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Subject: Which top games are the most/least thematic, finally determined, once and for all! (POLL) rss

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CARL SKUTSCH
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Once again, War of the Ring is leading as most thematic.
 
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Jake Blomquist
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Cadae wrote:
Am shocked that the vast majority considers Terra Mystica no better than a pasted on theme. Picking dwarves means you live in mountains and dig tunnels, the alchemists transform gold, the mermaids build towns in water. That's deserving of mildly thematic, no?


Yeah, I remember having the same feeling about TM last time Skutsch did this poll. The best theory that I can come up with is that it's prominently known for its mechanisms and so people will more easily write it off as pasted on theme without even considering that it could have a theme.

I do think that on average AT are more thematic than euros, but I think that's becoming less true in particular, and I think these polls exaggerate that difference, because people can't help being influenced by their preconceived notions.

I also agree about Agricola vs Caverna which some people have mentioned (and made this point last time as well). I have no good theories there. Maybe some people still see the conflict between those two games and are using this poll as a proxy, maybe Agricola just has a reputation as thematic, and that's helping it? I don't know.
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jblomquist wrote:
Cadae wrote:
Am shocked that the vast majority considers Terra Mystica no better than a pasted on theme. Picking dwarves means you live in mountains and dig tunnels, the alchemists transform gold, the mermaids build towns in water. That's deserving of mildly thematic, no?


Yeah, I remember having the same feeling about TM last time Skutsch did this poll. The best theory that I can come up with is that it's prominently known for its mechanisms and so people will more easily write it off as pasted on theme without even considering that it could have a theme.

I do think that on average AT are more thematic than euros, but I think that's becoming less true in particular, and I think these polls exaggerate that difference, because people can't help being influenced by their preconceived notions.

I also agree about Agricola vs Caverna which some people have mentioned (and made this point last time as well). I have no good theories there. Maybe some people still see the conflict between those two games and are using this poll as a proxy, maybe Agricola just has a reputation as thematic, and that's helping it? I don't know.

I see why Terra Mystica has such a low theme rating. It does seem very generic to me, with all those cubes and cylinders. I like the game but the theme is pretty unimportant. For evidence that the theme is pasted on, just look at the reboot Gaia Project, which I understand is Terra Mystica with a Science Fiction theme. By the way, I don't see that as a crime. I tend to like more thematic games but I also like Terra Mystica, even though I'm not very good at it.

I also agree with those that say Agricola is more thematic than Caverna (I rated the former "Fairly thematic" and the latter "Mildly thematic"). Agricola is about farming in early modern Europe and by reflecting reality it really feels like something. Caverna is about this weird dwarf world where you dig caves and go out and somehow steal things. The whole adventuring thing is just odd. (Although I like the theory that Caverna dwarves are robbing Agricola farms.) You need to do a bit more to sell your theme when you're inventing it from scratch.
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jblomquist wrote:

I do think that on average AT are more thematic than euros, but I think that's becoming less true in particular, and I think these polls exaggerate that difference, because people can't help being influenced by their preconceived notions.


I'd agree, although I think that's because AT is becoming less thematic rather than Euros becoming moreso.

(Partly because of the decline of wargaming infuence on AT designs).
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Trent Boardgamer
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I left a few blank, as although I know what the games are, I'm not sure how connected the theme is to the mechanisms which is what pretty much determines my vote.

For the ones I did vote on, it seems I'm sitting in the popular opinion for most of them, so that's encouraging to see, even with the odd shill vote.
 
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Abiezer Coppe wrote:
jblomquist wrote:

I do think that on average AT are more thematic than euros, but I think that's becoming less true in particular, and I think these polls exaggerate that difference, because people can't help being influenced by their preconceived notions.


I'd agree, although I think that's because AT is becoming less thematic rather than Euros becoming moreso.

(Partly because of the decline of wargaming infuence on AT designs).

Which AT do you think of as less thematic?
 
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Oy. How can people list wargames as having no theme? Bizarro world.
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skutsch wrote:

Which AT do you think of as less thematic?


I think it's a general trend, but something like City of Horror is a good example.

Pretty much all the theme there is provided by bling. There's no real attempt at thematic mechanics; most of the character abilities are generic rather than intutitive.

It's not that AT has always been thematic. (I'd disagree with people about Cosmic Encounter. It's no surprise it was easy to retheme as the theme there is pretty thin). But internal (as opposed to external) theme seems to be increasingly out of fashion.
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Like most things, theme is in the eye of the beholder and for me it's a gut feeling when I play the game. If I had to think about it for more than a moment when answering the poll for each game, I tended toward less thematic. If you explain to me why a game is more thematic than I think it is, the act of doing so is self-defeating. Even with a good argument, you prove I need explanation to see the theme, which makes it less thematic than you think.
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Abiezer Coppe wrote:
skutsch wrote:

Which AT do you think of as less thematic?


I think it's a general trend, but something like City of Horror is a good example.

Pretty much all the theme there is provided by bling. There's no real attempt at thematic mechanics; most of the character abilities are generic rather than intutitive.

It's not that AT has always been thematic. (I'd disagree with people about Cosmic Encounter. It's no surprise it was easy to retheme as the theme there is pretty thin). But internal (as opposed to external) theme seems to be increasingly out of fashion.

That games does seem rather bland. I agree that a lot of bling is being tossed at a lot of games with mixed success. When I think of AT, however, I tend to think more about classic Fortress America style dudes on a map games. I think new games like Forbidden Stars and Star Wars Rebellion are quite thematic.
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OK, I get that there was one contrarian who voted Star Wars Rebellion as having no theme, but now there's four such votes. There hasn't been a more thematic game published since, well, ever. Either we have four contrarians, or three people who have never played SW:R or understand the concept of "theme" in a way that is utterly alien to me.
 
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skutsch wrote:

That games does seem rather bland. I agree that a lot of bling is being tossed at a lot of games with mixed success. When I think of AT, however, I tend to think more about classic Fortress America style dudes on a map games. I think new games like Forbidden Stars and Star Wars Rebellion are quite thematic.


Fair point. I'm not really a fan of dudes on a map so I may be missing some of the more thematic games around. (I haven't played either of the ones you mention).
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desertfox2004 wrote:
OK, I get that there was one contrarian who voted Star Wars Rebellion as having no theme, but now there's four such votes. There hasn't been a more thematic game published since, well, ever. Either we have four contrarians, or three people who have never played SW:R or understand the concept of "theme" in a way that is utterly alien to me.

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So as not to jack up the results for ya -- What should one do with games they haven't played? Just leave the line blank?
 
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I didn't realize this poll was supposed to be serious since many of skutch's polls don't seem that way to me. Honestly I didn't even read any of the text outside of the actual poll. I can happily revise my votes.
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bewmaynes wrote:
So as not to jack up the results for ya -- What should one do with games they haven't played? Just leave the line blank?

Yep, just blank.
 
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SuperGLS wrote:
I didn't realize this poll was supposed to be serious since many of skutch's polls don't seem that way to me. Honestly I didn't even read any of the text outside of the actual poll. I can happily revise my votes.

Good man! Revise away!

I know it's partly my fault, so many of my polls are jokey, but this one I'm actually taking seriously. I really will process that data and churn out numbers on each game's theme rating.
 
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desertfox2004 wrote:
OK, I get that there was one contrarian who voted Star Wars Rebellion as having no theme, but now there's four such votes. There hasn't been a more thematic game published since, well, ever. Either we have four contrarians, or three people who have never played SW:R or understand the concept of "theme" in a way that is utterly alien to me.

I'm guessing they are "pasted on theme" votes that have been taken down to "no theme" in an attempt to bring down the average. Please note I'm not condoning such pointless attempts at manipulation, and I have not played or voted on the game.

My concept of theme is largely based on a game's mechanisms, and not the amount of art, text, and miniatures involved. That said, I don't deny that art and text help add to thematic immersion.

There are some people who claim to *only* judge theme based on mechanisms. For example, on whether or not the theme comes through even if all art and text is stripped out. I'm guessing such a person could easily come to the conclusion that SW:R or similar has a "pasted on" theme, or that Go is the most thematic game in the list.
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Abiezer Coppe wrote:
skutsch wrote:

Which AT do you think of as less thematic?


I think it's a general trend, but something like City of Horror is a good example.

Pretty much all the theme there is provided by bling. There's no real attempt at thematic mechanics; most of the character abilities are generic rather than intutitive.

It's not that AT has always been thematic. (I'd disagree with people about Cosmic Encounter. It's no surprise it was easy to retheme as the theme there is pretty thin). But internal (as opposed to external) theme seems to be increasingly out of fashion.


To me your second paragraph described Arkham Horror to a T. The only reason that game has any connection whatsoever to Lovecraft is because of art and flavor text. Is that what theme is? I was voting more based on how well the mechanics correspond to the theme. I haven't played Eldritch Horror but I was under the impression that it was basically the same, and yet it has mostly 4s and 5s, with more 5s than 4s.
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Jake Blomquist
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skutsch wrote:
jblomquist wrote:
Cadae wrote:
Am shocked that the vast majority considers Terra Mystica no better than a pasted on theme. Picking dwarves means you live in mountains and dig tunnels, the alchemists transform gold, the mermaids build towns in water. That's deserving of mildly thematic, no?


Yeah, I remember having the same feeling about TM last time Skutsch did this poll. The best theory that I can come up with is that it's prominently known for its mechanisms and so people will more easily write it off as pasted on theme without even considering that it could have a theme.

I do think that on average AT are more thematic than euros, but I think that's becoming less true in particular, and I think these polls exaggerate that difference, because people can't help being influenced by their preconceived notions.

I also agree about Agricola vs Caverna which some people have mentioned (and made this point last time as well). I have no good theories there. Maybe some people still see the conflict between those two games and are using this poll as a proxy, maybe Agricola just has a reputation as thematic, and that's helping it? I don't know.

I see why Terra Mystica has such a low theme rating. It does seem very generic to me, with all those cubes and cylinders. I like the game but the theme is pretty unimportant. For evidence that the theme is pasted on, just look at the reboot Gaia Project, which I understand is Terra Mystica with a Science Fiction theme. By the way, I don't see that as a crime. I tend to like more thematic games but I also like Terra Mystica, even though I'm not very good at it.

I also agree with those that say Agricola is more thematic than Caverna (I rated the former "Fairly thematic" and the latter "Mildly thematic"). Agricola is about farming in early modern Europe and by reflecting reality it really feels like something. Caverna is about this weird dwarf world where you dig caves and go out and somehow steal things. The whole adventuring thing is just odd. (Although I like the theory that Caverna dwarves are robbing Agricola farms.) You need to do a bit more to sell your theme when you're inventing it from scratch.


Yeah, I agree that it's ok for a game to be not very thematic at all. I noticed that my favorites were fairly equally represented between 2 and 5 in terms of my votes (but I don't care for complete abstracts, I need at least a token effort). I want it to be clear when I defend the theme of a game it's not based on my preference.

Regarding TM/Gaia Project, I don't think that's all that fair to knock TM for Gaia Project existing, I mean, at their core they're both still about societies expanding and developing and spreading their influence, and the changes from fantasy to sci-fi come with changes to the particulars of the races. To me that would be a bit like saying no Warhammer property could be considered at all thematic because they were able to change it from fantasy to sci-fi. I'd agree with you that if they rethemed the system to be about running competing restaurants or something completely different that would be one thing, but at the core it's still pretty similar. And I also don't let components influence my ratings much, but if you do then maybe you'd find Gaia Project more thematic, since the buildings are now detailed plastic pieces.

And regarding Agricola vs Caverna, I definitely agree that the adventuring is a knock for the latter, but honestly I have a pretty similar issue with the person cards in Agricola. I'm sure there's some explanation that works for you, but it's like what Ryan Keane said, if you have to explain it to me it probably won't be very convincing. Plus the way that particular rooms in Caverna/major improvements in Agricola are exclusive is weird. Oh, you built a fireplace in your house, I guess I can't any more. What? Similarly some of the worker placement spots (e.g. planting crops). So I gave them both threes. And I don't know if I should admit this right after saying that, but I gave TM a four. I can't think of any mechanic that doesn't have an obvious thematic interpretation, which was the metric I was going on.
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Just some quick thoughts on Agricola/Caverna:
I don't see a huge difference in theme - they're still mechanism-driven Euros, but they are my 2 favorite Euros partly because for me the themes are well-integrated into the mechanisms. Agricola is more thematic/immersive for me because the occupations and minor improvements make me feel like I am a farming family pursuing particular professions, while still maintaining a diversified farm. Also, the text of the cards, while mechanisms that can disconnect me from the theme, are separated from my growing game board that looks like a farm. The lack of cards in Caverna prevents me from having that profession-like immersion, the analysis of what rewards I want each exploration really pulls me out of the immersion, and my game board is full of all these rooms with text and symbols that pulls me out of the theme. I avoid getting into the weeds too much on specific mechanisms, like does it make thematic sense that only 2 of us can have a fireplace, etc.

I also agree that Agricola is a bit more immersive than Caverna because it's not fantasy, but I think that's where theme meshes with personal taste is an important factor in how thematic a game feels to you. I tend to lean away from fantasy games. Sometime I love a theme so much that the game implementation has no chance living up to what I expect. Sherlock Holmes - totally immerses me, just like reading the books. Arkham Horror - doesn't do anything for me. My wife and I love Lord of the Rings but find War of the Ring and the card game to be pale attempts, and we'd prefer to read the books aloud to each other over playing the games.
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Jimmy Smith
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Anything in Space or IP is pasted on theme
 
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jmsmith2434 wrote:
Anything in Space or IP is pasted on theme

By what rationale?!?
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Ryan Keane wrote:
I also agree that Agricola is a bit more immersive than Caverna because it's not fantasy, but I think that's where theme meshes with personal taste is an important factor in how thematic a game feels to you.


I disagree with some of your particular points (like why the cards in Agricola add theme whereas the tiles in caverna detract) but ultimately I don't care about that, the point you make here about theme preferences is a good one. I found when voting that the easiest way to go from a four to a five was to have an economic theme, because those resonate with me. I think that's an important point.
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casualcasual wrote:
aaj94 wrote:
I may be alone in this, but I do see a ton of theme in Tigris and Euphrates -- it's hundreds of years of civilization compressed into a game, but the rise and fall of different civilizations with different strengths/weaknesses seems very thematic to me.


You're not alone. And aside from the rising and falling - the ideas embedded in the game are what make it for me; the four spheres - agriculture, religion, trade, population, all mechanically different (need rivers for agriculture, trade gets you extra points for connecting centres....) but all equally important; the dependence on religion to gain power and keep it within a kingdom, the way winning an external conflict is dependent on the strength of your particular spheres, the institutional power reflected in large scale building projects, and the cost of them. Every single abstracted detail has a thematic basic. It's a refreshing non meier-esque take on civilisation. And on top of that, the head space of balancing your competing interests with the competing intrtests of your dynastic rivals is also a big part of it. To me, very close to what thematic should mean.

Out of the games I've play on the list (not too many, around 15), Tigris and Euphrates is the most thematic. It's disappointing to see that only 9.8% of those who voted on it think so.

And it's not surprising to see that most games that are voted as thematic are either war games or games with (lots of) miniatures, with Sherlock Holmes being the outlier.
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