Tuesday, 13 March 2007

A Clinical Definition and Some Opinion

Hello, everyone! I typically go by the alias BradyLS (Brady Severns) on Boardgame Geek. Here I assume the moniker BrayD. Not terribly exciting or imaginative, I know, but there it is. My thanks to Matt Thrower for inviting me aboard to post my opinion about all things Ameritrash Gaming on his blog. I hope to stick around as long as it lasts, but we'll see how well I can keep the plates spinning...

What IS "Ameritrash"? How is it used as a term to describe a boardgame?

Well, imagine: "...In walked a man among a horde. A man, armed and amored, among a multitude of fangs, muscle, and chitin. A man with a name and a mission. In walked Sergeant Petrol of the Styrene Marines..."

Sure, it's cheesy. But it does set a mood and an expectation. Will it deliver?

If we're talking about a book or movie that does, we have something along the lines Heinlein's Starship Troopers or Scott's Alien(s). If not, then we're out a few hours and few dollars.

If we're talking about a board game(!) and it does(!!!) then we have a classic "Ameritrash" title. Maybe it's GamesWorkshop's Space Hulk or Space Crusade. Or maybe even the boardgame version of Starship Troopers (by defunct publisher Avalon Hill) or Aliens. And in the game, we don;t simply follow the (cheesy) story, we help tell it and vicariously experience it. If not, we have the fractured of an experience: a bad game that maybe cost us (these days) $45 and the effort to learn and assemble it.

So "Ameritrash" is a term that I equate with not just any boardgame. But a boardgame that allows the players some immersion in its premise (its theme) as they play and to even tell some sort of story. Or... Imagine a book or movie or TV show or historical period or event. Imagine that "thing" transmogrified into a game with a set of rules, pieces, cards, and probably a board that allows the players to recreate and manipulate the content and facts in their imagination. Primarily for entertainment and fun but perhaps also to learn something new about the thing.

In other words: it is a game which offers its players a chance to compete against each other in an imaginary setting with components designed to invoke and reflect the imaginary setting.

This is different from role-playing games, in that players are not required to be "in character" while they play. They do not assume a role as an actor might, but rather assume a position at the table which allows them to manipulate resources in the game. They are different from most wargames in that players do not assume a single side or faction that is trying to rigidly and seriously simulate a historical event (battle) or period (war). They typically take several hours to play.

But why "Ameritrash?" Why just that word?

It's hard to say. "Ameri" implies American. Most games that I have just described came and do come from American game publishers. "Trash" I can only guess as refering to it's contents. Its "bits". Often, they are plastic or varying thicknesses of cardboard with lurid/brash graphics. In the 1970's, when such games began to really assert their presence among game-playing hobbyists, such graphics were amateurish or very similar in style and appearance to wargame graphics.

In the decades that followed, and particulalrly in the last 10 years, the graphic content is almost thoroughly professional: four-color printing featuring graphics from artists and designers with established careers. Novel plastic pieces, counters, and boxes from miniatures sculptors and and package designers. "Trash" can only mean, nowadays, the "disposable" commodity that games made of plastic and cardbaord were once considered to be.

As opposed to what other kind of games?

Role-playing and wargames have been mentioned. Others include social or party games (self-explained) and family strategy/abstract games (often called "Eurogames" these days). Euro(game)s are strategy and abstract games that typically feature streamlined play with easily learned rules and well-made components (often of wood). They usually take an hour (more or less) to play. They are called "Euros" because notable examples of such games were and are often made by European publishers.

...In all honesty, most of you reading to this point probably understand the difference already. But in case you didn't, the above one way of clinically disecting and describing it. I'll leave it alone. If you don't know what I'm talking about, gamewise, from this point forward... Well, I did my duty—however inexpertly. It had to be done. So there.

Some opinion...

The hot topic which seems to have spurred the formal launch of this blog was Michael Barnes' banishment from The Boardgame Geek. As much as anyone, I was surprised at the apparent summary decision that was made. I enjoyed Michael's irreverent style on the 'Geek as well as his frank and earnest opinion about games. (Wish they'd been banished instead. *Ba-da-bump!*). I think he, among several others, offered a refreshing viewpoint about the kinds of people that play games and the sorts of games they play. His opinion had much two do with splitting what seemed like a pretty homogenous body with the membership of Boardgame Geek. Between he andd DW Tripp, it's hard to tell which one is/was the Geek's Martin Luther.

I'm glad he's here in the Fortress (and I with you all) and I hope folks will stop by to hear his proclimations from the battlements.

That's about all for now. As I get used to sustained writing rather than my usual sniping, I hope to be more engaging in the future!

Oh... Try to imagine the blog's name not as

fortress ameritrash


FORTRESS: (Dun-dun-DUN!*) AMERITRASH! (dunn-Dunn-DUNN-DUNNN!!!!) (A Matt Thrower Production)

*Trumpet fanfare


ekted said...

I always assumed the -trash suffix was because of the way typical BGG "Euro gamers" looked down on AT games, and that AT gamers adopted it in a sense of pride. I love the irony.

I would also point out that a typical AT game pits players against players, rather than players against the game itself.

DWTripp said...

Nice analysis Brady. It is easy to overlook what makes an Ameritrash game rise above the mainline Euros is the head-to-head brutalization of your enemies. Or, yourself on a bad day.

This is my 3rd time back today and it's very cool to see Ekted, Fawkes and Chapel dropping by. We need to have our token EuroSnoot around here and Chapel is custom made for the job.

I think where Barnes and I see things the same way is that BGG suffers from regular bouts of entropy. It's so laden with mind-numbing threads about everything from appeasing "the wife" to the endless "Which should I buy?" and down into the sewer pit of intellectual discussions about Princes of Florence that the sheer mass it accumulates far outstrips any real attempts to change it's direction. Or, at the very least, liven things up a bit.

Left to their own devices BGG would devolve into a core group of about 35 annointed souls all generating 800 entry threads about seating positions in popular Euros... as the entire site slow burns into the sun.

The real difference between me and Barnes is that I'm about his dad's age and while I've been recognized my entire life as an unsufferable asshole, I have acquired a few skills along the way that make me appear to be a nice guy who just wants to get along. So Barnes is a rough cut asshole and I, after years of fine-tuning, am a polished and shiny asshole.

And now... what will become of Weeks and his podcast? Barnes and his shove-it attitude? The whole concept of dynamiting a hole in BGG large enough for games that are not for Merlot sippers but instead, for riotous fun and for creating episodic events that are told and retold weeks, months and years later?

Who knows. I suspect Aldie will not invite Barnes back and even if he did, Barnes is just enough of a prick to say no.

Keep up the good work ya'll!

Ken Bradford said...

The "trash" thing is definitely a grab at the derogatory and co-opting it for ourselves.

I mean...many BGGers *say* there's no bias...but I signed up for the geek in June 2005 and it didn't take long for me to see it. "A box of toys." "Typical American dicefest."

What put me over the edge was a comment about a game stating that it was "typical Ameriplasty garbage" or something to that effect. So I created my first Geeklist after that, and I tried to co-opt the negative title "Ameriplasty". It generated a lot of discussion but it didn't stick...it wasn't until Robert's "Ameritrash" list that enough of us took notice and banded together.

My initial geeklist was trying to find gamers like myself. Thankfully, eventually I did.

Anyone who tells you there's no "bias" against American-style games on BGG is either delusional or flat-out lying.

Thanks for the great article, and welcome, Brady!

Lajos Brons said...

Well, imagine: "...In walked a man among a horde. A man, armed and amored, among a multitude of fangs, muscle, and chitin. A man with a name and a mission. In walked Sergeant Petrol of the Styrene Marines..."

This points at (another) reason why the term 'Ameritrash' is so appropriate. Ameritrash has strong links to pulp fiction (pulp novels, B-movies, etc.). There are similarly insane themes / stories and the genres are looked down upon by the proponents of 'high culture'.
Being 'trashy' is part of the essence of Ameritrash. Ameritrash games are like B-movies and pulp novels, only (even) better...

Michael Barnes said...

It seems like the biggest hurdle most folks have had with the "Ameritrash" name is that board gamers tend to be horrifyingly literal and completely unironic about everything...

The "trash" part is _perfect_. Think about all the great stuff that's been considered "trash" by the mainstream- comic books, Doc Savage novels, HP Lovecraft, Shaw Brothers Kung Fu pictures, Flash Gordon, etc...it doesn't mean at all that it's "low" culture or literally trash, it means that it acknowledges itself as separate from "high" culture and celebrates that fact.

I'm not "above" playing a game like THUNDER ROAD and I never thought that owning PUERTO RICO put me "above" playing a round of MONOPOLY...if the gaming "mainstream" thinks I'm trash then I'm proud to adopt that label.