Bite Me! Why Jaws (Ravensburger.us, 2019) may be the quintessential Ameritrash #boardgame

Ameritrash is “a catchphrase for ‘American style boardgames.’ In general, this means games that emphasize a highly developed theme, characters, heroes, or factions with individually defined abilities, player to player conflict, and usually feature a moderate to high level of luck.” – BoardGameGeek Glossary

Personally, I never understood the Eurogamer vs Ameritrash divide in boardgaming. OK, I understand it but really don’t care. I usually ignore it too, preferring to rate games as to how much the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself enjoy them. However, our play of Jaws (Ravensburger.us, 2019) showed me what may be the quintessential Ameritrash title – in all its goodness.

Jaws hits all the elements of an Ameritrash title in a near-perfect manner.

  • Highly Developed Theme – The two-Act game follows the movie very closely
  • Characters with Individually Defined AbilitiesJaws, Chief Brody, Hooper & Quint each are individuals with their own unique set of abilities
  • Player to Player Conflict – In this case Crew versus Shark
  • Moderate to High Level of LuckAct I has the randomness of the Amity Event Cards offset by player strategy but Act II is highly dependent on rolling the right dice at the right time.

A quick comment on that theme. The two-Act game idea is brilliant as it mirrors the major portions of the movie so well. The graphics in Jaws also reinforce the theme.  I see this most clearly in the Crew characters; from the black tableau of Chief Brody with the badge to the green with Quint’s hat and blue with sunglasses for Hooper, the color scheme, graphics, and symbology just fits as it both teaches and reinforces game mechanics and roles. The RMN Boys, born long after the movie was ever in theaters, also pointed out the box cover which uses the classic Jaws movie poster so well.

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Photo credit – self

Jaws is an agonizing game to play. In Act I, which takes place on Amity Island and has the Crew searching for the shark which is feasting on swimmers, the agony is from the deduction game that is being played. The Crew must deduce where the Shark is based on subtle (or not so subtle) clues. There is also a time-pressure element as the more the Shark eats the more Shark Ability cards it will have in Act II. On the other hand, the faster the Crew tags the Shark the more Crew Ability cards will be available in Act II.

Act II is a skirmish game with the Shark attacking and eating away (literally) the boat and Crew. I found a surprising amount of strategy in this Act as the Shark must try to attack where the defenders are weakest while the Crew must set up a defense using a constantly dwindling supply of resources. Act II very much feels ‘on the clock’ as the boat sinks away, the Shark takes wounds, the Crew takes wounds, and Crew Abilities get used up.

Our first game of Jaws pitted the RMN Boys as the Crew against Dad playing the Shark. Act I did not go well for the Boys as the Shark (again, literally) swam circles around them and used a Feeding Frenzy and Speed Burst at optimal moments to feast and evade. As a result, in Act II the Shark had a full hand of 10 Shark Ability cards whereas the Crew only added three Crew Ability cards to their hand. The Shark kept attacking, but here the luck of the dice deserted the Shark with many low rolls. On the other hand, the Crew banded together well and after a few initial missteps started defending the boat smartly. With the Orca more than half-sunk it looked like the Shark would win the war of attrition but two devastating rounds of hits inflicted by the Crew turned the tables on the Shark which then couldn’t outlast the boat. Both RMN Boys cheered and high-fived each other at the same time they breathed heavy sighs of relief when they finally killed the Shark for the win.

Kudos to the Jaws design team of Prospero Hall for finding the right balance of all these elements and making them work together to create real – and I do mean real – tension at the game table. I also appreciate the semi-cooperative game play of the Crew – to be successful the Crew must work together as a team in a game where the rules for working together are implied rather than implicit – meaning its up to the player to form the social contract. From a rules perspective the game practically self-teaches as the tableaus for each player contain virtually all the information needed to play. In many ways Jaws can be a foundation game for new boardgamers as it is both easy to understand the theme and easy to teach – as well as a quick play clocking in at 60 minutes or less.

The RMN Boys have already committed to bringing Jaws to the Neighborhood Gaming Gang’s attention. For ourselves, I expect to quickly play Jaws several more times as each Boy rotates as the Shark. In the long run, Jaws will likely serve as a foundation game we use to introduce others to the goodness of Ameritrash boardgaming.


Feature image courtesy Ravensburger.us

 

It’s a Space Race Ameritrash #Boardgame – First Impressions of Tranquility Base (@worth2004, 2018)

I’LL ADMIT IT, I LOVE SPACE. As a historian, I also love the history of the US Space Program. So when I saw the ad copy for Tranquility Base (History in Action / Worthington Publishing, 2018) on Kickstarter I had to pledge my support. I am very happy I did because Tranquility Base is pure Ameritrash gaming awesomeness!

Now, I am using the phrase Ameritrash in the most favorable way here. Tranquility Base hits all the best parts of Ameritrash:

  • Theme – It’s the US Space Race
  • Player-to-Player Conflict – A bit of “take that” to prevent multiplayer solitaire
  • Moderate to High Levels of Luck – You need the right cards at the right time; no drawing from a river of cards just cycle the deck! But there’s no dice….
Courtesy Worthington Publishing

Turns out Tranquility Base is an update to the 1997 & 2006 title Moonshot the Game (History in Action). I never saw the earlier version, so Tranquility Base is my first exposure to the game. I’ll admit I got this game in large part because of RockyMountainNavy Jr., my aspiring aerospace engineer. He loves all thing aerospace right now and the game will help him learn the history of the US Space Program.

Courtesy Worthington Publishing

In terms of game mechanics, Tranquility Base is at heart a set collection racing game. Each turn players spend Fuel (the game currency) to Assemble Missions, Launch Missions, Move, rearrange equipment, or even Scrub Missions. History cards provide bonuses while Wild and Instant cards are often used to slow down an opponent. I wasn’t really expecting this “take that” element of the game but upon play immediately see how it is necessary to interfere in your opponents plans. In many ways it is no different than the Fate Decks in Villainous. Most importantly, it prevents the game from devolving into multiplayer solitaire.

The RockyMountainNavy Boys and I played our first game of Tranquility Base for our Family Game Night this weekend. True to the box, our first play at 3-players took about 90 minutes. We all caught onto the game mechanics quickly, though it did take until about mid-game to internalize some of the more subtle aspects. Future games will be faster; maybe not fast enough to make Tranquility Base a filler game but fast enough to make this a good candidate for a 1-hour-or-less time block. I won the game by completing my six missions and already had relaunched a mission which I used to get to the Moon first. RockyMountainNavy T was next in turn order and he would have completed his last two missions and been able to land on the Moon in his turn. RockMountainNavy Jr. had four missions completed and was probably two turns away from winning. It really was a close race!

Soviet Moon inside the box with the upgraded metal landers

Tranquility Base has an in-box solo mode. The game is also packaged with the new Soviet Moon Expansion which can be used as an extra non-player for the regular game or as a timer in the solo game. I have reviewed the rules for the expansion and look forward to using it in the game as it not only imparts more history but also adds more “Space Race” flavor to the game.

Tranquility Base will definitely relaunch and find its way back to the RMN gaming table, and soon. Excitedly, RMN Jr. said he wants to take the game to school for his aerospace class. I can also see this box rocketing about the block with the Neighborhood Gaming Gang. The rich theming, educational appeal, and simple mechanics of Tranquility Base also make it a good “gateway game” for non-gamers to launch into the hobby.

In a year where my two purchases of a non-wargame family strategy game have turned out to be less-than-stellar (Villainous: Wicked to Core and Star Wars: Outer Rim) I am really pleased with how the simple Ameritrash awesomeness of Tranquility Base is a success. It’s a well-themed, mechanically simple game with a high enjoyment factor that also happens to be highly educational – in other words a perfect family game.


Feature image by self.

Personal Quick Take – 2018 Spiel des Jahres Nominations

The 2018 nominations for the coveted Spiel des Jahres Awards are now public. Thank goodness for BoardGameGeek to provide a translation from German to English for me!

As the BGG posting notes, the Spiel des Jahres are primarily aimed at family gamers. Of the three nominees, I don’t own any (although I have come close to ordering Azul). If BGG rankings are to be believed, Azul should be the run-away Gloomhaven-like hit given it is ranked as the #1 Abstract and #1 Family Game on BGG.

The Kennerspiels des Jahres, the “connoisseur’s game of the year” according to BGG, is an even weaker category for me. I know nut-thing about the nominees nor am I likely to anytime soon. As I have stated before, my gaming tastes tend to be more narrow and reflect my legacy of playing wargames. I just don’t buy into full eurogames or the “heavy cardboard” part of the hobby.

On the other hand, the Kinderspiel des Jahres (Children’s Game of the Year) is a category I watch out for because of my wife’s teaching and a new niece that I hope to introduce to proper gaming someday! Alas, I don’t recognize any of the nominees, nor do they look interesting to me for family play. I am pleased to see that the jury recommended Rhino Hero: Super Battle which I do own and the family finds enjoyable.

So what do I personally take away from the Spiel des Jahres nominations? I see another sure sign that the boardgame/tabletop gaminghobby is alive and well. But as much as hobbyists will try to say that there is no split between Eurogames and Ameritrash, a straight up comparison of the Spiel des Jahres and 2018 Origins Awards nominees or (worse yet) the 2017 Golden Geek [Fan Service] Awards shows that there is still a difference. This is not bad for the hobby. This year I tend to be an outlier in the hobby; I refuse to bow to the Cult-of-the-New (COTN) nor do I spend my precious dollars frivolously chasing away a FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)-phobia. As a result, the awarded games and my collection are diverging.

The divergence doesn’t bother me; indeed, it makes me happy that the hobby is strong enough that I can build my collection to my tastes and not have it dictated to me like so many mass-market game companies try to.