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Subject: theme schmeme.... bring on the spreadsheet! rss

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patrick somers
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Hey hey, just curious if anyone else doesnt really care about themes. Ill play "cube pusher: the spreadsheet" if the mechanisms are good.

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Bryan Thunkd
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I want to love you... but the zombie username is undermining everything you say.
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C Bazler
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I don't mind if a theme is flimsily pasted on, but I don't think I would play "Cubepusher: the Spreadsheet" if it was an abstract game with just cubes, numbers, and mechanics.

Theme, to me, is important only insofar that it explains mechanics. When I taught Trajan to new players a couple of months ago, for example, we were all laughing at how stupid and meaningless the Roman theme was, but it was incredibly helpful in getting them to visualize and remember the areas of the board and the available actions: workers build on one part of the board, solders move across another, senators on another, etc.

There is a reason that Eurogames are so popular on BGG while abstract games are not: having a theme makes mechanics more transparent and accessible to most people.
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cbazler wrote:
I don't mind if a theme is flimsily pasted on, but I don't think I would play "Cubepusher: the Spreadsheet" if it was an abstract game with just cubes, numbers, and mechanics.

Theme, to me, is important only insofar that it explains mechanics. When I taught Trajan to new players a couple of months ago, for example, we were all laughing at how stupid and meaningless the Roman theme was, but it was incredibly helpful in getting them to visualize and remember the areas of the board and the available actions: workers build on one part of the board, solders move across another, senators on another, etc.

There is a reason that Eurogames are so popular on BGG while abstract games are not: having a theme makes mechanics more transparent and accessible to most people.

Err not really.

Euros are popular because they're closest to solo games without random elements, so linear thinkers can 'learn' them.

Most abstracts are much much more mechanically transparent and accessible than every euro loved on here.
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C Bazler
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lamaros wrote:
Most abstracts are much much more mechanically transparent and accessible than every euro loved on here.

Yes, but that's because the mechanics of abstract games need to be very elegant and streamlined to be learned and remembered. If, for example, Agricola were an abstract game, with all of the various actions being just colors and spaces, the rules would be impossible to follow or remember.
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Bryan Thunkd
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cbazler wrote:
lamaros wrote:
Most abstracts are much much more mechanically transparent and accessible than every euro loved on here.

Yes, but that's because the mechanics of abstract games need to be very elegant and streamlined to be learned and remembered. If, for example, Agricola were an abstract game, with all of the various actions being just colors and spaces, the rules would be impossible to follow or remember.
Compare this:
You need to go to the clay spot and stone spot to gather clay and stone. Then you need to go to the improvement spot to build an oven with your clay and stone. Then you need to go to the wheat spot to gather wheat. Then you need to go to the sow and bake spot to make bread which can be used to feed your family.

...to this:
You need to go to the A4 square and the B6 square to gather cylinders and cones. Then you need to go to the E8 square to build a pyramid with your cylinders and cones. Then you need to go to the A1 square to get a sphere. Then you need to go to F4 square to make a cube which can be used to avoid losing points.



Quick! What is the E8 square used for? What do you need to build a sphere?

Theme provides a framework in which we can think about the mechanics of a game in a way that our brains can process easier.
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Thunkd wrote:
cbazler wrote:
lamaros wrote:
Most abstracts are much much more mechanically transparent and accessible than every euro loved on here.

Yes, but that's because the mechanics of abstract games need to be very elegant and streamlined to be learned and remembered. If, for example, Agricola were an abstract game, with all of the various actions being just colors and spaces, the rules would be impossible to follow or remember.
Compare this:
You need to go to the clay spot and stone spot to gather clay and stone. Then you need to go to the improvement spot to build an oven with your clay and stone. Then you need to go to the wheat spot to gather wheat. Then you need to go to the sow and bake spot to make bread which can be used to feed your family.

...to this:
You need to go to the A4 square and the B6 square to gather cylinders and cones. Then you need to go to the E8 square to build a pyramid with your cylinders and cones. Then you need to go to the A1 square to get a sphere. Then you need to go to F4 square to make a cube which can be used to avoid losing points.



Quick! What is the E8 square used for? What do you need to build a sphere?

Theme provides a framework in which we can think about the mechanics of a game in a way that our brains can process easier.

Sure, but does that have anything to do with the quote I was addressing?

"There is a reason that Eurogames are so popular on BGG while abstract games are not: having a theme makes mechanics more transparent and accessible to most people."

Nope.

The reason for Eurogame popularity on here has nothing to do with their (attempts at) theme.
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patrick somers
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I'm always irked when someone says "it's a good game but the theme is just pasted on or not really there"... Does that really make it less of a good game or just not as good as it could've been??
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zombie plumber wrote:
I'm always irked when someone says "it's a good game but the theme is just pasted on or not really there"... Does that really make it less of a good game or just not as good as it could've been??

For some games, yep. Is Dune improved by having thematic and mechanical balance, where Rex does not? Yes.

Is Rex still a great game? Absolutely. Would it be better under the Dune license? No doubt at all.

On the other hand, I'd much rather play Go than nearly half of the Euro's people love on here, and don't care at all about the theme. Because it's just a much better strategy game.

On the third hand (yep) I'd enjoy a game of War of the Ring over Go every now and then because it's thematically engaging and still a good game.
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Bryan Thunkd
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lamaros wrote:
Sure, but does that have anything to do with the quote I was addressing?

"There is a reason that Eurogames are so popular on BGG while abstract games are not: having a theme makes mechanics more transparent and accessible to most people."

Nope.
My point was that theme makes the mechanics more accessible. I think the OP misspoke when he used the word transparent... I think he perhaps meant that it was easier to understand the mechanics when they were integrated with theme.
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Enrico Viglino
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I like games where you have to fill out spreadsheets.

I don't like games without an attachment to their subject matter though.
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Pieter
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lamaros wrote:
cbazler wrote:
There is a reason that Eurogames are so popular on BGG while abstract games are not: having a theme makes mechanics more transparent and accessible to most people.

Err not really.

Euros are popular because they're closest to solo games without random elements, so linear thinkers can 'learn' them.

Most abstracts are much much more mechanically transparent and accessible than every euro loved on here.
Far, FAR too much of a simplification. And the lightly hidden insult shows prejudice, I am sorry to say.

I love me some abstract games. The problem is that when I play Go, which is a fabulous and beautiful game, I get wiped off the board by most opponents. The big abstract games have been studied in such depth that I cannot compete unless I have studied them too. I don't have the time to start competing.

In contrast, most eurogames feel like abstracts, but can be played well by people who have a general strong sense of tactics. Moreover, because of some of the inherent randomness in most eurogames, studying them has much less impact on the outcome of the game.

And yes, for some people the theme is important because it helps understanding the rules, or at least gives them something nice to look at. Instead of a big bunch of black and white stones on the board, you see a village that you built, or a civilization that has a strong production capability, or a fleet of ships that has conquered part of the galaxy. It gives a liveliness to a game that most abstracts lack.

There is not just ONE dimension to game enjoyment. Abstracts excel at the mechanics dimension (except for Chess -- what a mess those rules are -- but note that Chess has a theme pasted on to compensate for that). But there are many more dimensions -- visualization, ease-of-learning, viability of a variety of tactics -- which abstracts usually are not very good at, but which are just as important.
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Pas L
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I'm not sure if you did it on purpose, but Go is far better at everything you mentioned in the last paragraph than most Euros, as are a large number of other abstract games...

I play euros. They're not my favourite games generally, but I still enjoy most of them. But I seriously disagree with what some here have said their strong points are.

Also I would strongly argue that any game that is in some way distinct can serve to distinguish people who have certain skills. I usually win games when every player is new to something too (I'm sure there are lots of people like that on bgg), but its not a feature of euro games, it applies to abstract games, thematic one, even stuff like Don't Stop.

Euro games are mostly distinguished by a lack of social game elements and blah blah... ease of learning, variability and visualisation are not their strengths. You might not be very good at Go for quite a while, but you will know the rules and know you're doing poorly pretty much straight away. On the other hand the first time I played Agricola with other new players they didn't realise I was twice their score until we added it up.

The fact that a lot of Euros don't reward a lot of play or study shows them to have a low skill ceiling and limited depth - but them again, that's ideal for those who like to play new games all the time: there's the novelty value and some intellectual challenge which you can semi-solve and then move on to a new game.
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C Bazler
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lamaros wrote:
The fact that a lot of Euros don't reward a lot of play or study shows them to have a low skill ceiling and limited depth - but them again, that's ideal for those who like to play new games all the time: there's the novelty value and some intellectual challenge which you can semi-solve and then move on to a new game.

We've totally derailed the thread, but whatever. I disagree with most of your points, but I'll grant you're probably right about this last one. Your skill at Agricola might increase a great deal over the first 10-12 plays, but you will not see as much progress between 12-20, or 20-30 plays. Abstract games have simple, even simplistic rules, but a great deal of depth that rewards multiple plays (hundreds, thousands sometimes).

Euros have "messier" rules, to be sure, but it is in the messy rules that the interest lies: you have more options on your turn, more choices to make, more possibilities for points, which makes them virtually "unsolvable" in the same way that many abstracts can be. The theme is what makes such "messy" rules intelligible to the players, which is why there are very few "abstract Euros."

The end result is that Euros are easier to pick up for beginners, but have less interest after dozens of plays. Which is fine by me, because I have no interest in playing a single game dozens and dozens of times.
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O.Shane Balloun
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My first Avalon Hill game was Management, literally a game about buying and selling raw materials, producing finished goods, and selling those. The recordkeeping device was a spreadsheet. At 9 years old, I thought it was fantastic. It wasn't a pretty game, but it involved math and taught me something about inventory and business.
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zombie plumber wrote:
I'm always irked when someone says "it's a good game but the theme is just pasted on or not really there"... Does that really make it less of a good game or just not as good as it could've been??
It could be better. Dominion is a game where I don't feel like I am actually expanding a territory or creating villages, the card names seem more like codewords that are a means to an end. If the game went Uno and just used letters and numbers then I'd probably like it more because then it wouldn't be pretending to have a theme. If it had a board on which you could lay out your little empire each time you bought a card, then it would feel more like it had a theme that made sense with what you are doing in the game (plus I could pick up a witch token and taunt other players with it while cackling).
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cornixt wrote:
It could be better. Dominion is a game where I don't feel like I am actually expanding a territory or creating villages, the card names seem more like codewords that are a means to an end. If the game went Uno and just used letters and numbers then I'd probably like it more because then it wouldn't be pretending to have a theme. If it had a board on which you could lay out your little empire each time you bought a card, then it would feel more like it had a theme that made sense with what you are doing in the game (plus I could pick up a witch token and taunt other players with it while cackling).

I agree insofar that the theme of dominion serves no purpose. As Thunkd said:

Thunkd wrote:
Theme provides a framework in which we can think about the mechanics of a game in a way that our brains can process easier.

I have difficulty linking card names to effects in Dominion. Most simply don't make much sense, so this function of theme is not applicable.
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Brian Cwikla

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I LOVE theme if it matches with the game setting. I'm a story guy and tend to weigh setting over mechanics to a certain degree. If those mechanics are thematic, then that's a huge plus.

So, I would rank in order:

1. Setting
2. Mechanics
3. Theme
 
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