Bookkeeping Tokens

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Game elements that do not represent diegetic objects in the game world but instead uphold abstract parts of the game state.

Game states that at least partially represent abstract values require that games have some way to store the information. This can be done by using computers or humans that have to remember the information, but when computers are not available many games have Bookkeeping Tokens to let players focus on the gameplay rather than memorizing game states.


Puerto Rico has the role of governor that is passed among players. To help players keep track of their roles a small governor card is past to the player who currently is the governor. Given that players of Carolus Magnus have a turn order based upon which turn discs they have played rather the way they physically sit around the game board, the game provides Bookkeeping Tokens to help players keep track of this order.

Many games, e.g. Amun-Re, Balderdash, Caylus, Inca Empire, and Pictionary, make use of score tracks so that players know the current positions of each other. Both Egizia and Ursuppe also have score tracks but in these cases they are also used to determine turn order. Puerto Rico and Race for the Galaxy are instead examples of games that make use of chips as Bookkeeping Tokens to keep track of victory points. Caverna: The Cave Farmers have "modifying" Bookkeeping Tokens in addition to ordinary ones, letting a token that represents a specific resource instead represent several through placing them on tokens that state "*4" or "*8".

Agricola and Stone Age are examples of board games that have many types of Bookkeeping Tokens to keep track of which resources players have. Origins: How We Became Human provides each player with a limit number of Bookkeeping Tokens that are used for many different purposes, e.g. as units on the game board, or levels of elders and innovation in civilizations. High Frontier does the same, but in this case for rockets, bases, factories, and claiming glory sites. In contrast, the board game Android makes use of many different types of tokens to keep track of both the overall and individual players' stories.

Players of Space Alert and RoboRally use cards as Bookkeeping Tokens to set up the future moves their characters or robots should do.

Using the pattern

The values of the game state that need to be kept track of dictate most of the design requirements of Bookkeeping Tokens. This may be to handle Resources such as Extra Chances or Money, to keep track of Attributes and Skills including when players receive New or Improved Abilities, to keep track of Victory Points through individual Chips or by being placed on Score Tracks, to let players set up their Action Programming, or to help players keep track of Turn Taking through First Player Tokens and Current Player Tokens. However, game designers have the option of making the Bookkeeping Tokens provide players with Public Information or Imperfect Information, typically through Cards, Chips, or Tiles.

Another, less common but found for example in Origins: How We Became Human and High Frontier, option is to use Bookkeeping Tokens for many different values in game states which players can affect, and thereby making them into Limited Resources.

Diegetic Aspects

Since Bookkeeping Tokens are non-diegetic, they become Geospatial Game Widgets if placed within Game Worlds.

Interface Aspects

Bookkeeping Tokens are interface elements in games, so they are inherently related to interfaces.


Bookkeeping Tokens are Tokens that can help players run Self-Facilitated Games by upholding the game states instead of Memorizing them, e.g. by being Resources such as Extra Chances, Money, and Victory Points or letting player commit their Action Programming. This can also encourage Stimulated Planning and provide Cognitive Engrossment; if the tokens provide Public or semi-public information these patterns are even stronger present since players have Game State Overviews. However, they require players to do Extra-Game Actions in the form of Excise that resemble Resource Management but without any Freedom of Choice. Since this requires Attention Swapping, all kinds of Engrossment can be negatively affected (except Cognitive Engrossment).

Bookkeeping Tokens present in Game Worlds are Geospatial Game Widgets since they do not represent diegetic elements. Regardless, they can be the Focus Loci of players' actions either through indicating that an action has been done or by giving New Abilities to affect the Game Worlds.

When Bookkeeping Tokens are used to provide Resource Caps they do limit Excise.


Can Instantiate

Cognitive Engrossment, Excise, Extra Chances, Extra-Game Actions, Focus Loci, Geospatial Game Widgets, Improved Abilities, Limited Resources, New Abilities, Tokens

with Public Information

Game State Overviews

Can Modulate

Action Programming, Attributes, Memorizing, Money, Resources, Self-Facilitated Games, Skills, Stimulated Planning, Turn Taking, Victory Points

Can Be Instantiated By

Cards, Chips, Current Player Tokens, First Player Tokens, Tiles

Can Be Modulated By

Score Tracks

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With


Excise when Bookkeeping Tokens are used to provide Resource Caps


An updated version of the pattern Book-Keeping Tokens that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[1].


  1. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.