Top 10 Unique Theme Games
I saw someone suggest this on the Dice Tower Facebook group thinking that it’d be an interesting idea. Now, there are two ways to go about this. It could be my top 10 games that I like that have unique themes, or the top 10 most unique themes that I can find in the games that I’ve played. I’m going with the former, these are the top 10 games that I like, have in my top 100-150 games, and that I feel like I don’t see the theme of all that often. I’m hoping that this’ll lead to an interesting list as right now, I’m not sure which games will be getting picked, but a lot of my favorites will be getting skipped.
10 – Marrying Mr. Darcy
As I was creating the list, I was surprised to see this game make the list. It’s down a ways in my top 100, no spoilers for this fall when I do my top 100 again, but it is really an interesting theme. First, there’s the Pride and Prejudice theme, I’m actually a little bit surprised that we don’t have more games based off of Jane Austen, I’m not sure how they’d work, but I’m surprised. Then it’s a game about marriage, now there are some party games about marriage, but this one isn’t about guessing trivia between married couples, it’s about marrying off your character from Pride and Prejudice to your most preferred suitor. It’s a light hearted game that is pretty simple but enjoyable and pretty good at not going too long.
9 – Hanabi
Hanabi has an interesting them of fireworks. That’s not one that you really see in board games, but beyond that it is a fun game because it has some really interesting mechanics. You are trying to create lines of fireworks by color going from one to five. But you can’t see your cards in your hand, they are facing away from you, using clues, you have to work together to discard the right cards, to get more clues, put down the correct number on the correct color, and give clues. The trick is giving good clues because your clues need to be either pointing out all the cards in someone’s hand of a color or of a number and hope that they infer the right order. It’s a fast game, but it’s very challenging.
8 – Photosynthesis
Now, some would argue that this isn’t a completely unique theme, there are other games out there that are about trees, but it’s still a pretty uncommon theme. And how it handles trees is really interesting and the pieces are cool and board is amazing. In Photosynthesis, you are trying to grow trees to harvest to get points. The theme is fairly abstract, but it works, because there is a sun that rotates around the board. So you get light points to spend to plan seeds, grow trees, and score points, and how you get points if based off of how many of your trees are getting sunlight and the size of those trees, because if you have a larger tree behind a smaller tree, both trees get sunlight, but smaller tree or same size tree, they can be blocked in the shadow and not get you any light points. It’s an interesting strategy game that offers a lot of tough choices and has a bit of a cutthroat element as you try and position your trees to get light and block off other people. Really fun, easy to teach, and has a lot of depth.
7 – Hats
The hat part of the game Hats is what gives it a more unique theme. There is also an Alice in Wonderland theme on it with the Madd Hatter’s tea party, but that’s a pretty common theme in games. But the idea of hats and which hats are on the table scoring points is unique. It’s also very clever. In most card games, you are using your hand of cards either to give yourself points if they are good or your opponent points if they are bad. Here there’s a middle step. When you play a card, you are putting it onto the table in one of six spots and taking the card that was already put there and placing it in front of you for scoring. So you’re giving your opponent a potential card for scoring, but it’ll only score if there is a card of that color out on the Madd Hatter’s table. So you have to think about how your opponent can use the cards that you have to set-up their scoring and hopefully play them in such a way that the table ends up favoring you at the end. A lot of strategy in this game, though some luck especially at higher player counts. It is really quite abstract, but it works for a theme because of the Madd Hatter and hats.
6 – Cartographers
So there are a lot of games out there where you’re building a world or a city. Something like Carcassone pops into my head or a game like Suburbia where you are building a city. In Cartographers, you are making a map, not to build out a land and score points by putting people on it like Carcassone, but because you are mapping the far off reaches of the land. How it works is interesting as well, this is a flip and write game where each player is filling out their own map, so at the end it looks different for everyone. But you are either given one type of land with one of two shapes to put it in, or two types of land with one shape to put one of those two land types in. Or, there are monsters. Filling in the land is pretty normal, it has a Second Chance vibe to it, but monsters are very different as one of your opponents will decide where the monster goes on your board. It’s very clever that way, and the scoring is good as well. You score two things each season and it rotates, so in Winter you’re scoring one thing that you scored at the beginning of the game in spring. Not the only game to do this, but does it well, and the map making theme is great.
5 – Century: Golem Edition
This one was interesting to put on the list, mainly because Century: Spice Road, exists, and that has the most generic theme of moving cubes around and trading spices, this literally 90% of Euro games right there. All Century: Golem Edition is, is a retheme of that game. So it goes from a very generic theme to a unique theme about golems just by a retheme. In this game you are going out and mining gems and then trading gems around various market places (all by playing cards from your hand), in order to get certain combinations of gems to be able to power up golems and get points. The game is really simple and slick to play. It’s like Splendor in some ways but a step up in complexity. You are doing one of a few things on your turn, you can play a card to get or swap gems, you can get more cards for your hand, you can take all your played cards back into your hand, or you can get a golem. The game ends when someone has 5 golems, and everyone adds up their points, and most points wins. The art and the gems just make this pop on hte table though.
4 – Homebrewers
There are a few games out there about brewing, but it’s a very small number, so I picked the one that I have had a lot of fun with. Homebrewers is all about brewing your best beer so when it comes to Summerfest and Oktoberfest, you are ready to wow the judges and take home the gold, and get the most points. To do this, you’re rolling dice to take actions. What really makes this game so much fun to play, though is brewing the beer. You could brew a generic beer and it wouldn’t do that much for you, but you can add in flavors to make your beer better and that might give you more points, more money, or even help help improve the quality of another beer with the techniques that you’ve learned. But, as a player, would you really want to drink a nutmeg and cherry IPA? So it’s always fun to see what weird beer you can make. This game is also a lot of fun because it’s a good engine building game, but it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome.
3 – Sagrada
Stained glass windows, seems like there wouldn’t be many games out there on this, and there aren’t, but there is another. Sagrada is my preferred one, though as it just pops on the table and offers a good puzzle as you try and draft the right dice in order to be able complete your stained glass window. Each round someone draws two times the number of players, plus one, dice and rolls them, then going around, you draft dice and put them into your window. However, there are rules as to how they can be placed, you can’t have the same number orthogonally adjacent to the same number (up down, left right) nor can you do that with color. Beyond that, there are certain spots where you have to put a color or a number, so you have to think about that as well. Sagrada looks amazing on the table and is actually really easy to teach and play. I’ve had great success with this game with all sorts of groups of people.
2 – Hanamikoji
Hanamikoji was one of the first games I thought of when doing this list. Mainly, there aren’t many games that would dare handle a theme such as Geisha. But Hanamikoji does, and even though this a very abstract game, it handles it well. Hanamikoji is all about the winning the favor of various Geisha by giving them gifts. To do that, you and your opponent each have a had of cards and have four actions per round you can take. You can either save a hidden card for winning favor at the end, you can discard two cards that won’t be used to win favor, you give your opponent the choice of three cards, and they pick one to place on their side for winning favor and you play the other two, or you create two sets of two cards and your opponent picks one of those for their side to win favor and you get the other. This game really is all about making your opponent make tough decisions for you so that you are able to manipulate the cards you can see to win the favor of the Geisha. You either want to win the favor of 11 points worth of Geisha or of four Geisha. The game is really fast, very thinking, and it forces a lot of tough decisions. I’d highly recommend this game as a two player game.
1 – Icecool
Penguin High School, I dare anyone to find a game that has that theme on it, besides Icecool 2. In this game you are flicking around student penguins who are skipping class in order to get fish to eat. Each round, someone is also the hall monitor. If the hall monitor catches, runs into, a student who is skipping class, that student has to give the hall monitor their hall pass, which gives the hall monitor points. But for each fish that the student gets they get a point as well. A round ends when either the hall monitor has caught all the students or a student has gotten their three fish. Then after every person has been the hall monitor once you count up your points, most points wins. It’s fun though because of the silly theme, but also because you’re flicking around little penguins, and not only that, you can jump them over walls if you flick them right, or spin them and ricochet through multiple doors, if you line it up right, there are just lots of fun things you can do.
So, this list dug further into my top 100 than most. I like a lot of games that have a fantasy or sci-fi theme, but even games like Lost Expedition which is about exploring or Point Salad which is about food, those are themes that are done pretty often. I think with that I did a solid job of finding games that have out there themes. If you’re not a big sci-fi or fantasy fan, these games might tick that theme box for you. What are some interesting, unique, themes that you’ve found? Are there any from the list that you want to try?
Share questions, ideas for articles, or comments with us!