Non-Renewable Resources

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Resources that do not increase in number during gameplay.

Resources are used in most games in one way or another, often being created, transformed, and consumed as part of player actions or game events. Non-Renewable Resources are a subcategory of resources characterized by not being created or being replenished during gameplay. This means that they might either be static in number or be reduced in number as gameplay continues, possibly to the point where they are completely removed from gameplay.


The pieces used in Chess are Non-Renewable Resources as are the space marines in Space Hulk. In Space Alert the energy units are non-renewable. Characters in Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game have abilities which can only be used once, and thereby function as Non-Renewable Resources. Freedom: The Underground Railroad work the same way but with less detailed characters. Similarly, players of Shadow Hunters have a special ability the can use but only if they also reveal their identity when doing so; Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game also provides this type of special ability to cylon players. Betrayal at House on the Hill allow players to get one-time boosts from certain locations (gym, chapel, etc.).

Dominion has a limited number of cards players can buy during gameplay, and use the depletion of three types of cards or just the depletion of the "province" cards to determine when gameplay ends. Some of the drawing stacks in Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game are also used as end conditions, but in this case they are reshuffled once before ending gameplay. In Boss Monster: The Dungeon Building Card Game the boss cards have one time action that can be used when a player research the 5 room limit. Samurai Spirit functions somewhat similarly, letting players upgrade their characters to beast forms after gaining experience but at the same time make them more vulnerable to being killed. Dog allies in Arkham Horror and Dead of Winter allow players one-time actions to restore sanity or die instead of the player's character respectively. Fulfilling the requirements of an ethical dilemma in Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia let players choose between two one-time actions. The support cards in Star Trek: Catan shows examples of allowing an action a maximum of two times.

Using the pattern

Non-Renewable Resources is typically designed as part of guaranteeing that Complete Resource Depletion will occur during gameplay. While this may not always be the case, e.g. by players hoard the Resources but not using them, the end result is typically the same: that the Resources aren't used to perform certain actions and therefor those actions don't occur. In the case of Resources that are Energy, such designs lead to Ability Losses. Non-Renewable Resources can also be used ensure Closed Economies.

Non-Renewable Resources can be designed in two ways. One is that the Resources are globally non-renewable while the other is that they are non-renewable on a per player basis. The main difference between these is that the Resources cannot support Transfer of Control or change Ownership in the latter case but can in the former.

Cards are quite often examples of Non-Renewable Resources by being given to players and then being removed from active gameplay after being played. A variant of this is having Drawing Stacks that are only used once (or more rarely a few times as Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game provides an example of). This creates Limited Gameplay Time when used in this way to give players Hands of Cards, and Predictable Consequences as the number of Cards become more limited. This also shows a way in which Non-Renewable Resources affects Randomness. Other examples of Resources that can be made non-renewable include Companions, Fudged Results, Lives, Privileged Abilities, and Units.

Resources cannot quite naturally be both Non-Renewable Resources and Renewable or Regenerating ones. It can be problematic to use globally Non-Renewable Resources in Persistent Game Worlds because this more or less requires that gameplay can function well forever without the Resources affected after they have been depleted.


Complete Resource Depletion can be guaranteed in games with Non-Renewable Resources and Consumers that consume these resources, and this may create Tied Results as a follow-up effect. Experimenting that requires the use of Non-Renewable Resources encourages players to engage in Stimulated Planning to avoid squandering those Resources. In games with Capture actions related to the Non-Renewable Resources, these Resources will become fewer and fewer over time. This makes it likely that the latter actions more important and thereby create Higher-Level Closures as Gameplay Progresses in such games. Any kind of consumption, Capture, or removable of Non-Renewable Resources from the game state are by definition Irreversible Events since the Resources cannot be re-created.

The presence of Non-Renewable Resources can reduce the efficiency of using Mules since repetitive collection is less likely to be possible. They can also limit possibilities for affecting Player Balance since differences in available Non-Renewable Resources cannot so easily be adjusted by simply adding more Resources of those types.


Can Instantiate

Closed Economies, Irreversible Events

with Capture

Higher-Level Closures as Gameplay Progresses

with Consumers

Complete Resource Depletion

with Energy

Ability Losses

with Experimenting

Stimulated Planning

with Hands

Limited Gameplay Time, Predictable Consequences

Can Modulate

Capture, Cards, Companions, Drawing Stacks, Fudged Results, Lives, Mules, Player Balance, Privileged Abilities, Randomness, Resources, Units

Can Be Instantiated By


Can Be Modulated By

Ownership, Transfer of Control

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Persistent Game Worlds, Regenerating Resources, Renewable Resources


An updated version of the pattern Non-Renewable Resources 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.


Johan Gärderud, Mikael Jakobsson, Esther MacCallum-Stewart, Brian McDonald, Richard Wetzel