Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Theme Matters (to me).

Here's Inside Moves, a completely abstract strategy game.

I bought this once at a thrift store for almost nothing. Inside were extremely attractive little pieces, which I intended to re-use (I did, primarily in Savage Worlds games, with the larger pieces representing Wild Cards). But nothing about this game particularly made me want to play it, despite an intriguing system that is somewhat akin to a simplified chess/complicated checkers. The board was not particularly attractive, and the pieces, while cool-looking, represented nothing in my mind. I was not hooked intellectually, only interested in the pieces, shown below. 

I've recently been researching old boardgames and learned about an old game called Chivalry. It was invented by George Parker (of Parker Brothers) in the late 1800s and was his personal favorite. It was simplified and revamped in 1930 and renamed Camelot, enjoying its biggest success from the 1930s through the early 1960s. I won't go deeply into it, you can read more than you'd ever want to know about it here.

This game, however, looked cool. The illustrations, the theme of battling knights, the idea of a "quicker-playing chess" all intrigued me. Ultimately, I learned it was actually the original version of Inside Moves. The game I thought of as boring suddenly became interesting to me. It's an old game that reached its height of popularity in the 1930s. At some point in the 1980s, Parker Bros. revived it, stripping it of its medieval overtones and marketing it as a completely abstract strategy game (this is somewhat surprising, given the preponderance of medieval fantasy-themed pop culture in the 1980s spurred by D&D and movies like Conan the Barbarian, Krull, et al). The game fared poorly and it's been out of print since.

The point? When it comes to board games, theme matters. To me, anyway. Perhaps it's the inveterate roleplayer in me, but even chess, to me, is a story game. I imagine the king and queen have personalities, or posit the underlying problem. Why are these two kingdoms at war? It doesn't matter to the actual game play, but it matters on some level to me. It has to do with immersion - feeling at one with the game pieces, descending into the imaginary miniature conflict. Even the design of a board or playing pieces can greatly enhance the theme of a game.

If you're interested, here are the rules of the so-called Inside Moves, aka Chivalry and Camelot. I look forward to trying it again, this time imagining the thunder of hooves, the crack of lances on armor, and the screams of wounded warriors!

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