Thematic Board games
Board gaming is a vast hobby, offering anything from light-hearted adult party games with minimal focus on strategy to a sophisticated and highly strategic wargame that can take up to an entire day. Just like music, movies, or video games, board games have genres and themes. In fact, a “thematic” board game is a sub-genre of its own!
What are “thematic” board games, exactly? These are the kind of games where a theme is at the very core of the gaming experience rather than just a flavourful afterthought. Like reading an adventure book or watching an action movie, thematic games create a dramatic narrative and are driven by a story. Some of the more popular examples of such games are the legendary Twilight Imperium, Arkham Horror, Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island, and Gloomhaven – the game that has been holding its number one position on the prominent hobby website BoardGameGeek for the last couple of years.
Mechanically speaking, a thematic game features a lot of player interaction, can sometimes have direct conflict between players, and normally they include miniatures to enhance the overall experience. Since the theme is the most important aspect, the rules and mechanisms of the board game will aim at translating the theme to a table-top game-play experience. So, the mechanics of the game serve the theme, rather than vice versa.
It is worthwhile to note that thematic games are often called ”Amerigames”, or American-style board games, mainly because some of the staples of the genre were invented in the USA, these style of games are focused on immersion and action-packed game-play. This is contrasted with “Eurogames” – a popular style of strategy board games – where the concept is elegantly built around a set of mechanics and the themes are more general, simply spicing up the dryness of the game with a bit of fun flavour.
A thematic game could take you to any number of locations, offering a plethora of adventures and scenarios. Some of the more typical themes include a sci-fi or a fantasy setting, oftentimes a pre-existent setting taken from pop-culture; for example Hellboy: The Board Game and War of the Ring are both set in popular works of fiction – Mignola’s eponymous comic book series and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, respectively. Another common theme is the good-vs-evil conflict, often involving combat, mystery solving, exploration, and co-operative play - as seen in Massive Darkness, Pandemic Legacy, and Nemesis.
Let us have a look at a few more great examples of thematic board games that have not yet been mentioned above.
An exciting and highly immersive blend of role-playing and card game, Arkham Horror is one of the most well-loved and top-selling Living Card Games (LCGs). Bringing the Lovecraftian world of madness, mystery and monsters to life, it offers an on-going story that you can live through quest by quest, chapter by chapter.
You are invited to a seemingly quiet town of Arkham, New England, where something evil stirs in the shadows. You are to become the protagonist of the story, but do not be mistaken - you are no hero. It is a world of ordinary people facing extraordinary terrors… and, hopefully, persevering!
1-2 players (up to 4 if played with two Core Sets), scenario playing time 60+min. Complexity 3/5.
Embark on an adventure in pursuit of the Last Ruin, the legendary city containing a long-lost artifact with the power of granting one’s greatest desire. You are a wanderer on the expedition to find the precious artefact, but are you ready to face the dangers that the journey holds, and most importantly – your own avarice?
Live through your own unique adventure every time you play the game, exploring new maps and fighting off bandits and mysterious monsters!
2-4 players, scenario playing time 90+min. Complexity 3/5.
You’ll be alright, they said – a hyperspace jump, a quick sector scan, then a hyperspace jump back. Just in and out. What could possibly go wrong?!
In Space Alert, you are part of the reconnaissance team on a mission to scan some of the more obscure and dangerous sectors of the galaxy. Each mission lasts only 10 minutes, during which your goal is to let the system complete the scan while deflecting all possible threats and keeping your ship safe. Players must coordinate their tasks in order to survive and make the jump back to safety, whilst also facing interstellar abominations, hostile battleships and asteroid fields.
The game offers various difficulty levels and variability of encounters and scenarios that provide high replayability.
1-5 players, one mission lasts 30min (including setup and evaluation). Complexity 3/5.
Recreate the fascinating world of Frank Herbert’s DUNE, on your own terms. Take control of one of the 6 powerful factions and compete to control the most valuable substance in the known universe – the Spice, which can only be found on the otherwise barren planet Arrakis, also known as Dune. Courtly intrigue and brute force, politics and warfare. Allying and bluffing, bartering and bribery. Anything goes in the pursuit of unimaginable wealth and influence. After all, “he who controls the Spice controls the universe.”
2-6 players, playtime 120+min. Complexity 4/5.
- Gumnut Team