Thursday, 16 August 2007

Putting the brakes on the AOE 3 Bandwagon

AGE OF EMPIRES III...if you believe the hype, you might think it's the greatest board game of our generation. I think it's a pretty mediocre game that features absolutely nothing special or exemplary. With the excitement in the board gaming world over this game, I'm pretty much convinced that a status quo-driven era of satisfaction with mediocrity has all but set in. It is nice to see that Glen Drover has performed his penance by taking dice out of his designs and is now welcomed into the hobby community by Eurogamers after all those years they spent publically trashing his designs and his business.

Anyway, have at it:


Jack Hill said...

At least I sold mine at cost after playing the thing once.

But why recommend the thing at the end? Suggest they look at Struggle of Empires instead. Simpler, and a vastly better game.

Or you could suggest the advanced rules to Conquest of the Empire, but then I suspect you of kowtowing to Tropical / Eagle games.

Booder98 said...

The money is cool though...

Anonymous said...

You know, I couldn't agree more that there's an awful lot of mediocrity in games, and AOE3 is an example of it. Unfortunately this is true in literature and, especially for me, music. Sadly, there are few alternatives. The pickings are even slimmer in Ameritrash offerings - the VH1 bubblegum pop of the board game world. That's why I don't buy every game that comes out.

The Euro Overlord said...

AOE3 has been nominated by the International Gamers Awards. These are the top dog awards in the Industry!

AOE3 is excellence in a box!

Those that don't like this game might find more amusment at Chucky Cheese! Go earn some tickets while the rest of us enjoy this masterpiece!

Tom Hazlett (Southernman) said...

Pretty fair review - there will obviously be a lot of people who will like this as games don't have to be kick-arse exciting to get a following .... but it won't see me within spitting distance of its board.

Michael Barnes said...

Well, I didn't really recommend it, Jack...I definitely _do not_ recommend it to the AT inclined or any of the regular readers of this site but I do think that a newbie gamer who hasn't had to go through CAYLUS, PILLARS OF THE EARTH, and even PUERTO RICO would probably be pretty dazzled by it and they'd likely get a lot of play out of it. I definitely see why the Euro crowd is gushing over it because it's like Drover made a checklist of everything they wanted and built a game around that. Pretty smart business-wise, right down to claiming on the box that the game has "Euro-style gameplay". I can see playing 10 years ago and really digging it. But now, after SO FUCKING MANY GAMES like this, there's absolutely no reason in the world to drop $59.95 on yet another efficiency exercise- this time with a smoke-and-mirrors theme and license that never materializes.

I really think Drover needs to fess up and let us know what all he took out of the game because I'm convinced that AOE3 was the product of reductive development. It's a shame, because it could have been a really great game instead of the 1,324,452th area control/bonus buildings/worker placement game.

Between this and JENESEITS VON THEBEN I've been seeing a lot of chatter about these games are "dripping with theme" (another disgusting Leading Board Game Site metaphor)...I like THEBES a lot, but "dripping with theme"? No way. It's just a plain old Euro in that respect. Likewise, AOE3 might as well be about settling Jupiter. It's like the level of abstraction is such that if there's ANY connection between theme and mechanic then suddenly it's "sopping wet" or "oozing" narrative.

How come nobody ever says "dripping with mechanics"?

scott b said...

I guess I don't understand the point of your Gameshark column. Are you trying to get video gamers into boardgames? Why not spend more time writing about the games that you love instead of these last two columns which basically say, "here are a bunch of games you don't really want to play." How about choosing a great game and then writing about it like Ken B did with Queen's Gambit?

Michael said...

Barnes Says -- The game never emerges as anything more than an aggregation of successful ideas from other games and its own success is largely pinioned on what's worked in the past.

This tickled me. So please point out an single Ameritrash Game that "isn't" this quote?

Jack Hill said...

Euro: Not all of the jury nominated AoE. Trust me on that.

Regarding Jenseit and theme. While "dripping with theme" is a foolish statement, Thebes is remarkably thematic. It is clear that the designer created the game specifically for this theme, and added the elements he thought should be part of the theme. It is just that he chose the simple and consistent style of the Euro to make his game. (Not many Euros really seem as if they were designed with a theme in mind.)

Instead of the convoluted FFG style of game with a different system for everything. Leads to 48 page rulebooks like that massive Starcraft thing I'm trying to summon back here from Gencon. Massive proliferation of elements and systems, and cards and plastic bits doesn't always make a game more thematic.

The Euro Overlord said...

Very Good Michael!

Barnes is starting to implode and I have my popcorn lightly buttered ready to enjoy the show :)


Michael said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael said...

Disclaimer: I do think AOE3 is a total rehash, and feels that way too.

But then again the reason I don't play Ameritrash anymore, is because I've "done that" over and over and over again. A lot of Euros are rehashes of something else, but at least they are rehashes of something released this century. Not something I burnt out of in 1993....

dgilligan said...

You didn't bother to tell the dumb fucks over at gameshark exactly how many games they will have to play before they are able to discern between a great game and crap game. Maybe you should enlighten the rest of us who like the game because we obviously haven't played enough games either.

gary sax said...

At least Twilight Struggle has quietly invade the top 5, now bumping out Caylus...

dan daly said...

It's decent with an "N" not decemt with an "M" as it's spelled in the lead in into your review. I'm guessing this was the site's mistake and not your's Michael since you spell it correctly in the review itself.

Unless of course "decemt" is some sort of new slang term I'm unfamiliar with.

Anyways, thanks for the review. A few weeks ago, I was "this close" (holding fingers very close together) to buying this game, and since then it's been sliding farther and farther down my want list as I learned more about it. If I meet someone who has it, maybe I'll play someday, but it's no longer under consideration for purchase.

Rliyen said...

My point o' view: Now, I don't play the AOE franchise. That being said, if Joe Gamer saw that they made a boardgame out of it, he would think that it would mirror the look and feel of the RTS game.

From what you described, Barnes, if I was Joe Gamer and I bought that game, I would feel horribly cheated. Wait a second, no WAR? I'm putting colonists up to trade? No different abilities? Man, this sucks!

bill abner said...

"Unless of course "decemt" is some sort of new slang term I'm unfamiliar with."

Yes, it is. It's called 'bad editing.' Amazing what you can miss before you get your coffee IV. Thanks for pointing it out, even if indirectly.

Michael Barnes said...

Scott B- the point of the column is for me to share my viewpoint, opinions, and ideas. It is not to simply champion games I like. Would you ask a film or music critic to only write about what he or she likes? Of course not. Aside from that, as Rliyen pointed out, this is a game that has very direct appeal to video gamers and therefore it's entirely appropriate to warn them that it will likely fail to meet their expectations.

But for your edification, next week is a "Game I love column" and I'm working on another one right now.

Dgilligan- there's more hope for the future of the hobby in "those dumb fucks over at Gameshark" than there are in any number of condescending, snide commentslike yours that I've seen many board gamers post. But to answer your question, the correct answer is two.

dgilligan said...


In your review you said, "I believe most fledgling board gamers are more likely to be impressed by a title that offers an opportunity to manage an entire nation's exploration and conquest of the New World than one that finds them building municipal buildings to impress a fictional king."

I found this comment to be condescending to the people at Gameshark as well as more experienced gamers, thus my previous comment. Essentially you have become the "Amerisnoot Tastemaker" that you constantly claim is a poor trait in other people writing about games. Those folks over at GS are apparently incapable of telling a good game from a bad game due to inexperience and so are the rest of us.

I think the column is a great idea to get folks into boardgaming and totally support it but in turn I think you need to support boardgaming by presenting it in a more positive light.

I'm not telling you to lie. So, you don't care much for AoEIII. Fine. Don't write about it. Write about something you do like, point out the positives, hype it up. Encourage folks to get out there and try games, join game groups, go to conventions and find what they like. Your constant denegration of Eurogames in general, a large segment of the market, is simply not helpful in my opinion either.

I am personally trying to encourage board gaming as the board game coordinator of CharCon, the WV Gaming Convention ( My group, the Appalachian Gamers, is bringing our respective collections to the convention to allow people to have the opportunity to experience a wide variety of games. Eurogames, Ameritrash, Party Games, etc...will sit side by side on our table for anyone to play. We will play anything and everything.

The convention itself is wide open concerning game types. RPGs, CCGs, Fantasy Minis, Historical Minis, SciFi, its all there.

My point is, we try to accentuate the positive in gaming of all types. Everyone is welcome. I personally wouldn't touch a CCG and I don't care for Caylus. But if some guy wanders over from the CCG table points at Caylus and says he wants to try it, I'll be sitting right there teaching him how to play.

So, in the end, it comes down to this. I wasn't being critical of the people at Gameshark. I was being critical of your article.

bill abner said...

"I wasn't being critical of the people at Gameshark."

And yet you call my readers "dumb fucks." If you're going to be an ass, don't do it halfway. Don't back out now.

I must say, any inclination that the board game community is a more mature and reasonable base than that of videogames -- a lot of you people are proving that to be an insane point of view.

Whether you agree with the columns or not, here's where I (and thus Gameshark) stand on it:

Reviewing AOE3 is highly appropriate, regardless of the article's tone. It's a boardgame with a *huge* PC gaming license attached to it.

On a personal note, I like AOE3 a lot more than Michael does. Is he wrong? No, It's a review. It's his opinion and he makes very valid points in it. It's just a matter of degree. It's no different than a videogame/PC review -- do the problems in the game, are they enough to make you not want to play it? What is your breaking point?

He's dead-on about how France is the same as England, which goes against everything Age of Empires stands for. I also agree that the game feels like the design was truncated from its original scope. I still enjoy it quite a bit, but it certainly has its issues, and even though I don't agree with everything Michael says in the article I respect his opinion enough not to strongarm him into changing it.

The goal of this column is not, and has never been, to hold a newbie's hand through the world of boardgames. There might be columns that do that, but Michael picks the topics, and I approve them. This is Michael's boardgame column. Period. It's not Michael's Newbie Guide to the Hobby.

As for being positive, the AoE3 review was the 7th column. (And I would argue not in any way completely negative).

We've had the Intro column, a column on great boardgames for videogamers, a 5-star Tide of Iron review, a column discussing the human element in boardgames, Ameritrash games to avoid, the Eurogame column (which again I think was misread as an across the board dismissal of that section of the hobby), and next weeek is a look back at Space Crusade.

I don't see these topics as being negative or putting the hobby in a bad light. That said, if a column doesn't address issues that the writer feels strongly about, then it's not being honest.

Michael Barnes said...

And if it's not honest, I'm not gonna fucking write it.

Dgilligan demonstrates one of the most widely criticized aspects of the boardgaming community and one of the chief things that likely turns off newbies more than anything else- this passive aggressive atmosphere of superiority. He calls Gameshark readers "dumb fucks" but then tries to backpedal over what he said spinning it in a light that diminishes the negativity of what he said. What's even better is he goes on about accentuating the positive but then calls a HUGE number of people "dumb fucks"- are they dumb because they don't play board games, D?

We've seen Tom Vasel and Sam Healey, among others do that same thing here and on the Leading Board Game Site. They'll say something, then retract it with a softball apology or a ham-handed attempt at recontextualizing what they said in order to maintain a sense of moral/ethical superiority. You can't trust anyone that does that. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Or shut the fuck up.

Dgilligan, you also completely missed the point of my statement you quoted...the point is that new gamers, particularly those coming from the immediacy of video games, are going to be more engaged by games that have exciting, conflict-heavy themes. It's just the way it is. I've seen that paradigm in action myself- you sit down with a bunch of teenagers with a copy of CAYLUS and a copy of NEXUS OPS on the table and see which one they pick. That's not "tastemaking", that's understanding an audience. Most people outside of hobby gaming are just going to be more interested in a game that feels like taking over the world than balancing a spreadsheet about taking over the world. AOEII is the latter.

I'm sorry, I just don't believe in the pollyanna attitude of simply accentuating the positive because all that does is lead to mediocrity...I also think that's very, very dishonest. There's a lot of games, attitudes, and aspects of hobby gaming that are abosolute shit, and these things need to be out on the table too. I'm not one to pretend that all games have some merit and that this is a warm, friendly hobby full of Care Bears and sunshine. Why? Because it makes the hobby _better_ when people are more critical and have clearly defined value assessments. It's completely useless in a review if the reviewer simply strains to paint the game in a positive light even if they didn't like it- the classic "not my cup of tea" review. This kind of criticism would NEVER fly in any other medium- people want honest, experienced opinions.

dgilligan said...


My second post is not backpedlling, it is clarifying. My error was in not stating in my first post what I was driving at, which is that I thought Michael's comment was condescending to the Gameshark community and more experienced gamers. It is ironic that he's trying to reach out to a new audience and then makes a comment that basically tells them they are not sophisticated enough to make a rational decision about a game but that he, the sophisticate that he is, can show them the way.

Its also ironic that people on this forum, including Michael, who make comments about large groups of people (fat bearded Eurogamers and their fat wives sit around praising Ticket to Ride...or something like that) suddenly take offense when somebody says something similar about their audience. I don't think Michael really believes that all Eurogamers are fat and bearded and have fat wives. Neither do I think all Gameshark readers are dumb fucks.

Please also note, that my critcism is not directed toward his views on AoEIII. He doesn't care for it much. Like I said, fine. His viewpoint is certainly valid and well reasoned. Do I disagree with him on some points? Yes.

My criticisms are, however, related to what he is saying and who he is saying it to. My understanding was the this article was a way for him to reach out to another community, an ambassador as it were. That is great. I think Michael is a great writer and I have read all of his articles on Gameshark since they came out. As an ambassador I think his focus should be positive, not negative. He has editorial control over this. He doesn't have to lie. He can, instead, choose subjects about which he feels positive. Leave the negativity for this forum.

From other comments on this forum, I don't think I'm alone in my reasoning.

Scott B said, "I guess I don't understand the point of your Gameshark column."

Michale Barnes said in his introduction to cracked lcd here on F:AT, "So here it is, a place where I can not only promote board gaming to exactly the kind of demographic I was advocating, but it's also an opportunity to steer new gamers to the Truth, Light, and Salvation that Ameritrash gaming has to offer. And of course, I'll also be directing them to the better Eurogames as well."

Those are Michael's words, so fucking do it!

Instead of doing that you steered them away from a game. In a previous column you steered them away from other games. You constantly denegrate Eurogames. And don't give me any of that backpeddling bullshit that you like a good Euro or for a Euro this or that game is good. Its a backhanded compliment at best.

So, Bill, when you write, "The goal of this column is not, and has never been, to hold a newbie's hand through the world of boardgames," maybe he should go back and read what Michael wrote.

Insignificant member of your audience said...

dgilligan and barnes: ZZZZZZZZ the debate will never end. Criticise or praise the review or the game or raise some valid points - keep the effing reviewer out of it. It's getting very tiresome to constantly see every other post deteriorate to someone... VS Barnes. There are too many who will clash swords with Barnes for no other reason than to try and piss him off, no matter what he writes. I'm starting of thinking of going back to BGG for good, to read "color pieces" or "what should I buy next?" geeklists. Ugh. And I love ameritrash games: pretty sad really.

Muzza said...

Gilligan you come across as the type who is easy, even eager to take offense. Then while shrouding yourself in righteousness try to denounce your opponent. You sound like you have only read the parts of Michael's column that you disagree with and ignored the rest.

What's with the insults followed by the 'play nice' crap? Is it hypocrisy or multi-personality disorder? The most condescending voice on this thread is yours.

dgilligan said...


I think it is valid to criticize the message. In his introduction to his column he told us he was going to be an advocate and steer gamers toward Ameritrash as well as the better Eurogames. His words. I don't think he did that with this article and a previous one. If he wanted to be the John Bolton of ambassadors he should have said that up front.

Now (to paraphrase Michael), he is making a ham-handed attempt at recontextualizing his position. Apparently he wasn't steering people toward good games he's steering people away from games he doesn't like. You can't trust someone who does that. I believe someone else wrote, say what you mean or shut the fuck up.

There is also an attempt to spin my crticism. I didn't mean Michael should praise AoEIII. I said he shouldn't write about it in the first place. Instead of an article on why he doesn't like AoEIII why not an article on Fire & Axe, a game I own and like. Or Neuroshima Hex, or Twilight Imperium III, or Commmands & Colors: Ancients, or they myriad games he may like. That is what I mean by editorial control. Its not lying its simply controlling the topics you write about and you can be honest and positive in an effort to attract a new audience.

When I wrote, "Don't write about it. Write about something you do like, point out the positives, hype it up," I thought my meaning was clear but apparently it wasn't which allowed it to be misconstrued. So, now I suppose I'll be told that I'm making a ham-handed attempt at recontextualizing my statement. I'm really gonna have to work on my clarity.

dgilligan said...


You seem to be the kind of person who apparently only reads some of what other people write. Go back and read. I said he had valid points in his review. To expound: Sure, the game abstracts things. Yes, there is no difference between the different countries. Maybe there is one strategy that will dominate over others, although I haven't seen it yet. Yes, there are mechanics that are derivative of other games, not uncommon. The boats are a little over the top in production value for their intended use. Get the point? I read the review.

No offense taken from the remarks here. I readily admit that my first comment was not clear. I didn't say what I meant and I attempted to clarify it. My fault entirely and now I'm being criticized for it. Not a problem.

bill abner said...

dgilligan, I do want to respond to your points but I have to do some actual work today, but I will get to it.

But you really don't think a review of the Age of Empires III boardgame is topical on a website dedicated to video and PC games? I'm really having a hard time with that. That is the ideal game to cover in the column...pretty much more than any other boardgame I can think of outside of World of WarCraft.

Michael Barnes said...

D- I started to write out a lengthy response to all your statements but I believe the record of your comments here speaks for itself.

You've completely contradicted and backpedalled over everything you said anyway. You've basically done the same thing a politician or celebrity does when they come out and say something like "I hate Jews and black people" and then try to reframe it with statements like "it was taken out of context/it was a joke/I misspoke/etc."

dgilligan said...


In that case, please explain why you told us you were going to be an advocate for boardgaming and steer people toward the better games and then you go and write negative columns about several games?

You might spin it and say, well I'm steering people away from bad games, but that is something politicians would do.

Michael Barnes said...

I love it when people like you think you "have" me on something like this when really all you're trying to do is argue. You're not going to win, because eventually I'll just get tired of your attempts at sparring. Not quite yet though.

Anyway, part of being an advocate for anything is being honest, straightforward, and providing insight- take it or leave it- as to what merits a worthwhile game. People read reviews because they want an opinion...however, in the board gaming community it's become evident that people read reviews more to feel some sense of solidarity with other gamers or for validation of their board game purchases or tastes. I'm not a cheerleader, I'm not a Greg Schloesser/Rick Thornquist sort of character. If you want that kind of stuff, go read

Why would I _not_ post a negative review of a game that I think sucks? Someone who's inclined to like the game in question should have the self-esteem and ability to discern their own qualities of good and bad and say "I don't agree with this review.

What you're suggesting is that for me to promote gaming, I have to only focus on good games and good things in the hobby. That's fine, those things should be there. But to ignore that I have a personal viewpoint and that I think some of this hobby is unmitigated crap would undermine the whole point of writing an opinion column. Tom Vasel might as well be writing the damn thing at that point.

Can you imagine if film reviewers never reviewed any movies they didn't like? Their credibility would be completely in the toilet.

Somebody asked me one time why I was so vocal about my hate for current popular response was that it's because I _love_ music. Same situation with board games. "Different strokes for different folks", sure...but if you can't back up what you like and take on what you don't then you've got a pretty weak position on the subject as a whole.

ubarose said...

dgilligan said...

Don't write about it. Write about something you do like, point out the positives, hype it up

This would be the logical thing to do if Bill & Michael's agenda was to convert electronic gamers into boardgamers, and/or promote the hobby. (Which, BTW I think is arrogant)

On the other hand, if Bill's agenda is simply to provide additional content of interest to his readers, then negative reviews are as valid as positive reviews. It is no different than a newspaper having both restaurant reviews and movie reviews. The assumption is that that people how go to movies may also go to restaurants. By providing both, you may get more readers than a newspaper that just provides one. I think it is entirely valid to provide both boardgame and electronic game reviews on the same site, since it is as likely that readers of the site play both as it is that readers of a newspaper go out to eat and go to movies.

Now (to paraphrase Michael), he is making a ham-handed attempt at recontextualizing his position. Apparently he wasn't steering people toward good games he's steering people away from games he doesn't like.

I don't believe reviewers intend to steer people to or away from anything. They simply state their opinions of things. There is no such thing as an objectively good or an objectively bad game, movie, book, etc. Michael doesn't like the game and gives his reasons why, which is exactly what reviewers do. The real trick for a reader is to find a reviewer who shares your tastes. The trick for an editor is to find a reviewer who's tastes are as similar as possible to the majority of his/her the readers. Bill obviously believes that his readers have tastes similar to Michael's. If he thought otherwise, he would have asked someone else to write the column.

I feel comfortable saying all of the above with out feeling hypocritical, because I have never taken issue with any of the better know game reviewers whose personal tastes are all clearly reflected not only in their reviews, but also in what they choose not to review. I am sensible enough to realize that their reviews aren't particularly helpful or meaningful to me, because their taste is different from mine. At best, a glowing review from one of them is a red flag that I will probably hate the game. If anything, I wish they would occasionally write negative reviews so that I could more easily identify games that I will probably like. I do the same thing with movie reviews. If USA Today and People have a positive review of a movie, I avoid it.

If Michael's agenda is to emerge as game reviewer, more power to him. An alternate voice, another point of view, a reviewer whose tastes run counter to today's better known reviewers is something that has been missing for too long. If his tastes are different than yours (yours in the general sense, not specifically dgillian), do the sensible thing when trying to decide whether or not to purchase a game - read a review written by someone else whose tastes are the same as yours. Or you can do what I do, and read the reviews of someone with opposite taste and then run out and buy anything that they hate.

Dennis Ugolini said...

I think AOE III would've been a bad choice for a *first* review, for fear of setting yourself up as the guy who just likes to pick at faults. But since Tide of Iron was covered two columns ago, it seems reasonable to me.

Pat H said...

Compare this game to the RTS and it clearly is failure and it sucks. The whole point of the resource management side show in AOE3 is to up gun and outfit your cavalry and cannons with the best money can buy to rush your enemies (not your back slapping buddy) base and annihilate him. The game ends when your opponents have been decimated , not when you have out traded them - although this can lead to decimation.

Michael I think the only thing missing again were some clear lines drawn between the two iterations of AOE3 (TOI & COH)- make some direct comparisons rather than abstracting. I understand that you are working on the basis that the reader knows the PC version but you have the ear so make the links.

I play many PC games on a regular basis - more than board gaming these days and I want to see an understanding of both mechanics with a clearer picture drawn as to their differences. This doesn't need to be a point by point comparison but a few direct points can really make your arguments clear amongst the average gamer, while keeping folks like gilligan to only argue the fact that they don't like you. This might lessen all the ambiguous rhetoric that pops up each week in the comments over your articles.

Where is the fuckin bloodshed, tactics etc...

Jack Hill said...

Michael: Careful about trashing, its writers might sneak over and begin harrassing you.

But: Rick Thornquist is not involved over there anymore. The new editor, Eric Martin has posted some bad reviews. And Greg Schoesser's negative reviews really aren't that dissimilar from yours. Although I have seen him rip into a game and dismiss it utterly as well.

In general, it is much harder to me to review a game that I really don't care about. First of all, I would have to play it more than once to make at least get an idea how the game generally plays. (In some cases, I would have to actually finish a game.)

And I have actually occasionally refused to review a game--because I really don't want to play the blasted thing.

B: So far, I've already trashed AoEIII--a couple of weeks back.

C: A few months ago, we got our first nasty email threatening a lawsuit, and demanding a retraction and a glowing article. How many of those have you gotten. Phbt!

JoelCFC25 said...

I re-read the review a couple times trying to figure out the basis for all the impassioned critique of the author, his content, and the point of the column itself.

It's the board game version of a wildly popular PC game being reviewed on Gameshark. Makes sense so far.

The author *believes* that newbies to board games will prefer a game with conflict--which given the nature of the PC version seems all the more reasonable in this case--to what AOE3 presents. As he is/was a game store owner and I'm not, I'm inclined to believe that is both a reasoned and supportable opinion he has. To call that condescension of Gameshark "dumb fucks" is a stretch and possibly even projection (note: I am not a licensed psychotherapist).

I don't think he was really all that harsh on the Euro-ish mechanics, VP accumulation, and what I would paraphrase as overall lack of drama or compelling flashpoints in the game. He made it clear he doesn't prefer those, but so what? We know where he stands, which is essential to a review.

Although the term "AmeriSnoot Tastemaker" was priceless (I LOL-ed), I don't think the author was aiming that high. I can easily imagine PC gamers who are unfamiliar with board games reading the review and getting fired up about the mechanics of the game that the author doesn't care for. Embarrassingly, I've read threads on the Civ4 forums about people spending HOURS of their lives figuring out how to micromanage their city placement and workers to eek out a few more resources. We all know these types of gamers exist--look how many populate BGG--so it should be no surprise that there are some out there who haven't dabbled in board games yet. Some people just enjoy games that others might call formulaic, optimization, spreadsheet-ish exercises.

Finally, I tend to agree that observers will be suspicious of any column that occasionally reviews things but doesn't have anything negative to say. No one wants to be told that it's all sweetness and light and board gamers unite to sing Kum-ba-Yah and stuff, we all know that's not how the world works.

Rliyen said...

C: A few months ago, we got our first nasty email threatening a lawsuit, and demanding a retraction and a glowing article. How many of those have you gotten. Phbt!

On what actionable cause? Writing an opinion on a game? Please tell me that was sent by an idiotic game designer and not an actual law firm.

the red phantom said...

My only problem with Michael's writing here, on BGG, and in the column is his fervent and fanatical crusade not only against all (or most) things Euro, but an equal and blind adoration of all things AT. Yes, there are the few games on either side that don't fit in his Manichean game universe, but I usually have to take all his opinions with a huge shaker of salt, because of the ideology that drives them.

That said, he is a phenominal reviewer and I enjoy all his columns. I like most others enjoy AoE3 more than he does, but he is accurate in most of his assessments. I just wish he would stop beating his pet dead horse, because his identity can actually withstand a little nuance. At his worst, he reminds me of the BGG scold Natus, and nobody wants two of those!

Fellonmyhead said...

Barnes has sold out as evidenced by his ToI review which didn't pick up on one fault of the system (and there are some despite its greatness). I no longer put stock in anything he says after reading that one; furthermore AoE must be good because I own a copy (no Tom, you're not playing :p).

Tom Hazlett (Southernman) said...

dgilligan said...
"I'm a dickhead but ..."

At the end of the column in question:

I do think it is a reasonable game for new players since it is easy to pick up, play, and even teach to friends and family and the small amount of extra detail does make it more immediate......

It's just tremendously disappointing that the experience winds up feeling more like balancing the Imperial budget than taking a seat as an armchair Cortes or Columbus.

If I was new to boardgaming, and not already set in the genre I prefer, I would take this as a green light to try it out... which is what Bill probably would like as an outcome of this column.
Hell - it even sounds like the odd PC game review I have read.

Tom 'still the patron (sainthood rescinded) of straight-talk' Hazlett
(but not as many titles as Steve Avery)

bill abner said...

Very good points here, guys.

Pat, I agree with you completely. Point taken. I'm all for getting feedback like this, and I think it can only make the column better in the end. I really appreciate the comments.

Jack Hill said...


It was not from a lawyer, but from a mainstream game designer. One who does the TRU kind of stuff. The email was pompous and kept us laughing for days.

I cannot really hold a candle to Michaels lawyer story when I think about it for a bit. I think he even scored a restraining order.

Rliyen said...

It was not from a lawyer, but from a mainstream game designer. One who does the TRU kind of stuff. The email was pompous and kept us laughing for days.

As I thought, no self respecting lawyer would touch that for fear of being smacked down with sanctions from the judge for bringing such a nonstarter of a lawsuit.

Stupid people sometimes fill the cockles of my heart with glee. =o)

Michael Barnes said...

You know what? I'm glad the review is sparking debate, argument, and discussion rather than the usual and useless "Great review!" follow-up you see on many board game write-ups.

Carry on.

Anonymous said...

I must say, any inclination that the board game community is a more mature and reasonable base than that of videogames -- a lot of you people are proving that to be an insane point of view.

Bob, your evaluation is spot on. But I would at least chime in in saying that this site is not very representative of boardgaming. One could argue that this entire blog is founded on griping. There was a point that it seemed like it may become something that was interesting. It seems as if any energy "Ameritrash", despite any uselessness to the term, had towards having some influence on the hobby has rather sputtered out for some time now. But it did seem to have some energy at a time, if only because there were some people who were excited about innovation, and hopefully it manages to evolve.

dgilligan said...

Tom Hazlett said
"I'm a dumb ass but..."

Tom, I have to disagree with you. This review is on the whole, negative. It starts with the title, "Putting the brakes on the AOE 3 Bandwagon."

Next negative comment concerns the mechanics. "The game never emerges as anything more than an aggregation of successful ideas from other games and its own success is largely pinioned on what's worked in the past." We are also told that new players might find this impressive but to experienced gamers, its old hat.

Then we are told, "If all this sounds complex, be assured that it really isn't. In fact, it's frustrating that the game boils down huge historical concepts and events to something much vaguer than it really should be."

Next paragraph we get the negative comment about the different countries having no effect, thus lessening the appeal of the game. A valid criticism but nonetheless, negative.

Then the complaint about the way warfare is handled followed by a complaint that the game is overproduced and not epic enough. Interestingly enough, the last game I played a player strategically used soldiers to kick the crap out of everyone in the colonies and won the game handily due to the number of majorities he earned.

Next, no luck, no die rolls, things feel deterministic. By the way, there may be a grand unstoppable strategy developed so that's a problem too.

Oh, its not a drag and its a good family game and decent enough for new players while at the same time makes you feel like you are balancing the Imperial budget.

This isn't a review that would make me want to go out and try the game...and I like the it!

Michael Barnes said...

D- you obviously take this WAY too much to heart...come on, it's friday night...go see a movie or something.

Tom Hazlett (Southernman) said...

D- I suspect your glass has been half empty all your life.

I don't think anyone has disagreed it was negative in many places - such is the norm for subjective reviews in any industry - but it was finished up with a recommendation (with waivers) to play ... what fucking more do you want from a self-admitted subjective reviewer (who has played the game numerous times) ?

Octavian said...

The review was negative because AOE3 is the bastard child of an annulled marriage between Euro and AT - a bastard that seemed to only get the worst qualities of its parents.

We can only hope that somewhere someone is developing the Schwarzenegger twin to AOE3's Devito.

adrianbolt said...

Recontextualizing my ass.
Fuck me, the world's about to end! Michael unexpectedly made a negative comment in a review! Better hang the bastard quick!! And he said "some of this hobby is unmitigated crap". Shhh!!! You're not allowed to say that, don't you know there's a conspiracy of silence?

I've no intention of buying AOE3 because a boardgame adaption of a computer game strikes me as being as much fun as a book of the film of the book. I read the review because it would be interesting. It seems bizarre to switch the emphasis of the game from combat to trade; because of peoples expectations from the computer game, they'll end up being disappointed. How can an honest reviewer NOT point this out?

As ubarose said, the editor picks a reviewer that complements the website; the reader picks a reviewer they can relate too. It doesn't matter whether they like the same games or the opposite. The key is understanding the reviewer, which means reading them a lot. Then you can evaluate their tastes in relation to yours and make the buy/don't buy decision. You can love or hate Michaels' style but you WILL get an informed opinion on which you can confidently decide if a game is right for you. What more can you want from a review?

Could jack hill please publish the email that was "pompous and kept us laughing for days" with all the identifying information removed.

And please tell me fellonmyhead was joking when he said "AoE must be good because I own a copy". He also owns . . . Monopoly. (Sorry, couldn't resist outing you!)

Rliyen said...

I've no intention of buying AOE3 because a boardgame adaption of a computer game strikes me as being as much fun as a book of the film of the book. I read the review because it would be interesting. It seems bizarre to switch the emphasis of the game from combat to trade; because of peoples expectations from the computer game, they'll end up being disappointed. How can an honest reviewer NOT point this out?

That's exactly why this game fails in my book. People who have experience with playing Euro type games will think this is the greatest thing since sliced bread. However, neophytes to boardgames other than Monopoly will probably think (and quite erroneously) that the game will play (somewhat) like the PC game. Fact is, it hardly does it at all.

They overemphasized other non-combat traits of the PC game and totally downgraded the near primary trait, that is to say, open conflict. If WH40k: Dawn of War was made into a boardgame in this similar vein, I would be highly disappointed and irritated to say the least.

Like it or not, conflict is the primary factor in the AOE III PC game, go to Gameshark or any other PC/Video game site and they'll tell you the same thing. To take it out and replace it with a watered down combat system is like replacing a Jaguar's engine with a lawnmower's. The game may look nice, but it's not going anywhere.

I don't totally agree with Barnes on a lot of games (I actually like Munchkin. There, I said it!), but this one I felt he did an honest review. He's telling the prospective player what they're in for and explaining that conflict is not the primary focus of the game. If the player doesn't want conflict, fine, they'll know. But, as I said before, if Joe Gamer wants the experience of the PC game without booting up his PC, they will be in for a shock.

That's all he's saying. Truth in advertising, and all that.

Tom Hazlett (Southernman) said...

[whispers with lights off] I like Munchkin

adrianbolt said...

There's a couple of typos in the last two posts, you guys meant to say you like Munchin' didn't you?

Rliyen said...

adrianbolt said...
There's a couple of typos in the last two posts, you guys meant to say you like Munchin' didn't you?

Start the intervention now. No, I actually like MUNCHKIN!!!! =o)

Tom Hazlett (Southernman) said...

I'd like to report a case of identity theft.

Jack Hill said...

Trashed the email awhile back. Sorry.

I must admit...that I kind of like Munchkin as well. Played with 3 people, and never, ever more than four, it is a cute, little 30-45 minute game. The charm of it is that:

A: The moment you turn are turning up your monster card to see what evil the game is about to heap on you is a nice bit of drama.

B: Instead of being a basic "take that" card game, like the abominable Chez Geek, you actually get to try and haggle and plead with people to help you.

C: It has a Gelatinous Cube. More games need Gelatinous Cubes. Descent might be a decent game if it had Gelatinous Cubes.

(User spies a tin of clear casting resin.)
Hold that thought.

Tom Hazlett (Southernman) said...

Can someone dial 999 (or whatever it is over the pond) and get them around to Michael's place in a hurry .... the lack of a post from him in the last 12 hrs makes me worried he as had an aneurism sitting at the screen reading all this !

adrianbolt said...

So euro overlord fails to make any impact on Michael in the slightest, yet three Munchkin players 'fessing up has led to his demise? Quick, send Jenny the Farmer's Daughter round to give him the kiss of life!

JMcL63 said...

Hmm. My first reaction to Michael's latest column was that I didn't like it as much as the previous two. This was for the reason that I too don't like his Euro-bashing agenda. I don't carry a flag for Eurogames in particular. It's just that same old feeling I get when people start having a go at each other on the internet. There might be good reason for being snarky, as Matt Thrower argued in his recent 'Biting Back'. And the snarks might be cogent and articulate. But it can sound all too much like upmarket trolling in the end.

Then I read the comments which I too thought were an interesting discussion of the review and the issues it raised- about the game and the wider debate around the F:AT editorial line. This prompted me to reread the article. It's a good review, which strikes me as making exactly the sort of points which should be made to fans of a computer game who might be attracted to trying out a boardgame version of one of their favourite RTS.

For me the most damning example of this is:

it's very difficult to mount any kind of military campaign that will provide a good return on investment.

It's always possible that Michael is simply wrong here, that he and his players just failed to see how to do things properly. But if the AoEIII boardgame is supposed to be about military conflict, you'd expect that to flow neatly through the design, so that the economic systems supported the military systems, wouldn't you? In other words, it's hard to believe that Michael is wrong about the game's putting military conflict in the background. Unless, I guess, you're so convinced he's a jackass that reading his words prompts you to the equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and chanting 'La, la, la!'.

And that's really the point, isn't it? AoEIII is an RTS whose website tells us about the joys which await players in terms of the huge armies they can command, as well as destructible terrain- with each "generation effect... done on the fly so that each building always has a unique destruction"(!). This makes me think that most potential crossover customers for the boardgame would be expecting something like Risk on steriods. According to Michael what has been delivered instead is an anemic version of Diplomacy meets various Euros. I know which I'd prefer.

The sad fact is that it's not impossible to deliver a satisfying boardgame version of a computer game. FFG did this with Doom: the Boardgame. Michael's review of AoEIII makes it hard to believe that Tropical Games have succeeded in doing the same, even if they have produced a game which will appeal to some people.

John ;)

the red phantom said...


Ummmmmmmm....Doom the boardgame was good? Before or after the expansion? How soon we forget!

JMcL63 said...

@ the red phantom

Before or after the expansion? Good point. One of our early games was a basic set scenario with all the expansion invaders. We haven't repeated that experience because we decided that it just didn't work (we got the impression that this opinion was widely shared). Since then we have played a campaign using the basic scenarios straight out of the box. That's what we're enjoying, and there's plenty more there for us to enjoy.

Will we still be enjoying Doom: the Boardgame when we move up to the expansion set? It seems that you don't think so. Time will tell I guess. I certainly hope we at least get far enough into the game to find out.

John ;)

JMcL63 said...

@ the red phantom
Also, I forgot the main point. OK, so you don't like Doom: the Boardgame? Fair enough. But can you at least agree that it is a credible translation of an FPS computer game into a boardgame format?
Y'see, the gist of Michael's review of AoEIII is surely that it fails to bring the key feature- ie. the military conflict- of the RTS into the boardgame. I have seen neither the computer game nor the boardgame, but I believe Michael's assessment to be credible based on the evidence he presented plus some poking around the AoEIII computer game website. Like I said: a good review.

John ;)

Tom Hazlett (Southernman) said...

Rliyen, Jack

Note Michael is not the only one 'missing' on the site ... I have had a whisper that there is a raging meeting of the F:AT High Table right at this moment discussing the fate of three stooopid attendees of this site.
Eternal banishment was heard as well as the words tar, polaroid, feathers, and rooster (but the order could not be confirmed)

I'm off to check out for an extended holiday ....

NeonPeon said...

Too bad Doom: The Boardgame isn't about out-trading demons. :(

Gary Sax said...

john--I think your first above was quite accurate. The article is pitched toward the audience being written to. I'm not sure how many Euro players are avid video gamers and computer gamers but I'd wager to say many of the most vocal ones are not. Which is a problem when you're reading a review tailored toward that crowd. Barnes, from what I've read, actually knows his video gaming and I think this review, though not his strongest IMHO definitely succeeds on that level.

ubarose said...

NeonPeon said...
Too bad Doom: The Boardgame isn't about out-trading demons. :(

LOL. A demon trade and negotiation game. Players cultivate sinners and then ship the damned? A game where you get points for impressing Satan? Role selection - "I choose the succubus"? Resource management to develop and build instruments of eternal torture?

ubarose said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ironcates said...

Sorry to hijack the thread but this news is too important!

Dune and Cosmic Encounter geeting reprinted by FFG!

pwn3d said...

Another Great Article! I still like AOE3 though.

Ryan B. said...


I write for And quite frankly, on one level, I wish you did too.

You write GREAT stuff and I thought your article on AOEIII had great flow and made a lot of sense.

I think, in your articles anyway, that your words are carefully chosen. Bold... but carefully chosen.

Obviously, I know Rick and Greg fairly well... and in my opinion, there is much similarity in your writing styles and the honesty in the opinions you give. I would say that both Rick and Greg are slightly more careful and less bold with their opinions. They do give honest answers, however.

There are other writers that may be a bit more fluff. But my focus is to point out that both you, Greg and Rick are ALL terrific writers... and objective game reviewers. In fact, I would say you have built a following and readership base precisely because of this.

I enjoyed your article very much. I definitely have similar opinions about most Euros. Keep writing good stuff.


Ryan B.

Michael Barnes said...

Well, thanks Ryan...good on you to point out that Rick, Greg, and I have different _styles_. That's something that I think is very important in a larger sense, that there are different ways of approaching "board game crit" so to speak and frankly speaking, I think far too much of it is based on the models established by a handful of people.

It's funny that you characterize them as "careful"...I think part of why I come down so hard on those guys is because they _are_ too careful, everything I read from them feels like they've got something to lose if they say the wrong thing.

Anyway, thanks for dropping by and thanks for the kind column up today!

ubarose said...

Ryan B. you make a good point. I think that Michael writes more in the style of theatre critics which tends towards the brutal. Having spend all but the last 5 years of my adult life working in professional theatre, it is a brutality that I have come to appreciate and expect.
Do not go to this movie even if you are given free tickets. If you were unlucky enough to win tickets, burn them immediately. (actual review of movie I had the misfortune to work on).

I have no bone to pick with regard to Rick or Greg's style. It is just more in the style of the local paper's restaurant reviewers, who are tactful (careful) and usually find something positive to say, even if they didn't personally care for the food.
The entree was a bit pedestrian, but the service was professional and the restrooms were clean.

Ryan B. said...


But I also think YOU are careful in the words you use... in your reviews, at least. I call it "polish". You espouse bold views certainly... but at the same time the structured care in your writings comes off as very professional, eloquent and highly readable. Greg and Rick may be less bold in their assertions of a game... but all three of you exhibit the same level of "polish" in your articles.

And I think Ubarose put it even better than I did... she had the perfect examples that illustrated the "polish" in the writing but with differing styles. Each example can be useful.

Ultimately, when you are a columnist writing articles, you almost always have to carefully choose your words. And that's a good thing. It turns a *strong* viewpoint into the effective articulation of that viewpoint... so you can share with others to read.

You, Greg and Rick are more similar than you may think. You are a tremendous writing talent. My recommendation to you is to keep doing what you do so well... and don't allow your very real talent to be dragged down by these people who come out of the woodwork simply to *engage* you... for something you KNOW is probably pointless and meaningless. Respect your gifts... you have a great gift of words.


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