A Crackpot Theory About Two Classes of Theme

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There Will Be Games

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OK, so this week I started out writing a goofy goodtimes column for Cracked LCD but I realized that I what I really wanted to write was some kind of brainy game design theory article. I haven't done one in a while, so surprise, here it is.

The idea is this. I think there are two principle ways of evaluating the level of theme in a game. One is an executive level, where the theme exists solely in the execution and presentation. It's when text, artwork, and terminology is used to impart theme to basic mechanics or ideas. Eurogames with pasted on themes of course are at the far end of that paradigm but I think that even some "highly thematic" games like TWILIGHT IMPERIUM actually fall on that part of the balance as well. Then there are games that have a conceptual level of theme, where the theme actually defines the structure, mechanics, and game principles of a design in a way that is more concrete and inalienable. DUNE and BSG would be the most widely played examples of that level.

Most games though hit somewhere in the middle, at least the good ones do. ARKHAM HORROR for example works on the executive level in all the flavor text, the artwork, and the overall production elements that give it flavor. But the gate mechanics, monster spawning, and other idiosyncratic mechanics that directly interface with the theme are examples of conceptual theming.

I dunno, maybe I shouldn't have had a beer before I sat down to write last night.

There Will Be Games

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Sometime in the early 1980s, MichaelBarnes’ parents thought it would be a good idea to buy him a board game to keep him busy with some friends during one of those high-pressure, “free” timeshare vacations. It turned out to be a terrible idea, because the game was TSR’s Dungeon! - and the rest, as they say, is history. Michael has been involved with writing professionally about games since 2002, when he busked for store credit writing for Boulder Games’ newsletter. He has written for a number of international hobby gaming periodicals and popular Web sites. From 2004-2008, he was the co-owner of Atlanta Game Factory, a brick-and-mortar retail store. He is currently the co-founder of FortressAT.com and Nohighscores.com as well as the Editor-in-Chief of Miniature Market’s Review Corner feature. He is married with two childen and when he’s not playing some kind of game he enjoys stockpiling trivial information about music, comics and film.

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