Topic of the Week: Themes

Any and all of:

What themes are over-represented in your collection?
------ Are there any that you feel almost compelled to buy?

What themes are underrepresented in your collection?
------ Are there any that you avoid completely, on principle or taste?

What theme do you really want to see published?

What designers and publishers do theme best? (presentation and/or integration)


I thought it might just be runner up these days but after going through my games a 2nd time… it’s “Spaaaaaaace”–really if I it was up to me I would make all games space games. One can’t have enough space games in ever. Space is my trains.

Just a small number of space games
  • Beyond the Sun
  • Xia
  • Firefly
  • Outer Rim, Star Wars Deck Building, Clone Wars Pandemic
  • Clank! In Space (sadly Catacombs is better because it is)
  • Leaving Earth
  • Star Realms
  • Stationfall
  • Wormholes
  • Welcome to the Moon
  • Gaia Project
  • Voidfall
  • Race + Roll for the Galaxy
  • Sidereal Confluence (one day, this will get to my table)
  • Sol Last Days of a Star
  • Moonrakers–not played much but very space
  • MLEM–thanks to Knizia I now even have a fun push your luck space game :slight_smile:
  • Cosmic Encounter (it never hit it off with my locals but it’s staying nonetheless)
  • Space Base
  • The Crew
  • Black Angel
  • soon: Arcs --even Cole Wehrle has to have a space game
Addendum: planet-side and terraforming games, which I do kind of lump in with space because smashing asteroids is space stuff!
  • On Mars
  • Terraforming Mars in all 3 of its iterations.
  • Planet Unknown
  • Pax Transhumanity has some space aspects even and so has a firm place in my collection
  • Dune Imperium and Dune
  • Lunar Base
  • Mission: Red Planet
  • I even have Martian Chess–totally not an abstract :melting_face:

Secondary, and definitely not for any purpose… (I blame Wingspan) … but Nature/Animal themed games are currently invading my collection and what I play

All the nature and animal games I found on my shelves
  • Wingspan
  • Ark Nova
  • Cascadia
  • Harmonies
  • Mischwald
  • Trailblazers
  • Honey Buzz (not playing that much)
  • Evergreen (no animals just biomes but still)
  • Floriferous (just flowers)
  • Flourish (sadly not played that much)
  • Earth (not in my collection but played a bunch on BGA)
  • Renature (not playing much)
  • Naturopolis
  • Food Chain Island
  • Forests of Pangaia (oops forgot that one in the first pass)

Farming is also somewhat of a contender thanks to my Sondercollection of Uwe Rosenberg games (and a few others like Viticulture)

I have a few historical games especially German history–I am missing Die Macher but if I get my hands on that last Spielworxx edition I’ll buy it (Currently I have Weimar + Wir sind das Volk). I love Cole Wehrle’s historical games. Also Cuba Libre falls into this category.

I feel like there should be more games like Daybreak and Kyoto that deal with climate change. More of that especially with the optimism of Daybreak.

I wish I had more Civ games. Imperium:Classics/Legends/Horizons and Innovation are feeling a little lonely–especially since Through the Ages left for digital pastures.

Overall… I am a Euro-player at heart so I am fine with theme mostly as set dressing. F.e. nature themed games like Harmonies or Cascadia where theme is a thin veneer over a fun mechanism. I am a bit weary with themes of Knizia games as it is well known that he often just designs the mathmatical model and theme is tacked on later…

Games that put theme over mechanisms tend to not visit my table that much because of my own preferences but also due the people I play with. But I do appreciate thematic integration in games like Spirit Island, Gloomhaven… but strong mechanisms will always trump theme especially considering what gets to my table. Much as I love Cole Wehrles thematic games on principle: do they get to my table? Not a lot. At least he has strong underlying mechanisms… unlike: Arkham Horror comes to mind. And Sleeping Gods. Or 7th Continent. They all seem to be “dripping” with theme and story and lacking mechanisms I want to play.

Btw: Party games don’t need themes. Or is party game its own theme?


What themes are over-represented in your collection?
------ Are there any that you feel almost compelled to buy?

I’m a sucker for nature themes. And Noir. And pulp adventures.
I can’t decide if Viticulture succeeds at not being an abstract euro, but “you get to make wine somewhere sunny and nice” is a theme I will buy every time.

What designers and publishers do theme best? (presentation and/or integration)

I don’t know designers well enough, but on individual games:

Canvas has literal art that you collect and frame,
Forests of Pangaia (grow your wooden trees),
High Society has art which feels luxurious and decadent
Kanagawa has paint pots, art and a bamboo mat.
Tokaido really is a gentle walk while viewing things.

On integrating the theme:

1970s Dune isn’t remotely fair or balanced, but it holds so tight to theme it’s amazing.
Obsession has the theme baked into every move, including descriptions for WHY every guest has the stats they have.
Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective is really immersive, it doesn’t feel like you could put any other theme on it.


My collection’s small enough that I can summarise them all here (I’ve removed games which are fairly themeless, especially small box card games):

3 - Murder
3 - City building
2 - War
2 - Trading Networks
2 - Codebreaking
1 - Trains
1 - Cycling
1 - Medieval France
1 - Post-apocalypse
1 - Horror
1 - Quilts
1 - Definitely not Blade Runner
1 - Potions
1 - Stealing cheese
1 - Health & safety

I appear to be a sucker for war and death and also the economy. What’s weird is that despite how specific some of those themes are, I can name multiple games that I’ve owned that would fit into those categories.

Thankfully, two of these games also cover me for staples like ‘Trading in the Mediterranean’ and ‘Medieval Germany’.


I would have said Space is my major theme, but then they’re generally games that last a long time so I don’t tend to have them. I really wanted SpaceCorp to be better than it was. According to this is my theme breakdown. Party is a theme, fight me.

  • Economic 17

  • Trains 11

  • Party Game 8

  • Animals 6

  • Dice 6

  • Transportation 6

  • Adventure 4

  • Ancient 4

  • City Building 3

  • Civilization 2

  • Medieval 2

  • Nautical 2

  • Racing 2

  • Renaissance 2

  • Science Fiction 2

  • Space Exploration 2

  • Spies/Secret Agents 2

  • Exploration 1

  • Farming 1

  • Industry / Manufacturing 1

  • Mythology 1

  • Sports 1

So if it’s an economic train party game involving animals I’m there. Economic apparently includes Race for the galaxy

Wishlist - A good game in the vein of SpaceCorp that doesn’t have the on rails feeling. On the Knizia Discord, someone mentioned a pulpy cyberpunk hacking theme. That sounded cool.

Ultimately I want the theme to be soemthing that gets me interested. Anthromorphic animals are done.


I can’t speak to quality but I know that SpaceCorp, High Frontier, and Leaving Earth are always debated as a related trio and few agree on which is best. (personally haven’t played any)


I’m going to put this out there…

I don’t like Cthulu or Lovecraft in general


I’m with @yashima. SPACE.

But also classical Mediterranean. 6 years of Latin does that to you, just wanting to see it come alive.

  • Concordia
  • C&C: Ancients
  • Cyclades
  • Caesar!
  • Polis
  • Gladius
  • Ra
  • Kemet

Space gets divided in three parts:
The Solar System = The Crew, Search for Planet X, Mission: Red Planet

Observable Space is based on places that actually exist.

  • Race for the Galaxy (has Earth, Epsilon Eriani, etc.)
  • Beyond the Sun
  • Roll for the Galaxy
  • Pulsar 2849
  • New Frontiers
  • Jump Drive
  • Dark Moon

… though this also seems kind of sparse, as Race/Roll/NF/Jump Drive are kind of one entity for these purposes.

Which brings us to imaginary space.

Space Fantasy
  • TI4
  • Gaia Project
  • Eclipse 2e
  • Star Realms
  • Cosmic Encounter
  • Space Base
  • TIny Epic Galaxies
  • Sidereal Confluence
  • Impulse
  • Liberation
  • Spaceshipped
  • Galactic Renaissance

Planet Unknown was recently shipped off. You can also divide space into “Empty Space” and “Full Space.” Empty Space is typified by Battlestar Galactica. It’s just us (and what we bring). Full Space is Star Wars and Star Trek. It’s hard to say which of those has a greater pull on me.

This all doesn’t include Dune (Imperium, classic), Star Wars (Deckbuilder, Outer Rim, ImpAssault, XWTMG), or Warhammer (Forbidden Stars). Those are more about the IP than the allure of SPACE.

Once we get past those salient ones, I’m overindexed on Ireland/Scotland/Taiwan, as the heritage ingredients of my family.

  • Formosa Tea
  • Brian Boru
  • Isle of Skye
  • Schotten Totten
  • Clans of Caledonia
  • Irish Gauge
  • Inis
  • Lowlands

I think the other clusters in my collection are more based on clusters of mechanics or the fact that the industry is overindexed on certain themes to begin with. I’m not drawn to those specifically for the theme. Maybe ocean/polynesia qualifies.

I see @captbnut just responded and I’m with him on the flip side. I avoid the occult themes like the plague. Partially my religious stance, I don’t like playing with occult concepts. But as I look at the pattern, it may be also how the occult is always interwoven with themes of harm.

I know, I know, War games and colonization games, which I generally tolerate (Mombasa excluded) are also rife with harm. Those feel systemic, societal. What I gets me to the core is harm at a more personal level. Sacrificial rituals, abduction and imprisonment, torture, weapons emphasizing pain instead of the practicalities of winning, etc. etc.

I have Mysterium, though I’ve been told it can’t come out anymore. About 10% of Res Arcana bothers me but the mechanics are sound so I just pulled a few cards out of the deck. Some of 51st State really bothers me and I haven’t decided what to do with that yet. I want Battlestar Galactica but won’t buy Unfathomable. Arctic Scavengers was like Res Arcana, with the butcher and cannibal cards pulled out of the game - but that one got sold as the underlying mechanics weren’t sound enough.

That’s me.


Aaaand it looks like about 9 months ago I did this:

Not theme exactly but the geographical setting (including IP or abstract) of my games.


I also generally avoid horror themed stuff in all aspects of media. (Almost) no horror books , definitely no horror movies, horror computer games or horror themed boardgames (I do like a select few survival computer games—but only minus horror! Definitely not Resident Evil for me).

Used to be I could tolerate Arkham themed games but … not anymore.

Where does this come from? Originally: I hate jump scares like nothing else and this has over time extended to the whole thematic complex. Also I can‘t deal with the tension that seems the other part of horror movies and thrillers…

edit: I can tolerate Zombies for some reason sometimes and have played plenty of Zombicide.

As previously mentioned: Another theme I avoid completely is WWII (WWI is not quite so common that I would call it „avoidance“). I can‘t wait for Undaunted Callisto to see if the series might have been for me if not for the theme. Someone always has to play the Nazis in those games. I don‘t want someone playing the Nazis at my table. My avoidance used to be unconscious until I noticed I was doing it…


I hear you. I tend not to think about it.

But then I was playing a few rounds of Memoir '44 with my best friend and my German au pair came upstairs. Looked at the board. Somewhat blankly, “what are you doing?”

What are we doing?

I’m not about to toss Memoir but that still sticks with me.


I mean I know about these games by now and I am fine with other people playing them. I am not aware if any of my local friends go out of their way to avoid WWII themed games, but I have never seen one on a table near me. But then people here are not war gamers at all and most of these games are war games (obviously).

I have considered Maquis. I have actually played the app. That‘s different somehow.


One that surprised me recently was Kanban, played the super deluxe version that my gaming buddy got for free.

Unusual theme but very well integrated with how it worked.

For the most part once I’m in a game I don’t think about the theme, but a well done set of design work will draw me in.


It looks like I have 5 “manufacturing” themed board games! I was considering listing that as an affinity.

Kanban (classic) and Curious Cargo (evaluate/cull queue) would be the purest. But also Fantastic Factories, Furnace, and Pipeline.


Way too many space games, although they’re all so different it would be like calling the others Earth games in a way.
The only ones where the theme really grabs me are the more narrative ones- Stationfall, Escape Plan. I do think the theme in Agricola does it a great service though, beautiful blend of theme and rules.


I didn’t plan it this way, but I seem to have become something of a collector of racing games: my collection includes Lemminge, Flamme Rouge, Rallyman, R:GT and R:Dirt, Steampunk Rally, Robo Rally, Rush ‘n’ Crush, Automobiles and RoadZters. I didn’t set out to do it, but I think racing suits my preferred level of conflict: we’re competing, but doing each other down is not a major part of what happens, because your first job is to get ahead in the race and attacking other players isn’t worth compromising your position. (All right, Robo Rally certainly allows for aggressive setups, but it’s the one I play least.)

And with all that I don’t have the classics like Formula D (which I’ve never played) or Thunder Alley. I may get Downforce at some point but I’ve been havering over that since it was released.

Space, yeah. Xia, Firefly, Star Trek Ascendancy, Star Realms, Leaving Earth of course. Really ought to sell Space Race (card game), with the Kickstarter bonus rocket and everything but it didn’t “feel” spacey to me. And I need to play my copy of Small Star Empires (aka “Hey, That’s My Space Fish”).

I generally avoid fantasy, magic and elves and orcs and so on; in general, not just in boardgaming, I find the majority of fantasy very derivative and uninspired, thoughtlessly recycling tired old ideas like “this entire nation/species is evil”. I know it’s a personal taste thing; I’ve played Hero Realms, which in the base version is pretty much the same game as Star Realms, but I enjoyed it much less.

I like Lovecraftian concepts of cosmic horror (insert obvious disclaimer) but most Lovecraftian games seem to come down to the FFG style of powering up and shooting Cthulhu in the face, and I really don’t think that’s usefully Lovecraftian at all except for borrowing the names. I’m not sure I’ve met a Lovecraftian boardgame that really captures the feel. I still like The Stars Are Right but that’s very abstract.

Not much WWII even though I am a middle-aged white man. I still like V-Commandos (but I can’t say it’s unfair to describe it as “Flash Point with Nazis”), but I sold on Black Orchestra. Air, Land & Sea is desperately abstracted and only the art really connects it to any particular war.


image lets me know that I have almost as many Fantasy games as Science Fiction but the genre tagging on BGG is very indiscriminate. Fantasy includes Spirit Island as well as Terra Mystica, Arnak, Gloomhaven, Mageknight, Everdell and Root… yes to all, but…

I also generally prefer SF over F, historically for similar reasons. However, I have found a few exceptions to the rule in “recent” (1) years. Of course we may not agree and what constitutes less derivative and stereotypical fantasy :wink:

(1) the older I get the longer a timespan “recent” becomes


Give me an Ancient Rome theme and I’m all over it.


That prompted an interesting reaction in me. I’m very keen on Celtic and ancient Greece/Rome, but absolutely couldn’t play any recent real-world war setting on any side.


Undaunted Stalingrad for example looks like great fun. Never going to touch it.