Graphic Design and Unusual Twists

All of the pieces have fallen in to place and I’ve finally seen a complete card come together for “Shenanigans: The Musical”. It’s not turned out how I might have expected, but I’ve got a full set printed and collectively they look pretty sweet. Have a gander:


What is this devilry? We can’t just go rotating cards nintey degrees! Even if the sorceror of the shore don’t have a problem it’s just not done. Players won’t know what to do with a card that’s oriented all strangely and why should we expect them to? I’ve written before about how familiar functionality means that people do the right thing more instinctively, people will hold this the wrong way around is what they’ll do.

Only, it’s possible that in this case none of those things are true. The card has text on so it’s a pretty certain thing that most people will orient them correctly. There are conventions to do with card design that facilitate easy use, but the way in which cards are used in this game is slightly atypical. A player will only have one card so there’s no real need to attend to making sure that the cards can be fanned gracefully or that a player can have more than one in their hand at a time. Perhaps this can work out, after all other games have successfully used cards in a landscape orientation.

Looking over the spect that I gave to our graphic designer I didn’t include “Cards must be profile”, this design does do everything that’s needed very nicely. For instance I’d asked that it be possible to tell at a glance which expansion a card was from and what sort of win condition it would have, I’d envisioned that this would be managed by some sort of iconography but instead we’ve got a solution with much broader strokes.

Cards46The icon behind the character indicates the expansion, it’s partially obscured by the art, but that seems okay since it’s still fairly straightforward to tell and it’s not a distinction that matters very often. Only when first setting up the game really and even then only for the first game in a session.

The type of win condition doesn’t strictly need an indicator, since a player can simply read the ‘win’ entry. However in playtesting there have been issues with players not recognising that their win condition was not the most common kind and upsetting the game by playing against their own best interests. An ‘at a glance’ indicator of whether a character has the most common win condition, the second most common win condition or something else could help a lot.

In this case it’s being done purely by colour. I’m not sure how I feel about that. On the one hand as a colourblind gamer I’ve run into trouble with games that use colour as a sole indicator, prefering a shape or texture or something else to act as a secondary cue. On the other hand I’ve never had a problem reading the cards that were in front of me and here the text is a secondary cue so perhaps it’s okay. I’m somewhat on the fence about this decision.

Cards13I do think that these cards look nice. The layout is very clean and everything has its place, even if a particular card doesn’t use a particular entry. The cheerful nature of the art style works well with backgrounds that offer a simple splash of colour, there’s a little work to do in getting everything to line up nicely but fundementally it seems to work.

I’m not one hundred percent sure about the font size. It’s at the very lowest end of what I’d consider acceptable, but the cards are rarely inspected by someone who’s not currently holding them and trying to avoid showing them to any other players – which is to say that they’re only read by people who have the opportunity to hold them close to their face. That relaxes the difficulties in this degree.

Certainly these cards feel find to send to reviewers to get honest opinions about the game, if changes need to be made down the line we’ll still have the opportunity to do it. Really to form a firm opinion of what I think about the cards I’ll need to do some playtesting and see how things work out in play rather than theorycrafting the results in my head. Most of game design is playtesting after all. I’ll interrupt my writing to go and do that right now…


…you probably scrolled by that clock pretty quickly, but it’s now two hours later and I’ve got a page of playtest notes ending “Let’s do this shit” because the feedback in terms of how the game feels to play essentially amounts to “Stick a fork in it, it’s done.” Graphically we’ve still work to do, there are comments about a couple of the pieces of art, about making sure that the colour splodges are centered, about font size and font choice. However none of them are sweeping “Burn it and start again” statements.

Of course this is only the result of playing a dozen games with the same five people. It’s far from an exhaustive set of playtester feedback so it needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, but watching people play directly didn’t suggest any huge problem introduced by the prototype graphic design.

The way that we’re doing things here isn’t what I’m used to from my previous game design experiences, but it’s interesting to see how things are turning out. I feel like we’re moving in the right direction, but it never hurts to get as much varied feedback as is humanly possible.

So: How do you feel about the look of these cards?

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