The Big Board-Gaming Catch-All

hbi2k wrote:

I think those mechanics are meant to replicate the feeling of an actual come-from-behind victory, but it's not like I actually did anything clever, I just relied on the fact that the game's mechanics are so obtuse that even veterans can't really keep track of them. And I'm like, really? This is what I have to look forward to if I master the game: being (apparently) ahead all game and then getting beaten because the newbie accidentally got three bonus cones for winning the Most Improved Sheepfold Award?

Is that any different from playing an Ameritrash and losing because you put all your pieces into play but the dice rolled up 2 instead of 6? Like I've played a game of TI3 it came down to one dice roll and was a massive anti climax.
I'd rather have lost the game because someone else out played me with a way scoring works (sciene in 7 Wonders for example) then because I rolled a 2 and the sun blew up, instead of giving me the VP I needed to win.
I can't remember who said it, but there was a very basic (and not quite true) describation of the difference between the two. Ameritrash is where you make your decisions and then the randomness happens, Euros, the randomness happens then you make the decision.

Aiming for those end game goals I guess is something that players can make a decision early on to plan for. Also gives new players something to aim for and some direction. I'm fairly new and that's what I tend to do anyhow. Pick a target, some little part of the game to latch onto at the beginning, head for that and learn the rest as I go. Enjoy the process of a learning game or two. I can still dislike the game after playing but without trying...

onewild wrote:

Is that any different from playing an Ameritrash and losing because you put all your pieces into play but the dice rolled up 2 instead of 6? Like I've played a game of TI3 it came down to one dice roll and was a massive anti climax.

Depends on the game. There are well-designed games that include an element of randomness, where part of the skill is managing your risk and understanding that while you may suffer bad beats in the short term, over the long run if you make intelligent gambles consistently, you'll ultimately come out ahead.

And there are games that are ultimately more elaborate versions of Candyland or Chutes and Ladders where luck governs everything and there are no interesting choices to be made.

Even games where luck is as important or more important than skill can be fun, but only if it has a good theme that's supported by the mechanics. I love Fluxx and Munchkin, but I wouldn't hold them up as meticulously balanced, skillful competitive games, just fun casual time-wasters.

A couple thoughts occur to me:

Firstly, it's a small thing, but I've long found it off-putting that hardcore board gamers, as a group, have such a need to believe that their brand of fun is more refined and intelligent that they had to invent a disparaging term like "Ameritrash" to denigrate other folks' brand of fun.

Secondly, if I may be permitted to wax philosophical for a moment, using the morally-laden term "deserves to win" strikes me as indicative of an escapist wish to live in a deterministic world where the deserving are rewarded and the unworthy are punished, instead of the unfair and often seemingly random one in which we live.

The thing is, this imaginary world is fair only on its surface level: everyone ostensibly starts on even ground, with equal access to resources. In actuality, the most important currency is experience with the game's convoluted mechanics, and the players are likely to start with vastly unequal access to that currency. Hence the genre's tendency toward "gotcha" moments, in which the initiated can feel superior at the expense of the unitiated.

The real world is, at best, probabilistic and not deterministic, and no one ever starts on equal footing. Bad beats happen, and learning to handle them with equanimity and good sportsmanship is an important skill that gaming can teach us which is transferable to many other situations in life, one that I think is at least as important as analyzing complex deterministic systems.

And thirdly, I like Star Trek Voyager Fluxx because there's a Goal card called "Tuvix" which involves collecting the transporter, Neelix, and Tuvok, and I have a house rule that you cannot win with that goal if Janeway is in play.

So there's that.

(-:

hbi2k wrote:

...there's a Goal card called "Tuvix" which involves collecting the transporter, Neelix, and Tuvok, and I have a house rule that you cannot win with that goal if Janeway is in play.

So there's that.

(-:

Straight from the Cones of Dunshire rulebook.

I mean, it's true that I don't think Tuvix deserves to exist. If cold-blooded murder is the only way to right that injustice, well....

hbi2k wrote:

Even games where luck is as important or more important than skill can be fun, but only if it has a good theme that's supported by the mechanics. I love Fluxx and Munchkin, but I wouldn't hold them up as meticulously balanced, skillful competitive games, just fun casual time-wasters.

See for me the idea of Fluxx and Munchkin are ok if they were just causal warm up games but played them far too many times where they have gone on for longer than 20mins and at that point, I just actively start trying to help someone win as long as the game ends. Tsuro is the game I reach for warm up, or Love Letter.

Also Ticket to Ride is a Euro game and I've used that game for so many introduction to boardgame sessions and it has never let me down.

fenomas wrote:

This thread seems to be using a lot of words to say "some games are Go-like and some games are poker-like"

The only thing I feel strongly about here is: if a game is Go-like (Euro style, little/no randomness, nigh impossible for a new player to beat a veteran), then it really ought to have some kind of handicapping system. If it doesn't, then a match between a newb and a veteran isn't really a "game" in any meaningful sense - at best it's a pedagogical exercise, and at worst it's one person being frustrated while the other is bored.

I get what you're saying. I agree with it by and large. This is definitely a bit of a tangent, but I'm not sure "Go-like" is the best umbrella term for a genre that tends to be low on direct interaction between players.

onewild wrote:
hbi2k wrote:

Even games where luck is as important or more important than skill can be fun, but only if it has a good theme that's supported by the mechanics. I love Fluxx and Munchkin, but I wouldn't hold them up as meticulously balanced, skillful competitive games, just fun casual time-wasters.

See for me the idea of Fluxx and Munchkin are ok if they were just causal warm up games but played them far too many times where they have gone on for longer than 20mins and at that point, I just actively start trying to help someone win as long as the game ends. Tsuro is the game I reach for warm up, or Love Letter.

Also Ticket to Ride is a Euro game and I've used that game for so many introduction to boardgame sessions and it has never let me down.

Yeah, they could both definitely use some kind of mechanic to limit their length. Like a lot of games that don't have a predetermined turn count, they are lots of fun when they go short but have a bad habit of wearing out their welcome when they happen to go long.

Interesting discussion! I was wondering if you have any examples of games of any kind that has a very satisfying end states if you either win or lose?

I've been reading this with interest as someone who has historically been pretty tepid about Euros in general. The many reasons they frustrate me have already been hit on by one person or another so I won't belabor those, but one thing I wanted to mention in particular is the tendency of my main gaming group (such as it is these days)( to cycle through games rapidly. I'm a deep dive type of gamer so this makes me a little crazy/sad. I specifically find it incredibly frustrating spending the mental energy to grok a heavier Euro-type, feel like I've achieved pseudo-competency by the end, and then never get to play it again because the next game session we've moved onto the next thing. I spend far less time on tabletops these days, largely because of this phenomenon.

Fredrik_S wrote:

Interesting discussion! I was wondering if you have any examples of games of any kind that has a very satisfying end states if you either win or lose?

It's really not about the end state. I mean, take Tetris for example. You can't win Tetris and the end state is just a game over screen. And yet it's arguably the most popular game in the world. The goal and fun of Tetris is to play for as long as you can and get a high score before the game ends. That's exactly how it is with Euros, win or lose.

But if you're looking for a Euro where you get to do cool things to affect the end state win or loss, well, then look no further than Terraforming Mars. No matter how badly you do, you'll be contributing to the terraforming effort and putting some forests/cities/oceans on the board.

Jow wrote:

I've been reading this with interest as someone who has historically been pretty tepid about Euros in general. The many reasons they frustrate me have already been hit on by one person or another so I won't belabor those, but one thing I wanted to mention in particular is the tendency of my main gaming group (such as it is these days)( to cycle through games rapidly. I'm a deep dive type of gamer so this makes me a little crazy/sad. I specifically find it incredibly frustrating spending the mental energy to grok a heavier Euro-type, feel like I've achieved pseudo-competency by the end, and then never get to play it again because the next game session we've moved onto the next thing. I spend far less time on tabletops these days, largely because of this phenomenon.

The move online for 2020 has given the chance to deep dive into some heavier games outside of usual comfort zone and when meetups start again there'll be a pile of games group will be able to play in person where the whole table knows how to play. Some of those games I'd have usually backed away whistling from but now I think there's a whole new swathe of tabletop will enjoy.

I'm also looking forward to getting back to playing Frostgrave a total luck fest of a fun skirmish game, light on rules that doesn't take itself too seriously.

I'm primarily a Euro gamer, but I do like some Ameritrash from time to time. Ameritrash is great when it's light and fast. I don't like to compare the two genres though because the type of fun they provide is so different.

However, I strongly disagree with the idea that Euro games have convoluted rules. I'd actually argue the opposite. It's the heavy Ameritrash games that have massively convoluted rules for relatively simple mechanics due to not wanting to break immersion or add flavour. Arkham Horror is a great example of this. It's a bloated, behemoth of a game with a mess of rules that add nothing to the experience. Or how about measuring distance with an actual ruler in those war games? Grappling in older D&D is another good example. Even Betrayal at House on the Hill gets messy with some haunts.

When it comes to rules, Euros don't care about the theme. What they actually care about is strategic potential and balance. Does the game care about distance? Then throw in some hexes and call it done. The best Euros have simple, intuitive rules that overlap to create unlimited possibilities. The term for that is Emergent Complexity. Chess is easily the best example of this, but most of the great Euros like Terraforming Mars, Brass Birmingham, and Tigris and Euphrates work the same way. Sure, the rulebooks in those games are a bit thicker than the rulebook for Chess, but all of those games are based on a core set of rules that are no more complicated than they need to be.

Djinn wrote:

The best Euros have simple, intuitive rules

Apparently I have not been playing the best Euros. (I have not, for the record, played any of the games you go on to list except chess.)

This is all making me think that, much like "worker placement," "Euro" is a term that overlaps with but does not actually define the sort of game that I've been having a problem with accidentally getting dragged into.

hbi2k wrote:
Djinn wrote:

The best Euros have simple, intuitive rules

Apparently I have not been playing the best Euros. (I have not, for the record, played any of the games you go on to list except chess.)

This is all making me think that, much like "worker placement," "Euro" is a term that overlaps with but does not actually define the sort of game that I've been having a problem with accidentally getting dragged into.

Rules and "# of choices" while separate, do go hand in hand. A (Euro) worker placement game is generally simple rules.. place worker, take action in some sort of order, get VPs. However, to say Feast for Odin, Agricola or Puerto Rico is simple because that's all you do, really isn't accurate. That would be the same as saying Cosmic Encounter (which IMO is one of the best games and definitely not Euro) is a simple game... all you do is 6 easy steps each turn, and its simple math to determine who wins a battle after all.

That's true. I shouldn't have said that Euros have simple rules. I think a better description would be streamlined rules. I'm going back to the grappling example in D&D even though it's an RPG and not a board game because it's such an egregious example of a simple rule made ridiculously complicated due to wanting to keep the flavour of grappling intact in the mechanics. Euros are not only willing, but prefer to abstract away that complexity in the interest of game design at the expense of immersion. As a result, I find the rules for Ameritrash to be more convoluted than Euros since they have to twist the rules in knots to accommodate the flavour of the mechanics they want to convey.

I think a distinction can be drawn between "simple" and "intuitive."

The way the pieces move in chess is relatively simple, but it's not intuitive. You'd never look at a knight and a bishop and guess that the bishop is the one that can move farther in a turn.

The rules of D&D are often complex, but they are usually intuitive. Unless you go out of your way to arrange things otherwise, the big strong guys are usually the best at physical fighting, the armored guys are usually the best at tanking damage while the lightly-armored guys are usually the best at sneaking and dodging, etc.

The games I've been having problems with are usually not particularly intuitive. Why does the guy with the most wineries get more bonus cones at the end than the guy with the most sheep? I dunno, man, because the people making this game didn't actually give a sh*t about the theme, now shut up and do math.

The advantage of a strong theme is that it can intuitively answer the question of "why" even before all of the mechanics are fully understood.

Why do I want to invest in wineries instead of sheep in Cones of Dunshire? "Well, because your sheep production tends to get bottlenecked around Turn 3 and you still need a trade good to exchange for anti-cones which are valuable to the Arbiter when he..." Sorry, are you still talking? I nodded off.

Why is it good that I found the revolver in Betrayal at House on the Hill? Well, even if I don't know the goals or precise mechanical constraints of the Haunt yet, I can hazard a guess that it might come in handy if we wind up fighting some monsters.

hbi2k wrote:

A couple thoughts occur to me:

Firstly, it's a small thing, but I've long found it off-putting that hardcore board gamers, as a group, have such a need to believe that their brand of fun is more refined and intelligent that they had to invent a disparaging term like "Ameritrash" to denigrate other folks' brand of fun.

I really don't think that's what happened. IIRC, both fans of Ameritrash and its detractors used that term, and in fact a whole website was devoted to Ameritrash games *by* hardcore fans (I have posted what I understand is the current iteration.) Yes, there were Eurogamers who had no use for Ameritrash games and vice versa, but at this point, both genres have stolen so much from each other it scarcely matters anymore. And I will admit to hoisting a snifter of brandy and mocking my friends' investing in the latest mini KS game when I own Blood Rage, Fortress America, Conquest of the Empire 2, Battles of Westeros, Robo Rally, and four flavors of Risk.

Not sure why it's okay for Euro games that care about distance to have hexes, but wargames get tagged for having to measure distances...? And with a ruler? The only wargames that use rulers are the ones played on a play surface, like massive naval battles in a school gymnasium, or miniatures on a carefully sculpted table. Neither of those fits the described categories of "Euro" or "American", btw. Wargames are generally a different species from non-wargames, usually not incorporating elements from modern resource allocation games, and using randomness to refine results within a range of possibie outcomes, rather than to *define* the outcomes. That prevents, for example, a cavalry unit from taking out M1A1 tanks, but allows that cavalry unit to win or lose against musket infantry or heavy dragoons, which are nearer its capabilities and vulnerabilities. This is far from the high level abstractions of "I put 3 tokens in, you only got two, I rolled a 3, you rolled a 5, so you win...".

In other words, for the purposes of this discussion, trad wargames are neither fish nor fowl. Maybe take them off the plate.

I think there's way too much oversimplication and generalization going on here to be accurate. That being said, I'll throw in my $0.02 ameritrashes (or 0.01 Euros)

To me the key difference always revolves around conflict. American games almost always revolve around taking actions to either vanquish your opponents or climb over the top of them. If not overt conflict, then you have the subterfuge conflict like a Dead of Winter or BSG. Everyone is sus, everyone could be or is your enemy. The end of the game is almost always dictated by one player or team eliminating the other.

"Euros" have conflict in the sense that you can block somoene's worker placement or block someone's path, but each of those moves is weighed against your own personal goals and ultimately getting points is weighed against trying to stop someone else from getting those points. The end game is usually on some condition where everyone just counts up their victory points and calls it a day. In terms of generalization, Euros often get accused of being multiplayer solitaire, which I don't think you'll ever have that problem in an Ameritrash.

Also... Blood Rage is a Euro... (shhh)

Bubblefuzz wrote:

The move online for 2020 has given the chance to deep dive into some heavier games outside of usual comfort zone and when meetups start again there'll be a pile of games group will be able to play in person where the whole table knows how to play. Some of those games I'd have usually backed away whistling from but now I think there's a whole new swathe of tabletop will enjoy.

I'm also looking forward to getting back to playing Frostgrave a total luck fest of a fun skirmish game, light on rules that doesn't take itself too seriously.

Heya Bubble,

yeah, I've actually been getting back into it lately via TTS. I'm pretty amazed at how much stuff is available now - what a cool platform.

You hit on another reason I backed way off for a while - the drain of learning and teaching complex games on the fly with a group of people. I used to love that, actually, but hundreds of games with huge rulebooks and FAQs later and I got pretty burnt out. You're exactly right that the recent push online combined with all the "learn to play" resources available online allows people to get up to speed individually and make for a much smoother experience.

Jow wrote:

You're exactly right that the recent push online combined with all the "learn to play" resources available online allows people to get up to speed individually and make for a much smoother experience.

One of my groups has been very good over the last few years about sending out a "here's a video for Game X" email to everyone in preparation for a particular game day. What they rarely actually do is watch the video, and I end up teaching it anyway. I used to enjoy it, but after 10+ years it's gotten exhausting. Even when we play an old game that everyone has played before, it's usually been long enough that I have to teach it again anyway.

hbi2k wrote:

Why do I want to invest in wineries instead of sheep in Cones of Dunshire? "Well, because your sheep production tends to get bottlenecked around Turn 3 and you still need a trade good to exchange for anti-cones which are valuable to the Arbiter when he..." Sorry, are you still talking? I nodded off.

I get what you're saying, but this feels kind of intentionally facetious. I have played plenty of complicated Euros, and the rules almost always feel logical. You need to do this before you can do that, etc. The rules make sense. The rules get unwieldy when there are a lot of them, because there are a lot of different parts of the game, systems, mechanics, whatever. There are 5 different things you can do, and each of them has their own little system. I have a pretty good memory for game rules so these don't bother me. I play with other people who are endlessly frustrated with these kinds of games. Nobody's wrong, just personal preference.

I think a lot of these more complicated games came about as a way to give players multiple paths to pursue. In chess, every game is technically different but you're always pushing around the same pieces on the same board, making the same moves. A lot of recent board games try to give players multiple strategies, playstyles, "paths to victory", etc. in order to keep replays fresh. Like Civilization's Conquest/Science/Culture victory conditions.

Carlbear95 wrote:

I think there's way too much oversimplication and generalization going on here to be accurate.

Agreed.

Also, the division is a 20+ year old one, and the state of the art in the boardgame world has moved well beyond it. Around 2000, the European and American games had their own styles and almost no cross-pollination.
These days people are constantly remixing elements from any place they can (including but not limited to those old distinctions), as well as bringing in newly invented mechanics.

But I'm not a fan of categorisation discussions in general. As far as I'm concerned, the relevant categories are "board games I enjoy" and "the rest." That requires interrogating play experience to figure out the bits that are good and bad in a new game, but for me that happens at a more detailed level.

Boudreaux wrote:
hbi2k wrote:

Why do I want to invest in wineries instead of sheep in Cones of Dunshire? "Well, because your sheep production tends to get bottlenecked around Turn 3 and you still need a trade good to exchange for anti-cones which are valuable to the Arbiter when he..." Sorry, are you still talking? I nodded off.

I get what you're saying, but this feels kind of intentionally facetious. I have played plenty of complicated Euros, and the rules almost always feel logical. You need to do this before you can do that, etc. The rules make sense. The rules get unwieldy when there are a lot of them, because there are a lot of different parts of the game, systems, mechanics, whatever. There are 5 different things you can do, and each of them has their own little system. I have a pretty good memory for game rules so these don't bother me. I play with other people who are endlessly frustrated with these kinds of games. Nobody's wrong, just personal preference.

It's an intentionally generic / hyperbolic example, but of course, to cite a specific example and make it accurate I would have to have grokked the rules enough to do so. Between dry theming that doesn't interest me and the fact that many of them are rather convoluted, I... haven't. Which is kind of the whole point.

MikeSands wrote:

But I'm not a fan of categorisation discussions in general. As far as I'm concerned, the relevant categories are "board games I enjoy" and "the rest." That requires interrogating play experience to figure out the bits that are good and bad in a new game, but for me that happens at a more detailed level.

I mean, the whole conversation started because it would be nice if there were a neat categorization I could point to that describes "board games I don't enjoy" for the reasons I've been describing, so that I can avoid getting two hours into one before I realize that it's one of "those."

Maybe that categorization doesn't exist, but it would be nice if it did.

hbi2k wrote:

I mean, the whole conversation started because it would be nice if there were a neat categorization I could point to that describes "board games I don't enjoy" for the reasons I've been describing, so that I can avoid getting two hours into one before I realize that it's one of "those."

Maybe that categorization doesn't exist, but it would be nice if it did.

Ha, I think everyone into board games would like to know this. I am certain I have not figured it out yet.

hbi2k wrote:

I mean, the whole conversation started because it would be nice if there were a neat categorization I could point to that describes "board games I don't enjoy" for the reasons I've been describing, so that I can avoid getting two hours into one before I realize that it's one of "those."

Maybe that categorization doesn't exist, but it would be nice if it did.

Yep, that sure would be nice.

In terms of figuring it out, my approach is a combination of watching reviews (Rahdo, Dice Tower, and Shut Up & Sit Down are all good at showing you a lot of how the game works as part of their reviews), and trying out a variety of things.

hbi2k wrote:

Maybe that categorization doesn't exist, but it would be nice if it did.

The categorization may exist, but its likely not going to be as simple as "euro" vs. "ameritrash". If you really want to, give us 5 games you like and 5 you tried and didn't, without any reason or context and I'm sure we'll be able to narrow down some traits. Could be a fun exercise for all of us We may be able to suggest some alternatives as well to see if its a whole genre or just that particular game in that genre.

Carlbear95 wrote:
hbi2k wrote:

Maybe that categorization doesn't exist, but it would be nice if it did.

The categorization may exist, but its likely not going to be as simple as "euro" vs. "ameritrash". If you really want to, give us 5 games you like and 5 you tried and didn't, without any reason or context and I'm sure we'll be able to narrow down some traits. Could be a fun exercise for all of us We may be able to suggest some alternatives as well to see if its a whole genre or just that particular game in that genre.

I'll start keeping a tally. (: I haven't exactly been keeping notes, and I don't think "that one where you make colonies in Italy" or "that one that's virtually identical to the one where you make colonies in Italy, except it's set in a Shadowrun-knockoff cyberpunk city" really helps. I'll try to make a note of titles in the future.

I do appreciate the conversation and I appreciate everyone who's been trying to help me put a finger on what I'm talking about.

Djinn wrote:

The best Euros have simple, intuitive rules that overlap to create unlimited possibilities. The term for that is Emergent Complexity. Chess is easily the best example of this, ... based on a core set of rules that are no more complicated than they need to be.

FWIW, this is what I was asking about when I asked if there are any Euros with satisfying end conditions, because my experience has been the opposite.

With US style games the winner is obvious; with chess I can look at a board and see who's won. But every time I've played Scythe, they player who ends the game has had no idea whether they won or not.