El Capitán Board and Card preview

Below you will see some more work I have done for QWG’s El Capitán – a game which I eagerly await to play. The game, incidentally, is being printed simultaneously by ZMan Games, Pro Ludo and Ystari. Aside from the box (QWG will get the Master Print Series treatment) and rules, the game will be the same for all productions.


The board was great fun to create. Given the theme and romance of sailing the 16th century Mediterranean seas, I had thought the game could be a very rich one. Here, I have treated this program with a good amount of wood detailing inspired by the detailing and predominance in the world of wooden ships. Incidentally, I really like using natural materials in board games as they harken back to centuries old productions of wood and other basic materials. It adds the warmth and physical attraction that boardgames are all about. The basic viewpoint of the board is loosely inspired by a captain's table. Here, we have destinations framed in wood and sitting on a blue cloth. The cloth serves to contrast the wood and help these areas pop out. Additionally, with the blue cloth’s rolling and waving features, it suggests navigating the seas. In the beginning, of the creative process, there had been the notion to set an image of waves behind cities. But this seemed very expected and what would be a typical execution for a boardgame. Also typical would have been to create some sort of old world map broken up into 9 pieces. In the end, we went with this look which I think rich, warm and inviting while maintaining an iconic presence. Such an iconic presence is another function of graphic design beyond information design, thematic design and aesthetic considerations.

For the cities themselves, we have included the wooden framed track which has been stained in areas to highlight a game function, a pattern indiginous to that place and a romantic image of the spot overlayed with a map. Additionally, embedded on the top are port and fortress icons. A seal finishes the map off which indicates each city’s location on the map. Each city is located on the board relative to the others in real life and snaps into this simple 3x3 grid. By the way, the cities’ names are their native spellings.

The real heart of the game, though, is the numbers. As this is an area majority style game, the numbers represent payment to first majority player (halved for second majority – rounded down). I chose to only include the first majority numbers as it is an easy enough instruction and calculation for second majority. Indeed, showing the second set of numbers became more confusing. Not only did it clutter the board with more information to decipher, it suggested that there was not such an easy pattern for second majority. The implication for showing all the numbers is that there is no pattern and thus need to reference each number. I know from working with both sets of numbers in the beginning on the board it took quite a long time for me to notice, “Oh, yeah, these numbers are just halved!” You can see side by side below how the reduction really helped the clutter. Multiply this by 9 cities and it was a huge difference. In the end, the basic game boils down to 3 types of cities based on the numbers – an expensive, high reward city, middle of the road city and cheep, less profitable city. Wolfgang and Rösner worked on the distribution of the cities quite a bit for a new balance.

The final city on the left and earlier version on the right. Clearly, showing both numbers is distracting. As the second set of numbers are simply half the first, it is easy enough to explain and calculate without showing them.

One of the interesting points of game play is the notion of the shutting down of warehouses – which players purchase and place on the numbered track. Basically, the pieces are put in the track to the next available space to the right. When a warehouse is built on a darker colored space this triggers a warehouse to be “shut down.” Essentially, then the warehouse that is located in the furthest position to the left (the first warehouse found on the track) is thrown in the middle of the board and is no longer counted for majority. A player can then come back to the city (they dock in one of the two ports on the top left) and take their shut down building from the middle of the board and replace it on the track in the first avail spot to the right of the last warehouse. This action is for free. Now the catch here is that when determining majority ties are resolved with the first person on the track. So, having one’s warehouse shut down isn’t so great! The half dark spaces are for 2 player games only.

By the way, the cost to build a warehouse is the number in the port in which one docks in. Only one player is allowed in a dock at a time. There are always 2 docks (the exception being the expansion cities) – one dock allows for cheaper building the other pricier.

On the right side of the board, we have the payout table, a place for the decks of cards and a spot to travel to when getting a loan (in between the two decks of cards). For the payout table, I found some images of shipping manifests that were roughly of the period and picked up the numbers on them. (I find it fascinating to think that some individual – hundreds of years ago – scribbled down some type that would later be used for a game to describe his condition.) The decks of loan cards are the two values of loans that you can take out here.

The Payout Table from the board. The type was taken from a ship’s manifest created around this period of time. The left hand column being the number of cities one has buildings in and the right hand being the payout in money. Note the crease in the middle separates the expansion cities if you are playing with more than the base 0f 9.

A “Multi Travel” card. The seals represent distance (in cities) one can travel. The coin is the cost to buy the card. The city is another destination one can take. The “pip grid” indicates the city’s position on the board.

Next we have what the author/publisher calls a “Multi Travel” card. The only way you can purchase buildings on a city is by traveling there and the only way you can travel there is to purchase one of two types of cards – Multi Travel or Specific Travel. In this case, the Multi Travel card entitles a player to move either directly to the city pictured or to any city within a distance no greater than the number of seals on the top. In this case, a player could choose to go directly to Marseille or could go up to 3 orthogonally adjacent cities away from their current location. Toward the middle of the card, I created this little pip icon which frees players from having to think about the names. The position on the icon is the position on the board. Just below the seals is the cost of the card. Cities with more seals are worth (cost) more as they are more useful.

In another entry, I will be previewing the expansion cities that come with the game. Players will be able to add any of these cities to the base 9 on the board for some interesting combinations. This will expand the game to 10-12 total cities depending on players’ tastes.

– Mike