What’s So Important About Themes

For #Blogmas 2020 reusing an article I originally wrote for Board Games Crate

Good games can work totally fine without themes, but their design is understandably basic. Backgammon and Scrabble, for example, require nothing more than a simple board showing the essentials and some counters or letters. Jenga and Pick Up Sticks go one step simpler as just as a bunch of bricks or sticks. They need nothing else to do what they do well. Granted, Jenga with Limited Edition Bright Red Bricks™ might sell more copies to red-loving gamers, but the colour adds nothing to the game.

As soon as a game expects a bit more engagement from a player, that player will, in turn, expect a bit more from a game. The more complicated Chess, for example has an age of chivalry vibe to it with every piece having a name and look harkening to that era.

A lot of the appeal of games like Magic: The Gathering doesn’t just come from the excellent game-play, but through the design and feel of the theme. One could argue that it would play just as well with no artwork. Action (spell) cards would be titled things like Action #327 or character (minion) cards as Hero #43, but, even with the exact same gameplay rules, no one would want to play it.

Themes (and budgets, don’t forget the budget) should shape how a game looks and develops. A game crafted around a well thought-out theme, at least looks the part. Provided as much effort goes into making the game enjoyable, it should be a winner.

Be wary of generic ‘facelift’ games that have your favourite fandom on the box but the game really could have had any theme and be exactly the same. The gazillions of iterations of Monopoly, for example are, with few exceptions, no different to the original except you get to be Boba Fett, Hermione Granger or Mario instead of a shoe. Also look out for games featuring a great, big plastic MacGuffin that does nothing but shriek “THEME!”

Some themes can really make or break a game, particularly if they’re targeted at the wrong audience. Dinosaurs, Space or Fluffy Kittens can be real crowd pleasers whereas Demons, Sorcery, Zombies and War can be a real turn off to many. Or vice versa, which is what makes themes a really interesting subject.

When looking at a new game, you are probably attracted to it because the theme appeals to you but think, does the theme actually fit the game and, of course, is the game any good? Conversely, if a friend keeps asking you to play a game whose theme rattles you, can you look past it and see the beauty of the game underneath. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and it only runs ink deep.

The games that I find work well with their themes are Terraforming Mars, a game so cleverly integrated into its theme that it couldn’t be about anything else and Photosynthesis which uses the direction of sunlight striking trees to generate energy.

Introducing games to beginners

This is for #Blogmas 2020

Another article I originally wrote for Board Game Crate, now available for general enjoyment.

Usually, whenever I bring up the subject of board games, most non-gamers immediately conjure up such titles as Monopoly,Cludo or Game of Life. Now, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying those games, but the roll-and-move mechanic doesn’t really give preparation into deck-building, drafting, line-of-sight, tower defence, worker placement, co-operative, buffs & de-buffs, point salads and so on. Having seen first-hand the deer-in-headlights terror displayed by a new player subjected to StarCraft: The Board Game, I thought it best to provide some tips when introducing games to new players.

Choose games that utilise only 1 or 2 mechanics. For example, Dominion, being one of the first deck-building games, is just about deck-building so should be easier to introduce instead of games such as Star Realms that has added combat and synergy or Clank which has a lot more going on. Sushi Go nicely introduces the idea of card drafting and set collecting, to be built upon later by more complex games such as7 Wonders and Terraforming Mars.

Dumb down the rules – but don’t give the appearance of doing so. Many games nowadays have a ‘Family’ or ‘Newbie’ version of the rules for first play. Using these rules as if they are the only rules not only helps players get into the game, but also avoids them feeling patronised.

Play games that are still readily available. It can be really off-putting when someone accompanies a friend, partner or co-worker to a game, really enjoys it, and then searches online to buy it only to discover it’s only available for upwards of £250 on ebay and in German.

Be patient. We were all beginners once upon a time. If they struggle to comprehend a rule, try using analogies, show a youtube clip – or even give them the rule book for them to interpret for themselves. Be prepared to field the same question time and time again. Also, when they’re caught out by a rule you so totally did actually explain to the right at the beginning, just accept the blame for keeping it a complete secret and give them 50 points in compensation.

Be aware of short attention spans. In today’s world of soundbites, people can be less tolerant of sitting there while you read them all 64 pages of a rule book and then watching you sort and arrange seemingly countless components across the playing area while their sweaty hands grasp the hand of cards they were given at the start as if they were a lifeline to sanity. Set up before-hand and play to introduce, not play to win. Aim for a half-game so that they grasp the basics. Then, when they’re happy, start over.

Finally, accept there is such a thing as beginner’s luck and not rage out by being totally defeated by someone who’s still coming to grips with a changeable turn order. Remember, they need to enjoy their experience so they will come back where you can then properly demonstrate just how to completely destroy an opponent.

My Favourite Gaming Themes

Another #BlogMas 2019 blog, another list of stuff.
This time it’s my favourite themes in games
Here goes:

5. Zombies

This might be higher if I get to play more zombie games, but they’re a hit with me so far.

4. Fantasy

If nothing else, fantasy games are usually really quite stunning to look at. Good thing they’re great to play too.

3. Cthulhu

The great old ones must be appeased or they’ll come and take all our meeples away.

2. Dinosaurs

Slap a dinosaur on it, I’m game for a game.
1 Space
Cosmic Encounter
This is the clear winner. Actually, it’s almost impossible for me to resist a space game.

Why Back A Kickstarter Game?

So far I’ve backed 5 games on Kickstarter and will most like back more in the future.
If you don’t know, here’s a bit about what Kickstarter is (by the way, Kickstarter covers just about anything you can think of, not just games:
If you go to gaming conventions, or following gaming news on twitter and instagram there will be prototypes or announcements of upcoming games that, on the surface, look to be worth a closer look. Unfortunately, it’s not easy – or cheep – to produce a game in sufficient quantity and quality to make it worthwhile to put out a game that may not even be that well received. Many of the games makers nowadays are either independent smaller companies that don’t have the ready capital to mass produce a refined product that’s going to readily compete against big named games on the same shelf.
That’s where crowdfunding comes in, using platforms such as Kickstarter. After showing off the prototype or idea, or even being a company that has produced a solid game in the past, they can ask their customers to put money forward to see that game gets made. This can result in two things: Not enough money is given – unfortunate, but provides a useful insight into the game as it stood at that time and also saves the company from investing in producing a thousands of boxes of a game nobody wants. Or, the target funding is reached – this enables the company to hire the artists, buy the resources, and get the game made. Once those games go to the backers and are played, word of mouth and reviews will encourage others to go and buy the game themselves.
So, why do such a thing and just not wait for it to hit the shelves later?
Not meaning to sound like I’m in a job interview, I am passionate about board games. If I find a title or company that I like, I’m going to want to support it. Gamelyn Games and White Wizard games are two such companies and Terraforming Mars is a title that will almost guarantee my support because of the enjoyment I get out of their high quality games.
As an extra benefit, as a backer, I receive certain extra components for the game I’ve backed. If the backers provide a sum of money far surpassing the given goal, these extras can be quite plentiful. They can be as simple as extra cards and boards, special game components or even a mini expansion to the game not otherwise attainable.
For the curious, here are the games I have backed so far:

My Top Games By Type

Yesterday for #Blogmas I did a post on My Best Genre Books listing my favourite book or series from each genre. I thought I’d do something similar for today’s Blogmas by listing my favourite games by type. This can include games that utilise a particular gaming mechanic, or a particular type of game style.
Here goes.

Break Point (Compete to score the most points toward a given target):

A visually impressive game where dice rolls determine all actions as players strive to get the most pips on a card. What makes this one even better is that bad rolls are also rewarded.

Cooperative (Playing as a team to beat the game):

I’ve not been a huge fan of most of the cooperative games I’ve played, but I do enjoy the Legendary games (possibly being deck building games have helped). Even when we inevitably lose horribly, they’re tremendous fun.

Deck Builder (Start with a standard deck and use cards to acquire better ones, increasing the size of the deck):

I’m a sucker for most deck builders to be honest, but this is, in my opinion, the pinnacle of the gaming type.

Dexterity (Steady hands and some assembly required):

Stacking small plastic pieces according to a particular design is hard enough. Having to then slide the finished construct into the centre of the table is plain evil. Looks so good as the city is built up.

Dice Builder (Like a deck builder but, with dice):

Combines a deck-builder with dice, this is a very clever game that sees some powerful dice being reduced to not much due to a bad roll. Still fun though.

Drafting (Keeping a card from a hand and passing the rest to the next player):

Where some games use drafting as just a small part of the gaming experience, 7 Wonders is pure, unadulterated drafting.

Engine-Builder/Tableau (Players placing cards in front of them to build up points and better actions):

Also my favourite game at the moment, this extraordinarily well-themed game has so much to do in it, particularly with all the expansions. So many different engines to try out too.

Miniatures/Combat (Moving pieces about a battleground and getting them to fight each other):

A solid tabletop reinterpretation to the excellent computer game. Manage resources, control areas and battle it out across the planets of the Kropulu Sector.

Party (Plays with a large group of people with simple rules):

Chinese Whispers meets Pictionary, played with the right crowd, this is hilarious.

Point Salad (Do anything to score points):

Do something, get points. Do something else, get points. Do it all in this gorgeous space setting and it’s pure joy.

Programming (Preset the actions to perform, then see how they play out):

Who knew you could rob a train using a programme of cards? Playing the cards seems simple enough, it’s the playback of what’s been played that hurts as all your plans go awry.

Push Your Luck (Gain more, or lose everything):

Never before have I been on such tenterhooks as each gem is pulled from the bag. Heaped in tension and also looking mighty fine.

Resource Management (Using stuff to get more stuff at the loss of other stuff):

Yup, this one again. Each action and decision made centres around what resources are available.

Stacking (Putting stuff on top of other stuff until the thing falls over:

This brilliantly combines app technology with the straightforward stacking game to create a thing of beauty.

Tile Placement (Dominos):

You’d think by now that tile placement must feel a bit old and tired. Carpe Diem has reinvigorated the mechanically wonderfully.

Worker Placement (Placing a ‘worker’ piece to do a thing, stopping others from doing the same thing):

Not only does this game look stunning, it’s very playable and supports a surprisingly effective engine-building game as well.

So there you go. Not an exhaustive list, but a pretty solid one nonetheless. Needless to say, if there’s a glaring game type omission here, let me know and I’ll add it along with my preferred game. If there’s a game you think should be here, either I’ve yet to play it, or I just prefer the one on my list.
Check out these posts for my My favourite 10 Games and My 10 Least Favourite Games for a better idea of what I’m in to, and what I’m not.
If you want to give this a go, by all means help yourself. Don’t be afraid to put the same game forward more than once, if it applies.

My favourite 10 Games

Yesterday for #Blogmas I listed My 10 Least Favourite Games. For today’s Blogmas I thought I’d update my 2017 list of Top Ten Best Board Games as I’ve played a whole load of different games since then.
Again, this is my personal list for the games I enjoy the most. If you personally don’t like any of these games for any reason, you are fully allowed to feel that way. If there’s a game you feel is more deserving that should be on this list, there is a chance I haven’t played it.
Here goes.

10. Splendor by Space Cowboys

A delightful set-collecting game that’s simple and devious at the same time. One of the best filler games out there. The Cities expansion gives some good variety to it too.

9. Carpe Diem by Ravensburger

A game that proves you should never judge a game by its box. Combines the tile-laying strategies of Carcassonne with resource generation and planning to meet two objectives a round. Such a satisfying game.

8. Tiny Epic Galaxies by Gamelyn Games

I enjoy all the Tiny Epic games I’ve picked up (and have picked up most), but I’d still say that Galaxies is the best of the bunch. Careful resource management to build up a galactic empire that’s masterfully developed further with its Beyond the Black expansion.

7. Abyss by Bombyx

Some games are all style and no substance. Abyss looks incredible and plays out so well using push-your-luck mechanics to build a usable hand. The two expansions Leviathan and Behemoth provide so much more interest to the game too.

6. Everdell by Starling Games

Another fantastic-looking game with and impressive (if slightly pointless) 3D cardboard tree). However the cutesy theme and delightful components are mere condiments to a solid engine-building game. Need to get the expansion – heard good things about it.

5. Pulsar 2849 by CGE

You either love point salad games or you hate them. I get that. I’m a lover of this style of game. With so many options to choose from each turn even rubbish dice can be used to do great things.

4. Dinosaur Island by Pandasaurus Games

I love Jurassic Park. The book and the film. This is pretty much the game in all but name. Building your own dinosaur park has never been so much fun, even when the dinosaur break out and eat my paying customers. With an expansion that adds four extra aspects to the game, this games just gets bigger and better.

3. Star Realms by White Wizard Games

Deck-builders have been around for a while now, with different themes and styles. I’m a sucker for the deck-builder, me. Star Realms is, hands down, my personal favourite in the genre where players build up their decks of cards in order to annihilate each other. Complete with an attractive space theme, many complimentary expansions and one of the best digital versions of a game on Steam, this one just keeps on giving.

2. StarCraft: The Boardgame by Fantasy Flight Games

For the longest time this was my straight-up favourite game. Partially because I adore the computer game of which it is based, but also it’s a very satisfying combat and area control minutres game. However, with a game time of 30 minutes per player, a six-player game is more time commitment than can readily be given.

1. Terraforming Mars by Stronghold Games

Thematically, I don’t know of a stronger game than this masterpiece by Stronghold Games. Players play in a semi-cooperative way with the aim of terrforming Mars by increasing the temperature, oxygen content and liquid water levels. Individually, however, each player is trying to score more points than anyone else. With five excellent expansions that provide even more things to do, this engine-building game can be played over and over again.

There are also a host of other games I also really, really enjoy, but these are my current top ten.
Do any of these feature on your top (or bottom) ten?

Games Night 29th November 2018

Five of us this week with an excellent attempt at

this time with the newly acquired expansion

by FryxGmes

So corporation and prelude cards were dealt out, this was what we picked:

Player DA LP MA MC PH
Corporation
Prelude 1
Prelude 2
Prelude 3

MA got an extra prelude card because of his corporation.

We drafted our starting cards this time and play then got underway.

When we normally play this, the heat goes right up, so we concentrated on other aspects and the heat didn’t go up. Oxygen was the first to be achieved with water a close second. Venus didn’t enter into it, which was a pain for MC who had invested heavily in Venus.

At the end of the game, the game ended.
Mars got Terraformed! – We have proof:

Final scores
DA (Blue): 83
LP (Red): 84
MA (Yellow): 55
MC (Black): 47
PH (Green): 59

Very well done LP! Such a close finish there!

Games Night 26th June 2018

This week three of us played:

by by by Fryx Games
This time we played on the blue Hellas side of the new board.

DA played as:
MC played as:
PH played as:

PH was very prepared this time and his used his 3D printer to produce these production counter trays to keep his cubes steady:

And a very nice job they did for him too.
Too bad DA didn’t have a set, he knocked his board.

Mars was soon Terraformed, though nobody cared too much about Venus this time.

The Milestones achieved were:
The Tactician: MC
The Polar Explorer: MC
The Energizer: PH

The Awards achieved were:
The Cultivator (backed by PH): 1st place: PH; 2nd place MC
The Space Baron (backed by DA): 1st place: DA & MC

Final scores:
DA (Blue): 67
MC (Red): 72
PH (Green): 80
Well done PH!!!

Games Night 19th June 2018

This week 5 of us played a game of

by by Fryx Games
this included the two newly acquired expansions:
and
We played on the green Elysium board.

The corporations chosen by the players were:
DA (YELLOW) invested in Martian cities with:
KV (BLACK) had the money when it came to Earth with:
LP (RED) had floater power with:
MC (BLUE) benefitted with relaxed requirements with:
PH (GREEN) could double up actions with:

In a game where things like oxygen, temperature and water levels needed to be increased…oxygen, temperature and water levels were indeed increased.
And in style.
In tandem to the stiflingly hot evening, the temperature was maxed out at +8 degrees centigrade first, followed by the oxygen levels. 9 water tiles quickly followed suit.

LP backed the Industrial and Benefactor awards. He attained both awards with MC getting 2nd place. MC backed the Venuphile award for himself with LP getting 2nd place.
KV reached the Legend milestone.
LP attained the Specialist milestone.
MC made it to the Ecologist milestone.


Final scores:
DA: 47
KV: 63
LP: 65
MC: 63
PH: 52

Well done to LP for being the bestest terraformer there is. Runner up went to MC who had more money than KV so won the award of being the first loser.