Recommend
 
 Thumb up
 Hide
19 Posts

BoardGameGeek» Forums » Gaming Related » General Gaming

Subject: Theme in boardgames rss

Your Tags: Add tags
Popular Tags: OP_deleted [+] [View All]
Nicholas Palmer
United States
Athens
Georgia
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
EDIT: The OP deleted their original post.

Counterpoint: Play Dungeon Petz
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Wim van Gruisen
Netherlands
Den Bosch
Unspecified
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmb
Have you checked Terraforming Mars lately?
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Russ Williams
Poland
Wrocław
Dolny Śląsk
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Ninurta wrote:
A respected game designer once said to me: " Euro games are designed to have good working mechanisms, you never design a euro game starting with theme"

When I read that, I thought that you were repeating that quote as an example of a classic false thing which many people believe about euros.

But after reading the rest of your post, I think that you quoted it because you think that it's true...?

FWIW plenty of euros were designed starting with the idea of the theme.

That said, I agree with you that "As a designer, if you let the the theme lead the way, at some point you will have to force mechanics which are not satisfying to play with." Certainly abstractions and compromises must be made for practicality and playability, even in a very simulation-oriented game.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Robert Bracey
United Kingdom
London
flag msg tools
russ wrote:
Ninurta wrote:
A respected game designer once said to me: " Euro games are designed to have good working mechanisms, you never design a euro game starting with theme"

When I read that, I thought that you were repeating that quote as an example of a classic false thing which many people believe about euros.

But after reading the rest of your post, I think that you quoted it because you think that it's true...?



As Russ says Euro games often start with theme as their guiding element. And Euros have plenty of theme. You could take a simulation game and start replacing figures with meeples, put bright colours on top, and make it a euro 'theme'. Theme goes a lot deeper than you think it does - do you present your mechanics as a drafting tiles or drawing cards, do you use a postional trigger or a points score trigger?

Even abstract strategy games have very strong theme. Notice how the current trend amongst the people here who like their pure abstracts two-player is for a geometic austere aesthetic, and compare it with the bright children friendly aesthetic of games like Hey that's my Fish and Patchwork, or Tutankhamun, which publishers think will sell a multi-player pure abstract.



1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Australia
NSW
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I have a kind of uncanny valley thing happening with theme in games.
It's all about the visibility of mechanisms for me - as in, how much I have to think about them as mechanisms. I want to have them fade away so that I am immersed in the thematic processes.
Interestingly this fading away happens in one of two ways.

Firstly, when the theme is abstracted away to its very essence, a la Knizia. It's not trying to be a simulation in any way, shape or form, and so it doesn't matter, but everything still makes sense, because it's begun with a theme and everything has just been stripped away except the bits that matter.

Secondly, when the aim of the game is simulation, and so is very complex, but every complexity is for a thematic reason, so it becomes easy to internalise.

But in the middle sits that uncanny valley, where the game tries with the theme but fails because it doesn't make any sense, the mechanisms are sticking out all over the place. Usually this results in annoying questions that won't go away for me, questions that can only be answered for gamey reasons. Why is only one family allowed to have a baby? Why can't I let out whatever room I want in my own hotel? Colonists you say?

Dungeon Petz is an example actually. Yes yes, I'm okay with the meat explanation. I can believe in a benevolent deus ex machina meat donator, it's fine. And all of the other stuff, cleaning poop, great.

But then it comes to the bit where you have to assign all the needs to the petz ultimately to get them bought... what am I doing at that point? Assigning hunger? It doesn't make sense... and the whole thing falls apart.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Russ Williams
Poland
Wrocław
Dolny Śląsk
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Ninurta wrote:
I think I didn't explain myself well enough...of course there are many designs which starts with theme...

Ah, OK, then indeed I misunderstood you.

Quote:
And for games which started with the idea of a theme, can you mention some? I can to...and those will be the games that generally I don't like because the mechanics are not good.

I've often read that (despite many people's belief) Knizia often starts with a theme, and I think the mechanics in his games are good and well-regarded.

---

BTW of course wargames start with theme and are very simulationist compared to euros, and I like wargames. I'd also say that many wargames have good mechanics. Having rules attempt to seriously model a theme does not necessarily lead to unfun bad games.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
marc lecours
Canada
ottawa
ontario
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmb
I think theme is very important. I think mechanics(mechanisms) are very important. Great games have both working together.

The test I apply to see if a game is respecting its theme is the following:
Can I use real knowledge (not just trivia knowledge) about how the real world of the theme works to guide me to make good strategical decisions within the game. Ex: Can I use my real knowledge about agriculture to guide my strategy in Agricola? Can I use my real knowledge about military strategy to guide my strategy in Star Wars Rebellion?

In general wargames are not too bad. Euro games are not so good at this.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Robert Bracey
United Kingdom
London
flag msg tools
Ninurta wrote:

For this reason I don't care about theme no more...as I wrote earlier, take Viticulture...I don't want to feel a wine maker when I discover the game has compromises which make me a very clumsy winemaker... if I am trying to harvest the vines 2 times a year...then I am clumsy or I believe in the Vine God or I slept six months and woke up a little confused or...whatever...happy easter


So you do not want to play board games?
I do not understand because all games have theme, and all games make compromises with mechanics?
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Russ Williams
Poland
Wrocław
Dolny Śląsk
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
RobertBr wrote:
I do not understand because all games have theme

That's a surprising statement! I think there are very many abstract games without theme.

E.g. what would you say is the theme of GIPF?
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Robert Bracey
United Kingdom
London
flag msg tools
russ wrote:
RobertBr wrote:
I do not understand because all games have theme

That's a surprising statement! I think there are very many abstract games without theme.

E.g. what would you say is the theme of GIPF?


It uses a Go aesthetic as its theme. Black and White circular counters, playing on the intersections of the lines. Those are isomorphic with hexagons, so I could have a hexagon board instead, then make hexagon tiles (instead of counters) with images or bright fabric patterns - now it would have a Patchwork theme. This is very typical of the types of themes preferred by publishers/audiences of two-player pure abstracts.

If I knew the game I could probably be even more imaginative and convert it from (I presume) some type of positional game into some type of point scoring game.

Theme is the bit of the game that you can change without changing the game at all in any way (even if you fundementally alter the experience). And you can always change a lot about any game, so all games have theme.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Robert Bracey
United Kingdom
London
flag msg tools
Ninurta wrote:
... Do I gain some thumbs now?


I'm not sure, you seemed to think you need to say something witty to gain thumbs?

Perhaps you would like to answer the question though. Theme is present in all games, and there are no games where the mechanics do not involve some form of compromise (which just feels like a way of saying they serve a purpose), so in all seriousness what is it you are trying to say?
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Russ Williams
Poland
Wrocław
Dolny Śląsk
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
RobertBr wrote:
It uses a Go aesthetic as its theme. Black and White circular counters, playing on the intersections of the lines. Those are isomorphic with hexagons, so I could have a hexagon board instead, then make hexagon tiles (instead of counters) with images or bright fabric patterns - now it would have a Patchwork theme. This is very typical of the types of themes preferred by publishers/audiences of two-player pure abstracts.

If I knew the game I could probably be even more imaginative and convert it from (I presume) some type of positional game into some type of point scoring game.
Theme is the bit of the game that you can change without changing the game at all in any way (even if you fundementally alter the experience). And you can always change a lot about any game, so all games have theme.

OK; it seems your notion of "theme" is much broader than what boardgamers usually mean by the word, as far as I've observed. I doubt most boardgamers would say GIPF has a theme. (And indeed it's common to read comments like "I don't like themeless games" etc...)


"It uses a Go aesthetic as its theme" sounds like you're borrowing the purely appearance-oriented sense of the word from the notion of "theme" in the sense of computer software (e.g. a desktop theme, a music player theme, etc).
In computing, a theme is a preset package containing graphical appearance details. A theme usually comprises a set of shapes and colors for the graphical control elements, the window decoration and the window. Themes are used to customize the look and feel of a piece of computer software or of an operating system.

That is significantly different from e.g. "Advanced Squad Leader's theme is tactical World War 2 combat" (which is more how the word is usually used, and which has nothing to do with any sort of physical art aesthetic).
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
marc lecours
Canada
ottawa
ontario
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmb
It is true that all games have a theme. In the case of abstracts like "go" the theme does not represent a "real" world activity (for games "real" can includes fictional worlds like Star Wars).

Some games evoke the theme in their art work or by the names on cards.

But some games go beyond that and their mechanics evoke the theme. You can actually learn lessons about the real world by playing the game.

Two examples follow: One that barely evokes its theme and one that is dripping with theme.

1. In a game such as Hanabi there is a theme which is fireworks. There are fireworks art work on the cards. There are 5 colours of fireworks. There are tokens of a fuse burning up. But that's it. There is nothing at all in the game play that mimics launching real fireworks. In real life fireworks there is no mechanics of giving clues about number or colour to coworkers. In the real world of fireworks there is no requirement to set off 1 burst, then 2, then 3 etc. There is no equivalent to throwing away fireworks to be allowed to give more clues. etc. I enjoy Hanabi but I consider it to model its theme very poorly.

2. On the other hand Cytosis: A Cell Biology Board Game has many mechanics that mimic what a cell does. The cell in Cytosis: A Cell Biology Board Gameis not a real cell...it is only a game. BUT you have to produce a protein on the endoplasmic reticulum. You need some ATP and some mRNA to do it. Then the protein is transported to the Golgi body to process it and export it out of the cell. If you use mitochondria you get more ATP than if you use anaerobic respiration. etc. etc. This is a game where the theme is number one and the mechanics were adjusted to fit the theme. But it is still a worker placement Euro. A real cell does not work by worker placement by 3 or 4 entities (players). But that's OK because it's a game ! ! ! By playing the game, you can learn (a bit) how a cell functions.

In the last decade I have noticed that many (but not most) Euro games are trying to have closer match between mechanics and theme. Also in the last decade I have noticed that many wargame designers are applying lessons of good game design from Euro games.

There is a place in the game world for strong fun mechanics that integrate well with a theme.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Tomello Visello
United States
Reston
Virginia
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
Ninurta wrote:

... and it seems Ninurta deleted.

1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Russ Williams
Poland
Wrocław
Dolny Śląsk
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
TVis wrote:
Ninurta wrote:
... and it seems Ninurta deleted.

...their comments in this thread, but not their account:
N/A
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Robert Bracey
United Kingdom
London
flag msg tools
russ wrote:

OK; it seems your notion of "theme" is much broader than what boardgamers usually mean by the word, as far as I've observed. I doubt most boardgamers would say GIPF has a theme. (And indeed it's common to read comments like "I don't like themeless games" etc...)


I think you are deliberately mis-representing what you have seen, perhaps even to yourself to a degree. You know perfectly well that how a word is used within a diverse group tells you very little about how even people within that group would define it.

Some gamers would indeed define 'theme' as what the game is 'about' in some sense, ie what is it the game tries to simulate. But when asked how well they think Tutankhamun simulates archaeology, or that Patchwork simulates quilting, or that Hey that's my Fish simulates the feeding habits of flightless birds, they would be reluctant to say that those games have no theme.

Some gamers would define 'theme' as the bit that goes on top in contrast to the mechanics. And I think most faced with the clear difficulties in the theme = about definition would fall back on this idea.

Yes Squad Leader 'simulates' WWII combat and is 'themed' WWII but you could easily change the theme (to say Space Combat), but most gamers would suggest that the underlying structures of WWII are still present - 'theme' is easy to change, what something 'simulates' is not, because the second is structural.

The problem with your self-contradictory definition (in which you equate what a game simulates with its theme), which exists only so you can claim the abstract themes of certain games are not 'theme', is that it means you would have to claim Hey that's my Fish and Tiny Space Empires have the same theme - because they are identical games (or very close to being) with the exception that one has penguin counters and pictures of fish and the other has space ship counters and pictures of star systems.

Theme as used in practice, by almost all gamers, is primarily a matter of art and backstory. Sometimes it shades a little in common use, because most gamers are unable to see that positional games can be identical with set collecting ones, or that point to point movement is identical to area movement.

But most gamers do in fact react to, describe, and act as if 'theme' is purely aesthetic. Your claim that they would all agree ASL is WWII themed if you replaced all of the maps with rebel bases and all the counters with named Star Wars characters is nonsensical - obviously the vast majority of gamers would say the game had been re-themed as a Star Wars game, if they even recognised the change at all.

While I will grant that as themes become more abstract players tend to notice them less, often eliding the abstraction of the theme with the absence of the theme, they would rarely when questioned give definitions consistent with that. Just as when themes are given particular versimilitude players often conflate theme with simulation, though again they would rarely give definitions consistent with that.

To test your commitment to this absurd line of reasoning. When you play an 18XX game do you see it as fundementally themed on Airline delivery systems (which according to interviews with Tresham is what he built the game around and only later re-themed it to trains)?
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Larry L
United States
Stockton
California
flag msg tools
Roll for it
badge
I + I = 0
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Conflating theme with simulation? Who does that? Anyone? Are you certain? Simulation games are typically brought up as counterexamples when someone insists themes are painted on, since the the close relationship between theme and mechanics is transparent.

Here, on bgg theme means a variety of things, to be sure. Mostly though, we understand that theme is put to use in different ways. We can keep in mind how theme is utilized entirely differently in simulation games, euro games and family games, ameritrash games, and even merely as art/setting.

None of these mean that you aren't using a version of theme that is much broader than typically used here.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
CARL SKUTSCH
United States
New York
New York
flag msg tools
Agricola, Sekigahara, Concordia, Innovation, COOKIE!!! (and Guinness)
badge
The problem in the equation is people. Eliminate that, everything works.
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
RobertBr wrote:
But most gamers do in fact react to, describe, and act as if 'theme' is purely aesthetic. Your claim that they would all agree ASL is WWII themed if you replaced all of the maps with rebel bases and all the counters with named Star Wars characters is nonsensical - obviously the vast majority of gamers would say the game had been re-themed as a Star Wars game, if they even recognised the change at all.

I think you're wrong. Any experienced WW2 tactical gamer would recognize WW2 tactics, even if you changed the names to Star Wars names. There would be too many inconsistencies. The mechanics scream WW2 game.

A better example for me (because I've never played ASL) is EastFront. There is no realistic way to retheme it that's not going to look like the German invasion of Russia in 1941. Everything from the map to command and control rules only make sense as a thematic simulation of Barbarossa.

In practice, most people on BGG seem to see some games as more or less thematic. Not simply differently thematic, more or less thematic. I did a poll a while back Which top games are the most/least thematic, finally determined, once and for all! (POLL) that asked about theme. Clearly some people thought some games were more thematic than others.

Star Wars Rebellion --- 4.47
War of the Ring --- 4.46
Mansions of Madness --- 4.38
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective --- 4.36
Twilight Struggle --- 4.25
Robinson Crusoe --- 4.21
Battle Star Galactica --- 4.19
Gloomhaven --- 4.18

And some games were seen as less thematic than others...

Dominion --- 1.77
Splendor --- 1.61
Codenames --- 1.46
Tichu --- 1.30
Yinsh --- 1.27
Go --- 1.16
Crokinole --- 1.11

Sure, Codenames has a spy theme, but most people see it as very unthematic. Even with games that have theme, the degree of theme, as viewed by players, varies. It's not just aesthetic overlay.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Russ Williams
Poland
Wrocław
Dolny Śląsk
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
RobertBr wrote:
russ wrote:

OK; it seems your notion of "theme" is much broader than what boardgamers usually mean by the word, as far as I've observed. I doubt most boardgamers would say GIPF has a theme. (And indeed it's common to read comments like "I don't like themeless games" etc...)


I think you are deliberately mis-representing what you have seen, perhaps even to yourself to a degree. You know perfectly well that how a word is used within a diverse group tells you very little about how even people within that group would define it.

Was your statement "every game has theme" intended to be understood via how boardgamers use the word "theme", or how boardgamers define "theme"?

Either way, I think you are perhaps misrepresenting both typical use and typical definition to yourself.

In terms of "use", it seems obvious that many people don't think "every game has theme", because otherwise they would not frequently contradict themselves by talking about "themeless games", "games without theme", "is theme necessary?", etc. (Can we agree that these phrases are often used? If you think no one ever says such things, please do some web search.)

In terms of "define", see e.g. the BGG glossary:
theme

n. 1. The topic or subject matter of a game. adj –atic. 2. Having rules and mechanics based on assumptions regarding the subject matter of the game. Often considered the opposite of abstract.

...

abstract

adj. Generally means simplified instead of detailed. In the context of games, it is an overloaded term which usually means "without theme or story" or "not highly detailed; simple, elegant rules without lots of chrome" but "abstract" also sometimes used to mean "pure strategy (no randomness)" Often used as opposite of thematic. See the term abstract strategy game and article Abstract Strategy.
abstract strategy game

n.
1) A game generally limited to two players and perfect information (i.e. no randomness) often with incidental or irrelevant theme. (Chess does have a theme, but it can be ignored. A bishop is just the name of a piece that moves diagonally.)
2) A game with no theme.


or the Wikipedia article about boardgames:
There are many varieties of board games. Their representation of real-life situations can range from having no inherent theme, like checkers, to having a specific theme and narrative, like Cluedo.


To me it's clear that for many boardgamers, both in theoretical definition and in practical usage, there are games without themes. (The OP of this thread, who deleted all their comments, is one obvious example. I am another.)

Quote:
Some gamers would indeed define 'theme' as what the game is 'about' in some sense, ie what is it the game tries to simulate. But when asked how well they think Tutankhamun simulates archaeology, or that Patchwork simulates quilting, or that Hey that's my Fish simulates the feeding habits of flightless birds, they would be reluctant to say that those games have no theme.


Yes, we agree that humans are not always perfectly consistent.

Quote:
Yes Squad Leader 'simulates' WWII combat and is 'themed' WWII but you could easily change the theme (to say Space Combat), but most gamers would suggest that the underlying structures of WWII are still present - 'theme' is easy to change, what something 'simulates' is not, because the second is structural.

This came up in another thread. ASL is "strongly themed", and if you slapped some other "graphical theme" (in the software appearance sense) onto it, it would still be very structurally WW2. Similarly for a "bigger picture" WW2 game like East Front. Certainly someone unfamiliar with WW2 might not recognize it.

Quote:
The problem with your self-contradictory definition (in which you equate what a game simulates with its theme), which exists only so you can claim the abstract themes of certain games are not 'theme',

That's a bizarrely unjustified wrongheaded psychoanalysis.
You frankly are barking up the wrong tree if you you think that the only reason I link theme with mechanics rather than graphic design is so that I can claim that e.g. GIPF has no theme!
Out of curiosity, why do you think that it is important to me to claim that GIPF has no theme? I would enjoy the game whether or not it had a theme.

Quote:
is that it means you would have to claim Hey that's my Fish and Tiny Space Empires have the same theme - because they are identical games (or very close to being) with the exception that one has penguin counters and pictures of fish and the other has space ship counters and pictures of star systems.

I don't know Tiny Space Empires. (From what I've read, I suppose you're grossly exaggerating how similar the games are, but I'll pretend for the sake of argument that they functionally exactly the same.) But I can guess at the meaning of your analogy: HTMF is an abstract strategy game with penguin art slapped on it: often called a "pasted on theme". If I play the same game with spaceship pieces instead of penguin pieces, then the "new" game also slapped on "pasted on theme". They are purporting to be "about" penguins or spaceships, but the link is weak (non-existent) between the theme and what you are doing in the game.

Now I'm happy to grant that some people will say that HTMF has a penguin theme. But is that solely because there are penguin pictures on the meeples? Or is it also because the game purports to be about penguins collecting fish on ice floes? I would say the game's claim about what it is about is relevant!

Consider if someone buys a Checkers set, which is simply titled "Checkers" and makes no mention of penguins. But the disks have penguin art on them. I think a much smaller number of people would describe that game as being "about penguins" or having a penguin "theme"; more people would just say it's Checkers, an abstract game. They might note it has penguin art, but I think fewer people would say it "has a theme" than people say HTMF "has a theme". (What do you think?)

Quote:
But most gamers do in fact react to, describe, and act as if 'theme' is purely aesthetic. Your claim that they would all agree ASL is WWII themed if you replaced all of the maps with rebel bases and all the counters with named Star Wars characters is nonsensical - obviously the vast majority of gamers would say the game had been re-themed as a Star Wars game, if they even recognised the change at all.

Actually I never claimed that, so please don't put words into my mouth.
I said that when people describe ASL as having a WW2 tactical theme, they are not talking about the art. My point was that there are many WW2 tactical games out there, and they have a wide variety of art styles and graphic design styles, with very strongly held opinions and preferences, e.g. some people disliking ASL because they consider its graphic design to be ugly and retro-1970s, some people disliking Combat Commander because they consider its graphic design to be too spartan and minimalist and purely functional, some people loving the very pretty highly representational art of some published systems while others complaining that they sacrifice functional clarity and ergonomics just to look pretty, etc etc etc. Your example "theme" for GIPF, that its "theme" is a Go-like aesthetic, seemed as absurd to me as saying that the "theme" of ASL is a 1970s-wargame aesthetic, the "theme" of Combat Commander is a Redmond Simonsen / SPI style aesthetic, and the "theme" of Conflict of Heroes is a beautiful realistic painted aesthetic.

Hopefully that clarifies what I was talking about with ASL's theme being about WW2 and not about how it looks, just as I don't think GIPF's theme is about how it looks.

(FWIW I don't even buy your assertion that GIPF has a "Go aesthetic" in the first place. "Go aesthetic" suggests something very traditional, slate and shell (or glass or other "traditional" material) stones on a wooden board with subtle lines, while GIPF looks very futuristic with clacky modern stackable phenolyic resin pieces on a board with much stronger thicker lines, and even its title suggests something strange and non-traditional. But that's a tangent.)

Quote:
To test your commitment to this absurd line of reasoning. When you play an 18XX game do you see it as fundementally themed on Airline delivery systems (which according to interviews with Tresham is what he built the game around and only later re-themed it to trains)?

There is a separate question, whether a game's theme is necessarily unique. I don't think it is, and this seems pretty obvious to me. E.g. suppose a game designer made a game about selling apples at a fruit stand. It could be fairly strongly themed, simulating customers arriving, buying apples, paying money, peak periods e.g. at lunchtime or whatever, etc, all working in a fine way and giving a feel of selling apples at a fruit stand. Later it gets changed to selling peaches at a fruit stand. I don't see any contradiction or paradox here. There are clearly many similarities between the two activities (selling apples and selling peaches).
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Front Page | Welcome | Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Advertise | Support BGG | Feeds RSS
Geekdo, BoardGameGeek, the Geekdo logo, and the BoardGameGeek logo are trademarks of BoardGameGeek, LLC.