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17 March 2010

 Products The Guns of Gettysburg Design Diary Tops and Bottoms

Tops and Bottoms

Slogging Away

Well, it has been a while since the last diary entry. As I look at the dates, I am struck again (as I often am and no doubt you are too) by what an incredibly slow designer I am. So what’s been going on? Well, playtesting mostly. As I’ve been wearing out testers, the pace of testing has slowed, which has caused the design time to drag out as well. All my fault of course: the testers have done fine work in spite of being sent into the salt mines again and again.

For months, testing has been almost entirely about balance, which has been a brutally tough problem. I think the balance is about right, but I have wobbled on a technical point in the objective movement system for the last couple months, but have finally come to a decision. I think the overall balance will have a bit of a pro-Union tilt, but I think that’s ok in a Gettysburg game. Anyway, this diary entry isn’t actually about that. It is about the game box.

The Box Top

The top of the box hasn’t changed much, although I did decide to revise the dimensions somewhat. The current box top design (top and sides; they are printed as one piece and then the sides folded down) is shown below:

Box top and sides

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The Box Bottom

What’s new, however is the box bottom. I really should have done this months and months ago, but haven’t been enthused about any of my ideas, and with playtesting going on and on, it hardly seemed necessary to hurry. I’m still not sold on this completely, but I thought I’d let you see the work as it stands:

Box top and sides

Click on the image above to open in its own window

Things I like

I like the idea of using the map art as the background for the box. I am very pleased with the map visually, and think that it just looks cool used this way. It is visually interesting, and there are lots of little historical details to be found by anyone who studies it. Further, the regulatory overlay looks interesting, and I hope that it will be intriguing to people. It certainly looks different enough that nobody will mistake it for just another Gettysburg game.

Another successful element are the sides to the bottom (which you can’t see until you take the top off the box). These are decorated with portraits of the various high-ranking commanders. I’ve been drawn to this idea for some time, but got stuck on the stupid problems of how to frame them and who to include. Once I decided on using the game map as the background, what worked really well was not to frame them at all: just put them directly against the map art. If you have a good memory and have been a reader of this diary, you may recall that the game at one point was to have cards, and the cards would have portraits of the commanders: and you can see those same portraits here, with a slightly different cropping. As to who to include, I decided to include all the commanders named in the game, the top commanders, and I threw in Henry Hunt (the commander of the Union artillery) for good measure. One other thing I really like was the idea of alternating Union and Confederate commanders, rather than having Union commanders on one side and Confederate commanders on the other; it just feels right for a war that pitted men against each other who had been colleagues (and often friends) before the war, and who had never dreamed that they would be fighting each other.

As a side note, I have always regarded the mid-nineteenth century as The Golden Age of Men’s Facial Hair. Look at these guys: Not one of them could come close to meeting current U.S. Army grooming standards, which somewhere along the line aquired some rather peculiar, but fiercely held, beliefs as to the compatibility of facial hair (and scalp hair length for that matter) and soldiering. If anyone knows anything about the U.S. Army’s history in this regard, and would like to share what you know with me, I’d be glad to hear from you.

Things I don’t like

Well, first of all “don’t like” is probably a little strong: have “mixed feelings about” captures my views better. The first thing is that the idea of doing two parallel columns on the back, one graphical and one textual seemed like a better idea than it worked out. The problem is that the graphic column is very close to the background (necessarily) and so it doesn’t really visual balance the text column. The resulting design looks lop-sided.

With regard to content, the historical narrative is written from a Confederate point of view, which is partly ok, because this was a Confederate offensive, and the Union was in a very reactive role, but I just can’t get fully comfortable with it. My problem is that although my only ancestors that fought in the war (that I know of) fought on the southern side, and I find it all but impossible not to be impressed by the courage and other personal qualities of many of the southern officers and men, the Confederate cause just isn’t something I have any sympathy for, and the point of view of the narrative therefor just isn’t one I can get comfortable with. Also, although my game subtitle on the cover “The Battle to Save a Nation” has a deliberate ambiguity as to which nation I’m referring to, the back of the box text undermines that very ambiguity. Still, as a summary of the history, I think the text a pretty good dramatic narrative, and I suppose I could live with it if I don’t come up with anything else I like more.

One other thing that bothers me about the text is the balance between historical narrative and game summary: the text is about 3/4 history and only about 1/4 game, and I’m not sure at all that that’s a good balance: Do I need this much historical explanation about a subject as famous as Gettysburg? Shouldn’t the game tell potential customers more about the game (about which they know nothing) and less about the battle (about which they may already know a great deal)? Overall, this probably just isn’t right and should be fixed.

The last thing is that the overhead game picture show doesn’t show the faces of the units, which are really quite pretty and should be shown off on the box. Still, in an overhead shot you just don’t see them, and I wanted to show the battle-map/game-board resemblance, which shows best from above. I tried an off-angle shot, but the vertical column didn’t compose well that way. Really, to show off the pieces with a lower-angle shot I need a horizontal image, not a vertical one.

Revisions to the design to deal with the above issues are more than likely, but as of right now I haven’t decided what I want the box to look like instead. Until I do, the current design will stand as a placeholder. At least now I’m working to revise an existing design rather than doing a from-scratch design. It always feels good to have a complete draft under my belt, even if I know it still needs work.

And Now for Something Completely Different…

While playtesting for Gettysburg has crawled along, I haven’t been entirely idle. In fact, I’ve started spade work for my next game. It has no title, no box, no rules, and no pieces. What it does have is a subject, a general plan about how it is going to work, and some very, very early map design, which I’m going to show you. Now, the artwork you see isn’t mine: that’s just the various source maps I’m using cobbled together. (The way I make maps is to trace over source maps.) Anyway, here it is:

East Front Map

That this is a map of eastern Europe will of course be immediately obvious to pretty much anybody reading this diary. (And if it isn’t, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.) What is less clear than where is when, although most readers could probably figure it out without help from me if they look at it closely. However, I’ll spare you the trouble and tell you outright: This is a WWII map and my newest game is a strategic east front game. For quite a while I’ve had some ideas about how to do one that I’ve thought were very cool, but there were too many gaps in my thinking for me to start design work. Over the last few months, that has changed and I’ve gotten started. This is the first time, by the way, that I’ve done what any sane person would do and started the next game while finishing up the current game: overlapping the designs is just so much more efficient. As to why I haven’t done it before, it is because I’m a notoriously poor multi-tasker, and it is a very hard skill for me to learn.

There is of course a lot I COULD say about this project, but I’m not going to. At some point it will get its own design diary (after it gets a title might be a good time to start) and that is where I will go into it. For now, all I’m going to say is that the game does not involve wooden blocks or any other design element used in my previous games. It is a clean sheet of paper design, owing nothing to my previous work, nor to any other WWII game I’ve ever played. I’m really excited about it and am targeting a 2011 release date.

Buh-Bye

Anyway, that’s all for now. Hope you‘re glad to see that The Guns of Gettysburg isn’t dead, even if work has been moving so slowly lately that such an impression would be understandable. The game really is coming along, and I think that in the end, it will be worth the wait!