3 Lists of 3 Tabletop Game Themes

Your uncle Geekly has talked about board game mechanisms in the past, so I figured it may be a good time to cover some tabletop games that tackle some great themes and intellectual properties. Let’s start with some board games that do a great job of putting their players in the middle of some other world.

Games that perfectly captured the intellectual property it used

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Firefly: The Game

I resisted playing this game for several years because I heard it used the pickup and delivery mechanism, and it sounded boring flying around the ‘Verse picking up things and dropping them off at other planets. But that’s what Serenity’s crew does. Firefly: The Game excels at capturing the feel of the original TV show. Players fly around various ports, picking up passengers and crew and cargo and performing jobs, while avoiding Reavers and the Alliance.

Easter Eggs flood this game. Character abilities and motivations—yes, there’s enough character development and story for the characters to have motivations—make sense. I’ve played and replayed the scenarios more than I can remember. This is a must play for any Firefly fan.

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Star Wars: Rebellion

I liked this game a ton when it first came out and stand by what I’ve said in the past that Star Wars: Rebellion is the original trilogy in a tabletop game. The only issue I had with it was its runtime. Firefly isn’t a short game either, but it’s quick compared to Star Wars: Rebellion. But like Firefly: The Game, Rebellion feels like the original trilogy.

The Empire tries to find the hidden Rebel base and crush it. The Rebels perform various tactics to undermine the Empire, so the planets overthrow their oppression. Rebellion is a great example of how to design an asymmetric game, but it also happens to cast the two gamers playing it in two very different positions that mirror—but doesn’t duplicate—the roles in the original movies.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shadows of the Past

This is another one I’ve talked about in the past, but Shadows of Time deserves another mention. It’s another game that features asymmetric sides that play like gamers would expect them to. One player takes on the role of Shedder and the rest of the Foot Clan, while the rest of the players join forces as the Turtles.

Each turtle’s power set matches their strength as ninjas and their personality. This is by far the quickest of the three games mentioned so far and that’s a huge plus for my family. I also like how adaptable Shadows of Time can be. Gamers may play a campaign (an extended story) or play individual scenarios. The dice sharing mechanism is great; it brings the combat to life.

Can you feel that? I think it’s called Turtle Power.

Games that don’t use an intellectual property, but they are heavily based on one

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Dead of Winter

There are plenty of Walking Dead board games out there; most of them stink, so don’t waste your time with them. Dead of Winter doesn’t use the IP, but it does a great job of capturing what makes the series great: internal struggle.

Are there zombies present? Yes, but like the TV show, player alliances and motives factor as much as the walkers. Traitors and the threat of traitors will have gamers doubting if the others seated at the table are friend or foe.

Dead of Winter also has plenty of survival elements, where players must determine which needs are most pressing. It’s a tense game that captures what the essence of The Walking Dead.

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Wasteland Express Delivery Service

As the name implies, this is another pickup and delivery game, but this time players traverse a dystopia like the one found in the Mad Max franchise.

I’m not going to lie, I like the idea of delivering packages while avoiding berserk motorbike gang members—from the safety of my gaming table of course. The game shows the underrepresented people of this world who just want to live a normal life apart from the freaks patrolling the roads. How does the other half live?

Wasteland Express Delivery Service does a great job of combining a dissimilar mechanic (pickup and delivery) and theme (Mad Max), but it’s using the Mad Max theme and designer Jon Gilmour doesn’t try to hide it. Wait. Gilmour’s a co-designer of Dead of Winter and Wasteland Express Delivery Service. I’m sensing a trend.

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Dinosaur Island

Yep. There is a trend. Gilmour co-designed the hodgepodge of game mechanisms that is Dinosaur Island, and Dinosaur Island is Jurassic Park the board game. Like The Walking Dead, there are a lot of bad Jurassic Park board games out there and Dinosaur Island is a great one that doesn’t have the license.

Players build their own Jurassic Park and how awesome is that? Dinosaur Island also happens to be a great study in how to combine seemingly unlikely game mechanisms to form a cohesive whole. I’m a Gilmour fan if you can’t tell.

Games with interesting themes

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Sagrada

Sagrada’s been a critical darling and that stems from the marriage of its theme and gameplay. Players compete to construct the stained-glass window masterpieces in the Sagrada Familia. The game uses dice drafting, and the dice it uses are color-coded to match the windows. It’s a simple, beautiful game that I highly recommend.

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Great Western Trail

Have you ever wanted to relive City Slickers? Well, you can with Great Western Trail. Players move cattle from Texas to Kansas city, taking turns to add to your herd, construct buildings, and contracting cowboys, engineers, and craftsman.

I’m not a huge fan of point salad games (point salad games are those games where players cobble together enough points from various means to achieve victory), but Great Wester Trail is a great strategy game and the theme of cattle wrestling isn’t used enough in tabletop games. My only complaint is that they don’t go through Omaha.

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New York Slice

Pizza. There aren’t enough games that use pizza as their theme. “I cut, you choose” game mechanism. There aren’t enough games that use the “I cut, you choose” game mechanism, and New York Slice’s gameplay is mostly that. The first player in the round splits up a pizza composed of 11 random slices (meat lovers, pepperoni, cheese, veggie, and more). The player to the first player’s left picks which slices they want and play continues in a clockwise fashion until the player who split the pizza gets the slices remaining.

New York Slice is lightning fast, and I can’t think of a better way of teasing dinner for your guests. Mwah-ha-ha!

Do you agree with my picks? Cool. If you don’t, you can take to the message boards and let me know about it comments.

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