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Simplicity vs. Immersion: Naming Resources by Color or Theme?

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kevnburg
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I've created a simple business-themed trading game prototype that has 3 different resources in it. I'm currently representing each resource with different colored wooden cubes: Red, White, and Blue. Mechanically, the three resources are exactly the same. In playtesting, I have introduced the resources by color name, and, when players are making trades, they make offers such as "I'll give you 1 red for 1 white." I have considered and some playtesters have suggested naming the resources to be actual businessy things (e.g. have a black cube that's called "oil"). I'm hesitant to make the switch. There seems to be a trade-off of simplicity vs. immersion.

Advantages to Naming by Color: Ease of play. When I want to trade away some red cubes, I immediately understand what to call them: "Red." No confusing jargon to remember.

Advantage to Naming by Theme: More immersion. When I make my trades, I feel like I'm an actual businessman because I'm trading actually valuable resources (e.g. "Oil").

One additional factor in this quandary is component-based. Lets say I go for naming by theme. Do I still use wooden cubes, or do I design tokens to represent the resources? I intend to eventually publish this game on the Gamecrafter. Wooden cubes may be more cost effective, but specially designed tokens may be easier to identify.

devaloki
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Name it by the theme, it

Name it by the theme, it increases immersion that way. Players will naturally, due to their preference, choose to either use the simple colour references or the theme names of their own accord regardless. But if you have no theme for the game that will put off a lot of players and confuse them as to what the game is about.
Look at games like Power Grid and Lords of Waterdeep. There are cubes representing warriors, oil, etc...but players call them just by their colour once they're actually playing usually. But if the cubes had no actual name to them then people would feel they were playing just an abstract game with no real meaning.

truekid games
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I agree with devaloki. The

I agree with devaloki. The players who are going to call them by color will do so regardless. However those who want heavy theme will be annoyed if you just call them colors.

Thus you only benefit by giving them thematic names.

kevnburg
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Color Names Imply Equality

Thanks. Good point. I did not consider that. Now I'm trying to think of the best names for each resource. The challenge now: thinking of resources that sound equal in value; all three are the same mechanically, so I can't have one sound more valuable than another. Most resource games don't have this problem; in most,the resources are mechanically different and the resource name implies something about those unique mechanics (e.g. Iron makes metal things because that's how the real world works).

That brings me to another effect of naming by color: color names imply equality. How can I effectively imply equality using more thematic resource names?

Resources I can think of now that could work with the big business theme: Oil, tobacco, corn, weapons, clothing, electronics. Doing a combination of three of those could work, but I'm somewhat tempted to make the game about businessmen trading different colored dyes just because it makes implying equality with naming easier. Not sure if the absurdity of that is a good thing or a bad thing.

bike
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You need not worry much about

You need not worry much about their actual value. A kilo of feathers weighs as much as a kilo of metal. You can trade feathers or iron, just let the amount differ (without actually stating the amount).
Depending on the rest of the game, not everything can be traded everywhere (weapons especially). You might want to consider that.
Use different types of dyes is good way to go. Just read a bit on the internet, try to find a nice, well known (for instance African) market, where these things are actually traded. You have a good themed setting for your game.

danieledeming
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I agree w/truekid - you

I agree w/truekid - you sacrifice nothing by naming your resources. I don't know if you've ever seen the game Wealth of Nations, but even though it's pretty abstract, they name the different resource production areas (Farm, Generator, Academy, Mine, Factory) and the resources they produce (Food, Energy, Labor, Ore, Capital) and I think it helps.

Ultimately, though, if you do go theme, make sure the mechanic supports it.

Corsaire
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Go crazy

You want it to be business and trading. Not being tied on value, you have a great opportunity to do something fun and interesting with the names. Why go with typical product resources?

Get crazy, have fun with them.

Like make them employee types... "I'll trade you a tech for an an hr rep."
or
secrets, rumors, and connections
or something big epic like types of galaxies

kevnburg
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New Mining Theme Determined; Thanks for the Help

Thanks for the help everybody. I've found a new theme that I'm enjoying more than the generic big business theme. I didn't find myself enjoying any of the resource options I could think of tying to big business, especially because I wanted to keep the game more family friendly (no drugs/alcohol or anything else too dark). I'm working with a mining business theme now and a new name, Gold Mines Incorporated. Resources: Coal, Metal, and Gems. I've actually had this mining idea for a few weeks, but the game's mechanics didn't feel mining-like and I was having trouble thinking of a change to fit the theme. Thought of that change yesterday (replaced a -1 gold penalty for not trading with a high-risk low-reward mining die roll that 50% of the times gives +1 of a resource and 50% of the time causes a cave-in that you pay 2 gold to clear), and I feel that the tension and theme it adds actually improves the game. The new theme also opens up a lot of possibilities for future design tweaks (I'm going to test out a worker placement mechanic to work individual mines for resources instead of the current rule of "everyone gains +2 of each resource at the start of each round").

MalthusX
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Name the resources, but use the colors

Definitely go with naming the resources, but it your documentation you may want to colour the name of resource whenever it appears.

Also, although you've switched to mining theme, instead of making the resources specific commodities, they might also as generic 'inputs', such a labour, political clout, and expertise. All are as necessary to running a business as actual commodities. Admittedly, I think this would work better for the big-business game rather than the mining game.

DifferentName
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If the names fit

If the names fit closely with the colors it's not so tough to remember what's what. Sounds like Coal, Metal, and Gems should fit well.

But shouldn't "Gold Mines Inc" include Gold as a resource, instead of all that other stuff? Or is Gold just currency? This just seems kind of odd for the title.

kevnburg
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I'll definitely be including

I'll definitely be including the color coding in the rules.

DifferentName wrote:
If the names fit closely with the colors it's not so tough to remember what's what. Sounds like Coal, Metal, and Gems should fit well.

But shouldn't "Gold Mines Inc" include Gold as a resource, instead of all that other stuff? Or is Gold just currency? This just seems kind of odd for the title.


Gold is a currency earned by scoring combinations of resources, and the player with the most gold wins the game.

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