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January 7, 2022 = my breakup from the opinions of Michael Barnes

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09 Jan 2022 17:44 #329577 by drewcula
Happy New Year F:ATties! Long time, no (significant) post. I crept back onto There Will Be Games two weeks ago to see what was shaking. A Pavlovian response made me reply to a thread about The Walking Dead: All Out War. That reply expanded to a separate, convention related thread.

I write now to declare I have stopped adhering to the opinions of Michael Barnes. It’s sad. I’ve been reading Barnes since his days at ‘No High Scores.’ and his influential power is reflected on a few of my gaming shelves.

Sample of Barnes' highly reviewed games I own: Space Hulk, Claustrophobia, Gears of War, Earth Reborn, Cthlulhu Wars

As a bitter divorcee, I’ve concluded with the kind of epic trolling only a scorned lover could manufacture. I loved you Michael.

But first! In my divorce proceedings, I had four moments when Michael betrayed our relationship. The earliest crack was two years ago, one is on-going, and the past two weeks revealed a pair of irreconcilable differences.

1) In 2019, Michael posted a vulgar and virtue signaling essay about H.P. Lovecraft. Barnes is entitled to his opinion. The tone was too declarative for my tastes, but Michael has never been about modesty. The real offense was when he suggested that Matt Ruff and Jeff VanderMeer are better writers than Lovecraft. Now, that’s horror.

2) Michael didn’t organize a ‘Secret Satan’ gift exchange for the past two years.

3) On December 24, Michael posted ‘Barnes Best 2021.’ I’ve always looked forward to the Barnes-year-in-review. Two weeks ago, Michael submitting the laziest effort he’s ever penned. Everyone can’t write Pulitzer-level blog posts about the best board games of 2021, but Michael wasn’t even close. He was off by forty years.

4) On January 7, Michael reviewed the 2021 Heroquest. I was certain that redemption was possible. Barnes could rekindle my favor by a well written review of a classic dungeon crawler. He did not. He denigrated the title as a “kid’s game.”

That’s it Mike. Gloves off.

Candyland is a “kid’s game.” Heroquest is a simple game. That’s an important distinction.

For context and comparison, I’ll pull stats of Barnes’ 2021 favorite against Heroquest using every FAT:ties’ favorite resource: BOARD GAME GEEK!

Can’t Stop (1980)
Rating 6.9
2-4 players
30 min playing time
Age 9+
Weight 1.15

Heroquest (1989)
Rating. 7.2
2-5 players
90 min playing time
Age 14+
Weight 2.16

Additional context! Michael confessed his disinterest in Heroquest during his youth and admitted a proclivity towards Space Hulk. What Barnes did not share with readers is that he collected, reformatted, and played Heroquest’s EU brethren SPACE CRUSADE as an adult. And in true Barnes fashion, he sold his SPACE CRUSADE in 2016. Disclosure: I wish I had bought it from him.

Barnes is wrong about Heroquest, because he is wrong about Can't Stop.

To cement my separation, I took it upon myself to boilerplate Michael’s review of Heroquest into a review of Can't Stop. Very few edits were needed.

Spoiler: IT'S A KIDS' GAME FOR KIDS.

To be honest, I don’t have that much nostalgia for Can’t Stop and although I had a friend that was absolutely obsessed with it to the point where he had a notebook full of homebrew rules and campaign material for it, I didn’t actually play it all that much – I was much more of a Heroquester back in those days. The seminal Sid Jackson press-your-lucker wasn’t one of the first attempts at condensing Yahtzee concepts into a board game (we’re going back to things like The Great Races for that) but it was the first game that brought a “craps table” concept to a mainstream design. Produced by twenty publishers over forty years, there’s a lot of folks out there with fond memories of playing it in their formative years and in fact many contemporary games in this genre feel like attempts to simulate Can’t Stop.

Again, with full disclosure here, I thought it was kind of boring and simplistic. I wasn’t overly stoked by its reappearance as a “mountain ascension” under the venerable Oya imprint and didn’t buy it- I felt like it was grossly overpriced and positioned outside of the accessibility that was one of its greatest assets. I thought I’d ask for a review copy to sort of check in with it from a new perspective and really to see how my kids would take to it. The folks at the Oya press desk never responded directly but then I got a shipping notice out of nowhere and suddenly I had it in hand.

After several games- a couple solo using the app and around half a dozen with my kids and a rotating group of their friends- I’m prepared to state that Can’t Stop is most definitely not the greatest dice-racer of all time and I do think that the hushed whispers of admiration and middle-aged nods of fond reminiscence are nostalgic exaggerations. However, there are some things about this design are striking – and, unfortunately, they are the things that the cloners have largely left behind.

The primary element left behind its utter simplicity. This is not a game rife with fancy mechanisms, cleverness, elegance, or sophistication. In fact, It’s what I call with all the fondness I can muster a “stupid” game. Stupid like Ramones- back to basics, poppy, and without pretense. You roll dice to traverse a column, maybe you pick column 8 and column 2, but it never gets more complicated.

Can’t Stop can be run with an app on your phone, and it works pretty well even if the AI is practically non-existent. It’s not like other players have tons of options other than “roll and repeat” anyway.
Yet, despite its simplicity, it’s also comprehensive. Bad combinations can appear while you roll and as you press on, their frequency increases. There’s just enough dice variance to matter and some high stakes choices to make. But it’s still all very basic, very easy to grasp.

The game also tends to walk that line between lean and fully featured. I absolutely adore that the entire mountain is on the board (i.e. no stop sign) and it’s all defined by chits and markers. It’s such a smart concept, I can think of only one other recent example of this format and that was Coloretto a few years ago. Lesson learned.

Modern dice games try to tell more complex stories, offer greater tactical gameplay, provide stronger detailing of classes and equipment. Faces might have a variety of attacks or strategies and statuses are usually a thing. The scenarios act like it really matters if a die goes left or right. There might be 30 minutes of setup and scads of cards. Can’t Stop is none of this stuff. You throw the board down, roll the dice, and go. It’s the most accessible game in its class, barring No Thanks! which is even simpler (and stupider in a good way).

I can’t say that I totally love Can’t Stop. It’s hard to make an argument for it beyond “it’s easy to play” and given a choice between the two I’d likely choose to play Heroquest over it even though it is much more complex, detailed, and setup heavy. There are any number of “better” dice chuckers out there. But Can’t Stop, despite its legendary reputation, was never anything more than a kids’ game, and you’ve simply got to recognize that it was always a kids’ game and it remains a kids’ game. And to that end, it has kid appeal in spades. Even my kids, who have played full Machi Koro Legacies on Warlock tiles with fully painted cityscapes, were still dazzled by all the beautifully colored wooden pawns.

But those pawns in today’s economy mean that this is an expensive game at $25 retail, and I think that is not a kids’ game price and that is really a shame, let alone that this is not a game a kid with a $20 gift card at Target can go pick up. The production is nice but almost charmingly dated, which also makes it feel overpriced. I reckon that for a lot of Yahtzee nuts around my age bracket, this was likely their first experience with dice pushing, and I respect those kinds of childhood memories.

With that in mind, I don’t know that Oya could have handled Can’t Stop any better in terms of production and providing longtime Can’t Stoppers with what they wanted – a perfect reprint without any redevelopment or even any revision (mountain aside).

###
Despite Michael's abusive treatment of a long time reader, I'll still allow him to buy me a beer when he and his family visit Washington D.C.

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09 Jan 2022 19:36 - 09 Jan 2022 19:37 #329578 by Gary Sax
I have a relationship like this with a lot of reviewers. I like Shut Up and Sit Down's content but don't have almost anything in common with either Matt or Quinns' taste or opinions, for example. By contrast, others I vibe completely with in taste like Charlie Theel or to a lesser extent Mark Bigney.
Last edit: 09 Jan 2022 19:37 by Gary Sax.
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09 Jan 2022 21:27 #329582 by Sagrilarus
I’d classify Can’t Stop as a family game. And I’d wager $25 is the strike price for mainstream department stores. If Target wanted it out for $20, it would have been $20.
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10 Jan 2022 01:29 - 10 Jan 2022 01:30 #329586 by mc
I will choose (good) "kid's games" over (supposedly good) "adult games" every day of the fuckin week.

For reference, that's probably, like, MOST games. We play with toys. It's fine. The moment games veer off into trying to pretend they are SERIOUS games for ADULTS ONLY they can go and do one. There are of course more than a few games that are not necessarily FOR kids but don't have their heads stuck up their arses in pretending they are important intellectual exercises and they are fine.

I'm kind of interested that Barnes went through a heavy Euro phase, called Heroquest a Kids game (which it is, and it's fine - and he thought so too, I thought?) and called Can't Stop his game of the year. You are a land of contrast Barnes (and that makes for interesting reading, usually!)
Last edit: 10 Jan 2022 01:30 by mc.
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10 Jan 2022 08:42 #329588 by Michael Barnes
Well that is the most editorial attention my games writing has seen since the GameShark days LOL!

On points:

1) In 2019, Michael posted a vulgar and virtue signaling essay about H.P. Lovecraft. Barnes is entitled to his opinion. The tone was too declarative for my tastes, but Michael has never been about modesty. The real offense was when he suggested that Matt Ruff and Jeff VanderMeer are better writers than Lovecraft. Now, that’s horror.

It’s not hard to be a better writer than HPL. You could probably do it too. Other writers better than HPL include Brian Lumley, Thomas Ligotti, Ramsey Campbell, and Robert Bloch. All of whom do Mythos-y kinds of things without the xenophobia and racism underpinning all of their best ideas. . Also- what’s wrong with virtue signalling anyway, it’s one of those like “social justice warrior”…how is that a pejorative? Be outspoken and proud when you have progressive or counter-conservative views. Anyway, the point of all that was to show that this kind of nerd worship of a racist shitbag that wrote trashy pulp maybe needs to stop.

2) Michael didn’t organize a ‘Secret Satan’ gift exchange for the past two years

Unprecedented times, man. Last year I didn’t want to ask people to fool with it, go out to post offices and all that kind of stuff. This year, same. Maybe this year we can revive it. If you want I can send you some garbage review copies I can’t get rid of.

3) On December 24, Michael posted ‘Barnes Best 2021.’ I’ve always looked forward to the Barnes-year-in-review. Two weeks ago, Michael submitting the laziest effort he’s ever penned. Everyone can’t write Pulitzer-level blog posts about the best board games of 2021, but Michael wasn’t even close. He was off by forty years.

What’s even the point of these lists anymore, there is so much released how can one critic even scratch the surface unless they are playing games all the time and have review copies piled up at the porch every day. I don’t want to do that anymore. I think I maybe played 20 or so 2021 releases, if even that. I’ve done a best of the year thing for almost 2 decades so I was like fuck it, here’s the truth.

4) On January 7, Michael reviewed the 2021 Heroquest. I was certain that redemption was possible. Barnes could rekindle my favor by a well written review of a classic dungeon crawler. He did not. He denigrated the title as a “kid’s game.”

Now this is a total misunderstanding. What makes HQ great is that it is a kids game. Kid’s game is in no way a negative. What I’m down about though is that Hasbro Pulse/Avalon Hill aren’t selling it as a kid’s game, which is the truth of HQ. They are selling it as middle aged man nostalgia. And, it does not fit into the notion of modern middle aged man hobby game design. Nor does it return to us here in 2021/2022 as a “wow, this game holds up” thing. It does not. Because it always was and should remain a kids game. I love it as a kids game. I even bought the two reprint expansions and I’m hoping we can play our campaign tonight after school and work.

As for the divorce proceedings, you can keep everything but I want the copy of Gears of War. That remains one of the very, very few games I regret liquidating. And I can never find it at a price I like. Now my son is starting to get into GoW via Gamepass so, yeah, imma need to get that from you. Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out, sugar.
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10 Jan 2022 08:42 #329589 by Michael Barnes
Also don’t you ever badmouth Can’t Stop again. I’ll stab you.
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10 Jan 2022 08:54 #329590 by jason10mm
This is what happens when the hero quest check bounces and the Can't Stop check cashes. 50 cents is 50 cents! Well, unless if it's 50 Cent (TM) but I don't want to rile up his lawyers.
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10 Jan 2022 08:54 #329591 by Legomancer
Look, I'm the heretic here who thinks Cosmic Encounter is a load of cack. It took me far too long to realize my taste doesn't gel with Barnes' (especially now, as I have zero interest in RPGs, Battletech, or anything Warhammer).
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10 Jan 2022 08:56 - 10 Jan 2022 08:56 #329592 by drewcula
Michael is like the James Bond of game reviewers. A writer of unique contradictions. Of course I'll continue to read his musings. I'll probably even click the 'Thank You' button on occasion. But my hard earned dollars will not be steered towards his musings any longer.

We'll see how long that statement lasts. FYI: My last Barnes influenced acquisition was Dune: A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy. A game that should have been Michael's pick for 2021.

But that choice may have been the old Fortress Ameritrash Michael. IDK anymore. Maybe Barnes doesn't either. He's shifted his gaming palette over the years. Euros here and Ameritrash there is common enough, but of late its role playing role playing role playing. The more eccentric, the more attracted he is to its pages. Anymore, I wonder if Barnes is LARPing a character he was once renown for - MB, the raconteur scribe of board game reviews.

My Cant' Stop review is mostly satire, though it does reflect the interchangeability of Michael's last two critiques.

Barnes is an adult and seasoned gamer that can dish it out as well as he can take it. I'm just poking at the curmudgeon bear of There Will Be Games because sometimes he deserves to be prodded.

I'll pursue my proper Heroquest retort on Michael's thread. SPOILER ALERT: It's a family game.

And Can't Stop is fine.

Roll the bones.
Last edit: 10 Jan 2022 08:56 by drewcula.
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10 Jan 2022 09:07 #329594 by Msample

Legomancer wrote: Look, I'm the heretic here who thinks Cosmic Encounter is a load of cack. It took me far too long to realize my taste doesn't gel with Barnes' (especially now, as I have zero interest in RPGs, Battletech, or anything Warhammer).


I hated CE the one agonizing time I played it.
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10 Jan 2022 09:08 #329595 by drewcula
UPDATE:
Board Game Geek has given me 2.5 Geek Gold for my Can't Stop review.
'Thank You' Michael for the spring board. As a token on my appreciation, I'll give 25 Geek Gold to the first F:ATtie to jump over there and leave a comment.

boardgamegeek.com/article/39206127

R/ Sugar
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10 Jan 2022 09:58 #329600 by dysjunct
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10 Jan 2022 10:32 #329607 by drewcula
YOU'RE RICH!

I guess I'll have to share the punchline with the unaware BGGers.
And... I suppose I could be kicked off the site.

Which would be poetic in a way.

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10 Jan 2022 10:47 #329609 by Not Sure
People hating on Cosmic Encounter is just proof that you and Barnes can both be wrong.

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10 Jan 2022 11:24 - 10 Jan 2022 11:25 #329610 by Shellhead
Speaking of Lovecraft, writer Scott Lynch recently discovered that Winnie the Pooh is now also in public domain, and took action:

Last edit: 10 Jan 2022 11:25 by Shellhead.
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