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Game Genres

edited April 2015 in General

Apparently the forum has a character limit so this is going to appear in multiple posts.  Good thing I typed it up in word on a slow day at work today. ;)

The impetus for this post came from one of the emails we had post table top day.  I think I threw out the term Ameritrash and Baka mentioned how his game interests were primarily in that area.  So I thought it would be interesting to have a discussion on the subject to see what kind of games everyone primarily enjoys.  I think I could guess what people like but I would be interested to hear how my guesses align with reality.  Since I am assuming most of you don’t spend as much time reading about games as I do, I will try and define the main genres that people use. Of course, as with anything categorization, games don’t always fit nicely into a box but in general you can use some characteristics to group them.

Category 1 - Ameritrash

The two most common classifications of modern board games are : Ameritrash and Euro.  The term Ameritrash refers to games that historically were developed in America (no longer the case) and was given to the genre by Euro fans that were making fun of the games.  Like a lot of negative classifications, fans of the genre actually adopted the term and it is now widely used as just a normal way to describe these games. (Another note, that probably only Joe would get or care about is that the term also has origins from the game Fortress America). 

The main characteristic of an Ameritrash game is that the game is all about bringing the theme of the game to life.   In other words, when playing an Ameritrash game, the designer’s primary goal is to make you feel like you are part of the world of that game.  Some other characteristics of these types of games are they tend to have a lot of pieces to them (typically plastic), they often involve lots of dice rolling, and the rule books tend to be big/complex in order to adequately cover the thematic possibilities in the game.  The gameplay itself tends to be very tactical (short term planning) versus strategic (long term planning).  Though of course there are elements of both tactics and strategy in most games of all genres.

Ameritrash is a large category and can really be further subcategorized but I don’t really see the need to for this discussion.  Below are some game examples and why I would consider them Ameritrash. 
  • BetrayalCAT (aka, Betrayal at the house on the hill) – Highly thematic, dice based combat, plastic miniatures.

  • Descent Journeys in the Dark (2nd edition is what we played) – Plastic miniatures, dice based combat, complex rule book(s) to cover a lot of potential scenarios but still needs a multi-page FAQ to cover items that weren’t in the rule book.

  • Blood Bowl/Space Hulk – These games workshop games both involve big rule books and lots of dice.

  • Blood bowl team manager – This is a “quick” card based came of the original (and far superior) Blood Bowl.  While this doesn’t have a lot of the characteristics I listed (i.e no plastic bits) it is still in this category because the game revolves around the theme.



  • 40 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
  • edited April 2015 Posts: 103Vote Up0Vote Down

    Ok, I can't get this format to paste easily out of word.  I am going to have to revisit this tomorrow.  I know you are all anxious to see the wall of test I wrote, so I apologize for the delays. :P

    Post edited by airdog at 2015-04-28 01:05:13
  • I don't know if it's content or format,  
  • First..awesome post(formatted or not). Second, if they made a game actulaly called "Ameritrash" I would play the shit out of it. :)
  • edited April 2015 Posts: 0Vote Up0Vote Down
    I'd probably play BetrayalCat, if only to say "What have you done with my BetrayalCat?!"

    I'm waiting with bated breath for the complete post. :D
    Post edited by MattyDoo at 2015-04-28 01:36:30
  • MattyDoo said:

    I'd probably play BetrayalCat, if only to say "What have you done with my BetrayalCat!"

    That just made my morning. :)

  • I was explaining Flea to a coworker at Wegman's last week.  He said, "That play sounds fucking awesome!"

    It was.
  • Yeah, I miss that play sometimes.
  • Heh...I love that this post started as Aron's really great dissection of gaming styles and has suddenly become an ode to Gannon Theater.  Just awesome.
  • edited April 2015 Posts: 103Vote Up0Vote Down

    In an effort to get this back on track and hopefully without formatting issues, here is part 2!

    Category 2 - Euro

    This can probably go unsaid but this category was originally coined to describe games originating from Europe (though they are now developed all over the globe). The distinguishing characteristic of Euro games is that the mechanics are the primary focus of the game and the theme is secondary.  This isn’t to say that Euro’s don’t have theme, it is just that the theme is secondary to the game play (likewise Ameritrash games have mechanics, it is just they are made to fit the theme whereas Euros are the other way around).   Theme in Euro games is actually a pretty big point of argument in the board game community. Some Euro fans claim that they really connect with the theme in Euro games as the result of the mechanics, Ameritrash fans tend to say that the games are dull/boring as the themes tend to be standard/bland (i.e. a lot of games are set in medieval Europe), and others (like me) say that whether the theme comes alive or not doesn’t matter to their enjoyment of the game.

    Some other characteristics of Euro games are they have simple rules (though this is becoming less relevant as a lot of Euros are coming out with bigger rule books), there is no player elimination in the game, the components are often wooden and don’t necessarily look like what they are supposed to be (i.e. colored cubes to represent something), and the winner is often point based (Ameritrash tends to be more objective based). 
     It is also often said, that the winner of a Euro game is less based on “luck” and more on the decisions they made.  This statement is primarily due to Euro’s rarely using dice to determine anything. While, IMO, I think it is generally true that Euro’s involve less luck,
    it is sometimes overstated by their fans and there are varying degrees of luck in most Euros.

    Euros are probably the biggest category of modern games so they are often further categorized by “weight” (i.e. Heavy/Medium/Light). This weight is often associated with the amount of strategic planning required with Heavy games tending to require complex planning and less focus on tactical play.  Like I did for Ameritrash, here are some Euro examples

    • Ticket to Ride – This is pretty much your standard light-weight Euro.  Sure the train theme fits well with what you are doing but really the core of the game is set collecting and
      optimization.  It is also has an extremely simple rule book – there are only 3 things you can do on a turn!

    • Agricola – This is actually one that a lot of people claim is strongly thematic, as they claim it really feels like you are struggling to raise a farm.   This is a very standard Medium/Heavy Euro as worker placement and card selection is the heart of the game.  The scoring is also point based and constrains you on what you can do, which an Ameritrash game would never do (i.e. the time C raised a million sheep but his points were capped at like 3).

    • Dominion – Pretty much a standard medium weight card based Euro that requires decent strategic planning but has a simple ruleset. The theme in this one, I think most would agree is pretty much non-existent.  For example, thematically why does a village give you +1 card and +2 actions? 

    Post edited by airdog at 2015-04-29 01:40:54
  • edited April 2015 Posts: 103Vote Up0Vote Down

    Ok, I was able to clean that one up to readable relatively quickly so lets try the last part of the dissertation!

    Category 3 - Hybrids

    This is a relatively new category of games that tend to combine the thematic elements of an Ameritrash game and the mechanics of a Euro game.   More specifically, these games tend to use a lot of plastic bits and combat based scenarios to evoke a strong theme. However, the game play tends to use mechanics that you would find in a Euro game, with no player elimination, and minimal dice based luck.  Some examples include:

    • Cyclades – the heart of this game is the auction which is very much a Euro mechanic.  I would say, that playing the auction is about 90% of the important decisions in this game. However it includes some very Ameritrash characteristics including the dice based combat, the plastic miniatures, and the scenario based win conditions.

    • Chaos in the Old World – This is a Fantasy Flight produced game with a theme licensed from Games Workshop (those are probably the two most noted Ameritrash game makers). In addition there are tons of plastic pieces and the combat is dice based (and a key part of the game in comparison to a game like Cyclades). However, the corruption phase of the game is based purely on area control and drives the point based win condition, which is very Euro way to pick a winner.

    Category 4 - Coops

    Cooperative games are probably the newest category of games. The category name is pretty self-explanatory and involves players working together to beat the game. I broke this out as its own category as I think playing together as opposed to playing against each other is a significant variation on a game.  However, these games could easily be subcategories under both Ameritrash and Euros as some of these games tend to be focused on theme (i.e. Dead of Winter) and others on mechanics (i.e. Pandemic). 

    Other Categories.  The four categories I spelled out are clearly not exhaustive but I figured they are the most relevant for our groups. Some others are War games, Abstract games, and Party games.

    Post edited by airdog at 2015-04-29 01:50:33
  • edited April 2015 Posts: 103Vote Up0Vote Down

    So now onto the point of this topic (finally!).  I would love to have a discussion about what genres people are most attracted to, so I will go ahead and start it. In general my philosophy is that I will play any game at least once and generally I enjoy most games in all genres.  That being said, for me in general, Mechanics>Theme.  Thus, my favorite genre is Euro (leaning towards the medium to heavy weight) games followed by Hybrids.  This can be seen in my top 10 games and what genre I consider them:

    1. Mage Knight – H

    2. Blood Bowl (original) – A

    3. Tzolkin – E

    4. Agricola – E

    5. Dominant Species - E

    6. Cyclades – H

    7. Chaos in the old World – H

    8. Terra Mystica - E

    9. Dead of Winter – C/A

    10. Dominion – E

    It is kind of funny that in my top 2, neither are Euros. That being said, half the list is so I feel pretty confident saying that it is my favorite category.  I love Euros because I like the challenge they present. They often require significant thought and for me, using my brain to solve these types of games is fun!  I tend to be very analytical in a lot of aspects of my life so I guess it carries over to my enjoyment of games.  I also enjoy that these games lead to a lot of post-game analysis on what moves everyone made or didn’t make that impacted the game outcome.  For example, after we played Terra Mystica a few months ago and Corey NOONE won, I enjoyed thinking about what moves I could have made to win and what NOONE did to win.

    I also really enjoy Hybrids.  Part of this is due to all the Ameritrash I played growing up (Risk, Axis and Allies) and I just love seeing all the plastic on the board and I enjoy combat.  Integrating that with Euro mechanics gives me a little bit of what I love about both genres. That being said, these games tend to be a little lighter so I have to give the overall edge to pure Euros.

    Post edited by airdog at 2015-04-29 02:05:39
  • Nice summary. I can see why you split coop out, although any coop would fit into one of the other 3 categories.

    Interestingly though, I could apply the paragraph on why you like Euros practically word for word on why I like a number of Ameritrash (particularly coop) games. Particularly post-game analysis :)
  • Thanks for the write up, Air! Here is my current Top 10 list of games, and what I feel is their corresponding categories:

    1. Heroclix: Probably ultimately an E game, since their is heavy strategy, but has a lot of dice rolling and is heavy theme, so there are plenty of A elements. Though, a major part of the strategy of a good player is to increase your chances of hitting/good dice rolls, and thus eliminate reliance on luck. Maybe an H?
    2. Magic: The Gathering: E, I believe. There is still a luck perspective (no matter how good your deck is, you can still draw crappy), but once again you are building for efficiency. There are themes to it, with a whole mythos that has books and collectables, but I never got into any of that.
    3. Dominion: E
    4. Cyclades: E
    5. Tzokin: E
    6. DC Deckbuilder: Low end E, leaning more toward A. There is still strategy, but it is nowhere near as strategic as 1-5.
    7. 7 Wonders: E
    8. Terra Mystica (really liked it; want to play it again and maybe it will move up): E
    9. Coup (again, really liked it; want to play it again): E, with some A
    10. Catch Phrase: Not even sure if this game belongs on this list, but it still remains one of my all time favorite Group games. Big ol' A lol.

    Thus, it seems that I really enjoy E games. My mood has a lot to do with what I want to play, though. If I had a rough or tiring week, I def prefer A stuff.

  • And, yes: I'm back playing Magic again :). It's awesome :)
  • Let me clear up the strategy/tactic piece a little. Both Ameritrash and Euros have strategy and tactics. The point I was trying to make is that Euros tend to focus more on strategic decisions and Ameritrash game focus more on tactical decisions but they both can have elements of both. But that isn't really he distinguishing characteristic in either case, it is really the theme/mechanic issue that defines the game.

    That being said, C I would mostly agree with your list except for a few items. Particularly Heroclix (a game I played a ton back in the day). I would actually throw Heroclix and Magic into a whole other category (collectable games) but as games you could certainly put them in the Euro/Ameritrash categories. Heroclix would be pretty much a pure Ameritrash though, IMO. I believe this because the most distinguishing characteristic of the game is its theme. The game is about creating the experience of combating with a super hero team and it does that well with a lot of rules to try and replicate powers. It also involves lots of die rolling and plastic miniatures. I would even say that the winner of a game is more determined by the tactics than the strategy. Sure there are strategic elements with team building and coming up with an idea of what you want to do before hand but really it boils down to seeing what your opponents are doing and reacting to that (tactics).

    Compare that with the DC deck building game, which I haven't played but know a decent amount about. The theme is similar but I would argue that it is a (light) Euro. This is because the main characteristic of the game is its deck building and the rules are built around the mechanic not the theme (I.e. superman can equip wonder woman's lasso).

    This is not to put down Heroclix at all, I game I loved enough to travel to play in the first world championships back in the day (after blood bowl it is probably my second favorite tactically rich game I have played). It is more to help distinguish the genres a little more. Does that make sense?
  • Baka, you are correct games of every genre (even party games) can lead to post game analysis. I just feel that the analysis is different for Euro games but I am having trouble putting into word how it is! I will think about it a little more and see if I can come up with an explanation. I would be curious to hear you expand on your thoughts too as it might help me pinpoint my thoughts.
  • I would love to clean up my massive collection of Clix.

    Thanks for write-up, an interesting division between A and E.  Definitely, for me, more focused on story than rules.
  • Air - it definitely makes sense. One point, though: Heroclix has gotten a LOT more strategic since you last played. Tons of new game elements have been added (Vehicles, Team Bases, Special Powers, Relics, Resources, etc.) and the amount of strategy you can put into building meta teams is through the roof. Actually, the more I think about it, you can actually play Clix as Ameritrash (play heavy theme, like X-Men vs. Brotherhood) or as Euro (abandoning theme, and use meta pieces and resources). I play both ways (tee-hee).
  • edited April 2015 Posts: 0Vote Up0Vote Down

    Air, thanks for posting this. While I'm less board-game inclined than maybe everyone in the group (I'm digital at heart), I definitely lean towards Ameritrash and/or Coop games.  I enjoy the story, theme and working together more than mechanics/strategy and I've never been a "Fantasy" guy in that I have a tough time getting into fantasy genres which, I believe, really compounds why I sometimes have a tough time really getting into most of the games the group enjoys.  Zombies?  I'm all over it. Sci-fi?  You had me at "Sc."  Superhero or Horror? Let's go.  But that Robin Hood card game aside, I just really have a tough time getting into these games. I'm fully convinced that if 7 Wonders was set in the far future, I'd probably enjoy it much more...aside from, you know, the holiday that doesn't allow us to play it this year. :) That may sound trite or like a silly reason not to enjoy...but that's where I'm at the moment. That being said, as I've mentioned before, I'm a social gamer more than anything - as long as we're hanging out, laughing, and Matty's auto-tuning dick jokes, I'm in! :)

    What's both awesome and frustrating for me is that, because I don't pick board games up as quickly as I would something digital, I love that in less than a year I've played tons of games...but it also emphasizes my weakness because we are never able to play any one game enough for me to feel that I can get good at it because I am a slow burn when it comes to these things.  This is one of those things that's nobody's fault - it's life at our age, but for me it poses a challenge.

    Post edited by TheLion at 2015-04-30 00:39:01
  • edited April 2015 Posts: 0Vote Up0Vote Down
    Maybe the best way to think of the distinction is: did the mechanics come first or did the theme come first?
    As Air said, while E tend to focus on strategy and A tend to focus on tactics, this is not universally true. You can't say a game is more strategic just because it would be classified as E, for example.

    I'd actually say 'Clix is a skirmish game, which is a subset of wargames. Magic is a customizable card game. While you could pigeon them into the A/E categories (and if you did this, 'Clix is definitely Ameritrash), I don't think it is useful to do so.

    In fact, I would argue that (at least for me personally), the Ameritrash / Eurogame in general is not a very useful categorization. While it can give you a general idea of perhaps, maybe, what a game may be like, it really can't tell you anything to let you know if you might like a game.

    Tell me a game is coop with a traitor mechanic, or tell me a game is resource collection with a draft mechanic, etc., and you have told be far more about the game than I could ever get from an Ameritrash / Eurogame tag.

    So while more of the games I like fall into the Ameritrash bucket, it conveys more information to say the games I prefer are coop games (either pure (Warhammer Quest, Pandemic) or asynchronous(Imperial Assault)) and skirmish games (Malifaux, Warmachine, XWing). 
    Post edited by BakaKuma at 2015-04-30 00:33:36
  • I pretty much agree with everything Baka wrote. The E/A classification certainly won't tell you if you like a game - there is way too much variety of games in each classification for that. Plus I think most people actually enjoy games in both categories. I do think it is useful to know if you are more attracted to theme or mechanics generally though.
  • edited April 2015 Posts: 0Vote Up0Vote Down
    The more I think of these categories, the more I think I kind of disagree with how they try to categorize games when it comes to how they are played.

    Take Chess for example. You can play it in a very Ameritrash kind of way, where you play by tactics (short-term, reactionary thinking). Or, if you are really good, you can play it in a Euro way - long term strategic thinking. Clix can be played this way too: Your attitude can be "I'm going to just run the X-Men because I like them," which is an A attitude, or you can super strategic with a long term gameplan, which is a more E approach. Magic can be like this too. Hell, Monopoly can be like this.

    When it comes to game design, there are definitely games that are like As (Clix is one, with heavy themes and dice) and games that are like Es (Tzolkin). But when it comes to game play, I think that the line becomes a lot more blurry. I would argue that it would be more beneficial to classify PLAYERS as A or E. Are they more reactionary and playing more for fun (A), or are they strategic and long term thinking (E)? You can have 10 people playing the same game but have very different approaches to it.
    Post edited by SuperCDad at 2015-04-30 20:28:53
  • C, I think you are putting too much weight on the Strategy vs Tactics characteristic that was mentioned. While that may be a general tendency of A vs E, that is not a sole defining characteristic, and there are A games that are more strategic and E games that are more tactical.

    Really, theme vs mechanics is the difference. And that is not even saying an E game mechanics are intrinsically better. Or an A games theme is intrinsically more immersive.

    Perhaps this is a good way to think of it:
    I am designing a game. I decide I want it to be about cyborg ninja clans vying for control of mars. From there I decide each player has x clan members who can move around a map of neo tokyo on mars. If they encounter enemy clans, they battle for control using dice and special ninja skill cards from a players hand.  More than likely, this will be classified as an Ameritrash game. Note how I started with a Theme, and came up with mechanics to suit it.

    Air decides he wants to create a game where players place meeples on a game board, and score points based on how they are placed.  He decides the meeples will represent cyborg ninjas, and the board will be neo tokyo on mars.  More than likely this will be classified as a Eurogame. Note how he started with a mechanic concept, and then mapped a theme to it.

    There is nothing to say whether my game or his will be more strategic or more tactical, but even without that rules, there is probably enough to classify each in the traditional definitions of Ameritrash and Eurogame.

    I hear what you are saying about classifying playstyle, but in that case I think it is just easier to say, "I have a tactical play style. I have a strategic playstyle. I have a casual playstyle. I have a hardcore playstyle."  In fact, the implication that A = casual/for fun (and E is the opposite of that) doesn't line up with any of the traditional definition of A and E.

    But ultimately, I think your post does illustrate what I said earlier - the A v E distinction is not terribly useful in providing a useful description of a game, other than with the broadest strokes.
  • And again, something like 'Clix really doesn't belong to what you'd traditionally consider Ameritrash or Eurogame. I'd put it in the skirmish subgenre of miniature war games. Minitaure war games tend to have a strategic element (army building) and a tactical element (the actual gameplay). So whether you are better at list building or execution of a plan, the game still contains both elements. 
  • Yeah, Baka is spot on.  The strategy vs. tactics issue is more of a common characteristic than a defining characteristic.

    Also, I think you are confusing strategy with depth a little.  Both tactical and strategic games can have a lot of depth.  Thus, saying a game is primarily tactical does not diminish the quality of that game from an intellectual standpoint.  Take Clix for example, Clix can be a very deep game that requires a lot of thought and analysis.  You mentioned that you really need to know odds and maximize the odds to do well.  You also need to anticipate what your opponent is going to do and be in good position to react to that.  That is really deep game play but those are very tactical decisions that you make based on how the map looks at the time.  (Again I agree with Kevin it is not really an A game, it is in a separate category, with a lot of strategy in team building and lots of deep tactical play in the actual game).

    On the flip side, take a game like Ticket to Ride.  To do well at that game you need to come up with a strategy on how to best connect your routes at the beginning of the game.  However, I wouldn't call that very deep game play as it is really just mapping out a route and coming up with a few contingencies if you get cut off. 

    I really want to stress that Strategy is not inherently better than Tactics.  They both can require lots of thought and analysis.  It is just different.   

  • Totally agree with Air, well put!
  • Okay, I get what you guys are saying now. Thanks for clarifying!
  • I like games.
  • I like pizza. And games. ...and Kate Mara. :)
  • You like Taco Bell!
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