Beyond Medieval: Board Game Themes I Love
Board games, more than any other entertainment medium I can think of, rely heavily on medieval times as a backdrop. I guess ever since the invention of Chess – when it was actually contemporary at the time of its creation – the two have been inseparable. While I’m all for playing a great board game of any sort, medieval and fantasy themes generally don’t do it for me. Since there’s more to tabletop gaming than swords, spells and silver shillings. In this post, I shine the spotlight on some of my favourite themes that don’t harken back to the middle ages!
For almost as long as I can remember, I’ve been a fan of the eternal conflict between super-powered heroes and villains. Most recently, I’ve been going straight to the source for my super hero fix by immersing myself in comic books. Super hero board games have traditionally been poor, though they’re certainly hot right now.
DC Comics Deck-Building Game is a hit thanks to how accessible it is to a wide audience. Marvel Legendary is a deeply thematic game that gives you the ability to recreate epic Marvel universe battles or create your own. You can even have these rival universes battle each other in the Dice Masters series. When I’m playing a good super hero game, I really get immersed in the feeling of being a hero or a villain and doing major damage to my opposition.
I don’t have any plans of veering outside of games featuring the big two, but it’s a testament to how great the theme is when original super hero titles like Sentinels of the Multiverse can prove successful on their own terms. For fans of board games and super heroes, the golden era is right now.
I love fantastical stories about science, technology and space. These stories play out in a number of different ways in board games. The most traditional sci-fi game in our collection is Space Cadets. Together with your fellow players, you control every aspect of a ship that makes you feel like you’re running the USS Enterprise. King of Tokyo puts players in the role of battling kaiju, fighting each other to the death in a fast dice game. Dead of Winter is basically The Walking Dead: The Board Game, except better and more true to The Walking Dead experience than any official game before it. Last but not least is Pandemic, which is a modern classic about the Center for Disease Control trying to contain and cure four deadly diseases before the world dies of assorted plagues. For all of the cool things that sci-fi offers, they come to life in fantastic ways in board games.
My first foray into tabletop games inspired by video games was Yomi. Originally designed to be an officially-licensed Street Fighter card game, Yomi still manages to brilliantly translate that fighting game experience with an original set of characters. Most recently, XCOM: The Board Game has knocked my socks off with how it blends tabletop action with a digital app to create something that feels like XCOM yet totally unique in both the board game and video game space.
There are still no shortage of board game duds that fail to do their inspiration justice. The Street Fighter Deck-Building Game is a half-hearted attempt at bolting on Street Fighter elements to the DC Comics Deck-Building Game. If you’re looking to a game that captures the spirit of one-on-one fisticuffs, Yomi uppercuts it into oblivion. Furthermore, be careful with Boss Monster, a hit card game that treads heavily on 8-bit nostalgia, but is woefully lacking in the gameplay department. Thankfully, when board game designers get it right, they’re able to bring new life to existing digital game concepts.
These next three games don’t necessarily encompass themes that I’m in love with across everything, but the themes within these particular games makes the whole experience that much more vibrant. Kudos to the following:
Theme: Las Vegas
Set in the Las Vegas desert, you and your fellow tycoons are tasked with building this large patch of sand into the gambling mecca of the world. What I love most about the game is how it manages to capture the thrill of gambling within the context of building casinos and fighting others for control. Though I haven’t played any other Las Vegas themed games, it has inspired me to check out a few other Vegas games such as Las Vegas and Vegas Showdown. Maybe when I do this list next time, Las Vegas will make it in earnest.
Admittedly, I don’t like sushi. However, I love eating food in general, so the concept of making games around the creation of a great meal are very appealing to me. The only reason why food isn’t on the official list is because Sushi Go is the only one I’ve played this far. At some point, I’m sure to have more food games under my belt and wouldn’t be surprised if this theme also cracked the list eventually.
Freedom: The Underground Railroad
History is a popular theme in board games, though one that I’m generally not fond of in any medium. However, I would be remiss to not give Freedom: The Underground Rail its due credit. Tackling a very sensitive subject, the game does an incredible job of not only presenting the material in a respectful light, but it educates and entertains in a way that really makes you feel like you’re there. Even if you’re not a history buff, this game is a shining example of how a game set in historical times can be insightful and entertaining.