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Subject: what exactly is a "thematic" game? rss

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Moy Uba
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i see thematic being used as a board game genre quite often but don't really know what it means. obviously all games have themes(other than abstract strategy i guess), some more integrated into the games systems than others, so what does it take for a game to be put in the genre of "thematic"? do the games play in a certain way and have similar mechanics in the way say worker placement or dice drafting games do?

i often see star wars games described as being thematic (or ameritrash - which seems to be an interchangable word with thematic?), does it just mean licensed games?

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Daniel Davis
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IMO, these are games that emphasize narrative and experience over mechanisms and strategy.
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Zac Jensen
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I think many people could have many definitions of what a "thematic" game is, which means there really isn't a "right" answer.

I'll try to give an example of what I would say it means:


UNTHEMATIC:

Castles of Burgundy- each different type of building you place gives you a different bonus. Why? There is no way to explain that in real world terms


THEMATIC:

Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island- When you send you guy out to hunt, fish, build, explore, etc. you have to roll a dice to see if something bad happens to you. This makes sense to me in real world terms. If you left the safety of the beach you were stranded on, could something bad happen to you? Could you also have nothing bad happen?


Someone else will come along and explain it much better than me, but I thought I'd give it a try.

Basically, if it seems like it would make sense in the real world, then it's thematic. If it doesn't, then it's not a thematic game, in my opinion.
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Steve B
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Plenty of thematic games have extreme attention to detail to the mechanisms and strategies involved, yet are hugely thematic. The 2 things are not independent to one another.

A thematic game is simply one where a theme/story (for example, take the story of "Dracula") is the idea for the game, and then the entire game is based around this story. The mechanisms in place are designed to depict parts of the story.

A non-thematic game has mechanisms in place that have no relation to any sort of story.

For example, the mechanism of "placing a counter in a space" in a thematic game may be designed to represent placing a potion on an alchemy table. Probably there is artwork depicting this. In a non-thematic game, it may just represents placing your token there to score some points and has no impact on the "storyline" of the game.

For concrete examples, a thematic game would be "Robinson Crusoe", where every mechanism in place drives a storyline.

A non-thematic game would be Go, where you are simply moving counters around to try to beat your opponent. There is no theme to the game.

There are in-between examples, like The Castles of Burgundy. It could really have any theme. It has mechanisms in place where you place dice, take some actions, and build up your "land". You could say it has a "pasted on" theme. There is some sort of "theme" to the game - they claim it is about building some sort of royal estates or something. Really, it could be anything. I'd say most people would say it has a "pasted on" theme and is almost pushing into the abstract territory.
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Chris
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"Thematic" is, as you observe, used as a very poor alternative to "Ameritrash". Many people use it to distinguish against "Strategy" games, as if it were true that a game can not be both of these things. As in the other examples, Robinson Crusoe is BOTH strategic AND thematic. Also see deep, complex games like Brass with are MASSIVELY based around history and themes which are the driving force and motivation behind the mechanics being what they are.

As is almost always the case, different people use it in different ways, so is hard to talk about it with all that much clarity. I think the share dealing, stock market, railway building games I play are HUGELY thematic...

To be using "Thematic" and "Ameritrash" to identify the same games does a huge, and somewhat offensive, disservice to other games that are both thematic and strategic.

so it can mean...

1) WE DID AWESOME STUFF!!! WE KILLED THE TRIPLED BREASTED GROGNAKKK WITH OUR PLASMA CANNONS!!!!!

2) A game about any subject matter where the mechanics are primarily defined from that subject, rather than there being a disconnect between the two.

and these can conflict a lot... maybe that poor Grognakkk died just because you rolled 17 or higher 3 times in a row... which doesn't sound very "thematic" to me!
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Pedro Estêvão
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TheRocketSurgeon wrote:

so it can mean...
(...)

2) A game about any subject matter where the mechanics are primarily defined from that subject, rather than there being a disconnect between the two.


This is how I use the term.

A basic test can be something like this: the more thematic a game is, the more the theme helps you make sense of the rules and of strategies within the game.
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TheRocketSurgeon wrote:
"Thematic" is, as you observe, used as a very poor alternative to "Ameritrash".


Yep, this is it. It's a stupid term that BGG use to try and pacify the small number of people who clutch their pearls when the term "Ameritrash" is used. It's entirely meaningless outside that context.

Quote:
To be using "Thematic" and "Ameritrash" to identify the same games does a huge, and somewhat offensive, disservice to other games that are both thematic and strategic.


This as well. As is using the term "strategic" and "Eurogames" interchangably, as if only Eurogames are capable of containing strategy.

If you want a more detailed description of the difference between various board game design schools, this is still the best overview I know - https://boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/27367/schools-design-and-...
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Robbert Vervuurt
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In my eyes (and I think I read it here before, which shaped my opinion), thematic means that a game won't be the same if it didn't have that specific theme.

Ticket To Ride is a game that's not very thematic, as it's a simple game that can have any theme pasted on. A lot of other board games that just get published with different themes (Monopoly for example), are not thematic, they just have a theme.

A thematic game I can think of right now is Pandemic. It's maybe a bit abstract, but it makes a lot of sense to travel around the world with a character with a specific power, to cure a disease, or help find a cure. I haven't played the Cthulhu version, but I can imagine that is Pandemic with a theme, but otherwise not very thematic.

I hope it makes sense what I wrote
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In my world the scale goes from "deep thematic" to "pure abstract", with those two being opposites.

Said in a different way: Chess is not a thematic game in itself, but if someone replaced all the pieces with Simpson versions it starts to become more thematic. Deep thematic games are those that let you play part of a story set in a specific theme's universe.
Some thematic games have evolved around their theme and they feel like the theme is more of a foundation for the game mechanics. Others have had a theme slapped on (like the Simpsons chess example). Other slapped on theme examples are games like the million C'thulhu variants of other board games. I would also call a more mainstream game like Ticket to Ride a thematic game, as the theme of that game is obviously trains and transport.

On the flipside, games like Chess, Go, domino, connet-4, etc. are not thematic.

A more "roleplayer way" to define it is if a player is playing himself or a role in the game. A game like Go evolve around two players playing each other. But a game like Monopoly you are pretending to be moguls trading properly and living the rich life around town.
Most of the more hobbyist-focused board games have themes, because it is harder to sell a game on pure game mechanics and relatively easy to slap a theme on to make it go down easier.
 
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Mathieu Canales
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Below is my interpretation of the word thematic. While BGG's "thematic" page states that it has to deal (mostly) with the narrative and experience aspect, my description is a little more subtle (I guess).

This is how I draw the line, feel free to disagree!

Thematic:

Games that either draw you into the game's theme by having in-game actions related to said theme and/or a strong visual ambiance that forces you into ancient greece, Sci-fi world, etc... You feel like the boundaries in the game's rules correlate with the logic of the game's world.

While it's true that most "Ameritrash" games fit here, I feel like the word should be used for more than just a replacement and I find it to work with more games than listed on BGG.

Un-thematic:

Of course this includes every pure abstract game but it can also include games with so-called "pasted-on themes" in which the theme could be switched with about any other without much impact. Here, the theme does very little to help you understanding and putting together the rules.
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Jeremy Gray
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For me, "thematic" means that the mechanisms of the game just make sense within the chosen theme. So even in heavy euros things can be thematic, such as when in Food Chain Magnate customers will seek out restaurants offering the best combination of price and location. That just makes sense to me. Or if something should be wild or unpredictable, then a dice roll makes sense. If it should be static and predictable, then perfect information makes sense. Thematic uses artwork for its chosen theme, but the real test is how many of the mechanisms back up that chosen theme and artwork. The more of them that do, the more you get sucked into that theme.
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Christian Gienger
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zjensen3 wrote:

UNTHEMATIC:

Castles of Burgundy- each different type of building you place gives you a different bonus. Why? There is no way to explain that in real world terms


THEMATIC:

Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island- When you send you guy out to hunt, fish, build, explore, etc. you have to roll a dice to see if something bad happens to you. This makes sense to me in real world terms. If you left the safety of the beach you were stranded on, could something bad happen to you? Could you also have nothing bad happen?


Someone else will come along and explain it much better than me, but I thought I'd give it a try.

Basically, if it seems like it would make sense in the real world, then it's thematic. If it doesn't, then it's not a thematic game, in my opinion.


I think both games are equally thematic.

When you build a bank in CoB, you get money, with a ship you gain goods which can then be sold for money...

And yes, rolling a die to see what's happen is super thematic. I mean who isn't rolling 2 D6 when they're in the forest to see if they're attacked by a 1custom3{Boar;Wolf;Squirrel} -> ( Squirrel) -> ( Squirrel)


I feel people call a game thematic if the artwork appeals to them, the game has flavour text and it either allows to attack someone else directly or makes heavy use of one or multiple event decks.

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Chris
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aziras wrote:
In my world the scale goes from "deep thematic" to "pure abstract", with those two being opposites.

Said in a different way: Chess is not a thematic game in itself, but if someone replaced all the pieces with Simpson versions it starts to become more thematic.


Erm... u wot m8?

Using foot soldiers and higher ranking military and clerical position to protect your royal leader is abstract, but as soon as you're saving Red Homer or Black Homer it is?!??! That's utterly missing the point, that's the exact opposite of thematic design. You've literally just swapped one setting (not theme) for another, with no consideration to the mechanics in any way.

Whilst it is not necessary, there's reasonable ground to say Chess is somewhat thematic. Unlike Connect 4 of course.

Are you actually joking here, I really hope you are.
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Chris
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rvervuurt wrote:
In my eyes (and I think I read it here before, which shaped my opinion), thematic means that a game won't be the same if it didn't have that specific theme.

Ticket To Ride is a game that's not very thematic, as it's a simple game that can have any theme pasted on. A lot of other board games that just get published with different themes (Monopoly for example), are not thematic, they just have a theme.

A thematic game I can think of right now is Pandemic. It's maybe a bit abstract, but it makes a lot of sense to travel around the world with a character with a specific power, to cure a disease, or help find a cure. I haven't played the Cthulhu version, but I can imagine that is Pandemic with a theme, but otherwise not very thematic.

I hope it makes sense what I wrote


I'd say TTR and Pandemic are equally tenuously themed. Pandemic HAS been essentially rebranded into Chuluthtluhttu, Thunderbirds, forbidden island / desert and all sorts. The theme is useful to explain it, but it's not mechanically linked to a huge extent.
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Zac Jensen
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Locu wrote:
zjensen3 wrote:

UNTHEMATIC:

Castles of Burgundy- each different type of building you place gives you a different bonus. Why? There is no way to explain that in real world terms


THEMATIC:

Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island- When you send you guy out to hunt, fish, build, explore, etc. you have to roll a dice to see if something bad happens to you. This makes sense to me in real world terms. If you left the safety of the beach you were stranded on, could something bad happen to you? Could you also have nothing bad happen?


Someone else will come along and explain it much better than me, but I thought I'd give it a try.

Basically, if it seems like it would make sense in the real world, then it's thematic. If it doesn't, then it's not a thematic game, in my opinion.


I think both games are equally thematic.

When you build a bank in CoB, you get money, with a ship you gain goods which can then be sold for money...

And yes, rolling a die to see what's happen is super thematic. I mean who isn't rolling 2 D6 when they're in the forest to see if they're attacked by a Locu previously rolled 1custom3{Boar;Wolf;Squirrel} = ( Squirrel) = ( Squirrel)


I feel people call a game thematic if the artwork appeals to them, the game has flavour text and it either allows to attack someone else directly or makes heavy use of one or multiple event decks.





Well that wasn't what I said at all. Obviously we don't roll a die when we are stranded on an island. The point I was making is that it is random whether something bad happens to us or nothing happens at all. As for CoB, when you ship one good, how much money do you get? When you ship 10 goods, how much money do you get? If you shipped 100 goods, how much money would you get?


And btw, if you look at my ratings, CoB is my favorite game. I don't know why you have to get snarky for me saying what I think
 
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If a game uses flavor text on its cards, it's thematic
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Chris
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Wolle_Petterson wrote:
If a game uses flavor text on its cards, it's thematic
Hahahaha!
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Christian Gienger
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zjensen3 wrote:
Locu wrote:
zjensen3 wrote:

UNTHEMATIC:

Castles of Burgundy- each different type of building you place gives you a different bonus. Why? There is no way to explain that in real world terms


THEMATIC:

Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island- When you send you guy out to hunt, fish, build, explore, etc. you have to roll a dice to see if something bad happens to you. This makes sense to me in real world terms. If you left the safety of the beach you were stranded on, could something bad happen to you? Could you also have nothing bad happen?


Someone else will come along and explain it much better than me, but I thought I'd give it a try.

Basically, if it seems like it would make sense in the real world, then it's thematic. If it doesn't, then it's not a thematic game, in my opinion.


I think both games are equally thematic.

When you build a bank in CoB, you get money, with a ship you gain goods which can then be sold for money...

And yes, rolling a die to see what's happen is super thematic. I mean who isn't rolling 2 D6 when they're in the forest to see if they're attacked by a Locu previously rolled 1custom3{Boar;Wolf;Squirrel} = ( Squirrel) = ( Squirrel)


I feel people call a game thematic if the artwork appeals to them, the game has flavour text and it either allows to attack someone else directly or makes heavy use of one or multiple event decks.





Well that wasn't what I said at all. Obviously we don't roll a die when we are stranded on an island. The point I was making is that it is random whether something bad happens to us or nothing happens at all. As for CoB, when you ship one good, how much money do you get? When you ship 10 goods, how much money do you get? If you shipped 100 goods, how much money would you get?


And btw, if you look at my ratings, CoB is my favorite game. I don't know why you have to get snarky for me saying what I think


I'm not attacking you. It's just all this euros are not thematic talk.
@CoB question: You're paid with points. The silver is just what you get when you sell the ship afterwards.

I really think that all games are abstracts at their core and easily rethemeable. Yes that includes war games as the game is not bound to the special scenario.

And:

All games with a theme are thematic.
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Grand babies of dungeons and dragons and wargames.
 
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TheRocketSurgeon wrote:
"Thematic" is, as you observe, used as a very poor alternative to "Ameritrash". Many people use it to distinguish against "Strategy" games, as if it were true that a game can not be both of these things. As in the other examples, Robinson Crusoe is BOTH strategic AND thematic. Also see deep, complex games like Brass with are MASSIVELY based around history and themes which are the driving force and motivation behind the mechanics being what they are.

As is almost always the case, different people use it in different ways, so is hard to talk about it with all that much clarity. I think the share dealing, stock market, railway building games I play are HUGELY thematic...

To be using "Thematic" and "Ameritrash" to identify the same games does a huge, and somewhat offensive, disservice to other games that are both thematic and strategic.

so it can mean...

1) WE DID AWESOME STUFF!!! WE KILLED THE TRIPLED BREASTED GROGNAKKK WITH OUR PLASMA CANNONS!!!!!

2) A game about any subject matter where the mechanics are primarily defined from that subject, rather than there being a disconnect between the two.

and these can conflict a lot... maybe that poor Grognakkk died just because you rolled 17 or higher 3 times in a row... which doesn't sound very "thematic" to me!
This. "Thematic" is an attempt to convey what is really meant by "Ameritrash". It's unfortunate because while most Ameritrash games are thematic, there are many thematic games that are not Ameritrash. As such, this terms just muddies the waters.
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Bill Eldard
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moyuba wrote:
i see thematic being used as a board game genre quite often but don't really know what it means.

This is the definition from the BBG Glossary:

Thematic Game

These are games that emphasize a highly developed theme, player to player conflict, and usually feature a moderate to high level of luck. Examples of classic Thematic Games include Axis & Allies, Dune, Cosmic Encounter, Talisman, and Twilight Imperium. See the Thematic Games page for more information. Gamer jargon often refers to these games as "Ameritrash".
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Eldard wrote:
moyuba wrote:
i see thematic being used as a board game genre quite often but don't really know what it means.

This is the definition from the BBG Glossary:

Thematic Game

These are games that emphasize a highly developed theme, player to player conflict, and usually feature a moderate to high level of luck. Examples of classic Thematic Games include Axis & Allies, Dune, Cosmic Encounter, Talisman, and Twilight Imperium. See the Thematic Games page for more information. Gamer jargon often refers to these games as "Ameritrash".

I suppose I can't say it's objectively "wrong", but it's certainly a rubbish description I totally disagree with.
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Eldard wrote:
moyuba wrote:
i see thematic being used as a board game genre quite often but don't really know what it means.

This is the definition from the BBG Glossary:

Thematic Game

These are games that emphasize a highly developed theme, player to player conflict, and usually feature a moderate to high level of luck. Examples of classic Thematic Games include Axis & Allies, Dune, Cosmic Encounter, Talisman, and Twilight Imperium. See the Thematic Games page for more information. Gamer jargon often refers to these games as "Ameritrash".
That description fits Ameritrash games and excludes games like Trickerion, which isn't Ameritrash at all but is fairly thematic. It's trying to rebrand Ameritrash by focusing on one aspect of those games, which isn't exclusive to those games. It's rather silly and foolish in my opinion.
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Eldard wrote:
moyuba wrote:
i see thematic being used as a board game genre quite often but don't really know what it means.

This is the definition from the BBG Glossary:

Thematic Game

These are games that emphasize a highly developed theme, player to player conflict, and usually feature a moderate to high level of luck. Examples of classic Thematic Games include Axis & Allies, Dune, Cosmic Encounter, Talisman, and Twilight Imperium. See the Thematic Games page for more information. Gamer jargon often refers to these games as "Ameritrash".


Humm... Guess I have been using "thematic" to mean something very different. Come to think of it, isn't Ameritrash the term that should be put away with - given its obviously derrogatory nature? Just because those games are not my cup of tea - and they aren't - I don't see why they should be called "trash"...
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Personally, to me, Thematic and Strategic are just terrible terms to replace Ameri and Euro.

If they had wanted to get rid of "trash" they should have gone with like, American Style, or something similar, cause while it is still pearl clutching, at least it makes SENSE.

There are plenty of Euro games that have strong theming (Dungeon Petz theme/mechanic integration is staggeringly good). There are plenty of Ameritrash games that require a great deal of strategy.

The whole use of it to replace Ameritrash completely muddies the terminology.
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