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

 

Some #wargame #boardgame thoughts on 1812: Invasion of Canada (@Academy_Games, 2012)

THE ACADEMY GAMES BIRTH OF AMERICA series games are great “family wargames.” Lite in rules, yet deep in strategy, they also play up to four or five players. For the RockyMountainNavy family, their ability to play at 3-players is most welcome. Recently, 1812: Invasion of Canada (Academy Games, 2012) landed on the table. This gave us a chance to rediscover this under appreciated gem.

Like the game, The War of 1812 is also under appreciated. As the American Battlefield Trust puts it:

Sometimes referred to as the “Second War of Independence,” the War of 1812 was the first large scale test of the American republic on the world stage. With the British Navy impressing American sailors, and the British government aiding Native American tribes in their attacks on American citizens on the frontier, Congress, for the first time in our nation’s history, declared war on a foreign nation: Great Britain. Battles raged on the high seas. British soldiers invaded American soil, captured Washington D.C., and even burned the White House. In the end the Star-Spangled Banner waved “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

https://www.battlefields.org/learn/war-1812

Although 1812 can support up to five players, we played with three. The RockyMountainNavy Boys took the British Regulars, Canadian Militia, and Native Americans. I played both the American Regulars and American Militia. The game plays pretty much like every other Birth of America-series game with a few exceptions; the Native Americans are a full “fifth” faction with their own cards and dice, set locations for mustering troops (reinforcements), and combat resolution that has the side fighting in their home territory battle first (instead of the defender as in other games).

Courtesy Academy Games

Generally speaking, in the Birth of America series the RockyMountainNavy Boys prefer to play 1775: Rebellion for its simplicity whereas I prefer 1754: Conquest for its theme. Much like Americans and the War of 1812 we tend to “forget” this title.

Not any more.

The war played out in three phases. The first phase was an American invasion in the east that was stopped. The second phase was a British invasion through the central Great Lakes that was countered by American invasions to the far west. The third phase consisted of both sides retaking lost territory. By the time the Treaty of Ghent was signed the British were just barely ahead.

This game of 1812: Invasion of Canada played out much more balanced than many of our other Birth of America games. We all enjoyed the ups, and downs, of the campaign. Like other Birth of America games, the Flee results on the dice are the most remembered, like the time that one gritty little Canadian Militia stood tall while the British Regulars around it fled.

At five players, 1812: Invasion of Canada is a good candidate for the Neighborhood Gaming Gang. With the school year starting and the end of summer, the NGG will be looking for titles to play on weekends when the weather is poor. 1812 may be another perfect fit!


Feature image Academy Games

The simple #wargame joy of Attack! (Eagle Games, 2003)

THE 2003 ORIGINS AWARD FOR BEST HISTORIC BOARD GAME went to Attack! (Eagle Games). Sometime in the late 2000-oughts I bought this game in the hopes that I could use it as an introductory wargame for the RockyMountainNavy Boys. I don’t really know why I did this since I already owned Axis & Allies (in my case, the 1987 Milton Bradley edition). Attack! and Axis & Allies are very similar so having A&A be good enough. I recently pulled Attack! out as part of my 2019 Origins Challenge. After all these year I can say that Attack! is the superior game to A&A, even without the expansion.

As I replayed the game I discovered that while I have focused on heavier wargames, the RockyMountainNavy Boys regularly pull Attack! out to play. They tell me its because of the free-style set-up. Whereas A&A tries to recreate a historical WWII starting in 1942, Attack! is set in the World War II era but is not tied to history. In many ways it is a sandbox WWII game.

Just because the game is cut loose of history does not mean that it is not historical. The same combined-arms so powerful in A&A is also a necessity in Attack!. Here also is a simple economic system using a set-building mechanic. Nothing too complex but enough to make one concerned about managing their hand of cards.

Although the RMN Boys play Attack! they prefer not to play it at family game night, instead getting wargames like Conflict of Heroes (Academy Games) or Battleship Captain (Minden Games) to the table. If they want a lite wargame we tend to go with one of the Birth of America/Europe series from Academy Games or Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing). I suggested that they use Attack! with the Neighborhood Gaming Gang since it can play up to six players. At first they were reluctant because of player elimination concerns; that is, until I pointed out to them that the game ends immediately when any player is eliminated (XXII. Winning the Game). So maybe it will make it out for them. I hope so; the game can be fun.

Over the years I occasionally considered purchasing the expansion. Every time I end up not making the purchase. For this reminiscence I thought about it once again, and once again I am passing on the opportunity. Although I am sure the expansion with expanded naval rules and economics is not bad, for me it’s not necessary. The core Attack! has its niche in my collection as a lite, introductory wargame. If we want something more we have other games that satisfy the need. So we keep it simple, with simple Attack!.

#Boardgame #FamilyFriday – When the King of the House isn’t the King of Tokyo (IELLO, 2012)

DESIGNER RICHARD GARFIELD MADE HIS NAME with Magic: The Gathering. I personally never got into the Magic craze; indeed, I have a bit of a hatred for Magic since The Great Magic Extinction Event very nearly caused the death of wargames and RPGs in America. But hobby gaming survived and Richard Garfield went on to make other games. Games like King of Tokyo (IELLO, 2012). That game won the Golden Geek Award in 2012 for Best Family Game, Best Party Game, and Best Children’s Game. Even today, eight years after its initial release, BoardGameGeek ranks King of Tokyo as the #48 Family Game and #261 overall. If I use BGG rankings for my collection it is the 21st-highest ranked game in my collection; easily the top 5%!

I had two reasons for playing King of Tokyo. First, I needed to work off my challenge. Second, I wanted to reintroduce the RockyMountainNavy Boys to the game as it is a good candidate for the Neighborhood Gaming Gang. King of Tokyo can play up to six making it a good game for rainy days in the basement for the NGG.

Let me state for the record here that King of Tokyo is not as highly rated by me as it is on BGG. I rate the game a solid 7 but that places it amongst the top 53% of my collection. It’s not that the game is bad; it just feels forced. I mean, the mechanics of King of Tokyo are fine. Roll dice (push your luck). Spend dice to gain VP or power, attack, or heal (dice pool). Beat up other monsters (conflict). Take Tokyo, leave Tokyo (area control). Buy cards for special power ups (hand management). King of Tokyo certainly captures the theme of monsters stomping Tokyo. The artwork is cute, the components top grade. On the downside, there is a very real possibility of player elimination in King of Tokyo. Thankfully, even if one is eliminated the game is short enough that you won’t have to sit by long before the others finish play. At the end of the day, King of Tokyo feels more like a series of individual races to 20 VP. Player interaction is all confrontational and almost exclusively though attacks. That doesn’t really bother me (remember, I am a wargamer first) but I don’t know if this game was first released today if the “modern” sensibilities of the larger BGG community would be as accepting of the game today as it was back then. Then again, it is still highly ranked. Go figure.

I can see King of Tokyo as a good game for the Neighborhood Gaming Gang. I recommended to the RMN Boys that they should use this game with the NGG but they were ambivalent about the idea. At six players maybe I need to keep this one for the inevitable Neighborhood Gaming Night. I really can’t see any other chances for this game to hit the table.