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Home Forums The Smoking Room Where has the world-building creativity in games gone?

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    Universal Head

    OK, it’s a bit of a click-bait heading, but I’ve been thinking lately about this wonderful hobby, and unfortunately many of my thoughts have been a bit negative. What follows is a rant.

    This as kicked off by the fact that I didn’t see anything particularly interesting or inspiring in this year’s GenCon reports – for example, FFG usually has something exciting but this year the best they could muster was a Runebound relaunch and a Lord of the Rings Card Game variant with a Warhammer Quest retheme.

    There’s a whole discussion to be had on whether there is anything new to be done mechanics-wse, but I want to talk about theme. I am sick and tired of the same old fantasy, sci-fi and horror tropes, and I’m wondering where the real creativity has gone in this area. The last interesting, well-developed fantasy world I can think of in gaming is Rackham’s Aarklash. Generic fantasy crap like FFG’s Terrinoth, not to mention every other D&D-influenced bog-standard fantasy setting out there, is making me roll my eyes up with boredom.

    With Age of Sigmar, Games Workshop has killed everything that made their Warhammer world interesting and a wonderful agglomeration of three decades of quirky English creativity, and turned it into Masters of the Universe.

    CMON’s Wrath of Kings world Arikania is slightly interesting – probably due to the influence of ex-Rackham people – but is criminally underdeveloped.

    Big companies rely on licencing old IPs. And a thousand Kickstarter campaigns churn out the same tired cliches, riffing on pop culture and the glories of the past and presenting it wrapped in amateurish artwork and design.

    Where’s the creativity? Where’s the sense of wonder? Where’s the originality?

    Discuss. 🙂


    Hmmm.. Can it be said that the great world-building has left? Was it here in the first place?

    What games have the best world-building? You more or less mentioned Aarklash alone.

    Universal Head

    Well, I’d put Games Workshop’s Warhammer world in that category, before they destroyed the whole thing for the new ‘Flash Gordon-meets He-man’ concept.

    The Dust Tactics world isn’t particular original, but has a nice weird war ‘feel’.

    FFG’s Android universe is developing nicely, though again it’s quite derivative.

    Rackham’s scifi universe for AT-43 felt consistent and different, thougn it didn’t have much time to fully develop.

    Hell Dorado’s universe has a great history-meets-fantasy conceit and feels rich and detailed.

    There are also lots of well-developed worlds in role-playing, and perhaps some more of those could be brought over into boardgaming, instead of relying on generic bland fantasy backgrounds like Terrinoth. But of course a company is always going to prefer their own IP to one they have to pay licence fees for, unless it’s a big money-spinner like Lord of the Rings.

    CK Lai

    OK, I’ll bite.

    Depends on what you mean by theme due to the type of games.

    If you mean the type where you and I like to play (miniatures heavy, wargame/skirmish level) then yeah. Kind of.

    The Big 3 in this category have probably 80%-90% of market share: GW, Warmahordes and Mantic KoW.

    That leaves a very small slice of the pie for other companies to thrive and flourish.

    You’re right: air of stuff coming our predominantly (although not exclusively) from the USA tends to be rehashed LOTR/D&D tropes.

    Wrath of Kings being one of the exceptions but the background is, as you and others (including myself) have mentioned: underdeveloped.

    I find a lot of interesting themes are coming out of the European designers.

    Alkemy (heh there it is again) also offers something different. But because of lack of funding, it’s also undeveloped. But it’s more than Wrath of Kings.

    Then there’s Nemesis from Zenit. Now that’s something VERY different. But for to language issues also a bit underdone. The minis are gorgeous though and definitely NOT your standard LOTR/D&D fare. I just got my KS pledge and I’ll do a review when I can get round to it.

    Others that I know of are Carnevale (Magical Rennaissance); etc. Etc. ?

    One possible reason is maybe the designers are from similar backgrounds? ie. Western and thus drawing from the same well?

    The world is rich with varied cultures. Off the top of my head, there’s Indian, Aztec/Inca, South East Asian… it’s a pity they’re not tapped into as much.

    Sent from my iPhone


    Might sound cynical, but it could just be that we’ve seen and done everything.

    I liked Warhammer’s old world and enemy within campaign for that RPG was good.

    Iron Kingdoms is an interesting world, but basically steampunk.

    Original ideas are like the proverbial rocking horse excrement.

    But if you enjoy the game, that’s all that matters.

    Universal Head

    I really find myself far more drawn to European fantasy than American, always have. These thoughts are sweeping generalisations, just thinking aloud, but European and to a lesser extent English fantasy seems to be more influenced by artists with a more distinctive personality in their drawings, like the artists of Métal Hurlant (Moebius, Druillet, Bilal) and others like Brian Froud and Patrick Woodroffe, as opposed to more ‘straight’ stuff like Vallejo and Frazetta, and D&D artists like Elmore and Parkinson. As for miniature design, there seems to be more of an emphasis on hand-sculpted pieces than the computer-sculpted ones, and I think the latter can sometimes be static and lacking in personality.

    I do agree that in general other cultures don’t get much of a look in, which is why I find Tékumel so fascinating.

    CK Lai

    Well, there’s Journey: Wrath of the Demons. That’s based on Chinese mythology. How do you find the game, now that you’ve got it?

    Universal Head

    Haven’t played it yet, but gameplay looks pretty basic.


    CB’s Infinity & Wyrd’s Malifaux have rich backgrounds that are still evolving….both bringing out RPG variants of their universes.

    I don’t know much about Dark Age nor Eden which seems to have post-apocalypse stylings.

    Mutant Chronicles/Warzone had a well developed background but has failed to develop into the mass market.

    Bushido continues to churn out figures but I haven’t heard much about it.

    The world of SMOG is interesting but the figures are of a larger than usual scale. I think there is a small skirmish type game and a more abstract board game.

    CK Lai

    Dark Age and Eden (I’ve tried the latter) are both based on another planet other than Earth, but they are Post-Apo. From what I’ve read of the rules for Dark Age, both it and Eden are very similar in background. But Eden focuses more on melee combat, not so much on ranged.

    Bushido is fantasy Japanese, so besides the usual Samurai figures, you get the Oni (demons Japanese style which is pretty cool). It’s apparently also a decent skirmish game. My Rise of the Kage box is on the way to me, and I bought the cards that will allow me to play using the Bushido rules, so I’ll know more about it later.

    Universal Head

    One game I collected quite a few of the metal miniatures for but never got around to playing much was Okko: Era of the Asigiri. The Japanese mythology background seems virtually identical to Bushido.


    I have to agree with CK, Carnevale looks pretty original to me even if the root sources are Commedia dell’arte with a splash of Cthulhu and Vampires. From what I know of Malifaux it seems pretty out there as well.

    And of course, Tekumel, for many many years.
    It was cool discovering that you run as well. When do you sleep? 😎

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