Let’s have an open discussion. Well, as open as possible between a writer and a reader. Board games come in all types, shapes, and sizes. As far as I am concerned there is one predominately distinct division within the hobby though. It’s a tale as old as time, a real north vs south battle. While the Civil War was a fight for control of this country, this war may very well be for control of the hobby. One side pushes structure, the other chaos. One careful planning, the other impulsive. Regardless of who’s camp you’re in, there’s no denying the long standing war between Euro games and Amerithrash.
Let’s take a closer look at the differences between these two game styles, because there are many. Euros normally feature little to no luck. Players feel in control, each trying their best to “out efficient” their opponents. The interaction between players is passive aggressive at most. Amerithrash, on the other hand see players constantly butting heads. Dice are used frequently to resolve actions. And there are more cheers and jeers as games tend to ebb and flow much more dramatically.
Is it necessary for a gamer to side with one of these two genres of gaming? I used to think so. Looking back at my early days in the hobby it would appear that I sided quite soundly with the Amerithrashers of the hobby. I was looking for games that played quickly and that appealed to the non-gamers I constantly tried to bring into the hobby. Not so coincidentally, these were many of the same games recommended by the reviewers from the Dice Tower. I have fond memories of King of Tokyo, The Sheriff of Nottingham, and Dead of Winter. Often times these games ended with cheers or groans as players experienced a full spectrum of emotions. I can’t tell you how many losses of Dead of Winter I had come down to a ridiculous roll of that cursed infection die.
Every time I came across a “Euro game” on Amazon I always laughed at the ridiculous play times that exceeded one, and sometimes two, hours or more, knowing I could never get any of my family or friends to play anything of the sort. It wasn’t until a co-worker invited me over that I finally got my first real taste of other half of the hobby. I remember the evening very fondly. He set a less than appealing looking box on the table and began to explain a game that seemed to make little to no sense. But I could not stop singing the praises of Thurn and Taxis the entire way home after the evening was over. There was something addictive to the process of laying the foundations of a plan and attempting to follow through with it, all the while adjusting on the fly to the actions of each of your opponents. The next game night we played Agricola and my mind was completely blown.
I was smitten, and there was very little the Amerithrash genre could do to regain my attention. Slowly I began culling my collection of the “fun” and replacing it with “strategy”. I saw this as a shift to more sophisticated gaming tastes. I was always careful not to remove all my gateway games from my collection, but in general the ones that remained were heavily rooted in mechanically rich soil. I’m not sure when it started happening, but as I of late I’ve felt my gaming experiences were beginning to grow dull, lackluster. I believed what I was missing was real, tangible excitement. The type that can be felt in the entire room, not just inside my head as the only worker placement spot on the board I want is about to be taken. Since this epiphany I have added a couple good old fashioned “dice chuckers” to my collection and I couldn’t be happier with the experiences and variety they’ve provided. Let me tell you about a couple of my favorites.
Xia: Legends of a Drift System
Xia lets out their wildest dreams of being a space faring….whatever really. That’s the cool thing about the game. If you want to be a space pirate, hunting down and blowing up others for their cargo, so be it. If you want to be a greedy merchant cruising all the best trade routes, more power to you. Or maybe you just want to become legend, completing daring acts and going where no soul dared venture before, just be careful not to fly into any red hot stars. In Xia you create your own story, the other player merely exist within it. I have had a lot of fun building up the best spacecraft I can and then zooming around the galaxy in search of good old victory points.
This is definitely a amerithash game, there’s no denying it. Many of the actions in the game, like navigating space junk, require you to roll a 20 sided die, but be careful to not roll to low or your ship may just blow up. But if you roll a 20…VICTORY POINT! Yeah, it’s that kind of game. Also did I mention you roll a die to see how far you move? Yep, it’s a roll and move. Yet somehow I love it! I highly recommend this one if you want to visit space and have a truly remarkable adventure.
Zombicide: Black Plague/Green Horde/Invasion
Who does’t want to take control of a band of survivors fighting for their life against a horde of blood thirsty zombies. While I’m not going to praise the game for it’s ground breaking game design, this series does get one thing right. The tension that is only present when you are running for your life from a literal pile of zombies that would undoubtable kill you if they ever catch up to you. My favorite entry in the line of Zombicide is the newest, Invaders. It is also set in space, meaning that it’s not zombies that you are running from, but rather Xenos. While this might sound daunting to begin with, as you level up your character becomes insanely strong, but it also means more and more Xenos will begin spawning at the end of every round, guaranteeing tension throughout the game.
The decision space in the game is very minimal, your actions consist of move, attack, search, and pick up objectives. The scenarios, can feel very similar when each one basically asks you to find certain objectives amounts the facedown ones on the board and then escape through an exit. But in the end the import and standout decisions are made not by you but by the group as you decide the best course of action for the group of 6 survivors rather than any one character in particular. Few games see players as invested in the success of others as in the Zombicide franchise.
I’m don’t always play 2 player games, but when I do I make sure it pits the last hope for humanity against the demonic forces of Hell. Claustrophobia 1643 is a rare 2 player, asymmetric, dungeon crawl game. The game is as smooth as can be while still maintaining a surprising amount of tactical gameplay. How you choose to split up your heroes, what directions you’ll send them, and how you set their stat lines each round will always keep you second guessing your decisions as the human player. As the demon player you have one goal, kill. You’ll need to play the long game and always stay one step ahead if you plan to overcome you opponent.
Sure. The combat in the game can be seen as “too simple” at times. And the exploration a little too luck based. And I suppose not all the scenarios may be as balanced as you’d like. But in the end I don’t care. The game allows for a tense Cat and Mouse chase in the catacombs of Hell in 60 minutes or less. That alone makes this a winner in my book. It may be hard to get a hold of given it’s Kickstarter exclusivity. But I recommend not passing up the chance to give it a try.
Star Wars: Imperial Assault
Fantasy Flight Games may not be my favorite publisher, nor my second, and not even my third. But there is no denying that they are very good at making the themes of their games really come to life. For me one of the best themes they’ve put out is their Star Wars inspired dungeon crawl, Imperial Assault. The missions are full of twists and turns seemingly always putting the Imperial player the upper hand. But in the end nothing is as sweet as working together to take down the enemy at the other end of the table. The campaign include branching paths with a very good upgrade system. I highly recommend this as a campaign based game.
Unfortunately that’s all I recommend this as. A campaign game. There is no real way of playing the game as a single one mission scenario and still getting the full experience. And If you aren’t into the tactical line of sight, blocking mechanics of similar style games, then now’s your chance to run for the hills. I have a lot of fond memories playing this game, but unfortunately I have not had the pleasure of playing through a fun campaign. Maybe you’ll have more luck.
If any of these games sound fun to you I would definitely talk to the staff at Game Grid and see if they can’t help hook you up with a copy of your own. Otherwise hit me up and we’ll get a game going, cause we all know I could use a break from all my games of Concordia and Pax Pamir 2nd Edition.