TGDRT #46: Theme, Mechanics & Fun

Episode #46 is live!

Jon, Dirk and David finally get around to talking about theme, mechanics and how the intersection of the two relates to ‘fun’. What are each? What happens when you favor one over the other? Can you flat out OMIT one? And what are some examples in the games our panelists have actually worked?

An eternal struggle in the field of game design is the role of theme (sci-fi, fall of the Roman Empire, Lord of the Rings) and mechanics (worker placement, turn-based, equipment slots).

In my mind your goal isn’t so much to balance the two, but to incorporate the best of both. My rule of thumb is that theme should serve as the ultimate guide for what does or does not belong in a game, but theme always needs to take a back seat to good mechanics.  Everyone has their own unique approach though, and it was great seeing Dirk and David’s perspective on this.

- Jon

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1 Comment

  1. I’m catching up on some of the older episodes here, Dirk’s offhand comment that he’d probably play a game about almost any theme other than rape made me think it would be an interesting (if thoroughly distasteful) exercise to try to make a board game about rape (in the similar spirit to Brenda Brathwaite’s Train).

    A hidden-identity / traitor mechanic seems appropriate both thematically and emotionally. Ideally, you’d have a large number of mundane interactions between players to build a sense of safety and trust between players. Its a little tricky because one of my constraints would be that there is explicitly nothing that the victim could have done differently to avoid being targeted.

    There’s also questions of presentation. Train, mentioned above, drew some of it’s power from the sudden reveal of the theme of the game. So I’m not sure how you’d want to handle that. Would people agree to even play the game if they knew the theme?

    I apologize if this all comes across as very gross.

    Reply

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