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IGN: not a place to go for tabletop coverage

Carcassonne - nothing to do with France, and actually about River Valleys, apparently

Today, I saw that IGN had published a piece entitled “10 Of The Best iPad Board Games“. I expected an opinion piece. I expected to disagree with a lot of the picks. What I didn’t expect, from what I’d assumed was a professional and reliable source, was a lazily written article full of nonsense and factual inaccuracies.

Here’s a few:

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Matt Thrower

Matt is a board gamer who plays video games when he can't find anyone similarly obsessive to play against, which is frequently. The inability to get out and play after the birth of his first child lead him to start writing about games as a substitute for playing them. He founded FortressAT.com and writes there and at NoHighScores.com

53 thoughts to “IGN: not a place to go for tabletop coverage”

  1. *facepalm*

    IGN fail.

    Read the comments: the dude insists that Small World is Ameritrash. Ugh.

    God bless IGN.

  2. Hey Matt,

    A friend of mine (hello Alan!) pointed me to this. I’ve already addressed most of your points in the comments, and most of them are “well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.” I suspect we’ll never agree on Small World or the definition of a neologism like ‘Ameritrash’ and you’ll abuse me halfway round the internet because of that. 😀

    But to address the two factual ones: the Fantasy Flight prices were meant to be in dollars not pounds (my error when submitting the piece); and the Neuroshima Hex multiplayer update wasn’t released when I submitted the piece.

    In my defense, I’m not a hardcore board games guy, I’m a video game writer. I’m happy to admit that there are flaws with the piece but I thought you’d be happy that we’re trying to push board games to a wider audience. Don’t you want your hobby to be more popular?

    1. Then I’m pretty sure that a company like IGN would not have a problem bringing in a Freelance writer to talk to there readership about board games. I’m sure Barnes or Thrower would be glad to help out and give informed opinions on the subject.

    2. Considering that I’m one of the originators- and reasons- that Ameritrash is a commonly used genre term in the games hobby, I’ll tell you straight up that you’re dead wrong about Small World being Ameritrash. It’s not a matter of opinion. The definition was ironed out long ago, some six years past, and anyone with enough hobby knowledge to write a paid article for IGN _should_ be aware of that.

      How ridiculous that you say “don’t you want your hobby to be more popular” when you state in your article that board games take “hours” to learn to play and set up. That’s a more damaging statement about games than anything else, and it’s shameful that IGN would post such an erroneous article. Did you just not do the due dilligence and fact checking on it? Could you not be bothered to submit edits if this article was in the queue for a month or whatever? I’ve been writing about board games for ten years- both for free and professionally- and I do my fucking homework. You got paid for this. At least try to do a good job, seriously.

      I’ve ragged on FFG constantly for years about their prices, but I’ve _never_ “overestimated” the price to make a point. Oh wait a minute. You changed your story. On IGN, you stated that it was an overestimation. Here you’re saying that you meant for the price to be in dollars, not pounds. Which is it then?

      Board games- whether on IOS or not- don’t get a lot of press. It’s shameful that when they do get mainstream press it’s in a poorly written, badly edited, and flat out wrong piece such as what you submitted to IGN.

      Sorry to be so up front about it, but I believe in shooting straight and calling like I see it.

      1. Mr. Barnes, any chance you (or any of the other fine folks here at NHS) could point me to wear that definition might be? Somewhere in BGG or Fortress Ameritrash? Should I just start looking through yours and Mr. Thrower’s posts from six years ago?

        Not being snarky or anything, to be clear; I’m sincerely curious as to where to find this information. I want to find out if I’m using the term as intended. The description Dan gives as “a strong theme (often fantasy), player combat and a dollop of luck” sounds overly simplistic to me, but not entirely off-base.

        I guess my definition, upon having heard it used contextually umpteen times, and using it myself, would probably be something like “a game, often (though not necessarily) characterized by an abundance of colorful and varied components as well as a sci-fi or fantasy style, that ultimately is more interested in turning a thematic setting or story idea into an enjoyable interactive experience than it is interested in attempting to create a smooth, humming machine of mechanics with a theme of some sort draped on top for flavor.” But even that, I have a feeling, isn’t entirely accurate.

        Sorry to derail, but I’d love to be able to speak more capably on these matters m’self.

        1. A typical definition includes several elements. One of the key is direct conflict. Most Euro’s avoid direct conflict and player elimination. If those elements are present, a game is almost certainly Ameritrash.

          You ever hear the term ‘Dudes on a map’? That’s often shorthand for a wide variety of games, from Chaos in the Old World to Risk. But it typifies the Ameritrash style. Style and theme are certainly core to their popularity.

          Euro’s tend to be more abstract, mechanical, and economic focused. They often have less player interaction, and conflict. Many can be played without any form of centralized board (even if it has one they often aren’t necessary)where Ameritrash games almost rely on moving bits on a board for their gameplay.

          Dice is also a big one. Ameritrash games embrace the random, more dice is better. Euro’s tend to downplay, or even eliminate, such luck driven events.

          To be fair I am not sure there is any one place where the rules are spelled out. It’s more of a know it when you see it thing. But for anyone invested in the hobby the distinction is perfectly clear, and without ambiguity. I can see how someone on the outside might not be as instinctively aware of it though.

        2. Truth be told, there’s really not a “formal” definition. It’s something that’s sort of accreted over the years, but what you wrote there is pretty much right on the money.

          Here’s the scoop. Back in 2006, when I was running my game business, this customer named John Tamplin (who runs a small company called Deep Thought Games that does 18xx stuff) and I were talking about games. He’s more of a Euro guy. He called me an “Ameritrash apologist”, referencing a seldom-used term that had been around for a while to describe- in a derogatory way- to describe American-designed games in contrast to the oh-so-great Eurogames that were coming oer in the 1990s. I thought it was pretty funny so I told my pal Robert Martin. We had a laugh, because at the time were REALLY disillusioned with BGG and how we felt it completely failed to represent anything other than flash-in-the-pan Eurogames. This was a time when we would literally get LAUGHED at for bringing games like Dark Tower or Thunder Road to gaming events.

          Anyway, he posted a Geeklist about “Ameritrash” and it EXPLODED. All of a sudden, people were coming out of the woodwork to celebrate classic hobby games that tended to be more conflict-oriented, theme-driven, and with random elements than the Eurogames. It was like this revolution, and it totally pissed off the old time Eurogamer crowd because suddenly there were a bunch of dice-chucking hooligans all over the place, dropping the F-bomb and celebrating fun and fantasy over counting and beard-scratching. Fantasy Flight Games just happened to be hitting their stride at this time, so a lot of their games wound up sort of being a rallying point. I’d argue that their style isn’t Ameritrash at all anymore, but when Arkham, TI3, and so forth were new they were a very different thing than Princes of Florence, Puerto Rico, and Power Grid.

          Ameritrash is very much like punk. It’s a term that really covers a lot of ground. It’s reactionary, and it tends to make some people angry and provincial. But I do think that there are clear genre precedents, and that’s why calling Small World Ameritrash because it has pictures of elves and combat laughable. It’s a hybrid design, but Phillipe Keyaerts is as Euro a designer as there’s ever been.

          But yeah, if you go on BGG (or on the OLD Fortress: Ameritrash blog) you’ll see where a lot of this was hashed out collectively. The funny thing is that we’re six years out from when it started so there’s STILL people popping up trying to add their own definition.

          For a while, there were (and really still are) people that don’t get that “Ameritrash” is taking a derogatory term, embracing it, and using it against the opposition. You get these people who are all like “But…these games aren’t trash!”. Totally missing the point. I remember one guy suggested that we call them “Ameritreasure” which still cracks me up. Another suggested “Amerigold”.

      2. Sorry to be so up front about it, but I believe in shooting straight and calling like I see it.

        I’ve been trying to decide if this is meant ironically or not for two days now.

    3. Hi Dan,

      Then the blame is on IGN. Many people will call this a fluff piece (most lists are, right?) but to those who do play boardgames or iOS ports of them it’s a smack across the chops when a huge site like that doesn’t take the time to find an expert in the field, wouldn’t you agree?

      If a huge entertainment site made a list of the top 10 science fiction films of all time and added Lord of the Rings to it, people would react accordingly.

      I understand that writers need cash but when you are dealing with a niche subject matter you really need to nail it or the people who are in that niche will tell you about it.

      cheers
      loomis

    4. Kudos on coming to join the discussion.

      I am in the middle of putting the kids to bed so I’ll keep this brief for now, will respond properly later. But two things.

      One, I am very much not the type of person who will abuse you half way round the Internet. I don’t think I’ve ever had a major spat with another writer in the seven years I’ve been writing. But your article was full of mistakes, which you’re now trying to dismiss are mere opinion or semantics: if points were minority opinion, or subjet to misinterpretation the surely its your job, as the author, to get make this clear to your readers?

      Second, your defence could easily be paraphrased as “all publicity is good publicity”. Does that make it clear how thin it is?

    5. Ok, so having stepped back a bit, I can see you, and Alan, and McKay and others were right. None of the issues that I highlighted with your article are particularly serious on their own. Except perhaps the claim about cost and play time but even there. For IGN, 99% of your readership aren’t going to care and it’s great that the hobby is getting some mainstream press in front of a bigger audience. So I’m sorry to be so confrontational and disparaging about it – that was excessive and unnecessary.

      But While I might have been excessive, I’m not entirely wrong, either. None of the things I highlighted were a big deal on their own but most of them were still in error. No matter that you think some are matters of opinion, some are editorial errors, and some are bad semantics they’re still either incorrect or such minority opinion positions as to make it incorrect that your tones suggests them to be majority ones.

      None of this is personal – I’m sure you’re a great guy and a great gamer. Hell, given that we’re both English we might end up on opposite sides across a game table some day.

      So why was I angry? Well, I was angry because I felt that although your piece might have meant some more people are playing some more cool games tonight, had your piece not contained those errors, there might have been more people playing those games.

      I was angry because your piece put me in an awkward position. While it was great press for the hobby, it was also inaccurate in places. That immediately squashes people like me between a rock and a hard place: if I say nothing, then I’m doing a disservice to the hardcore gamers that share my love for board games. If I say something, I’m pointlessly nerd raging about trivia against good publicity. Can’t win. No-one likes being in a no-win situation.

      I was angry because I’ve been writing this stuff at the rate of a feature a week for five years, for free. And I wish had the time and the opportunity to make what I do better: do more research, more fact-checking, more fine-tuning of prose, more revising to ensure I’ve made my points lucidly and clearly to my intended audience. But I don’t, but I still try and make sure things are good and accurate given the time that I have. And you breeze in with a paid article that, for all the good that it will certainly do, gets a lot of stuff wrong.

      But as I said, your readers at IGN won’t care about that. You know that, and you wrote an article that was properly tailored for that audience. And that, sir, is probably why you get paid for writing, and I don’t.

      1. Thanks for the reply Matt – and sorry that my article annoyed you so. It’s always useful to get a kick up the arse about accuracy and clarity, and this has certainly motivated me to focus more on that. If you come to London, ping me and we’ll hook up.

  3. To be fair I think when he was referring to Puerto Rico as tough, he meant the in game AI not the rules themselves.

    And if he has played Carcassonne as a friendly cooperative tile laying game, well they’re doing it wrong. Play with my friends, we get nasty. At this point we’ve all become masters of the “screw you” placement, and fights over cities can quickly become 40 point bloodbaths.

    1. I didn’t call it co-operative – I said you “co-operate” to put tiles down – I was trying to describe the core mechanics with a very limited word count.

      1. Oh my god. That is amazing. That has got to be the WORST attempt at spininng an error that I’ve ever heard in my life. You know you screwed up, just admit it!

        If, as a writer, you can’t come up with a better way to describe Carcassonne than that you “co-operate” to lay tiles- yet you don’t mean that players are playing cooperatively- you need to be sacked!

  4. Huge props to Dan for coming here.

    NHS has a notoriously civil tone and Matt’s post is really about as inflammatory as I have ever seen on the site even though I do understand his frustration with the article.

    Dan, in all honesty calling Small World Ameritrash is like calling The Godfather a musical, and it’s a hard thing to debate here as Barnes and Thrower basically are the guys that coined the term.

    Still, I love that you came here to discuss it.

    1. I love it too, it takes balls to stump for yourself when you’re under attack online like that and even though I’ve got very specific, pointed opinions about what Dan wrote and his ability to write about board games I salute him for at least making a stand.

      It _is_ frustrasting when you’ve been at it for as long as Matt and I have been, trying to promote board games and trying to do so professionally and the biggest video game site out there runs a piece like this. I _am_ angry, and I _am_ resentful about it. I wish that Dan had done a better job with it, I wish that he had done his homework better and I wish that he didn’t make comments that were just not true at all in the article.

      IOS board games are, in some ways, hobby gaming’s last best hope to reach out to a mainstream audience and get the attention they deserve. There needs to be good, accurate writing about them.

      Like I said Dan, I’m sorry to come on so strong but if you’ve read anything I’ve written online, you’ll know that this is just how I do things. You are absolutely welcome here and I hope you’ll stick around. If only to watch the pros work.

    2. Thanks Bill. I don’t like leaving people angry; I like to talk things through, wherever possible. I didn’t mean to troll these guys; I’ve just encountered a different usage of Ameritrash talking to my friends, which is down to the mutability of language and the difficult of communicating ideas clearly, especially new words.

  5. Matt, I agree with a few of the points here. Small World might have conflict and a die and quite a bit of theme, but it’s not Ameritrash. And, yup, there are tougher games than Puerto Rico out there.

    But that’s a solid list of pretty damned fine games right there. Sure, you might not agree with every one – I find Catan a bit dull myself – but when was the last time you saw an article on board games somewhere non-specialist with such a selection? All of the games listed have a good following with what you might term hobby or serious boardgamers. Caylus is at the top! Whether you like Caylus or not, that’s a brave choice to stick at the top of a list aimed at people perhaps unfamiliar with modern board games.

    It’s way, way over the top to describe this as a ‘bunch of rubbish’. Dan Gril is our ally here, not our enemy. He doesn’t mention Monopoly once – not even a ‘these aren’t Monopoly’ intro.

    1. I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with his picks. If I were to do a piece like this it’d be mostly the same games albeit in a different order. My problem is that it’s full of *errors* ranging from stating very marginal opinion positions as certain fact, to absolute, unarguable, factual mistakes.

      1. But “full of *errors*” is overstating it. We’re immersed in this. We’re going to see the minor nitpicks – and that’s what they mostly are – where others won’t.

        It’s a common complaint that boardgames don’t get any attention in more mainstream circles, and yet here we are, berating someone taking it to a wider audience. It’s a pretty grim spectacle.

        1. And such is the plight of the niche enthusiast. The unwashed masses just don’t ‘get it’, any article submitted on the subject is full of holes, etc. Not trying to insult, but it’s kind of amusing to see professional writers nerdrage on this topic like we’re on Kotaku.

          Perhaps it wasn’t 100% correct as an article. But it’s IGN. The first correct article they post will be their first.

  6. Wow, writer slap fight going on in here.

    Personally, I play Ascension on my phone, and I find the interface to be too much. Every damn surface has a texture or art work of some kind and it’s annoying. Maybe that’s cool for the Magic crowd, but I only have my toes in the board/card game hobby and find it distracting and obnoxious.

    I’ve only played Puerto Rico in a physical copy, but I fail to see how that’s a particularly difficult game to learn.

    But, whatever, that’s nitpicky I suppose. Factual errors should be flogged, but kudos to Dan for braving NHS and a fuming Barnes. Don’t run him off Barnes. 😛

    1. I’m not gonna run him off. He’s more than welcome to hang out here with us. He’s on our side. I believe he can be…rehabilitated.

        1. Which, not being familiar with him, when you see that picture of him…

          When Barnes goes on a rant with that photo next to it, it has certainly given me pause at times.

          The rest of us though, while no less curmudgeonly, tend to be a little less intimidating about it.

          1. @Bill: Jawbreaker exterior? What kind of cadbury eggs are you eating? You might want to get your teeth checked.

        2. Oh come now, the rumours aren’t true. I never bit the head off a meeple, I didn’t make everyone drink my blood while playing Fury of Dracula, and I _never_ used a four-letter word against Scott Alden.

          And the chair throwing thing was a _joke_.

  7. Bottom line: It’s a list of board games where every one is a hobby title. No bullshit Scrabble, Boggle, Monopoly, or Hoyle mix. No card games. Nitpicking aside, I’m glad it exists so I can point friends to it. If I was the PR rep for hobby board gaming, I’d be fucking delighted when this was published, and be giggling myself right into Best Buy to buy myself some self-congratulation gift. Seriously, I would love to get free coverage like this for something I was representing. I get excited over mentions in paragraphs for my clients… This piece is industry gold.

  8. Dan, please tell us which board game took you HOURS to learn the rules and setting up the board?

    *Also you wrote “Carcasone” 3 times in your article. It is spelled “Carcassonne”. As a professional writer at a major game site, isn’t there any fact checking?

    1. Blame editors for that. While he probably should’ve double checked, it’s the editors that let things through. Similarly, whenever there’s a typo of any kind of NHS, blame Bill and burn his barn down in retribution.

  9. I think the next step should be a dance battle.

    Thrower should make a list.

    Also going to get a few of those games like Carcassone.

  10. I was wondering why, as a professional writer, there were errors at all.

    I can forgive it in casual writing, but not when it’s your job and you claim to the non specialist that you are an expert.

    1. You don’t deal with many writers, do you?

      Writers come up with angles and interesting approaches to content, and editors fix their often garbled prose and makei it resemble human speech.

      This is the Way of the Word. Writers get the by line, editors get the steady paycheck.

      Amen.

        1. Maybe in your world. A writer is somebody that can express ideas effectively in words. If you’re relying on an editor to make your words work then you’re in the wrong line of business.

          1. That’s a two way street though. The amount of true editing in the world of game writing is negligible compared to what a bona fide editor does to a piece of writing.

            Ask Todd.

            It’s a hell of a lot more than fixing typos and grammatical mistakes. Most game editors (myself included) limit ourselves and simply help to make the writing coherent and fact checked.

            “Hey you misused its” or “Stop ending sentences with a prep”

            I can say this with absolute authority: If the *vast* majority of game writing, again I include my own, were handed to a solid, professional, and experienced technical editor it would come back with the words “Seriously?” attached to it.

            That doesn’t mean that all game writing is garbage. However, writers, even good ones, will always–always benefit from a good editor.

            The writer writes.

            The editor ties a bow around it.

            Now that said, I do agree that the writer is more than an “idea guy” but it is without question a team effort. It’s why good editors make good coin. They are much more than proofreaders.

            1. Oh yes, totally…it is collaborative. Look at how the quality of my copy has plummeted since you no longer edit it. In fact, I believe that there are instances where your editing is as much Cracked LCD as anything that I wrote. To be honest, I never truly understood the value of an editor until I worked with you, Bill. I NEED YOU.

              But I stand by what I said. A writer should be able to present ideas to an editor that are mostly publishable, and then the editor does the polish work and smooths over the edges. If a writer is handing in work that is unpublishable without major revision or correction, I think there’s something going wrong. Are there really writers- particularly professional, paid writers- that hand in “ideas” and expect the editor to write over them?

          2. @Bill: Editors don’t get enough credit, regardless of industry. So many people just think of them as glorified spell checkers when, depending on the type of work, they can mean the difference between your stuff being taken seriously or even avoiding a lawsuit.

          3. Oh I know. You stand by Lords of Waterdeep too! (rim shot)

            I do agree w/ you though.

            Example: Here’s a pull quote for a review at another site for Lego Batman 2 (which is a great game, btw)

            “If you are a fan of superheroes and/or a fan of the Lego franchise of games, Lego Batman 2 will attract you for sure, if you don’t find yourself in this category though, feel free to take a look at this game anyhow, as you might just find yourself surprised at what is offered.”

            Any editor worth his salt would read that and weep. Then an angel would lose its wings.

          4. But if you’re the run-on-sentence fairy, or the obfuscation goblin, and you read that sentence… You’re jumping for joy!

            Editors – tearing the wings off Run-on-sentence Fairies since the invention of the printing press.

            Has your Editor slain an obfuscation goblin today?

      1. Yep. My wife is an ex-journalist and ex-editor, and I think most people would be shocked to see what most stories look like before they go through the editing process.

  11. Board game Nazis! Attack!

    Kidding! The one thing the threw me off was the line about Puerto Rico stating that Puerto Rico “is a real challenge for those RTS players out there”. I’m just not seeing the connection there.

  12. I’m a semi-board gamer. I’ve played Pandemic, Carcasonne, Small World, Power Grid, Space Alert, Resistance, BSG, and Once Upon A Time. I’m not hardcore by any stretch, but I like playing games that are somewhat interesting but not ‘Go’ interesting.

    I have no idea, nor do I care, terribly, what the term ‘Ameritrash’ means; what another gamer finds to be a user-friendly interface; whether or not Carcasonne is about building a river valley (which it kinda is), or about making a French whatever area thing.

    The vast majority of the errors you picked out are either differences of opinion or too small to matter to me. And none of them cut away at the main purpose of the article, which I think, is to get more people interested in interesting board games.

    Interesting board games that make you think about decisions and force you to plan and suddenly surprise you because ‘Oh My God If We Had LIke, ONE MORE TURN we woulda beaten Pandemic this time’ are a Good Thing.

    Articles like this that increase the awareness of Good Things, are, I dunno, probably Good Things too.

  13. This comment thread had more life than a Diablo DRM comment thread. Well done guys.

    Asking for perfect articles on niche fields like board games (which I love) on major websites is like expecting the mainstream media to not point the finger at world of Warcraft, call of duty, and rock music when some douchebag happens to like those things and then shoots up a school.

    Or perhaps more relevant, like hoping Time magazine can actually write a good piece on video gaming. It isn’t their bag.

  14. Part of the problem seems to be is that when people start getting into the boardgamer hobby there aren’t really many other terms we hear used other than “Eurogame” & “Ameritrash” to describe games.

    So I can perfectly understand why Dan would use that phrase, when to the most people at the periphery of the boardgames community there really isn’t much of a lexicon to describe the games that slip through the cracks between the two extremes.
    I mean for example what genre is Small World in, if it fits neither of those? Eurotrash?

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