In Praise of Mathieu Leysenne – artist

Really, really nice work here by artist, Mathieu Leysenne who has worked on Animalia, Jamaica, and Metropolys. Very nice illustration style very suitable for lighter games in particular. My new favorite artist. Without a doubt the best I’ve seen like this doing boardgames. Seems like a perfect match for Days of Wonder games which run on the lighter, family game side.

Ystari’s upcoming Metropolys. I’m looking forward to seeing what this will be like based on this cover.

Animalia which was released last year. I’ve yet to play. Not sure if this is my kind of game, but I would buy it nonetheless based on the art.


– Mike

Deleted entry

From earlier this year as it was causing some unfortunate misunderstandings as I have been told. Meant to delete that post some time ago as it later occurred to me that things could be misunderstood. :P. Some understandable interpritations of what I said were completely false to my intentions, unfortunately.

Preview of Valley Games’ Titan: III

In this post, we can see updated parts and pieces of the Titan project. Most everything has been said already in other posts on this site and are extentions of that work, so I’ll leave it at that. I’m very pleased with this program and look forward to getting my copy!

Board with corner information. Muster and movement info. A close up also pictured here of the movement key with simplified wording. The icons have been removed from the corner muster charts as they get rediculously small and distracting at that size.

A few selections of the battleboards. Having the different colored boards adds a nice richness to the program and, of course is an extention of the board graphics. This extention helps aid in recall as the color system is better/quicker burned into the brain through more exposure.

One side of a reference sheet with close up of muster chart. A few details were added to the chart including amount needed for next creature up and range/flight icons. Varying line weights help the eye better track different terrain routes as color differentiation can be a bit difficult on lines. One could certainly read the terrain copy, but it’s best not to have to read everything every time through. For the rangestrike diagram, I added the units that had that capability and stats related to that. Easy enough to figure out without, but seemed nice to have on hand.
An example of a unit. Much was said of these last round. The only thing I'll say here is that there are always production limitations that crop up in these games. One such reflected here is the rule that type cannot be placed within a certain distance from the edge of the tokens. Seen here is the limits to where it can be placed.

A few leader token examples: ancient/medieval instruments, demon/devel/dragons and celestial bodies. Earier experimentation showed full color (full bleed color) blended in too much to the colored board. Shields simply color blind assitance. White borders and top area helped to project it up from the dark board.

– Mike

The Function(s) of Game Art

Often times I find that the forums provide a group think toward terms and ideals that fall short of the reality of the games and game creation. One such is the use of the word “functional” as it applies to game art. Whenever I hear it I tend to wince as it I know it is not what the writer really means to say and certainly does not capture what is going on. When individuals say “function” or "functional” what they really mean to say is “user friendly” or something to do with information design. Comments such as “It (the board or art) looks nice, but is not functional” illustrate the specificity and single purpose many assign to the function of art. While information design is a function of design and art, it is not the only function of art. It is then that such comments fall short in describing – or comprehending – what is really happening here. Statements such as these suggest the total functional failures of a particular games’s art without the full consideration of what the art is really doing.

Game art functions on many levels – information design which is clarity and comprehension, aesthetic needs which provides attraction and ambience, thematic needs which enhances the story and finally a branded “look” which provides a unique, iconic look for a branded property (not “samey” looking). It is easy for many to say that none is more important than information design or that information design should never sacrifice for other needs. In reality, the addition of thematic details and aesthetic needs will always lead to a reduction in information design as the more the eye needs to take in, the more difficult it will be to take in a game situation. It is a balance that is sought after. One can certainly find a very “functional” game in terms of user friendliness. But if it does not look good, something big is missing. Cheapass games fall into this category. While many of them might work from a clarity point of view, who really is seduced in to playing them? The art in such games remains relatively non functional despite any user friendliness.

Sure, Cheapass' Kill Dr Lucky may be "functional" in terms of user friendliness, but what does it matter when it looks terrible. The art has done nothing to lure me in and give me confidence that this game is going to work beyond some homemade concoction. Someone will have to work hard to convince me to play the game. ...And they did. This as opposed to the look of the game doing the selling and creating the desire from within me to really want to play. Just because it reads does not make it good art.

A more recent implementation of Kill Dr Lucky. The read has taken a hit here from the previous version. However, unlike the original, I would be initially interested in playing it, were someone else interested. Compared to the original this actually looks fun wheras the old one did not. I've not seen this production in person though, or played the original in years, so I do not know if the board is very readable. It could have readability problems which would be an issue. The only point I make here is that art now functions to generate appeal and consequent interest as well as confidence that this will be more than a prototype.

A game called Siena. Here, we have a pretty board with nearly no functionality in terms of usability. My hunch with this was that the authors had very pretty art (an old medieval fresco) that they were afraid to “blemish” with graphic detailing. Consequently, the game has legendary difficulty in playability.

Aesthetic application functions to attract and hold attention, it creates anticipation and longing, it can drive sales and can promote future plays. I recall when first coming back to gaming a few years ago and seeing the board for Days of Wonder’s game Mystery of the Abbey. Now, this is a game that I should not like. It has deduction, is somewhat chaotic with card movement, it’s sort of silly and has a basic light play – all things I don’t like. So, I debated for a long time but finally broke down and bought it. I stuck it out for 5 games wishing things would be better as the look promises so much. In the end, I gave up on the game. Here, the game art functioned to attract me to the game and hold my attention and desire to believe in the game – even after just so so plays. I really wanted this game to work! I was on the game’s side – routing for it until the very end. It also functioned well to get others to play it with me as they too liked the look.

I have often heard it said of game board art, “The game art needs to be functional, not a painting to hang on the wall.” This seems a very nonsensical statement to me. Art for walls serves to enhance the ambience of a room. By the same token, the art on the game board provides an ambience to the gameplay that very pure data will never drive. I maintain that you are more likely to spend time looking at your favorite games than the art on your walls. Thus, the game aesthetics are just as important as wall decoration aesthetics for setting a mood and ambiance. How often have we stared at the wall art for 60 minutes or two hours at a time? Now how about the game art?

The artwork seduced me. I bought it and played a few times hoping it would get better. The artwork fuctioned both to seduce me and to give me confidence in its performance. Here, the sucess and function of the artwork had nothing to do with ease of play, but of aesthetics.

Cards and board from Through the Ages. They work pretty well from an information design function (though the board has a little problem with the notations). However, from an aesthetic point of view the game really suffers. The amaturish, homemade quality of the art has a prototype feel to it. It lacks the richness and drama that the game actually yields. Were it not for the high praise and ratings that the game has recieved, I might have passed on it. Boy, am I sure glad I didn't though as, for me, this is a great game.

Another point to be made is that strong aesthetics reduces fatigue during downtime. If there’s something pretty to look at, you’re less likely to get as bored when waiting on slow players. If one is less bored, the experience will come across better in the end. Game theme application works toward this end as well by enhancing the environment.

Good aesthetics also increases gamer pride. I have heard many people say they are very embarraced to show non gamers some of these games based on their looks. They look geeky. The art is amaturish for the most part and does not communicate something of sophistication – as these products actually are. The art is generally out of sync with these high grade games using low grade execution art. Certainly there are exceptions like Michael Menzel’s art, but the main point here is that a good look increases pride in the hobby.

A good sense of aesthetics works much like theme in game development. For many Euros, theme is but texture and ambience as well. Many euros really do not need the theme and could be played as green cubes, brown cubes, big square, little square, etc. Theme does aid in recall and in teaching, but more so it makes us feel good during play. So it is that we get medieval and reniassance game after another. These themes tend to be rich with texture, romance and a shared language that we can all relate to. Certainly anything can be as interesting as theme – my guess is that these two subjects are easier to slot in thematic elements to the actions. The point here is that we do desire something to make us feel good beyond the tickling of the brain that we get from gaming. In a way, theme is the pretty picture.

Thematic application functions to enhance thematic detailing in a game environment of weak thematic connection (as is the case with most euros). We all know that Euros are built on certain reductive principles that tend to smooth out the real life details and complexities that provide for richly themed experiences. So it is that game art helps to fill in the gaps here. Taluva is one such game for me. It is simply a pure abstract. However, the game board and bits explain a theme to me so beautifully that I want to believe there is some thematic truth to the game. Again, the art drives me to want to believe in the game. How many times have we seen a game theme rich with history and potentially great visual stimuli that has not been captured in the art? Instead, the art remains pale and bland – marginally themed at best. How disappointing this is! Like pleasing aesthetics, theme is ambience. It allows us to escape into a world of imagination.

Taluva – a pure abstract infused with theme by virtue of art and bits. I can feel and even believe that there is some primitive island life in the works here.

Another abstract game here – Santiago. Unlike Taluva, I don't get a sense of time or place (other than a farm). The art really does not much support theme. It looks very dry, abstract and boring. This also falls under a failure in aesthetic application as it does not look nice or compelling. Consequently, I'm less likely to pick this game up and more likely to get bored of it as soon as gameplay shows wear. Sure it reads, but so would a hand drawn black and white pencil sketch. I wouldn't be interested in playing that either. Just because something reads does not make it good art.

Finally, the branded application functions to give a unique look to the game. This function also serves to attract – if the game looks different then all the rest, then it promises to be different. We all hate games that play “samey.” So too, a samey look does not reinforce that something special is going to happen here in the gameplay. When at cons, spotting a game from a distance that looks unique certainly has the potential to attract individuals over to the table to observe. This branded application also serves to aid in recall both in describing a game and when thinking of the next game to play.

A forgettible board here for Kreta as it looks like any other island map. There is nothing here that looks unique. Consequently, I'm more likely to pass on it based on a first look.

Everything reads pretty good in Augsburg 1510. But there's nothing special going on here. When I played it with my group it came up a number of times... "what do you think of the art?" someone asked. Another said... "well it reads fine..." All the while there was a reflective silence and a shrug of shoulders. It's just that there was nothing of interest here. It's sort of a "been there, done that look".

In the end, art’s function is much more than simply information design. Weighing in the success of all these functions collectively can yield a better view of art’s contribution to a production.

– Mike

Interview on Fortress: Ameritrash

Recently, Michael Buccheri of Fortress: Ameritrash interviewed me for a piece on said blog. I thought he had some really wonderful questions. Thanks again, Michael for both the interview and well thought out questions!

– Mike

Valley Games’ Titan II

--- NOTE that early last week (hours after the original BGG post) new chits were submitted to Valley based on the first few comments and have been undergoing testing. Further comments on Geek and/or petitions since around Tues. have no effect as the design has already been underway and is being tested. Unfortunately, the very frequent senseless, uninformed, tactless and hostile nature of Geek posters have driven me off Geek. I generally won't open myself up to the assured irrational abuse by posting on that site for the most part.

Here you can see progress made on the main board from my last post. Many variations have been looked into since then. The final decision was to keep in close to the original board. From the last post you can see that the stone spaces have less detail and more saturated colors so that the spaces are more distinct from each other and easier to read. Additionally, details – such as in the dark hexigon areas – have been reduced significantly so to be easier on the eyes. The contrast of the border around the arrow blocks have been reduced to give the arrows a stronger read.

Corner detail with more distinct colors and fewer textures. This allows for better scanning and fewer details which is easier on the eyes than the previous post.

Updated full board

A board study (not final direcction). Many studies were done to improve the information on the board. In this case, we have colored arrows coded to the two different moving “tracks” . This was further supported with a gap to seperate them. In the end, this version was not used as it was too far a departure from the well known board.

Many variations on the legion tokens were made as well. White borders and a white area on each was needed to better isolate them visually on the board. Fields of color were also needed to better describe each player’s color. It is always the case that fields of color are much stronger than lines of color – just as type on a colored background reads color better than simply colored type on white. So it is then that knocking the icons out of the colors work best to get a color read. For the color blind, we have shield icons in the upper area. The main icons were selected on the basis of contrast to help separate each individual one. So then, we have some icons with very little mass – like the bug on the top second from left – and others with a great deal of mass – like the mushroom under it to the left. The icons were drawn more crisp and refined than the original game which gives them a more serious tone. Finally, each player has a themed selection of icons for fun.

Some legion tokens. Borders and upper area are white to help the pieces to pop off the board. Color fields aid in identifying the color type. A shield device on top is for color blind players. Finally, each player has a theme: green – bugs and plants, blue – old musical instruments, black – Grecco/Roman, red – dragons and demons.

Size comparison between new token and original token. One thing to also bear in mind is that this new drafting board (and the battlemaps) will be bigger than the original board which allows for bigger tokens.

For the unit tokens, artist Kurt Miller developed a series of realistic looking monsters. These and the cover of the game were finished just as I came aboard the project. I worked on many variations for these. Circle chits can be challenging as I lose the corners of the chits (compared to square chits). This tends to drive the type inward toward the center as longer titles fall outside the circle when typeset close to the edges. As the type moves inward, challenges arise in terms of getting an impactful and large image and type that can read over or around an image. Here, we have a red bar which protects the type and gives a clean simple look. The numbers were gathered into one area to help scanability. Here, the eye only has to focus on these pinpoint areas and move onto another token rather than back and forth across the token (with the numbers on each side – right and left) as was the case in the original game. Additionally, subordinating one number with respect to scale helps to separate the two.

Monster art created by artist Kurt Miller (who also created the cover art to Titan). One thing I will probably be changing is the color of the bar – shifting it to a cool color to better contrast from the monsters.

Kurt Miller’s Ogre. Here you can see a comparitive scale of new token and original token.

For the battleboards, we chose to add some information – the strike chart, native creatures and the turn four mustering space. It would have been great to put the hazard chart on here, but it is quite wordy and there just is not room for such a thing. The hazard charts will then be covered on a reference sheet instead. The background texture relates to the main board and adds a bit of richness.

On the battleboard, we have added native monsters to key terrian and a strike chart. Also a gem icon on the timeline marks mustering on turn 4.

– Mike

Valley Games’ Titan

---- Note development has continued with the art seen below since this original post. This including some simplification of detailing, color shifting to separate colors further and work on arrow detailing. This will be the next post. These improvements address some issues I’ve had since posting below. ----

Board corner detail

--- Note, I've modified the images since the original post with colors for hills and woods switched to reflect closer alignment to original board ---

Here, we have Titan’s Masterboard for Valley Games’ new production. This is not totally finished as it needs some information on the corners of the board, but it is pretty close at this time.

During development, one point of concern was to get the board a bit more readable in terms of being able to differentiate the unique terrain spaces. As you can see below, on the original board, many of the these spaces have very similar hues and color values. When looking at that board, it is hard to tell many of the spaces apart at a glace. Compare the Woods, Brush, Plains and even Desert against each other on the original. The colors remain very close. The same for Hills and Marshes. More concentrated effort is needed by further identifying the icons. The tricky part in working with a color system in Titan is that there are 11 different colors needed. Unfortunately, our memories tend to be able to only take in 7 or so variables maximum at a time so much needs to be done to achieve a higher level of identification. The colors chosen here for the new board have a greater dynamic range both in terms of hue and in terms of value. When comparing the boards you can see that the new board appears almost like a patchwork quilt, with color patterns beginning to emerge. The colors work quite well in defining patterns. Admittedly, the two darker greens are less effective than the other parts of the board, but that is where the icons come in. The original board, however, remains quite flat in terms of patterns rising to the surface. One trick that I use to determine the effectiveness of the colors is to pick a color and then stare at that one space. Now, if I can see other spaces which have the same color without moving my eyes (or moving my eyes slightly a few spaces), then things are working pretty well. In the old board, it is nearly impossible to “see” matching spaces in this manner, except with blue and green to a certain extent as these colors dip into the cool side of the spectrum.

Old board and new board comparison

Some icons were retained while others simplified to reduce the amount of information on the board. Also, to that end, more hierarchy has been given to each space with color being predominant, then icon, then name. Previously, name and icon shared fairly similar order of importance. I have placed the name opposite the number so that there is a pattern to seeing the location of the number in each space – as this is important in determining placement on the battleboards. Texture was added to the board which does increase the complexity – further necessitating the need for smaller terrain names.

Tight detail of bone frame and gem spaces

With respect to the movement arrows, I lifted them up on a separate plain. Also, I gave them a high degree of contrast with the white against black. Again, if you stare at a part of the new board without moving your eyes, you can begin to see arrows a few spaces away. With the older board this is not really so. This is because the icons are embedded in the intricate line work of the borders. Here, the eye has difficulty extracting such details unless looking directly at them. Some experimentation was done in the placement of the arrow icon boxes. At first, they extended further into each space. This helped readability a bit as the motion towards and into each space was more distinct. The downside would have been that the playing pieces would be smaller so as not to cover up the icons. In the end, we opted for what you see here, which is fine. In terms of the symbols used for these arrows, I pretty much stuck to the original. The only modification here is the square, which tended to look too much like the circle. Unfortunately, game play for this part of the game is not intuitive, with all the “may” and “must” enters at beginning or during movement. Icons cannot really depict such nuanced unintuative rules. It remains better then just to keep the icons very simple and distinctive from each other and tie to what most gamers are already familiar with.

My desire with this board was for it to appear otherworldly – as if a game played in another time. The use of gems, stones and bone materials help to give it that feel and provide for a rich look and feel. The tonal variations within each gem allows them to glow, giving the board a sparkle and shimmer. Also, as I’ve said before, I do have an affection for boards which reference games of old where natural materials – such as wood, stone or metal – were used in their construction.

In future posts I will share the tokens on the boards as well as the battleboards. Kurt Miller created some nice looking 3D monsters as well, which will go on the unit tokens.

– Mike

Custom 52 Designer Card Contest

I ran across some very tasty designs for the standard deck. It seems this site is bringing together designers to showcase their submissions. After the finalists are chosen, they go to print the deck and then the next contest begins for a new deck. Very, very lovely designs.

Custom 52 deck #1

– Mike

Valley Games’ Container

Here we have a few components from Container which is Valley Game’s latest production and marks their first original game design. For the cover, we let the containers themselves be the heroes pointing the way to their destination aboard the ships. The image features a strong diagonal composition which leads the eye from the many colorful containers to the ship at sea. The sky and containers were created optimistic and bright for the cover.

Money (front and back)

The money was an interesting feature that I enjoyed doing. More often then not, money is the component that disappoints me in games (other than the cover). Certainly there is the paper/card/token issue for which paper remains highly annoying. But also, in the case of paper and card money, I find that I do not care for the look. Typically when showing a bill, the entire piece is shown. The problem becomes making the bill look real. If real, then where is it from? Do you use real currency or create a fake country? Mostly, games tend to follow the monopoly example showing the game’s name and some components. Here, we have avoided the fake country issue by only showing a portion of the bills. In this way, enough real looking information can be displayed without specifying much more. On these bills we decided to celebrate container transportation with engraved images of that theme.

Loan Card (front and back)

End Value Card (front and back)

Also pictured here are loan cards and end value cards. The end value cards are kept secret and determine the value of each kind of container for a player at the finish. The card backs were fun to do. We have here the language of containers with a diamond sign and the typical bold condensed type that you find on containers.

The container theme was further pushed with the rules cover where we used the diamond signs to house a sort of language table of contents.

– Mike

Valley Games’ Supernova Cover

Here we have the cover for one of Valley’s upcoming titles, Supernova. I had thought it would be nice to take advantage of the “letterbox” format with a blast of light sweeping across the cover. The effect is dynamic and a bit captivating. Space themes allow the possibility of wild, dazzling color schemes. In this case the pinks, cyans and purples are quite unique and should allow the game to pop off the shelves that much better. Supernova’s premise is of the blast taking over neighboring systems. So here we have planets engulfed in the mighty blast. I’ve added some computery bips and bops for a slicker, modern feel. Hex shapes relate to the game components and the computery type can be game rules typeset in this manner.

– Mike

Nexus’ Battles of Napoleon: The Eagle and the Lion

I was quite excited earlier this year when Nexus games had contacted me regarding the possibility of developing art for their upcoming game, the Eagle and the Lion. This is to be the first massive installment of their “Battles of Napoleon” series.

It turns out that my gaming roots are of wargames where in the ’80s, I used to shop the aisles for interesting Avalon Hill titles. I only ended up playing a few wargames on a limited scale, though. Of them, one of my favorites was the old AH “War and Peace.” I loved the scope of the war and romance of the era. For me this really hit a chord.

So it was that I was extremely keen to take on this grand Napoleonic game from a company with such a reputation for quality products. For those that don't know, Nexus were the folks that brought us War of the Ring and the follow-up, Battles of the Third Age. Now they are digging their teeth very deeply into the Napoleonic battle genre. I had used the word massive earlier, and I'm not kidding. The box is huge - larger than Battlelore. There will be tons of bits as the game is filled with hundreds of miniatures.

I cannot comment on gameplay but can say that it is its own game system which is meant to be deep enough for wargamers, but accessible to the Euros. It uses a new system which is based based both on orders and cards to regulate the actions of the players.

Below you can see some cards for the French side. There are two categories of cards - Leaders and Units. As such, each have a distinct look. The leaders feature a close up portrait, while the units have a soldier in a battle scene. Within these two categories we have a number of types and classes of cards. The leaders have 3 categories, pictured in varied ranges of size. The more powerful leaders appear close up, with the lesser ones further away. Additionally, a ribbon type further reinforces the leader type.

Commander in Chief



The units are broken down by infantry, calvary and artillery. Pictured here are infantry units. While the background image will remain fairly similar between these 3 groups, there will be a subtle change to help cue each of these categories. We have spent some time developing the images for historical correctness. In addition, on the card backs, there will be a little info on the actual unit that the picture comes from. Each image will be unique to add to the richness of the program.

A unit card. Each one has the unit type (upper left), unit flag (upper right), moral (below flag), some die roll modifiers (bottom ribbon) and initial unit makeup (4 icons, middle left).

There will be 4 double sided boards that can be assembled to create a variety of scenarios. Configurations will be available to combine 2-4 boards depending on the scale. Pictured here are two boards. The relevant terrain are the hill ridges, hedges and forests. The look here is one of an old engraved map which is meant to lend a feel of authenticity to the program and separate from other miniature wargame products. Other special terrain tiles will be placed on the boards depending on the scenario. To give a sense of scale, each tile is a little larger than the tiles in Roads and Boats.

Two of the eight map pieces.

Map detail

– Mike