One the most commonly used resources in board games is money. Currency of some kind plays an important role in the economic flow of the game. Sometimes it’s used to purchase or bid for resources, cards, buildings, turn order, or countless other things. Often the money in the game represents the points themselves. No matter it's use, there's quite a variety in the way different games approach currency.
A few weeks ago for CMON Feature Friday, we took a look at dice and how they’ve played a role in gaming. This week, we’re looking at different representations and uses for money in games.
Board games often mirror life in various ways. In life, money can be extremely important. It allows us to do the things we want to do, gives us freedom. In a very similar fashion, money in games can be central to players’ strategy. Getting it can be difficult. But if you have it, your opponents better look out.
The actual physical representation of money differs as widely as its uses. A lot of early games like Monopoly, The Game of LIFE, and PayDay, relied on paper money. Some games still go that route today. But more commonly, designers and publishers are finding new ways to introduce money to games.
Coins are a great way to use money in games. They are easy to make purchases with and exchange for different denominations. Coins are often made to represent the currency of a historical period, capturing the same shape, design, and color that would’ve been common at the time. Sometimes they are nothing more than gold, silver, or copper pieces. But often they’re used to convey information, such as who was an important figure in that period, or what locations or buildings people felt connected to. Even coins from an imaginary time and place, like those found in Arcadia Quest, represent the fictional King David on one side and the Temple of the Dawning Twilight on the other side. It’s interesting to see the types of coins designers add to games set in the future. It’s hard to imagine how our money will evolve in time. There have been advances like credit cards and digital payments, but we still rely heavily on small metal objects to pass currency back and forth. In thousands of years of human history, coins have certainly evolved, but not fundamentally changed, in appearance or use.
In games like Blood Rage or Council of 4, the currency is marked on a personal or central tracker. Sure, the currency in Blood Rage is Rage, but players mark their starting level at the beginning of each age and notch it down as they make purchases. In the same way, your wealth is tracked on the central board in Council of 4. It’s actually a fairly brilliant way to handle the money situation in games. Players can see, at a glance, how much money or spending power their opponents have. This method has not caught on entirely, possibly due to the fact that we inherently want to hold our money, or keep it secret. Regardless, it’s an interesting approach.
One of the big complaints with paper money is that it’s hard to handle. You can’t really shuffle it. The bills stick together. Making change is a pain. All of these problems are easily dealt with by replacing the paper with cards. A few games are taking this approach, most notably The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire. Cards are much easier to handle in almost every way compared to paper money. In the case of The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire, they have to be cards as a function of the game. It makes sense that we like to see our money in bill form. It mimics real life. Cards are an excellent way to have bills, but keep them functional.
Lots of different games will deal with fantasy themes and imaginary currencies. Pretty much anything could be valuable in a different world, and our bills or coins may seem pretty strange to someone from a faraway land. One of the most common fantasy currencies used in games is gems or precious stones. They are relatable for us as forms of currency, as the same items hold value in the real world. More than that though, gems are extraordinarily functional in games. Different values can be assigned to various colors, sizes, and shapes of gems, making for simple exchange and assessment of wealth. If you are going to be playing a game set in a different land, you might as well wheel and deal with a fantasy currency.
They say that money makes the world go ‘round, and it certainly drives the action in a lot of different board games. What are your favorite ways to deal with currency in board games? Let us know on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #CMONFeatureFriday.