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Adventure ... in a box?

Board game enthusiasts make hits out of Euro-style pastime

January 09, 2012|By Ryan Smith, For RedEye

Visitors to a recent board game meetup at Lakeview bar Mystic Celt would not have found Risk, Monopoly or any of the other old standbys.

Instead, two dozen game enthusiasts sat hunched over brightly colored boxes with unusual names like Puerto Rico and Alea Iacta Est and spent much of the day exchanging game pieces and rolling dice. They're called Euro-style board games and they're a near weekly habit for Jimmy Smith.

"Someone introduced me to Settlers of Catan in college and I got addicted and starting playing some of the others," said Smith, 30, of Ravenswood. "It's a whole new world of gaming from what we're used to seeing, and it's definitely the best."

Smith isn't the only one in love with Euro-style board games. Settlers of Catan has sold 18 million copies worldwide and is on the brink of becoming a household name. Others, like Dominion or Ticket to Ride, are popping up in stores across the country.

"They're absolutely becoming bigger," said Peter Charnley, assistant manager of Cat & Mouse Game Store in Bucktown, which sells dozens of Euro-style games. "Settlers is still the biggest, but people are buying these games more and more."

Chicagoland Games in Edgewater hosts a weekly Euro-style games night Wednesdays, and one of the store's owners, Nico Sanfiorenzo, gives them credit for the board game making a comeback as one of America's favorite pastimes.

"Euro games do a lot of things right," Sanfiorenzo said. "They last 90 minutes instead of four hours. Some of the older American games, you have situations where people quit after a couple of hours because they know who is going to win and a lot of games come down to luck."

As opposed to the dog-eat-dog world of traditional board games, where you defeat your opponents with military force or send them into the throes of bankruptcy, many Euro-style games encourage collaboration and constructiveness. In Settlers of Catan, the purpose of the game is to collect and trade resources to develop an island. There's no war, and no single player wins or loses until the final turn.

"There's a higher level of creativity and problem solving involved with these games," said Melissa Frichter, 30, of Logan Square, who helps organize Chicago's Boardgame Group, which has approximately 100 to 150 active members, many of them women.

"It's a welcome change," Frichter said. "Strategy board gaming can be a misogynist universe with a bunch of guys who don't think girls can kick their asses, but we're seeing more women in this group."


Thinking about hopping on the Euro-style board game bandwagon? Here are a few recommended titles to get you started:



Think of it as a way less nerdy and expensive Magic: The Gathering. It plays similarly to a collectible card game, but there's no extra card buying, is best played with three or four players, and the average game lasts only about 30 minutes.

Settlers of Catan


The proverbial gateway drug of Euro-style games, Settlers is a simple but fun game involving three or four players building roads and settlements, trading resources, buying development cards and racing to earn 10 victory points.

Puerto Rico


Players take on the role of colonial governors on the island of Puerto Rico in this three-to-five-player game. Players take turns assuming different roles—trader, builder, craftsman, etc.—and gain victory points by shipping goods or owning buildings.



Named for the southern French city of Carcassonne famous for its unique fortifications, it's an easy-to-learn medieval tile-laying game where players develop the area around the city and deploy their followers on the roads, cloisters, and in the cities and fields.

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