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What's in a name?

United Kingdom
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Original Post

I have returned! The time for worrying about how hot the sauna is and whether dragonflies will try to steal my sandwiches is over. The time for worrying about the title of my game is now. I'm pretty sure I mentioned this before on here, but my preference for naming things is not to do it until they're complete. Having played more than my share of RPGs I've noticed that it's pretty common for players of games to work out every tiny detail of their character's life before they get around to naming them, even interface designers know it, the average CRPG has you name your character after you've made all of your other pre-game decisions. I think that giving a game a title should be like naming a ship, you only do it once the thing floats and there should be alcohol involved.

Being a staunch traditionalist I'd prefer not to name the game until it's done, but apparently graphic designers need to know what the title of a game actually is before they can design the box. Despite my best efforts to focus only on how a game plays and wave marketing decisions to other people it's probably going to fall to me to call my game something reasonable. I've not shortage of titles to pick from as I'm surrounded by creative people here and most playtest groups took to calling the game something, even if it was "That game with the robots where we killed all the guys by accident and then blew up most of the ship". Since some of my playtesters know each other some names have spread and been changed over time, but the set looks something like this:

404: Corrupted law
404: Law not found
Bad Droids
Glitch 404
Improvise Science
Kill all Bananas
Pie Robot
Space, Monkeys and Cannibalism
Space Monkeys and Robots

I'm sure that there are a host of others that I am forgetting right now. My inclination is to wave my hands with a cry of "It doesn't matter" and go with the tried and tested "close your eyes and point at something" approach that I used for most of my exams.

On taking a step back it occurs to me that this isn't a good idea. If nothing else it's not consistent with things that I've written here in the past. I know that an important part of a game is how it makes players feel. I've talked about how calling tokens that destroy each other "fire" and "water" rather than "flibble" and "flobble" influences how a game is received. The piece of feedback from the holiday (in which I did some work because I doubt my friends were going to let me go without at least seeing something that I was working on) that made me feel the best was the comment that the theme emerged from play rather than being imposed or tacked on. The title is another tool to achieve this sort of thing; it sets an expectation and communicates the tone of the game which will affect how it is played. With titles there are a few aspects to consider.


Some of these titles have come about due to individual playtests emphasising certain parts of the game. For instance the monkey can be a highly relevant game changing feature, or an irrelevancy that nobody cares about, depending on the robot's initial laws. Playtesters in games where it has really mattered like titles with "monkey" in, but those from games where it didn't matter aren't so keen and it might confuse new players. As much as I don't like the Ameritrash / Euro divide, it seems that the former tend to have more directly relevant titles. Zombicide is a game about killing zombies. Dominion doesn't give a lot away.


This seems like an odd thing to consider, but the length of a game and the number of syllables in its title appear related. Twilight Imperium takes a really long time to play, but Hey That's My Fish! is pretty quick. I'm not sure how intentional this is, but it feels like a punchy title has become a way of indicating a quicker game. Following this rule, I should be looking for a fairly monosyllabic title since the game plays out in an hour. I wonder how widespread this pattern is. Let's do a super quick check, comparing the number of multi-syllabic words in the title to the game length of the first twenty games I won on BGG.

0...54min average
1...140min average
2...150min average (Excluded: Descent Road to Legend, because a 14,400 minute game throws the average way out)


This is a fairly fluffy concept, but some titles are more serious than others. The expectation generated by the title Twilight Struggle is that the game that follows should be taken seriously. I've written before about how the expectations of this game play into its success. Contrast this to Wench (which I will write about one day, as it manages to combine success and failure so dramatically) which sets a very different tone. Over and over again I see evidence that the way in which people play games is the main factor that determines whether the game is enjoyable. This factor is more important than any mechanical aspect of the game, maybe even more important than the game itself. If I want people to get the most out of my game it needs a title that communicates that the game isn't a head to head serious competition game, but still has enough crunch to be interesting.

A decision on this topic needs to be made over the next couple of days, but I'm smart enough to know that I'm pretty dumb, so I'll get as much input as I can from the people around me and from the dozens of people who've tested the game. I'll let you know when a decision is made and if you've got any preferences please let them be known!
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