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- January 7, 2022 = my breakup from the opinions of Michael Barnes
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January 7, 2022 = my breakup from the opinions of Michael Barnes
drewcula wrote: 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)
30 min playing time
90 min playing time
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.
Like Kramer v. Kramer, but it's a slapfight over board games.
Wasn’t familiar with Michael Barnes so I googled. I think I found one of his reviews, and weirdly it was this one naming Can’t Stop his best game of 2021: therewillbe.games/articles-beyond-reviews/8904-barne ...
When he agrees with Charlie and the others, like with Root, I notice.
Right now I’d rather get weird music recommendations from him or fondly remember the time he verbally owned an anti-masker in the UPS store. (or was it FedEx?)
I occasionally argued with MB on BGG “back in the day”, because I mostly thought he was needlessly obnoxious and divisive.
So I did a reverse and started out disagreeing with him and then came around to appreciating his contributions over the years, even if I didn’t always see eye to eye.
I like reading Michael’s exploration of gaming, discovering - or rediscovering - what he likes. It’s even fun to watch him run so hot and cold on things. He’s being true to himself at any moment in time.
I also really appreciate that he is a person with very strong opinions, but who is also willing to grow and change and give things a chance or second look.
- The Game Room
- January 7, 2022 = my breakup from the opinions of Michael Barnes