I’ve been a Graphic Designer for 14 years and a Boardgame Designer for almost 4 years. Most Boardgame Designers who are working towards a Kickstarter project have the attitude that graphic design exists to make things more attractive. It’s true, Graphic Designers are tasked with showcasing your information in a nice way, but the real advantage to having a Graphic Designer on board is user interface design (UI).
While this term is defined as creating interfaces to maximize the user’s experience on electronic devices, I often use it for boardgame design as well. The theories are all the same. The goal is to make the user, or player in this case, have the most natural and easiest responses to your game as possible. This can be simple things like the placement of art, text, or iconography that is easy to understand and follow, or the refinement of a design to increase effectiveness.
I was recently hired by Cosmic Wombat Games to completely recreate the art and graphic design for their upcoming game, Campaign Trail, launching on Kickstarter on May 3rd. Focusing on the game board, here are a few changes I made and why.
Look and Feel
As I said before, graphic design also exists to make projects more attractive, but that’s always a subjective goal. There will be some that like the old design more than the new, and that can’t be helped. The goal is to have the majority of players enjoy the new aesthetic more than the old, and a good Graphic Designer knows how to do that.
You, as a Boardgame Designer, might really favor a certain color arrangement; however, you might be in the minority. There’s nothing wrong with that initially, but when you try to apply a look and feel to a game that only a minority of others will enjoy, you miss the goal of the project.
A Graphic Designer doesn’t just use their own aesthetic senses, but they spend hours in their daily lives looking at designs for all kinds of products and purposes. They’ve spent the time it takes to know what is enjoyed by a majority of users.
Placement for User Experience
Graphic Designers also take into account a lot of issues that may not occur to others when it comes to usability. For instance, in Campaign Trail, players can travel to states with a plane icon using certain actions. You’ll notice that on the old game board, the plane icons were located on cities. This was for thematic purposes only.
After reading the rules, I realized that the game board would eventually be covered in cubes and other components. What if a player wanted to travel to Kansas, but didn’t know if there was a plane icon to utilize? They would have to remove all of the components to see if there was a plane icon available on that state, especially if they weren’t familiar with that states’ geography.
In the new design, I located all plane icons in the exact same place, top left of the banner. This banner is typically exposed as much as possible because it contains all the valuable information of that state. Now, when a user wants to know if Kansas has a plane icon, they just look in that top-left spot.
The beauty of this is, it won’t be something explained in the rulebook. Placement of icons, text and art is a focus on how the mind naturally searches and finds things. A Graphic Designer’s job includes trying to think about what is easiest and natural for the player to do in order to find the information they need. If done correctly, the player won’t even consider how easy it was to do something based on the graphic design.
Refinement and Minimalizing
Let’s be honest, we as Boardgame Designers can get carried away sometimes with theme and/or mechanics. Sometimes we throw something in that looks good or speaks to the theme when in reality, it’s not needed or its benefits do not outweigh the obstacles it creates. It’s a Graphic Designer’s job to shave away the superfluous or distracting bits of design to create a more focused and pure experience for the player.
The original game board of Campaign Trail had a few elements that, as a player, could have been distracting. The names of the cities, the regions, and the terrain texture were all elements that weren’t a bad thing to have, but in the end, weren’t needed and could have been distracting to players.
There isn’t a functional use in the game for any of these elements, and the only purpose they served was thematic. If there’s no issues caused by an element whose only purpose is to add theme, and it does it well, then that element should stay; however, in this case, we needed to remove clutter from the game board. There’s a lot of information on the game board, and that meant anything superfluous had to go.
In the end, the publishers liked having the cities noted, even though it serves no actual play purpose, so I created a less distracting way of noting them with the small circles. A Graphic Designer can get carried away with trying to minimalize as well, so it’s a good thing to find compromise.
I Can’t Afford a Graphic Designer
That’s understandable. What we do takes a lot of time and that can add up. Here are some suggestions if you can’t afford a Graphic Designer upfront.
- Offer half pay with a percentage option if the Kickstarter funds. No Graphic Designer wants to take the risk of working that much only to never get paid because the project didn’t get funded. Offer to pay them half their estimated cost if the project doesn’t fund, but a certain percentage of the project if it does fund.
If the project reaches its exact goal, make the percentage equal their full estimated amount. If it goes over, then the Graphic Designer is rewarded for taking a risk with you and is paid more than their estimated amount. Not only will this satisfy their need for compensation, but it will make them an enthusiastic member of your Kickstarter endeavors.
- Ask for advice. In the event that you have no funds at all for a Graphic Designer, at the very least, join Facebook Groups and other social discussions where you can showcase your designs and ask for advice. Graphic Designers like myself are gullible, and give advice away for free.
No Boardgame Designer is an Island
Boardgames are just too big of a project for a one-person-shop. While one person can make a game this way, that game won’t be the best product it could have been. The more experts you have working in their field for your game, the better it will be. Unfortunately, if a Graphic Designer’s contributions are done well, they go mostly unnoticed and can be overlooked.
Was I the Artist, Graphic Designer, Publisher, and Boardgame Designer for both of my games (Evil Intent and Asking for Trobils)? Yes, and that’s why I know that I could have benefited from other people’s involvement. Luckily I wasn’t the only Boardgame Designer for those games so I’m very happy with the product, but the publishing, marketing, and distribution suffered greatly. I know if I had more hands in those games, they might have gotten to more tables.
Can you think of a boardgame that has great Graphic Design?