Step 32: Working with an Artist

If you don’t self-publish then you often don’t get much of a say in the art for your game. Remember, it’s the publisher taking the risk in publishing it so it’s fully within their rights to make all decisions on the art. That said, if you have a good relationship with the publisher then you still have a voice during this stage. Once we submitted the game to be published, then it’s the publisher’s job to seek out an artist. It is possible to recommend an artist of course. I know that Matt Tolman really wanted Gavan Brown to do the art for his game, Undermining, for example, and that is actually what happened!

Train of Thought box artFor Train of Thought, Tasty Minstrel Games also chose Mr. Gavan Brown! Our first exposure to his art was when we were shown the box art. Immediately we both loved it. At the time, the train had the dragon from the Tasty Minstrel logo as a conductor riding the train. It was the only thing that wasn’t perfect and even though we had no ‘right’ to asking for art changes, we expressed our opinion. Fortunately Tasty Minstrel felt similarly and we all agreed to tweak it a bit. We were fortunate to work with a publisher that allowed us to express our thoughts on the art. Well, we say fortunate, but we’re not really sure what it’s like working with other publishers…yet!

The rulebook was another story altogether. Sen and I wrote the rules a long time ago and when Gavan took our words and put them into his art style – there was a clash. Our words were too stuffy and lawyer-y compared to the fun style that Gavan brought to the game. We did a quick re-write and that got incorporated into the rules as well.

Belfort was even more of a collaboration between us and the artist. When we first heard that Josh Cappel was doing the art, we were ecstatic! I remember buying the game Endeavor because of the awesome art that game has. Tasty Minstrel set up a page on Basecamp so we could see Josh’s art as he made it, and so we could all comment on it.

90% of time we were over the moon with what Josh Cappel provided for the art. There were a few examples where we requested some changes. Sometimes the publisher agreed with us and sometimes they didn’t. For example, there was one issue with the guilds on the board. Initially they didn’t have a spot for worker placement, which was fine as it was going to be on the Guild card, but when the art for the Guild cards came out, they too didn’t have a spot for a worker to be placed. Once this was brought up, Josh found a solution that made everyone happy. He re-jigged the board art so that there was room for a worker placement spot. This is the main reason why it’s great when the designer has input on the art process. I can see why a publisher wouldn’t want to give veto rights to a designer – but at least allow them input as they are (hopefully) the people who’ve played the game the most and would catch things that don’t fit with the game.

The only time I had an issue with the art was the back of the box. Josh put a lot of humour in Belfort and so he had a very funny letter covering most of the back of the box. It was really fun, but my opinion about the back of board game boxes is that it should show as many pieces of the board game as possible. Fortunately everyone was in agreement and new art was made and it was perfect! Now it’s the most perfect-est box back ever!

We were lucky to be paired up with not only excellent artists so far, but with artists that are very collaborative. May you be so lucky in your game designs! The take away for us on this is that you should try to ensure you are allowed some sort of input on the art process. While this probably won’t be put in the contract (but maybe it should be somehow), hopefully you’ll be working with a publisher that wants to collaborate with you as much as possible. Also, you shouldn’t be afraid to express your concerns, though you need to know which battles are worth fighting. We might have had other issues here or there (though I don’t think we did!), but only really expressed our concern if we thought it would impact the game play or the game’s sell-ability.

-Jay Cormier

To me, this was probably the most exciting stage of the whole process of bringing a game to market. While its fun to work on the initial design and it’s awesome to finally get the finished product in hand, there’s something about watching a skilled artist take something that’s just a dream in your head or some chicken scratching on paper and make it 200 times better than you could even imagine!

Gavan had the difficult task of working with a party game that was really just words. Oh, our original prototype had train car on the backs of the cards that you could connect to see who made the longest train, but that was about it for real graphics. What Gavan did with the game, however, was give it a “face”. He created the conductor from scratch, giving the game a human mascot – a talking head – that we could use for expository purposes. Gavan also implemented a ton of design elements on the box that make it that much more effective packaging using elements that Jay and I would never have thought of – things like the ISBN number and the vertical spine – to make it shelf-friendly in a potential mass-market situation.

Josh had the potentially staggering task of creating what amounts to a whole game world from scratch. And not one that he had dreamed up, but one that two other dudes had knocking around in their noggins! Belfort gets many compliments on the great artwork Josh provided and if there was an award for best game artwork, Belfort would be a strong contender – the in-game humour, references to other games, and hidden gems are just a few of the reasons why the Belfort artwork is tops in my (biased) book. Speaking of books, if there was an award for best game rulebook, I would also humbly submit that Belfort might be *the* best game rulebook this year. And a huge part of the credit for the layout, flow, and humour inherent in the Belfort rules comes from Josh. He took our ruleset and reformatted and rephrased things in a way that better suited the witty, anachronistic fantasy world that he had drawn for Belfort and it all took shape from there.

The synergy generated between us (the designers), the developer and publisher, and the artists we’ve worked with on our games has been nothing short of eye-opening and pudding-eaten proof that a well thought out product and a game that is literally *designed* for maximum impact in all aspects can deliver much more than the sum of it’s parts. I look forward to working with Josh and/or Gavan again and would recommend them without question to any publisher looking for more than just an illustrator, but a game-specific graphic designer who can not only draw and design, but oversee other artists when more content is needed (see Gavan’s work on Eminent Domain for an example of this).

-Sen-Foong Lim

Adventures in Essen, Part 4: The Publishers

While Sen shared with you the overview of which publishers expressed interest in which games – I thought I’d expand on it a bit and give you some more details about what exactly went down!

We pitched to many publishers and while no contracts were signed and no promises made, we have a lot of exciting prospects that we’re looking forward to in the next few months.

Kosmos: They liked Swashbucklers, EIEI-O and Train of Thought. Since I had an extra copy of rules, I gave them the rules to EIEI-O. I had no idea how big Kosmos was as I only knew them as the publisher of some great 2 player games. Apparently board games are only about a third of their business with books and science kits/toys making up the rest. It would certainly be a boon to be published by Kosmos!

Update: They have the rules to EIEI-O and have emailed us to let us know that they are reviewing it. We should know in a couple months whether they are interested or not. They also asked Tasty Minstrel Games for a copy of Train of Thought to review.

Pegasus Spiel: They really liked Swashbucklers and commented that their Roll Through the Ages was successful and they could see the same success for Swashbucklers! They also liked all our party games: Train of Thought, Clunatics and Lost for Words. Pegasus is new to the party game genre with Pictomania being released this year, so they might have to wait to see if it works out for them. If it does they said that Clunatics will be a bit challenging to localize (as that game involves common North American idioms) but it’s nothing that a quick Google search couldn’t help! Pegasus is huge in Europe and would be fantastic if we could get a game in with them.

Update: I’ve sent an email to them to see if they’re interested in Lost for Words and am awaiting a response.

Huch & Friends: They liked Clunatics and would like a prototype of it. For them, Swashbucklers was too in the middle as Huch prefers games that are either lighter or heavier! They were interested in taking a look at Belfort and I’ve introduced them to Tasty Minstrel. They also were interested in Bermuda Triangle and have asked for the rules to be emailed to them. Done and done. A prototype for Clunatics has being sent off to them as well.

Update: They have received Clunatics and told us that mid-November is when they are playtesting all the submitted prototypes. They let us know that we should expect some feedback by end of November!

Quined: Quined had our prototype of Akrotiri before Essen and had played it a couple times already. They said they were still fascinated by it but had a few concerns or questions about it. Sen and I agreed with their comments and so we spent a few weeks before Essen coming up with and playtesting ideas that could improve the game. We believe we came up with a winning solution and I now love the game even more than I did before (and it was already my favourite game of ours!). Not only did it fix the issues they expressed, but it also reduced the playtime down to 60 minutes for a 4 player game! That’s gold! So I had some time with Quined and got to take them through all the changes. We didn’t really get to play it, but they at least got a verbal explanation. I left them the new prototype and will follow up in a couple months.

Update: There has been email communication since Essen, but mostly just a confirmation that they have the prototype and plan on playing it soon. I imagine their plates are quite full with the release of Alba Longa!

Queen: I also was at Essen to pitch a game from fellow Game Artisan of Canada, Matt Musselman. I had played his wine-making game, Bordeaux many times and have always liked it, so I let him know that I’d be happy to pitch it to publishers since he wasn’t going to Essen this year. Normally this would mean I’d be entering Agent status, but since Matt is a friend I told him that if he sets up the meetings, then I’ll attend them and pitch his game without worrying about being an Agent. Matt set up a meeting with Queen and Alea and Queen was my first of the meetings.
I started with the Sales Sheet – as Matt followed our advice and made up a pretty swanky Sales Sheet. After a few moments he wanted to play it so I bust it out and set it up. After one round I recommended we play one more as that would really help showcase the other aspects of the game. Once we finished that round the publisher just kept playing, so we kept playing. We were joined by another rep from the publisher and we kept playing as we explained what was happening. We ended up playing the entire game! This seemed to be very atypical to me as I had never had more than 5-10 minutes for a game! They had some concerns but were interested in checking out the game further. As an FYI – the publisher and I tied at the end, and I couldn’t remember the tie-breaker. Regardless, that’s a great way to end the game since we both had different paths to victory.

I asked if they had time to look at a game or two from me and they said they had another 15 minutes or so. I first showed them Belfort and they expressed interest in checking it out and I’ve introduced them to Tasty Minstrel Games to figure out the next steps. We played a couple rounds of Swashbucklers and they seemed to really like it with the publisher stating that it was “great.” It was funny because on the first round I rolled Cannons and attacked one of the publishers and stole his treasure, then later in the round, the other publisher rolled Swords and attacked him and stole a treasure too. I was worried that he would feel ganged up on, but he realized that he failed to defend himself and left himself open to the attacks! They were really quite enthusiastic about it! I still had some more meetings with other publishers so I said I’d be back near the end of the Fair and they said that was cool.

After evaluating all the publishers that wanted Swashbucklers, Sen and I felt that Queen would be the best fit, and it helped that they were the most enthusiastic about it as well.
When I returned to their booth on Saturday, I asked a random Queen staff member if my contact was around and he asked if I had an appointment. I said that I did yesterday and that I was here to drop off a prototype. This random rep asked me, “Is it Swashbucklers?” Imagine my surprise! How the heck did he know about Swashbucklers? He said that the guys I met told him all about it. Wow – that’s a good sign! I met up with my contacts and let them know that many publishers expressed interest in Swashbucklers but that we thought that Queen was the best fit and that we really appreciated the enthusiasm they had. They both seemed genuinely thankful that I chose to bring the game to them. I’m really excited about Queen publishing Swachbucklers! Here’s hoping that their playtest sessions go well in the next few months!

Update: We received an email from Queen stating that Swashbucklers has made it through one round of playtesting! If it makes it through the next round, then they said they will publish it!! Exciting!

Alea: Started with a Bordeaux demo as it was Matt who set up the meeting. Started with the Sales Sheet and then reviewed the gameplay by giving an overview of the mechanics with pieces I pulled out of the baggie. He was interested in checking it out further!
We had some time so I asked if he would be interested in seeing some games from Sen and I, and he said he was. I showed him Train of Thought and played a couple rounds with him. He was intrigued and he took 10 cards or so to show his colleagues. He also liked Lost for Words, Clunatics and EIEI-O and took the Sales Sheets for each with him.
After confirming which publisher Matt would prefer to hand over the prototype of Bordeaux to, he said Alea and so I returned the following day to drop it off (Tip: Always give it directly to the person you had your pitch session with and not with a random rep from the publisher. I waited 15 minutes outside the ‘office/room’ to make contact with this specific person).

Update: Got a message from Alea that said they will be testing Bordeaux further, but they weren’t interested in our other games at this time.

Jolly Thinkers: This is a new publisher in China with an interesting back story. They started as a board game café and then grew and grew. They became so popular that 4 other board game cafés opened nearby. These competitors actually used Jolly Thinkers as a distributor for the games they wanted. Now Jolly Thinkers wants to get into publishing games! Gavan Brown and I met with them as I pitched Train of Thought and Gavan pitched Jab. They were really nice people and seemed to really dig both games. We played a round of Train of Thought and then we let them play a round of Jab. After playing Jab they asked us to play it so they could watch how it’s supposed to go. I was a bit nervous as I hadn’t played in a long time. Regardless, we played and I actually beat Gavan at his own game! Wee! It was fun and I think it really showcased the game well as I was focused on combos and Gavan was focused more on haymakers. They took a copy of each with them.

Update: No real update. Waiting for email response.

Hans Im Gluck: One of the publishers that I didn’t have a specific time slot scheduled for was with Hans Im Gluck. They said in their email that they were pretty booked up but I should stop by and see if they can squeeze me in. I did stop by and we found a time to meet up. This entire pitch session was done just with Sales Sheets as the publisher preferred it that way. He liked Bordeaux, Bermuda Triangle and Swashbucklers. We would love to partner with Hans Im Gluck and so I handed over Bermuda Triangle right away and gave them sales sheets for the other two.

Update: No real update on this one yet.

Needless to say, we had an amazing Fair with regards to our publisher meetings. Each publisher we met expressed some interest in at least one of our games and that’s a good feeling. We still have a long road ahead for each of these games, but at the very least, putting a face to the name, and having a name to follow up with is a huge, huge benefit! Stay tuned to this blog for updates as we get them about any of our upcoming games.

Coming up next: Part 5 of the Adventures in Essen series in which I review all the best practices for a designer at Essen. If you’re a designer and planning to go next year – then bookmark the page so you can come back to it next year!

-Jay Cormier