Top 5 themes to avoid designing a tabletop game around

Let’s face it, we all love a good theme in our tabletop games. Whether it’s racing a Pirate ship, building your business, smuggling goods into Nottingham or helping an Emperor’s gardener tend to his bamboo and look after a panda, themes are often the best thing about a game.

Now, this list is in no means meant to entirely hate on themes, but like the shoddy Pirate costume above, some themes have just been done enough already. To the point where it’s not even been thought about properly, and is used like some kind of cheap, stick on glitter and coloured beads.

There are some great themes out there as well, and plennnnnty more opportunity to make games around so many new and interesting themes. Like a board game where you play a man trying frantically to write content for his blog twice a week without it being terrible. Worker placement right… I’d play that.

With that in mind though, I would like here to go through my top themes to AVOID in board game design and why… here they are:

1. That same old fantasy cast…

This one is a no brainer, and I mean that in that it takes literally no brain to come up with this an a theme for your game.

But it’s a classic! Where would we be without Mr. Gygax’s first set of mighty adventurers! I know, I know, I know. It’s just a bit stale though isn’t it. I mean, at least give it some sort of life by having a different aspect of these characters lives pulled out y’know. Like, make a game about a warrior, wizard and rogue racing to do their laundry and clean all the goblin blood off or something. Natural 20! Vanish Oxy-action! Done.

2. Zombies

Number 2 in the banned theme list, and for good reason; it’s probably been done even more to death (see what I did there… bad joke you say? Oh screw you) than the fantasy genre has. It’s been done to death and back…

Ok, that was a bad one…

Seriously though, we all love a post apocalyptic wasteland full of the undead and all but can we not try and take a different angle on it than ‘you are survivors and there are like, loads of undead guys, like, A LOT of them.’ Let’s do something where you have to control the zombie army instead, like Zombie Tsunami. Finally some fresh air!

3. Any combination of crawling and places resembling dungeons

It’s dark and dingy, there’s a potential mould problem, and for some reason you have to look through coffins of dead people to find the secret passageway to the next level that’s even colder and damper than this one. Nah mate, I’ll pass.

Incan Gold, Celeste or Diamante had the right idea. All the others where you go in and fight some people with hit points and swords and stuff, I’m bored already.

4. Things that are already dull in real life

Who wants to play a tabletop game about filing their end of year taxes before the deadline. Don’t really think I have to elaborate any more really.

I mean at least if you choose a boring theme make the stakes high or something. You are trimming your beard but with a MACHETE INSTEAD OF A NORMAL ELECTRONIC BEARD TRIMMING DEVICE. Don’t slip or you might DIE.

5. Cthulu

Aaaaand here is where you readers start running at me with pitch forks…

I’m not taking it back, I’ve said it now! The mysterious tentacle monster of mild insanity and quite bad dreams has reached it’s time, and it needs to be put to bed. I’m sure it’s not easy to put something to bed that doesn’t always embody physical form outside of the realms of tentacles and suction cups, but we can give it a go, right? You grab one tentacle, I’ll get the other, and just ignore the myriad others flailing wildly around…


Basically the end. Hope I’ve not offended you too much, and hope I’ve not inadvertantly slagged off one of your favourite games. Sure there are great games out there with these themes. But that’s kind of the point. They’ve been done before.

Go and do something new instead.

Yours themily,