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Subject: How important is theme to you? rss

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Amelia Mouse
United Kingdom
Huntingdon
Cambridgeshire
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Just wondered how people feel about the theme of a game and it's importance. My husband doesn't worry about it at all, in fact, when choosing a game to play if I mention a game by name he sometimes looks at me blankly and still does when I describe the theme but as soon as I describe the mechanics he gets it. I am averse to playing mythical, war or space themed games however clever the mechanics are.
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Benj Davis
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Moderately? I prefer when a game's mechanisms map well with its theme.
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mortego
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Theme for me doesn't really have an effect when choosing a game to play. I like theme a lot!
 
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Dave Lartigue
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Springfield
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Theme to me is important to tie the actions of the game to something. I like to be aware of:

* "who" I am in the game
* "what" I'm doing in the game
* "why" I'm doing it

I like when the things I do in the game are propelled by these, not just thrown into the game to make it have more stuff going on. Theme helps to answer these questions. Otherwise I'm just moving bits around.

I don't need to role-play. I don't need to actually feel like I'm a Prince of Florence or an Aztec Chief or Another Damn Elf, but I want to feel like something is happening other than I'm manipulating cardboard.

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Amelia Mouse
United Kingdom
Huntingdon
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Legomancer wrote:
Theme to me is important to tie the actions of the game to something. I like to be aware of:

* "who" I am in the game
* "what" I'm doing in the game
* "why" I'm doing it

I like when the things I do in the game are propelled by these, not just thrown into the game to make it have more stuff going on. Theme helps to answer these questions. Otherwise I'm just moving bits around.

I don't need to role-play. I don't need to actually feel like I'm a Prince of Florence or an Aztec Chief or Another Damn Elf, but I want to feel like something is happening other than I'm manipulating cardboard.



I completely agree
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Pete Belli
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"If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking."
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Dave Lartigue
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Expanding, part of why I dislike Agricola, which is seen as highly thematic, is because for me the answer to the questions contradict each other. Supposedly I am a farmer, trying to feed my family and make a successful farm. Okay, that makes sense. Except that the goal is not the stated goal, since I can't do just a pig farm or just a vegetable farm -- the true goal is pleasing some Master Farm Rater to His Majesty who's decreed that farms must look a certain way.

Second, the idea that I am a farmer trying to run a successful farm fails to explain why I can't, like, plant crops if someone else is doing it. At this point the theme disintegrates and I'm once again just moving parts around. Yes, you can make up all kinds of weird meta-narratives on why these things are, but the gameplay itself isn't interesting enough to me to want to do that.
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Anthony Simons
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Royal Wootton Bassett
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I wrote about this recently:

The Necessity of Theme.
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Joe Huber

Westborough
Massachusetts
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Theme is extremely important to me. Which is not to say that I care for what BGG deems as "thematic" games; they generally have themes of little or no interest to me.

There are exceptions - I really enjoy Macao, even though the game is in some ways anti-thematic - but most of the time, if the theme doesn't work for me, or isn't supported by the mechanisms, the game won't work for me.
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Greg
United States
Seattle
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Theme rarely causes me to have interest in a game, but it can cause me to lose interest in a game.
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I'm interested in the decision-making process and not at all in fictional narratives. The best kind of "story" a game can tell is how something apparently peripheral turns out to be of vital strategic importance. The emergent properties of a game are the real story while any fictional narrative is entirely superfluous.
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Drew Bowling
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Waterford
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Davej360 wrote:
It's very important. Just like any form of entertainment, movies,
Books etc.


To take this comparison in a different direction, a great game with no theme is akin to a movie with great direction, cinematography, and acting about absolutely nothing. Some people would want to watch it, and it would probably be an interesting experiment of a film. As for me, I like when I get great mechanics tied to a great theme.

(Except for Le Havre. That thing has no theme. Although to be fair it helped me learn the Bessinger process in history class. So it has that.)

Board gaming is at a place today where we shouldn't have to choose between good theme and good mechanics. This game has a super interesting worker placement mechanic but an uninteresting theme? Fine. I'll go find another game with a mechanic just as interesting that is wrapped up in a great theme.

P.S. And the problem with thematic games is that the theme can be a little geeky and that makes them less widely accessible. And there are some themes that people just won't like. So while a theme can be fun and make a game better, it can also exclude people from playing the game.
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Miller4h9 wrote:
Davej360 wrote:
It's very important. Just like any form of entertainment, movies,
Books etc.


To take this comparison in a different direction, a great game with no theme is akin to a movie with great direction, cinematography, and acting about absolutely nothing. Some people would want to watch it, and it would probably be an interesting experiment of a film. As for me, I like when I get great mechanics tied to a great theme.

(Except for Le Havre. That thing has no theme. Although to be fair it helped me learn the Bessinger process in history class. So it has that.)

Board gaming is at a place today where we shouldn't have to choose between good theme and good mechanics. This game has a super interesting worker placement mechanic but an uninteresting theme? Fine. I'll go find another game with a mechanic just as interesting that is wrapped up in a great theme.

P.S. And the problem with thematic games is that the theme can be a little geeky and that makes them less widely accessible. And there are some themes that people just won't like. So while a theme can be fun and make a game better, it can also exclude people from playing the game.


So what is the theme of football or tennis? Clearly these games lack "meaning" so we need to design better ones that involve LARPing as space zombies or something.
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Drew Bowling
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Waterford
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Kiraboshi wrote:
Miller4h9 wrote:
Davej360 wrote:
It's very important. Just like any form of entertainment, movies,
Books etc.


To take this comparison in a different direction, a great game with no theme is akin to a movie with great direction, cinematography, and acting about absolutely nothing. Some people would want to watch it, and it would probably be an interesting experiment of a film. As for me, I like when I get great mechanics tied to a great theme.

(Except for Le Havre. That thing has no theme. Although to be fair it helped me learn the Bessinger process in history class. So it has that.)

Board gaming is at a place today where we shouldn't have to choose between good theme and good mechanics. This game has a super interesting worker placement mechanic but an uninteresting theme? Fine. I'll go find another game with a mechanic just as interesting that is wrapped up in a great theme.

P.S. And the problem with thematic games is that the theme can be a little geeky and that makes them less widely accessible. And there are some themes that people just won't like. So while a theme can be fun and make a game better, it can also exclude people from playing the game.


So what is the theme of football or tennis? Clearly these games lack "meaning" so we need to design better ones that involve LARPing as space zombies or something.


I think it's worth mentioning that people have decided that sports are inherently interesting enough to make them the theme of different board and video games. And as I said in my P.S., the problem with slapping a cool theme on anything is that it can exclude people who aren't interested in the theme. Since the audience for sports is quite clearly much different than the audience for hobby board games (one being almost everyone and one being a rather niche audience), it wouldn't make sense to put a theme like that on a product that has been enjoyed for decades/centuries.

In other words, apples and oranges.

I think a more fair argument would be games like Chess or Go. Those games stand on their mechanics alone with no "exciting" theme (as makes sense because they are ancient games). And we have new abstract games today. Tbh, the best explanation of this phenomenon is that there are people who prefer to keep their theme and their games separate. And there are people who prefer to have their entertainment wrapped in a nice bundle of theme. Neither party is "right" or "wrong."

Did I just refute my original point?

I hope not.

(I guess I'll rephrase it this way: I don't want to settle for a game with a lame theme. There are people who like games without theme. Since the question is "How important it theme to you?", I will qualify that this is my opinion on the issue and not the general rule for all people.)
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Michael Carter
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Marion
Iowa
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It depends on the game.
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I Need More Coffee
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To me theme is pretty important. If the game is about something interesting to me I am much more compelled to give it a try. That being said the theme of a game is not necessarily the only factor I look at and I am open to many different themes.

There are some though that I just can't get into. Most licensed themes tend to turn me off for some reason so I don't play games about Star Wars and Lord of the Rings for example, nor am I that interested in games based on historical events. I like history but when I play a game I want a certain amount of separation from "real life" and I find that more in games with a stronger fictional theme.
 
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Pete
United States
Northbrook
Illinois
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Like the exterior of a car. If there's nothing under the hood, who cares? But all other things being equal, it'd be nice to drive around in something that looks good.

Pete (analogizes)
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John Burt
United States
Portland
Oregon
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Whether theme is important to me depends entirely on the purpose of the game. If it's meant to be a thematic game (ameritrash, etc), then I'll consider and evaluate it on that basis. If it's a "euro puzzle" game (Agricola, etc), then I'll consider and evaluate it on the mechanics and theme would only be an issue if it's particularly badly done.

Sports is the only theme I'll avoid regardless of game type. I hate sports.
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CARL SKUTSCH
United States
New York
New York
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This one never gets settled. Some folks love theme. Some folks think theme is irrelevant, or even a distraction.

Me, I'm pretty fond of a good theme. There are themeless and theme light games that I enjoy, but my favorites tend to have theme.

Here's the poll I did a while back.


Poll
When you play games with themes, how important is that theme to you?
Not important at all. I care about the mechanics, not the theme.
Slightly important. Sometimes theme can affect my enjoyment of a game.
Moderately important. A good theme can make enjoy playing more and/or a bad theme can make me less likely to play.
Very important. I really focus on theme when picking my games.
      450 answers
Poll created by skutsch
 
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Pauly Paul
Canada
Calgary
Alberta
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It matters to me to a degree, if I'm being honest. For example I've been looking into solo games recently and there are a few, well regarded ones, that are historic in nature. I found that I just couldn't get excited by them.

That being said I do seem to have mostly broad tastes and can actually be attracted to unique or underused themes. I guess there is just a limit to it is all.
 
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Michael Carter
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Marion
Iowa
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If the game is designed as an abstract, theme doesn't matter. If the game is designed as a euro, the theme just has to make enough sense to help remember the rules. If the game is designed as an Ameritrash, then the theme is most of the game and is the core reason for buying the game. If the game is designed as a wargame, then it goes beyond just theme and is an attempt to model a subject matter and so is obviously very important.
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J C Lawrence
United States
Campbell
California
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I mostly ignore theme. I certainly ignore theme when actually playing the game.
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r0t1 prata
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Theme is important to me, but I like a fair amount of themes, am okay with most of them and dislike a few, mainly those that is close to real urban life, so it may not seem like theme is THAT important to me.


E.g. I've never played Suburbia and never wanted to because the theme just doesn't attract me. But when I saw Castles of Mad King Ludwig came out, I can't wait to try it. I believe some may say they are similar games. I didn't like Suburbia's theme (city-building).


But there are times when I'm indifferent, like when the theme gels well with the game's mechanisms in a way that it makes me appreciate the game after playing it.

E.g. Snowdonia's theme is about digging rubble and building train tracks and train stations, this to me is a very boring theme. But in this game, the weather changes. So sometimes when it's raining, you can't complete as much work. Sometimes when it's foggy, you can't work. Sometimes when it's sunny, you think that it's so rare an occasion you'll want to work harder to complete those work undone. This is one of the very few reasons Snowdonia is still in my collection, along with other adventure/fighting/horror/fantasy themed games which I prefer.

 
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CARL SKUTSCH
United States
New York
New York
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Agricola, Sekigahara, Concordia, Innovation, COOKIE!!! (and Guinness)
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Just finished playing Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia with the kid. Our first game stumbling through the rules but we had a good time. The theme is what made a worker placement game with some interesting twists into a very fun time. We laughed as we worked to reduce our poor workers knowledge and laughed even more when one of them grew too smart and realized the horror of the world he lived in and ran away! (Or for you themeless people out there: We stared expressionlessly at the board as our marker moved down on a track and later continued to stare expressionlessly as one of our dice was temporarily removed from play.)
 
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Monica Elida Forssell
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Sandnes
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I think theme for my part plays almost just as big a role as mechanics of the game. I often find myself going for the historical themed games. But I still choose from those that interest me in terms of mechanics, strategies, maybe even artwork.
 
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