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Please ShadowClipse, there is aboslutely no need whatsoever to apologise! I’ve been meaning to get it to the table for a long time. I did try a bit of solo play beforehand to get used to the mechanics, and everyone got the hang of it pretty quickly. And in fact everyone had a pretty good time – we probably just wouldn’t bring it off the shelf again.

I can see the ambition in the design, and I applaud what the designer was trying to do – what other game tracks your emotional baggage? – but I think the problem is that the mechanics of the game don’t reflect the theme. Instead, you have very basic and unsatisfying game mechanics (eg, visiting a location and placing a token on a sheet) with lashings and lashings of theme piled on top. As tasty a treat as the theme topping is, eventually you get down to the bog-standard unsatisfying mechanics underneath.

I (and my game group) enjoy RPGs, but I must admit I often have this problem with very thematic games – they try to be an RPG, and when it comes down to it RPGs are just the perfect format for imaginative storytelling. Boardgames bound by rules mechanics, not so much.

This is what Michael Barnes was talking about when he recently surprised everyone by asserting that Reina Knizia’s games were highly thematic. He argued that the game mechanisms themselves immersed you in the theme, not the layers of fluff text and illustrations and padding (a la Fantasy Flight Games). While I don’t fully agree with him (for a start Knizia’s games are often re-themed over and over, so the theme can’t be that intrinsically linked to the mechanics), I understand the point that for a game to really transport you, the mechanics of the game – the stuff that you actually do – has to be pull you into the theme.

An example I re-discovered the other night was Theseus: The Dark Orbit. The game is relatively straightforward, but the central mechanic, which is you can only move around the space station a number of sectors equal to the number of units in the sector you started from, and the laying of trap and action cards throughout the station that change the gameplay, actually makes you feel like you’re on a claustrophobic space station persued by intelligent aliens. Far more so than any cards with “you crawl through the dripping air ducts, any moment expecting the hot breath of an alien to blast over your face in the darkness” written on them – even with evocative illustrations.

It’s an interesting subject, especially since the EOG is so concerned with theme in games.