150 – Theme – The Family Gamers Podcast

Dicey Peaks oxygen tanks

Welcome Nick Martinelli! We played Order of Invention together with Nick just prior to the show, and we’re surprised at how well it worked when playing over Skype. Thanks to our sponsor Breaking Games for providing the game and sponsoring this episode!

What We’ve Been Playing

Nick tells us about a few of his family’s recent favorites:

Wingspan: “I have a friend that’s a huge Magic: The Gathering fan… he said ‘this is amazing, we need to play it every time I come over.'”

Tussie Mussie: Like Wingspan, also designed by Elizabeth Hargrave. A beautiful and quick split-and-choose game.

Fantasy Ranch: raise horses and show them. Many different difficulty levels, appropriate for all ages and abilities. Looking forward to Nick’s review!

Andrew tells us a few he’s played recently as well:

Gunkimono: We’ve talked about this before. It looks like a complex Japanese combat game, but it’s actually a domino-style area control with two point systems that have to be balanced. Surprisingly easy to teach.

Sagrada and Tiny Towns were big hits at our latest cafe game night.

SHOBU: A surprise hit from Smirk & Dagger that Anitra found at Origins. A thinky abstract with perfect information; easy to learn and we had a lot of fun with it. We’re not ready to write a review yet; until we are, check out this review from One Board Family.

Rescue Polar Bears: still ridiculously hard.

Quacks of Quedlinburg: we love the simultaneous play and the choices still available when you “bust”. Looking forward to introducing the kids and trying the different books.

Anitra’s top games from Origins:

The Grimm Masquerade: beautiful art (same as The Grimm Forest) “everything you want in a social deduction, but it’s logical/strategic deduction” – our favorite kind of deduction! Players can be revealed, but aren’t knocked out from the round.

Echidna Shuffle: a kids’ game that’s fun for everyone. Your bugs will hitch ride on the echidnas’ backs, and you’ll shuffle the echidnas along various paths to try to get your bugs home. Deny your fellow players by moving their bugs onto the wrong paths, too.

Lots of roll & write games (also flip & writes): reviews for Hex Roller and Lanterns Dice will be coming soon.

Anitra remembers why she doesn’t play Puerto Rico anymore, even though she enjoys it – it’s just too long. Maybe this will motivate us to try San Juan?

Dragon’s Breath from HABA was everything Anitra dreamed it would be. Choose a cardboard token representing the color of gem you’d like to take this round. Once everyone has chosen, “dragon dad” takes the top ring off the “ice” stack, dropping gems onto the box. You’ve got to love a game that cleans itself up as you play.

Ship Shape from Calliope (we mentioned this in both parts of our two part podcast on PAX Unplugged). It’s coming out in August, and we had a great time playing it. Can’t wait!

Cartographers: a roll-and-write (flip and write) set in the Roll Player universe. Map out a kingdom by filling in territory based on cards that were drawn. Each round (“season”) has different randomly-selected scoring conditions (which we were introduced to in Isle of Skye). Some cards represent monsters, and those shapes will subtract points, depending on how many sides are still exposed at the end of each round.

For Science!

Andrew (and Anitra) try the new Reese’s Peanut Butter Lovers and Chocolate Lovers cups (and of course, a standard cup as the control group). Andrew did this by creating a monstrous sandwich with regular Reese’s cups and special cups.

Miss the “For Science” segment? Send us weird food, and we’ll talk about it on the show!

The Family Gamers
PO Box 528
Auburn MA 01501

Forest of Fun in play. Two trees, each with five rooms. Special power card. Scoreboard.

SNAP Review

Anitra and Asher discuss Best Treehouse Ever: Forest of Fun. Is it an improvement over the original Best Treehouse Ever?

Read a summary and see more pictures with our SNAP review.


So, we’ve been talking about a lot of games we’ve been playing, and many of them are dripping with theme. Some, like SHOBU, are not. Theme is a great way to introduce people to board games and pique their interest. “There’s a game for that.”

Each of us has a slightly different take on theme and its role in board games.

Nick: “Theme is what draws me into a game.” Even an otherwise abstract game can work for him if a strong theme is added (example: Santorini). He wants to put himself into the experience of the game.

Anitra loves abstract games that strip out all the extra information and allow players to focus on the mechanics. Theme can really turn her off: either when a theme is implemented poorly, or because the whole idea of the theme is unattractive. In the latter case, she won’t even give the game a chance.

Anitra has a realization about science-fiction themes: she loves them in books and movies, but not in games. Why? Because in other media, the futuristic or dystopian setting usually emphasizes the humanity and growth of the characters. But science-fiction games strip out that humanity, and it’s too hard for her to put herself in.

Anitra and Nick have very different opinions of Cosmic Encounter for exactly this reason.

Andrew: “Theme, for me, is always a springboard… the lubricant by which I enjoy the mechanics of the game.”

Some games do such a great job that you don’t need to have knowledge of the theme to enjoy them (Wingspan and Lords of Waterdeep are good examples). Other games (ie. Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle) rely on the theme to elevate a game that would otherwise merely be OK, not great.

Andrew: “I don’t think a bad theme can ruin a game like bad mechanics can.” Unless, of course, a designer is trying to stay so close to the theme that they add too many mechanics and make a game un-fun.

Final thoughts: a great theme can help keep kids’ interest, or be educational.

What do you think? Is there a theme that really resonates with you and your family?


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Breaking Games: Order of Invention

This week’s opening and closing music is Orchid by You Bred Raptors?.