Welcome to another edition of.. THUNDERDOME!
Listen on, listen on. This is the truth of it. Fighting leads to banning and banning gets to warring. And that was damn near the death of us all. Look at us now, busted up and everyone talking about hard rain. But we've learned by the dust of them all. FORTRESS: AMERITRASH's learned. Now when games get to fighting, it happens here. And it finishes here. Two games enter, one game leaves. And right now, I've got two games. Two games with boxes full of pieces.
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls…dying time's here!
It's an old-school ballcracker from Avalon Hill, it's total Ameritrash…it's WRASSLIN'!
The challenger, direct from the Eurogame wasteland of Germany…it's new, it's beautiful, it might as well be called BRIDE OF CAYLUS…it's PILLARS OF THE EARTH!
There's a lot of things that confuse me about the board gaming hobby, such as the popularity of fanny packs amongst gamers, but right now I'm completely dumbstruck as to how a game as derivative, disingenuous, and redundant as the new Michael Rieneck/Stefan Stadtler title PILLARS OF THE EARTH could be so lauded and praised by so many. Of course, it's one of those where the reviewer feels the need to describe the game as being "like" another game or a "lite" version of a previous title so that really ought to tell us something about its idiosyncracy or lack thereof. But seriously folks, if you own and enjoy any three given Eurogames then owning PILLARS OF THE EARTH will be completely redundant with what you already own. I'd bet you could probably make your own copy using pieces from those three games and sketching out the board (which is really little more than a glorified sequence of play chart) on a sheet of notebook paper.
You might be shocked to discover that at the heart of PILLARS OF THE EARTH is a system whereby you exchange resource cubes to make victory points while trying to become more efficient at doing so throughout the game. You win when your victory point marker is ahead of the other players', which will likely be a difference of between 1-5 spaces if everyone follows the rules. Calling this game CAYLUS "lite" just scratches the surface at how derivative it really is- anyone familiar with Euros at all will immediately see some POWER GRID in there too. Unlike VEGAS SHOWDOWN which lifted mechanics and rules wholesale from a handful of easily discernable titles, PILLARS' pilfery is more idiomatic, drawing from the idea of Eurogames as a whole to produce yet another efficiency exercise with very little conflict, low stakes, limited player interaction, almost completely scripted decision points, and practically no sense of drama, excitement, or serious strategy beyond "I have a woodcutter, therefore I should try to get the wood card before another player does."
A typical game of PILLARS is six turns of being spoon-fed two or three decision points each phase with typically one of them being good and the others being useless. Six turns which will see the first five characterized by each player- regardless of successful strategy or complete newbie blundering- scoring almost exactly the same number of points until someone squeaks past at the end. Six turns where even if no one builds anything the damn cathedral still gets built anyway. Six turns where the highlight of the game is the appearance of the outrageously named Otto Blackface, represented rather questionably as a black meeple. Six turns where the pinnacle of player competition and interaction is putting your master builder on a spot someone else wanted. Six turns of pure, unadulterated Eurogame misery. Remind to AVOID games with a "master builder" in them next time, OK?
I fucking hated this game. Likely, more than I hated CAYLUS because at least I could look at that game and see that at least it had some strategic elements and could be at least competitive. Now, I don't expect any game to be completely original or unique but PILLARS features pretty much EVERYTHING bad about Euros and practically none of the good. It's like one of those god awful "Now That's What I call Music" CDs that helpfully recapitulate an entire year's worth of disposable, overplayed pop songs except this time it's just regurgitating Euro design mechanics and elements. Oh, and the theme? Don't be deceived into thinking that wooden cathedral means anything, it's nothing more than a fancy round marker. You played KEYTHEDRAL, right? Even though PILLARS has much better art (it's actually very good) than that pastel nightmare, KEYTHEDRAL is a MUCH better game if you just have to build a cathedral.
But you know what I'd rather do? Wrassle. Yes, not "wrestle" like those naked Greco-Roman men do but wrassle like the Junkyard Dog and the Iron Sheik do. So after our game of PILLARS OF THE EARTH there was only one game in my mind that could erase the terrible taste of passivity and almost completely undynamic gameplay and that was the 1990 Avalon Hill title WRASSLIN'. We wound up doing an 8-player battle royale that I think featured more swear words and trash talk than any game I've ever played. It was absolute madness and I don't even know who won. It was merciless- we're not just talking player elimination, we're talking seven separate instances of player elimination so according to BGG theory we had multiple people to fetch chips and drinks throughout the game. Poor Keith Suderman, father of new twins, was out on the first turn. Once one guy would get a couple of hits on him it wasn’t beat up the leader at all, it was beat up the weak guy. It was like a bizarre social experiment that basically proved three things and they are as follows:
1) Being really loud and telling everyone to attack Damian first works.
2) Darwin was right.
3) WRASSLIN' is a much better game than PILLARS OF THE EARTH.
Now, this is one of those later AH titles that sort of got short shrift even though it had a theme that was hugely popular at the time- a license with WWF or NWA or whatever likely would have helped but instead we have generic wrestlers with names like "Mr. Umpire" and "Manly Mike Adams". But you know what? It's a blast! It's really just a simple take-that card game with some great theme rules…nothing terribly original, but unlike PILLARS OF THE EARTH it at least has a soul- a soul that completely piledrives that piece of Euro piffle into a steel chair. That must really be embarrassing getting piledrived by a soul like that.
In contrast to PILLARS OF THE EARTH though, the game looks fucking awful. The art is probably the worst I've ever seen but it's also hysterical in the most homoerotic way possible. I also find it amusing that the bearded, balding, and blubbery wrestlers look more like gamers than toned, trained athletes. The cardstock is the worst you've ever seen, and the printing is a complete joke- when they mean "four color", they mean "four color". Unlike the rulebook in PILLARS where you can read it and be playing in 15 minutes (5 if you’ve played a Euro before), WRASSLIN' features one of those glorious Don Greenwood-style rulebooks that may have inspired David Lynch to write MULLHOLLAND DRIVE. I'm still not exactly sure how manager interference works, all I know is that he's this crazy looking dude in a vest, striped pants, and a feathered cap. Kind of like a cross between Frank Branham and Robert Crumb.
Now, I do realize that hackles are up at this point since I'm pretty much shitting all over a game that is likely being sainted up there at the Gathering of Friends _as we speak_ while simultaneously praising a game that not only features a theme that might cause highbrow "elegant"-minded gamers to fog up their monocle as the bile rises but also taken as a whole might as well be the Antichrist to the Eurogame ideal. But the point is, WRASSLIN' is a _fun_ game despite its lack of "clever" rules or clockwork mechanics. I was sitting there playing this stupid game- cheering, laughing, and even making substantial strategic choices- and I couldn't believe that just 20 minutes earlier I had been sitting in relative silence, locked in the worst case of Cube Confusion I might ever have experienced and seriously considering abandoning board gaming altogether if derivative Eurogamer porn like PILLARS is considered one of the "better" recent games.
So the winner of this showdown is WRASSLIN'- you can probably pick it up for half the price of PILLARS OF THE EARTH and I'll bet you don't already have a wrasslin' game in your collection (barring those terrible CCGs). It's an easy decision to make- fun over fanciness. Get your friends together, do one-on-ones, tag team, or huge free-for-alls and you'll be in Ameritrash heaven- which come to find out, is a steel cage match.
Friday, 6 April 2007
Welcome to another edition of.. THUNDERDOME!