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Subject: What does Theme in a board game do for you? rss

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Boaty McBoatface
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Sod all, it's the game play that matters.
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Enrico Viglino
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Theme means nothing to me. It is ALWAYS pasted on.

Other terms apply to addressing a topic correctly.

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Dave Shapiro
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A good game with a bad theme (Rex) is still a good game.

A bad game with a good theme (Nero) is still a bad game.
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J C Lawrence
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jvdv wrote:
What does Theme in a board game do for you?
Theme provides a convenient source of nouns and verbs to use to explain a game to a new player. After that it is quite properly ignored and forgotten.
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Tomello Visello
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clearclaw wrote:
jvdv wrote:
What does Theme in a board game do for you?
Theme provides a convenient source of nouns and verbs to use to explain a game to a new player. After that it is quite properly ignored and forgotten.
I say that on an onoing basis it can help provide a framework for remembering how all those nouns move and interact.

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Jacq L
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I like Theme a lot. I enjoy narrative and immersion in most of the media I consume (from board and video games to books to movies, etc). If the theme is boring or feels "pasted on" (or, worse, actually seems at odds with some of the mechanics), I just can't get into it. I definately base my game purchases on whether I like/enjoy the theme.

Though I guess I like abstract games (Go, for example), but I think "no theme" is something that can also be done well or badly. It's a bit of a weird example, but I can imagine not liking a rebranded Chess set where all the rules were reworded to be "thematic", if I had never played the game before. ("Why does Scooby-Doo only move diagonally?" etc).
qrux wrote:
A good game with a bad theme (Rex) is still a good game.

A bad game with a good theme (Nero) is still a bad game.
But I'll still play a bad game with a good theme at least once, usually twice.

I won't play a good game with a bad theme more than once.
~

I'd like to ask people to give examples of good game/bad theme, or bad theme/good game. I'm curious!
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Charlie Theel
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Theme draws me in and gets me excited. Mechanics make me stay.
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J C Lawrence
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The general value of topic for me is that it gives (by derivation) a strong hint as to the attitude of the game, specifically where it sits on the balance of subjective experience and intellectual engagement. ie how serious the game is.
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Monica Elida Forssell
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charlest wrote:
Theme draws me in and gets me excited. Mechanics make me stay.
Ditto. I go for historic themes, especially ancient history. But mechanics has just as much to say. Give me an ancient civilization game any day!
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Tomello Visello
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charlest wrote:
Theme draws me in and gets me excited. Mechanics make me stay.
a good theme can help me relate to the mechanisms

a thinly related theme doesn't stop me from enjoying the game

a theme I dislike will indeed stop me from even bothering to investigate.

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Dan
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I play games for escapism. Theme gets me in the correct mindset.

If I were role-playing more, I'd play less themed boardgames. If you are just playing a game for raw points... eh... it'd better be a GREAT game.
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Gary Tanner
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Theme is one of the most important things in a game for me. An okay game with a good theme is a good game to me. A good game with an okay theme is an okay game to me.

It has to be a theme I'm interested in, but the theme will usually sell the game for me. I can overlook some bad rules/mechanics if the theme is good enough (besides, there's always houserules).
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I stab your meeple in its face
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qrux wrote:
A good game with a bad theme (Rex) is still a good game.

A bad game with a good theme (Nero) is still a bad game.
I'd agree with the latter (I don't think anybody actually seriously claims that they'd play a game for theme alone).

But the former is a substandard game in my book. Good mechanics with good theme is a good game. A game that fails to implement both competently isn't as good as that.

Note that I'm not including abstracts in this. Choosing not to implement a theme is a very different thing then doing so poorly.
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Samo Oleami
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It's great when one of my geekbuddies opens a good discussion.

I'd say first there are two different things:
1) What is the theme in a specific boardgame meant to do? What is it's function?
2) What kind of investement in theme do I desire as a player?
When these two click, there's a great gaming session for me, but there's many options.

1. What's the theme there to do:
Theme and graphic design and illustration tend to go hand in hand as in many cases they're trying to accomplish the same task.

A) In every game it tries to do this: interest you in buying the game and maybe also playing it, but mostly the former. This is an emotional part of product to customer communication which is so commonplace in current consumer society we often forget it's there. Everything that gets you emotionally exited without even playing the game fits here: minis, minis and more minis, "gorgeous" illustrations, attractive theme and so on.
J Mays (head of Ford's design department): »Design is nothing more than a communications tool. To bend the sheet metal in such a way that it communicates the values of the brand and pulls the customers in, makes them reach in their wallet, pull out the money and pay for the car./.../ They ask me if kinetic design has a function, yes a function of kinetic design is to put a smile on your face"

B) In euros or at least in the best type of euros as far as theme integration goes theme is used together with graphic design as a part of user's interface. The function of user interface is to make the game easier to learn and easy to play. In graphic design means easy to read information which can be at odds with demands for emotional response (lavish illustrations). In theme this means going for intuitive angle making a link between how the game works and something from real world. Ideal response from gamers would be "yes, this makes sense". In Power Grid for example the flow of the game is intuitive (buy power plant, buy fuel, build network, burn the fuel in power plants to supply the network and get money) which makes game easy to get into relative to how complex it actually is.

C) Allowing investment in the game, usually narrative or emotional investment(which is different from A which is getting emotional response). There are many levels of this, from having a sense of progression (dramaturgy) in a game, to owning a faction or building something to offering full thematic immersion. In full immersion the game will use either narrative (more textual and based on actions) or atmosphere (more visual and emotive) to create an environment in which a player can feel or imagine a story in their mind. The narrative part of it works similar to reading a book where you're investing by filling in blanks. The emotional part is there to support this by giving you tangible material to work with.
This level demands a player that know how to and is interested in investing in a game in such a way.
(There are also games about social investment, but these are not so linked to the theme, so I skipped them).

2. What I want from a game in relation to theme.

I'm a specific gamer. I have professional deformation. Namely I'm an active audience - I can't really watch mainstream films or go into theatre as I can't be force fed, either I'm bored or I feel I'm emotionally manipulated (the main type of investment in realistic theatre/film is emotional identification with protagonist(s) and I'm not into doing this). I prefer media where I am allowed (and often required) to make investment in the "reception" process which becomes more of a dialogue. Contemporary theatre, dance and also literature allow me this.

Problem is when it comes to games: my mind is so versed in making trains of thought and associations which are required from audience in contemporary art that I'm doing this spontaneously. The problem arises is when my mind encounters something that makes no sense. I don't mind games with no theme (even if they're pictured to have one, but are basically abstracts), but if a game attempts a theme and it will make no sense in relation to gameplay or how it feels to play the game, my mind become thoroughly agitated and upset. It's like believing you found a being able of communication only to realise the damn machine does not communicate.

I don't need a game to have a theme, especially if the game is very socially interactive, yet I can't play a game with bad theme implementation (where theme makes no sense).

Added: As far as theme goes, I don't mind what the theme is as long as it's implemented well. Farming? No problem. Corrupting human kind? No problem.
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calandale wrote:
Theme means nothing to me. It is ALWAYS pasted on.
This statement is pferde-apfels in extremis...saying it enough times may convince yourself but it doesn't make it true.

My design for Snowdonia STARTED with reading about the physical thing and its history and spawned design critera to reflect the whole story:
- I needed a weather system to reflect Welsh weather (rain, some sun and fog)
- Teams of workers
- Trains to help transport men and materials to the latest 'bit'
- the speed of construction overall (72 days for 4 miles of track...on the side of a Welsh mountain!)

The solution, in game mechanic terms, were
- integrating random weather, with some advance knowledge, into the main system
- worker placement (obvs) AND the semi-cooperative nature of play reflecting the teams working together to complete the railway
- Trains you could build and use for 'free/extra' actions
- the Event system that means the game plays itself if the players stall/hold on to stuff thus keeping the pace going
..and a whole bunch of other bits and pieces.

Theme is the genesis of this game, NOT an abstract system for which I needed to find a pseudo match for. I know whereof I speak in this matter and I'm also humble enough to know that I'm not the FIRST person to design a game this way nor will I be the last.

(breathes)
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Samo Oleami
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calandale wrote:
Theme means nothing to me. It is ALWAYS pasted on.
It far more interesting to question what does the theme do. What does it produce?

For instance a very abstracted game like Modern Art. The game is just 5 types of auctions with some partnerships forming every round. The theme is actually just put on top, yet it creates something more than just the sum of parts. I'm talking about the original theme which I find fits the mechanics best - buying and selling contemporary ("modern") art. With this theme the game functions as a sort of social commentary or sarcasm as it's a wide spread attitude that nobody understands what is the value of contemporary art - the game's play supports this a the value of pieces are player generated (what sells more is valued more which also a neat tautology and a commentary on free market). As many editions and even more home made version have proven the game can work with any theme (that's about auctioning something that can be collected in sets) with no problems, yet it's the modern art theme that creates something more. And that's interested. Even if (or precisely because) it's pasted on.
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Les Marshall
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Simply put, theme is an essential component for me to truly enjoy a non abstract game. I've sold more than one game for either failing to design mechanics that complement the theme or had nothing whatsover to do with it's theme.

Despite my preferences, large numbers of folks disagree. Consequently poorly themed games continue to claim market share. Richly themed games get produced. Life goes on and the markets operate.
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jeremy cobert
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without an interesting theme then I am just efficiently pushing cubes of wood around.
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J C Lawrence
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tonyboydell wrote:
calandale wrote:
Theme means nothing to me. It is ALWAYS pasted on.
This statement is pferde-apfels in extremis...saying it enough times may convince yourself but it doesn't make it true.
It doesn't make it false either.

Quote:
My design for Snowdonia STARTED with reading about the physical thing and its history and spawned design critera to reflect the whole story:
Most of my designs start with an abstract problem. Mechanisms came next and theme comes (and came) fifth or seventeenth or thirty fourth or something and is tossed out and replaced as often as necessary to suit whatever the game has currently evolved to.

Quote:
I know whereof I speak in this matter and I'm also humble enough to know that I'm not the FIRST person to design a game this way nor will I be the last.
Not everyone designs games that way. I'm glad you do, but I don't.
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J C Lawrence
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sgosaric wrote:
calandale wrote:
Theme means nothing to me. It is ALWAYS pasted on.
It far more interesting to question what does the theme do. What does it produce?
Convenient nouns and verbs to use when learning or explaining the game. Theme assists initial intellectual digestion.
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Enrico Viglino
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jvdv wrote:
What does Topic in a board game do for you?, I asked the question.
Topic justifies complexity. Unless a game is simulating something,
to some degree, I prefer my games to be simple. But, topic weakly
applied (as euros tend to), or worse, inappropriately linked to
the mechanisms of play is totally worthless to me. I want to be
able to obtain some sort of understanding of the topic through
playing the game - not out of any 'betterment', but because I
want a story which holds up to my skepticism.
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Enrico Viglino
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Abiezer Coppe wrote:
qrux wrote:
A good game with a bad theme (Rex) is still a good game.

A bad game with a good theme (Nero) is still a bad game.
I'd agree with the latter (I don't think anybody actually seriously claims that they'd play a game for theme alone).
I will (sometimes) work my ass off trying to fix (or complete) a broken
design based upon its subject matter. So yes, as you use theme, I would
say I've done this.
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Maarten D. de Jong
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jvdv wrote:
I am curious: What does Theme in a board game do for you?
Apart from avoiding obfuscated mathematical language to explain the rules of a game (which in all likelihood all but a few people would not understand), absolutely nothing. Basically in agreement with JC (and Enrico, after having sat through his... topical... lecture featuring a recalcitrant pipe).

Were I to treat the subject as something to immerse myself in, I very, very quickly run into the problem that my imagination is more extensive than that of the designer, and thus curtailed. Even with RPGs this would at some point become an issue, because most RPGs are—as I understand it—gauntlet runs set out by the DM. The result is that I simply don't bother exercising my imagination when playing games.

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Enrico Viglino
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tonyboydell wrote:
calandale wrote:
Theme means nothing to me. It is ALWAYS pasted on.
This statement is pferde-apfels in extremis...saying it enough times may convince yourself but it doesn't make it true.
Obviously, you didn't bother to watch the supporting argument.

The word is misused here. That simple.
Quote:

My design for Snowdonia STARTED with reading about the physical thing and its history and spawned design critera to reflect the whole story:
- I needed a weather system to reflect Welsh weather (rain, some sun and fog)
- Teams of workers
- Trains to help transport men and materials to the latest 'bit'
- the speed of construction overall (72 days for 4 miles of track...on the side of a Welsh mountain!)

The solution, in game mechanic terms, were
- integrating random weather, with some advance knowledge, into the main system
- worker placement (obvs) AND the semi-cooperative nature of play reflecting the teams working together to complete the railway
- Trains you could build and use for 'free/extra' actions
- the Event system that means the game plays itself if the players stall/hold on to stuff thus keeping the pace going
..and a whole bunch of other bits and pieces.

Sounds like you were designing to a topic. Nothing to do with theme.

Quote:
Theme is the genesis of this game
Misuse of the word. Again.


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For those cranky misanthropes who think theme is pointless, here's a choice for you:

Choice A:
The listed numeric modifiers of small half-inch cardboard square #1, added to a d6 die-roll, will be compared to the listed numeric modifiers of small half-inch cardboard square #2, both being modified by the inherently assigned values of hexagonally bordered map-portion #552.

Choice B:
John Bell Hood attacks Strong Vincent at Little Round Top.

So which will it be?

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