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Subject: Theming - the biggest barrier to a games HUGE audience rss

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Sky blaze
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no matter what you think about older games its pretty obvious that they have little or NO theming whatsoever and whenever they do have a theme its almost universal in appeal

Now take a modern boardgame it will invariably be heavily themed almost instantly throwing what is a niche hobby into an even smaller niche. This has been hugely influenced by the remnants of the D&D/RPG element of gaming, but thats another issue

Is it any coincidence that Settlers Of Catan which I guess is the biggest selling modern game is basically an abstract game

If you are ultimately playing a game for human interaction are players relying on too much for the game to supply a theme for this?

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Leonard Moses II
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Well they certainly didn't put much theming into Dominion or Splendor and both were designed to be tentpole games in my opinion. And I mean almost from the beginning. They had big money releases didn't they? Cinque Terre basically piggy backed off of the already tested theming of Finca.

Down with the trend. Light theming to cast a large net should not be encouraged. Though yeah. I am picky about what I want pasted on to my fun math puzzle too.

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Greg
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I'm not sure I buy the argument that older games have little or no themeing (unless we're talking about Mancula and Go rather than just jumping back a few decades).

Some games do rely too heavily on their theme, but they find some number of players who love them. I think it's also a feature of game design that there aren't a lot of people in it to make the big bucks (there are a lot of more profitable industries in the world after all) so while having a big enough audience is a concern, I'm not sure it's the only concern.
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Nick Bolton
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Not sure I agree with the generalisations made. Maybe you are just thinking of thematic games? This isn't a particularly new trend, many older games have strong or specific themes, often with limited appeal.

Also many modern games have light themes (or none at all, in the case of some abstracts).


Hive is one example of a modern game that has been successful with a light or universal theme.
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colmmccarthy wrote:
skyblaze wrote:
Now take a modern boardgame it will invariably be heavily themed almost instantly throwing what is a niche hobby into an even smaller niche.


Nah, you can simply take your basic game - let's call it Bollocks, slap on a theme and release and repeat to appeal to as broad a market as possible. e.g. Bollocks, Star Bollocks, Merchant Bollocks, Dungeon Bollocks, and everyone's favorite Zombie Bollocks.


Don't forget Bollocks Cthulhu.
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Leonard Moses II
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Or Bollocks of the nobles in the Middle Ages.
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Sean Haugh
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As long as there's no Bollocks Memo. *shudder*
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J M
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darkestoceans wrote:
Or Bollocks of the nobles in the Middle Ages.


Roll through the Bollocks.
Eldritch Bollocks.
My personal favourite game; A Study in Bollocks.
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Andrés Santiago Pérez-Bergquist
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skyblaze wrote:
Now take a modern boardgame it will invariably be heavily themed almost instantly throwing what is a niche hobby into an even smaller niche. This has been hugely influenced by the remnants of the D&D/RPG element of gaming, but thats another issue


You seem to be arguing the putting a "geeky" theme on a game limits its audience to a small niche, but if you look at the list of highest-grossing films, you'll see it's utterly dominated by science fiction, fantasy, and superheroes. These are things that have broad appeal these days. Over the last few decades, geeky subject matter went mainstream.
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Bill Eldard
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skyblaze wrote:
If you are ultimately playing a game for human interaction are players relying on too much for the game to supply a theme for this?


In our group, which has been around for 14 years, I don't think theme has ever been a deciding factor in what makes the table as much as complexity, time, number of players, etc. matter.

My favorite designer, Reiner Knizia, is often accused of designing fine games with weak or no themes, with some exceptions like Lord of the Rings and Star Trek: Expeditions. If our group is playing Ra, the players are not interacting as though they were ancient Egyptians; they're interacting as competitive game players, so the theme could be anything.

For other, especially those who enjoy RPGs, feeling the theme is more important than it is to us.

I'll take game play over theme.
 
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Ken B.
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Eldard wrote:

I'll take game play over theme.



Why choose? I want BOTH. I play games with awesome themes AND awesome gameplay.

I'm not sure where the meme started that if you liked great themes, you didn't give a rat's ass about gameplay, but whatever. Like, "I play shit games with cool themes." Uh, ok? Never met that dude, but ok.

To the OP: what are you suggesting, that all games have generic or no themes? Forget that, I wouldn't be boardgaming if that were true.
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Jarrett Dunn
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skyblaze wrote:
no matter what you think about older games its pretty obvious that they have little or NO theming whatsoever and whenever they do have a theme its almost universal in appeal


Define "older" because a buttload of "older" games has tons of theme and sold well. Heroquest, Wiz-War, Talisman, Arkham Horror, Merchants of Venus, Betrayal at House on the Hill, Fury of Dracula, etc. etc.....

Heck all of those but Heroquest are still being published as well.
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Bill Eldard
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franklincobb wrote:
Eldard wrote:

I'll take game play over theme.



Why choose? I want BOTH. I play games with awesome themes AND awesome gameplay.


Well, let me clarify. To me, game play is important, so the theme doesn't matter to me unless it is personally abhorent to me. If the theme is strong, that's fine, but I never get immersed on the theme. I don't reject games because they have a strong theme; I'm looking for strong game play. A good example is Thebes, which ties theme to mechanics better than most games I have, yet I never feel like I'm an archaeologist. I just like playing it.

From a marketing perspective, theme is more important to attracting a broader audience, but even a strongly themed game with excellent design can fail to become the next Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit. Many of the game designs in the Top 100 are appealing to us on BGG, but far less so to the Wal-Mart gamers.

Settlers of Catan enjoyed a fad surge on US campuses a few years ago not because of its theme, but because of its exposure and endorsement in WIRED magazine which encouraged those college-student readers to buy it. I don't know how much its rethemeing as Star Trek: Catan and sales through big discount stores has helped spread its popularity.
 
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Eric Etkin
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I'd argue that perceived complexity and the parsing of rules information is the number one barrier of most niche/hobby games not achieving greater success.

Look at game like X-Wing - a beautiful looking game, based on the most lucrative IP of all freakin' time and even that is on the fringes of mass-market acceptance. At the end of the day, it's still a "gamer" game. And it's definitely not because of the theme.

It essentially boils down to how easily the rules can be shared and grasped. For what it is, X-wing has a dense rulebook.

Theme isn't hold games back - mass-market wants games that resemble other games, or at the very least are intuitive or can be played without a gross attention to rules.
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Tahsin Shamma
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I think it's valuable to look at the big selling games at Target. Some of those have heavy theme, but it's usually a generally accepted genre of culture... aliens, zombies, modern warfare, pirates.
 
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Re-theming Splendor into a Sci-Fi theme made the game so much better in the opinion of myself and the groups I play with. For me theme looks like this:

No theme - everybody mildly likes it equally.
Good theme - lots love it. lots hate it.

I'd rather be in the lots love it category than the mildly likes it category.
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Bill Eldard
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veector wrote:
I think it's valuable to look at the big selling games at Target. Some of those have heavy theme, but it's usually a generally accepted genre of culture... aliens, zombies, modern warfare, pirates.


. . . And among the weak/no-theme games at Target are games like Sorry, Uno, and the Game of LIFE. The common thread of most of the Target offerings is the rules are easy to digest.
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Eric Etkin
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MOTHDevil wrote:

I'd argue that perceived complexity and the parsing of rules information is the number one barrier of most niche/hobby games not achieving greater success.

Look at game like X-Wing - a beautiful looking game, based on the most lucrative IP of all freakin' time and even that is on the fringes of mass-market acceptance. At the end of the day, it's still a "gamer" game. And it's definitely not because of the theme.

It essentially boils down to how easily the rules can be shared and grasped. For what it is, X-wing has a dense rulebook.

Theme isn't hold games back - mass-market wants games that resemble other games, or at the very least are intuitive or can be played without a gross attention to rules.

Weird... never quoted myself before. whistle

I wanted to also mention that X-Wing is an interesting example, IMO of a game that VERY easily could be distilled down into a mass-market version with a one-page rulesheet and more simplified rules... but hasn't been.

I don't know the inner workings of FFG, but I'd suspect it never occurred to them at the outset that the game would have a potential Target or Toys R Us distribution. In my area, this distribution caved - because the game is overly complicated for the typical Target crowd.

If I was FFG, I consider making a stripped down version of the game which uses the same exact core rules and ship components, but is entirely a series of blister-boosters that you could hang up in the Star Wars toy aisle.

There'd essentially be two lines of the game: a "basic" version for mass-market, and a "hobby" version for gamers. The mass market version would never be overly complicated (ie. it'd be less about token assignments, pilots, and upgrades, and more about simple dogfighting with SW ships), and focus more on selling a parent-child or child-to-child gaming experience under the Star Wars license.

The analogy would sort of be like Basic vs. AD&D.
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Pasi Ojala
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MOTHDevil wrote:
I wanted to also mention that X-Wing is an interesting example, IMO of an game that VERY easily could be distilled down into a mass-market version with a one-page rulebook and more simplified rules... but hasn't been.

Has too!

You obviously forgot the quick-start rules, which are just that. They are one single A4 sheet (4 pages of A5).
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Eric Etkin
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a1bert wrote:
MOTHDevil wrote:
I wanted to also mention that X-Wing is an interesting example, IMO of an game that VERY easily could be distilled down into a mass-market version with a one-page rulebook and more simplified rules... but hasn't been.

Has too!

You obviously forgot the quick-start rules, which are just that. They are one single A4 sheet (4 pages of A5).


Right... but it's not packaged and marketed that way. And the components and current booster strategy don't really support the simplicity.
 
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Alex Cannon
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For me theming is important because it allows abstracted mechanisms to relate to things that happen in real life.

Imagine if Ticket to Ride was an abstract game where you score for connecting Point 12 to Point 27. It doesn't make any difference to the gameplay, but without that mild theme the game loses a lot.

In my opinion, the fact the game is based on finding routes between places gives it universal appeal, as that is something everybody does every day.

Edit:Spelling
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I think the biggest barrier to games appealing to a wider audience is the sense that games for for kids. Heavily themed games don't help because they reinforce the notion that you have to play pretend in a make-believe world, which really puts off a lot of "serious" people who think they should only spend time for practical purposes in the "real world".

More abstract games are easier to use to lure non-gamers to even consider playing a game because they gives non-gamers an almost-acceptable rationale that they actually engaged in a mental activity to test their thinking and strategic skills.

For me, I'd rather play a heavily themed game because I want a momentary escape from the "real world".
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Pete
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"Theming" certainly hasn't hurt video games...

Pete (disagrees)
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Sky blaze
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i am talking about games NOT films - totally different industries - keep it on subject please
 
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Sky blaze
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you are missing my point - a games group will ALREADY be playing niche games - the average Joe on the street does NOT give a damn about the theme as long as it plays well
 
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