The Importance of Unusual Themes in the Board Games Industry

The tabletop games industry is full of trusty tropes that sell product year after year; goblins, aliens, Cthulhu, zombies, trains, the list goes on.  
We of course love it when publishers sell games, but every so often, a board game will release with a unique theme that really gets people talking.  
We witnessed this twice this year with the excellent Sky Team from Scorpion Masque that sees just two players take on the roles of a pilot and co-pilot cooperating to land planes in some tricky conditions around the globe. More recently, however, we saw this with another two-player game: Doubt is our Product from Hollandspiele, which has graced the Board Game Geek Hotness list for the past few weeks, rising as high as amongst the top 5 games and appearing on BGG’s designer diary blog.  
This latter title is of particular note, as it’s certainly not a comfortable theme: one player takes on the role of tobacco industries trying to misinform the public around the dangers of smoking in the ‘60’s (The Company) and the other takes on the role of a coalition of people and institutions desperately trying to fight against these gargantuan marketing budgets for the sake of the public health (The Movement).  
We don’t need to reiterate that this feels like a particularly confronting theme for a tabletop game, which is surprising, given the immense popularity of war games in all genres. Designer Amabel Holland’s diary on Board Game Geek is a rather tough read, detailing her personal experience of losing family members to cancer resulting from smoking.  
Troubled Life of Billy Kerr

We also saw difficult subjects broached in board games in recent years with Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr from Hub Games and This War of Mine: The Board Game from Awaken Realms. This shows that there is space in the tabletop games industry for unique, surprising themes that reflect upon the darker side of human experience. 
Themes like these are important, exemplifying that whilst board games can and should be fun, they can also be powerful and impactful tools for us to learn about the world through an engaging medium. The first-hand decision making that players undertake in a board game can help them explore subjects that they might never have known about otherwise, and to educate them on periods of history that they haven’t been exposed to.  
This sort of interactive story telling is something that tabletop games achieve at an almost unprecedented level, and is a great reason that boardgames don’t always need to stick to safe or traditional themes.  

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