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Subject: Playtesting: Strong game theme or no theme rss

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Werner
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Grimsby
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Hi all,

I've been pondering the following: Will a strong theme attached to a game design influence a playtester's opinion on a game? Is it better to have a full design with weak underlying theme pre-playtest?

What I mean with weak underlying theme is: Some of the cards or game components may be taken from a theme or lend itself to a theme, for example mountain climbing tools. But the game could be about a diffent theme all together, like a spy game where the tools can be used.

With playtesting, the game can work without branding and fixing it to a theme, would this be better?

I've read another thread about putting too much time into designing components for playtesting: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/12474206#12474206

You could have a very nice game but adding a main theme may put off some playtesters?
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Gary Averett
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uh...whose turn is it?
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It depends on what the playtesters are testing for. I would feel like I didn't do a fair job if the theme changed after I playtested unless it was testing for a specific mechanic, trying to break the "engine" or something like checking for an expansion's balance. Even so the theme is important to me.

I think that the designer should have a pretty good idea about what they want in the game before I playtest it. My job as a playtester isn't to design the game, but to test/break/discover things/determine balance/etc.
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Alison Mandible
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A well-done theme can make a game easier to learn; a badly-done one can make it harder. ("Oh, damn, plane travel is free but train travel costs money? I keep forgetting it works that way in this game.")

If you're testing a rulebook and people's ability to learn the game without you helping, you definitely want to also be testing the theme. Even if you're just testing gameplay, though, you probably want it-- if the finished game is easier to learn than the version you tested, you'll have players playing more complex strategies earlier, and you'd have wanted your playtests to reflect that too.
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Chris Hawkins
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When I think of a strong theme, I think of games that were built starting from the theme and then adding mechanics that lend themselves well to it. If you were to strip the theme from such a game, it might be playable, but it would lose a lot of its appeal. When I play Battlestar Galactica, time and again I find myself in situations that make me think, "This is exactly like it was on the show."

On the other hand, if you have a Knizia-like game that is mostly a clever collection of mechanics that could fit any number of themes, then it may not be worth developing any one theme too deeply.
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John "Omega" Williams
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Kentwood
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It can depend on a few factors.

1: The group. Rare, but some may baulk.

2: The stage of playtesting you are in and what you need from the playtesters. If you are testing mechanics then theme can get in the way. If you are testing intigration of theme and mechanics then theme needs to be stronger.

3: How integral the theme is to the gameplay.
 
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Werner
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Grimsby
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Omega2064 wrote:
It can depend on a few factors.

1: The group. Rare, but some may baulk.
I am not familiar with the group as it is for a competition where a body of playtesters will playtest the top candidates. But as you say this should be less of a wory.

Omega2064 wrote:

2: The stage of playtesting you are in and what you need from the playtesters. If you are testing mechanics then theme can get in the way. If you are testing intigration of theme and mechanics then theme needs to be stronger.
Will be mainly mechanics an a theme need not be so prominent.

Omega2064 wrote:

3: How integral the theme is to the gameplay.
This was my problem, I have based my central mechanic on certain aspects that integrates the/a theme into the game. I have now thought of how to decouple theme from the mechanic. And will still work. I think one tend to think of some real life experience or fiction to get inspiration for games and end up designing around the theme.

My question now is: "Will a pure mechanical game with no themed names for resources,cards etc be fun to playtest? And how will it influence the outcome?
 
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