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Subject: Re-theming: Share your experience rss

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Michael Iachini
United States
Denver
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I'm an admitted "mechanics first" designer, which means I can end up with games that have cool mechanics but weak themes. I want to get better at this.

My current main project is a game that involves going around a growing board of tiles, gathering resources and cards of various types on those tiles, completing lists of resources on the cards in order to gain victory points. The movement mechanic is a lot of fun.

Right now, it's called Alchemy Bazaar, but it could work as any kind of shopping experience. My earliest notions had it as some kind of flea market.

So, to help me get inspired on a cooler theme, I'd like to hear your stories of successful re-themes. Have you worked on a game for while with one theme before switching to a different theme that ended up working better?

And if you have any suggestions for me on my game, I'm all ears for those, too.

Michael Iachini
Clay Crucible Games
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John "Omega" Williams
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Kentwood
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Mainly when I retheme one of my own games its been to tweak the theme slightly. Mainly as alot of those games were IP based and once the deal ends I have to re-theme if I want to continue.

IE: Changing the Red Shetland RPG from a Conan comedy/fantasy parody to a European/Scandinavian themed fantasy with slightly more serious tone.

IE: Retheming an un-published Micronauts SF adventure game to a digital world cyberpunk adventure theme.

Those are the two big ones.
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Cardboard Edison
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Our first game to get picked up by a publisher, Tessen, originally began with a very, very different theme.

A couple of years ago, we were working on a game called Elf Rage--picture a “self storage” sign with a few missing letters. The game was about heavily armed Christmas elves stalking the corridors of the North Pole’s self-storage facility. It was a cartoonishly violent theme that cracked us up every time we thought about it.

Before the first playtest of Elf Rage, we had an idea for a card-based sequel of sorts, called Elf Rage: Assembly Line. In the sequel, two players would try to pack up toys by collecting sets of toy cards in piles, while simultaneously taking shots at each other’s elves using weapon cards for attacking and defending.

We did a first playtest of both games back-to-back, and while the original game wasn’t very good, the sequel was actually pretty fun. We decided to focus on the sequel first, so a re-theme was needed.

To come up with ideas for a new theme, we made a list of terms that described some of the game’s dynamics. Things like “used for both attacking and defending,” “don’t get caught defenseless,” “more to collect than you have room for,” “force them to lose it so you can take it for yourself,” and so on.

The results of those searches gave us a lot of ideas for new themes, like mob-controlled shipping piers, ballistic missile defense, and bullies stealing lunch money. The searches eventually led us to the Japanese weapon known as the Tessen, which can be used for both attacking and defending. The samurai theme was a fit for the gameplay, so we went with it.

The whole process worked out really well for us, because after about a year of testing with the new theme, Tessen got picked up by Van Ryder Games and is coming to Kickstarter soon!
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