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mechanic vs theme start point

13 replies [Last post]
Joined: 01/28/2017

I've said for a long time that theme comes first but I'm finding myself in an odd situation where I've found a couple of mechanics that I like and starting to design a game around them.

Is there room for both schools of thought?

Have I just stared at too many games recently.....

X3M's picture
Joined: 10/28/2013
Personally. I go for

Personally. I go for mechanics first. I could ask the question in reverse ;)

I think that the best answer is to do simply what feels best at the moment.

Yort Watson
Yort Watson's picture
Joined: 11/12/2017
Mechanics first for me

I'm definitely a mechanics first person. However if you keep a theme loosely associated with the mechanics it can help progress your ideas. The theme can also stifle your ideas, which is often my greatest obstacle. Be ready to paste on a different theme when you are stuck and you may break yourself out of a gridlock with your mechanics/ other ideas.

let-off studios
let-off studios's picture
Joined: 02/07/2011
Go With the Flow

Push forward with whatever strikes you at the moment.

Just recently I received critique about a game design that was primarily about the mechanics. The thematic elements emerged gradually, and at the time of testing weren't fully-realized.

One of the playtesters/reviewers remarked, "If it's not a theme-forward design, that's okay." He then explained that he would just expect to see interesting choices being the strength of the game instead.

Until he had mentioned it, I never was aware of the term "theme-forward." My assumption is that another game could be considered "mechanics-forward," like chess, go, or some of the games by Knizia. The theme could be tacked-on or deliberately abstracted.

So don't sweat it. Just keep working with it and through persistence the design strengths will emerge. The game will happen one way or another. :)

Experimental Designs
Experimental Designs's picture
Joined: 04/20/2013
I'm going to side with

I'm going to side with mechanics first too.

I think mechanics should be the foundation of the game because a theme is more or less an aesthetic that can be made to conform to the mechanics.

Corsaire's picture
Joined: 06/27/2013
Kinda neither

I start from either and then try to find the real center-piece which for me is the experience.

Like if I am wanting to make a light dungeon crawler, there are elements of the experience I want to focus on, like movement, discovery, and conflict. I'd find mechanics that allow for those and work through it. If that works, I could find a different setting, like exploring a forerunner relic location in space, or a temple.

If I start with just say tile laying, movement, and dice rolling it'd been much harder to find the fun. Sometmes, I'm in love with a mechanic like in another post I mentioned deck building with movement. From that I found a theme and a setting and identified the experience of improving your abilities to overcome progessive challenge scenarios to power the design.

tikey's picture
Joined: 03/31/2017
While I think that both

While I think that both avenues are valid I actually approach Boardgame design as an experience. This mostly leads to a "theme first" approach, but it's a bit disingenuous to think of it that way.
The idea is to see the game as a way to emulate an experience, be it the thrill of a car race, the second to second decisions during a martial arts combat or the tactical challenge of being a spaceship captain. In that regard mechanics are just a tool like aesthetics. The important thing about framing games as experiences is that it moves the approach away from the functional components and into the purpose and concepts behind them. That way we can also talk about what the games say, because the game can be a vessel to talk about different issues and present them in a different way.

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
I start based on the "subject" of the game

What I mean is this: If my game is "Quest Adventure Cards(tm)" and I begin working on refining this design, I think about the elements that I would like to see if the game and that leads to mechanics and how it should come together...

So knowing what I want from the "experience" leads me to digging deeper with the "theme" and also what mechanics would work best with the game.

I also have a bunch of "pending" designs that I like to borrow elements from. See if I can piece together something "special". That too is also very important because when it works, in my experience it makes for a real good game. But sometimes I borrow a mechanic from another design and that leads me down another path for the design...

And so forth... iterative design.

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
And seeing more games...

I not too long ago watch a game being player called "Lorenzo il Magnifico". And I could not figure out WHY people like playing this game. To me it seems like a bunch of cr@p put together to tax players into trying to make the most optimal moves during a turn, while sometimes interfering with an opponent's plans.

It's got to be one of the heavier "Eurogames" and BGG has a weight of over 3.

But it made me WONDER about what OTHER people like in terms of games... Sometimes it makes you say "Huh?"

Oh and for some darn reason, the game I PICK for Rahdo are never the one that is going to be played... I always think people's voting is wrong. My choice is usually 2nd or 3rd... and sometimes even LAST! LOL

Adam Leamey
Joined: 02/23/2017
I like to start with theme or

I like to start with theme or rather concept idea and make everything tie into that core theme/concept it ensures that everything fits and feels like it should be there.

Experimental Designs
Experimental Designs's picture
Joined: 04/20/2013
This is going to sound very

This is going to sound very stupid but in this particular subject what does one mean by "theme?"

I was thinking theme as in the setting of the game itself or am I completely missing the point?

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
Theme = Type of game

In my book "theme" is equal to the "type" of the game. If it's Quest AC, then it's Medieval Fantasy combined with Card Game Interaction. Because Quest AC was "primarily" a "card game" to begin with.

So working on a Second Edition - makes me think of similarities but the additional mechanics that are required to make a deeper experience. Quest AC was my FIRST "Published" game... And I've matured greatly as a Designer with "TradeWorlds".

So "theme" to me = "type of game" (Story, setting and interactivity).

Steve Broadfoot
Joined: 04/25/2017
Of course there is room for

Of course there is room for both. Its whatever works at the time.

I'm generally all about the theme first, but a decent number of my designs started life with me having an idea for a mechanic and quickly feeling that this or that theme works with it.

Remember also, if you approach publishers they may choose to scrap your theme anyway meaning mechanics matter just as much.

Don't pigeonhole yourself, just go where your ideas take you.

ssm's picture
Joined: 04/06/2017
krone9 wrote:Is there room

krone9 wrote:
Is there room for both schools of thought?.

Of course, inspiration comes from many sources, at any time. Why constrain yourself by only creating in one way? I also don't see why it doesn't happen both ways for most.

Have you never seen something in action (a possible mechanic) and thought of something that could fit it?

An example- I took a short walk the other day past a house that was getting an addition. As I walked by a worker threw some wood off the roof to the junk pile. The pieces hit & launched a few pieces in the pile into the air.
I have seen this happen thousands, if not millions, of times before. This time I saw it I thought 'not flea circus, but flea olympics to see whose flea can jump the highest'.

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