5 Brilliant Mad Themes for Games

One of the things I most love about a games night is really getting into the theme. We always sort out a playlist to match it, which usually ends up being either “Space Disco Classics” or “RPG Tavern Bops.” On a good night you’ll be getting the rousing, homely magic of “Concerning Hobbits” at least 3 times. Heck, we’ve even been known to dress up or match food and drinks to the game. TLDR: I love a good theme. But sometimes a theme is so mad, so insane that not only is it tricky to get a playlist, it’s hard to even imagine how the game works. For your reading pleasure, here are 5 such games…

COSMIC FROG

Want to be a giant frog floating around in space, digesting planets and knocking other space frogs back in time? Well, finally FINALLY you can in this truly psychedelic game experience. Now, in fairness to Cosmic Frog, it’s not that hard to find a playlist for it; this game is a pure 70s style trip, from the art to the gameplay. I’ve played it twice, without googling it again here is what I remember of the game; We are all giant frogs with weird powers (think Cosmic Encounter-style alien powers) There is some giant asteroid or planet or something that we are trying to digest, and then you have to regurgitate it up again in your own special frog den. The more you have regurgitated, the more powered up you get, but other space frogs can and will enter your den and start eating your vomit lands. When you fight you get sent through time. Is that right? I didn’t really know what I was doing in my play-throughs of this game (does it show?) but for a fun mad time with lovely art where you won’t know what is happening, wave hello to Cosmic Frog.

THE ROAD TO CANTERBURY

Repent, sinner! You won’t struggle to find games set in medieval Britain, ones where you are a powerful knight, a noble Lord, or at least some sort of farmer. Here though, you get to be a “Medieval Pardoner” a real thing from ye olde days where people would hawk out fake “Pardons” for various sins to those on a pilgrimage to Canterbury so that they would arrive fully absolved. The game is already odd in that it’s a dedicated 3 player game. No more players, no fewer. There can only be 3 medieval pardoners in this game! Play revolves around the 7 deadly sins, you try to tempt Pilgrims into a sin, then sell them the pardon they need for having done that sin. However, if you push a Pilgrim too hard into sins, well, you guessed it, bad news they just died. Fair to say this game doesn’t take itself too seriously but the mad theme shines through and elevates the gameplay well. Want to make a pilgrim so full of envy that they die? This is the game for you.

BRISTOL 1350

NRB fans might recognise this one from a great LET’S PLAY video a year back. It’s my go to quick social deduction game these days. First thing you’ll see is it comes in a great package that looks like a book and the theme, well, you’re racing on carts through the streets of 14th century Bristol to escape the black death. A brilliantly dumb theme that they lean into perfectly by giving everyone “symptom cards” that range from a mild headache to full-on buboes. If you ever get 6 total score on your symptom cards, bad luck, you’ve got the plague and your mission now swings to trying to give everyone else the plague. It plays better with 7 plus players and we always play with the “can have plague from the start” alt rules so, if you want to jump around medieval carts shouting “They definitely have the plague!” at your friends, well, now you can!

SO YOU’VE BEEN EATEN

Sometimes the title of a game doesn’t represent what it’s about at all, and sometimes, well… In “So You’ve Been Eaten” you’ll be playing either a hapless space miner that has just been eaten by a giant beast or the oesophagus of the beast that has eaten them. If the phrase “refill the stomach track to 7 cards at the start of the beast’s turn” doesn’t get you excited to play this asymmetrical 2 player head-to-head game, then I don’t know what will! The miner has to work to get out the other side of the digestive tract, all whilst collecting crystals, and the beast needs to develop immune responses to have its bacteria digest the miner. A tale as old as time! The rules can be a bit fiddly for such a short game, but if you can stomach that (pun intended) the theme is fantastic.

CROSSING

One of my favourite ever board gaming memories is thanks to this odd party game. It was late evening at the UK Games Expo in Birmingham, people were drifting off to bed, whilst others were looking for one last game to join. They pass our table, what’s this we’re playing? A few cards, a lot of shiny gems and everybody shrieking with anguish or delight as the latest round played out. Come join us! We would say, sit them down then earnestly read them the setting: “In the kingdom of Spamootail, creatures live in perfect harmony… but on the day of the summer solstice, life stones appear on the giant mushrooms surrounding the small town of Crossing…” We’d spin out a big tale of why we, as gnomes and pixies, need to find these giant mushrooms and harvest these stones. Then we’d explain the rules which is genuinely just, you point at some gems, if no one else points at those gems, you get them. A simple, stupid, riot of a late night game with no need for such an elaborate, stupid backstory about mushrooms but we loved pretending to deeply care about Spamootail as we pointed at things into the night.

Written by Tom Bell.

If you want to pick up any of these games, check if they’re in stock at Zatu. Buying them there supports No Rolls Barred via our affiliate partnership. Read more here.