Boxed Culture: Ameritrash Games and You 2

Ameritrash is a term that gets a lot of gruff from people outside the board gaming community. I personally use it because I learned it right off the bat; but, it is sometimes better to think of these games as thematic. There is also a lot of controversy about a solid definition of the word; but, much like the term,”weight”, board gamers still frequently use it. The point of many ameritrash to gather as many resources and possible whilst trying to complete an end goal.  I call them grinders, the term grinder comes from my vast experience with MMO’s. I am a grinder in MMO’s. I love to sit there and gather items and gather more and get more gold and gather items and before you know it you have more stuff then you know what yo do with. This idea translates directly to many ameritrash games

First and foremost ameritrash games are very focused on theme. Many people will often call these games simply thematic, considering the negative connotation associated with the term, “ameritrash.” I personally do not mind the term as much as some do, so i am going to keep using it. Returning to the topic at hand, playing an ameritrash game is about experiencing a theme. If you like feeling like an adventurer exploring a world or a pilot of a space ship navigating the galaxy then these games are for you. However, there is a lot of things that tend to happen when you are using top down design, like most ameritrash games do

+1, +1, +1. Items give me +1 (hum to tune of Rawhide)

One of these tendencies is the snowball effect. Typically these games are based on a system of dice rolling or card flipping to induce randomization. This means that becoming more powerful in most of these games can revolve around modifying card flips or dice rolls. In games like Talisman you can see the snowball effect very clearly. Player 1 rolls lands on a spot flips a card over and it is a item that adds one to his physical combat score. This means they are now more effective at psychical combat. this leads to them beating creatures in physical combat and thus leveling up their strength more and playing towards more physical combat types of items. The opposite effect is also true. When a player does not randomly get items to increase a score they cannot continue to defeat the more difficult encounters. This snowball effect combined with the limited amount for certain types of power up cards can lead to a averaging effect. The averaging effect that can happen in ameritrash games comes from the normal distribution of a dice roll combined with the limited amount of dice roll modifying items in these games. the positive snowballing effect typically leads to ones player being better than other players and the opposite is also true. This usually means there is someone who is very powerful and someone who is very weak.

One of these players did not randomly draw the Enlargement Ray item, can you guess who?

One other aspect that can have varying effects on the tendencies of ameritrash games is player interaction. in a Co-op game the snowball effect doesn’t tend to be as bad because the collective power of the group is higher. This also means that players typically don’t really have to care what others are doing as long as they are getting more powerful. In a 1 vs all game the developers have to be vary careful about balance because the snowball effect can get tout of hand if there is only a random mechanic deciding everything. This balancing can be  in the form of a separate deck for the single player to access; however, this does lead to a serious lack of player interaction until the power creep is very high.

Fully competitive games are a whole different story. In competitive games player interaction can lead to two different game types. If the players are fighting to achieve an end goal and the game does not allow them to interact with each other you seeing it basically turns into a dice dolling euro. This can be incredibly frustrating because euro, as an opposition to ameritrash games, are mechanic heavy games in which the mechanics exist to see who can get the best engine for winning. Race for the Galaxy and Caverna are euro games where you build an engine for victor points a the need of the game; but, will discuss these in depth in another Game Corner. If you cannot build an engine due to random dice rolling or card flipping you cannot rely on anything and this is infuriating when you are in the losing part of he bell curve. In a competitive game where the players can interact with each other we see the snowball effect in full force in a typically oppressive manner, this can lead to a very different political type of game, which can be very fun at times, but due to the random nature of the mechanics you can have a strange auto balancing effect.

Knowing these things can mentally prepare you for the trial that is playing many ameritrash games. So lets talk about some of the games I have played to give you a feel of the genre. Many of these are by Fantasy Flight, and no I do not work for them, they are just the leading publish of many of the games currently so, yeah they get a lot of credit.


Talisman – This game is a free for all game with high player interaction in a fantasy setting where everyone is trying to reach the Crown of Command and dominate all of their opponents. This game is a straight up dice rolling bonanza. If you are not afraid of the randomness of dice then this can be a very fun and swingy game. The theme is moderate and the mechanics are very simple. This game suffers a lot from the snowball effect BE AWARE.


Relic – This game is a semi co-operative (of which I am not the biggest fan). Apart from this is plays very similar to Talisman. Moderate theme, suffers from the snowball effect, and has simple mechanics. this game does differ by using explosive dice, i.e. you roll a 6 and you get to roll again. which can deal with a little bit of the dice rolling randomness.

Firefly – This game is a free for all game with a low amount of player interaction. The goal of this game changes every time you play. Last night we played a game where we had to counterfeit a artifact, steal the coordinates of where is was being transported and then switch the real and the fake one to make some moluah. if you have ever watched the show this game is dripping with theme and the mechanics are a lot more well though through than talisman or relic. Still a dice rolling game but it also has explosive dice. Very fun but still has can snowball and throw one person way behind.

Eldritch Horror – This is a fully cooperative game set in the Lovcraftian mythos. I have talked about this game before on the last Game Corner so please check that out if you would like to know more, suffices to say it is great.

Twilight Imperium – This is another free for all game that is termed a space opera game by most people. I don’t personally think this game is very amertirash as my definition goes but it does have a ton of theme. You pick a race and try to vie for the galaxy. You can fight you can do politics you can grow technology, you can trade. It has it all and it is very, very, very long. play it when you have 4-5 hours to kill.

Monopoly – Flat out old school ameritrash game, in fact thinking about it i am pretty sure they coined the term from this game (may not be true). You roll a die move then interact with the board by buying property. That is it folks bare bones ameritrash realty game.

Well this is the end, I hope this week I was able to help you under stand a bit more about ameritrash or thematic games. Also typically I will not make articles this long it was just a very interesting topic for me. Have fun and game on.


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