Friday, May 24, 2002

Missing Game Themes

German games are often noted for their often rich themes, though
frequently irrelevant to gameplay, as shown through artwork and
nominal topic and goal of the game. In many games, the theme actually
acts as a substantial mnemonic aid for the rules. Carcassone could be
abstract shapes and lines with markers, but "roads", "castles" and
"farms" are more evocative.

Some themes are more popular than others, but there is a huge variety.
Themes range from the straightforward, such as world conquest (Vinci),
or business (Industrial Waste), or exploration (Lost Cities), all the
way to the obscure and sometimes bizarre, such as bean farming
(Bohnanza), pig races (Galloping Pigs), and construction as restricted
by toilets (Drunter & Druber).

Thinking about these themes, it occured to me to consider themes of
non- board games, and I thought about role playing games. There are
fantasy RPGs (D&D, etc.), and there are fantasy board games
(Elfenland, Alladin's Dragons, Das Amulett, Maginor). There are
espionage RPGs (Top Secret, etc.) and there are espionage board games
(Heimlich & Co., Inkognito, etc.). There are western RPGs (Boot Hill,
etc.) and there are western board games (Wyatt Earp, Way out West,
etc.) There are science fiction RPGs (Traveller, etc.) and there are
science fiction board games (Starship Catan, RoboRally, etc.). There
are superhero RPGs (Champions, etc.) and, oh, wait, there aren't any
superhero board games.

I'm not sure why this is, but I have some theories, none of which
satisfy me. Maybe "superheros" are too childish as a theme for
german-style games, but, there aren't any children's superhero board
games I'm aware of either. Maybe superheros are just not a popular
notion in Germany, which clearly drives a lot of the board game
market, but then why would part of the fall Essen Spiel fair include a
comic book convention? Maybe noone has thought of it yet, but that
doesn't seem likely. Superheros give a convenient excuse for "special
powers", in the same way that magic is used in a great many games.
The theme is vivid and could readily be non-violent (saving people,
apprehending criminals, etc.). I really want to see "Hedgehogman" by
Doris & Frank (or, would that be "Igelmensch"?)

For that matter, there are many themes that seem sparse, such as
education, medicine/health, Africa, and time travel (though there are
a few in each category) while other categories which don't seem to me
likely to be that much more common, are, such as the Middle East,
gardening, subway building, and evolution.

At least there's only one game about animals kicking over piles of

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