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Grand Themes and Small Themes

If you take a look at themes in games, you can easily spot patterns that influence what themes you are likely to see with particular game design patterns. Large area control games lend themselves to warfare or direct conflict style games. Games with resource management or worker placement often have economic stories attached to them. In addition, the theme’s time frame and scale usually match the game design.

Some games break this mold and pair grand themes with small gameplay. Very few games take a small theme or a very localized theme and attach to it a very complex game.

Grand Themes + Small Game

There are quite a few games that utilize epic themes for very short or simple games. They abstract much of the gameplay and just allow the grand narrative to take focus. Here’s a quick list:

  • Cold War: CIA vs KGB (also Star Wars: Empire vs Rebellion)
  • 7 Wonders (also 7 Wonders: Duel)
  • Splendor
  • Machi Koro
  • Pandemic: The Cure
  • Age of War

Tiny Themes + Epic Game

 Sometimes, other games which are complex or lengthy, do not need to have a grand theme. These are much more rare, but they work because they delve deep into details of the subject matter and find all the little nuances of the conflict or problem that make for an epic game. Here’s another, VERY SHORT, list:
  • Rococo
  • Scotland Yard or Letters from Whitechapel
 After scouring BoardGameGeek for other games that take a long time (120+ min), it’s easy to tell that most games have a base level of abstraction that make certain themes require certain game sizes. It’s much easier to abstract down (reduce complexity to simplicity) than to draw out complexity from more basic actions.
Hopefully this knowledge arms you with more decision-making power when searching for your next game. Decide early on what “level” of game your favorite theme requires or choose a theme and pick those games that help deliver the most interesting game play, no matter their size.
Good luck!
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