Graphic Design in Tabletop Games

The responsibility of the graphic designer is highlighted in this card from Shadow Throne.

The responsibility of the graphic designer is highlighted in this card from Shadow Throne.

Today I’m going to discuss an often misunderstood topic, graphic design. I’ll get into more details below, but very quickly:

Graphic design is the conveying of information visually.

Given that tabletop games are almost completely visual, it shouldn’t be surprising that graphic design is essential to a successful game. But graphic design is a subtle art, and there’s a lot to discuss about it.

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Broken Mechanics

Today I’d like to address an issue brought up by one of my patrons: what do you do when a mechanic doesn’t work out? Do you have to scrap the whole project, or are there measures you can take to salvage some of it?

In design, dead end paths don't have warning signs, but you have to explore them anyway. Image from Brian Gaynor Photography.

In design, dead end paths don’t have warning signs. You have to explore to find out they’re dead ends. Image from Brian Gaynor Photography.

All designers are familiar with this topic, often with sad associations. Because as a designer, you need to expect “failures” like mechanics that don’t work. Why? Because we’re explorers! And explorers sometimes encounter dead ends. You need to take risks when you’re making games (or making anything, really), and sometimes those risks won’t work out as well as you hoped they would.

When that happens, it’s important to be able to identify the problem and move forward, learning from the experience rather than dwelling on the past. Remember, a good designer isn’t someone who never has bad ideas; a good designer is someone who knows how to recognize and move on from bad ideas.

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To Publish or Not to Publish

Nothing Sacred Games: design studio or publisher?

Nothing Sacred Games: design studio or publisher?

Those who have followed Nothing Sacred Games for its nearly four year existence know it’s been in the murky world between design studio and publisher that many small game companies find themselves in. With crowdfunding money alleviating risk, more accessible manufacturers willing to work on small projects, and a plethora of useful information to help guide you through the whole process, it’s never been easier to sidestep the slow and often painful process of pitching to established publishers and just publish your own games.

But like many growing board game companies, I now find myself at a crossroads. I’ve successfully released two games, Corporate America and Shadow Throne, and a third, Birds of a Feather, is right around the corner. But changing circumstances and shifting priorities are making me question the status quo (something I love to do here at Nothing Sacred Games) and rethink self-publishing for the near future.

So today I thought I’d discuss the pros and cons of self-publishing versus finding a publisher. At the end I’ll spend a little time discussing my particular circumstances and what my plans are for my next couple of games.

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The Tabletop Golden Age

We've come a long way since this was state of the art. Image from Board Game Geek.

We’ve come a long way since this was state of the art. Image from Board Game Geek.

One of my patrons recently asked about the board game golden age we’re currently going through. Things certainly seem rosy at the moment. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of new games released every year, and perhaps even more importantly, the quality of games has gone up immensely since the days of Monopoly and The Game of Life.

But many questions remain. Why is a golden age occurring now? When did it start, and how long will it last?

Today I’m going to speculate on some of these questions, which I hope will offer some insights into the hobby and industry, and may even offer a glimpse into where we’re headed next.

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The Strange Story of Second Age

second_age_coverToday I thought I’d share a little bit about one of my main current projects, The Second Age of Sorcery. It has quite the meandering story, and still might take me places I’ve never been. So pull up a chair and get ready for story time!

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Games in the Academy

Games have been an integral part of human cultures for thousands of years, if not tens of thousands of years. But it’s only been with the advent of a large and very lucrative digital game industry that large numbers of academics have begun to seriously study games in earnest. Now game departments are popping up in universities around the world.

At the request of one of my generous Patrons, today I’m going to discuss the type of academic work being done on games, and briefly mention a few universities with strong game programs. I’m not going to go into much detail, but I hope this gives a general overview that might send readers in the right direction if they’re thinking about getting into games more seriously.

Before I begin, you might be wondering what makes me qualified to talk about this. I was in a PhD program at UC Santa Cruz studying games for three and a half years, from 2008 to 2012. While I didn’t complete the program (I left to start Nothing Sacred Games), I was exposed to a lot of different facets of academic games, and met a lot of people from different schools. Now a number of the members of my cohort are at universities all over the world, starting or continuing games programs, so I’ve maintained ties to academia even though I’m very much a part of industry these days.

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Relative Numbers

Today I’m going to discuss some very mathy game design theory. If that’s not your thing, it’s probably best to steer clear now.

Working on Shadow Throne and some other prototypes, I realized I was making use of something I’ll call relative numbers in my games. After giving it a little thought, I realized that these numbers show up in many games, and for good reason. Today I’ll spend some time explaining what relative numbers are, give a few examples of how they show up in games, and finish by discussing why you might want to include relative numbers in your game.

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Solitaire Time Management

timeI find myself doing a lot of different things these days. Making games requires many different activities, from design, to playtesting, to balancing, to managing art and graphic design, to writing rules, to promotion, fund raising, and sales. And I’m not just making games–I’m also writing articles, running an online store, and always looking for new opportunities. Since I’m doing a lot of this myself, I have to structure my own time, and it’s not always easy to balance everything.

Today, I’m going to discuss some strategies I use to make sure I’m always making progress on important projects. There are two important concepts that help me structure my time: motivation and prioritization. I’ll cover each of them in detail below.

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Birds of a Feather Design Decisions

birds_of_a_feather_cover_finalThe Birds of a Feather Kickstarter is right around the corner (March 10th!), so I decided it’s time to share some stories from the game’s development. If you haven’t already checked out the free print and play, you might want to do that before diving into some of the details below.

Birds of a Feather is different from my previous games in many ways, most significantly because it’s very simple. It has a few core rules, but almost no special rules or exceptions. The rules fit on the front and back of a single sheet of paper with plenty of room for diagrams. This made the entire design process for the game very different from the other games.

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Corporate America Sell Out

When we last left off, over a year and a half ago, Corporate America had just begun hitting store shelves, and I was just beginning to get a grasp on its financial situation. Even though the Kickstarter was successful, I had to spend a pretty penny to finish and release the game.

corporate_america_kickstarter_vs_costSo, what’s changed in the 19 months since I posted that article?

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