Tales of a converted Ameritrasher: the years of doubt and re-lapse

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Tales of a converted Ameritrasher: the years of doubt and re-lapse
There Will Be Games

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Weirdly enough, after having undergone a diet of ameritrash-only gaming, I recently found myself wandering my game cellar, realizing that currently about 80% of my collection consists of euro's. Good, what a relief to get this out of my system. Actually writing it down somehow makes me a bit nervous. It is a change that I had not seen coming. If you had told me I would buy a game with a cover uncomfortably rendered in browns, with a rather serious looking medieval person holding some unexciting object in an unexciting environment of his living room, I would have told you to subscribe to group therapy for suppressed anger.
And now I do find myself in between mountains of boxes that show exactly that: old men covered in brown colors holding unexciting objects. And I am writing this in the epicenter of Ameritrash gaming. What does this all mean? And why does this not bother me as it should?

 

Rewind 3 years back. After some major changes in my private life I had moved to the quiet country-side in a small but pleasant house surrounded by fields. I started playing games with my girlfriend and mother-in-law (another set of words that I would have never expected to write down in this order a few years ago)and discovering the delights of quick to explain games. In the city I was part of this buddy-gaming-network that had geeks aborbing 35-page manuals.

They actually enjoyed reading them. They took them along on camping trips. They even used them as bedtime reading.

There was a cult of living-with-a-manual for a week, slowly digesting all the weird and unnecessary exception-rules that were part of the Ameritrash cult. I must confess I was for some years one of these geeks. I definitely enjoyed living in a game system for days, trying to memorize every significant bit of chrome to be able to smoothly explain it in one compact bulk at the gaming table. Something that actually never happened, as 35 pages rules books seldom translate in an easy-to-explain experience. But I strongly believed it was possible, so I tried again with much effort with each new mammoth I picked up in my local gaming store.

And one day it was over. I remember it clearly. It was an average monday, with some delicate rays of sunlight and a cat paw in my face waking me up. I sat at the breakfast table looking at a boiled egg, and realized: I am done with 35 page manuals. Somehow my head couldn't take another one of those. I blame my memory banks being full, and actualy generating some kind of tiping-point. At that point I had started hunting down 10-pages-or-less games with non-violent artwork and pleasant zen-like themes that could lure my girlfriend into the hobby. And suddenly I realized I had become somewhat of a different gamer. I actually enjoyed the fact I could play 3 games in one game night.

Suddenly there was the delight of being able to pull a title from the shelf and read through the rules while my partner was making tea. Before the cups were hitting the table surface I was ready to explain the game system. Things were definitely bright and shiny.

Yet, I had some re-lapses. Whenever I was in a gaming shop and I saw a big box showing some exotic locations and scarcily dressed woman in front of an apocalyptic sunset, I felt this primitive urge and pulled it from the shelf. Sometimes I almost dragged it to the counter, with my credit card ready for action. Sometimes I even bought these good 'ol dirty delights in a box...staring at them in between sessions of Tokaido...wandering if these boxes would hold all the promise inside them that the cover hinted at. But each time I opened them and started reading the first of 35 pages of detailed exception rules... I gave up.

Yes, I'm kinda at ease with the fact that I have become a different gamer. And yet, I do miss some parts of those 35 pages. A sense of feverish precision in which the use of a desert buggy with a rocket launcher on top was translated into rules, that had no intention to be streamlined, let alone easy to explain. When I recently bumped into "Psycho Raiders", this feeling of oldskool nostalgia gaming was completely re-kindled in its rawest form. There is something infinitly exciting about those PSI titles that had small tables for each and every event in a game. For that very reason I've been digging up my photo-copied rules booklet for Leading Edge's "Aliens". A game I have been playing of and on using the Flash-version, which speeds up play considerably. But somehow the idea of making this a more elaborate process of looking up tables, rolling dice and managing fiddly components suddenly seemed weirdly aluring. There is actually something about these elaborate oldskool games that demand a full commitment of players that offer a game a very intense being-there feel. There is no room to escape their ever dominating need to read through sections of the rules, looking up very detailed situations.

For every single moment there is a table or rule somewhere hidden inside. And that actually is very comforting. You want to call for help in Psycho raiders? Yup, we have a rule for calling for help using a phone or a resonant scream. This makes these type of games infinitly satisfying. Compared to the coldly calculated streamlining method euro's use to make a game system, these oldskool games in a very convincing way try to neglect any form or shape of elegance and gladly offer you excessive detail in large frivolous scoops.

And it is precisely this intense detail that offers these games a soul. Instead of a sterile mechanical system you are actually drawn into the game's universe, that relentlessly offers you detail upon detail of elements that shape it and make it seem real, regardless the fact you are staring at a paper sheet map devided into hexes.

These ridiculously detailed rules makes every counter and paper sheet become a living breathing thing.

So once again I feel myself being torn between the delights of easy-to-learn elegance and elaborate chrome-ridden gaming. And you know what... I think they can perfectly co-exist. It all comes down to the moment. Sometimes I feel the urge to experience the brilliant elegance of something minimalistic like 'Deep sea adventure" from Oink games.
That sushi-like simplicity that comes from stripping away all the excessive fat so that a core is revealed that almost dissolves in front of you while playing.

And yes, sometimes I need this SPI-like fix too...living inside a rules-set for a week. I find myself digging into all those lovely oldskool tables and detailed rules that simulate driving a dodgy car of the local sheriff towards town while being chased by a group of psychotic axe-wielding freaks whose line of sight in hexes with fog are covered in lovingly detail in the rules sitting on my coffee table. 

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Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #282571 02 Oct 2018 08:55
I have been pondering some similar thoughts lately, though less than 2% of my collection could be described as euros. I started playing boardgames with a new group that is a mixture of very casual gamers and old school D&D players. They all like to drink craft brews while playing. So a certain amount of complexity is okay, but no heavyweight rulebooks so far. Also, I have been re-reading the Psycho Raiders rules recently, as I am hosting a day of horror-themed boardgames this coming weekend.
Deleted's Avatar
Deleted replied the topic: #282573 02 Oct 2018 10:09
I gave up on massively convoluted games several years ago and never plan to return. Life is too short.
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #282577 02 Oct 2018 11:13
Just yesterday I broke out the rule book for Psycho Raiders again, in hopes of it hitting the table this month.
WadeMonnig's Avatar
WadeMonnig replied the topic: #282581 02 Oct 2018 11:55

SuperflyTNT wrote: I gave up on massively convoluted games several years ago and never plan to return. Life is too short.


With the Hotness bumping up on Brass, I feel this falls into that realm for me. Man, that game gives me a headache from the rules alone.
Colorcrayons's Avatar
Colorcrayons replied the topic: #282584 02 Oct 2018 12:36
I dunno about the elegant nature of Euros. The play may be smooth on occasion, but I find their rules are often as obtuse and convoluted as many trashy titles, if not moreso.

This is why I like the extremes in gaming. If I want thematic fun, I go whole hog into GorkaMorka or Wiz-War.

If I want elegant, I remove any thematic pretense and head straight towards abstracts with YINSH, or the like.

Euros toe a strange line, pretending not to be thematic, yet utilizing mechanisms that hide their poor design to fool the player into thinking the game and the player are "clever".

Not all euros are made of the clothe I paint above, but they are common enough for me to ignore them wholesale. Such discernment helps me not be a part of the churning consumerism present on BGG.
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #282587 02 Oct 2018 12:59
Most of this discussion sounds dated and regressive. AT is dead, the era of Euro flavor of the week is over, and the vast majority of new games fall into that midway “Hybrid” territory and we’re all better for it.

Sure, the occasional beige Euro bubbles to the surface, but few of them stick. Settings for pure Euro games have started tackling more interesting subjects, look no further than the alarming number of worker placement games about Vikings.

On the other end of the spectrum, FFG, the main offender in needlessly convoluted thematic Games has reeled their shit in. They don’t publish as many board games anymore, which is fine, but when they do it’s something like Rebellion or Civ: A New Dawn (both of which play so smooth for dealing with so much potential design space) or a streamlined cleaned up version of one of their older titles.

By and large, everything else falls somewhere in between. “Ameritrash” is over, it means nothing, and as someone who dislikes the extremes in both camps, I couldn’t be happier. Good riddance. Barnes will tell you we won, but I think balance did.
Colorcrayons's Avatar
Colorcrayons replied the topic: #282604 02 Oct 2018 16:21
"Ameritrash lies not dead, but dreaming..."

~ Prophetess of The Great Unmaking

Chapter 8 - verse 16: "The true believers wait in darkness for our Master to return. We see the scorn made by the traitors and heretics, and mark their names in the pages of damnation."

Chapter 8 - verse 17: "Looming in the corridors that lie between time, the thrice risen Master shall feed deeply upon their kind, as It laughs at the unholy terror fermenting in their minds. Their broken collections, grasped in Its hands."

~ Voynich Manuscript
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #282607 02 Oct 2018 16:39
Meh.

If it wakes up, let me know. I don’t think that will be necessary though.
jeb's Avatar
jeb replied the topic: #282610 02 Oct 2018 17:29
Get you one that does both.

Here's what I've played over the previous coupla weeks:
  • MERCHANTS & MARAUDERS - Hybrid? I think? It's a pirate game with combat that is fucking complicated but it's not pasta-counting complicated.
  • ARKHAM HORROR - AT all the way.
  • CRIBBAGE, CHESS, CHECKERS, BACKGAMMON - abstracts
  • SUSHI GO - Euro, right? "Filler" Should I call this "filler." Note: calling a game "filler" makes me feel like a douche.
  • CRY HAVOC - Hybrid all the way.
  • TERRAFORMING MARS, PUERTO RICO - Eurooooooos

Play games with lots of folks, play different games with them. You never know what'll stick. My figurine-collecting, comic-reading, nerdy kid enjoys TERRAFORMING MARS. The bookish brooder gets upset when we don't want to play WALLENSTEIN. Everyone likes AGRICOLA(?!).

Some games are rules soup, and that's fine. Don't spring them on folks, and you might be surprised.
Colorcrayons's Avatar
Colorcrayons replied the topic: #282611 02 Oct 2018 17:46
Josh, I'm positive that based on your interactions with people here, that you're an awesome guy and would be a hoot to play games with.

Although if I didn't already know that, and was judging by your oft repeated screed of...



...I would only surmise playing Automobile with you would feel like...



...and that the experience could only be described as...

Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #282612 02 Oct 2018 17:49
I have an extremely varied (albeit rarely assembled) group. My girlfriend and one of my best friends prefer Euros (Terraforming Mars, Samurai, Power Grid) but will tolerate stuff that's more thematic (Fate of the Elder Gods, Blood Rage.) My more AT-oriented people will play basically anything (Crusader Rex, Tribune, Fury of Dracula, plus all of the aforementioned.) I recently brought a stack to a game night that included Villainous, Modern Art, Blood Rage, and Photosynthesis. When I mentioned Disney, that won the choice struggle for Villainous, which you can easily argue is a Euro but an extremely thematic one (and, yes, heavily randomized, dice-fearers. Cards. You must draw them.) The unfortunate coda is that both my girlfriend and one of my two friends didn't like it because they're not naturally aggressive players, whereas I and the other guy at the table definitely are.

I think there's still some level of worthiness/truthiness attached to the definitions, in that I'd never suggest something like Forbidden Stars to someone that I knew was mostly a fan of things like Agricola. It's true that FS is a wargame, which tacks on yet another definition/label, but wargames tend to get lumped in with AT-style stuff, since they often have more detailed and situational rules (and dice!)

So, I don't agree with the whole "definitions are dead" thing. I think the hybridization of recent output IS a benefit to everyone, but there are still distinct styles of games that will definitely appeal to particular players and its often useful to have some kind of descriptive label in that respect. But it's far from the all-encompassing definition that it seemed to be back in the day. You can say that Blood Rage is a worker placement game, because it is, but it's really quite different from even things like Lords of Waterdeep, with which it shares heavy thematic comparisons. Is one still Ameritrash because it has abstract combat or is the other because it has quests? Neither?
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #282613 02 Oct 2018 17:54
For me, it's all contextual. If you have the players to consistently play the same complex games, I think that's my favorite situation by a long shot. But if your gaming life is different then I tend to agree that simpler euros are the way to go even if I prefer more complex games.

I must say, my biggest factor is not just those reps but also emphasis on with the same people. It's critical and it's not nearly as frequent as I wish it was.
mc's Avatar
mc replied the topic: #282615 02 Oct 2018 19:27
So I'm far from an Ameritrasher in terms of the labelled games I play - no minis, very little fantasy or space in my collection - but in terms of my attitude - what I want out of games - laughter, drama, stand up moments etc - I'm right there.

On top of this most of my gaming gets done with family and non-"gamer (tm)" friends.

Those things dovetail pretty neatly and mean that the games I play are generally light in terms of rules overhead but open up to lots of good moments of interaction between players. For Euros that means old style "German" or whatever. I think "Ameritrash" does have a Family type end, maybe, as well? I don't know, I'm thinking of things like Roborally.

Anyway, these things are great because they get played and enjoyed.

I do have a love of big chromy simulations and stuff but they don't get played enough so there's just no point - i've got enough for the rainy day.

On that note though.

If a game is going to attempt to fix itself in a setting/theme then I want it to go all-in, or maybe pull the lens right back. A lot of modern optimisation Euros for me fit in this weird middle ground where they create an uncanny valley like experience... all the artwork says one thing but the actual play doesn't make any sense.... I'm running a hotel but I can't choose where to put my guests. ... I'm running a farm but someone else in the village is harvesting so I can't.... etc etc. Those kind of things I actually find so much harder to internalize than so much chrome, which at least makes sense most of the time.

So I find that on the whole I want things kept simple, or super complicated. And it's the simple ones that get the love.
WadeMonnig's Avatar
WadeMonnig replied the topic: #282620 02 Oct 2018 20:38

Colorcrayons wrote: "Ameritrash lies not dead, but dreaming..."

~ Prophetess of The Great Unmaking

Chapter 8 - verse 16: "The true believers wait in darkness for our Master to return. We see the scorn made by the traitors and heretics, and mark their names in the pages of damnation."

Chapter 8 - verse 17: "Looming in the corridors that lie between time, the thrice risen Master shall feed deeply upon their kind, as It laughs at the unholy terror fermenting in their minds. Their broken collections, grasped in Its hands."

~ Voynich Manuscriptv

And there you have it. The Cthulhu expansion of this thread. ;)
dysjunct's Avatar
dysjunct replied the topic: #282623 02 Oct 2018 21:36
It’s a lot easier to be for something when a bunch of annoying dweebs are against it.
CranBerries's Avatar
CranBerries replied the topic: #282629 03 Oct 2018 00:32

And one day it was over. I remember it clearly. It was an average Monday, with some delicate rays of sunlight and a cat paw in my face waking me up. I sat at the breakfast table looking at a boiled egg, and realized: I am done with 35 page manuals. Somehow my head couldn't take another one of those


And then you have to teach those 35 pages to someone else. No thank you.
Shapeshifter's Avatar
Shapeshifter replied the topic: #282634 03 Oct 2018 08:19
I completely agree about the "hybrid" thing, and how the two camps have somehow moved more towards a middleground, but that said, I don't agree about FFG making more streamlined games these days. Rebellion is just as needlessly complex in places like the FFG 5 years ago. As much as I love the layers in Rebellion, the combat system is tremendously fiddly in places.
Compare that to the clean approach of some good euro's and you will have a hard time to see the elegance in Rebellion. Sure, FFG has made the learning process somewhat easier by deviding rules over 3 booklets...but you are still facing 35 pages of rules.

My point was also not so much about theme VS mechanics, but more about stripped down designs VS excessive detail.
I think a game with half the rules of a typical FFG game can be just as thematic. Sometimes more, because an overload in rules could also mean distraction from the actual gameworld the game system attempts to render.

The thing is...if I want to play a euro, I want to play it for the smooth ride and accesability of being able to play it within a short timeframe with easy to learn rules i can explain in 5 minutes flat.
If I want theme I can forgive and actually see the charm in excessive detail that might render things fiddly and
a bit of a struggle to digest.
jeb's Avatar
jeb replied the topic: #282672 03 Oct 2018 17:41
It's an attitude. If you pay CAYLUS and yell "HOHN HOHN HOHN, HOW WILL ZEE DUKE DU MAUNUPAURNESSENT ARRET MON PLAHNS MAINTNO?!" It's an AT game.
Deleted's Avatar
Deleted replied the topic: #282678 04 Oct 2018 00:41
To be fair, 900 page rule books are an result of people that need to have their hands held. We made a pretty damned simple game at its core and we still get dozens of questions.
the_jake_1973's Avatar
the_jake_1973 replied the topic: #282686 04 Oct 2018 08:44
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Saul Goodman's Avatar
Saul Goodman replied the topic: #282727 05 Oct 2018 00:42
I like games that are fun. Full stop.
Ken B.'s Avatar
Ken B. replied the topic: #282751 05 Oct 2018 11:01

Shapeshifter wrote: The thing is...if I want to play a euro, I want to play it for the smooth ride and accesability of being able to play it within a short timeframe with easy to learn rules i can explain in 5 minutes flat.
If I want theme I can forgive and actually see the charm in excessive detail that might render things fiddly and
a bit of a struggle to digest.



That's me. There is only so much rules complexity I'm willing to tolerate in a Euro, a hard ceiling in terms of rules crunch. If I'm going to play a game with a lot of rules or complexity, it damned well better have a strong theme, and one that I like.
Deleted's Avatar
Deleted replied the topic: #282766 05 Oct 2018 13:25
Today’s reason you need 900 page rules:

“Can you or bad guys stand on objectives?”
“Page 19, Page 20. No.”
CranBerries's Avatar
CranBerries replied the topic: #282820 07 Oct 2018 21:48

jeb wrote: It's an attitude. If you pay CAYLUS and yell "HOHN HOHN HOHN, HOW WILL ZEE DUKE DU MAUNUPAURNESSENT ARRET MON PLAHNS MAINTNO?!" It's an AT game.


I tend to get annoyed looks when I try to inject this sort of espièglerie into a Euro game.


Warning: Spoiler! [ Click to expand ]
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #282822 07 Oct 2018 22:11
This site has recently featured a lot of posts by eurogame apologists. But eurogames fundamentally discourage most forms of interaction, especially conversation, laughter, and enthusiastic exclamations. It's goddamned fun-murdering, and we all know it.