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Subject: The tetris puzzle is deeply thematic rss

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Paris

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I find this idea that the puzzle element is un-thematic a very interesting one to explore.

Any thematic game uses signs and mechanisms to signify, or point to a reality. A very common sign/mechanism is a die which uses a real world randomness to signify a fictional randomness. It's a mechanism that we are all very used to and so don't really pause and think about it very much - it can be used in widely varying games without a second thought.

But tetris-puzzling, now that's not something which has been used so frequently. My thesis is that it is because we are unaccustomed to this sign/mechanism that we feel its oddness in its role as a signifier and therefore it commonly gets accused of being 'unthematic'.

I have noticed a couple of very interesting intepretations of the mechanism on the boards here, enough to suggest that there is no reason this mechanism has to be seen as unthematic. For example, there seems a clear correlation between laying down tiles and growing as a village, or tribe - it becomes especially clear with the exploration tiles - the more of the stuff that we have produced that gets laid out the more these communities become producing communities, giving back goods in turn. The types of goods laid down are exactly the types of things that go into making a civilisation grow: it's the DNA stuff of building communities. Luxury items and items endowed with a mystic substance hold an especially important role in building a civilisation and a culture (hence the importance of the grey tiles) They carry a great amount of prestige in them whether through their cultural and religious embodiement or through the conquest and domination of other cultures that they represent.

It's actually quite a powerful metaphor and a very simple sign/mechanism that creates a very strong thematic connection: the goods that make village life itself get directly placed down, making villages and expanding a civilisation.

And what about the puzzle element? There are so many different ways to intepret this: I'll only offer a few to indicate some possible directions. Building a civiliation is never a straighforward process. There are inter-tribal conflicts, disagreements and feuds. Some families just don't get along with other families. All of the green tiles that require a more careful placement are all the ordinary, daily stuff that go into establishing and maintaining homesteads in a village and it could make sense that each house and household requires a little bit more thoughtful placement in relation to each other. You don't want your neighbours too close peering over the fence while you take a wee in the yeard!


There are geographical difficulties, (this is especially played out on the explorable islands) rivers, mountains, fjords, cliffs and canyons all make the building of communities a difficult process and communities end up isolated from each other because of it. Cultural taboos and religious rituals push communities to act, build and expand in certain ways and in certain rhythms -- objects become more than use-things, they take on important ritual meaning and have to be treated in very specific ways, sometimes in relation to other objects. Perhaps one could even interpret the laying out of objects as a sort of funereal ritualistic mechanism: the posessions of the dead laid out ritualistically, in very particular ways, for example, according to particular religious and cultural rules. Thus, generation after generation a civilisation is built layer up on layer as the enriched (ritualistically) things of the dead of our parents and their parents turn into legends and the thick layered archeological wealth of our history.

The more elaborate the sign/mechanism the more space there is to play around with understanding its possible thematic depth. And just like a die, a tetris puzzle might signify something completely different in a different game. Just within this game a die represents the whims of whether or not an animal falls into a trap and it also represents the luck that a warring expedition has in finding a bit of coast with something worth stealing and being able to defeat those enemies in order to steal that object. In the same way a tetris puzzle represents the building of a civilisation in this game but something very different in Patchwork.

It is not more or less thematic than the die. Neither of them exist in the level of the fiction, in the theme itself, both of them are sign/mechanisms that take a real world game element and point towards a deeper significance in the fictitious world.

Going back to the idea that it's the novelty of the puzzle-element that makes it difficult for us to see through it to some of what it may represent thematically, different gamers have internalised different mechanisms differently. For enjoyers of Euro-games, putting a cube on a tile is a mechanism which we have fully accepted and internalised its symbolic relationship: we see past the mechanism directly to the theme in a way we do not with the tetris-puzzle. We feel like we are literally arming a ship or storing wood in a shed, etc.

Many fans of American games however, have not slipped into that mode of internalising the signifier/mechanism and complain about 'pushing cubes' being very unthematic while at the same time being completely happy with the use of dice, a mechanism which they in turn have internalised and see through all the way to the theme.

Edit: Expanded possible thematic interprations of the puzzle element and included some thoughts that emerged from the conversation below.


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Joshua Nash
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Very interesting! Glad to see another semiotician using what they've learned to analyze board games.

I think your analysis is quite intriguing. The notion of the Tetris puzzle symbolizing the "laying down" of a civilization's building blocks is quite clever. Makes good sense.

I think one thing you might struggle with is explaining to people that "thematic" may not point directly to the genre of the game's popoulation. (Vikings in this case.) Theme can be more global and universal, like you've talked about in relation to growing a community.
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Paris

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JPN38 wrote:
Very interesting! Glad to see another semiotician using what they've learned to analyze board games.

I think your analysis is quite intriguing. The notion of the Tetris puzzle symbolizing the "laying down" of a civilization's building blocks is quite clever. Makes good sense.

I think one thing you might struggle with is explaining to people that "thematic" may not point directly to the genre of the game's popoulation. (Vikings in this case.) Theme can be more global and universal, like you've talked about in relation to growing a community.


It's a good point; I think what should supplement the points made is that context is very important in communication. The puzzle element of AFfO isn't an abstract element without a context. Those building blocks, for example, are all highly detailed elements of Viking culture deeply catalogued in the game literature.

Context is the reply to the previous comment as well... A die is not at all thematic in the abstract. It is only within the context in which that die is rolled that it then signifies some fictitious reality (the luck of a hunt, for example). The die is not thematic in the abstract but within the language of the game, with every other component of the game helping to define what it means, it becomes an important thematic element.

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Joshua Nash
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Excellent! I'm digging the exchange.

Yes, context is king for sure.

Interestingly, I haven't even played this game yet. It's on my wishlist, but still hasn't been purchased.

Regardless, your points resonate. I've actually thought about the semiotics involved in both game design and rule books. There's a lot going on and, since games cross national lines, they cross cultural idioms, metaphors, etc as well.
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Greg
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Displaying wealth, glory, accomplishment and demanding recognition are all part of the agonistic culture represented in A Feast for Odin.

It makes sense that one would want to display one's victories and goods -- all I have to do is repeat the description of Heorot from Beowulf:


Quote:

Then, as I have heard, the work of constructing a building
Was proclaimed to many a tribe throughout this middle earth.
In time—quickly, as such things happen among men—
It was all ready, the biggest of halls.
He whose word was law
Far and wide gave it the name "Heorot."

The men did not dally; they strode inland in a group
Until they were able to discern the timbered hall,
Splendid and ornamented with gold.
The building in which that powerful man held court
Was the foremost of halls under heaven;
Its radiance shone over many lands


When you place tiles, you are making your hall splendid.

Utterly and directly thematic.
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Paris

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sthrjo wrote:
bgg glossary wrote:
chrome: A superfluous mechanism or components added to a game to add a feeling of theme. Like the chrome on a car--chrome really isn't necessary, but it may make the game more fun.

The display of Viking items on the tetris-like grid is chrome. Arming ships for raiding, going hunting, building longhouses, expanding into new territory, claiming the English crown and paying for feasts is theme. AFFO has a lot of theme, but the tetris display is not one of them. Only if the historic Viking era included something like laying oddly shaped tiles onto a feast hall floor would it be thematic.


Here we have a perfect example of a confusion between the signified and the signifier. By referencing the fictitious world of the theme and then comparing the story to the tetris puzzle mechanism we make a false comparison.


You do not literally arm ships for raiding, go hunting, build longhouses, expand into new territory, nor claim the English crown.
You place a little black cube on a tile. The cube signifies ore and armaments, the tile represents a viking ship. The real life game components and mechanisms signify another world that we enliven and enjoy with our imaginations.

To make a clean analysis we must put all of our signifiers on one side and all of our signifieds on the other.

You roll a die, you place a meeple on a spot, you put a cube on a tile, you place goods tokens in a tetris like puzzle: these are the signifier/mechanisms.

You go for a hunt, you arm a ship, you lay down the building blocks of a civilisation, enabling those new settlements to deliver you with regular goods and income. Those are the signified parts of the relationship: the world of the imaginative, the theme.
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Paris

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Carrying on from the last exchange and at the same time going back to my thesis (that the novelty of the tetris-puzzle mechanism is what distracts us from thematic immersion).

There is an interesting point to be made here. For enjoyers of Euro-games, putting a cube on a tile is a mechanism which we have fully accepted and internalised its symbolic relationship: we see past the mechanism directly to the theme in a way we do not with the tetris-puzzle. We feel like we are literally arming a ship.

Many fans of American games however, have not slipped into that mode of internalising the signifier/mechanism and complain about 'pushing cubes' being very unthematic while at the same time being completely happy with the use of dice, a mechanism which they in turn have internalised and see through all the way to the theme.
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Joshua Nash
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patrocles wrote:
Carrying on from the last exchange and at the same time going back to my thesis (that the novelty of the tetris-puzzle mechanism is what distracts us from thematic immersion).

There is an interesting point to be made here. For enjoyers of Euro-games, putting a cube on a tile is a mechanism which we have fully accepted and internalised its symbolic relationship: we see past the mechanism directly to the theme in a way we do not with the tetris-puzzle. We feel like we are literally arming a ship.

Many fans of American games however, have not slipped into that mode of internalising the signifier/mechanism and complain about 'pushing cubes' being very unthematic while at the same time being completely happy with the use of dice, a mechanism which they in turn have internalised and see through all the way to the theme.


So good! I'd agree here about internalizing the theme.

I'd say the ameritrash version is internalizing a die roll to simulate combat. I'm sure we could find lots of examples of this kind of thing.
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