Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Theme and Mechanisms

This post is a kind of reply to the very interesting post by Jonathan Degann "What is this boardgame about" I suggest to read here.
Several times we consider Eurogames to have a theme pasted up to a set of mechanisms. It is so easy to change the theme because what a game is about, in my opinion, is the set of rules defined for it.
One friend of mine called the physic class, during the highschool period, as "the most detailed role play game".
So we can see Tychoon theme completely changed into El Capitan. Or Ra changed in Razzia (by the way I found the Mafia theme that suites better than the egyptian one).
I compare Amytis to Amune-Re (just to stay with the same authors and similar themes :-) because in order to win you need to have a look to all the aspects you try to manage. In Amyitis you have several ways to score (even if it is essential to plant and to irrigate as Cyril said) and several things to do in order to score! I am not sure about the so called "star structure", but it is not the focus of the design in my opinion and it was introduced by Cyril to reply to the BGG post.
In Amun-Re you also have several ways to score.. "too much" someone can say, and who said that it doesn't matter what you do because you score for everything, I supposed have not clear the game (or miserably loose :-).
But I have to admit that in Amun-Re is easier to play than Amytis because it is simply more easy to have a one to one match for a rule to the theme.
In Amun-Re you bid to conquer territories. You buy bricks for building pyramids and you blind-bid for offer to the god. It is probably more "linear" than "star", but it surely easier to grab when you learn the game.
Maybe in Amytis there is only a problem with the theme and how it doesn't find an immediatly correpond to the rules. It is not so easy to remember that the carovan is used for the plantion. Why do I need to move the carovan in order to have a new platation? Even because with the carovan you can also gain one of the special cards as building the Babylon gate. So what have in common to build the gate with the creation of a platation portion of the garden? Apparently nothing, and most of all has no thematic approach to the carovan!
In my opinion these missed associations between rules and theme let some players find diffucult to grab the rules.
You can find the same easy approach to the theme association to the rule to other mentioned (in the Jonathan article) games such as Puerto Rico and Caylus.
In my Hermagor some players were disappointed to the fact that the fantasy theme was not well suited to the game mechanism. They probaly expected sheep and wood instead of egg's dragon and relic.
When I am asked about "first theme or first mechanism" during the design process, I surely reply with "first mechanism". So I start from one or more mechanisms I would like to have in my new game.
For instance in Il Principe I wanted to use the roles (as in Puerto Rico), while the Building Cards selection mechanism was inspired by King Breakfast.
But when I develop a game I try to think about the theme as soon as possible. Sometime I also change the theme not only rules during the playtesting.
Thinking to the theme helps me to develop the rules. In fact if I have to add or remove some rules, or if I need to round out some rule mechanisms or some score systems the theme helps me a lot. And this process gives a more chance to have a good connection between rules and the theme itself.