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Thematic Games» Forums » General

Subject: Thematic Games - the Failure of a Subdomain rss

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Leo Zappa
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I will start by stating clearly that I was one of the people who was so hoping to find a way to overcome the label of "Ameritrash" to describe one of my favorite types of games (running right alongside my other favorite type, wargames). I made my own recommendations regarding potential alternative names, but in the end (or, at least, so far), the decision was made to label these types of games "Thematic". At least this had the support of Fantasy Flight Games, the single largest current producer of such games, who themselves uses the term "Thematic" to describe this class (or perhaps I should say, "subdomain") of games.

Having said all of that, I think it may be time to admit defeat.

What has become clear is that the "Thematic games" subdomain remains mired in a debate as to what constitutes "thematic" games. There is precious little actual content devoted to, you know, actually discussing games that fall into the category subdomain. 90% of the threads posted to "Thematic Games" revolve around the continuing debate and associated angst regarding just what is a thematic game, or what theme itself means, or how nebulous such a term is when applied to games (and yes, I realize I just added to that total!). Contrast this with the plethora of threads in the "Wargame" subdomain which are about various wargames and wargaming-related topics, and it becomes clear that while the "Wargames" subdomain has proven to be a smashing success, the "Thematic Games" subdomain is stillborn.

So, what to do?

We could go around and around and around with yet another effort to find a different name that somehow evokes the games that we all know we are trying to talk about here (here's a clue - this class of games includes Space Hulk, Fortress America, and Arkham Horror, and does NOT include Agricola and Puerto Rico - got it?). Of course, there's no reason to think we will be anymore successful this time than we were the time before. (FWIW, I still like my "Action-Adventure" name, but I'm not even going to try on that again).

We could stick with "Thematic" and hope that at some point, the stars will align and magically people will start to post engaging threads about the games themselves while stopping the incessant clamoring for definition of the term "thematic". Every day that passes makes this option seems less and less likely.

Or, we, including yours truly, could simply decide to surrender to the inevitable and chose to embrace the term "Ameritrash". If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

Here is my vote:
Thematic - OUT
Ameritrash - IN

Do this, and I will guarantee you will see a dramatic uptick in posts about actual games and their play, strategies, and so forth, which, I believe, was the purpose in establishing the subdomains in the first place.
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The term "Ameritrash" is fairly new to me, but I understand it a lot better than "Thematic".

I don't have any better suggestions, but at least Ameritrash means something to most people here.
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Ameritrash became the accepted term because it was the key word of the old debate. A lot of folks might not have liked it, but there was no mistake in knowing what it meant.

I don't know what to replace it with, either, but action-adventure games (to muscle in on a movie genre) would be next on my list.
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Firstly, All wargames are Thematic games you realise?

So, don't be ridiculous, the reason there is so much angst is that people are inherently conservative. Change is evil and all that....

The domain Thematic games will heavily overlap with Euro style boardgames, there are many hybrids. (Age of Empires III springs instantly to mind )

Why remain mired with a term Ameritrash which is negative sounding, obscure to those not in on a not very funny joke, and actually most heavily connected to a user long banned from the site?







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Troymk1 wrote:
Firstly, All wargames are Thematic games you realise?

So, don't be ridiculous, the reason there is so much angst is that people are inherently conservative. Change is evil and all that....

The domain Thematic games will heavily overlap with Euro style boardgames, there are many hybrids. (Age of Empires III springs instantly to mind )

Why remain mired with a term Ameritrash which is negative sounding, obscure to those not in on a not very funny joke, and actually most heavily connected to a user long banned from the site?











But of course, "Thematic" doesn't really mean "thematic" and never did. It is simply a substitute for "Ameritrash", and refers specifically to games such as:

- Arkham Horror
- Space Hulk
- Samurai Swords
- Twilight Imperium
- Age of Conan
- War of the Ring
- Fortress America
...and so forth. Just like porn, we know it when we see it. It's true that argumentative types have at times attempted to throw wargames and certain Euro games in to the Ameritrash category, but such attempts have always failed. And no, of course, wargames are not Ameritrash - never were, and never will be. Wargames exist in the realm of the simulation, the model, the probable, whilst Ameritrash exists in the realm of fantasy and imagination and the often-times improbable. Wargames are grounded in science while Ameritrash does not recognize the boundries of physics and logic.

If games were movies, wargames would be "Saving Private Ryan", while Ameritrash would be "Starship Troopers". BTW - I love both movies, but they are worlds apart (no pun intended) in terms of their basis either in fact or scientific plausibility.

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why didn't you post this in one of the zillion other threads on this topic?
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desertfox2004 wrote:




But of course, "Thematic" doesn't really mean "thematic" and never did. It is simply a substitute for "Ameritrash", and refers specifically to games such as:

- Arkham Horror
- Space Hulk
- Samurai Swords
- Twilight Imperium
- Age of Conan
- War of the Ring
- Fortress America
...and so forth. Just like porn, we know it when we see it. It's true that argumentative types have at times attempted to throw wargames and certain Euro games in to the Ameritrash category, but such attempts have always failed. And no, of course, wargames are not Ameritrash - never were, and never will be. Wargames exist in the realm of the simulation, the model, the probable, whilst Ameritrash exists in the realm of fantasy and imagination and the often-times improbable. Wargames are grounded in science while Ameritrash does not recognize the boundries of physics and logic.

If games were movies, wargames would be "Saving Private Ryan", while Ameritrash would be "Starship Troopers". BTW - I love both movies, but they are worlds apart (no pun intended) in terms of their basis either in fact or scientific plausibility.



I disagree it is 'simply' a substitute for Ameritrash. It's a simpler more evocative, and more encompassing term.

To reject your analogy, Fortress America IS a wargame, So is a damn fine tactical game based on Starship Troopers. Some wargames are based on what ifs. And some are based in purely on SF or fantasy realities.

Look,... Sets are NOT exclusive. If that is where the gnashing of teeth is coming from then get your heads around it. It is a descriptor, no more no less. It is meant to be helpful and I think it is.

There are thematic games with elements of a Euro. (for example the strategy cards in RuneWars are an excellent implementation of role selection with added opportunity costs. AOE III has worker placement and very Puerto Rico-esque VP buildings.

Still both I would consider Thematic.










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malteh wrote:
why didn't you post this in one of the zillion other threads on this topic?


Three reasons, actually

1. Technically, there have only been 102,302 other threads on this topic. (this is actually a clarification and not a reason, per se, but there you have it).

2. None of the other threads are specifically from a former supporter of the Thematic term who has now decided that it's over and declaring defeat and calling for a reversion back to the AT moniker.

3. Because I felt like it.

For the record, I have attempted to post actual game-centric threads to this subdomain, but it was one of very, very, very few such threads. Here it was:
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/528043/icons-of-theme-se...
It did not start a groundswell of interest in actually posting about the games, but instead, like all the rest, it devolved into another tedious debate about what games even belong in the discussion. shake

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Troymk1 wrote:
desertfox2004 wrote:




But of course, "Thematic" doesn't really mean "thematic" and never did. It is simply a substitute for "Ameritrash", and refers specifically to games such as:

- Arkham Horror
- Space Hulk
- Samurai Swords
- Twilight Imperium
- Age of Conan
- War of the Ring
- Fortress America
...and so forth. Just like porn, we know it when we see it. It's true that argumentative types have at times attempted to throw wargames and certain Euro games in to the Ameritrash category, but such attempts have always failed. And no, of course, wargames are not Ameritrash - never were, and never will be. Wargames exist in the realm of the simulation, the model, the probable, whilst Ameritrash exists in the realm of fantasy and imagination and the often-times improbable. Wargames are grounded in science while Ameritrash does not recognize the boundries of physics and logic.

If games were movies, wargames would be "Saving Private Ryan", while Ameritrash would be "Starship Troopers". BTW - I love both movies, but they are worlds apart (no pun intended) in terms of their basis either in fact or scientific plausibility.



I disagree it is 'simply' a substitute for Ameritrash. It's a simpler more evocative, and more encompassing term.

To reject your analogy, Fortress America IS a wargame,











Yes, a "Wargame" where one side has "orbital laser stations" located on the ground, rolling a die to kill a selected enemy unit, based on a model of physics that is, at best, fanciful? And a wargame that assumes that a series of enemies have amassed amphibious forces capable of transporting some large, if undefined, number of mechanized units across entire oceans to land on American shores. What is the scale of the units again? What is the time-scale of the game again? The movement allowances of the units is based on what again? The combat factors are an amalgamation of which factors again? No, Fortress America is exactly the kind of AT game that is NOT a wargame, but, instead, is a fantasy novel using the trappings of outlandish warmachines to weave an incredible (and very entertaining) story. The game's mechanics do not bear close examination, but that's not the point of the game anyway - it's not meant to be a simulation (i.e. wargame), but a cigar-chomping, beer-swilling roller-coaster ride, or, in other words, an Ameritrash game.
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I say just rename Strategy games and Thematic games to European style games and American style games. No insults, no innuendo, no superiority complex and best of all, with few exceptions, we all pretty much know what games belong where.
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desertfox2004 wrote:


Yes, a "Wargame" where one side has "orbital laser stations" located on the ground, rolling a die to kill a selected enemy unit, based on a model of physics that is, at best, fanciful? And a wargame that assumes that a series of enemies have amassed amphibious forces capable of transporting some large, if undefined, number of mechanized units across entire oceans to land on American shores. What is the scale of the units again? What is the time-scale of the game again? The movement allowances of the units is based on what again? The combat factors are an amalgamation of which factors again? No, Fortress America is exactly the kind of AT game that is NOT a wargame, but, instead, is a fantasy novel using the trappings of outlandish warmachines to weave an incredible (and very entertaining) story. The game's mechanics do not bear close examination, but that's not the point of the game anyway - it's not meant to be a simulation (i.e. wargame), but a cigar-chomping, beer-swilling roller-coaster ride, or, in other words, an Ameritrash game.


Wow. I know you are not trying to cause offense but that it one hell of a bunch of assumptions about facts and definitions there.

A wargame is a conflict simulation.

Scale? Up to the designer

Combat resolution system? Up to the designer

Complexity? Up to the designer.

(...........are you seeing a trend here?)

It's actually not up to YOU to define for me and everyone else what a wargame is. Hell Twilight Struggle is often considered a wargame as it truely is a conflict simulation and it's mechanics are pure old school CDG.

Am I arguing that Fortress America IS not an Ameritrash game? No.

But my friend it is also a low complexity wargame. And a fine one at that!

Again These labels are just descriptors, and they are not mutually exclusive.



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phosrik wrote:
I say just rename Strategy games and Thematic games to European style games and American style games. No insults, no innuendo, no superiority complex and best of all, with few exceptions, we all pretty much know what games belong where.


I agree, though I'd say that as both types of games involve strategy, I'd argue that the subdomains should be "European-style Strategy" and "American-style Strategy". Of course, it would not take long for someone to shorten the American category to an unfortunate abbreviation of "ASS games" for American Style Strategy.

Perhaps simply "European Strategy" and "American Strategy" games. But again, there will be no consensus on this matter on BGG. There are far too many strongly opinionated people on this site, and most of them are not prone to compromise, so I don't expect an attempt at coming up with better names for these subdomains will yield any positive results. I'm afraid we are stuck with the virtually meaningless "Strategy" and "Thematic" monikers (I can argue that "Strategy" games should include just about every game on BGG, since all but the simplest child's games involve strategy. I can similarly argue that almost every game outside of the "Abstract" subdomain has a theme, with the only real difference being in how strongly the game's components or rules evoke its given theme.).

At the end of the day, I think that the subdomain concept itself hold great promise, but has been poorly executed to date. I have also not seen much activity to indicate that it is going to be allowed to evolve towards more logical groupings - we seem to be frozen in the current definitions, which unfortunately are not terribly helpful. The site administration has generally been very receptive to change, so there is still hope that things can be put right, but for the moment, the results speak for themselves. The only subdomain that is getting any real play whatsoever is "Wargames", followed at quite a distance by "Abstracts" and "Collectible". I think this is because "Wargames" is probably the most narrowly, and therefore, well-defined of all of the subdomains - for the most part, the people who participate in that subdomain agree as to which games belong and which games do not. I would suggest that the other subdomains would profit by wholesale reevaluation of what groupings make sense. I would suggest that looking at how movies, TV shows, books, and music is categorized might lend some useful ideas to how boardgames might be sorted as well.
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Troymk1 wrote:
desertfox2004 wrote:


Yes, a "Wargame" where one side has "orbital laser stations" located on the ground, rolling a die to kill a selected enemy unit, based on a model of physics that is, at best, fanciful? And a wargame that assumes that a series of enemies have amassed amphibious forces capable of transporting some large, if undefined, number of mechanized units across entire oceans to land on American shores. What is the scale of the units again? What is the time-scale of the game again? The movement allowances of the units is based on what again? The combat factors are an amalgamation of which factors again? No, Fortress America is exactly the kind of AT game that is NOT a wargame, but, instead, is a fantasy novel using the trappings of outlandish warmachines to weave an incredible (and very entertaining) story. The game's mechanics do not bear close examination, but that's not the point of the game anyway - it's not meant to be a simulation (i.e. wargame), but a cigar-chomping, beer-swilling roller-coaster ride, or, in other words, an Ameritrash game.


Wow. I know you are not trying to cause offense but that it one hell of a bunch of assumptions about facts and definitions there.

A wargame is a conflict simulation.

Scale? Up to the designer

Combat resolution system? Up to the designer

Complexity? Up to the designer.

(...........are you seeing a trend here?)

It's actually not up to YOU to define for me and everyone else what a wargame is. Hell Twilight Struggle is often considered a wargame as it truely is a conflict simulation and it's mechanics are pure old school CDG.

Am I arguing that Fortress America IS not an Ameritrash game? No.

But my friend it is also a low complexity wargame. And a fine one at that!

Again These labels are just descriptors, and they are not mutually exclusive.




The problem I have with the bolded statement in your most recent post is that if we accept that these labels are just descriptors and are not mutually exclusive, we in effect destroy the entire effort to categorize the games in the first place. The whole point to establishing subdomains, it would seem, would be to group games into their most logical subsets, based on some criteria by which certain games could be seen to share certain features. By establishing these subsets, site users could more readily locate and browse information on their favorite types of games. If we decide that these labels are mere descriptors and that games can have multiple descriptors, how to we sort the games into useful subsets? It would seem they would all fall into one massive stew of games. That's the difficult issue - what are the most useful subsets/groups/subdomains to which games can be assigned? I am pretty sure that site administration has already laid down a ground rule that each game can only belong to a single subdomain.* It would seem then that it is crucial that the subdomain definitions and names be as well-defined as possible in order to maximize the utility of the mechanism for all users. I guess I'm arguing that from my point of view, we have a long way to go to get to that point, and that in particular, the "Thematic" name and the category itself is a poor effort, and that at least by redefining the subdomain back to "Ameritrash" it would regain a measure of utility, since most people at least have an idea what "Ameritrash" stands for.

* I am not particularly wedded to the idea that games can only inhabit a single "best" subdomain, but I'm pretty sure I remember Derk posting that somewhere. If games could belong to multiple subdomains, I actually think the whole concept would work much more smoothly, and we could even tolerate the present subdomains and their names. The problem comes when we are forced to shoehorn games into a single best category (and by vote, no less). However, I can see again how watering down the subdomain concept to allow for games to belong to multiple categories could weaken the value of categorizing the games at all. Still, it seems reasonable that a game like "Axis & Allies War at Sea Miniatures" could comfortably exist in three subdomains at once (wargame, thematic, collectible). If it were up to me, I'd probably decide to allow games to reside in multiple subdomains.
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desertfox2004 wrote:

The problem I have with the bolded statement in your most recent post is that if we accept that these labels are just descriptors and are not mutually exclusive, we in effect destroy the entire effort to categorize the games in the first place.


I disagree. I am not sure of the architecture of the sub domains on this site, but a game like Twilight struggle SHOULD be in more than one sub set.

Sure the categories should help you find 'like' games but I think trying to pigeon-hole all these hybrids will cause much more trouble than it is worth.

As to Ameri-trash? That term is already aging and only means what it means to those in the know.

This site is growing every day, time to stop the in-jokes you know?










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Troymk1 wrote:
desertfox2004 wrote:

The problem I have with the bolded statement in your most recent post is that if we accept that these labels are just descriptors and are not mutually exclusive, we in effect destroy the entire effort to categorize the games in the first place.


I disagree. I am not sure of the architecture of the sub domains on this site, but a game like Twilight struggle SHOULD be in more than one sub set.

Sure the categories should help you find 'like' games but I think trying to pigeon-hole all these hybrids will cause much more trouble than it is worth.







See above - I agree with you on this!
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I'm still convinced that "Fantasy/Sci-Fi Games" is the best descriptor.

People who want to talk Ameritrash can go to Fortress Ameritrash where that term is generally accepted and doesn't offend anyone.
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Simon Mueller wrote:
I'm still convinced that "Fantasy/Sci-Fi Games" is the best descriptor.

People who want to talk Ameritrash can go to Fortress Ameritrash where that term is generally accepted and doesn't offend anyone.


There are Ameritrash games that do not fit into the scifi/fantasy genre (nice try though).

Samurai Swords, aka Shogun, and Warlords of Europe are examples.
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Maybe both the Ameritrash and Eurogame subdomains were doomed to failure anyway, especially the latter which doesn't even have a full page of contributions (most of which, too, deal with the name of the subdomain).

The wargames subdomain has been such a success because with wargames there is something to discuss beyond the game itself--the history on which they are based, the military tactics und strategy etc. Both Ameritrash and Eurogames lack this basis in reality, and thus you can only really discuss the games themselves--which might as well take place in the the forum of the individual game.
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Here we are again.

Desertfox started with a great and clear contribution about the FACT that a subdomain with the "thematic games" FAILED because this name can be "elegant" but is a nonsense no one cares about, and then what ? You all started all again mumbling about silly distinction ("is a wargame with laser guns a wargame or a product of fantasy ?" Oh please !)
wow

Ameritrash is clear and gets to the point.
We (almost) all know what it means, and any newbie after half an hour on BGG can get it.

Let's face it: the truth is just that most gamegeeks here are from the USA, and I understand they have a problem to associate America with Trash. If by any chance these game had been labeled "Thailandtrash" or "Ameriwonders", you would all use it with no regrets happily talking about GAMES and not NAMES.
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Troymk1 wrote:
Firstly, All wargames are Thematic games you realise?


I disagree. A game like Manoeuvre is a wargame, yet it is hardly "thematic".

By the way, the whole subdomain thing is quite "wrong" to me.

I mean: most of users seems to assign the subdomain without even reading the policy of this.

Expandable games are classified as "collectible", Formula D set as "Thematic game" (????????) and so on...

I recently opened this geeklist to discuss the situation, yet the "responses" left me more worried than before.
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Salo sila wrote:
Maybe both the Ameritrash and Eurogame subdomains were doomed to failure anyway, especially the latter which doesn't even have a full page of contributions (most of which, too, deal with the name of the subdomain).

The wargames subdomain has been such a success because with wargames there is something to discuss beyond the game itself--the history on which they are based, the military tactics und strategy etc. Both Ameritrash and Eurogames lack this basis in reality, and thus you can only really discuss the games themselves--which might as well take place in the the forum of the individual game.

Even before the subdomain project, there were motivated groups of people that embraced the Wargame and Abstract Strategy game label. There were also people who identified themselves as Eurogamers and Ameritrash fans. Most of BGG seems geared toward Eurogamers, so they didn't really need a subdomain to find each other and discuss games that are prevalent all over the site (hence the lack of activity in the Strategy Games subdomain). Wargames and Abstract Games already had forums dedicated to their subcultures, so comparing subdomain content and activity to them is unfair.

To me, the biggest failing of the Thematic Games and Strategy Games subdomains is that people don't take them at face value (ie. that they really mean Thematic Games and Strategy Games, and not AT and Euros). This is further complicated by the fact that the more active subdomains are logical subcategories under these broad headings (Wargames are Thematic (Historic) and Abstract Strategy Games are obviously Strategy Games).

I think it's too early to declare that the Thematic Games subdomain is a failure. And I think it's time to start thinking of the Thematic Games subdomain as really meaning Thematic Games (of which Ameritrash is just a subcategory of a broader spectrum of games.).
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Both Strategy and Thematic subdomains are pretty meaningless... If they're supposed to be about Euro and AT then call them that way. If they're not, then both terms are so broad they won't appeal to any specific groups of gamers because it's hard to identify with those terms.

Strategy is a joke. Like no other types of games are mainly about Strategy (including abstracts, wargames and many AT games). While Euros also have strategy, I don't think is the aspect that really defines them.

Thematic can include any game that attempts to simulate (to a varying degree) any aspect of reality or fiction. AT, but also Sport simulations, wargames, conflict simulations, even Scientific Simulations, realistic economic games, Train games, etc...

And again, if they're supposed to be AT and Euro, just call them that way (or at least Ameri and Euro if people are offended by the "trash" part)

Thing is, if you want meaningful discussions and a sense of "community" like the wargame and abstract subdomains, you need to appeal to a specific group of gamers. Right now that is not happening...
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Damjon wrote:
There are Ameritrash games that do not fit into the scifi/fantasy genre (nice try though).

Samurai Swords, aka Shogun, and Warlords of Europe are examples.

Wargames
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rgatti wrote:
Even before the subdomain project, there were motivated groups of people that embraced the Wargame and Abstract Strategy game label. There were also people who identified themselves as Eurogamers and Ameritrash fans. Most of BGG seems geared toward Eurogamers, so they didn't really need a subdomain to find each other and discuss games that are prevalent all over the site (hence the lack of activity in the Strategy Games subdomain). Wargames and Abstract Games already had forums dedicated to their subcultures, so comparing subdomain content and activity to them is unfair.


This is a good point, well made. I hadn't considered that.

rgatti wrote:
To me, the biggest failing of the Thematic Games and Strategy Games subdomains is that people don't take them at face value (ie. that they really mean Thematic Games and Strategy Games, and not AT and Euros). This is further complicated by the fact that the more active subdomains are logical subcategories under these broad headings (Wargames are Thematic (Historic) and Abstract Strategy Games are obviously Strategy Games).


Here I think you're way off. The "Thematic Games" subdomain was originally called the "Ameritrash" forum, so it was obviously supposed to cater for that type of game. As Jorge says, many games are thematic and almost all more complicated games involve strategy--to apply the terms theme and strategy as subdomains in the way you suggest would be to do so so broadly that they would become meaningless.

Moreover, it is reductionist: the differences between Ameritrash, Eurogames, wargames and abstrcts are not just about "theme", but also aesthetics and mechanics.

Lastly, wargames are not just thematic games with a historical theme. The idea behind wargaming is that you use a game to model a (military) event. Normally this means historical events, but it can also be ones that could have happened (alt-hist) or (in my opinion, at least) ones that appear in fiction (e.g. Tolkein, Star Trek). The mechanics of the game should reveal the specificity of that event (of course, this is not always successful). In contrast, an Ameritrash game can always mold the theme to the mechanics if the two should be incompatible; the theme may be the inspiration for the game, but it is malleable in a way that in a wargame often isn't. I notice from your collection/ratings that you are not really a wargamer, and therefore you don't have this perspective on wargames, yet it is a defining point of what wargaming is about.
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look Zappa, this is just another post that adds to the discussion about definitions. It doesn't solve it and most people who care about these games think the whole discussion just shows that this site can't adequately deal with it.

So if you want it to work you either start publishing real content, ie discussion of Ameritrash games, and maybe some people will pick up on it, or you accept that Ameritrash is not a subject that you will get meaningful discussion on here. In that case you can go to Fortress Ameritrash or you start your own platform if you don't like the argumentation on FAT.

Take a look at the discussions in the wargames group: very little discussion of definition (Is battlelore a wargame or not), lots of background discussion. Look at Fortress Ameritrash: hardly any discussion about definition, lots of discussion of the popular culture (books, movies, videogames, music) associated with Ameritrash.

I don't want to read about definitions. I want to read about games.'

Those interested can whine for another hundred years about the nomer Ameritrash, but its here to stay exactly because some people cringe evrytime they hear it. Folks need to move on
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