Guest Post: Great Thematic Games

Guest Author: Mark Sosbe
Instagram: Dice in the Dark

Mark is the guy behind the very entertaining Instagram account Dice in the Dark. On his profile you’ll find tons of board game reviews (worth checking out!), beautiful board game photography and, our personal favourite, his Photoshop board game box creations. We think he is a magician when it comes to these box creations and the photos alone are worth following him!

Last month we asked Mark to write an article on great two-player games and this month he has written about a fantastic subject – thematic games! Read on for Mark’s top 5 game recommendations.


Mark Sosbe – I love strongly thematic games. While many games have some sort of theme, often it can feel quite surface level and like a bit of an afterthought: there is a disconnect between the theme and how the game plays. For me, games are at their absolute best when theme and mechanics are working in unison, one reinforcing the other. When a game’s theme comes to the fore, it can be a transportive experience: you are truly immersed in the story that the game is telling.

With that in mind, here are my picks for some great thematic games.


Horrified

Horrified is a cooperative game that sees you battling a variety of classic monsters as they attempt to attack a town.

The best thing about Horrified is the unique way in which each monster must be defeated: Dracula’s coffins must be destroyed in various locations around the town before he can be confronted, the Mummy’s curse must be undone by actually solving a puzzle at the Museum location, you must gather items to find a cure for The Wolfman’s curse. Each of the six monsters in the game presents their own set of goals and challenges.

You’ll work together as a team to collect items from locations around the town to help you defeat the monsters, all the while trying to save innocent villagers. Lose too many civilians to the ravenous monsters, or get defeated yourself too many times, and it’s game over, as the forces of darkness overwhelm the town.

A constant sense of dread and tension pervades the game, making each action you take feel significant. The whole experience is elevated by the excellent art and the 1930’s-era style graphic design, which helps make for an immersive experience.

It’s a great game with a super cool theme that drips from every corner of the production.

Try it if you like: Classic monsters, gothic horror, cooperative games
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Chronicles of Crime

Chronicles of Crime is pretty special. You play as detectives investigating a number of different cases, which you’ll do by visiting various locations and talking to suspects and witnesses. The game is closely tied to an app, which is required to play.

You’ll use the app to scan the QR codes on the various cards, which will give you certain information and progress the story. Want to ask a person about a clue that you found? First scan the person, then scan the clue, and then hear what they have to say.

One of the coolest features of the game is the ability to visit crime scenes, which lets you view a 3D environment through the app. These might be an alleyway, a doctor’s office, an abandoned warehouse, and so on. You’ll be looking closely at the environment, trying to spot hidden clues.

The game does an amazing job of making you feel like a detective as you try and piece together the information. The app works smoothly and is integrated into the gameplay exceptionally well. It’s totally absorbing and brilliant fun.

Try it if you like: Detective fiction, CSI, police crime dramas, innovative games
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 Jaws

Jaws lets you recreate the events of Steven Spielberg’s classic 1975 film. It’s a highly asymmetrical game, with one person playing as the shark while the others take on the roles of Quint, Hooper and Police Chief Brody.

The game is played in two acts. The first act plays out like a hidden movement game, with the shark roaming around the waters of Amity Island, picking off swimmers. Brody, Hooper and Quint are doing their best to find the shark, while trying to save as many swimmers as they can. How act one plays out governs the relative power levels going in to act two.

In act two, Brody, Hooper and Quint find themselves aboard Quint’s boat as they hunt the shark in the open sea. The shark is able to emerge at various points around the boat, gradually attacking and destroying it and potentially knocking the heroes into the water. The heroes are trying to attack and defeat the shark before it manages to devour them or destroy the boat completely.

The whole thing is brought to life by brilliant retro graphic design with a wonderful attention to detail and a clear affection for the source material.

It’s thematic, suspenseful, tense and exciting. You can even recreate the film’s famous final scene, by thrusting a canister of compressed air into the shark’s mouth and shooting it.

If you like asymmetrical head-to-head games, Jaws is well worth a try; if you’re a big fan of the movie, I think it’s a must play.

Try it if you like: Asymmetry, hidden movement games, suspense, sharks
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Dead of Winter

Dead of Winter (and its stand-alone sibling, Dead of Winter – The Long Night) is a fantastic game which follows a group of survivors in a world ravaged by a wintry zombie apocalypse. You’ll be forced to scavenge for food, make difficult decisions, hunt for fuel and medicine, and fight off the undead as you try to keep your colony of survivors safe.

One of the most interesting aspects are the Crossroads Cards, which are triggered by certain in-game conditions. These often present you with a tough choice. For example: as you’re travelling to forage for medicine you come across someone needing your help. Do you leave them to their fate or do you take them back to your colony? That would mean another mouth to feed. What if they’re already infected? Taking them home would mean putting everyone else at risk…

This is no high-octane, dice-chucking, zombie-blasting game: it’s a mature look at what it would mean to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. It’s super immersive and the theme absolutely jumps off the table.

Try it if you like: Zombies, The Walking Dead, George A. Romero, post-apocalyptic fiction
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Arkham Horror The Card Game

Ok, things are getting serious now. If you’re looking for theme in your games; where the theme is so well implemented that you can almost taste it, then you have to try Arkham Horror The Card Game.

Don’t let the name fool you: this is not some watered-down version of another game. This is not a quick reworking of some bigger game made into some kind of portable edition. No, Arkham Horror The Card Game is very much its own thing, and for my mind it’s one of the best games ever made.

The core set sees you taking on the role of 1920’s investigators as they start to experience strange phenomena straight out of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos. You’ll uncover a dangerous cult and work to stop their nefarious plan. The game is a super tight blend of investigation, combat and cosmic horror, that always feels like defeat hangs on a knife edge.

A word of warning: this is quite an in-depth game, and certainly the most rules heavy here, but the investment of time and effort, I think, is very much rewarded.

It’s well-written, brought to life by evocative artwork, and utterly engrossing.

If you like cooperative games or horror games, I urge you to give it a try.

Try it if you like: The Cthulhu Mythos, cooperative games, horror, cosmic horror
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