Importance of a Graphic Designer’s Eye in Tabletop Design

I’m back! I’ve been hard at work these past few weeks: I wrote a short story and submitted it to Visions Magazine (wish me luck); I tweak mechanics and balanced my tabletop game a bit more; and I—

Can you stop bragging at get to it already?

I’ve started experimenting with different designs for the various assets of the game. I may expand this topic out to a small series as there’s a lot to consider when weighing how your game looks. What I find is important to understand is that above all, your UI of your game (meaning the iconography, text, and layout of it all) should come first and foremost before your artwork. My high-level design phases and the order in which I tackle them are somewhat like this:

  1. Player interactions (genre, vibe, and allegiance that I want between players)
  2. Mechanics and rules (including the rulebook)
  3. Theme (story that I’d like to tell, emotions that I’d like to stir)
  4. Player UI (assets, icons, formatting, layout—everything that isn’t artwork)
  5. Artwork (the finish touches here, artwork should sell the above 4 phases)

These aren’t necessarily all completed in a consecutive fashion—there’s major overlap as I move on to new phases. Regardless, I think it’s more difficult to be restricted by some theme that you set when you need to fiddle with mechanics. It’s weird to have a set UI when you haven’t settled on the theme and the mechanics aren’t at least 75% solid. (Now, you should have a messy version of your game for playtesting, but the Player UI phase is when you should be making the semi-final decisions.)

But you’re wrong about 90% of your decisions

Wait are you asking me or telling me?

All of these phases can be playtested in their own way. You can perform UI tests with players to see if they understand icons with minimal or no assistance. You can poll to see how exciting the theme of your game is. And, even the artwork can and should be open to playtest criticism. What if a piece of artwork is good, but doesn’t make since with that card or token? What if the art style is just not fun enough for a lot people to get jazzed about your game?

As I mentioned earlier, I’m tweaking some mechanical aspects of my game…I’m also still working on some aspects of the theme of the game. (I’ve more or less settled on a rococo inspired theme with anthropomorphized animal kingdoms.) But that’s not stopping me from revamping my icons.

Here are a few examples of some vote token icons that I’ve been working on:

Screen Shot 2019-05-27 at 2.14.29 PM
Left is the old icon that I’ve been using as a placeholder. Right is a version I’m considering for the game. (Currency in the game is called acorns.) 
Screen Shot 2019-05-27 at 2.14.22 PM
Left is the placeholder, right is a close to final version.

The icons on the left are placeholders that I’ve found on thenounproject.com which I’ve just been using for playtests.

The ones on the right I’ve designed myself. The one that I’m designing for Economy needs more contrast between the foreground icon and the background, but I think it’s almost there!

That’s all for now—I’m planning on pairing something to drink with a few games in the not-too-distant future and I have a lot more content on UI design that I’m planning on showing everyone soon.

Until next time!

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