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Subject: The Theme is the Game rss

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Andrei Zawadzki
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The topic of theme comes up often, which I sometimes find a bit tiresome. Does a great game really need a theme to enhance the experience? For me, playing a great game is the expeience itself - what's so great about moving a dwarven miniature riding an ostrich with a rocket strapped to its belly around a board painted to look like something out of Dante's Inferno crossed with the Jetsons? Some would say that this is dripping in theme - I say, well I'm still just sitting in a chair moving a token around. Some supposedly thematic games feel really dry - there just is not that much going on, and the rules of the game (which are often termed "mechanics" - well, that makes "rules" sound more thematic!)" just don't make you feel good - things are arbitrary, and many so-called thematic games are actually quite abstract! (e.g. Arkham Horror - collect "clues" to close "gates" - hmmm, OK! - I do like the game regardless though - but strip the theme and it is very dry and non-engaging). Instead of pretending to be some great hero of some sort, and applying abstraction to a pretty simple and arbitrary game, why can't the game be the experience itself? So-called themelessness is not a drawback - if the gaming expeience is so good, why abstract it with a theme! There is no need to move a little cardboard photo of some fantasy creature around. Thematic games often have a lot of bling, but they can be remarkably unsatisfying. A great game really needs no bling attached to it.

Having said that, I have lots of so-called thematic games, but they often do feel rather empty. I just played No Thanks for the first time, and felt that it was a great little game, pretty close to perfection for what it is, and it did make me feel good playing it. I realized that the theme would just confuse things and interfere with the game, and then thought that the theme of No Thanks is... No Thanks. The theme is the game!

Well, there's a rant for you.
 
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Chris Ferejohn
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This feels a bit reductionist. I feel like I could follow this line of thinking to: books are just words on paper. It's not like you are actually a boy wizard fighting voldemort (insert plot of book you like here). Books should just be lists of facts.

Obviously I'm being extreme to make a point here, but I feel like the art and text of Arkham Horror are what make the game, and that's where the theme is.

The clue mechanic you mention is probably the least thematic part, but that's just kind of the timer/driver of the game. The real fun is "turn over a card and find out what the next part of the story is."
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Travis Worthington
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I was thinking about this last night.

So many heavily themed board games just don't work for me - if its not a real RPG, then they can usually be boiled down to go to a location, roll a certain number and get a die modifier. This is despite a large amount of chrome, and fluff all dedicated to the theme.

On the other hand, my favorite thematic game (and a shill alert - its one that I publish) is almost entirely devoid of flavor text but the game play is 100% thematic and you are completely immersed in the theme throughout the game. of course I am talking about The Resistance - as a spy in that game you really feel as if you are on the run trying to avoid detection, using your wits to stay one step ahead of detection - as as a uninformed resistance fighter you really feel as though you can't trust anything that one is saying.

So I say forget that theme is miniatures, and background story and think of theme as the experience of playing.
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Alex Despres
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Not all themes are unnecessary.

I've got no problem with a game that has a random theme as long as the mechanics are good and fun. I've also got no problem with a game that's fun even if the theme is just pasted on. Empty themes are okay in this case.

Good theme and bad mechanics/play on the other hand... boo!


Uptown is one of my favorite fillers. It has slightly more theme of chess or go. I guess the pictures are a theme, but they could be pictures of anything. Good game, nevertheless.

Andromeda springs to mind as a beautiful game with a wonderful theme that isn't informed by the gameplay nor does it really add to it. Those cubes and planets could be anything. Still a good game.

Other games couldn't exist without their themes. The actions you take wouldn't make any sense. They'd be confusing and arbitrary. Giants is the most recent theme like this I can think of. Maybe Survive: Escape from Atlantis. And what would Master Thieves be like?

So, sure, if you were talking about the first 2 categories I provided examples of - I guess theme is the game, but you're cutting yourself out of a lot of other awesome games if you just reject "theme-heavy" games.

 
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Sicaria Occaeco
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Theme helps immersion in games. Or at least it should. Theme + mechanics = immersion. Immersion isn't always necessary to make a good game, but it can greatly increase the play experience.
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Paulo Santoro
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Biggles444 wrote:
The topic of theme comes up often, which I sometimes find a bit tiresome. Does a great game really need a theme to enhance the experience?


No.
 
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Max Maloney
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Biggles444 wrote:
The topic of theme comes up often, which I sometimes find a bit tiresome. Does a great game really need a theme to enhance the experience?

Sometimes.
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Gabe Alvaro
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Take a few of the top games on BGG. Go ahead...zap the theme right out of them, completely. Then see if you enjoy the game. Or better yet, imagine if the game were introduced to you that way. I think what you'd get is a lot of cube confusion and not much interest in using an opportunity to play it again.

Agricola - brown disks, yellow disks, white disks, black disks, grey disks, green beams, white cubes, brown cubes, black cubes, player board, brown tiles, orange tile, gray tile, etc.

Puerto Rico - yellow cylinder, blue cylinder, white cylinder, brown cylinder, tan cylinder, brown disks, yellow tile, blue tile, white tile, tan tile, brown tile, number chips, player board, main board, small rectangles with some writing about what to do with disks, tiles or number chips, large rectangles with more complex instructions about what to do with disks, tiles, or number chips.
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Walt
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blindspot wrote:
Take a few of the top games on BGG. Go ahead...zap the theme right out of them, completely. Then see if you enjoy the game. Or better yet, imagine if the game were introduced to you that way. I think what you'd get is a lot of cube confusion and not much interest in using an opportunity to play it again.

That's really a different issue: That's theme as mnemonic (memory aid) instead of theme as immersion.

But I don't find flavor text, pretty bits, or chrome (fiddly rules added for theme) important thematically. If I want good text, I'll read a book. If I want pretty, I'll visit a gallery. Or for pretty and fiddly rules that don't slow play, I'll play a computer game. None of that is important to me thematically in a board game. I have enough imagination to put those parts of a theme into the game myself, and I'll put those things in exactly right (to me).

What is thematically important to me is that the mechanics match the theme. I think Container is one of the better themed games because the game is about markets and the game creates real markets, not the pretend markets of Brass: Lancashire or Power Grid commodities. I like the Empire Builder Rail Games because network efficiency is everything; I consider Age of Steam and derived games totally unthematic because of the wacky link rules. (I've heard all the rationalizations, ThankYouVeryMuch.) The mechanics are what I can't add to the game if they aren't there.

So, when I hear "dripping with theme", I expect to find gobs of stuff I don't care about wrapping crappy mechanics. So far, I haven't been disappointed.
 
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Theme is very important to a game. The only games that can survive well without theme are abstracts. I like both abstract games and games with a heavy theme.

My opinion.
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