Monday, September 25, 2006

GAME STORE CONFIDENTIAL ~ Ameritrash vs. EuroSnootery

One of the more recent discussions on BGG highlights a running theme of contention in the loftier heights of board gaming guruism.

Face it. A site like boardgamegeek attracts more than it's share of folks who think that their choices, their level of discernment and their accepted (by them) degree of enlightenment in the world of games makes their pronouncements somehow more valid. BGG is a microcosm of the "real world", whatever that is, in that the more you say, the more you post, the more you repeat your own point of view, the more acceptance there will eventually be about what you believe.

And if you find a like-minded group of gamers who support your beliefs, then you become a gaming guru of sorts.

That's why I love BGG. It's as much fun as politics. In fact, it really is politics. Meaningless politics. Absurd politics. Politics that from an outsider's perspective is beyond silly and even... well... geeky. But it's nonetheless fine politics indeed.

Anyway, to get back to the discussion... a guy down in Georgia named Robert Martin coined a new term for a genre of games, most of them dating well back into the 80's and 90's but some not even published yet. He calls these games Ameritrash. By that I think he's being both sarcastic - taking a sucker punch at the EuroSnoots while getting crowd support - and he's being self-effacing. Humble even. What Robert has created with his list of Ameritrash games is a groundswell of public support for a wide range of games that have been specifically or generically panned by the oppossing EuroSnoot party on BGG.

These games run the gamut from luck-based dice fests to overproduced plastic horrors. They include the cheap and trashy and as well as games with purient levels of meanigless violence. According to Robert Ameritrash is such a broad catagory that games with rulebooks that would violate the Geneva Convention's torture standards (ASL) and games that essentially suck, but bring big bucks on eBay (Dark Tower, Titan) belong here. The last time I checked today there were 74 games on the list.

But there might as well be 7400 games there. That's because the whole concept of Ameritrash takes into account more than just copious numbers of dice and plastic pieces... the concept is all about what the games deliver in terms of a group of people, or even just two people, having a good time. The notion is that Euro games, well... many of the top rated Euros anyway, just plain aren't fun. At least not in the sense that Americans think of when they think of having fun with a board game.

So Ameritrash isn't just about games designed, produced and published in America by Americans. What it's really about is the style of game that sparks hoots of laughter, bloody "war" stories about game sessions that are retold even decades later, silly outcomes, last ditch efforts that worked... you know... the proverbial pulling a hat outta your ass at the last moment and winning the game. In the world of Ameritrash there is player elimination, king-making galore, dice results that make you want to vomit... on your opponents. Ameritrash games can often take 20, 25 or even 30 tedious moments to set up and once set up anyone rolling dice on the table itself is taking their life into their own hands.

Ameritrash games from SPI and Avalon Hill sparked the whole magnetic counter-clip and tin-sheet-on-the-wall industry that boomed in the 70's and died out in the 90's. I remember walking into the game room in the old Wargames West store in Albuquerque back in the early 90's and seeing a game of Victory in the Pacific plastered hugely on one of the walls. For all I knew the game had been going on for months and months. Now that's Ameritrash!

A few EuroSnoots appeared on the BGG list and were quickly dispatched by Ameritrash party members who added graphics of nuclear explosions to their responses. The general consensus seemed to be, "Hey! We aren't over on your Caylus or Medici threads telling you you're an uneducated, low-life numbnuts for wasting both time and money playing a frickin' game about asking some medevial King if you can kiss his ass while licking his shoes and oh, while I was there I built a house of stone so maybe you'll keep the Bailiff from being mean to me?"

And for the record, it seemed to me that most people from around the world who declared their love of Ameritrash also reated a number of popular Euros highly and (except for a few cases) didn't seem to see Ameritrash as an effort to put down Euros, just to make a distinction in style and to get a bit of attention that the world's most active board game site is a site that is friendly to game lovers of all types.

Check it out... it's a fun read:

http://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/16485/page/1

Speaking of Ameritrash

I managed to get Jumbo-Tron, Bode and new Idaho resident Michael to come by Saturday night and play one of the featured games on the Ameritrah list. Fortress America.

I wanted to play for several reasons.... first off, I haven't played the game for well over ten years and I needed to determine if it was a keeper or eBay potential. Man... I had a great time. I think the invaders did too. Everybody showed up, I pulled th game out and there were no rules! Crap. I remembered then I had pulled the rules out several years ago, copied them and then sent them to a fellow gamer who had the game but no rules.

Thankfully, the board game world is safe because of BGG again. I logged on, went to the game entry and downloaded a pdf of the rules. By that time we needed to get rolling so we quickly set up and I promptly screwed myself over, mainly by not bothering to actually read the rules. I played America and I failed to get Partisan cards on my first turn and when I did get them next turn I onyl drew one. Eventually Michael or Jumbo happened to read that section of the rules and pointed out I should have been drawing two cards per turn.

Oh well. I was the only person who had played before so I acknowledged my dumbness by covering it up weakly, saying I just wanted to handicap myself so they would be turned off by me thrashing them. Ha! I got my butt kicked. Truthfully, I would have had a tough time even if I had the right amount of re-inforcement cards. Those three guys meant business. They decided to use their learning game to trash me rather than squabble over city and resource points. Bode did as well on my East Coast as I've ever seen and won by a handy margin.

Fortress America was enjoyed by all. Interestingly, Jumbo wasn't even born when Fortress America was published and Michale was about 2 years old. Any 20+ year old game that gets a thumbs-up from two people who grew up with Ninetndo's, Playstations, CCG's has proved itself as a classic.

My personal belief is that only a few popular Euro's will stand that test of time... Settlers of Catan being one of them. I suspect most of the auction-wood block-kiss-the-king's-ass Euro's will be distant memories, buried in a deep hole along with most Ameritrash that didn't pass muster on the long haul.

Winner's Circle Again

So we played this gem, torn board and all, again. A great game. Is this a Euro? I mean Knieza designed it. But it has an unforgiving die and the cards are random and man, their placement can cause real groans. We had a discussion afterwards and it centered around the realization that you really can play above the randomness with this terrific design and that using the blind-bid option is the way to go once you're familiar with the horses and the game's tendency to yield suprising and unexpected results.

Backgammon

Michael, who is a BGG member, mentioned a recent discussion about Backgammon. This led to me pulling my dusty old board out, realizing I couldn't find my stones (or checkers, whatever you want to call them) and ending up playing a few games with poker chips as a substitute.

Fellow gamers... if, like me, you haven't hauled Backgammon out for a dozen or so years... do so. I have played thousands of rounds of this superb game, mainly in the 70's and early 80's, and while I hadn't forgotten what a great game it is, the memories were indistinct... blurred and made hazy by decades of painting miniatures, invading Russia, killing Ogres, assaulting planets from space, building Magic decks and pushing those stupid little wooden blocks around.

14 comments:

Chris said...

A group of us played Winner's Circle on Saturday, and we used blind bidding. Half the group had played before. The other half had not. We had a lot of fun, with everyone cheering and shouting and trying to convince others to move their horses of choice ahead or move somebody else's horse choices poorly.

Anyway, lots of fun. I'm thinking of adding it to my own game collection.

MWChapel said...

So how does the party split?

Wargamers == Republicans(Conservative warmongering old fogies)

Eurosnoots == Democrats(whiny, self righteous, but pretty much correct)

Ameritrash == Libertarians(Love to play games everyone else pans just for spite)

Zero said...

I think people play games for different reasons. I like games that gives me this magic moment where an unexpected turn of event occurs or when someone wins by surprising everyone. Several Euros can do that (such as Saboteur, which one of my favorite card game).

Other people like to play games to prove their intellectual superiority through games (so they'll become the alpha male or something...). Of course they despise dices and other form of mindless randomization. Games are to be taken seriously (and some wargamers feel that way!).

Maybe that's the way it splits...

Bryan

Jason said...

"Of course they despise dices and other form of mindless randomization. Games are to be taken seriously."

What now?! Games with dice are just as deadly serious as those without. Its taken me years to perfect my d6-rolling skills.

Sheesh!

Gerald McD said...

Nice article, DW. I always enjoy your humor.

Winner's Circle (we have the Royal Turf version) is a great game. We always play with hidden bids. In fact, I've been thinking it might be interesting to have enough zero chits, so you can place a hidden bid on every horse, leaving no hint as to which ones you are really pushing. If you do a good job of bluffing with your selections of moves, it could be a real "poker" game.

I'm really sorry to hear that Ameritrash is going to be the new "thing" in gaming. I gave away or traded away almost all my Ameritrash games over a year ago! Well, let me rethink that -- I still own Yahtzee, Fill or Bust, Rack-O, Uno, Risk, Monopoly, and some old AH games. Maybe I'm not totally out of the new mainstream. On the other hand, I can't recall the last time I played any of those games. Maybe I should bring them all to the game table next weekend and see what the family says about that. No, I'd just have to carry them all back to the closet and bring out Settlers, Through the Desert, Princes of Florence, Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, and the rest of those Eurosnoot games. {Thank Goodness}

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure that political labels mean much regarding games. My group is pretty heavily Democratic, including myself and we play mostly wargames. At the gamestore I frequent the most serious eurogamers seem to be conservative mormons.

wargamer66

DWTripp said...

Apologies to all for giving you an unedited blog today. For some reason Blogspot didn't want to accept my edited version, complete with spelling corrections and two extra paragraphs. Oh well, we get what we pay for.

I'm pretty sure there are no links between classic left/right politics and choice of games.

I'm a classic conservative with heavy Libertarian leanings yet I own and love several very highly rated Euros and have taken a vow to never again play another SPI game.

For the most part I enjoy the battle of words and the pointless effort to define what's good and what isn't. A great example of how this sort of "fight" can help everyone was the AOS/RRT war that raged on BGG for a couple of months. For an undecided gamer watching from the sidelines the battle provided a wealth of data about how each game works and probably helped quite a few make a solid choice that suited their gaming inclinations.

Tim said...

DW,

Thanks - I always enjoy your posts, and especially relate to your comments about BackGammon. I've gotten hooked by playing online (best site I've found is dailygammon.com), but it definitely is an fun game (especially when using the doubling cube).

I'm also one of those that watched the RRT/AoS debate, and ended up choosing neither (although I'm reasonably certain I'd prefer RRT).

Tim

Coldfoot said...

Our group ranges from the extreme conservative fringe (no not me) to strident liberals to the completely uninformed.

The only game generalization that I can make is that those who play RPGs tend to be completely uninformed or liberal.

As for backgammon, I once spent 3 weeks on a huge ocean going freight ship. The crew consisted of swarthy European types, mainly from Greece, who spoke about 10 words of English between them. (The captain and first mate spoke English very well, but we never saw them).

The crew gathered every evening for backgammon. They played at least a dozen different variation of the game, none of which were the traditional backgammon that I was familiar with. I learned how to play several of those variations and found all of them to be superior to traditional backgammon. The crew refused to play traditional backgammon, they also found the game lacking.

MWChapel said...

Ameritrash games from SPI and Avalon Hill sparked the whole magnetic counter-clip and tin-sheet-on-the-wall industry that boomed in the 70's and died out in the 90's. I remember walking into the game room in the old Wargames West store in Albuquerque back in the early 90's and seeing a game of Victory in the Pacific plastered hugely on one of the walls. For all I knew the game had been going on for months and months. Now that's Ameritrash!

I just noticed this. I may have been playing in that game .... ;)

dave said...

"a guy down in Georgia named Robert Martin coined a new term for a genre of games, most of them dating well back into the 80's and 90's but some not even published yet. He calls these games Ameritrash."

FYI, the term "Ameritrash" (not to mention the whole pro-/anti-Euro trolling exercise) dates back several years. For example, search the rec.games.board archive on Google.

Anonymous said...

That Geeklist combined with your blog made me realize something: The group of guys that I game with have taken a traditional Euro and Ameri-trashed it.

When we play Through the Desert, we place the watering holes UPSIDE DOWN so that nobody knows their point value before they're claimed. I'm certain this idea makes Euro-snoots sick to their stomach and many probably want to "wrack" me.

Michael said...

And who won at backgammon? That's right, ME!

Oh, and I went out and bought Winner's Circle today. That game is an absolute hoot.

Thanks for the games and the thoughts, DW.

Mai said...

"...comments about BackGammon. I've gotten hooked by playing online (best site I've found is dailygammon.com), but it definitely is an fun game (especially when using the doubling cube)."

Yes of course the doubling cube is what makes the game - especially if you're a gambler at heart!

Here're some more good online Backgammon games if you're interested.

Mai :-)