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The City Illustrations, part 1

I put an add on craigslist a little over a month ago seeking an illustrator.  I received lots and lots of responses (by the way, graphic design/illustrator folks - if you don't have your work put together in a sharp, online portfolio that's easy to see, you're pretty much out of the game).  I also looked at some sites like, which has quite a few very good illustrators and nice examples of their work.   Finally, I asked around in Ann Arbor to see about local illustrators.

As is often the case, the personal networking payed off - I found Rachel McGuffin through a friend.  She's a fantastic, young local illustrator / graphic artist who was excited about the project and concept from the get go.  She has a great site (several, actually) where she has posts her work - .  The cool looking pictures below are hers - the crappy ones are mine :)

And so our collaboration begins.  Our outline for the next few months is:

1) Define a style and color scheme - We're iterating a single character design in a variety of ways to identify a style that fits.  The narrative behind The City is primarily about community.  Community is actually a tough thing to express artistically.  For example, if you want a wild west theme, like the game BANG! does, it's pretty easy - you put bullet holes in the card borders and give a dusty appearance to the card background and viola! it looks 1875!  How do you do the same thing to express an abstract concept like community?  Our initial test character, an Appalachian mountain boy named Forrest, is shown here in a variety of iterations and color schemes.

2) Create the narrative and character backgrounds - We'll have 12 characters with distinct story lines and personalities.  The goal is for the players to be able to empathize with all of the characters (even ones who are very different than themselves), from a libertarian industrialist to a inner city anarchist.  For Rachel to get her artistic groove on, she needs some insight on who these characters are, what they do, where they came from, how they think, etc.  That's where I come in.  I'm not quite ready to share the character narratives yet, but I definitely will in the next few weeks.

3) Create the drawings for the game cards (character cards, special cards, resource cards, etc.) - This will be a highly iterative process.  It's about Rachel and I being on the same page, and making sure that each card expresses exactly what we want.  Since I don't have the artistic technical language to express to Rachel what I'm looking for, I often scour the web for illustrations with similar concepts and say "similar to this", or "like this but..." or "here's what I don't like...".  Making a great game illustration is a tricky thing - you want each card to have an immediate impact / make an immediate connection with the viewer (funny, silly, evil, etc.).  However, game art is different than art in a gallery - people are going to see these cards over and over and over.  As a result, we need enough detail that even on the 100th view of a card people can find something new.  That may be a complex facial expression (think Mona Lisa), or small detail work that you just don't see on first glance (a cluttered room with lots of stuff in it, for example, has lots of separate objects to identify).  Finally, in our game we really want players to make an empathetic connection with all of the characters, so we need variety while avoiding certain traits which make empathy difficult (like pure evil, overt greediness, etc).  The illustration/graphic design requirements for the game are 12 character cards, 8 - 10 Community Meeting cards (special actions), 5 - 7 event cards, the land tile surface, the box, and some art in the instructions.

Tree border - beware! non-artistic person (me) attempting to express artistic concepts!

4) Create borders, fonts, card backs, etc. - Slapping a character drawing on a piece of card-stock paper unfortunately isn't good enough to make a game.  All card games have borders which help support the desired style and feel.  Again, BANG! is a good example -  My personal favorite cards are in the game Citadels -  Citadels does a great job of having the illustrations be front and center which is probably what we want for The City (unlike Magic cards or Dominion where the text or other information on the card take up a lot of real estate).  It's also important to note that some ideas for borders force a specific perspective on the illustration itself.  For example the picture to the left which uses a tree to border the card on the left side - interesting idea, but the character now has to be standing at least as far away from you as the tree - so no closeups!  That's very restrictive.





Box cover or back of card concept - "thinking man" on roof of new community with moon rising behind. Again, this is definitely not Rachel's work, it's me.

5) Create the game board surface and box art - The City will have land tiles similar to Settlers of Catan (but not hexagonal) and will look similar to the perspective in Where's Waldo or Carcassonne - top down but slightly to the side.  I would like to integrate some of the characters into the board surface itself (Where's Waldo style) and add other fun details and/or scenese.  We're so far away from creating the box art itself it's hard to think about (though I've got one concept sketch down), but obviously that's the first selling point of the game so it needs to be great!




acrylic power pole for The City

Next Time

In addition to all this artistic work, I've made a ton of progress on the rules and the physical gameplay (how the electricity distribution system is going to work).  I think I've got a solid foundation for the electrical system which is doable which I hope to describe in detail (both concepts with some physical examples) next time.  So hand crank generators, solar panels, LEDs, and circuit boards here we come!

Oh, and as we develop more finished concepts, we'll put them up on a wiki (pictures, narrative and character descriptions, as well as the game rules) which will be a more organized and easy to follow document as compared to these blog posts which are a bit more train of thought.


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