Icons vs Text, Part 3

This series of articles is all about our icons and text in game components.  Our design group has had extensive conversations on the topic and I’m sharing our conclusions with you.  Last time, we looked at the merits and limitations of icons. Today looks at some alternate approaches to icons.  What can we convey without using a conventional icon?

 

Component Color

Many games use color to indicate association.  Cards may have different color borders, figurines may have different color schemes.  This is an asset to the game so long as color is an indicator but not the only indicator.  Relying on color solely can be a tragic oversight–one bad decision leading to the game’s downfall.  My goal as a designer is to put joy on tables.  Closing off a portion of my potential audience by relying on color defeats that purpose.

My group encountered this situation only a few weeks ago.  I purchased a game on its excellent buzz.  We unpacked the components and John meekly declared the red and green tiles completely indistinguishable.  We packed the game back up and I haven’t reached for it since.

A similar issue arises if component color and player color overlap.  It becomes easy to mistake a community component for one belonging to a specific player.  This happened to me at a recent playtest.  I was playing green (as I often do) and one of the game regions was green.  The designer would ask from time to time, “how many green cubes do you have?” and I mistakenly answered with the number I had remaining in my supply when he actually meant “how many cubes do you have in the green region?” Oh the laughs we had over that one…

 

Component Art

In many cases, component art is sufficient for a player to know what the component represents.  Much as with color, this approach works fine so long as all components with the same art have the same attributes.  This works particularly well in miniatures games, where a squad of identical units can be represented with several identical minis.

Foreign CardCollectible card games like Magic: the Gathering are particularly good at this. When I was playing regularly in the late 1990s, it was vogue to fill your deck with foreign-language cards, if only to demonstrate your memorization prowess. Returning to the card I’ve been using regularly for examples in this series, several readers told me at a glance that this card is Necromancy and that it brings creatures from graveyards into play.

 

Keywords

Some games games use keywords to represent blocks of text.  Keywords do not in and of themselves constitute component text.  They must be interpreted. They are not self-contained in the way that full text is.  Keywords are a useful design element but always remember that they have more in common with icons than with component text.

My frequent design partner Luther Bell Hendricks V is a particular fan of using keywords alongside reminder text.  In this way, the keyword is sufficient for any player who has memorized its meaning but the reminder text remains for players who haven’t.  At his suggestion, we have been exploring this as a way of handling recurring character abilities like flight in Sentinel Tactics (kickstarter campaign running now!)

 

How about you?  How do you feel about icons on game components?  If you’re a player, what do you prefer to see when you open the box?  If you’re a designer, what do you prefer to put in the box?  Share with your fellow readers in the comments below.  And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create and account with WordPress and follow this blog.  If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.

Next time we get together, we will look at several more published games to see how effectively each one used icons and/or text.  I will then offer my own advice on each.  Have a great week and I’ll see you Friday!

 

Icons vs. Text, Part 1

Publishers occasionally ask my design group to be involved in late-game development.  This frequently includes evaluating the game’s graphic design.  Two of our team are color blind. This gives us something of an investment in game components being as clear as possible.  We have had several extensive conversations about the place of icons and text in game components.  As with many other aspects of game design, there is no one best choice.  Each has its merits, each has its limitations.

 

Today we focus on the merits and limitations of text. Friday will be all about icons.

 

 

Game Component Text

Arkham CardsSome game components rely heavily on text to supply relevant details.

This is particularly common in collectible games like Magic; the Gathering, Pokemon, and The X-Wing Miniatures Game.  It is also common in character-driven games like Arkham Horror or Schlock Mercenary: Capital Offensive.

 

The main advantage of putting text directly on a component is immediacy.  When all the relevant game effects of the card or character appear directly on it, there is significantly less need to consult the rulebook during play.  This keeps the game moving at a steady pace.  A steady pace enhances the flow of your game.  Enhancing the flow of your game increases player engagement.  Component text can be a good thing.

 

Another major advantage of component text is portability.  When I put a card from a trading card game into play, the card’s text proclaims its purpose.  There is little need to carry any rulebooks or reference sheets to clarify what the card does.  There may be fringe cases or card interactions that require a consulting the latest FAQ but otherwise the cards literally say everything there is to say.  Component text can be a very good thing.

 

Foreign CardText is not perfect, however.  It has its limitations as well.  Most prominently, game text makes your game components language dependent.  If you wish to publish a text-reliant game in multiple countries, you will have to manufacture a different edition for each nation’s language.  In the late 1990s and early 2000s, this was a perennial hurdle for German game enthusiasts.  Web-based translations of game text were a component all of us routinely added to the boxes.  Component text can problematic.

 

A big limitation of component text for the designer is surface area.  Sometimes, those words just won’t fit.  This issue hit us during the layout phase of Sentinel Tactics (Kickstarter campaign running now!).  We repeatedly found that we’d created abilities with too much text for the space available.  The text fit on our prototype cards because it used a different font and because prototype cards had no art.  Readying the game for publication meant hours rethinking details and shortening explanations.  Component text can indeed be problematic.

 

How about you?  How do you feel about text on game components?  If you’re a player, what do you prefer to see when you open the box?  If you’re a designer, what do you prefer to put in the box?  Share with your fellow readers in the comments below.  And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create and account with WordPress and follow this blog.  If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.

 

Next time we get together, we will look at game component icons and how they compare with game text.  I would suggest that they tend to excel where game text fails but that the reverse is also unfortunately true.  Come back in four days and see if you agree!