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22 March 2010

 Products The Guns of Gettysburg Design Diary 2D or Not 2D? That is the question.

2D or Not 2D? That is the question.

Beyond Ink and Paper

Most of the component design I do when designing games is creating artwork for printing, and I’ve shown you a fair amount of that. The game board, the box, the rules, counters, and stickers all fall into that category and are basically 2-dimensional designs (even if the box is a folded 2D design). However, some of the components I design aren’t like that: they aren’t like that: they aren’t ink on paper and they aren't 2D. Specifically, I’m referring to the wooden blocks I’ve used in both previous designs and the metal command stands used in Napoleon’s Triumph. These can’t be defined as artwork files for a printer to print on paper; they have to be defined in a different way.

No doubt someone with a mechanical engineering background would specify them using a CAD program, and if I had anything really complicated I wanted to do, it would no doubt make sense for me to learn how to use one, but as it is I just tend to fall back on paper specifications. Anyway, I thought I’d show you what non-printed components I’m having made for The Guns of Gettysburg and how I’m speccing them.

The Blocks

Block Specification
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The blocks I’m doing for this game are simpler than those for my previous two games because I’m not having them silk-screened. Otherwise, they are pretty much the same: red and blue wooden blocks 1.5"x.25"x.25". To the left is a thumbnail of the spec I wrote for the blocks, which you can click on to have it open full-size in its own window.

If it seems absurdly over-specified to you, then you’re getting the effect I intended to produce. You see, when I did Bonaparte at Marengo. I had to specify the wooden blocks, and I thought to myself: "Hey, they're just wooden blocks. How hard can it be?" and so I just drew a perspective shot of the block and wrote the dimensions on each side. What came back as a manufacturer's sample was a distorted hexoganal shape where my 3-D perspective rendering had been flattened into a 2-dimensional shape. Ummm. OK. I got it. You can't over-specify. And so you see how I do this sort of thing NOW.

The Battle Tray

Tray Specification
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Besides the blocks the other non-printed components in the game are the battle trays, which function rather like scrabble trays: players keep pieces in them so that they can see them and access them easily without having to show them to their opponent. In fact, the game's tray is so like a scrabble tray that during playtesting I used actual scrabble trays. Now of course, scrabble trays are made out of wood, but the tray for The Guns of Gettysburg will be made out of stamped metal: steel specifically.

So why use metal? Well, I used metal in Napoleon’s Triumph of course and discovered that people liked it. You don’t get metal components in games much (plastic can do almost anything in a game that metal can do and plastic is cheaper and lighter) and so metal pieces came as kind of a pleasant surprise to customers: the downside of plastic being cheap is that everybody KNOWS it is cheap and so it tends to cheapen the product. (I put three small plastic marker disks in Bonaparte at Marengo, and heard complaints about them many times.) Further, lighter isn’t always better: with something like a tray, you don’t want it scittering across the table every time it is touched: you want it to stay put. So plastic got ruled out early.

Now I know what you’re thinking: You’re thinking “Plastic? Who was talking about plastic? Scrabble trays aren’t made of plastic: They’re made of wood. Why not wood?” Well, the main reason is that the Civil War was the first major war that was really an industrial-age war, and I thought that metal would introduce an industrial quality to the game that would mesh well with the period. (Why not make the blocks metal as well? I actually inquired about metal blocks when I was doing Bonaparte at Marengo, and getting an even coat of paint on them was expensive and problematic, and kind of defeated one of the reasons for using metal in the first place since you couldn’t see it.) I also especially wanted to use metal somewhere in the game since I had already introduced metal in Napoleon's Triumph: having a mix of metal and wood in a Napoleonic game but just wood in a Civil War game felt subjectively wrong to me. Besides, I like metal myself.

Material choices, aside, however, the tray still needed to be designed. The most basic consideration was functional: the tray had to be wide enough to hold 8 tokens, plus a little extra space to avoid overcrowding. The minimum possible was 6", and I added an extra inch to come up with 7". Not a hard choice. The height, however, required a little more thought. The area holding the token needed to be a little shorter than a token, this was so the tokens would peek over the top; I wanted this so that players could see how many tokens their opponent had without asking (this information was never intended to be secret) and also so that they would be a little easier to pick up. Another consideration involved in designing the height was the valley in the tray where the tokens would rest. It was important that the valley not actually touch the table; this was to avoid creating a situation where the valley, the front edge, and the back edge would all have to be exactly the same height to avoid the risk of having the tray rock back and forth. By making the valley bottom higher than the front and back edge, the tray would be more stable.

A final consideration was the sizes of the various angles. I didn’t want to make them too tight because stamped sheet metal can get over-stressed if the angle is too sharp; a curve is easier to handle. As to why they are all exactly 60°, well, my dislike of trigonometry and my desire for round numbers in the spec is responsible for that. If I kept the angle at 60°, then I got to do math where the cos() of the length of each straight segment was half its length, the chord and radius of the curve segments were both round numbers and equal to each other, and by having the angles all match, it made it easy to calculate how long the front and back straight segments needed to be.

Box Top Revisions

Having exhausted the topic of the 3D component specifications, I thought I would provide an update on the design of three of the printed components, starting with the box top.

The top of the box underwent a minor revision just since the last diary entry. One of the folks commenting on the posted design, Brian Morris, expressed dissatisfaction with my subtitle “Battle to Save a Nation” on the grounds that it could have been the subtitle of ANY Civil War battle, and that perhaps something from the Gettysburg Address might be less generic and more appropriate for a Gettysburg game. Well, Brian wasn’t the first person to comment negatively on my subtitle; an old friend had complained that it sounded like something out of a high-school history textbook. Ouch. As it happens I admit that I chose the subtitle rather quickly and without a lot of thought: I was just designing the box, needed to put something there and went with one of the first ideas I had. I did have an affection for it though because I did like the ambiguity (it could be read as referring to either the Union or the Confederacy), but I thought that the criticisms had merit. And so I decided to accept Brian’s suggestion and take a look at the Gettysburg Address to see if Lincoln had had any good ideas. Unfortunately, although Lincoln had put together a pretty good speech, he didn’t seem to really have my game in mind when writing it, which is downright inconsiderate of him when you think about it. Still, I decided to play around with his speech and came up with a new subtitle: ‘That this Nation Shall Not Perish From the Earth", which has enough of the address in it that it SOUNDS like it comes from the Address, even though it doesn’t (quite), and it retains the ambiguity that I liked in the original. So I’m going to try it out:

Box top and sides

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Box Bottom Revisions

As I indicated in my last diary entry, I had a lot of areas of dissatisfaction with the previous box bottom design, and so I decided to take another crack at it. I change the picture so that it was horizontal rather than vertical, and so that it showed the blocks sticker sides instead of their tops. I think that shows the game off better than the old picture. I also revised the text, splitting it into two small boxes, one about the history and the other about the game. The thought was to let the visuals speak rather than the words, and so there isn’t really much text. My idea was that by showing players the pieces and the map, they can see both the resemblence of the game to its predecessors and get some idea of the differences as well. I am pretty conifdent that any wargamer looking at the map design would find it unfamiliary enough to accept, on that alone, the claim that this game was not like any other that they had played. So is this design a good idea? Well, maybe. Some days I like what I see, and other days I don’t like it as well. We’ll see how it wears on me and whether I get any ideas that I might like better. I will say though, that the clock is ticking and that I’m not about to hold up publication waiting for a better idea on a box design. When I get to the point where the rest of the game is ready, whatever box design I have is the one I’m going with.

Box top and sides

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Game Board Revisions

It occurs to me that I haven’t shown the full game board in a long time; not since August 2009 to be precise. Well, the board has changed some, mostly in subtle ways here and there in the map, but there has been one global change: I’ve deepened the colors on the map. My general philosophy with color is that the single most important thing about the color design is that the pieces and the map should not be sharply differentiated from each other. Pieces are small (compared to the map) and to jump out they need to have much stronger colors than the map. To make this happen, I’ve used very bold colors for the pieces (the blue and red chosen are both very strong, saturated colors) and much more muted colors for the map. As a result, my maps have often looked a little dull without the pieces on them, but when the pieces go on the map the pieces really visually pop, and it is the strong visual statement the pieces make against the map that gives the games their look.

Well, with the revised map, I’m making this my strongest map (in terms of color) so far. My thinking is that I really wanted to bring out the ridges a little more, and that I could do this by using stronger colors for them. I also thought I could get away with it because the contrast of the green map with the red and blue pieces was still very strong, and that on-balance the pieces could still make a strong visual statement, even against the stronger map color.

Old

Gettysburg Board

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New

Gettysburg Board

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That’s about it for now, although I still have other things I want to talk about in the design diary before winding it to a close. (And yes, that does mean that the long design cycle on this game is now near its end. Barring some major unforeseen problem, a release later this year will happen.)