Theme is more important than mechanics
Peter Vaughan
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The classic age-old debate rages on between theme and mechanics. Not sure if "THEME" is the chicken, and "MECHANICS" the egg, or the other way around, but you know this one...

Most discussions on this topic end with a reasonable, "either" or "both" or "it's the experience!". That's all fine and well, but we're going to pretend for this geeklist that we're in a world where you can only have one winner, and the winner we're interested in is theme. Every game, even if it's in a perfect 50/50 state of balance and a coin flip - we're looking for the ones that land theme-side up.

The goal is a list that captures all the titles where theme is the superior force. (Even if the theme is saturated beyond the point of being a good game, which we recognize can happen as well).

I'm going to start it off with 10 examples. Feel free to add to it. It's inspiration for at least one blog post at the League of Gamemakers (www.leagueofgamemakers.com) http://bit.ly/1ipUlQn - thanks in advance for your help!
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1. Board Game: Arkham Horror [Average Rating:7.28 Overall Rank:277] [Average Rating:7.28 Unranked]
Peter Vaughan
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There are a few reasons I choose to play Arkham Horror, and it's not for the balance in mechanics. It's for the insanity, the camaraderie, the storytelling, the player-agency, the wild idea that maybe, just maybe, this time we can win. Theme is so strong it's at the detriment of this title (in my opinion), but if you enjoy it at all, it's due to theme!
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2. Board Game: Betrayal at House on the Hill [Average Rating:7.08 Overall Rank:470]
Peter Vaughan
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Another horror genre choice. I'm betting that most horror games are going to come down on theme first. Betrayal is rich with theme from the description you give to the new players that are about to begin, evoking a classic movie plot "a group of us goes into a haunted house, splits up (noooooo!), and then at some point - one of us turns evil, and tries to kill everyone else!"

Who cares if every (any?) of the scenarios end up in a balanced game. It's about the fun. It's about a house that can come alive, or turn into a black hole, or spawn fire bats. Whatever! Theme wins!
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3. Board Game: Mice and Mystics [Average Rating:7.36 Overall Rank:259] [Average Rating:7.36 Unranked]
Peter Vaughan
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Ok, Mice as heroes have been the subject of stories, but seriously - did anyone see this one game coming before Plaid Hat Games so brilliantly captured these rich characters?

The cheese is adorable, the cards/board all beautiful. Every aspect of this game is drenched in the theme and fits the purpose of the journey/story. The mechanics follow - how to get out of a moving river, how to use a fork and grape in battle vs a cat. Theme wins the day in a big way here.
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4. Board Game: Tales of the Arabian Nights [Average Rating:7.22 Overall Rank:365]
Peter Vaughan
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Tales of the Arabian Nights is a game I want to love, mostly due to the theme and the bold attempt to make a game with a manual that size and so many pieces and cards I might never see the same exact combo. It's not entirely working, but I know theme wins here.

It's winning mechanism (similar to careers) is really just picking a value on two tracks, and the rest (including how to succeed at that) is buried in the sands of theme. If you roll with it, play with only a few players who know how to have a laugh, you can suspend disbelief and enjoy the magic ride.
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5. Board Game: Viticulture [Average Rating:7.64 Overall Rank:151]
Peter Vaughan
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Viticulture is probably one of the rare WP games that can be included here. I love the cube pushers, don't get me wrong, but most of them are deliberate in the use of the math, and in the end, the pieces are just means to that end.

Viticulture somehow captures a slow, comfortable pacing, as if you're enjoying a sip of good wine. It makes you aware of all the steps that go into wine-making, not in a simulation sense, but in an experience that balances well the theme and the function. In a coin flip, I think the theme is so rich here that this game deserves to come down on this side.
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6. Board Game: Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island [Average Rating:7.90 Overall Rank:44]
Peter Vaughan
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I bought this game for theme and for the rich designer diary shared by Ignacy. I was sold instantly on the idea of a morale track that is shared by all, or story cards that, when risked, come back to play a part in the adventure later.

It's a beautiful collection of scenarios that feature plug and play mechanics based on the conditions dictated in the story. The island feels hopeless (well actually I've beat it more than I wanted to happen), but nevertheless, I am sucked into this theme.
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7. Board Game: BANG! [Average Rating:6.52 Overall Rank:1152]
Peter Vaughan
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I know this is not everyone's favorite game, but it's one of mine. It's an easy sell to my new gamer friends - it's the wild west. Sheriff and the deputies vs the outlaws and a renegade wants to be the last one standing. We only know who the sheriff is - all the other motives are unclear. There's guns, beer, barrels, horses, dynamite - all the classic spaghetti western elements are in play. Heck, don't worry about the rules right now, let's just jump in.

I actually have a lot of appreciation for how often the variable powers and mechanics fire in interesting ways while playing, and yet, I'm never really thinking about that. I'm thinking about who is acting like the outlaw, and enjoying the shoot out and duels at high noon, all while listening to Ennio Morricone in the background...
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8. Board Game: Twilight Imperium (Third Edition) [Average Rating:7.86 Overall Rank:56]
 
Peter Vaughan
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I have actually not played this one (gasp!). I just know that from everything I have heard, something this epic has to come down on the side of theme. Otherwise, why would anyone immerse themselves in it for hours on end?

If I am wrong here, and it's all about the mechanics, correct me and I'll take it down. But I trust that someone will describe the ways in which this deserves to be in this list.
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9. Board Game: King of Tokyo [Average Rating:7.22 Overall Rank:265]
Peter Vaughan
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This was a tough choice for me, because it's such a small and simple game, packed with fun in a short time that the theme and the mechanics are both light fillers.

However, I argue that this is squarely theme first - players bake in the backstory about how their cyberbunny overtook Tokyo and landed that critical punch to The King... or grabbed fire-breathing and a pair of wings to become the unstoppable victor. It's not about the 1s, 2s and 3s rolled, it's about epic conquest. And the expansion pours in even more character flavor. This game is light, but I think brought to the table for theme.
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10. Board Game: Talisman (Revised 4th Edition) [Average Rating:6.54 Overall Rank:1323]
Peter Vaughan
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Who can explain the passionate fans of Talisman? Surely, they can't be there for the rolling around the board or combat mechanics. It's those epic items, right? It's the ancient relics, the archetypes, the build to a climax!

Yep, theme all the way. So says the crown of command!
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11. Board Game: Zombicide [Average Rating:7.20 Overall Rank:405] [Average Rating:7.20 Unranked]
RJ Garrison
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Cincinnati
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Horribly written, difficult to decipher rulebook, fairly simple mechanics once you figure out the rules, fun, awesome zombie-slaying action. What the first Walking Dead Series Board Game should have been. (Though I'm told they released a better Walking Dead Board Game.)
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12. Board Game: Power Grid [Average Rating:7.89 Overall Rank:34]
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Possibly a cheat for the list, since the mechanics ARE the theme.

Nobody looks at the box and goes, 'ah, I bet that'll be a light little time filler.'
No! They expect, and get, different fuels, marketplace shenanigans, the nuclear option and the sense of feeling like a real manager trying to make the sums add up.

Take the theme away, and ask anyone to tackle this game as an abstract they'd laugh. The theme creates the game experience that allows the mechanics to work.
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13. Board Game: Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game [Average Rating:7.74 Overall Rank:66]
Luke Laurie
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Santa Maria
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All right Peter, I'll play along!

In Battlestar Galactica, you really get the feeling of the grey-morality of the TV show. There are no good choices or good outcomes, only some that are less harmful. The tension that builds over who is a traitor and why certain actions take place is what really drives this game.

That said, all of these experiences are fueled by the mechanics (as with all the other games on this list). In fact, I've played Battlestar with many people who are unfamiliar with the show. For them, the mechanics, components, and integrated thematic elements still enable them to have the same kind of game experience.

I still contend that Mechanics are More Important then Theme
http://www.leagueofgamemakers.com/mechanics-are-more-importa...

But Theme most certainly helps create a strong immersive experience for some games.
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14. Board Game: Chaosmos [Average Rating:6.98 Overall Rank:2369]
Peter Vaughan
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In the words of designer Joey Vigour, "Theme first: Always and forever!"

Chaosmos is the passionate product of a team who believes in the power of mythos. Chaosmos is something new - it has mechanics that haven't been done or combined before, but all playing to the theme, and the experience.
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15. Board Game: Eclipse [Average Rating:7.93 Overall Rank:40]
Greg Gresik
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Bolingbrook
IL
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Yeah, I have heard people say it's a Euro dressed up in a space theme. I've also read reviews that talk about the great mechanic as related to economy - and that's true...in fact, the mechanic works so well - so smoothly integrated, that in-game, all I feel is theme.

I am upgrading, expanding my space empire - battling it out with enemy dreadnaughts, building starbases, discovering ancient technology (usually by destroying ancient ships!)

Once this one gets rolling - it's simply an epic space adventure.

With dice.

Oh well, it was almost perfect.
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16. Board Game: Freedom: The Underground Railroad [Average Rating:7.60 Overall Rank:343]
Norv Brooks
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PASADENA
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The mechanics of the slaves race to Canada and the slave catchers relentless seeking the slaves are simple mechanics that fit in nicely in the game and are very important to game play; however, there would be no need for the slaves to race to Canada and no reason for the slave catchers to chase after them if not for the theme. The slave market, plantation capacity & Abolitionist support are also theme driven and are integral to the game.
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17. Board Game Publisher: Numbskull Games
eric hogan
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Salem
Oregon
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All of Numbskull's titles are saturated with theme. Like the post about Powergrid, they are integrated throughout the mechanics.
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18. Board Game: Camp Grizzly [Average Rating:7.40 Overall Rank:2344]
MoonSylver
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Columbus
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Out of most, if not all, of my favorite games, your criteria would probably hold true, but none probably more so than this one.

Nothing really new or "innovative" for the most part. Mechanically you've probably seen it all many times.

And it doesn't need anything else. It does what it sets out to do (simulate an 80's style Slasher film) & does it DAMN well!
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19. Board Game: Lost Valley: The Yukon Goldrush 1896 [Average Rating:6.82 Overall Rank:2814]
Joe Salamone
United States
Billerica
Massachusetts
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A quest for gold in a world that includes trading posts, horses, carts, rifles, animal traps, flumes, whiskey (which gives you the strength to go on!), and dynamite.
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20. Board Game: Gay Monopoly [Average Rating:4.21 Overall Rank:16551]
Kevin Brown
United States
Macon
Georgia
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Without the theme, it's just Monopoly.
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21. Board Game: Ca$h 'n Gun$ [Average Rating:6.60 Overall Rank:1030]
Julian Cullop
Oman
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I may have misunderstood the criteria but it strikes me that this wouldn't be the same game if you were pointing carrots at each other.
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22. Board Game: Zpocalypse [Average Rating:6.12 Overall Rank:4952]
Phillip Edwards
United States
Carrollton
Texas
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This one is definitely more theme than mechanics. Rules need a few house rules but it's an enjoyable horror survival game.
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23. Board Game: Firefly: The Game [Average Rating:7.39 Overall Rank:294]
Bob Hansen
United States
Menomonee Falls
Wisconsin
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The actual game, if you just look at the mechanics of it, isn't the greatest. It's not horrible. It's maybe cold fries bad?

If you are at all a fan of the Firefly series, however, then this game hits a home run. I love this game and the only reason I love it is the rich theme in the game.
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24. Board Game: The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game [Average Rating:7.64 Overall Rank:113] [Average Rating:7.64 Unranked]
Rob Rob
United States
Tampa
Florida
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Yes it's a LCG. Yes it's a deck builder. But it's solidly based on a solidly written world, heroes and allies have traits true to the world and it's amazing how consistently thematic the designers can make the card mechanics of each expansion. Boating down the river while watching enemies build up along the banks, gathering clues to find Gollum, rescuing a captive hero, the lull before the storm (of giants), all very thematic and tense. My favorite example is the mud viper(?) which has no defense, low attack and only two HP but if it does penetrate your armor it kills you immediately.
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25. Board Game: Pax Porfiriana [Average Rating:7.67 Overall Rank:436]
Clinton Sattler
United States
Knoxville
Tennessee
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This is one of those games where the story arc of your character can create a very satisfying experience. I shamelessly refer to my session report to give you a feel for what I am talking about (Link Here).

The mechanics can be a little klunky, as there are some nuances to the rules, but once you start in, things start to make sense within the time and place of the game.

As my gaming partner has become more experienced, it the gameplay itself has felt more and more thematic. One has to keep their true intentions somewhat murky and keep diligent in trying to determine your opponent true intentions.
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