In Defense of American-Style Games: 3 Good Reasons to Play Ameritrash as Seen by a Grognard

With the popularity of Settlers of Catan in the 1990s, Eurogames have exploded onto the American gaming landscape. The emphasis of Eurogames on indirect competition, hidden scoring, broad themes, resource-driven game mechanics, and balancing mechanisms to keep all players “in the game” has proven to be popular, particularly with younger players.At the same time, American-style Games, often denigrated as “Ameritrash Games”, have been criticized, panned, and abandoned by many of these newer players. The critique is that Ameritrash games are either based too much on luck (think Talisman), too much on direct competition (e.g. Advanced Squad Leader), too complex (e.g. almost anything by Avalon Hill or SPI), too theme specific as to not be appealing to the average gamer (e.g. Air Assault on Crete), and too long to play (e.g. The Campaign for North Africa).

Well, as a Grognard (look it up kids if you don’t know what it means), I am here to defend Ameritrash Games with 3 good reasons you should be playing them:

1 – Direct Competition Can Be More Fun Than Multiplayer Solitaire

One of my critiques of Eurogames is that often the game is thinly disguised multiplayer solitaire (in other words, each player plays alone and the end-game scoring determines who played solitaire better). Players really cannot directly confront, impede, attack, etc, each other. Thus, each player’s “strategy” is not truly an interactive strategy, but really solitaire. Good examples are Race for the Galaxy by Rio Grande Games or Cities by Z-Man Games. Often a Eurogame adds one element of direct confrontation, such as card drafting (think 7 Wonders), that isn’t really “direct” confrontation as the emphasis is on denying an opponent a resource rather than taking it from them.

Direct competition in an Ameritrash title is more than just denial, it’s seizure! Take the classic game Dune by Avalon Hill (or the new variant Rex by Fantasy Flight Games). Your units (tokens) will move quicker if they have access to Arrakeen or Carthag. Taking those strongholds gives you an advantage and removes it from an opponent. The battles that I have seen in my 4 decades of gaming in those Dune strongholds are legendary! In a similar vein, Small World by Days of Wonder encourages aggressive acquisition of territory–at another player’s expense (much like Risk). Nothing more fun than making your opponents’ units disappear from the board.

And if you haven’t played Enemy in Sight by Avalon Hill, you are missing out on how much fun direct competition can be. There is nothing more enjoyable than screaming “Breaking the Line” to the tune of Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law” as you wreck an opponent’s line of ships. I have seen grudges held for years (actually it’s two decades now in one instance) over a well-played Breaking the Line card! Taking the battle to your opponent can be very fun–and memorable!

— you don’t eat the worm, it eats you!

And here is the kicker–luck is NOT involved in battle in any of these games! The common criticism that Ameritrash games are full of luck can be untrue.

2 – Randomness Can Be More Fun than Repetition

What makes Talisman work? The random discovery of what monsters, treasure, etc, lie in every space! Why do battles in Star Wars Rebellion feel exciting–because you have to chuck dice and live with the results. Let’s face it, many things in life are random, and randomness in games is a good thing not a bad thing. Now, we don’t want so much randomness that we are playing Monopoly, but adding a random element can help make a game less predictable, repetitive, and boring. Even the classic Settlers of Catan has two random mechanisms (dice rolls for resources and random bonus card draw).

The main problem with Eurogames is that they are so repetitive due to a lack of randomness. And repetition can be boring. Really good games with repetitive play (for example, Lost Cities by KOSMOS) are fantastic (much in the vein of Rummy, Solitaire, Pit, etc) but a good number of Eurogames are not fun when repetitive. In particular, I find Carcassonne to be really boring due to it being the same game over and over.

— nothing says generic, repetitive play like these components from Carcassonne

3 – Strong Themes in Ameritrash Games Make for Evocative Gameplay

Okay, one thing I despise about many Eurogames is that the “theme” seems to be an afterthought. The game is so abstract that literally any number of broad themes could fit. The classic Puerto Rico by Ravensburger or the more recent Terra Mystica by Feuerland could realistically be titled and themed anything. The games are all about the gameplay “engine”, Puerto Rico has nothing at all about it that is truly Puerto Rico–other than the tacked on place names, currency, etc.

Strong creative or historical themes build evocative gameplay. When I play Dune, I can envision that Sandworm eating my units (even if they are just little round cardboard tokens), I can see the Baron Harkonnen backstabbing me with a traitor, etc. Eclipse by Lautapelit is a rather complicated game, allowing for players to customize their spaceships. Guess what? This detail adds to the space 4X theme and gameplay. Arkham Horror by Fantasy Flight is so thematic that when I play it I can actually feel the Elder Gods returning to Earth.

— Arkham Horror by Fantasy Flight, a million Cards, chits, tokens, bits, etc, but well worth the hours it takes to set it up and take it down


So in short, there is a lot to love about American-style gaming, so don’t believe the “Ameritrash” label and get out there and play a dice chucking, card drawing, heavy themed game today!

Advertisements

How EA got Star Wars Battlefront 2 So Horribly Wrong…and Then So Right

Photo courtesy of my flatscreen TV

The Initial Controversy — Locked Jedi

By now you either are playing Star Wars Battlefront 2 by Electronic Arts (EA) or you are not. Either way you probably have heard about the controversial start of the game…and how mad Star Wars fans were. Basically, EA had locked some key heroes/villains like Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker behind a wall of credits. Players could acquire credits by playing for about a year…or they could purchase crystals via micro transactions…which means via spending real money….and unlock them now. Fans revolted at this injustice and the credit cost of the heroes was slashed.

The Real Problem–Vastly Imbalanced Game Play

But I am here today to tell you the #truth! The real problem was not locked heroes…it was that the game play was vastly imbalanced by the micro transactions! Here is my story. I bought the pre-order of Battlefront 2, which allowed me 1) early access to the game three days prior to the general release, 2) to start with some good Star Cards (power ups basically) especially for Rey and Kylo Ren, and 3) the unlocking of the Death Trooper class. Thus when I started playing on November 14th I was excited to try out my new Star Cards and Death Trooper. But guess what happened? Players who used micro transactions to buy 1000s of Star Cards were wiping the battle fields with their immense advantage.

This was grim, as I was unable to get many kills and was getting slaughtered. Now you might ask, why didn’t I just use my Death Trooper to fight back? Well it’s because as you fight, you earn Battle Points. The good classes of warriors (like the Death Trooper) and the Heroes (like Rey and Kylo Ren) are locked during a battle until you earn enough Battle Points to play them. So the rich kids who bought Star Cards were racking up Battle Points and grabbing all the heroes, slaughtering everyone else, getting more Battle Points, lather, rinse, and repeat! Now I had played Battlefront 1, so I was no slouch at the game. In fact, I was one of the best Starfighters in the world, so the sort of slaughter that was being inflicted on me was mainly a product of the vast imbalance in access to Star Cards.

So all my pre-order access and good Rey and Kylo Ren Cards were useless…because I could never get enough Battle Points to play them! In short, from November 14-16 micro transactions ruined Battlefront 2. The $70 I had spent was futile in the face of the rich kids spending $100s or $1000s to basically buy victory like they were the New York Yankees or Manchester United!

EA Gets It Right

Literally hours before the general launch on November 17, EA removed micro transactions. So now nobody can spend real money to buy an advantage, everyone has to earn credits through their game play. Since then, the game play has been normal. I now can kill and be killed based on my skill and the skill of my opponents. I can earn Battle Points and get enough to play the Death Trooper, Rey, and Kylo Ren. The game is what it was suppose to be all along.EA actually listened to player feedback and made changes that fixed the problem. Now this is not my usual experience with EA, as I ditched playing the FIFA series of games because of the lack of response from EA to the communities’ complaints. But this time, they actually listened. I guess the Force is strong in the Battlefront 2 community!

May the Force Be With You

Update: edited to get rid of the darn auto-correct that keeps messing with Star Wars names

Gen Con 2017 — Photos Part II

And now without further ado, I bring you more Gen Con photos!

GC17 12

It wouldn’t be Gen Con without an Imperial Stormtrooper!

GC17 08

This couple clearly put a good deal of time into their costumes!

GC17 13

Director Krennic.  This costume was a bit popular, I caught a glimpse of a couple other people dressed as Krennic too.

GC17 16

Piper from Fallout 4.  You don’t just tell the news…you are the news!

GC17 15

Now this costume must have taken some time to put together!  Very nice!

GC17 10

She looks like a Magic: The Gathering card! I can’t place the costume, but it surely displays a lot of hard work to put all of that together.

GC17 14

Love it! 

GC17 11

In my opinion, the only really good use for CCG cards!  Some of these structures were quite impressive.  And of course, anybody could join in and add to it.

And finally….

GC17 09

… your faithful narrator sitting on the throne at the Kingdomino booth.  Heavy is the crown!

5 Video Games / Xbox One games that I am playing right now

While I really love board games, RPGs, card games, etc, I also like to play video games on my Xbox One.  So what games am I playing right now, you ask?  Well here is the run down!

1 – Elite Dangerous

I really love space games.  I also love sandbox games.  Elite Dangerous is both!  You have the entire galaxy to fly around in, over 4 billion solar systems.  You can outfit a ship for exploring (I own an Asp Explorer for that purpose) and fly out into unknown space, discovering whatever you find there.

video gams 03

View from back of my Asp Explorer.  A Type F star as seen from a planet with rings.

You can also build ships for trading (I have a Python for that), piracy, bounty hunting, mining, etc.  Absolute freedom.  You can play for 5 minutes or 5 hours and not run into another real human.  Or, you can stay inside the populated “bubble” (about 300 or so light years in diameter around Sol) and then you will run into plenty of other players.  Hint: someone of them are going to attack you just for fun–that’s the “Dangerous” part of the game.

video games 02

My SRV on a rocky moon, looking towards a gas giant with its rings almost parallel to the milky way.  I was something like 1,000 lightyears out, so the milky way pointed my way back to civilization.  Most of the game is in first-person, but there is a camera suite that you use to “zoom” out of your vehicles and take pictures.

And super fun is dropping your Surface Recon Vehicle (SRV) onto a planet or moon and jamming around looking for stuff to mine.  If you want, you can spend the entire game roaming around just a few planets–or you can travel the 27,000 lightyears to the center of the galaxy.  It’s your choice.  Make the game whatever you want of it.  There is a subtle story in the background (which I think is about to get even better with an alien invasion of the galaxy) and players can take part in community missions to further the story.

Elite Dangerous is also a spaceship sim.  You can use a landing computer, but really the game is much more fun without it.  The first time I tried to land on a space station (think of a giant rotating 12-sided die with a small slit on side that ships fly in and out of) I smashed against the outside of the station.  The next few times I tried to land I wiped out everything in sight.  But once you get the hang of flying (and landing!) your ship, the things that you can do with the flight simulator part of the game is quite awesome (e.g. flying through rings of asteroids).

Last hint: watch out for the white dwarf stars–they will trap you in their gravity well and not let go.  I hate those White Dwarfs!

2 – Minecraft

video games 01

One of my recent underground discoveries–an abandoned mineshaft that I am excavating.

Okay, everybody plays this game so I really don’t need to say much about it.  Gigantic, open sandbox where you can play in survival mode or creative mode.  You can dig up ore, build gigantic structures, or just walk around and fall into lava.  Whatever you want to do, Minecraft lets you do it.  Playing Minecraft is also like putting together Legos or doing a jigsaw puzzle–its strangely meditative.  And again, a game that you can play for 5 minutes or 5 hours based on how much free time you have.  I have a wife and two kids, so I think you are getting the gist that I like games that don’t have long, complicated missions or lack “save” points, because I am never sure how much time I have got to play games. Minecraft can be played by all ages–so if for some reason you have been living under a rock and haven’t yet tried Minecraft, you really need to run, not walk, to your console and download it today. Tell Mojang/Microsoft that Neal sent you.

 

3 – Fallout Shelter

video games 04

It’s a sim based on the popular Fallout series of games.  You have to manage food, water, and power for your vault dwellers while avoiding numerous dangers: fires, radroaches, deathclaws, etc.  You can even re-name all your dwellers (here is a hint: I have renamed all 200 of mine and their names are not fit for prime time, I won’t put any examples here, you never know if a kid might be reading this blog!).  Anyway, you can send your dwellers on missions outside the vault to collect valuable weapons, armor and crafting junk.  Again, another game that you can save at any point and play at your own pace.  Oh, and the dwellers say the most hilarious things, so be sure to zoom in on them and eavesdrop their conversations.

 

4 – Star Wars Battlefront

video games 05

Okay, everybody likes Star Wars.  So what could be more cool than running around in a MMoG fighting battles on Endor, Hoth, the Death Star, etc?  I personally like the Battle Squadron multiplayer–it’s space ship battle in X-wings, Tie Fighters, etc.  Literally, I have not run across another player better than me in the sky–I am a killer, particularly in a Tie Interceptor (i.e. Darth’s Vader vehicle).  Anyway, back on the ground you can fight battles from the movies and even find “Hero Pick Ups” to become Luke, Darth, Chewy, Han, Leia, Greedo, Boba Fett, Jyn, etc.  It’s not an overly detailed or exact shooter simulation, but then again it’s not suppose to be.  It’s Star Wars–and that’s where the fun is.  If you ever wanted to operate a gigantic AT-AT and blast those pesky rebels into oblivion or go stomping around in a Chicken Walker (AT-ST) and crushing the rebellion under your metallic feet, this game is for you.  Trust me–nothing more fun than squishing rebels!

5 – Dead or Alive 5 Last Round

video games 06

When I feel like some simple one-on-one combat, it’s DOA5LR that I turn to.  Quick battles, tons of outfits for the guys and gals of DOA, and the difficulty can be customized from absurdly easy (i.e. the AI characters rarely attack and defend) to ridiculously hard (i.e. good luck even getting in a single hit) and everything in between.  It’s fun and mindless.

Till next time, Make Mine Marvel!