Board gaming in Europe especially Germany is taken far more seriously than in other parts of the world. As a result, there is a thriving boardgaming industry there, releasing games quite unlike those seen elsewhere. These games form their own genre, known generally as "German Games" as most are produced in Germany though a number of games are produced in France, the Netherlands and Great Britian. Because German Games do not necessarily have to be designed by Germans or published by a German company, some people are uncomfortable with the term. "Designer Games" or "Family Strategy Games" or "European Games" are sometimes used instead.
German Games usually have the following characteristics (although as in any classification, there are exceptions.)
They are designed to be played by multiple players, usually 3-5 people. They are designed to be played by families. This means that they are fairly simple to learn for older children, but have a good level of strategy to keep adults interested. They usually promote a high level of player interaction. It is most unusual to see a mechanism of "roll the dice and move your counter that many spaces", as is used in Monopoly and many North American family games. Players are not eliminated, but instead a game finishes after a set number of turns or one player achieves a winning condition. Games usually take between 90 and 120 minutes, although there are of course longer and shorter games. The games are usually well illustrated and have very high quality components. The designer of the game is almost always credited on the box.
The most well known German board game is The Settlers of Catan, also known as Die Siedler von Catan, by Klaus Teuber. Other games of Teuber's include Entdecker and Loewenherz. Reiner Knizia the best known game Designer has designed Euphrates und Tigris, Samurai, Stephensons Rocket and Lost Cities. Wolfgang Kramer, in partnership with various collaborators, has designed El Grande, Tikal, Java and Torres. Other games of note include Carcassonne, Bohnanza, Citadels, Elfenland and Charlemagne (by Gerard_Mulder.
A good website to learn about German and European games is Brett and Board at www.brettboard.dk or on the rec.games.board usenet. A lot of German Games can be played online at http://www.brettspielwelt.de