-states. 

Ameritrash games often place more emphasis on game art and components than the typical Eurogame.

Android: Netrunner. Incredibly heavy on theme with heaps of complexity.
Games associated with the term "Ameritrash" include:
  • Battlestar Galactica. Players team up against the evil robot threat and try to deduce which players amongst them are double agents. An excellent game of high-stakes bluffing.
  • Android: Netrunner (see review). Another tense, strategic game. Two players take the role of either cyberpunk hacker or evil corporation in a battle to achieve or prevent evil agendas.
  • Talisman (see review of iOS adaptation). An old adventure game sees players exploring a fantasy land and rolling a lot of dice in order to kill monsters.
  • Munchkin (see review). A parody of those same adventure games and a firm best-seller. It's not that good of a game and there are better simple game suggestions on my Best Intro-Level Games post.
  • Smash Up (see review). A fun card game and a thematic wonderland.
  • Elder Sign. A co-operative horror game set in H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos, just oozing with theme.
Note: Again, these are not the best Ameritrash games around (far from it!), but do a good job of showing what to expect from Ameritrash.

Smash Up. Again, heavy theme, lots of cards, and diverse rules.

So what's wrong?

I really dislike the use of these two terms and I think my immediate concerns are pretty easy to figure out.
  1. Both of these terms are loaded and there is an obvious and obnoxious implied hierarchy. The terms suggest that Eurogames are classy and smart (because don't we all know that Europeans are classy and smart?) and that Ameritrash is imbecilic garbage. This alone, is an awful way to approach your understanding of games. There are plenty of imbecilic games and gaming-gems from both camps.
  2. Attempting to categorise boardgames into either of these camps is a largely futile endeavour. I placed Dominion into the Eurogame camp, even though it has plenty of text on its cards. And if Dominion is considered a Eurogame, where does that place Ascension, and by extension, The DC Comics Deck-Building Game? To suggest that the latter was a Eurogame would most likely cause outrage amongst Eurogame fans. What about a deck-builder like Friday or Copycat, both of which avoid too much text and use the wooden meeple tokens? Forbidden Island is usually considered Ameritrash because it has characters and special abilities, but it also uses simple components, little text, wooden meeples and simple rules. Is the deciding factor in this case that the game was made by an American designer? Then what about games from Asia (Love LetterLost Legacy) or elsewhere?
Forbidden Island, with it's wooden player token and minimal text.

So neither of these labels are particularly descriptive (except in some extreme cases), which means they're not very helpful. Much worse than this, I think these labels are harming the boardgame world. I was at an event recently where someone made the flippant comment, "Oh, he prefers Ameritrash," about myself. This was both not entirely true and quite insulting. I like strategic games and I like a strong theme. Because of this latter preference, I would go for a well made thematic game over an equally well made non-thematic game any day. But I'd be all over good a Eurogame, even with a boring theme, instead of a stupid-ass game with a strong-theme.

Now, I've been involved with the boardgame scene for a long time and I know there are a disproportionate amount of insensitive players in boardgame circles, but imagine how a new boardgamer would have felt to hear a comment such as that: "Who are these awful people? Just what am I doing here?"

Friday. Theme heavy and diverse cards, but light on text with wooden tokens. Suddenly, things aren't so clear cut.
So lets cut it out with these silly terms. Lets describe games that we like and dislike in a more adult manner. We can use descriptions of mechanics (worker placement, deck-building, dice-rolling, card based) and so on. Lets refer to thematic intensity. Let's identify games by their designers as a way of understanding what to expect. And let's keep an open mind about the games we play -- we don't need to eliminate the possibility of playing huge segments of the boardgaming world simply because of some stupid, non-descriptive labels!

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