A year ago today- September 19th, 2006- a crude nuclear device was detonated at the very heart of the online board gaming community at Boardgamegeek.com. There were many casualties, measured chiefly in wounded and shaken Eurogamer sensibilities, and a breach was opened whereby the glorious Ameritrash games of the past, the present, and future would return to prominence alongside the countless non-confrontational, family friendly Eurogames that had seized control of the hobby for nearly a decade- the era we know now as the Eurogamer Occupation of Hobby Gaming (1996-2006). The incident was a rallying cry for those who never gave up on TALISMAN, DUNE, AXIS & ALLIES and the like in favor of penguin games and train games with rules that could fit on post-it notes. It was a call to put down the meeples and pick up the dice, to beat the plowshares back into swords, to stop bidding and start kicking some god damned ass.
Of course, this act of revolutionary terrorism was disguised as a Geeklist, and that Geeklist was Robert Martin’s “A Tribute to Ameritrash”.
It’s hard to believe now, looking at the current state of the Leading Board Game Site, that something so volatile- as well as vigorous and vital- happened there. It was something different, something that was a lot more meaningful and relevant to the state of the hobby and where it was going than the usual suggestions for “girlfriend games” or “games I like to play” fare that populates a huge percentage of the online discourse there. People who had rarely posted- like myself- suddenly became regular participants in discussions and overnight the conversations became intensely passionate and increasingly irreverent. We talked games the same way we played ‘em and found out that some of us didn’t really belong- or want to belong- in the politically correct, “friendly” society there. It was interesting, exciting, and most of all fun- even if during the course of it all we found out just how deadly serious some people take their boardgaming.
Looking back on it, I think the most thrilling part of watching the aftermath of Robert’s list was seeing people come out of the woodwork to say “Hey, this list made me realize how fed up I am with playing PUERTO RICO every week!” or “This list has helped me find my identity as a gamer- an Ameritrash gamer”. It was also terribly amusing to see the Eurogamers and other Ameritrash detractors wander into the threads and proceed to play directly to the “Eurosnoot” stereotypes we were mocking all along, lobbing personal attacks with enough frequency to somehow completely blind the administration there from taking any action as they lodged their passive-aggressive comments about everything from the Ameritrash name to my avatar. I think the list revealed a lot of things that weren’t really talked about before, like the bias against Ameritrash-style games that had existed from the site’s very beginnings and subtle double standards that existed in a community that had intimate beginnings but had grown to something much larger.
I remember going to a game event sometime late last year as BGG and its old guard of “familiar avatars” were still scrambling to to adjust to a shift in the zeitgeist and a revolutionary change in tone. I heard these guys- none of whom I had ever seen before in my life- talking about how a game they were playing was definitely “Ameritrash”. At that point, I knew that Robert’s list and everything it precipitated had made an impact on board gaming culture. It was a little odd, to be honest, to hear strangers referencing something that was rooted in kind of an in-joke between Robert and I- we had a laugh about this customer of mine who called me an “Ameritrash apologist” and thus the concept for the list was born. That Ameritrash- despite all the dense-headed literalists unable to grasp the concept of irony flustered over the “negative” connotation of the word “trash”- is a significant marker in boardgaming history. That it matters, is significant, and important. Whether you like it or not.
So here we are now a year later and Ameritrash style games are everywhere, and publishers are eager to bring back canonical AT games via high-profile reprints. Thanks to the innovations brought about by Eurogames Ameritrash titles being published today are every bit as good as- and in some cases better than- 20 and 30 year old classics that we still play and love today. Enthusiasm for the latest Alea game or whatever mediocre crap Hans Im Gluck is cranking out for Essen is the lowest it’s been since middle-aged hobbyists gave up on model trains and got into ELFENLAND back in the late 1990s yet excitement over the Fantasy Flight production schedule is high while publishers of games like LAST NIGHT ON EARTH are enjoying great success with hardcore and casual gamers alike. Even at BGG, the front page shows a lot more interest and content related to Ameritrash games than the typical Eurogamer fare. People are still stepping up to voice their frustration with the stagnate state of Eurogame design and more and more people are discovering both new and old AT titles. The Ameritrash badge is everywhere, the games are everywhere and being played by gamers of all persuasions, and despite the desperate “can’t we all just get along” pleas of gamers who foolishly believe that there’s no fundamental difference between a game like NUCLEAR WAR and one like DUCKLING DANCIN’ the Ameritrash genre has come into its own as a permanent fixture of the hobby gaming environment.
So it's a year on from Robert’s list and considering both all that has passed in its wake as well as the direction that our beloved hobby is heading, I have to say that I truly believe that we have witnessed the first year of an Ameritrash Golden Age. Let the nukes fly.