Amongst the dizzying array of streaming media platforms we have access to during these sedentary last days of Rome, there remains one constant amongst all outlets. No, not the bland interfaces and stunted algorithms, I’m talking about Hitler documentaries.
You can barely swing a cat without stumbling upon yet another lukewarm take on this prick, as armchair pundits pontificate with elbow padded gesticulation on yet another redundant retelling of ‘the 20th century’s darkest chapter’. Aside from highlighting the lack of historical curiosity amongst our populace that continues to render them a profitable endeavour, there lurks a far more sinister aspect to this compartmentalisation of history. Whether a by-product of their format and medium, or merely by dint of their sheer repetition they act as a stultifying agent that has reinforced the comforting notion that Adolf and his cronies were, and remain, a historical anomaly. An aberration. A closed chapter that we disposed of and bookended with VE day footage of sailors stealing kisses amongst showers of tickertape snow.
This, as we should know, is sadly, maddeningly, and dangerously bullshit. The insidious shadow of fascism never left us, and in our current climate, emboldened as it is by the complicity of a shrinking Overton window, the need to treat it not as a fetid footnote, but as a clear and present danger is a sharpened stick that our somnabulation needs prodded by.
In a medium that is most often an embrace of escapism and the aforementioned historical treatment of social movements, indie upstarts Craft Fair games aren’t afraid to take a sly contemporary swing at things, with the recent crowdfunding success of Gutter Scum, an expansion to their previous smallbox hit Trash Lords. This simple collection of tokens and cards carries greater weight than its physical heft implies, offering the perfect treat for anyone that felt a warm glow when they watched that footage of shitlord Richard Spencer getting his clock cleaned, and perhaps more importantly, offering a reminder that we still need to be vigilant in manning the barricades.
But first, the base game.
Hand cut and assembled at a dimly-lit kitchen table, the origins of Trash Lords mirror its theme with the utmost symmetry. Spiky fonts and hand drawn line-work art recalls the zine aesthetic that emerged from Jamie Reid and Mark Perry’s indelible ransom note iconography – inspiring legions of cut and paste cowboys who created the dialogue and aesthetic of a movement, as it bubbled away in the dank recesses where limelight couldn’t reach.
In other words, it’s punk as fuck.
A competitive set-collection, trick-taking, take-that laden frivolity, it tasks players with assembling the requisite crusty assortment of booze, smokes, snacks and dope to appease the titular Trash Lord in a dumpster/altar offering, as it flies tongue in cheek through glue sniffing tropes with a knowing wink.
Players are tempted to press their luck as they rifle through bins in search of the required refuse to stash at their squat, all the while keeping an eye out for the bovine waddle of uniformed oppressors. Spend too long digging at one site, and Officer Plod will poke his trotters in, snatching your stash and sending you back to square one as you lick your wounds in the squat and write impassioned letters to the lead singer of Echo and the Bunnymen.
Player will be pitted against player as they compete for offerings, initiating a dice-fest combat phase that cribs from early GW in its ‘roll high on a d6’ take on fisticuffs, and whilst not mechanically big or clever it does lift the chain link fence to some awesome table trash talk.
Done and dusted in a tight 30 minutes, this is destined to become THE filler game for groups of a certain allegiance and it achieves what it sets out to do with a scuzzy charm that heightens the whole experience as players embody their inner anarchist and do loads of swearing that mother wouldn’t like.
Throw the Gutter Scum expansion into the mix, however, and selfishness morphs into solidarity, as our crew of crusties link arms in an attempt to block the snaking Charlottesville-esque encroach of the ‘alt-right’, defending the squat from the march of doughy interlocuters, good ole’ boys, jackbooted cunts and pale whataboutists.
Similarly slim in its components, this set does a lot with a little, again using a superlative comic book style to embody both the expanded clique of outcasts and their tightly buttoned, Ben Sherman-clad nemeses, whilst also offering additional mechanics and expanding the playtime into something more robust as befits the stakes at play.
Divided into two phases, the first of which mirrors the original game’s objectives, albeit stripped of its competitive argy-bargy, players are now beset with the new challenge of managing the constant flow of tiki-torch waving sad fucks that threaten to impede their summoning of the Trash Lord.
Spacial control and tactful deployment are paramount as the odious blue-lives-matter crew snake in a rhythmless conga-line loop around the scant selection of locations surrounding the squat, contingent responses becoming increasingly vital once the first phase is complete and our heroes become further imperilled as the assault on the squat commences.
The punching is decidedly more joyous here, even as the mechanism leans towards repetition, given that thematically you’re swinging at thinly veiled analogues of Steve Bannon, Sean Hannity, Richard Spencer and your Dad. Strategic elements rear a welcome head from out of the melee as the players marshal their forces, teaming up to choreograph daring dumpster-dives, ducking and weaving, using hit and run guerrilla tactics as they claim the necessary bounty required to bolster their arsenal before returning to defend the squat lest it become overrun.
It gets tight too, and while there is every possibility you’ll face the demoralising prospect of being bested by an unhygienic shut-in with a Mjolnir tattoo, if you strategise, snarf enough vegan meals from Food-not-Bombs, and stand fast in unison you’ll surely see the final showdown as you lob molotovs in a sweet arc of justice towards their headquarters at 88 Division Street and bask in the flickering flames of redemptive direct action.
It’s wildly cathartic and offers a truly welcome tonal shift from the usual fare of goblins and grognards, temples and traders.
It’s just a game and it won’t change the world, but it might act as both a fun night in and maybe, just maybe, a reminder that you’ve been slacking, that the fight is not done yet, and there’s still much that we can achieve if we team up fearlessly to stare down this ugliest of troglodytes.
Grab a copy of Trash Lords, Gutter Scum, and other cool shit here.
Donate to, or volunteer with Food not Bombs here.