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Unexplored and Underexplored themes

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RacNRoll Gaming
RacNRoll Gaming's picture
Joined: 05/12/2010

Like my board game collection the games I am designing are from a large scope of different themes. I tend to gravitate towards themes that have not been done (or at least not done well).

I made myself a vow that I would not go with a standard Fantasy themed game because there are so many of them and to me it seems "too easy"

The problem with this plan is that I am venturing close to the edge of "niche game design" where the theme will appeal to a much smaller inital market.

For example...I have been working on a game about rival grafitti artists...which at its heart is just a euro game with resource management and area control mechanics and a few other things. Will the theme really hurt the game? I dont think it will and it may actually attract new gamers to the hobby.

Who knows.


Pastor_Mora's picture
Joined: 01/05/2010

I see what you mean and even if I always try to avoid been "too creative" I think there is still much room to roam around for new ideas. Mine is cryptozoology, and the demo chapter I can't find the time to finish is "the mongolian death worm". It's not fantasy but it's close enought to and has some green appeal on it. So I endose your efforts.

Keep thinking!

Joined: 10/22/2008
I really kind of see genres

I really kind of see genres for games based more on the mechanics rather than theme/setting.

If a gamer likes sci-fi, he probably will not like every sci-fi game out there. But if a gamer likes a Role Selection/Variable Powers mechanic, he will most like enjoy the game that has it.

vishnu vp
vishnu vp's picture
Joined: 09/17/2010
Tough job!

You are a days very tough to find a new theme. But still i believe like @Pastor_Mora. We have lots of ideas to explore around us.

mdkiehl's picture
Joined: 12/10/2010
Beyond theme

When I'm trying to design a game the theme is something I try to avoid thinking about. I think of the theme as part of the look and feel of a game, an embellishment upon the core mechanics to enhance and even simplify play of the game. I think it is helpful to consider creating culture within a game's look rather than "theme". For example: take a card game you have played and reduce it to text and symbols on white paper. Then after you have played some, start to add visual embellishments that help the play of the game (like adding color to identify suits easily). Play the game some more then add more visual elements to help you (borders, typography, images relating to the text). Play the game even more, and pick out some cards to add special embellishments too (like face cards)- the cards you drool over, and value when playing.

You can apply this beyond simply card games:
1) Use embellishments to enhance and simplify play of the game you design.
2) Use embellishments to communicate content quickly and efficiently
3) Use embellishments to show importance and desirability within the culture of the game.

When developing the look of a game you might find that a "theme" arises that helps you creatively accomplish these three goals. For example a Sci-fi look might help when designing a complex game more than a "plumbing" look/theme. Using this kind of process helps to create a unique look and feel for your game, rather than trying to make a game with a specific theme, which is limiting.


Matthew Kiehl

InvisibleJon's picture
Joined: 07/27/2008
Native American tribes and politics...

On the topic of underexplored themes... I'd really like to do some serious research and make a game about the many tribes of native American people and their interactions. My purpose in making the game would be to increase understanding of the tribes' names, their locations, and their interactions. I imagine the game would be a civ-style game with area control, resource management, some combat, perhaps some voting, and such. I think it could be really nifty – if I get all the research correct and treat the topic respectfully. I'd like the game to be good enough to use as an educational tool.

...and that's my two cents.

irdesigns510's picture
Joined: 06/24/2009
Evil versions

i, for one, would love to see evil/bizarro versions of current games, for instance:

The Survivors of Catan (co-op versus the evil island)
Homeless Carcassone (meeples as "homeless drifters")
Jehovas!!! (like Zombies!!! but with jehova's witnesses as the zombies)
Bring Down the Grid (a destructive version of power grid)

...but that might just be me!

irdesigns510's picture
Joined: 06/24/2009

maybe my small rant made me think of an actual game about homeless people.

you could have skills like playing an instrument, or get pity points...bonus points if you have a pet.
People who walk through the city are affected by how you create yourself to be, and different city spots could have higher traffic.

whoever has the most change at the end of the game wins!

cottonwoodhead's picture
Joined: 03/02/2011
I think a unique theme rarely

I think a unique theme rarely hurts a games prospects, especially amongst experienced gamers who have already seen a billion and one games with the same theme. I think a graffiti theme could be eyecatching and interesting and I'd be excited to see the game.

IsaacLJ's picture
Joined: 03/11/2011

So, how could one take a theme and for mechanics from that theme?
I'm having a heck of a time trying to create a game using a parkour theme. With the characters being able to run, jump, vault, underbar, scale walls, run along walls, etcetera.

Would you know how I could accomplish this rather easily?

~Perhaps some leads would be something like Fox and Hounds {with the checker pieces}, or perhaps a sort of Chinese Checkers sort of feel?

Joined: 07/29/2008
mdkiehl wrote: Using this

mdkiehl wrote:
Using this kind of process helps to create a unique look and feel for your game, rather than trying to make a game with a specific theme, which is limiting.

Ah, but limits can be a GOOD thing:

Joined: 07/29/2008
Theme can inform design

I am a big believer that theme can inform your game design. Theme is important in making the rules to your game intuitive, not to mention making it interesting for you to design. I don't see it as merely "embellishment", although I would not criticize anyone who enjoys designing abstracts and pastes on a theme afterwards. It's just not me--I'm more interested in starting from a theme and then trimming and abstracting it so that it has a manageable rules set.

I think, for example, that a game about Native American tribes is a fascinating topic, and if it's equally fascinating to the designer, it will keep him motivated over the "long haul" of developing the design.

Yes, there may be some themes that are more accessible than others, just as there are some game mechanics that are more accessible than others, and both need to be tested to see if they appeal to your target group.

I would be wary, however, of trying to come up with an original theme for standard, well-known game mechanics. Try to do the theme justice with some original mechanics as well that fit the theme. Again, the original theme can inspire some original mechanics, if you allow it to challenge you.

kungfugeek's picture
Joined: 09/10/2008
I go back to something Knizia said once (or twice)...

"If you always start out in the same corner, you'll always end up in the same corner."

Sometimes I work on mechanics first. Other times, theme. And other times, I start with something that is a one-line description of what I hope the game will be: "Light card-based civ game", for example. Once, I started with components. No game, just some components that I knew I could make a game out of. (That one's stuck at the theme -- I have the core mechanic and the components, but no theme!)

Joined: 02/11/2011
Contemporary Silicon Valley vs. Resource War in Asteroid Belt

This is an interesting thread.

I have a game where you have to acquire resources which in turn will help you acquire more resources. One fun element of the game is acquiring (stealing/poaching) resources from other players as the resource pool dries out. Such owned resources become cheaper, the longer the other player has them, unless the other player invests in them.

So much for the mechanics. The theme is contemporary Silicon Valley, where the mechanics match the way stock options work in small (web) startups. I don't think there are a lot of contemporary games (playing +-10 years from "now")

(if you want to explore, rules are here: )

One challenge I have is that everybody working in a Startup in Silicon Valley immediately gets the game, and think it's very exciting, but people from outside the niche take extra time to learn and enjoy. They still enjoy, but some of the rules are not immediately clear, as they are not very familiar with the concepts.

So I am wondering if I should re-theme, to a SciFi theme...
Or Fantasy. Or History. Any might open up the potential market a lot...

RacNRoll Gaming
RacNRoll Gaming's picture
Joined: 05/12/2010
Staying true...

I think the thing about creating games in these themes is that you need the game to resonate with those into the theme whether they are gamers or not. Almost how comic book movies often get panned by the big time fanboy comic people because they take liberties with the story/characters regardless of how good of a movie it is as just a movie.

It sounds like the Silicon Valley game mentioned does exactly that, however gamers who are not aware of the ins and outs of the theme would probably not see the true beauty of such a game.

I have played many a game and been on many a message board related to said game where someone points out some "unrealistic" part of the game only to be met with the "its not reality its a game mechanic" response. Finding that balance between the two isnt easy.

For my graffiti based game, I actually plan on working with real graffiti artists in both the graphic aspects of the game but to have them play-test it first.

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