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    I’d like to kick off a discussion about GD in games, there are some games, such as the Phil Eklund series, that have terrible graphic design, and others such as this Kickstarter that just look mouthwateringly good, (as an aside I have not backed the game since playing it does not appeal to me).

    How important is it to you? What are the main offenders and what are some outstanding examples?

    Universal Head

    Well, since I’m a graphic designer by trade, and have created the graphic design for a few games (eg Tales of the Arabian Nights, Ninjato, Inkognito, Aztlan), this is a subject dear to my heart (in other words, if I start to rant tell me to pipe down).

    Obviously, I think graphic design is absolutely vital. However, I don’t mean ‘making things look pretty’ (how I hate that definition of graphic design). Graphic design is visual communication. And that means that it is intimately tied up with every aspect of the design of a boardgame. The aesthetics and the functionality of a game are not separate elements, they are inextricably intertwined.

    One of the main aspects of tabletop gaming that appeals to me is the tactile nature of it. I’ve completed thousands of graphic design jobs in the last 25 years, and so many are ephemeral things that have a short lifespan or don’t even physically exist. To actually hold a copy of Tales of the Arabian Nights gives me great pleasure, because (for the life of the game anyway) it’s an object of (I think) beauty that exists in the real world that I helped make. So I really appreciate the beauty of these objects, and how they look on my shelf and on the table as I play them. When that beauty is perfectly immeshed with clear communication, the two enhance each other and result in the perfect experience. Neither works well without the other – the most beautiful game is useless if the visuals get in the way of the game functioning as a game, and the most clearly communicated game is (to me) useless if it doesn’t immerse you in its experience and appeal as an object.

    Am I ranting yet? 😉


    It’s essential to me. A game might have great mechanics but if it is not visually appealing I find it very hard to get engaged with it.

    The vice-versa is also true. The visual appeal of a game can completely swing me, even if the mechanics are similar to other games I have played.


    Graphic design is visual communication. And that means that it is intimately tied up with every aspect of the design of a boardgame. The aesthetics and the functionality of a game are not separate elements, they are inextricably intertwined.

    Well said! I like to compare it to watching motion captured raw footage, solely comprised of green screen and characters with ping pong ball markers. If you watch long enough you might be able to figure out the who/what/when/where/why/how of what’s happening but it’s a lot easier when the other elements are in place and optimized in such a way that they supports the story and characters.

    For me, the 3 most important things Graphic Design should provide are, Hierarchy, Continuity and Delivering on the theme.

    [ Here comes the rant…]

    In the advertising world, it’s said that a great ad (for printed media) should get be able to get it’s point across in 3 seconds or less. The best ones do that through use of visual hierarchy. Our eyes pickup on little things like subtle direction, shape, size and texture, and then our brains try to make sense of it all. Things that can distract the eye/brain are inconsistencies and things that look out of place.

    To REDUCE my ranting, I will use a game that I really like as an example. Fresh off the 8th Summit and Grey Fox Games boat is a game called “Till Dawn,” a game about a coven of vampires trying to elect a new leader within three nights. It supports a lot of players, yet still remains fast paced, and it’s fun.

    Does it deliver on the theme? Coffin shaped game box and victory tokens, gothic fonts, wonderfully illustrated vampire/slayer/werewolf characters, crosses, night track revolving clockwise starting with dusk and following the moon phase till dawn, fitting colors; red, black, silver/chrome, grey and white. Check. Yes it does, wonderfully.

    Does it have continuity? I would say MOSTLY yes. The cards are great! The illustrations are all the same style, they use the same fonts… all titles have a slightly larger first and last letter of each phrase. They are color coated to match their moon phase icon, and the position of information on the cards is uniform.

    However, upon looking at the night track (located on the coffin shaped game box, and the back of the character cards) we are told that it is made up of 6 different zones. The starting zone is in the center and is shaped like a coffin. This is surrounded by the other 5 zones which when put together look like a larger coffin.

    Till Dawn Night Track

    Notice the gaps that act as borders between the 5 surrounding zones. The two side gaps on the top are smaller than the three other gaps. Now look at the gaps surrounding the center zone. There are no gaps separating the top two zones from the center, no gap separating the right zone from the center, a small gap (smaller that the gaps separating the outer zones) on the bottom, and on the bottom left there’s a small gap that seems to be obscured by a light drop shadow. These inconsistencies made it more difficult to differentiate and identify the zones which forced us to double check the manual, delaying my group playing the game by 10 seconds.

    Sure, 10 seconds isn’t that long, but think of it like driving. That’s a difference between a 3 second stop sign and a 10 second signal. Who likes 10 second signals? Not me. They really mess with my flow.

    Is there clear Hierarchy? I would say 98% yes. The meat and potatoes in this game are the contents of the Hunt Cards. As you get to know the game, you start to understand what’s important. The eyes instinctively look at the bottom of the card where all the crucial information is located. The Largest Text is the number circled at the bottom, which is the number of blood tokens everyone receives. Directly above this is the second largest text: the location, which grants certain characters a bonus if it matches their favorite hunting ground. A smaller text towards the top tells the name/type of the card, and directly above that is the moon phase symbol, nice and big. These are called Feeding Cards. All their text is White.

    If you flip a card and you don’t see a huge number, then it’s a different type of card: either a night track or invitation card- which still has the vital information at the bottom and top, or a slayer/were-wolf card that only has vital information at the top/middle. The eye immediately goes to the most important information first! EXCEPT IN ONE CASE.

    Feeding Cards

    There are a few Special Feeding cards let the main player draw an event card. The text that denotes this is a SMALL RED font with a WHITE outline, sandwiched between the title and a white bordered illustration. It doesn’t work for a few reasons. First, it’s the smallest font on the card by FAR. Second, it’s location is in a non vital area; if we see a number at the bottom, we don’t need to look at the top (unless the previous card was an invitation). Third, the white outline of the text overtakes the red text (because it is so small to begin with), and blends in with the white border of the illustration and the white title. Often times, the red color in the font is the same shade of red in the illustration and background color of the card (for red moon cards).

    The result is that the eye simply glazes over it and doesn’t see it, unless it’s hunting for it. Which is what we had to do. We missed the “Draw Event” text several times early on, and after realizing our mistake one of the guys secretly assigned himself the role of looking for it and would call it out to the rest of the group when it came up.

    The designers are good and it’s apparent that they noticed this too. They try to create visual tension by putting the text within a hair of the title and the middle illustration. They even add an image of a silver cross with a transparent aura that seem to reach out and point at the text. The idea being that you would see the Big number, then move to the location, then look at the cross and end at the “Draw Event” But alas with a game this fast paced, the text is just too small and not in the right place.

    I am of course knit picking. I love this game and highly recommend you go out and try it!

    On a somewhat side note, the night track on the back of the character cards is different from the larger one found on the box. It tries to more easily identify which side of the sun is Dawn and which is dusk. This is done by placing a smaller shiny sun symbol inside the left side of the sun for dawn, and a small crescent moon with twinkling stars on the right side for for dusk. While it has clearly succeeded in contrasting the two areas, it also got rid of the negative space (now it looks too cluttered compared to the other zones), which is what identified them as ZONES in the first place.

    Alternate Night Track

    Universal Head

    Well, that was fantastic, and I really enjoyed your indepth analysis of that game (which looks very interesting, I’ll check it out further). It also goes to show how many complex decisions go into what most people would think is the relatively straightforward process of graphic design.

    You bring up two things which are little bugbears of mine, one you’re aware of and one you don’t comment on. The former is small thin text with an outline. Outlining text is hardly ever a good idea—in fact I might say it’s never a good idea. If you feel that an outline around text would improve communication, then you need to go back and redesign the whole thing. It destroys the integrity of a typeface (good typefaces are beautiful things that take many hundreds of hours to create, and shouldn’t be modified) and almost always impedes communication rather than improving it. A classic case is the unit cards for Hell Dorado … check out this monstrosity for example:

    Hell Dorado card

    The other common blunder is increasing the text size of one letter, or in the case of the game above, two. Again, it destroys the beauty of the typeface, because when you increase the size of a letter, it becomes thicker. Even Fantasy Flight Games, usually responsible for very high quality work, have made this error with the new Warhammer 40,000: Conquest LCG:

    W40K Conquest

    Twice in fact: in the title and the traits list!

    If I increase the size of a letter in a logotype, I always spend considerable time and effort manually reducing the thickness of the larger letter so it matches the rest of the word. Not an ideal solution at the best of times, and certainly not a practical solution for an often-used design like these card titles. There are typefaces that have specially-designed large caps built-in so you can do this kind of thing properly. Just increasing the size of the first letter is a typographical no-no.

    Again, most people might not notice these things; but as you very correctly point out, these are subtle ‘stop signs’ that stop the flow of communication and, I think, are just plain ugly.

    Thanks GrandpaBob!

    Universal Head

    I should point out that, to my eternal shame, I made the outlining error when I designed the cards for Tales of the Arabian Nights. While not an outline, I attempted to increase the legibility of my white text on a dark-coloured background by giving it a small and relatively subtle tight dropshadow. Not quite an outline, but still a mistake I think. It makes me shudder now and I wish I had the opporunity to change it—if I could, I would make the text areas of all the cards an elegant, readable serif typeface, black on a light colour (like the Treasure cards, but with a simpler typeface).

    We all make mistakes—and are always learning! 🙂

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