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Different Fantasy Themes

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wooberg
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I've played many board games over the years and have become pretty tired of the medieval/renaissance theme in them. I play from a wide variety of genres but the dragons, knights, etc., always seem to slip in there or show up here and there. To me, the theme has been overdone and I like seeing new or different themes. I know a lot of people like this theme but I'm curious as to what others think. What do you think of the medieval/renaissance theme nowadays?

Fhizban
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Im also quite fed up with the

Im also quite fed up with the standard "high fantasy" theme.

Im working on a customizable card game since 3 years, the background world dates back about 7 years already. And its based on a so called "dark fantasy" world. Its still fantasy, but everything is "tainted" by evil, even the good races look and feel somewhat "bad".

Having seen so many high fantasy, steampunk, wild-west and sci-fi techno-fantasy crossovers - i always come back to my vision of a "dark fantasy" world. I think the typical themes are already at their end. of course, there will always be "stereotype customers" who aprecciate a LOTR like world with orcs, elves and dwarves.

but for the more advanced players, designers have to create new worlds of unseen beauty and elegance. maybe even "cruel beauty" as in my case.

i dislike posting this shameless plug about my project at this point, but it fits the topic just too well:

Gods & Minions (the name of my project) for example features no "green orcs" and "shiny elves" - instead all races drowned in bloodshed and violence by worldwide apocalypse. its like applying a cataclysmn found in an post-nuclear novel to a high fantasy world. thus turning the world into "dark fantasy".

wood elves for example - merged with the forests and beasts around them. and so did their schemes. they are not the "virgin forest wardens" but wild creations of nature that blur the line between elf and beast. they are also not too elf-like - featuring a brutal and feral like behaivor only found in orc tribes of other worlds.

Hogor - the "high orcs" on the other side. are a valiant and aristocratic sub tribe of the orcs. they stole the invention of plate mail and twohanders from the humans and build a feudal kingdom ontop of stolen knowledge as well. the hogor are seperated into a worker, fighter, wizard and cleric caste - just like the typical stereotype humans you find in other games. but these are no soft-skinned humans - these are also no green-skinned orcs like seen in warhammer - these are LOTR like super-brutes who wear plate mail and believe in their king, following a codex and strive to maintain a life as peasants, farmers or scholars - only manning their arms when their emperor orders them to do so. its like a social role swap on racial level!

okay, thats enough. please excuse my very personal ramblings about trying to get rid of the typical fantasy setting. if you are interested, check our sites (at facebook and twitter):

http://www.godsandminions.com
http://www.facebook.com/godsandminions
http://www.twitter.com/godsandminions

happy new year!

Corsaire
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Still good with medieval

Still good with medieval fantasy, here. It's the novels I read, and is the first genre of games (computer, board, or card) that I look for.

sonofman
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Still sells

But is that because everyone seems to be selling it, or because that's what the audience wants to buy?

I'm tired of the fantasy theme myself, particularly when it takes itself too seriously. It's like writing, where one of the biggest newbie fantasy author mistakes is spending too much time world-building and not enough time telling their story.

In a game this translates to spending too much time selling yet another fantasy world (with a twist!) instead of making a compelling game experience.

This isn't a knock on those building fantasy worlds! If it makes you happy go ahead and do it! I'm just as guilty making elaborate cultures and worlds for RPG campaigns and loving every second of it. But unless I'm specifically marketing the world as a thing unto itself, I'd rather focus on the game.

wooberg
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It may sell but...

I agree that it is a theme that sells but that doesn't mean that more games should use the medieval theme just because of that. If a game's mechanics can stand on its own, regardless of the theme, then it shouldn't plaster on that theme, in my opinion. It seems lazy to me. Let me use an example with the classic game, Dominion. While its medieval/renaissance theme isn't super strong, it still utilizes this theme when it doesn't really need to. The game's mechanics are what make the game great, not the theme. I really think the game could have gotten away with a cyberpunk, superhero (legendary is an example of this although its mechanics differ slightly), or some other theme. I'm not bashing on Dominion as it is an awesome game that I enjoy playing (all theme aside), I just think more game developers should try new/different themes instead of just slapping on that tried and true theme. I love seeing new/different themes. Keeps my board game collection's palette even more diverse and interesting.

sonofman
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I agree.

It's tired. Move on, people!

Procylon
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I think games with magic that

I think games with magic that is strong and widespread should be as far away from the medieval fantasy theme as possible. If your theme is a world with no technology and very little magic, maybe medeival fantasy fits. The more Magic you have though, and the longer it has been present in that world, the more "technologically magical" the world should become.

People like swords and melee combat though. If you had the magic equivalent of machine guns, would swords be relevant? Well, it is magic, you could MAKE them relevant with enough logic and explanation. If you brought out machine guns against characters in Bleach or Dragon Ball Z, you would find melee combat maybe a little too relevant. :)

MrPretty
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My problem with Fantasy

My personal problem with fantasy is that it is almost always a very mild alteration of Lord of the Rings.

I am sorry, but elves, halflings, dark elves, gnomes, wood elves, dwarves, half-elves and any other kind of elf are all just humans in disguise... I don't understand how these always seem to be in every major "made up" fantasy world...

I am guessing its simply for consistency,,, but would it kill them to mix it up?

I think that the fantasy theme makers need to look to the sci fi races to maybe diversify their fantasy worlds a bit. Hey star wars has melee and guns. And everyone has bought into that!

Tbone
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It's comforting

I think it has to do with the feeling of the game...

People are very comfortable with the Medival theme because it's familiar; we designers and gamers don't like straying from what we know best.

I'm not defending that type of theme because it is a roundabout way of quickly coming up with a theme that fits and people understand but there is no doubt creating a new theme out if thin air is risky.

MrPretty
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Agreed

Yes I completely agree.

While it does get old it has it's purpose and as someone mentioned earlier, its a whole lot easier to sell from a marketing standpoint to stick to norms.

And I think that goes a step further by most races being humanoid... As we have no idea what it's actually like to be a whale or an 8 tentacled bug-owl creature that communicates through licking for that matter either.

wooberg
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Progress..

I agree that trying new themes can be risky and cause designers to fall back on the medieval theme as a sort of safety net (since they know people like it). Also, since the designers take a risk with new mechanics and a new game overall, I can see why they would stick to their guns. I just like seeing more variety I guess. There are a decent amount of games that have come out featuring themes other than the medieval one. Thanks for the input so far everyone and keep it rolling!

Kroz1776
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High Vs Low Fantasy (...Sorry for the Rant)

First off, lets define high fantasy because I was confused when you first started talking about it. High fantasy is any fantasy that is set outside the bounds of this earth, or have a lot of fantasy element to them. Thus The Wheel of Time series is high fantasy, while Low Fantasy is fantasy that has minimal fantasy elements and generally resides within this world. Indian in the cupboard is low fantasy, as is Buffy the Vampire Slayer or even I Dream of Jeannie.

Thus Dark Fantasy would merely be a form of high fantasy.

Onto the issue about humanoids...yes they are just people that look different. Don't we have those kinds of people on earth? Putting racial sensitivity aside, black people are better at certain kinds of athletics that us of European descent. Their natural hair looks different than mine, and their facial features are distinct. This is the same with elves. They have different looks and physical attributes depending on the universe, in Tolkien, they were immortal in the sense that their bodies couldn't die except by violence, but their spirits were forever linked to this world. This is something special and unique and it is a reason for their inclusion.

What about a sports book with black people in them? Should we just throw them out because they're just people that look just the same way we do so we don't really need to include them? No. Black people, just as much as Asians, Latinos, Indians, and any kind of Eurasian person, are special and unique. We are the salt of the earth in more way than one. We are all different spices in this world that helps to flavor it and give it beauty. I love America, but this world would be boring if it was just one big America. I love hearing different languages like German, Russian, Japanese, etc.

Races in a fantasy setting help simplify and diversify the cultures and attitudes of those worlds. Had Tolkien left out the dwarves, it would be harder to see that racial tension between Gimli and Legolas and the other elves at the beginning of the story. Sure you could make them all humans, but giving them races makes them much more identifiable and easier to recognize. The Wheel of Time does a good job of making all the different human nations very unique, but at times I found myself having to look up stuff just to refigure out certain things about the nations because I had already forgotten.

My own High Fantasy setting has (I believe) 19 very unique and distinct races. While the first story I've started on, only deals with 8 1/2 of these races (one is mentioned but never seen), I have found that fleshing out the world takes precedence because the world history has such a high importance to the main plot of the story. While yes the Simarillion isn't necessary to the plot line of LotR, without it, I believe we'd have a very different story. What makes LotR so beautiful IMO, is the depth the world has. It has this ability to really suck you in and believe it because of that depth. Some novels lack this, and while they are still good books that I love, they don't hold my attention as much as LotR does. Not only that but LotR is a book in which many people can relate easily. We can see internal struggles in the many different characters and while it started out as Frodo's quest, we see how the Ring and the many trials affect them all.

Let me sum up, I don't think there have been too many fantasy books/board games. This genre has been around since the dawn of time and I believe will be an eternal genre, never dying out. I know I'll never get tired of them.

lewpuls
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Choose any even somewhat

Choose any even somewhat well-known theme. We have so many games now - maybe a thousand a year tabletop, and *far* more video - that lots and lots of games will use that theme. So for those who know lots of games, they're likely to get tired of that theme.

The relevant question is, does it sell? Hard to say, but it appears so.

Procylon
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The thing about Fantasy races

The thing about Fantasy races is that many players already have emotional connections with them. If you refer Dwarves, Elves, Orcs, etc, that means many things to many people.

If you name a new, unheard of race, it often draws a blank in people's minds. You as the designer have to make those emotional connections for those players. If players never become emotionally connected to your races, then they are much less likely to refer your game to other people, buy sequels/expansions, etc.

Think about any modern TV show featuring unique fantasy or sci-fi races. How important is the relationship and portrayal of the races to the show's success? When you think about your favorite such show, what comes to mind?

When I think about Star Trek, I think about Humanity and it's relationship with all the various races, be that war, trade, indifference, etc. The relationship to each individual character and how race places into that.

Klingons act a certain way, as do Dwarves, Elves, etc. People latch onto those styles and personas.

Even a Sci-Fi show such as Farscape, which never really hit huge viewership numbers(probably due to it being on Cable), has a cult following largely based on the interaction between the Human protagonist and all the new races he meets on his journey. If they released a new Farscape anything, be it TV, movie, game, etc, it would have an immediate customer base because of those emotional connections.

Tolkien's universe is used because it provides an immediate and universal emotional connection to millions of people. It has taken decades for those emotional connections to be established. You can see the same thing with every Marvel or DC superhero movie that comes out.

If you want to do something new regarding setting and races, you have to make it emotional for the players in some meaningful way. Races need clear identities that interact again and again and again. Each type of person needs to be able to see themselves in one or more of these races.

On top of all that, to compete with Tolkien, that setting will have to be good enough or marketed well enough to become popular. That includes follow up games/books/etc. As you can see from Tolkien's current competition this basically never happens.

ReneWiersma
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The typical themes and

The typical themes and settings get re-used in games (and books and series and movies, etc) simply because that is what people know. People like to return stuff they know, because that is how the human brain works. That said, sometimes people like to experience something new as well (thankfully!).

That said, I'm not sure if a board game is the right medium to introduce a new kind of setting or theme. If you wanted to introduce a new kind of fantasy setting that deviates greatly from the typical Tolkien / high fantasy setting it would work better in a comic, a series or a book, because you have the time to go into details of that new setting or theme and really get into what makes it tick. Most board games use a theme mostly as window dressing. It makes more sense to use a more common theme, otherwise it might be even more difficult to get into the game.

Kroz1776
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Tolkien-Fantasy

Much like Elvis was the King of Rock-n-Roll, Tolkien rightly should be considered the king of modern day fantasy. Tolkien seemed to have pioneered a certain fantasy feel that many, many, MANY authors would follow. Shanarra, Star Trek (Yes, this is essentially humans exploring space while running into space elfs "Vulcans" and space orcs "Klingons"), Eragon, Warcraft, D&D, etc. Tolkien in a sense revived modern day high fantasy, and with this revival comes influence.

This can be seen through a essay written by C.S. Lewis in which he talks about writing stories for children. He talks about how when many authors write for children, they write things they think children would like. C.S. Lewis argues that this is wrong and states when he writes for children, he writes what he would enjoy, because he still enjoys all the things he did as a child. He argues that when a person matures, they don't need to throw away everything they loved. He said this because he goes on to state that if someone found you reading some science-fiction or fantasy stories, they would call you a child and make fun of you.

Thus fantasy, period, was something left for children when Tolkien began writing. C.S. Lewis while writing a masterful fantasy series himself, meant them to be read by kids, Tolkien on the other hand was obviously writing something a bit bigger. This is why I believe that Tolkien ultimately is the pattern followed by most fantasy writers today, because he was the first person that was able to create a fantasy story that was able to capture the hearts of adults so thoroughly.

I argue that people follow his example not because it is what is familiar, but because it is the pattern set down by him. It is something we have fallen in love with. It is a romantic thought, in a sense, to have a normal person be unwillingly swept off to an adventure to overcome obstacles and come out a better (although not always an undamaged) person.

All inspiration has a source, much like how Tolkien pulled much from Norse/Germanic mythology for his own stories, we too pull our inspiration from what inspires us. Lord of the Rings inspired many, many authors, who wrote works that have inspired us. Thus I bet you could trace a geneological line back to LotR from a lot fantasy novels now out there. Thus indirectly we write and create that which is familiar to us...why? Because that is what inspires us, and whatever inspires us, we tend to read, watch, and listen to more of. Detective novels don't inspire me as much as a good fantasy novel, thus I read more fantasy and I'm more apt to read, and create things in a fantastical world. Until they stop inspiring me, I'll keep enjoying the variations the different fantasy novels/games bring to the genre.

wooberg
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Well Known Theme

I agree that the medieval/renaissance theme is very popular because it is well-known through literature. If you examine all the fantasy literature, look at how much of it uses that theme, even to a small degree. I believe that the popularity of other themes are choked out partly by the abundance of literature, even video games, that use the medieval theme. The lack of popularity or just the lack of being a well-known theme is what impairs the presence of other themes. That's why I'm tired of the medieval/renaissance theme, because it pushes out other themes due to popularity.

I'm fine with people liking the theme. I'm not trying to hate on the theme in general, I just want a bigger presence of other themes. There are times when I try to get new people into board gaming, and they assume that the medieval/renaissance theme will be the standard or commonplace. When I hear that, it bugs me because there are many other great games that don't fall along that theme.

Kroz1776
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Ease of Design

wooberg wrote:
I agree that the medieval/renaissance theme is very popular because it is well-known through literature. If you examine all the fantasy literature, look at how much of it uses that theme, even to a small degree. I believe that the popularity of other themes are choked out partly by the abundance of literature, even video games, that use the medieval theme. The lack of popularity or just the lack of being a well-known theme is what impairs the presence of other themes. That's why I'm tired of the medieval/renaissance theme, because it pushes out other themes due to popularity.

I'm fine with people liking the theme. I'm not trying to hate on the theme in general, I just want a bigger presence of other themes. There are times when I try to get new people into board gaming, and they assume that the medieval/renaissance theme will be the standard or commonplace. When I hear that, it bugs me because there are many other great games that don't fall along that theme.

I agree with you whole heartedly about games. There is a plethora of fantasy games compared to other genres. If you look at novels, you'll see a healthy smattering of different types of "themes." There are two problems I see with board games and the reason they seem to have this problem with an over abundance of fantasy games.

  • The demographics of heavy gamers
  • Ease of Theming
  • Versatility

Let's start with the first one. By this I mean that it seems, at least right now, that the kind of people into heavy games, are ones that are easily sold on the fantasy theme. Basically what I'm saying is, I believe there is a bigger market for them. With books, you get all sorts of people that read books. With board games, I have noticed that unless someone has the tiniest bit of nerd in them, or everyone else is a nerd and they peer pressure said non-nerd into a game, it is almost impossible to get someone to play a game. (Oh those stubborn farm kids!) With that in mind, it also seems that nerds are more likely to like fantasy themes. Thus it is good business sense to make fantasy themed games. This is the first reason I believe there are more fantasy games than other types.

The second reason is that it is extremely easy to make a fantasy themed game. Fantasy allows you to change things and let you do things that might be considered a no-no had you been designing a game about WWII. Sure you could do an alternate history WWII game and break some norms, but you can't if you want to make a historical game. You can break all these in fantasy because there is no norm.

The last reason is that fantasy allows for versatility. By versatility, I mean fantasy themes are easier to add onto. There are so many doctor games you can make, then if you made the same number of fantasy games in the same setting (LotR) using the same basic mechanics, you could then make a whole new slew of them with a different setting. With doctors, what the new setting? "Come here guys, this game is about playing doctors in China instead of Japan!" It's just not the same as saying, "Hey we just finished playing Sentinals of the Multiverse, let's go play Marvel Legendary now!" They're both cooperative card games about superheroes, and yes I know that one is a deck builder and the other is not, but the point stands that it's easier to get excited about that switch because they are distincting different, just in theme.

There is another theme that has great versatility, anything that has routes. Train & racing games are right up this alley. You want a new experience for TtR, go grab the nordic countries (a nasty little bugger). How many maps are there for Age of Steam? How many different tracks are there for Fomula D?

Now, I'm not justifying the number of fantasy themed games, but I am stating why I think they are so prevalent. I can understand how you would seem drenched in fantasy themed games. I think though until board games that aren't family or party games breaks the stigma that they're nerdy, that we will continue to see a huge amount of fantasy games.

In the end I say, "Bring on the games, whatever they be!"

Sorraz
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Breaking Down Barriers and Stereotypes.

I am writing a book currently, and in it my characters are very similar to Tolkien's work. Though not reading many fantasy novels out of fear of creative corruption, I have only learned from movies and shows. The story I have written follows a group of children that end up in another realm, and have to go on many basic fantasy quests. Though my story, isn't the best, it's in the characters. Elves aren't good, and Orcs aren't bad. My band of heroes is made of a diverse group of a little bit of everything. In a game I created in the same universe, the same rule applies. I have Ents that are racist, and and Orc girl with an orange tuft of hair that is a super diva. I have actually played around with the concept of race, stating that racists don't care about skin colour, only literal race. My point, is that a fantasy game, or story, can exist and be different, as long as either the characters or story is unique. Think about movies in New York, all the same place, with the same lore, except the story is different.

Momtoast
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Alternate Theme Ideas?

So, the game I'm currently working on involves a lot of magic. The players control magic characters who are trying to defeat evil in a game.

I was going to post about the possibility of picking a different theme - when I found this thread.

What are some good alternative ideas for a setting that can allow for different kinds of play styles (there were plans for three different kinds of magic users in this setting) that would still appeal to a lot of gamers?

Here's a few thoughts -
Is Science fiction any less over used? I have a few 'out there' sci - fi ideas:

Underwater Civilization (there could be people genetically altered to live under water, people who are part machine who can live underwater, and others who live in submarine type things)

Police State in the Future - aliens/robots/humans each with their own strengths and weaknesses

Willem Verheij
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My thoughts on it.

I think that mainly the classical period and mythology are often overlooked while they are just as rich in lore as medieval fantasy.

It's a very solid alternative. It has warriors, mages, necromancers, many familiar fantasy races that could be playable such as Centaurs, Minotaurs, nymphs, etc. Also completely different look to the world, clothing and armor, etc.

My main problem with many medieval fantasy themes is that it wants to be everything. Too many gods, different races, technology ranging from stone age to highly advanced steampunk or even science fiction.. basicly the creators tossing everything in there that they consider to be cool or something. Warcraft is a prime example of that.

Personally I am working on my own fantasy setting for a story, but in preperation I am writing a short adventure for the heroes of it first, to explore their group dynamic in a set location. The characters are central.

But for the setting itself, I am going more to the roots, past Tolkien to the folklore that inspired it. I want to go for more of a fairytale feeling in my setting, making it far more medieval and less fantasy. It does have dragons, dwarves, elves and more, but the existance of anything not human is up for debate in the setting, its never common knowledge. Neither is reading and writing. Women are not equal in this setting either.
But to me, such a setting with opression allows for far more conflict.
Put a chivalric knight in a very black and white world and he is boring, but put him in a morally grey world where he wont expect others to share his morals, and that same knight suddenly becomes interesting.

Still, for boardgames I don't mind a fantasy setting. Then again the only one I have with that setting is Lords of Waterdeep. As long as something is done right, I don't mind. In style I tend to prefer more a classic, darker artstyle like is often seen in 80's D&D and such.
I dont like the goofy cartoony style of Warcraft and many other games that try to get in on their succes.

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