Mechanics are More Important than Theme
Luke Laurie
United States
Santa Maria
California
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Recommend
33 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
This is a list of great games that have solid, interesting, immersive gameplay, and/or allow for dynamic and exciting interactions between players, even though the theme of the game is shallow, optional, or even non-existent. Feel free to add to this list. The list is sorted by average rating.

Some say theme might get them to try a game, but mechanics will be what keeps them coming back.

I recently posted a piece on the League of Gamemakers website entitled
Mechanics are More Important than Theme: http://bit.ly/1kGC4IZ

When talking non-RPG tabletop games, mechanics make the game. Mechanics ARE the game. Themes and components can enhance games and create more immersive experiences, but the core of a game is ultimately the mechanics. If you are a designer, that’s where you should channel the vast majority of your creative energy. In situations where you must choose between preserving your theme and using the most solid, fun mechanics, go with the mechanics.

My Nemesis, and fellow member of the League of Gamemakers, Peter Vaughan has posted an opposing Geeklist: Theme is More Important than Mechanics. He's also posting an opposing blog soon.

Of course thematic games are popular, and can be big sellers - but often the themes they use aren't even designed by the designers themselves - Star Wars, Cthulu, generic science fiction, generic fantasy, etc. I would further argue that the 'feel' of thematic games also originates primarily from the implementation of the game mechanics. When done poorly, there's no theme at all. When done well, the theme comes alive.
Your Tags: Add tags
Popular Tags: [View All]
  • [+] Dice rolls
1. Board Game: The Castles of Burgundy [Average Rating:8.13 Overall Rank:16]
Luke Laurie
United States
Santa Maria
California
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
What a solid game. So many interesting ways in which you can shift strategies and try to gain an edge. Subtle yet intriguing player interaction. Balancing of short and long term strategies. Mechanics that force you to shift strategies midway- not letting you ride a single strategy start to finish.

The clever mechanics ensure that you always have something to do on your turn.

And it has a theme - there are castles and boats I think on the tiles.
13 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
2. Board Game: Puerto Rico [Average Rating:8.03 Overall Rank:22]
Peter Vaughan
United States
California
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Ok Luke, I'll play along. And as the OP of "Theme is More Important Than Mechanics" geeklist, it's ironic that my favorite game of all time is on THIS list.

Puerto Rico is not the game that got me into gaming, but probably the game that spurred my interest in game design and analysis more than any other.

I couldn't get this game to the table enough, so a couple years ago I found a website running play-by-email and essentially played PR everyday, multiple games at a time, for at least a year. Brad Brooks (another esteemed member of the League of Gamemakers) was in a lot of those matches - and probably some of the most enjoyable gaming I've had. The game only got deeper and more interesting every time, and I can say without a doubt - it had nothing to do with theme at all.

11 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
3. Board Game: Dominant Species [Average Rating:7.85 Overall Rank:51]
Luke Laurie
United States
Santa Maria
California
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Not really one shred of evolution by natural selection in this game. There is war between creatures sure, and they can get bizarre traits, but this game is primarily about the mechanics - the dense layering combinations of worker placement, area control, and tile laying. A fascinating game.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
4. Board Game: Trajan [Average Rating:7.78 Overall Rank:74]
Luke Laurie
United States
Santa Maria
California
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Mancala-Based Action selection. 6 mini games tied to each of the six action options. What an amazing game. Oh, yes, and a theme about Rome too.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
5. Board Game: Lords of Waterdeep [Average Rating:7.76 Overall Rank:54]
Luke Laurie
United States
Santa Maria
California
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I have tried calling the cubes fighters, and rogues and stuff, and reading the titles of quests, but that lasts about 5 minutes before everyone starts saying "I spend 2 orange, and 3 white to complete this Piety quest."

Really? I recruit and then some how consume heroes? They look like cubes.

Sure there's art- but once you get playing… Could almost have any theme.

Nonetheless, it's a tight game, and a great intro to worker placement for the newbies and kids.
5 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
6. Board Game: Tigris & Euphrates [Average Rating:7.71 Overall Rank:72]
Luke Laurie
United States
Santa Maria
California
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Great game. Thematically very abstract. Could be almost any theme.
7 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
7. Board Game: Dominion [Average Rating:7.64 Overall Rank:75] [Average Rating:7.64 Unranked]
Luke Laurie
United States
Santa Maria
California
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Dominion and its expansions is the king of deck builders and has only 1 calorie of theme. It is superior to every theme-heavy deck builder that has tried to improve upon it.
9 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
8. Board Game: Carcassonne [Average Rating:7.42 Overall Rank:157] [Average Rating:7.42 Unranked]
Luke Laurie
United States
Santa Maria
California
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Largely abstract tile laying game. The tiles could be networks, the surface of mars, it wouldn't make a lot of difference.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
9. Board Game: Ars Victor [Average Rating:7.33 Overall Rank:4930]
Luke Laurie
United States
Santa Maria
California
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Ars Victor is the one-hour boardgame. It has solid mechanics. The units could be retimed to a variety of different settings, but the game would retain immersive tension-building gameplay.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
10. Board Game: Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia [Average Rating:7.28 Overall Rank:345]
Peter Vaughan
United States
California
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Euphoria is an interesting coin flip to me. I hestitate to put it in theme, despite it having a very rich and interesting and different story than you see in most games. (The location names alone are funny and macbre, and all of the unique civilizations give it great flavor).

Every time I have experienced the game though, it seems to me that the interesting mechanics come out and shine more. The dice as workers stands out, and is very innovative. The idea that the workers need to be "kept down" in their brain stat and get to hold more cards with their heart stat is fun and full of theme, but really the meters and resources could be reskinned to any type, which boils down to the engine at work which is interesting.

Does anyone think I put it in the wrong geeklist?
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
11. Board Game: Catan [Average Rating:7.18 Overall Rank:332] [Average Rating:7.18 Unranked]
Luke Laurie
United States
Santa Maria
California
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Settlers of Catan. "I've got wood for your sheep" is the depth of the theme. Easily re-skinned because the game isn't really about the theme. Nonetheless a fabulously addictive and hugely popular game.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
12. Board Game: Chess [Average Rating:7.10 Overall Rank:430] [Average Rating:7.10 Unranked]
Luke Laurie
United States
Santa Maria
California
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Wargame? I think not.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
13. Board Game: Kingdom Builder [Average Rating:6.98 Overall Rank:502]
Luke Laurie
United States
Santa Maria
California
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
14. Board Game: Stones of Fate [Average Rating:6.64 Overall Rank:6294]
Peter Vaughan
United States
California
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
This is a very fun, light strategy game - area control and memory mechanics define your moves, but then within that is deeper player interaction that is very high and satisfying. It is in fact a Luke Laurie game (the OP), so I will say it for him - it fits his own list well.

Now, it does have a theme, and Luke and the publisher Cosmic Wombat Games have done a good job since funding on KS in terms of integrating the mystical tarot card theme, which is very unique. However, the tarot card theme might have inspired some flavor in special abilities, but it definitely takes a secondary presence to the game mechanics. Since I appreciate mechanics as much as theme, I can dig it.



3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
15. Board Game: Abstracts [Average Rating:6.34 Unranked]
Luke Laurie
United States
Santa Maria
California
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I've never heard of this game, but I put it here to include the ENTIRE CATEGORY OF ABSTRACT GAMES! So many great abstract games and not a shred of theme between them.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
16. Board Game Designer: Stefan Feld
David Debien
United States
Round Rock
Texas
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Next!
7 
 Thumb up
0.05
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
17. Board Game Designer: Reiner Knizia
Matt Brown
United States
Okemos
Michigan
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Dry as hell themes but wonderful gameplay often through sparse rules considering the depth of the game.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}