Theme and Storytelling

I love telling stories through games, it is what has for years drawn me to want to play more RPG's. So I really enjoy when a game allows for those elements of storytelling or creation of moments that feel memorable and like they fit into a narrative.

I feel like games can do this in a couple of ways:

  1. Firstly, you have moments in games where the game paints a picture for you, things like the crossroads cards in #Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game, which I adore. They give you very meaningful choices and match that to a narrative beat, they are often linked to specific 'characters' and so make thematic sense and are compelling. If the writing and ideas are good they can really add gravitas to a game moment. Similarly in #Eldritch Horror, every encouter has a few lines of text between each section which both help immerse the players in the theme of the game (we always have the person next to you read your card out for both this and dead of winter) as well as help engage the other players: Joey losing 2 health cause he rolled a 4 is fine, but Joey the sailor battling a kraken that has attacked his ship, he tries to harpoon it but misses and barely escapes with his life illicits groans and commiseration from around the table.
  2. The second way a game can do this is by having a strong theme established at the start of the game but then allowing the events of the game to nudge the players to create the narrative in their own minds and with each other. I often think this is something that #Pandemic does really well: the theme is clear but there is no writing in the game beyond that, no flavour text on event cards or epidemic cards, the city cards are fairly non-descript, nothing to paint a picture for you. However, the placing of cubes and the outbreaks themselves are wonderfully thematic and evocative, the odds being stacked against you with disease popping up at random; your mind takes these elements and crafts a story around/through them. You picture yourselves as this team dashing around the world, you despair at you inability to save Europe from outbreak after outbreak and so a narrative develops between you all without the game giving you the words, only nudges as things happen.

So what do you all think, is there one style of storytelling you prefer in a game? What are your favourite game 'stories'?

Please log in or make an account to post a comment.

2 months ago

love storytelling in games! My favorite games are those with a strong theme, which certainly helps. I agree that flavor text helps a lot. And I think #Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 was one of the best storytelling games I've ever played! The narrative that drove the gameplay was a lot of fun, and it felt more than just a game. 

I love games like #Above and Below and #Near and Far because they give you options within the realm of the ongoing story. And games like #Western Legends puts you in charge of your character to create your own story. I'd say theme plays a large role in all games with good storytelling, but it's the thematic games that have mechanics that relate to the theme that are the real winners. 

I actually just started a new website/channel for storytelling within board games. It's called Board Game Immersion, and I just started it at the beginning of August. I like to write short stories inspired by board games, and storytelling will be a big part of this site and channel. That's how much I love storytelling in games haha

2 months ago

Oh nice, congratulations on making a thing! I will for sure check it out :D

I adored Pandemic Legacy, especially as so much of the story was born out of mechanics, as the specific disease spread across the map or cities fell further and further into ruin etc.

Supporter2 months ago

I like story. But, I still don't really look for it in games. I want, it, and I can almost always tell a story about what I am doing. But, I don't generally look for story. I still think that boardgames are probably a weaker medium for communicating stories.

I do like where the imersion in the game and investment in it's ebbs and flows, creates a story.

That being said I think I might the little snippets here and there a little bit better. I think these get my creative juices flowing a little bit more in crafting a story that includes all those beats.

2 months ago

Yeah, the snippets help to shape the scene that your actions then create a story within.

2 months ago

I guess I lean more toward the second one, where you immerse yourself in the game, and the game's natural arc and ebbs and flows create a story within each play. #Dune is fantastic for this (no surprise here). Games that are heavy on theme lend themselves pretty naturally to this, since immersion isn't a hurdle. So Pandemic is a good example. Another one from my collection would be #Western Legends. Games with a more Euro sensibility obviously can be great fun and have amazing moments, but the story-telling aspect isn't as strong.

2 months ago

I do really like the sound of the sandbox elements within #Western Legends

Linked Topic