Top 10 – My Favorite Board Game Themes
There is little to no secret that I like my board games to have theme. I talk about the experience of a board game a lot, and games with a lot of theme often have more experience in them. Now a more abstract game can provide a great experience if it allows you to be very clever, but it can be more hit or miss. Compare that to something like Gloomhaven, because of the theme and mechanics, every time I played it was a great experience.
But like any person, I enjoy certain themes more than others. You can probably guess some of them based off of the games that I talk about the most, but let’s run down my Top 10 favorite themes in board games.
On this list, going back to yesterday’s post, you are going to see some things where you’ll think, that’s theme is a subset of another theme on the list. Some themes, Sci-Fi and Fantasy, for example, are really broad.
10. Fairy Tales
This is a theme that I don’t see enough in games that target adults. Fairy Tales are often used for kids games, and while that’s a great spot for them, let’s not lie, the original fairy tales were messed up stories that didn’t end well. The versions that we know, those aren’t w hat they first at the start. So I love to see that twisted, but maybe closer to the actual theme fairy tale games.
The Grimm Masquerade
So, my example is going to be The Grimm Masquerade. This creates a hidden role game that is actually pretty interesting for me. I don’t love games like Mafia, Werewolf, or the Resistance because they are generally too simple. The Grimm Masquerade is all about figuring out who is what character, but how it is done is really interesting. Mainly because you have a draw a card and either keep it or give it away, and then the other action with your second card. Simple mechanics and fun game play.
Honestly, I think if I do this again in two years, explorations will be higher on my list. I have mainly played a couple games that use this theme. And you could argue that it’s more of a mechanic, but I am thinking of that Indiana Jones type feel, where you have fantastic things going on, and you are discovering it with the other people at the tables. There are a few other games that dabble in this in another category that comes up. But I like the feeling of going into that new area and not knowing what I might find.
Now, Tainted Grail falls into a few other themes coming up here as well, but it works well here. The biggest element of Tainted Grail is diving in and exploring the massive, well written world that Awaken Realms has created. They even have an exploration journal which has so many things that you can do in it, and some many different paths you can go. It is probably impossible to actually find all the different options which is amazing.
Yes, Zombies get their own theme. There are so many zombie games out there, and I tend to like them. Zombie games fall mainly into two categories. You either are mowing down zombies to get away from them, or you are trying to survive and it’s about the people versus killing zombies. Both are a lot of fun, and I have games with both types. I even have one where you are the zombies, but that one is a bit themeless really with Zombie Dice.
Dead of Winter
No shock which one I picked here, there are a lot of zombie games, but this one I have played the most. This is one where it is about the survivors and trying to make it through the cold of winter and complete your objectives. It’s interesting because it is cooperative with the possibility of a traitor, but it’s not as well. Because each player has a secret objective they need to complete to be part of the winning group. It is an interesting dynamic that works pretty well but won’t be for everyone. It does help simulate what your survivor(s) might care about most.
So another one that has a darker theme, we’re talking about Lovecraft. Now, this is not like Lovecraft’s books, but more the investigative, pulp, noir, theme that has been put on it by Fantasy Flight Games, mainly, and other companies as well. The main thing that ties it back to Lovecraft is that it uses his monsters to create a more fleshed out world of intrigue, investigation and tentacles.
Mansions of Madness
A few options I could have gone with, there are a ton of games with a Lovecraftian theme because, well, it is a public domain. Don’t have a theme, slap Lovecraft on it. But Mansions of Madness is my favorite. It is taking this city view or world view that some of the other games have and focusing it down to a neighborhood or a mansion. Add in the app which changes things up so you can play the same scenario multiple times and things will vary slightly. Just a nice, deeply thematic game.
Building off of what Lovecraftian themes do with their horror added, I like games where you are the person trying to figure out who done it. I would still even play something like Clue which is one of the first games that did that. But the genre has improved so much over time and you can have Sherlock Holmes, though I haven’t played any of the Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective games.
Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game
It has Detective in it’s name, it has to be good, right? Well, not really, but it was very good. This takes all of the best parts of those procedural cop shows and drops you into it. You are the one making the decisions, picking up on clues, and trying to solve the case. The base box is amazing, and I have a bunch more stuff to play for it. They are now even doing a spy theme using the same system that I am really excited about.
Welcome to the second category that Tainted Grail falls into it. But I really like games that can pull from different mythologies, Norse, Greek, Roman, Mayan, and more to create interesting board games. And the idea of playing as the gods or adjacent to the gods is always interesting. Especially because of the different powers the gods have and how that can translate into what you are doing. I also get to learn stuff about mythologies that I might not know much about.
Lords of Hellas
This takes a few things and puts them together. It is a bit like the world of Horizon Zero Dawn where the monsters look like creatures but are machines, and it has a cyber punk element. This game definitely leans more into the mythological side of things as you play different heroes and build towers to the gods. I love the different win conditions and the theme just makes the game that much more compelling.
Broad category #1, science fiction. There are a few different types, and I tend to prefer space exploration type of Sci-Fi versus weird future worlds. Though, things like Shadowrun are technically Sci-Fi and I like that Cyberpunk theme. However, I really like the grander feel that space exploration has in general. And there are a ton of great board games that fall into the realm of space.
Star Wars: Rebellion
Now this could be consider cheating a little bit because Star Wars could be it’s own theme. But it is also a space game. While you aren’t exploring as much, the empire is exploring planets trying to narrow down where the rebels can be. This feels like the original trilogy as it is cat and mouse. The empire trying to squash the rebel fleets and find their base, and the rebels trying to subvert the empires plan. It is also a big game, probably playing in about three hours or a bit less, if you know what you are doing. Ton of fun, Star Wars in a box.
Now, the second to last category that Tainted Grail could fit into, I love fantasy games. Unlike Sci-Fi where I prefer space sci-fi, I like almost any type of fantasy. Whether it’s a grim dark world like Tainted Grail, urban fantasy like The Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game, or silly fantasy like Smallworld, I like games that have fantasy in them. There’s just something about slinging spells and fighting dragons or other crazy monsters that is a lot of fun.
No surprise what game I am going with here, Gloomhaven is my favorite game of all time. It has you on this massive epic adventure as you try and figure out all that is happening in the lands. But beyond that, the game has amazing card play and really unique fantasy creatures to fight and play as. The amount of world building that went into Gloomhaven is amazing.
I flipped the last two at the last second, but Superheroes, they are just below my #1, because, well, there are a lot of poor superhero games out there. So this theme will always get me interested whether I’m playing as a superhero or fighting against them. But because DC and Marvel are both very popular in general, that means that there are some poorer games out there. But tell me that a board game has a Marvel theme, I am always going to check it out.
A Marvel game, no surprise there. I really like Marvel Champions a lot. It is a great game that they keep on adding more great content for. This is the one that has me playing a hero that I know and love from Marvel and I feel like that hero. If I am playing Spider-Man, I can go in there with a swinging web kick, or I can flip over to Peter Parker, the bad guy won’t fight me, and I can recover. Of course, then the bad guy is scheming until I can get in there again to stop their plans and take them down.
Finally, my number 1, Horror. I love horror in board games. From games where it is a one off scenario to games where it is a full campaign. The grim dark fantasy nature of Tainted Grail makes it also dabble into horror. But Zombie and Lovecraftian games also fall into that category as well. Zombies can be more survival and Lovecraftian can be more investigative, so horror get’s it’s own. I love not knowing what’s around the corner, what horror might be popping up and the feeling of the impending doom if things don’t go well.
Betrayal at House on the Hill
Now, I know this one will be controversial. There are people who do not like this game, I love it. I think that it is really well done and it gives you that feeling of horror movies. You don’t know what is around the next corner, if a good twist happens, you don’t know who is going to be betray you, and you don’t know if you will survive. Is it well balanced, probably not, but I really like the thematic and cinematic feeling it gives me.
What Is Your Favorite Theme?
Let me know in the comments below or over on Twitter what themes in board games you like best. There are a lot of them out there. I could have broken down Fantasy and Sci-Fi more as well. Are there any that you feel are used too much?