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Tigers die and leave their skins; games die and leave their names.

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There Will Be Games

An interesting topic came up in the comments section and it's an area worth exploring.  Naming a game is a simple endeavor that carries far more weight and consequences than are readily apparent.  With the proliferation of Kickstarter, we are seeing more off-the-wall and ambitious naming conventions as designers are either afforded the breadth to take the risk, or lack the knowledge and experience to understand how their title will be perceived when viewed by someone unrelated to the project. 

It is becoming increasingly popular for large publishers to push homogenized, direct titles which easily and sharply convey the theme of the design.  These types of titles inundate most people’s collections as games like "Stone Age", "Village", and "Cash 'n Guns" all have sold in vast quantities.  A bland and direct name aims to the lowest common denominator of understanding and seeks to attract more by turning away few.

While the above is common wisdom, I've not been convinced this is such a clear cut issue.  I spend much of my free time scanning through BGG game forums looking for a discussion that interests me.  Intriguing and unique game titles often catch my eye and garner a look.  I first learned of "A Few Acres of Snow" due to seeing its name pop up which immediately demanded my attention.  If it was called "French-Indian War" I would never have halted my momentum and I never would have purchased the game.

What is interesting is that I find 90% of my interaction with this hobby is occurring via text online.  Not pictures, not video, and not browsing the offering at my FLGS.  The majority of my board gaming consumption is occurring with information.  If you’re delivering a hobby game not aimed at the mass market or fledgling gamers, I’d wager a paycheck a significant portion of your target audience exists under these same predilections.  The implications are that the title of your game is your box cover.  It needs to grab your viewer by his mullet and demand his attention.  A game like “Village” is not going to punch me in the gut and swallow me whole as a bland, simple title will mentally correlate to a bland, uninspired design.  Regardless of whether that is true or not, it is definitely a problem.   

I'm clearly not the only one who falls under this umbrella as we see the notion expanded with the swell of Kickstarter releases where designers are shedding the restraints of traditional publishers.  A game like "...and then we held hands..." is drawing comments and forum posts simply due to its off-beat and frankly odd name.  Savvy (or perhaps just ignorant) designers are using unique names such as these as another marketing tool to create buzz and get noticed.  With the at times overwhelming release schedule swallowing the industry, this can only be good. 

My own philosophy adheres to the belief that a game's name should be vibrant and interesting and worthy of the cardboard mechanics and bits it envelopes.  When naming my own prototypes I have spent several hours contemplating and mentally wrangling with different ideas for titles.  I've approached naming games like I would naming a piece of literature I've written, or a precisely composed song.  I've done this despite the fact that a publisher is going to rename the game anyway because, quite frankly, the game deserves it.  You're presenting an entire package to the publisher/consumer and the name is their first kiss.  If you want someone to give in to your design and fall in love, you damn well better deliver on that first intimate moment. 

There Will Be Games
Charlie Theel
Associate Board Game Reviewer

In addition to a solid writing background, Charlie Theel is a game designer and heavily involved in the hobby. He enjoys talking trash and ridiculing members of his game group despite the fact that he can't win a game to save his life. Besides gaming, he enjoys hockey, film, and heavy metal.

You can find more of his work on his blog Player Elimination. He also co-hosts the Ding & Dent gaming podcast with his Ameritrash brother-in-arms Rafael Cordero.

Articles by Charlie

Charlie Theel
Associate Board Game Reviewer

Articles by Charlie

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