[TT] Icons and Text

Many Eurogames seem to be minimizing text in favor of icons. This makes sense given an international market; if you are selling your Eurogames in Europe, you have a dozen languages to contend with, and if you are aiming for the lucrative markets in North America or east Asia, having lots of German text will not help your sales. Sadly, many of these icons are horrible, maybe meaningful if you already know what they mean.

For example, Kingdom Builder explains what location tiles do using an arrow for “move” and a somewhat curved arrow for “place.” You will be forgiven for remembering that backwards, and good luck seeing the curve from across the table. And then some do not follow that format, and expansions add more symbols. The icons are an okay reminder if you already know what the location tiles do, but if you do not, they will not help you unless that tile follows the standard format and is close enough to be clearly visible.

For example, Hyperborea uses truly awful symbols to explain what technologies do. As with Kingdom Builder, some follow a basic format that is easy to understand. Some have tiny variations. Some have unique symbols that do not appear elsewhere and may not be explained anywhere. You have not overcome the language barrier if players are having a five-minute debate using inferential logic to figure out what a symbol is supposed to mean. Given the number of similar but slightly differing technologies, these do not even serve as much of a reminder.

very small icons from the Tokaido board game For example, Tokaido has three space types that are mixtures of gray and light blue, some in close proximity and sometimes rotated on the board. The accompanying symbols for each space are measured in millimeters.

My favorite linguistics blog has an entire category for what it calls “nerdview.” This is described as “writing in technical terms from the perspective of the technician or engineer rather than from a standpoint that would seem useful to the customer or reader” or “a linguistically misleading communication in which the failure is not of grammar or meaning but of failing to keep in mind the viewpoint of the reader rather than the specialist (possibly nerdy) view of the writer.” More simply, the symbols make perfect sense if you are the game developer, but they can be incomprehensible for someone trying to learn the game. We have previously discussed MMO icons that are about 10 pixels across and hide multiple sentences of information. They can actually make perfect sense to a veteran player who can tell at a glance the fine distinction between a dragon and a fire-breathing drake. Players newer or less visual may be stymied.

I appreciate the attempt to internationalize the game with a standardized appearance. I sometimes question the effectiveness of the solution.

: Zubon