Monday, October 31, 2011

A Matter of Grave Importance

Zombies are everywhere. Zombies and horticulture, zombies and islands, zombies and domesticated French canines...

I hate to out myself as part of the infinitesimally small demographic that just doesn’t like them, but — well — I don’t. But I do adore All Hallow's Eve. If you think about it, Halloween is as close to a holiday for gamers and anime fans as there will likely ever be. It’s accepted, nay, encouraged to dress up as your favorite personages from fantasy literature and films, then frolic the evening away. It’s a night of pretend in its purest, unabashed form.

So for all that, I think I can let my distaste for the shambling undead slide this day of the year in the spirit of all things spooky. Besides, this is the perfect Minion Monday to talk to you about Grave Business.

Grave Business is a game of strategic bidding. Send forth your zombies to loot graves for valuables, and while you’re at it, gather new body parts to make more zombies to dig for more treasure. It’s a clever use of theme, with enough thinking to be fun without ever taking itself too seriously.

Chuck Whelon, an artist we've had the pleasure of working with in the past, including Nile and its re-release Nile DeLuxor, colors the game with personality. His work is so big and bold that it really didn’t warrant a lot of graphic-design hoo-hah, but I’m inordinately proud of the game's logo.

If you’d like a more in depth overview of the game, you can check out The Dice Tower's video or take a trip over to Cartrunk for a phantasmally phantastic pheature.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Thy Kingdom of Solomon Come

I was going to approach this Minion Monday thing with some semblance of the chronological order the games were made, but after addressing card production with Nile, I think it’s worth staying on topic. Last week I said there were two ways to go about card sheets. With Kingdom of Solomon, though, I developed a third method, one that combines the aesthetics of the double cut with the economy of the solid border.

As you can see, the Kingdom of Solomon Building Cards have art right up to the edge. That normally requires using bleed and the expensive double cut — that is, unless every edge matches seamlessly with its neighbor. As long as that is so, for all intents and purposes it performs the same as a solid border. Shift it up, left, or right, there will never be anything glaringly obvious on the final card. The principle is similar to creating “tiled” backgrounds for webpages and desktop backgrounds. If you ever tried such a feat, you understand it can be a troublesome undertaking. The simplest approach is to make edges mirror images of one another, though quite a bit of tinkering is warranted if you don't want your final cards looking some kind of textural kaleidoscope.

This approach also has another pitfall, and that is you need bleed for it to work.

“Bleed‽” you cry in dismay, having long searched your emotions for a proper use of an interrobang, “But you said you could do this with a single cut!”

This is true. But sadly the sheet of cards you’re creating is not an infinite plane. There will be cards that have no neighbor when you reach the outskirts of the sheet. With the solid border method, this is a simple exercise in using the paintbucket, but here you will have to once again revisit a proper seamless edge. It’s a bit of extra effort, but it can really make a card design shine without breaking the bank.

Kingdom of Solomon itself is not a card game, but a worker-placement game where you manage resources and show up your fellow players in the eyes of King Solomon. The Kickstarter video surmises the gameplay in as good a way as I can imagine. If this sounds up your alley, you can preorder now at Minion Games and get a special bonus Building Card not in store-bought versions. With the game arriving in a matter of weeks, there's no time like the present!

Monday, October 17, 2011

It's Not Just a River In Egypt


For the better part of the last year, I’ve been pouring much of my creative energy into work for Minion Games. Six games later, I’m finally done for the year. While I can't say I’ll exactly miss the overnight deadlines, constant revisions, and counting pixels, I find myself a little lost without the nagging Minion at my side. I’ve been on board with this board game company since its inception in late 2009, and there was always a game to work on, a convention to make. Now that there isn’t, the ability to breathe is welcome but alien, too.

Of course, the upshot of this new free time is I can actually spare a moment to share my toils with you. Welcome to Minion Monday!

Nile was one of our first games — and our earliest success. But our original printer, an outfit from China, provided a product with chitzy cards, fragile boxes, and, in the worst cases, thoroughly damp product. With our 2011 wave of games, we switched to Ludo Fact, a German printer. The price involved was considerably more, but the end result was worth the investment. Nile DeLuxor takes advantage of this better production and includes the all new Monuments expansion and additional crop types to support more players.

Since it’s a re-release of an old game, most of the work was repurposing old art to fit the new bigger box (and boy it’s great to hold!) and expanding the manual with new rules and much-needed graphical examples. But working on it reminded me of an important lesson we learned the first time around.

When cards are produced, they are initially printed out on a huge sheet. This over-sized poster is then cut into the familiar round-cornered rectangles we know and love. By nature of this process, the printed artwork may not perfectly line up with the dies, the metal blades that cut the shapes. The result is the top image on the right. See how the Papyrus’ red is visible on the Wheat card?

There are two ways to get around this. What you’ll see most of the time is a solid-colored border all the way around the card, like in Magic: The Gathering and many other collectable card games. When the graphic gets shifted, it’s not nearly as noticeable.

The option we opted for was the double-cut method. Extra art, or “bleed,” extends from all sides. Instead of a single cut separating cards, an additional cut is made. The excess is discarded, and you have a card that will appear correct no matter which way the art shifts with no visible border. Looks nice, right?

Now here’s where the “lesson” comes in. It costs much, much more to cut cards this way! We did decide to keep the double-cut look for Nile DeLuxor, but it’s an expense any of you aspiring game-makers out there should keep in mind.

As for game itself, I could go into detail about its rules, strategy, and agricultural antics, but the fellow at Drake's Forge does a much more entertaining job of it. He’s right. If Nile is remotely historically accurate, it positively sucks to be a farmer in ancient Egypt.

If you’re interested in purchasing the game, please do so from our website, Minion Games. More of your hard-earned money goes to the hard-working people who make these games!