This morning’s table talk comes from an exciting announcement about a game we are working on Who Wears the Crown? the political, social collusion game about kingmaking. Now why is this important? Why spend a morning to talk about this idea (aside from just being excited about it)? The reason that this is important is that Who Wears the Crown? was not the first name for this game. So this morning I am going to take some time to look into what makes a good game name and use Who Wears the Crown? as an example of what makes a good name. To have a good name for a game, the name must effectively communicate some information about the game. First the name should refer to the the theme of the game (as much as the theme impacts the game itself). Second, a name should help describe the game, it should match the complexity and scale of the game. Finally a name should be easy to remember. So now we have what makes a good name and let us look at Who Wears the Crown? and the previous name Eminence Grise.
For most games that are created, there is a theme to it and for a good name the theme is prominent. Now how close the theme and the name are depends on how heavy the theme influences the game. For games like Race for the Galaxy, Carcassonne, Collectors and Capers, Dragon Doge, Arkham Horror, and Who Wears the Crown? I can immediately tell what the theme of the game is and by doing so helps set up the player’s expectations. With Eminence Grise I, the designer who thought of the name, saw the clear influence of court politics and intrigue that would be key to the theme of the game since the term (Eminence Grise) refers to a shadowy puppet-master in politics. The ambiguity of the name did not communicate this theme to anyone who didn’t know the term leaving players bemused instead of informed. The important thing to take away is that to the extent there is a theme, the name should convey that theme to any potential players.
Now after setting up the player’s expectations on what the game will be about the name should also communicate the complexity of the game and the game playing experience with the vocabulary used. While this is not an exact science for really successful games, the name helps a potential player determine at the very least how ‘heavy’ a game will be. If, for instance, a game has a complex or esoteric name I would assume that the game as a similar level of complexity to it. In addition to this, a name might also convey some of the main mechanics to be expected in the game. Diplomacy is an excellent example of both of these aspects since it conveys both the mechanics of the game (negotiation and politics) as well as using vocabulary to match the complexity. For both Who Wears the Crown? and Eminence Grise (if you knew the meaning) the mechanics of the game can be inferred, that the player’s are trying to be a ‘kingmaker.’ Now with the first criteria Eminence Grise is an esoteric term and thus conveyed a level of complexity in the game that simply isn’t in the game. This confusion led to several potential players being ‘intimidated’ at the thought of a overly complex game experience because their expectations were falsely set. With Who Wears the Crown? on the other hand, the vocabulary is simple and that helps mirror the complexity of the game itself and makes the game more approachable as a whole.
The final part of a good name is that it is memorable. Currently, I cannot remember one of my favorite games because the name was bland and forgettable. I can remember the intricate mechanics and how the game is played but I cannot convey this to fellow designers/gamers effectively since I cannot remember the name. With a memorable name not only is it easier to talk about one’s experiences playing the game but also potential buyers can more easily remember the game. Eminence Grise is not a memorable name due to its vocabulary and thus many playtesters found themselves struggling to remember the name and thus the game. By changing the name to Who Wears the Crown? the game became for memorable and fits into our discussion about a good name.
Communication is key for a good name for a game. With a good name a publisher/designer can convey a ton of information to potential players including the game’s theme, mechanics, and help players remember a game and talk about it. Now there are several great games that break away from this in some form or another but this can be seen as the exception and not the rule. As with the example of Who Wears the Crown? (formerly Eminence Grise) It is important to remember that a name does convey a lot and that players will make judgements on a game based on a name.
I hope this gives you some food for thought this morning and look forward to reading your thoughts!