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To Theme or not to theme ?

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Anonymous

Normally I would come up with a theme for a game and try to model the mechanics to follow that theme.
but, I have just created a game with just the game play elements.

Now it has elements, its a warfare, land acquisition game in a map building environment I have a dilemma. Do I 'graft' a story onto it.
eg, its space marines in a space-hulk thing, or orcs verses elfs in middle earth, or the simpsons beating back the aliens in springfield?

does anyone have thoughts on. selling 'draugts' is better than selling 'pokémon draughts' (you know the game where the pokemon are layed out on an 8x8 battle arrena, placed in three rows against the two home clan areas, if they do a back flip over an other pokémon that one is removed from the play area. If they get into the other clan area the evolve into the more powerful... yada yada yada.)

strobe

Joe_Huber
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Re: To Theme or not to theme ?

captain_strobe wrote:
Now it has elements, its a warfare, land acquisition game in a map building environment I have a dilemma. Do I 'graft' a story onto it.
eg, its space marines in a space-hulk thing, or orcs verses elfs in middle earth, or the simpsons beating back the aliens in springfield?

No answer, but two thoughts:

1) From what I've heard, themed games sell better. If you are aiming to sell the game, not having a theme may distract.

2) Personal style. Every abstract game I've designed has either acquired a theme or been shelved. In general, I strongly prefer themed games, and as a result I find it far easier to work on them.

Joe

Anonymous
Theme in board game

Designer Reiner Knizia says that whether you start with a theme, mechanics or component, your final product will probably include all three. He suggests, however, that when developing a new idea, you should focus in one area and incorporate the other two in the process. As he says, mechanics alone is mathematics, theme alone is a story, with components alone you'll have an abstract toy; mechanics and theme are storytelling games; theme and components, themed toys; mechanics, components plus a theme is what we commonly know as a board game.

Personally, the way in which I got involved in board game design, was while designing a series of sculptures more than ten years ago. I came up with an idea for a series of of human bodies in different cube-like posses that I could arrange in different ways for the show. The cubes would be freely set in a platform or base. I went even further thinking that the cubes could be positioned differently by each buyer, turned owner, in his house as he would like.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I could create rules to regulate the movement of these cubes.

Well, I soon learned that the way in which I approached the design, I had turned the cubes into components and the rules were the mechanics, the platform had become a board and when I added a style to these bodies I had given this sculpture a theme, turning it into a board game. Instead of a sculpture, I ended up with my first strategy board game!

prophx
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Joined: 08/13/2008
To Theme or not to theme ?

What I love about designing games is that they become their own entity over time. They consume all of your waking (and at times dreaming) moments. I've had games start as one thing... maybe a certain era in time and then after a mechanic or two has changed the theme has changed with it. I believe all games are a theme in themselves even if a story line does not exist. When you play abstract games you are pulled into the world that it creates. Themes automatically suck you into that world, but abstract is in the eye of the gamer.

Dralius
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Joined: 07/26/2008
To Theme or not to theme ?

I think themes are best when they help you understand the rules of a game. Carcassonne could have been done as an abstract but the rules would not have been as easy to learn, Much is the same for most games. I spent nearly two years making only abstract games, i think my jaunt into world of pure abstract games was not a waste and has help me write better rules or lets say simple to the point type of rules. Getting back into making themed games has become a great pleasure with a creative backlog of two years to get out i am wild with ideas.

Anonymous
To Theme or not to theme ?

Dralius wrote:
I think themes are best when they help you understand the rules of a game.

How about the theme as the base on which the rules are to be developed? Instead of developing abstract mechanics and then adding any theme that applies, coming up with a theme/story and developing mechanics that make that theme/story work in the form of a board game? It creates, in my opinion, a cohesive game in the sense that theme and mechanics are very well integrated...I think it makes a very strong concept.

Well, not that it is the only approach, but is one that works very well.

Torrent
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To Theme or not to theme ?

artbytes wrote:

How about the theme as the base on which the rules are to be developed? Instead of developing abstract mechanics and then adding any theme that applies, coming up with a theme/story and developing mechanics that make that theme/story work in the form of a board game? It creates, in my opinion, a cohesive game in the sense that theme and mechanics are very well integrated...I think it makes a very strong concept.

Well, not that it is the only approach, but is one that works very well.
This is my current approach. I have a group of themes waiting for games. As I think and live i develop mechanics that fit the game. Sometimes in development the mechanics change and then fit a better theme, so the theme changes.

To comment on something said earlier. I claim that "Story" is not Theme. Certainly a Theme MAY contain a story. And as much as I like most of Knizia's games, I don't always think the Theme's fit seemlessly. Certainly his stuff is not pure abstract, but some of the theme's do feel painted on (quite literaly in some cases).

Anonymous
To Theme or not to theme ?

I typically start with a theme in mind and then brainstorm mechanics to match. However, I frequently grow attached to a particular mechanic. As I continue with the game, it tends to be molded around the mechanic. So, although I begin with a theme, my games tend to be very mechanic-centric. As the nuances of the game mechanics emerge, the theme is sometimes changed or reinforced to match. Lately I have been using specialized components as the basis for my mechanics so, for now at least, they are too closely related to distinguish as separate threads in my design process.

Each element works off of the others in the end. Regardless of where I begin, every element of my game is destined to be different than I originally intended. But this is for the better as each of these elements has been fitted to the others in the process - thereby creating a more coherent game.

blah . . .that was drawn out : )
- Silverdragon0

Anonymous
To Theme or not to theme ?

I tried to make a 'pure' rule set, super simple

Take cards so that you have 7 in your hand
Take one meeple
Play or discard 0,1 or 2 cards
Discard a card
Total up your score

then extra rules appear from the cards

then a theme seems to appear a little, a bit of play testing leads to some theme or other.
refine the rules so the the fit your idea of the theme.

then make a deck of themed cards and pieces.

Pt314
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Joined: 12/31/1969
To Theme or not to theme ?

So new rules are on the cards? I love meta-games.

Hmm, lots of themes would work with this one.

Nazhuret
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Joined: 12/31/1969
To Theme or not to theme ?

the first game i designed was something that sounds similar. there were two stages to the game. 1)exploration : placing the map tiles on the play area from your hand and 2)encroachment : placing like terrain tiles from your hand over adjacent enemy held tiles, thereby encroaching upon the enemie's capitol. (you need to have the second capitol in the deck in your hand and one of your cards adjacent to their capitol)

it started out as a simple terrain progression set (rules) for modular hexaganol maps used for battletech and heavy gear.
in this aspect it was like yours... simply the rules set and basic idea of terrain tiles. as such it was very fun.

but then it got better when we decided to have each players' deck (identical cards available) depict a very very different kingdom. it could be ANYTHING from sylvan elves to space vampires to canabalistic chocolate teddy bears.... it doesn't matter... since there is no time nor distance scale it's entirely possible that when encroached upon the roman's level one hill tile could become the undead's level one hill of skulls.... or the robotronic's level one pile of burned out proccesor chips... etc etc...

the point is that the mechanics stay exactly the same and the "grafted on" theme is very very basic... but it made it the experience much better, encouraging stories of various kingdoms' exploits and even rudimentary role playing during play.

long story short... (except not really at this point) as much as "we" may enjoy abstract games for their own sake the vast majority of people simply yawn. graft on even the simplest of themes to a solid game play experience and they'll keep coming back for more.

Deviant
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Joined: 12/31/1969
To Theme or not to theme ?

In my case it is never a question of whether to start from a theme, mechanics, or components. I just see or think of something cool and I go from there.

For instance, my latest experiment, Giza, in terms of gameplay and mechanics could be considered abstract. It has a perfect mathematical order to it - six chambers of different sizes spanning six floors of different sizes. Each player has an identical set of tiles, numbered from 1-6, and two "special" tiles. And yet, the game emerged from a theme - make a game about Egypt, memory and tile-laying. These were the criteria for the game design showdown a few weeks back. Unfortunately, My entry didn't win any votes, even though it was clearly the best :wink: . The point is, without the theme I never would have thought of the triangular "pyramid" board, which works so perfectly that now I don't think I could do it any other way.

Likewise, I am often inspired by the components. Although I haven't created any truly revolutionary games with just components alone, I am fascinated by the possibilities inherent in dice, marbles, dominoes, and even clay - besides the obvious. Diceland is one example of a game dominated by its components - the rules are so-so, but the idea of making the dice "fighters", resources, and projectiles all in one is sheer genius.

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