The Fate of This Post is in Your Hands!


The old games I featured in my last post are great fun, but no one is about to pretend that the themes are very deep and original (with the possible exception of Escape From Atlantis). When it comes to fantasy, game companies have been warming over the same tired old tropes since Tolkein; and Games Workshop’s huge influence on the gaming world has meant that gothic scifi is pretty much par for the course these days. Here’s a few classic back-of-box blurbs from games of yesteryear—and one from just a few months ago that proves my point. Another thing that certainly hasn’t changed are the terrible names. Morcar? Karkoth? Someone is getting paid for this stuff …

Especially note the excessive use of adjectives, the personalising calls to action, and of course, the exclamation marks!

Dare you take up the challenge of Hero Quest, and enter the underground realm of Morcar, the Evil Wizard? There are great treasures to be won, if you overcome their fell guardians. The dark caverns hold many dangers—terrible monsters, deadly traps, and worse. Heroquest, 1989

Enlist with the Space Marines and enter the fiercest conflict mankind has ever faced! Forgotten starships, infested with Chaos, drift from the Warp. Lost for thousands of years, they have now returned, corrupted with Chaos. Aboard these silent, alien hulks, the Space Marines battle to save humanity. Assault squads search the darkened corridors seeking their deadly foe. Only the bravest return from fighting the hordes of Chaos. Will you be one of them? Space Crusade, 1990.

Welcome to the world of Battle Masters—the epic game where you command mighty armies locked in a legendary conflict of good versus evil! Will your army be victorious, or will your opponent destroy you? Who will survive the battle and win the game? The fate of the empire is decided by you, the Battle Masters! Battle Masters, 1992.

From the snowy expanses of the north to the sun-warmed coasts of the south, four great realms struggle for survival and conquest. The undead legions of the Dark Empire of Karkoth march against the fragile League of Nerath, determined to sweep away the human kingdoms forever. Elsewhere, the infernal Iron Circle launches goblin hordes against the elves and corsairs of the Vailin Alliance. The fate of empires is on your hands! Conquest of Nerath, 2011.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Scott
    Jul 08, 2011 @ 09:46:23

    As a life long board game and RPG geek, (my brother enlisted me to my fate by handing over his first polyhedral dice,) I’ve seen a LOT of fantasy themes in my time, and I’m always more than a little disappointed when I fail to see them deviating to far from Tolkein.

    That is not to say there are no notable exceptions.
    The world of the song of ice and fire series is some pretty exceptional fantasy that deftly avoids adding elves and dwarves (beyond the inclusion of a fantastic little person.)

    In board games, Blue Moon provides some wonderful visuals of a fantasy world that is very far from the stock, and my much loved Iconica is a love letter to original fantasy.

    As for new and unexplored themes, there is an awful lot of them, however this doesn’t equate to them being popular or even good.

    It is interesting to note that many game companies that take submissions for games to consider publishing, ask that you don’t overly develop the theme so they can rebrand it as required. While this has the potential to create swathes of games each bearing a unique theme previously unseen in peoples collections, it seems to instead create many games that push the current trend, which will often be high fantasy or space marines.

  2. universalhead
    Jul 08, 2011 @ 10:14:23

    There’s so much more to explore though, and it’s a shame that, as usual, economics drives everything towards the lowest common denominator. Professor M.A.R Barker’s world of Tékumel is a fully-developed and unique fantasy world that is unlike anything else, and has been struggling in a half-forgotten grey area of third-tier and fan-made publishing for decades.

    Rackham (before they went bust) did interesting stuff with their Aarklash world, which had a unique feel; the Europeans have always been a bit out there when it comes to fantasy and scifi.

    I suppose like those interminable twenty volume fantasy novel series, they’ll always be a big market for stuff that doesn’t make anyone’s brain work too hard – ironic considering it is, after all, supposed to be imaginative fiction.

  3. Andrew
    Jul 18, 2011 @ 11:34:45

    I especially like the Battle Masters blurb. Devoid of creativity it would more simply read:

    “You are playing a game. Will you win or will you lose? Will you lose or will you win? Did you know you can either win or lose?”