The Beauty of Theme in Board Games

However, throw in a theme with depth, some storytelling possibility, and a group of players with a similar mindset, and, well, I’m in board gaming heaven.

The board game that sits in the centre of the table is so much more than the sum of its parts. In the right hands, those little pieces of cardboard and plastic, dice and card, are vessels for storytelling and adventure, laughs and loss. They are a means to gather family and friends, to engage them in play, and in chatter.

The evolution of the board game has added ever more reason to converge on the family dining table, and said evolution has also brought with it incredible depth of tales to be told and plans to unfold within the timeless box that holds all this magic.

And it’s this depth I wanted to discuss briefly. As I glance up from my spot before the laptop to take in my game collection, there is a very, obvious leaning towards games with theme. The various themes on offer, ranging from, horror to historic, and Vikings to villagers, are mixed in their importance to the overall game itself, but, I have to say, I relish the fact that each one allows me as a player to become further immersed in the action.

With only a little imagination, and the right players at the table, you can almost hear the clash of steel on steel as Viking hordes battle across the lands of Blood Rage, you can become lost in the noise of the approaching armies at the gates of King Arthur’s castle in Shadows over Camelot, and every creaky floorboard and evil cackle holds long in the night air every time, Betrayal at House on the Hill hits the table. This for myself is the beauty of theme in games. Even those that appear tacked on clumsily, perhaps as an afterthought, can pull me a little deeper into the unfolding action. I suppose strong theme for myself can make a great game become unforgettable, and can elevate an average game beyond the sum of its parts.

Some offer a touch of real history to them. I’ve recently purchased Cornish Smuggler, and as a native of the area for the last ten years, to have a game depict, not only my home town, but also the surrounding area and some real life locations is an absolute thing of beauty for those looking to get lost in the swirling Cornish sea mists of times gone by. Likewise, the Victory Point Games release, The Trial of Louis Riel, 1885, proved completely mesmerising thanks to genuine historical facts and folk featuring in the game.

I understand the viewpoint that a theme can quickly become overused. Classics such as the zombie apocalypse is awash throughout board game land, and Vikings appear to be the latest trend invading our tables. However, as a fan of the additional dimension theme brings, I say the more the merrier. If the game does its job of proving fun, engaging, and challenging us as players, then chucking a zombie or Viking theme on top is alright by me. Plus, I’ve already got a few soundtracks made for just the occasion thanks to previous games of a similar brand.

And whilst I’m talking soundtracks, the opportunity to bring these into the background is something to always be grabbed. A little thunder through a rainstorm as we explore the dark corridors of a haunted house elevates the experience even further, a few zombie groans, the sounds of a raging battle, some woodland wildlife, all these and so much more breathe just a little more life into play and allow for ever deeper player immersion. I love it!

Despite my love for games with theme, I’m not averse to playing free from such things. Concept, Codinca, Dixit, and many others are often at home on our table, but these games are free from the stories I love so much in other games, and it’s hard knowing what music goes behind a game of Concept! Joking aside though, not every game with theme of course, offers a tale to be told. Some are merely the decoration surrounding the main game foundations. Games such as Unfair, and Cash n’ Guns, excellent games, interesting themes, but not really a story to tell, other than what unfolded for the players in real life. But it’s enough. It works well and highlights that themed games don’t have to be deep.

As a player I’m happy to play anything that looks like it might prove fun. I’ll give any game a chance, and more often than not I leave satisfied and happy from the time playing. However, throw in a theme with depth, some storytelling possibility, and a group of players with a similar mindset, and, well, I’m in board gaming heaven.

How about yourself? Are you a fan of themed games, or do you perhaps find them an unnecessary distraction from the actual mechanics of play?

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