Monday, July 25, 2022

Happy thoughts about what I think is ‘Ameritrash’

As I’ve mentioned, I was surprised (but not disappointed) to find that I had a number of games that fell into the Ameritrash camp in long term storage. Basically light war games with big maps and lots of dice chucking.

I’m not sure if the term Ameritrash is still used. If it is, it doesn’t seem to be used either as a pejorative or as a rallying cry. (And, no, I don’t miss those days. And, as my gray hairs indicate, I remember back when the term got started being used) If it is still in any use, it’s probably because no one has found a catchier term.

I credit Kickstarter for fewer faction wars in the board game world. Kickstarter created a marketplace for more diverse games that could pick and choose from different schools of game design. Warring camps just aren’t as interesting in that environment.

I have read (and I agree with this) that the defining characteristic of Ameritrash is theme. (Direct conflict is a close second) Narrative and identity are a big part of it. Changing the theme of an Ameritrash game changes the experience. Rex might use the same mechanics as Dune but it’s not the same experience.

I also feel like Ameritrash is the junction point of a lot of different design schools. The influence of war games is obvious, since so many Ameritrash games are war games with more focus on gonzo than simulation. But the narrative structure of RPGs is there are well. And I feel like I’ve seen elements of German Family gaming with economic and infrastructure building.

But not abstracts. Abstract games are about as far from Ameritrash as you can get. Go and Axis and Allies don’t talk to each other.

And, honestly, Ameritrash may be the most vague school of game design. Is Muchkin Ameritrash? It doesn’t have dice or a board but it has theme and conflict. Is Britiania Ameritrash or just a light historical war game?

I have a lot of happy memories for these big, crazy games. There really is a Hunter Thompson gonzo level of craziness and gusto baked into so many of them. But I also know why it’s been so long since I’ve played one. They take a whole evening to play :D

Come to think of it, I usually played them with my D&D groups. I guess we were looking for games that were the length of a D&D session! 

It takes time to be immersed in a theme. Shorter play times don’t work as well for the big gooey games that I’m looking at. Not entirely impossible. The Awful Green Things From Outer Space proves that. But that’s an exception, not the rule.

I’d like to revisit this kind of gameplay some time. I just hope I can stay awake to the end :D

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