From Ameritrash to Eurogames and Back Again: A Strange Journey of Gamer Identity
Michael Brown
United States
University
Mississippi
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Fellow board game Brothers and Sisters, I have a problem of identity when it comes to the games that I am supposed to like and the ones I do. I have been gaming for close to ten years now in a serious sense, and find that theme and replayability often clash for me with mechanics and control, the perfect storm of an argument between Ameritrash and Eurogaming on my own shelf.

As I pare down a game collection that is getting too large (82 games is too many for me to own comfortably), I wonder if others feel this pressure to own certain games because of their reputation and if their taste led them in other directions.

Here's my odd journey in game form, and I am already seeing some trends in what I like and dislike in some of these games that have shaped an aesthetic when it comes to game selection. Feel free to add your own thoughts to this conversation in the form of games, too.
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1. Board Game: Betrayal at House on the Hill [Average Rating:7.10 Overall Rank:423]
Michael Brown
United States
University
Mississippi
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This was the very first game I purchased with my own money that cost a significant amount ($50 was a lot to a college student at the time). The game is broken in SO many ways (even the revised edition didn't fix everything) but I find some of my fondest memories exploring this goofy old house full of haunted cliches and groaning as a group when our strongest player (who somehow got all the item cards) was now the traitor and proceeded to murderate us. Just plain fun.
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2. Board Game: Catan [Average Rating:7.22 Overall Rank:282] [Average Rating:7.22 Unranked]
Michael Brown
United States
University
Mississippi
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The first time I ever played this game, I was completely baffled by it, yet mesmerized every time the dice got rolled and I got wheat. The modular board, the ability to select the route I was building, strategizing to get the coast or snag a particularly needed building material was (and still is) one of the most formative moments in getting into this hobby I have ever experienced. Again, a conversion narrative in a box for a number of now lifelong friends across the country who game with their office, friends, or significant others. I still suck at this game, but I do it on my terms.
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3. Board Game: Twilight Imperium (Third Edition) [Average Rating:7.90 Overall Rank:49]
 
Michael Brown
United States
University
Mississippi
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This is probably the first game I ever played that I absolutely hated, yet couldn't just forget about when it was done. I have now owned and traded on a copy because it is just too long and attention spans wane (not to mention look wistfully to the game shelf for other experiences about halfway through), but it is a fascinating universe that you get to delve into for day. I really wish they could condense this game down to something more manageable.
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4. Board Game: Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game [Average Rating:7.75 Overall Rank:62]
Michael Brown
United States
University
Mississippi
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For a long time, this was THE most complex game I owned, and it is responsible for converting scores of friends into BSG fans and fans of the hobby as a whole. Again, some great stories told about stabbing a player in the back, how hard it is for humans to win, and the near real fist fight that almost ensued when someone vented someone else out the airlock with the first expansion (that was rough).
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5. Board Game: Daytona 500 [Average Rating:7.14 Overall Rank:1348]
Michael Brown
United States
University
Mississippi
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A quick story on this one: I was at a flea market with some friends when I saw this out of the corner of my eye, had to investigate. The guy wanted $7 for it and I had read about it maybe once and it sounded fun. Bought it on the spot, complete except for the stickers on the cars. My friends were dubious at best about this one. I said trust me. We took it back to our Residence Hall on campus and played it three times the same afternoon. The cards, the auctioning, the table deal-brokering that goes down. In my opinion, more complicated racing games miss the fun that should be NASCAR racing (racing in general) and this one nails it. I like it more each time I play it, and it is one of the few games I actually win consistantly. Go figure.
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6. Board Game: Pit [Average Rating:6.40 Overall Rank:1368]
Michael Brown
United States
University
Mississippi
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I don't know what it is about this game-the yelling, the energy, the chaos-but this one will always be a favorite with me. It was a game I found at a flea market and played until it was completely useless; it's a game I play now with student-staff at the University where I work. I have seen teams of fraternity and sorority men and women get into this game like no other; I have seen casual gamers have that light bulb go off in real-time and suddenly sweep the table. It's just a FUN, simple game that does not get the love it deserves.
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7. Board Game: Lord of the Rings [Average Rating:6.77 Overall Rank:705]
Michael Brown
United States
University
Mississippi
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This is another interesting blurring between the camps that remains with me due to how different it is from other cooperative games, let alone any kind of game. You have card plays to meet objectives (I like that), you have dice to determine a few elements of the game (I like that, except for the very last dice roll at mount doom), and you have shared resources (I like that, too). Oddly, it makes me think of Battlestar Galactica with and AI and obviously different art from Mr. Howe (whom I always check out when I see his name listed on a box). Finally, I have played a number of Dr. Knizia's games and find them to be balanced, very fair, and pretty easy to understand. The stories from this game tend to be of the "almost made it not quite" variety, but it is still a neat game (especially with Friends & Foes added in).
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8. Board Game: Race for the Galaxy [Average Rating:7.77 Overall Rank:50]
Michael Brown
United States
University
Mississippi
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I STILL don't get all the symbols in this game, and I have played it numerous times and even teach it to others (thanks to those handy playmats that come with the game). This game is really an exercise in creating a working game engine from parts, but there is nothing wrong with that. I see this game's advent in 2007 as a change in how games are made, and we are seeing that come to pass now in board/card symbology and legend-making (thinking about pretty much every Antoine Bauza game, but there are plenty of others), and the blurring of Ameritrash/Eurogame concepts. Such as a card game like RftG.
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9. Board Game: Stone Age [Average Rating:7.62 Overall Rank:79]
Michael Brown
United States
University
Mississippi
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Here we are, fully in Eurogame territory now. What makes this one unique (and the only one in my collection that I have kept) is the theme, the dice, and that board. If you have never seen it, go find a copy now and just look at the game board! The details show a world in motion that you are actually influencing through your actions. Playing this game I will spend more time just marveling at that rather than the game itself. Plus, let me level with you, it's not building the most ships in a port, directing the king's architecture, or using natives to complete mundane tasks like some kind of factory god.
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10. Board Game: Ticket to Ride [Average Rating:7.46 Overall Rank:126] [Average Rating:7.46 Unranked]
Michael Brown
United States
University
Mississippi
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I'm going to be honest, I hate this game. I find it tedious, dry, and almost a solitary experience. It has become the gateway game (where Catan was mine) and I am not sure gaming is any better for it. I purchased it solely for my wife, who was taking some steps into the hobby (and of course she likes it), but understood completely when I wanted to let it go for something with aliens or guns or american football. I think I just hate Train games in general, unless there is a game out there about smashing them together.
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11. Board Game: Arkham Horror [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:238] [Average Rating:7.32 Unranked]
Michael Brown
United States
University
Mississippi
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I have fond memories of this game ONLY because of where I used to play and the wonderful owner of this game who did such a great job of adjudicating the game for us. See, I used to be an RA in college (Resident Assistant) and I chose to have my duty nights on Fridays, which meant every Friday night I was at work from 9-12 midnight out of the lobby of our residence hall. This nice guy would keep me company most Friday nights, bring out this game, we'd order pizza and play it, a great time getting trounced by the elder gods.

Later on, I got my own copy. And it was terrible. When to move what monsters where, how to get through portals, getting out of jail. The game was a miasma of rules, subrules, tokens, and moving them around seemingly arbitrarily. I realized that I didn't care for the game at all (if I wanted to read an illustrated car manual and put an alternator or transmission back together, I could just do that). Since there have been two games to retheme the idea and they are easier to manage; for that I am thankful. But for a moment, with my game group trying to search a wiki online and the rulebook to figure out what in the world we were doing, I knew what hell was.

The horror, the horror...
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12. Board Game: Here I Stand [Average Rating:7.94 Overall Rank:169]
Michael Brown
United States
University
Mississippi
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I was asked to play this one once, and it has somehow come back around a number of times throughout my years in this hobby. It was "okay, is this actually fun?" the first time and "no, anything but that" ever since. What is fun about this game? I had some cubes, I might have put out some edicts, I had some cubes taken away from me. I may have blanked out the rest of the game, but the Protestant Reformation just doesn't appeal to me (The American Civil War or WWI/II, sure). Every time I hear it mentioned I know I make the ugliest face and I genuinely feel bad that I am insulting someone's tastes. However, like Empire Builder, I have leave that game(r) alone.
 
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13. Board Game: Munchkin [Average Rating:5.93 Overall Rank:3391] [Average Rating:5.93 Unranked]
Michael Brown
United States
University
Mississippi
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Too many nights playing this one in college just wishing someone would end it so I could go to bed. Too many rethemes, expansions, mini-expansions, add-ons, and just junk to buy to go with this thing. Too many "Steve Jackson Games" logos printed on every shelf of every game store you go to anywhere in the United States it seems. I kind of hate him because of this (although I do own and enjoy Revolution, which almost didn't get a buy because of the company alone); hate him for his success and flooding the market with nonsense. To each their own, but I don't have to like it one bit. Thankfully gaming is moving on from SJGs, but occasionally someone breaks it out and I look for the nearest exit, or debate making one by busting through a wall like those old cartoon characters used to do (before they got condos and girlfriends).
 
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14. Board Game: Empire Builder [Average Rating:6.93 Overall Rank:950]
Michael Brown
United States
University
Mississippi
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If you ask me to play this with you, I will walk out of your house/gaming area, never to be seen again. I don't get this as a game, I don't care if it has crayons and you get to draw on the map. I cannot think of a worse way to spend any amount of my gaming time with humans on this planet. My only play of this game was an exercise in utter boredom/tedium. I know people really like it and they are gifted, talented individuals with merits far beyond their taste in games, but I cannot go here with them. I don't even know what camp this falls into, but it's not for me on either side.
 
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15. Board Game: Kingdom Builder [Average Rating:7.01 Overall Rank:450]
Michael Brown
United States
University
Mississippi
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I couldn't get this game away from me fast enough. It is the definition of modular, down to scoring cards for each game and the maps. But the game itself has no substance, no teeth, no conflict of any kind. If you count placement of cities so that others can't place that's really about it, but that's stretching it. I know people like this game, I don't. I won't go near it unless there is a variant where we get flamethrowers and burn down each others' cities. It does remind me somewhat of Knizia's Samurai, but that game is fun and you know on the front end what you are getting into with that one. Not to menition the theme carries it a little farther down the road. Even that box art lies.
 
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16. Board Game: Agricola [Average Rating:8.02 Overall Rank:17]
Michael Brown
United States
University
Mississippi
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Where do I begin with this one? Let me start off by saying I have NEVER seen an energized group when it comes to this game. People are silent, no one is talking to each other, and having played it twice myself (six hours I may never recover from) I can see why.

I like farming as a game concept, and would love some suggestions on farming games that have some real bite to them, but you have to leave out the endless skill tree, the job classes, and need to feed a family each season. And (as seems to be my major gripe with these kinds of games), where is the conflict save from what you are working with on your board.

So another one I have to pass on altogether; take Caverna with you, while you're at it.
 
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17. Board Game: Pandemic [Average Rating:7.66 Overall Rank:73]
Michael Brown
United States
University
Mississippi
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I remember when I first played this (I want to say in 2005-06), and got bossed around by another player for the entirety of the game. I wanted to go off and explore the outbreaks in South America, and this person only wanted us on one side of the board so we could all help out in Europe (or something to that affect). I have yet to play a game of this where it went any differently. You might as well play it by yourself becuase that is pretty much how it goes each time. It is clear people have enjoyed this one, hence the reprint and the Target shelf space, but it's another game that I just don't have fun playing. Gotta pass.
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18. Board Game: Ad Astra [Average Rating:6.89 Overall Rank:906]
Michael Brown
United States
University
Mississippi
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I completely forgot this game until I started purging games this week and noticed how high I ranked it after about 10 plays. This game could easily represent when I started doing more research about a game before it ever hit the table and the results. Now out of print, I am still mystified by the deceptive simplicity of this game and just how much you get to do in this one. Every time I break it out it's a great experience.
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19. Board Game: Eight-Minute Empire [Average Rating:6.63 Overall Rank:964]
Michael Brown
United States
University
Mississippi
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Finally: a game that I can play in a short amount of time and feel like I have done the hard work of a war game/Eurogame without having to ACTUALLY play as a peasant from that time period. Ryan Laukat's art is fantastic, the mechanics are simple, and the game is satisfying without being too long. I think of this game as being a new type of games wherein the designers know how to take these complicated mechanics and condense them down into shorter offerings. I want to see more of this kind of design work in the coming years.
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20. Board Game: DC Comics Deck-Building Game [Average Rating:7.01 Overall Rank:701] [Average Rating:7.01 Unranked]
Michael Brown
United States
University
Mississippi
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Let me use this to stand in for the explosion of deckbuilders that I believe have done a lot for my interest in the hobby as well as create a cottage industry of games all to itself (proof positive in that I found both this, the expansion, and Marvel's take on this at Wal-Mart yesterday).

Deckbuilders are fast-paced, art-driven (the cards make the game) and it seems that this mechanic can be endlessly put together with other ideas to make just about any kind of game you can imagine (only card drafting seems to be beating it currently). Combine away and let's see what else we can do with this kind of game.

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21. Board Game: Trains [Average Rating:7.22 Overall Rank:371] [Average Rating:7.22 Unranked]
Michael Brown
United States
University
Mississippi
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So I lied; I do like THIS train game quite a bit. It's fairly simple, the cards are varied and fun to combo, and at the end of the game you can see what you have accomplished. Maybe that is the same impulse behind Empire Builder, but I just don't see it playing that one. I also really appreciate that Waste is something to manage, a real-world by product of the progress you make. Small touch, but I like it.
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22. Board Game: Machi Koro [Average Rating:6.70 Overall Rank:741]
Michael Brown
United States
University
Mississippi
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This game, along with Trains, hail to me a return to simplicity, and I can't be more on board. MK does a lot in it's 30ish minute romp on the table but it seems to draw a crowd every time it's played. It's got light art, very fun. It has the dice mechanic, so that itch that Catan put out there gets sctached. It allows me to build my city pretty much the way I want (6 Starbucks, are you crazy?). And now the expansion is set to drop at the end of the month, which give you more options? I don't think anyone can go wrong here. It's a new game but I think it's a keeper.
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23. Board Game: Survive: Escape from Atlantis! [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:231]
Michael Brown
United States
University
Mississippi
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I found an OLD copy of this in an antique mall in Marietta, GA, about three or four years ago. Opened the box, and immediately I was in. A chaotic world where maniacal gods essentially decides who lives and dies-like the old Clash of the Titans or Jason & The Argonauts come to life. Okay, so it wasn't that divine; just a fun little game about escaping a disaster with points attached. It kept hitting the table over and over and then a reprint hit and a friend was nice enough to get it for me for Christmas this past year. Wow.

Now we see something interesting; older games getting reprinted and repackaged as new again. Simpler mechanics returning to the table and designers noticing that we don't have to play a historical simulation where we need a calculator to keep score to have a great time (far from it).

The is the end of my story (at least for now). What's yours (feel free to be a bit more concise)?
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