Knowing the your audience and the theme of games.

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Alright everyone. I want to talk about Board Game Themes. There’s a lot of them out there. I wanted to touch base on theme and your gaming group though. The importance of knowing your audience, and what games to try. I recently experienced a game that I didn’t take audience and theme into account. It didn’t go so well.

My game group tends to like social party games. We’ve played team games, hidden role games, and deduction games. I found a game that took hidden roles, deduction, and added a deck of cards to see if player elimination was needed for the round.

So here are the rules for the game. I’m going to try and leave the theme of this game out until the end of the review. I want you, as the reader, to judge the game on the rules first, then I’ll reveal the theme. Let me know if it’s something that you’d still play.

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Beginning of the game, depending on the amount of people playing, roles will be handed out. We’ll use a game of 5 players as an example. Roles are Players and Saboteurs. For a game with 5 people, there are 3 players and 2 saboteurs. These are hidden from everyone else. Everyone will also be dealt one action card. Everyone only gets one action card the whole game. Players can use these when the text says they can. Players are trying to last 7 rounds. Saboteurs are trying to stop the Players.

Now, after everyone has their role, everyone closes their eyes. Then, only the saboteurs open their eyes and give acknowledgment to each other. They’re going to work together and try to stop the players from winning. After a few seconds, everyone will open their eyes and start a round.

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Each round, there is one “leader” that will deal out three cards from the main deck to everyone. These cards will either have 0, 1, 2, A, or B on them. Next, everyone plays a single card face down in front of them.  The goal is to either equal or exceed the number of players with the sum of the cards. B will cancel all the number cards essentially making the total 0.  A will  counter all Bs. Once every player has a face down card, the “leader” can look at one players card before collecting them all. Then all are collected and mixed up so it’s everyone’s guess who played what. Now, the cards are revealed and the sum is totaled.

Now on to the next step. If the sum equals or exceeds the total players, everyone is safe and moves on to the next round. However, if the sum is less than the number of players, a vote is needed to eliminate someone. This is done first with a bit of discussion. Accusations can be made about players. Once discussion is finished, everyone votes. The player with the most votes is eliminated. Then off to the next round.

This goes on until one of three things happen. One, if the players make it to the end of the 7th round. Two, if the saboteurs eliminate and out number the players. Or three, the players eliminate all the saboteurs. So there’s two win conditions for the players and one for the saboteurs. And that’s basically the game. Action cards weren’t discussed. These range from getting dealt an additional deck card to becoming the leader next round. There’s also one that lets you vote twice in a round. So not a lot of game impact.

That’s it. That’s the whole game. Doesn’t sound too bad. There’s hidden roles, player elimination, and card playing. I like all of these mechanics, and I know my gaming group does too. So, it should be a solid hit, right? Well, let me tell you the title, show you artwork, and let you know how my group liked this.

Donner Dinner Party

The game is called Donner Dinner Party. If you haven’t heard of the Donner Party, I’ll give a brief summary of them. They were a group of settlers in 1846 that ventured out to California, but got trapped by an early and heavy snowfall in Sierra Nevada. They were stuck here for 4 months. During this time, food ran out and was scarce. The group resorted to cannibalism of the fallen. Out of 87 settlers, 48 survived this winter.

Donner Dinner Party RolesDonner Dinner Party Board

Now, the Player and Saboteurs roles are actually Pioneers and Cannibals. Some creepy artwork accompanies these roles. The cards are actually really nice quality. The action cards are supply cards. And the deck I was talking about is a “hunting” deck. And the numbers, x, and + are as follows. Empty Hands, or 0. Fish, or 1. Squirrels, or 2. Poison, or B. Medicine, or A. The game board looks like a camp fire and each player role in the game has a token to sit around the fire. The roles are hidden, but it allows players to see who is left. The round is kept track by using a little metal frying pan that goes around the fire.

Donner Dinner Party Hunting Deck

How did this go with my group? Not well. I’ve tried to pull it out multiple times, and it was shot down each time. I could see a couple of my friends getting into this game, but my family was a hard sell. The look on some of the faces while I explained this game told me everything. This was a lesson learned. Theme can make or break a game. Now, mechanically, this game has a lot going for it! I love the idea of hidden roles, card playing, and player elimination. Would I recommend this game? Only if you know your group won’t mind the theme. My group couldn’t get past this, so I can’t recommend this as a family oriented game. We’ve played One Night Ultimate Werewolf without the same feedback. I can only speculate that it’s due to fantasy vs reality. I ended up using the game as part of a trade to get more family friendly games.

So knowing your audience and picking appropriate themes is the lesson of this story. While others might not mind this theme, my regular gaming group was turned off by it. I like to go and try different games. Not every game is a winner. Even if the mechanics look good, and the components are well made, the theme can make a game unplayable. In this case, my group has deemed this game unplayable.

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