T&E Board Development Part II

The latest development on this board can be seen above. There have been a lot of subtile changes from the gold inlay to highlight the rivers to final details of the frame. I chose to keep the playing field pretty dark and flat in tone to allow for contrast of the playing pieces as seen below.

Here, I've added a gold border to each piece to separate it from the background. A large field of color in each piece aids in identification at a glance. Furthermore, I've developed icons which are oriented in unique ways to better contrast each other. For instance, the king icon is diagonal, the priest is vertical, the trader circular and horizontal for the farmers. Not only does this help color blind players identify the pieces, it also adds a redundancy that makes for a high degree of scanability. Below a comparison between one board and another. This not to disparage the art of the previous publication but to highlight how certain principles of contrast can yield a greater degree of scanability. Note, how much easier it is to see patterns at a glance here with the newer art.

I speak of contrast quite a bit. This is the critical component in game board design. I often hear people say they prefer muted colors to let pieces pop off the board. They point out if a board is bright or busy or dark or otherwise the pieces will not separate. I'm afraid this is a misconception and wholely untrue. Indeed, while a muted background is one way to bring bits forward, there are many other techniques an artist may use. Contrast is the key and there are many different ways one can apply contrast to board/bit design. Color, for instance, has 3 components – hue, value and saturation. Hue being the color (red, green, etc), value or tone being how dark or light and saturation being how gray or bright a color is. Any of these components can be used or in combination as tools to achieve proper contrast. If a board is dark, light pieces can be used to contrast. If a board is warm colored, cool colors might be used to contrast. In addition, the properties of color are not the only ones that may be exploited for contrast – form, dynamics and many more properties are available to the designer. In all cases, application is an art that an experienced eye can best control. It is not a formula or science. It is not an absolute, but a spectrum of degrees.

I will be writing more about this in future articles and key elements that the designer must carefully consider and weigh when creating game art.

- Mike

---- Update ----
In response to Joe's comment on bit orientation, I thought I would see how effective patterns remain. Below is the examination. It still holds very well. This because the circle icons will have no effect and diagonals still read uniquely diagonal against the others. The horizontal and vertical icons could be improved, I suppose to form another shape, but it works well enough for me and satisfactory. This is a good example though how pictorial or iconic representation can enhance scannability when uniquely shaped. This exploits the fact that the eye does not have to go to the trouble to read what the details of the picture icons are – only the very basic shapes they form. Actually, this is how we read words. We don't read individual combinations of letters as much as the form that words create. In this way, we really are scanning words rather than reading letters.

– Mike