Welcome back to Tabletop Tastes: My Favorite Flavors in Board Games! Missed the last post? Head over and check out Tabletop Tastes #4: Crunchy Meaningful Decisions.
Speaking of biting into sandwiches, you know that feeling when you bite into a too-dry sandwich and instantly wish it had some kind of condiment or sauce? There are some sandwiches in this world that will soak up all the saliva from your mouth and try their hardest to keep you from having a pleasurable dining experience. Instead of enjoying the flavors that it does contain, all you can think about is what’s missing from it.
This is comparable to the experience I’ve had with certain tabletop games… like Targi, for instance. Targi is a clever 2-player worker placement game with mechanisms that are phenomenally unique and interesting; yet somehow I just couldn’t get into it. My main issue with Targi is that the game is SO DRY. For a game that could be literally any theme, the chosen theme and presentation aren’t doing it any favors. There is absolutely nothing exciting to me about collecting and spending salt, pepper, and dates. It all feels so mechanical. Collect bland things, spend them on bland things, rinse and repeat. While the mechanics start out interesting, the novelty wears out long before the game is over. It’s a game that becomes difficult to see through to the end, much like a dry sandwich.
Compare this to another worker placement game that contains all the thematic sauce I could possibly want: Viticulture Essential Edition. In Viticulture, players start a new round by deciding how early they want their workers to wake up; choose an earlier time and reap the benefits of having a head start on available spaces, let your workers sleep in and gain better bonuses due to… higher morale? Hey, I love a good morning of sleeping in; it makes perfect sense.
Next, players assign their workers to various activities in the vineyard. Offer tours for profit. Plant grape vines. Harvest grapes. Convert grapes into wine. Fulfill wine orders. Hire new workers. Etc. And top off the round by aging all of your grapes and wine!
Viticulture is a medium-weight Euro that is incredibly easy for me to teach to non-gamers (Tuscany expansion and all), thanks to its intuitive theme-inspired mechanisms. More importantly, the game makes players feel as though they are actually running a vineyard. We’ve had some long sessions of Viticulture (especially with new players), but none of them overstayed their welcome partly because of the satisfying and genuine wine-making experience.
It would be criminal to talk of theme-inspired mechanisms without mentioning the fearless and illustrious Treasure Island. Treasure Island pits Long John Silver against the pirates against each other in a swashbuckling treasure hunt across a massive island where the first to find and reach the treasure wins! The game begins with the mutinied Long John marking an X on his secret map to designate the location of the hidden treasure; he then shares unique bits and fragments of this information to his captors, the pirates, sending them on a greedy wild goose chase while he executes a plan of escape to secure the treasure for himself! Players feel like bona-fide treasure hunters and scumbag pirates as they bluff to each other and chart paths and search zones across a large map with dry erase markers. What this game lacks in a perfectly balanced or consistent experience, it absolutely makes up for in an authentic adventure.
This contrast between wet and dry is why I just can’t get into most games that center around pushing cubes up and down tracks or converting resources into more resources into victory points. If the condiments of a good theme are not available, perhaps the only other way for me to enjoy a dry sandwich game is to pair it with a quenching glass of crisp gameplay with complex ramifications.
Tune in next time for Tabletop Tastes #6: Crisp Elegance
LOOKING FOR MORE JUICY GAMES WITH THEME-INSPIRED MECHANISMS? TAKE A BITE OUT OF ONE OF THESE:
- Thematic Cooperative: Horrified, Pandemic Legacy Season 1, Spirit Island
- Thematic Party: Camel Up, Mysterium, Tortuga 1667, Captain Sonar
- Thematic Economic: Brass Birmingham, Modern Art, Container
- Thematic Whimsical: Clank!, Tokaido, Takenoko
- Thematic Family Game: Downforce, Jaws, Mechs vs. Minions
- Thematic Adventures: Sleeping Gods, Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island, Chronicles of Crime
- Thematic 2-player: Watergate, Undaunted: Normandy
- Thematic Dexterity: Flick ‘Em Up, Men At Work, Catacombs
What makes a game feel juicy and thematic for you?