Monday, 19 March 2007

Some Movies and Ameritrash Games to Remember Them

A core feature of an Ameritrash game is its rch theme. The game will undoubtably be _about_ something: Killing Dracula (or spreading his reign of terror); conquering America (or the world); a Wild West shoot-out; or a myriad of similar dramatic, action-packed scenarios. The mechanics for playing the game will allow, in varying degrees of simplicty or complexity, the players free reign to take actions hat palpably describe how they will accomplish the game's object (victory conditions).

Below are some of my favorite movies and some games that I think hew closely to the same themes. Some are tied to the feature, but just as many, if not more, are not.

Enemy At the Gates (2001): Jude Law plays Vassili Zaitsev, the Soviet Union's most famous WWII sniper. Ed Harris plays a German sniper who is assigned to hunt him down. Their private, professional chase is played against the backdrop one of the WWII's largest and bitterest battles: Stalingrad. Some spectacular sequences feature: a CGI Stuka attack on a Red Army river-crossing; a desperate Soviet counter-attack against German mechanized troops; Vassili's duel with Major Koenig (Harris). As I'm led to believe, however, Soviet sniper Vassili was real, Harris' Major Konig was a movie-construct of several German snipers that couldn't beat Vassili.

There have been planty of wargames that cover the battle in detail (such as Avalon Hill's _Turning Point: Stalingrad_ and Advanced Squad Leader Modules such as _Red Barricades_ and _Streets of Fire_). However, the game that best captures the battle and the sniper duels in some easy-to-play plastic glory is _Memor: '44, East Front Expansion_ (both in print). Players of the Staligrad scenario won't be dissappointed as they each get plenty of tanks, snipers, and special units to wrest the remains of the sprawling city from one side or the other.

The Hobbit (1977, Animated): Orson Bean is the voice of Bilbo Baggins, a Hobbit that manges to lose the Dwarves, the Wizard, and his way—but does manage to find (unbeknownst) the One Ring of Power. Considering the the media and run time (90 minutes) this made-for-television special is surprisingly faithful to Tolkien's original story: only the meeting with Beorn is noticeably missing. Brother Theodore (Gollum), John Huston (Gandalf the Gray), and Hans Conreid (Thorin Oakenshield) were the first to imprint themselves in my mind as the standard for other actors playing these or similar roles in Tolkien features to follow.

While there seems to be an endless number games that tackle the Lord of the Rings in some form or another, there are but a handlful of games which cover the events in The Hobbit. One of the best is Iron Crown Enterprise's _The Hobbit._ This game featured a beautiful, hand-drawn and painted map of northwestern Middle_Earth (Arnor) and 4 plastic hobbit figurines for players to cross the board with. This game was influenced a great deal by Talisman and featured plenty of baddies in escalating levels of meanness until finally reachingg the dragon located in...no, not the Lonely Mountatin, but the Witch-King's old digs in Carn Dum. Still, you can meet Gandalf and a Ranger that will help you on your way. No, it isn't quite the book, but it does a good job of capturing its spirit. Fantasy Flight also has an in-print game called _The Hobbit_, but I haven't tried it. (My understanding is that it's not so good.)

The Magnificient Seven (1960): One of the great Hollyood Westerns of the 60's, this one came out a few years before Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone began to reinvent the genre. The merciless Calvera, played by Eli Wallach and seemingly modeled after Pancho Villa, is terrorizing Mexican villages along the border. The locals come across to enlist gunfighters played by stars Yul Brenner, Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen, and Robert Vaugn—and others!— to end Calverra's tyrrany. Naturally, no force of Wild West E-ville can possibly stand up to the awesome might of seven (seven, seven!) magnificent Hollywood stars of the 60's, so the conclusion is almost forgone. Nevertheless, it's an entertaining time to watch Wallach and company try.

Good Wild West Games are, fortunately, easy to come by. One of my current favorites is _BANG!_, published by daVinci, is an easy-to-play card game where the names and abilities of many movie cowboys and outlaws are easily discerned. Players take the roles of the Sheriff, his Deputies, numerous Outlaws, plus one Renegade. Other than the Sheriff, no one knows who is who and shooting first and asking questions later is a lot of the fun. Another in-print title that requires you to supply your own plastic gunfighters and terrain is GamesWorkshop's _The Old West._ Each player is required to assembe a band of cowboys, outlaws, or law men. Each member of the band has a stat sheet that is used to record their illustrious (or short-lived) career. As personalities survive skirmishes, they acquire new skills and notoriety. Subsequent expansion rules (_The Frontier_ and _Remember the Alamo!_) allow players to try their hand at various bands composed of Native Americans and Mexicans. (Scenarios last a bloody 1.5 hours.) Older gamers might also rembember Avalon Hill's famed _Gunslinger_ or TSR's minis/RPG forerunner, _Boot Hill._

Feel free to pile on with your movies and AT titles in the comments section!

57 comments:

Jason Lutes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jason Lutes said...

Thanks for the memories and the interesting way to look at AT games. I personally am interested in the ways that game mechanics can carry a narrative, so comparing games to movies is thought-provoking.

I'll have to look up The Old West, which is a new one to me. The Magnificent Seven conjures some great design possibilities -- I'd love to see a cooperative take on that theme. For tha matter, I'd love to see an all-out AT take on the Old West, with combined strategic/tactical play. I mean, the subject matter is quintessentially AT, and I have yet to play a truly satisying Wild West boardgame.

I remember the old Yaquinto album games from the 80s, that all seemed to be geared toward capturing the feel of favorite classic movies. Attack of the Mutants, The French Foreign Legion, and Swashbuckler in particular had real movie vibes to them. The other ones that spring to mind are Intruder from Task Force Games, which was basically the boargdame version of Alien, and Asteroid from GDW, which had a great 50s sci-fi B-movie vibe.

Also, I loved John Huston as Gandalf, but Borther Theodore was Gollum? Holy cats, I had no idea!

Mr Skeletor said...

Fantasy Flight also has an in-print game called _The Hobbit_, but I haven't tried it. (My understanding is that it's not so good.)

Understatement of the year.

trawlerman said...

As far as cowboy games go, you may want to check out Worthington Games' new release, Cowboys: Way of the Gun.

http://www.worthingtongames.com/servlet/Detail?no=11

It's been my most anticipated game for about a year now.

Michael Barnes said...

GUNSLINGER is the piece de resistance of the Western game genre...I think the system is amazing, although somewhat clunky by today's standards. The game creates a very specific, detailed narrative of a gun fight...it's like a Sam Peckinpah gunfight played out on a board. BANG and all those others just don't come close. Best westerns to follow up the game? Other than the Leone films (ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST is the greatest western ever created, bar none)check out Sergio Corbucci's DJANGO, which features a gunfighter that carries a gatling gun-filled coffin and Corbucci's other masterpiece THE GREAT SILENCE with Jean-Louis Trintigniant and Klaus Kinski. Totally nihilistic.

Who doesn't want to watch RAN after a game of SHOGUN/SAMURAI Swords?

Somebody's got to do it so it might as well be me...FORTRESS AMERICA...and RED DAWN.

WOLVERINES!

Wargamer66 said...

I did a post on www.slcboardgamers.blogspot.com about movies about gamers if anyone is interested.

My favorite AT movie is Nemesis the old B-movie cyberpunk thing.

Albert said...

MB, by "clunky", do you mean not elegant? Ahhah!!!

I want naked zombie girls in space, ninja, blood and mayonnaise.
I think that good themes are lacking in games. I am fed up of marketplaces and merchants.
I think that eurogames designers fear the stereotypes of cowboys and indians, pirates or dragons; that fear drives them to design games about building and buying exclusively, which is of course completely original in today's games market and is another kind of stereotype - the boring kind.

Anonymous said...

MB, by "clunky", do you mean not elegant? Ahhah!!!

I want naked zombie girls in space, ninja, blood and mayonnaise.
I think that good themes are lacking in games. I am fed up of marketplaces and merchants.
I think that eurogames designers fear the stereotypes of cowboys and indians, pirates or dragons; that fear drives them to design games about building and buying exclusively, which is of course completely original in today's games market and is another kind of stereotype - the boring kind.

Shellhead said...

One of my favorite movies is Dawn of the Dead (the '79 version). While there are many zombie games out there now, I think that Mall of Horror does the best job of any currently published game of capturing the essence of that movie. (I haven't played the actual Dawn of the Dead boardgame that is very OOP, but I heard it was good, too.)

Romero's zombie movies always put the conflict between the humans at the center of the film, with the zombies dropping into the background for lengthy time spans. Remember the debate in Night of the Living Dead of the merits of hiding in the basement versus fleeing to the second floor? Or the arguments between Flyboy and the S.W.A.T. team guy about how to handle the invading biker gang? With Mall of Horror, you get similar debates (if you have fun players) before every vote in the game.

Michael Barnes said...

NO, Albert, "clunky" does not mean "inelegant"- whaddaya think this place is, BGG? You can take your tophat and monocle and waltz right back up the hill to the Alden Estate (where you are ne'er more than a guest) with that kind of language.

DAWN OF THE DEAD...1979...one of the _great_ films, no doubt. Yet no Zombie game has been able to match it...one of the things I love about Romero is that he's dead serious about zombies, even though there's touches of humour...it seems like the Evil Dead model is what usually takes over in game design- silly, campy stuff.

robartin said...

Look, here's a piece of advice for all of you. Never let a guy named Michael Barnes teach you a game called Gunslinger.

"Yeah guys - this will be 15 minutes long. You kill stuff. It's fun" - Michael Barnes

"OK sounds good" - Unsuspecting Victim

(later)

"Hey Mike, what does a Bullseye do?" - UV

"Aw shucks, that doesn't do anything. Just ignore it." - MB

(two hours later)

"This game fucking sucks man. Nobody is dying. Are you sure about that bullseye rule?" - UV

(tense silence)

"Yeah I think I got that one wrong." - MB

Michael Barnes said...

Jesus fucking christ Robert! That's just great, all my credibility flushed down the toilet...OK, OK, I got the rules wrong and it made the game half an hour longer...it's still better than the time you made me play WHEN DARKNESS COMES...

The funny part is how in his impression of me Robert said "Aw shucks..." I say that all the time, in my mind.

Robert Bowsher said...

_Gunslinger_ hit the table at the CABS biweekly meeting last Friday. Lots of old-times oohed and ah'ed over it, but the owner of the game (a hard-core Eurogamer) swore, "Never again." He was involved in three (or maybe four) gunfights, and got CRITted or BE'd in every one. The explanation that the mortality rate is pretty high when six people armed with shotguns and rifles start shooting at each other from twenty feet away just didn't wash.

What _Gunslinger_ really needs is a component overhaul. Give each weapon its own player aid with the magazine capacity, results table, load peculiarities, etc on it. You'd need multiples for the more common weapons like C45 and W44. Then give each game character its own player aid with their weapons, relevant stats changes and counter picture. This way setup goes much faster.

Tweaking the rules a little bit might not hurt. That five-action turn seems a little restrictive in the sense that I can't carry actions over into the next turn. I would think a current+next action system would fit in there nicely. You'd have to come up with some delay mechanism that made sense, but that might not be too hard.

Shellhead said...

Robert Bowsher: Tweaking the rules a little bit might not hurt. That five-action turn seems a little restrictive in the sense that I can't carry actions over into the next turn. I would think a current+next action system would fit in there nicely. You'd have to come up with some delay mechanism that made sense, but that might not be too hard.

I've only played Gunslinger once, and that was a decade ago, before the game owner moved away, so maybe my suggestion is just wrong. But what if each player had standard manuver cards, and they played those face down into a queue in front of them, like in Nuclear War? That way, actions could potentially carry over from one turn to the next.

TheRankO said...

Shellhead,
I'd recommend tracking down the old SPI Dawn of the Dead if you're a fan of George Romero and old-school wargames. The game's hex-and-counter roots are obvious, making it a bit creaky by today's standards, but it's still fun in its own right.

Speaking to which, I'd love to see some of you Fortress Ameritrash people write about these old-timey games that straddle the line between hardcore wargames and Ameritrash. Gunslinger seems to be a popular one; others include Freedom in the Galaxy, Kingmaker, and Divine Right.

Shellhead said...

Theranko,

Last year, I stumbled across an online link to download scans of that old SPI Dawn of the Dead game. I wasn't in the mood for a project at the time, but my recent experience with making my own Wiz-War set went okay. I will have to do a search on my hard drive tonight to find where I copied that link down.

It's funny you should mention those old time AT-style games. Back in the mid-90s, I playtested the new edition of Divine Right with Glenn Rahman, who lives right here in the Twin Cities. Glenn suffers from extreme analysis paralysis, so I bailed from the playtests after a few months and didn't get credit in the rulebook. I still love Divine Right, but I no longer play it every month like I did in the early 80s.

And (back on topic for this thread) I still have a copy of Freedom of the Galaxy, which is definitely an unlicensed war game treatment of Star Wars.

I would love to talk about both of these games at length, but they are definitely war games and not AmeriTrash board games.

alanpolak said...

Leadin Edge did a fairly reasonable Aleins boardgame a while back. When I say fairly reasonable I mean it doesn't totally suck and can be fun if all the players are really into the film. But for that film I prefer Space Hulk. Fantastic game with a real sense of tension GW hasn't made a better game since

TheRankO said...

Shellhead,
I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on "wargames, not Ameritrash" point, I think. Hell, if BrayD can include Avalon Hill's Starship Troopers as an example of Ameritrash in his "A Clinical Definition" post, then the games I listed definitely belong. Starship Troopers is much more of a standard wargame than, say, Divine Right.

Oh, and back to the topic, Starship Troopers lines up nicely with the reputedly terrible film by the same name!

Ken Bradford said...

Starship Troopers The Movie(tm) is only hated by those who expected a perfect treatment of the book or those who are incapable of taking a movie any way but straight up.

Starship Troopers is goofy, awful, hypertrashy fun, in all the best possible connotations of each of those words.

allmazur said...

Gunslinger is, IMHO, one of the _ALL TIME CLASSICS_!!

My gaming group (my family and friends) plays it regularly, with 6 or 7 or 8 players, each playing at least 2 characters in home-brewed scenarios. We generally play two teams, so that if one player loses both their characters, they can take over one character from another player, and thus, if they desire, continue in the game.

Robert Bowsher suggested that "[T]weaking the rules a little bit might not hurt. That five-action turn seems a little restrictive in the sense that I can't carry actions over into the next turn."

One idea I've had, though I've not yet tried it, is to allow players to choose to (they do NOT have to) play up to two turns worth of actions (10 segments).

After the first turn (5 segments) is done, and ALL "normal" end of turn activities are performed (i.e., any incurred delay is halved), every one with an action which was currently "in process" (not completed) MUST continue that action to completion, but also would have the choice of changing the remaining actions played for the next turn, AND the choice to add actions for the following turn after that--thus, having two turns actions played at the start of every 5-segment turn.

At the start of every new 5-segment turn, delay cards would be drawn for any "serious" wounds suffered by the characters.

In other words, as far as I've thought about it, ALL normal rules would remain in effect, with the only addition being the OPTION of playing up to 10 segments worth of actions every 5 segments, and mandating that any un-completed "in process" action be carried over from one 5-segment turn to the next if a player chooses to play more than 5 segments' worth of actions.

What do y'all think?

Andy

Shellhead said...

Theranko,

We need BrayD to clarify his remark, because Avalon Hill actually did two very different Starship Trooper games.

The original '76 version was what I would describe without hesitation as a wargame. Lots of cardboard counters, a classic CRT, playability sacrificed repeatedly for accuracy of simulation, hex maps, and even a scenario book reminiscent of Squad Leader, with each successive scenario introducing more complex rules.

BrayD may have been talking about the '97 version of Starship Troopers, which Avalon Hill clearly published to cash in on the movie. I haven't played this version, but judging by the pictures, it looks like more a miniatures game. And from your remarks, it sounds like you're talking about the more recent game as well.

I am willing to admit that Freedom in the Galaxy is not clearly a wargame. It definitely has wargame-like complexity, counters, and combat resolution. However, like the original War of the Ring game (also from SPI), there is an unusual separate level of play involving individual characters, both heroes and villains. In Freedom in the Galaxy, these characters had hit points, went on special missions and had random encounters. Given that even D&D was just barely in existence, this game was very ahead of its time.

Divine Right, for all it's glorious chrome, seems very much a wargame to me. I have literally played it close to a hundred times, and yet we never finished a full 20-turn game. Wargame length, plus cardboard counters representing armies, complex rules with lots of fiddly exceptions and of course, a hex map. There were individual characters, too, but separated from an army, they were usually vulnerable, ineffective and a source of victory points. Not exactly adventuring heroes like you might see in a more AT-like game.

That said, I love Divine Right and like the original Starship Troopers, even though I don't like war games anymore. So you may be on to something, that these games are closer to AmeriTrash than war games.

Shellhead said...

Some favorite movies and matching (mostly) AT games:

Dr. Strangelove : Nuclear War

Aliens : The Vesuvius Incident

Glengarry Glen Ross : Werewolf(aka Mafia)

A couple more movies that aren't favorites of mine, but go well with specific games:

Friday the 13th : Slasher Flick

The Pink Panther Strikes Again : Kill Dr. Lucky

The House on Haunted Hill (modern version) : Betrayal at House on the Hill

Robert Bowsher said...

The various Gunslinger timing suggestions (one card ahead a'la Nuclear War or carry over to next round) would work, I'm sure.

Probably the more interesting thing than the setup pain was the reaction of our Euro-playing owner. He definitely didn't see the gem inside _Gunslinger's_ rough exterior. Three games, in about 60-70 minutes, three dirt naps, had maybe four or five turns in there, a couple of which were, "Take delay and see if you've bled to death yet."

Unfortunately, that's the sort of scenario that the phased rules tend to start you out with - six guys with sixguns three hexes apart. Three game turns later most of the players are face down in the dirt of the Oh Shit Corral.

If it hits the table again (I have my own copy that may show up at the next session), I'm going to insist on some of the longer, more complicated team scenarios be played out. Or maybe just make something up, like redo the last 20 minutes of _For a Few Dollars More_.

BrayD said...

In writing this article, I didn't want to hit on some of the obvious titles: Red Dawn/Fortress America; StarShip Troopers/Starship Troopers '97, Star Wars/Freedom in the Galaxy. I wanted to start the article with some unusual examples and let others bring out the obvious or more esoteric.

To answer the query about how I regard the Avalon Hill's two published game versions of Starship Troopers vs. the Amritraash Definition...

The Starship Troopers ('97) game that was licensed from the movie: I definitely regard that as an AT game. It plays quite a bit like a Space Hulk-Lite game in its straighforward D6 system and classic we-few-vs.-many-bugs theme. It plays slightly less like a miniatures game than Space Hulk due to the hex-based movement mechanics and larger groundscale, but the pieces (flats, technically) are all plastic down to the bases, so I catagorize it as an AT.

Avalon Hill's first game based on the Heinlein classic is probably technically a wargame. It plays very much like "Squad Leader in space," although it is still simpler than the classic "orange box" Squad Leader. However, I also regard it as an AT game for several reasons:

1) While the combat and operations play out much like Marine Corps raids during WWII, the action nevertheless occurs at an individual, 1-1 (Marine) scale. Much like a skirmish miniatures or lite RPG board game.

2) The game can be enjoyed by multiple players where Marines comptete against one another for taking objectives vs. one or two Bug players. The system is open-ended enough for Marine vs. Marine games, too.

3) There is enough speculative (science) fiction involved (IMO) and supporting "fluff" to give it (just barely) an AT flavor. After playing the game, you may come away feeling like the 82nd or 101st conducted a modern airborne assault, sure, but it was against something alien.

Mr Skeletor said...

Next person who bags any film but the Dutch master (except for Hollow man) gets a punch in the balls.

TheRankO said...

Next person who bags any film but the Dutch master (except for Hollow man) gets a punch in the balls.

Hey, I'm a huge Robocop fan...but are you going to nad punch anyone for bagging Showgirls?

Back to the topic, how about Robocop: Judge Dredd?

Mr Skeletor said...

Hey, I'm a huge Robocop fan...but are you going to nad punch anyone for bagging Showgirls?

Yes. Showgirls is the ultimate trash movie.
At least when Verhoeven fucks up, he fucks up in a magnificently spectacular, explosive way. The movie might be shit, but it's gloriously entertaining shit.
Except for hollowman which was simply forgettable.

Michael Barnes said...

Hey, while we're talking the "Dutch Master"...FLESH + BLOOD, anyone?

Shellhead said...

I realize that Zombies!!! is not a respected game, even in AT circles, but I couldn't help thinking about it during Grindhouse (Planet Terror, of course) when they were talking about escaping by getting to the two helicoptors! I swear to Bob that was exactly what I thought when I heard that line... two helicoptors... the boardgame Zombies!!!

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