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Subject: Important aspects of a board game rss

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Olivia Svoboda
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***DISCLAIMER***This BGG forum post was composed as a course requirement for an
honors seminar at Central College (Board in Class: An Academic Survey of Modern Board
Games, SP19). Constructive feedback and conversation from all BGG users is welcomed and encouraged!

It is difficult to wrap my mind around how much thought and effort go into developing a game idea, designing it, prototyping it, playtesting it, and after a while, finalizing it. However, this long, challenging process is crucial to the success of the game so it should not be rushed. In my opinion, aspects of a game–such as the artwork, theme integration, and repeatability–should be part of the central focus throughout this process since they can make or break a game.

The first thing that players notice upon opening up a game is its artwork and general design. This artwork has the immediate ability to set the mood of a board game, and could even be players’ first impression of the theme. I am instantly intrigued by games that have unique and well-developed artwork that ties closely to whatever idea the designer wanted to portray. However, it is equally important that the artwork is not overwhelming and doesn’t distract from gameplay. All players should be able to focus and clearly see what is going on in the game at any given point. For example, the artwork in Photosynthesis is fairly simple, but it still allows the players to experience the theme. While playing, I could feel the forest environment that the designer created without my attention being completely turned toward the artwork or other game components. Further, being placed in the forest environment enhanced my connection with the sustainability theme and kept me interested through each new round of the game.

However, it is equally important to note that the impact of a game’s artwork is not as great if the game theme isn’t strongly integrated throughout gameplay as well. Therefore, theme development is another crucial aspect of game design. Beyond adding an interesting story to a game, a strong theme enables me to have more success in understanding a game and developing a good strategy. This is because when all of the components, actions, cards, etc. represent part of a story, or central idea, I am able to more clearly see how the actions I choose to take will compare to what other players decide to do. Everything in the game makes more logical sense when it centers around the main theme. Pandemic is one game that I feel has a fairly immersive theme. The objective of Pandemic is to work as a team to stop diseases from taking over the world and every component of the game reflects this. These components pull players into the the game and force them to feel a sense of urgency that specialists feel while trying to stop deadly diseases from spreading. Additionally, the artwork element that I previously mentioned wouldn’t be as important if there was not a theme for it to illustrate. Because of this, these two elements are capable of working together really nicely.

Finally, when I find a game that I like, my interest in that game can be easily minimized if I don’t have a new experience every time I play it. I have learned that the repeatability aspect of a game can come in a variety of different ways, such as requiring a new strategy every time, a different setup before each play, or even different game boards or playthroughs. Many games can be played and won using varying strategies, and a decent amount allow for randomized setup. Dominion is one of the first games that comes to mind when I think about setting a game up in a new way every time. Players have the opportunity to randomly select the ten Kingdom cards that they use throughout the game and it is this randomization that leads to interesting combinations of cards that require new strategies. This keeps the game interesting no matter how many times a player plays it. Betrayal at House on the Hill is an example of a game that implements repeatability due to different playthrough options. The book of haunts has over fifty different haunts that can be triggered, so players are guaranteed fifty unique games in that regard.

I have really enjoyed learning about all of the unique aspects of board games over the past few months, and although there are many other elements that game designers should consider, these are just a few that have really connected with me. It has been interesting to see how these characteristics are applied to games in a variety of ways that can enhance or take away from the overall gameplay experience.

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Michael
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Good work. Once you have made it past the artwork and theme, how do the issues of rules complexity and interaction of game mechanisms affect your enjoyment of the game?
 
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Scott
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Tight integration of theme is not essential or even important and often isn't meaningful especially for abstract games.

One of the most famous examples on BGG of theme not being tightly implemented with mechanisms all the way through the design process is Dune. People insisted it was perfect, that theme was tightly coupled with mechanisms, there was no way the game could have worked any other way. Only a few voices said Dune's theme was mostly pasted on and not so tigtly coupled as that.

Then someone pointed out, the designer as it happened, that when being designed Dune was not set on scifi futuristic extraterrestrial Arrakis because Dune was really Tribute, set in ancient Earth Roman Empire.

A few people bragged that they had said the theme was pasted on all along.

Others, possibly including some who originally said the theme and game were one, said all theme is pasted on.

Some alleged this revelation was a marketing ploy by the people who were re-releasing the game, a conspiracy to decouple Dune from its Dune setting so people would accept the new setting.

Some said that the success of Dune was due not to tight coupling of theme but because of the appeal of the theme.

People generally since them have shut up about Dune having to have been Dune all along.

Numerous games get proposed with one theme, then changed to another. Numerous games get re-released with a different theme. BGG has a "reimplements/reimlemented by" feature that you can use if you wish. A lot of the time this will just find updated editions with newer components and/or slight "variations on a theme" such as the many Ticket to Ride games, sometimes you will wonder why they two games are said to be in a reimplmentation relationship, but every once in a while you will find what is essentially the same game but with a different theme.

Theme is great for marketing appeal and theme dictates what is depicted in artwork. Theme does not make or break a game, it may help make or break the sales of a game but that is not the game itself.
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