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Subject: What Games Achieve Excellent Symbiosis of Theme and Mechanics? rss

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André
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[introduction]
First a hearty hello to all you gamers! Lurking the BoardGameGeek this year and absorbing all that information has been a real pleasure.
Unfortunately I stopped playing modern board games right before 1995 and so missed the rise of euro-games. But after meeting Carcassonne at a gaming bar I am back and determined to make up for that lost time.
[/introduction]

Without regard for board game categories I ask you to help me find those games, that manage to establish a strong symbiosis between the theme and the mechanics.

Game Designer Bruno Faidutti described best what I am looking for:
"It is not a question of artificially plating a topic onto clever mechanics, nor brutally applying a set of mechanics to an amusing or exciting topic, but instead finding a symbiotic relationship between the universe in which the game will exist and the systems which will facilitate this. In the end a game, even an abstract one, is nothing other than a storytelling machine—a story being a chronological list of events linked together."

[edit]Thanks for all your suggestion (even the future ones )! They really helped me to get some new games on my radar and to sort my list of possibly interesting games![/edit]
 
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Don Kimes

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These 3 are worth checking into. All great games with a well incorporated theme

Puerto Rico
Railways of the World
Power Grid

These are all 2-3 hour games but very enjoyable
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Adam Kazimierczak
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A tall order, although many games do this. Looking over your games owned, I assume you mean mostly "euros" and not sprawling epic AT games or wargames so here is a short list:

The Manhattan Project This is a nice thematic worker placement game with some good mechanics that fit with the bomb making theme.

Dominant Species Every game of this is a story. Highly recommended if you have the time and a group that can handle it.

Android: Netrunner If you're playing 2 player games this is as good of an integration of theme and mechanics that you'll ever see. The assymmetric balance of corp vs. runner is very well done, and each side plays in a completely different way.

Twilight Struggle Again an assymmetric 2 player game which immerses you in the Cold War. Better if you have a dedicated opponent of similar skill level that you play repeatedly.







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LC
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kaziam wrote:

Twilight Struggle Again an assymmetric 2 player game which immerses you in the Cold War. Better if you have a dedicated opponent of similar skill level that you play repeatedly.


Why do you consider this to be asymmetric. Not arguing, just curious if having separate decks makes it fit that bill.
 
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Justin Fuhrmann
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Lawcomic wrote:
kaziam wrote:

Twilight Struggle Again an assymmetric 2 player game which immerses you in the Cold War. Better if you have a dedicated opponent of similar skill level that you play repeatedly.


Why do you consider this to be asymmetric. Not arguing, just curious if having separate decks makes it fit that bill.


Twilight Struggle doesn't have separate decks...
 
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Andre Viana
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On the path to financial speculation and asset management 18xx series is unbeatable.
 
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LC
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Gamemanue wrote:


Twilight Struggle doesn't have separate decks...


Right. I meant separate event cards. Good point.

So, my question stands. How is this game asymmetric?
 
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Curt Carpenter
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I think you're making it too complicated. What you're describing is simply a "good" game. At least in the Euro camp, which is sounds like you're in (and some of would argue is the only place that symbiosis exists). Try looking at stuff in the top 200 and filter out abstracts, Ameritrash, and wargames (all pretty obvious). Then look for number of players, weight, and duration (the last two having a moderate to strong correlation). And of course theme, if you care.
 
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Adam Kazimierczak
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Lawcomic wrote:
kaziam wrote:

Twilight Struggle Again an assymmetric 2 player game which immerses you in the Cold War. Better if you have a dedicated opponent of similar skill level that you play repeatedly.


Why do you consider this to be asymmetric. Not arguing, just curious if having separate decks makes it fit that bill.


Symmetry in a game for me means that both sides have equivalent starting positions and the same potential strategies for winning. If 2 sides have to be balanced because of mutually exclusive abilities/options then the game is assymmetric. Also it can be argued that TS does have separate decks, they're just mixed together.
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Curt Carpenter
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Lawcomic wrote:
Gamemanue wrote:


Twilight Struggle doesn't have separate decks...


Right. I meant separate event cards. Good point.

So, my question stands. How is this game asymmetric?

Are you serious? This is the definition of asymmetric. One player is USSR, the other USA. The setup is different for the two sides. Events are different for each side. How is this still a question?
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André
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Thank you all so far, you have mentioned some games I will have to investigate further

kaziam wrote:
[..]Looking over your games owned, I assume you mean mostly "euros" and not sprawling epic AT games or wargames so here is a short list[..]

My list looks very "euro" indeed, but that's only because I just started my new obsession and these are the games I could get while shopping nearby. I am very interested in getting to know games of other categories as well, if the synergy of theme and mechanics is above the ordinary.
 
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LC
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curtc wrote:

Are you serious? This is the definition of asymmetric. One player is USSR, the other USA. The setup is different for the two sides. Events are different for each side. How is this still a question?


Yes, I was serious. But, again, I was not arguing. My understanding of asymmetric is that the sides play differently and/or have different victory conditions (e.g. Netrunner) as opposed to simply having different setups (e.g. Twilight Struggle, any other game where players have different board setups at the start). I am not saying you are incorrect, just seeking clarification on the terminology.
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Lucas Hedgren
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superflypete wrote:
remember that Power Grid is simply a reskinning and reintegration of other people's mechanics


Ooh, ooh, do tell!
 
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Mike G
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I usually don't give a toss about theme. That said, I think Lords of Vegas does an admirable job of using the mechanics of Vegas casinos (gambing dice) to match the theme of Vegas.
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Justin Fuhrmann
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Our favorite thematic game right now is Cleopatra and the Society of Architects. It's more of a family game. I'm a big fan of ancient themes.
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russell smith
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one of the best in my eyes id flash point fire rescue
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André
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Again thanks for the suggestions!

curtc wrote:
[..]What you're describing is simply a "good" game. At least in the Euro camp, which is sounds like you're in (and some of would argue is the only place that symbiosis exists)[..]

superflypete wrote:
The best example of games that best tie theme to mechanics are found outside of European games. There are very few true Euro games that cannot be rethemed into virtually anything while still "making sense" whereas most American games are so deeply tied to the theme that changing the theme would make the mechanics seem foreign.[..]


It's great that the principal argument can be started from such different viewpoints
I have not much experience outside the scope of Euro Games yet, so I can't make an argument there. But with Euros, I think the fact that you could change a setting to something different doesn't necessarily mean that the original theme is not in symbiosis with the mechanics. Some mechanics might be best suited to transport the sensations and struggles that people connect with and expect from a certain theme.
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Steve Dubya
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It is on my mind as I just acquired it and played it, but I can't imagine A la carte being about anything other than a cooking competition.
 
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Geoff Burkman
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Auweh wrote:
Without regard for board game categories I ask you to help me find those games, that manage to establish a strong symbiosis between the theme and the mechanics...."In the end a game, even an abstract one, is nothing other than a storytelling machine—a story being a chronological list of events linked together."


Bearing that in mind, my recommendations would be:

Agricola
Dominant Species
almost any wargame
 
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Michael J
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Lords of Vegas and Dungeon Petz do a wonderful job of mixing theme and mechanics. These are two of the best recent examples of excellent synergy between the two.

With those recommendations out of the way, I'd also like to nominate a designer that excels in this particular space. Vlaada Chvatil marries theme and mechanics together like no one else, although his designs are often times extremely complex and a beast to learn. Martin Wallace comes to mind next. Wallace strives for historical simulation in his games, and does a great job of building games with well-integrated mechanics. His designs are easier to learn than most Vlaada designs, and equally rewarding to me.

Another designer that pops into mind is Knizia. But only because I can't think of a designer that tries harder to do the opposite of what you are looking for. And yet, I like most of his games as much as any other on this list. Gameplay is the king, to me, and Knizia nails this aspect on almost all of his designs.
 
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Jimmy Okolica
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+1 to Agricola - farming

De Vulgari Eloquentia - merchants & churchmen discovering the modern italian language
Mage Knight Board Game - a Euro that looks like a D&D game
Antiquity - Civilization building (unfortunately out of print)
Vinhos - growing and selling wine

 
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Jonathan Powell
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Fresco

The theme and mechanics fit really nicely together.
 
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Remus Rhymus
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The newly released Mage Wars Arena has an excellent marriage of theme and mechanics.
 
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reaching out from the in-between spaces...
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I feel like a lot of Martin Wallace's games blend theme and mechanics well.

Jorune
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Scott Hill
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For me, Zombicide does a good job of this. And, interestingly, it's the most controversial mechanics that, for me, make it work, thematically.
 
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