Greg and I returned Sunday from GenCon 2016. It wasn’t our first GenCon, but we might as well have been con virgins because it was the first time we attended with the board game designer eyes and ears. We attended panels hosted by many of the gaming industry’s top practitioners and creators. We went to two panels presented by Panda Game Manufacturing and were treated to pizza. Thanks, Panda folks! We had lunch with our new lawyer and fun guy, publisher of the Legal Moves podcast, Zachary Strebeck. We also had a sit down chat with Jamey Stegmaier of Stonemaier Games who was wonderful! We already knew a lot about the industry from our research but we came away just buzzing with knowledge and inspiration.
One of my favorite pastimes at the con was dropping into First Exposure Playtest Hall run by Double Exposure (organizers of DEXCON, DREAMATION, METATOPIA and the Envoy Program). The game designers pay a fee to run their playtests with games a various stages of completion. This is a great service to gamers as it gives folks access to gaming experiences they may never have seen before. I didn’t get the free tickets ahead of time but I managed to get squeezed into two playtest sessions. There was a fantastic game called Quod Heroes that sported fun cube-shaped character minis with great board mechanics. (I couldn’t find my flyer so the name of the designer escapes me. If anyone knows, please tell me and I will put my kudos where they belong!) The artwork was fantastic. I can tell that it will be a fun Kickstarter campaign.
I played in a session for another game where, unfortunately, the graphic design brought down an otherwise fun game. One of the game creators very proudly explained that he had learned Adobe Illustrator in order to create their game. And he certainly did well for a novice. He was able to pull some formatting and interesting graphic elements together. Where the novice usually falls short is in the area of typography. Look up the definition of typography. You will find out that there is more to it than typing the words and picking fonts.
The software can fool you. It democratizes project creation to a great degree. You CAN produce cards and boxes and boards… certainly you can! But there is something that a professional graphic designer can provide for you… professional results. In graphic design classes, the digital tools are a fraction of what is taught. The real task is to train the eyes and mind. The eyes must find all the subtle details… the spaces between letters, images and edges. The mind should be able to create more than one level of communication… not only what is spelled out by the words but the mood, atmosphere and, if possible, underlying concepts of the product itself. This is design. Is it easy? No. Can it be learned? Yes — after years of training and experience.
I think the real question to ask is what do you want to do? Are you intensely interested in layout and design… or do you want to play with game mechanics, strategies and social interactions? Go ahead and roughly lay out the game if you like, but get someone to put that extra level of professionalism into your brainchild. There’s too many games out there vying for the attention of gamers to settle for rough design.
So, what do you need to know to be able to spot great design? That’s what I want to tell you in this blog. I’m going to talk about the little things that make graphic design shine. Here is an example. I’d like to know what you think about this sample of typography. In the first example, I simply chose a typeface and typed in the word. the second sample, I designed a title… though perhaps not a FINAL design since that takes a LOT of time to do well. See if you can spot the difference. In my next blog, I’ll tell you what I did differently.