Themes and Memes

Scott R. Kroll had a great post a couple of days ago about the tyranny of the elves…I mean about how fear of failure drives game designers/companies to cluster around the same old themes. High Fantasy and World War II are probably the two most popular genres. Throw in Space Opera and I’ll admit you have my three favorites. But like Scott said the SAS motto is “Who Dares Wins” and when I decided to try my hand at making a game I was aiming to dare. Of course it’s easier to take a gamble when the stakes are low. A failure for me is measured in the tens of thousands of dollars and some lost time. If you are calling the shots with a team of 50 and a 10 Megaton budget then straying from the safe bet is going to be a lot harder. That’s one of the glorious things about the new age of indies and digital distribution. You have small companies trying to fill small niche demands that ordinarily might not ever get their chance to shine.

In the board game world one of the dividing lines between the “Euro” and “Ameritrash” game designs is the role of theme. Savants like Reiner Knizia can imagine and design a group of rules that is mathematically elegant, beautiful and a joy to play. After they have printed the rules, assembled and sorted the meeples into little plastic bags and shrink wrapped the box, they spray paint a theme on the game. Ancient Egypt spray paint number 5, Old Kingdom brown.

While I really enjoy Euro-style mechanics, Armageddon Empires is a strategy game that lives in the Ameritrash trailer park…and quite proudly. Everything about the game sprang from the simple idea of “A post-apocalyptic board game where you try and rule the wasteland.” The theme was the genesis of the game. Every design decision was based on how it fit with the theme. My next game is a computerized version of a board game that I designed that is a twist on this. Project Brimstone started with a simple concept statement like Armageddon Empires did. However, once I had the theme I tried to lay out an elegant and simple framework for the games mechanics that incorporates a lot of ideas you might find in a Euro-style game. Things like set collecting and biding. Like many games you find today it is a hybrid of sorts.

To finish off this entry I’d like to point out some of my favorite not so common themes for games and some games to try out:

The Old West
Give Worthington Games new “Cowboys: The Way of the Gun” game a “shot.”

Angle Eyes

Or you can try and scrounge up an old copy of Avalon Hills Gunslinger on ebay.

Go to your God like a Soldier!
Victorian colonial military engagements are a bloody good time. Try out Victoria Cross, a neat little block game also by Worthington Games

Victoria Cross

Adventure Noir
Jason Lutes is working on Thrilling Tales of Adventure which looks very cool.

Nazis! I hate these guys.

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