Working with Artists

Post by: Grant Rodiek

This is a post I’ve wanted to write for a very long time. I’ve discussed it with an artist peer of mine and let the ideas stew a bit. The time is now!

With Kickstarter, print on demand sites, and entrepreneurial fervor everywhere, the lines between designer and publisher blur more and more every day. Very few of us know how to design, illustrate, and do graphic design, so there’s a very good chance you’ll need to hire an artist to help you finish your game.

I’ve been a producer and game designer in the digital game space for almost 8 years now, so I have extensive experience working with artists on games. I’ve also hired artists for two of my print games (Farmageddon and Battle for York), plus a graphic designer to build my site and Hyperbole log.

Below are the steps I believe you should take to ensure a great collaborative effort with an artist that leaves you happy, the artist happy, and your game beautiful.

Step 1: Be Ready to Hire an Artist 

Don’t hire an until your game is ready to hire an artist. Don’t even think about it! If you are still adding and removing cards, making significant tweaks to the game’s components, and generally developing it still, you aren’t ready. Keep in mind that you’re hiring an artist to create assets for you, not creep forward alongside you as you’re developing the game.

Artists are professions. It’s highly unlikely they have time or interest to do this. Chances are, you can’t afford to pay them to tweak everything 3 times either. When your game is more or less finished, you can hire an artist.

This is probably the biggest mistake you can make. Don’t be an idiot — wait until you are ready.

Step 2: Create a Detailed Asset List

Before you can get a quote, you need to know precisely what your game needs. Open up Excel or use Google Docs’ Spreadsheet. Create a document that outlines the following:

  • The name of the asset
  • How the asset will be used (card? cover? token? tableau?) with size
  • How many variations of the asset (color variations)
  • Type of asset (icon, illustration) as this may determine who will do it.
  • A description of the asset (pose, detail expected, background, any specifics like gender, race, or scene specifics)

Once you have a firm asset list, you’ll be able to show it to a potential artist and they’ll be able to get you a quote far more quickly. If you just say “Yeah, draw some stuff,” understand that the artist can do that, but it’ll cost more or take longer.

Step 3: Provide visual reference

Before you hire an artist, you should have a fairly good idea for what the game should look like. You should gather all sorts of imagery from books, movies, other games, video games, comics, or photographs you take to be able to show the artist “I want this, with a pose like this, using this.”

You may laugh, but Pinterest is the PERFECT tool for this exercise. I’ve used it several times.

  • Battle for York Reference
  • Poor Abby Reference
  • Dawn Sector Reference

You need to firmly understand what you’re looking for with your final assets. By having an asset list and solid visual reference, you’ll greatly expedite the process.

Step 4: Seek the style you love

You need to hire an artist whose work you love. This needs to trump budgetary concerns. Yes, budget will ultimately decide things, but you need to find someone you love first and then work out budget issues.

Before you approach an artist, check out their profile. All artists will have an online portfolio. If they don’t, shame on them! Hire someone who has a style you love. This style demonstrates the artist’s personality, the style they’ve perfected over the course of years, and will illustrate the type of thing they love to do. You can also see the artist’s preferred tone: silly, serious, dark, and more.

Don’t hire someone to create a different style. This will not create the best results. Hire someone to make your game using the style they do so well. One that you love.

Your visual reference should help you find someone you like. Let your tastes and need for the game be your guide.

Step 5: Contact/Hire the artist

Okay! So, you know what you need, you know what you want it to look like, and you know who you want to hire. Contact the artist! There’s a good chance you’ll be using email to do so. In your email, you should outline to them:

  • What you’re making (let’s say a card game)
  • The number of assets (15 unique illustrations at typical poker card size, 1 cover at these dimensions, and 4 icons)
  • Your time frame: “I’d like the work done by August.” This is VERY important.
  • Show them a few images to give them a feel for the style you’re seeking. It’ll do a few things. One, show that you’re prepared and you’ve thought about this. Two, it’ll help them decide if they are comfortable working with you. Basically, are they a fit?

Be clear, be succinct, and be ready to answer any questions.

The artist will get back to you with a quote, their time frame, and any concerns or ideas they have. You need to know how much you’ll let the artist do their own thing, or how tightly you want them to hold to your reference and ideas.

If the artist’s quote is within your budget? Awesome. Hire him or her. If the artists’ quote is outside your budget? Sad face. BUT. Reply to them and note that they are a little outside your budget, you love their work, but you can’t afford them. Make sure you close the loop.

Artists will require payment. Do not expect to deal with professionals by saying “I’ll pay you once our Kickstarter funds.” Shame on you. Be prepared to pay for quality.

Step 6: Tell a Story

Once you’ve hired the artist, take a moment to provide specifics on every piece. This will take longer if you have a really big game, but it’ll be worth it. Here’s what I like to do:

For every asset, provide a few pieces of specific visual reference and a story. For example, for Battle for York I described the story of the characters. For example, the infantry soldier is a peasant, poor, someone who marches for weeks on end. whose best day involves a march, who has nothing to gain from this war. Let the artist know who they are drawing.

Step 7: Provide Clear Feedback. Be honest.

Don’t soft peddle. Don’t hem and haw. If you have feedback, give it. Be clear, be precise, be succinct  If you’re dealing with a professional, don’t let them spend 2 weeks working on something you hate. Though honestly, if you’ve followed steps 1-6, this won’t be necessary. If you hire the right artist and provide enough information, your feedback will mostly be “that’s awesome.”


You can skip most of this by following these two pieces of advice: know what you want and be prepared. This is true for so many things in running a business.

Thoughts? Did this help you? Did I miss anything? Share below in the comments.

Battle for York Production Info

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I’ve been busy pulling together the various elements to make Battle for York a lovely game for the few of you interested enough to buy the game. I think you’ll be very pleased with the final result. It won’t compare to a game manufactured by Panda Manufacturing, but I think it’ll really stand out among its Print on Demand peers in terms of component quality, production values, and polish.

Some fun things in the works!


  • I’ve hired John Ariosa to illustrate the 5 cards for the game. John is easily one of my favorite artists — you may know him for his work with Plaid Hat Games, including Mice and Mystics and Summoner Wars. He has a beautiful, painterly style that is imaginative and unique and I’m SO excited. He sent me some early composite pieces and already they are fantastic
  • I’ve hired Sarah Rodriguez Pratt of Quail School Media to write a short story about the fiction of the world. I thought this would be fun, thematic, and would help the game stand out. Her first draft was already great and it’ll only get better.
  • I hired Robert Altbauer to illustrate the map. I wanted a beautiful board and he did just that (see top).
  • I’ve finalized the layout for cards, player boards, and game boards. There are some tiny tweaks and simplifications since Protospiel. My friend and peer Chevee Dodd is going to help me with the visuals and layout tweaks to make it look professional, clean, and consistent. I cannot thank him enough for his help.

Final pricing will vary, and I’m still working with the excellent Andrew Tullsen of Print & Play Productions on the details, but the final game will be about $60. I know this isn’t cheap, but the game will include:

  • A double sided, high quality board.
  • Thick, double sided player boards with 4 unique factions and the 1 generic faction.
  • Thick, double sided battle boards.
  • Nice, linen cards. These will include the 4 player decks, Strategic Victory cards, and because I have enough room, you will all get 2 special promo cards that spice up the game.
  • A nice box with a printed cover, backs, and sides.
  • Glossy, full color rule booklet with well-edited, well-tested rules.
  • All wooden components! Wooden cubes for Units, nice squares for turn order and action markers, for forts. And, where appropriate, I’ll provide stickers so you can make them just a smidge more thematic.
  • A nice cloth bag for storing and pulling out the components.

All of this will be lovingly crafted by hand or sourced by Andrew Tullsen.

I’m going to try to do some promotion for the game. All of my art and writing costs will be written off as a loss — I’m just not recouping that. I’m doing it for me and my personal satisfaction (and to excite those who want to own the game). I imagine I’ll purchase a review copy which I’ll send to some folks with the intent of them sending it to the next one (at my expense).  I’ll also try to write a Designer Diary for BGG. I have a story to tell and hopefully it’ll be worth a read for others.

All told, I’m very excited. I’m very happy watching this all come together and I can’t wait to get my copy.

Do you have any questions? Thoughts? Concerns?


Timing is Everything

Post by: Grant Rodiek

About this time last year I conducted my first test of General Staff, which became Field Marshals, Empire, Empire of York, and currently, Dawn Sector.The test was held with index cards and a really shoddy map scribbled atop cardboard. The game was horribly tuned and only lasted 15 minutes, but hey! We finished! Most importantly, I saw something special and spent the next year working on it.

70+ tests, Protospiel, GenCon, and a little PPP exposure later, I’m very happy with the game and how it plays. Every designer says this, but I enjoy the game. I really have fun playing it and it seems most people with whom I play it enjoy it as well.

A month ago I bought a game called Kemet. The game is an area control/war game hybrid with spectacular components and a lot of good reviews. I bought it for those reasons alone, but it also stood out to me as it is a diceless, card driven, area control/war game. That’s competition, so I wanted to see what they were doing.

As it turns out, they were doing a lot of what I’m doing. It seems like they approached their design with my same goals and in many cases solved problems the way I did. Their meta-game is almost identical: a fuzzy hybrid of holding territory and battering opponents for points. While not faction based, players have unique abilities based on a tech tree to differentiate themselves. Combat is card driven. Rounds are broken down into players taking a set of actions. They even have an atypical turn order mechanic, I’d wager for the same reasons my game has one. Hell! They have the same disclaimer/strategy tips in their rules that I’ve been working on with a potential publisher.

It’s disappointing, for sure. But also, somewhat comforting that perhaps I wasn’t going the wrong way all along. It seems I was just a little too late to the party. How crazy is it that two teams of designers could arrive at so similar a solution to a design thought/problem?

I have a few options:

  • Continue seeking a publisher with the awkward, “Uh, you haven’t played Kemet,have you?” in the pitch. I don’t think that’s the way to go about things! I think it’s wrong to mislead potential publishing partners and I don’t think my game is unique enough (now) to do a full publication run for it.
  • Continue tweaking. I don’t think this will change the game sufficiently and frankly, I like the game where it’s at.
  • Take the core mechanic (dual use cards) and apply it to a new game. I think I’ll do this — later. I need to move on for now, though.
  • Just release it.

I’m going to do the last option, or at least try. I can greatly scale back the art asset needs so that I get a little bit of card art, a few icons, and then I put it together myself. It won’t be a mind-blowing tour de force but it’ll look respectable and I’ll be pleased. My hope then is to put it on Print & Play Productions. I think they’ll be able to make a nice game with a nice board, box, and all the things needed to make the 1 or 2 of you who buy it pleased. Wood pieces, linen cards — I’ll do my best.

I’m also returning to the faux-Napoloenic theme. It was my favorite all along and now that I don’t need to pitch it to thousands, I’m doing what I want to do.

Imagine that, but awesome and ridiculous.

Not every game needs to be published. Not every game needs a massive Kickstarter project. Frankly, some games just need to be thrown away — thankfully, this game isn’t one of those. I honestly hoped and thought this game would be my second published game and I thought it would happen this year. That’s no longer the case, but I’ve learned SO much about…

  • Faction design
  • Game balancing
  • Map design
  • War game design
  • Randomness, variance, and player decisions
  • Balancing a more complex scoring system
  • Pacing pacing pacing
  • Graphic design

So this wasn’t a waste of my time. In fact, the fruits of this year will be seen not in Battle for York, but in the next game I make.

I’m going to quietly pursue a nice Print on Demand version of Battle for York. I’m going to test a few more slight, final tweaks and hopefully before too long I can share a link to buy it. Hopefully one or two of you pick it up. At the very least, hopefully you’ll play it with me at GenCon or wherever else our paths cross.

Thanks for helping me make this game. It’s been awesome. Now, go buy Kemet!

Inspirations of Late

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I’ve been inspired by a few standout games lately. It’s a bit shocking to me when I read interviews with super famous designers who note they are too busy testing their own games to play games from others. I love playing other games to learn about new mechanics, see clever component tricks, and even just find ways to diversify my personal designs.

I find my tastes are changing quite a bit. In the past I was far more mechanically focused. Lately, I find myself far more focused on some fuzzy aspects and holistic product design. Things like the experience, the components, and the vibe I want to convey.

There are a few constants I have always sought in all of my designs:

  • Hour or less play time.
  • Low complexity. I fail here often, but I try. It’s something I pursue constantly.
  • Interesting card play. So far, this has meant dual-use cards for me.

Here are the things I’m challenging myself to think about more and more as my tastes shift.

  • Story! By this, I mean compelling characters, a fiction and developed universe/world, and persistence. For example, can my choices in one scenario affect another? Note: I want to be careful to say I’m trying to make games more thematic. I feel that adjective is tossed around a bit erroneously. I’d like to tell stories.
  • Dice! I’ve dabbled with dice in a few designs (Frontier Scoundrels, Poor Abby Farnsworth), but they’ve never been front and center. I want to grow creatively and change that. Dice allow for uncertainty and calculated risk. They allow for EPIC moments. They are also a great way to make your game more accessible, something I’ve learned from Dawn Sector, where the majority of the outcomes in the game are certain (and therefore nerve-wracking for new players). That being said, LOTS of randomness doesn’t necessarily excite me. I like to find ways to use it in a compelling fashion.
  • Miniatures! Or, perhaps more accurately (and vaguely), neat components. In my personal play habits I find I’m way more inclined to get a game with neat pieces instead of, say, cube fest. More and more I’m a “eurotrash” guy — I want elegance and strategy in the design with fun presentation. Many scoff at miniatures for being that component that nets millions on Kickstarter. But for me, personally, and for many of my friends, they make things more exciting.

Krosmaster Arena: Visually stimulating!

Bora Bora: Not visually stimulating!

  • Toy-like! This is somewhat related to the miniatures property above, but is more abstract and difficult to precisely describe. Sometimes a great game shares more in common with a favorite child hood toy in that it ignites your imagination. You find yourself making sound effects and “moving” the pieces like a total kid. Toy-like also means it’s delightful to hold and feel. It’s something a video game can’t do.

A few games have really stood out to me lately to inform these new design desires.

X-Wing Miniatures Game: A poster child for awesome components and quality design. Super toy-like as well! The game is filled with constant, simple choices and is visceral. You move pieces, roll clunky dice. It looks and feels great.

Risk Legacy: A story you and your friends write every game. The stickers are also incredibly fun. The take on this has been 50/50 from my friends, but it really hit home for me.

Mice and Mystics: Story, persistence, presentation, and dice, oh my. Honestly, Plaid Hat Games is a poster child for beautiful games that have crazy pieces and relatively smooth gameplay. Mice and Mystics is just a goofy toy chest.

Rory’s Story Cubes and The Extraordinaires Design Studio: These creations from Rory O’Connor and Anita Murphy are just awesome. The simply look delightful, are fun to hold, and immediately broaden the imagination.

My hope is to demonstrate these qualities with my latest game, which I’m tentatively calling Blockade. You can read about my early thoughts and brainstorms here and here. The physicality of Blockade will hopefully stand out immediately. Big blocks stacked next to and on top of each other. A pile of colorful dice. And cards with awesome, colorful, highly stylized characters. Maybe like these?

Can’t you imagine a stuffy admiral with a big mustache and this glorious noggin’? I can.

Speaking of the admirals (and others), they’ll have names. Stories. Their abilities will be extensions of their personalities and they will live and die gloriously as you play through their stories. You’ll have moments of fanfare and seconds of terror. Well, mild, completely manageable amounts of board game terror.

So really, little terror.

Perhaps it’s due to my job, which is overly stressful lately, or the fact I find it so difficult to get my friends interested in more serious fare. Maybe it’s a byproduct of my frustrations in developing Dawn Sector? There’s something about the need to create something playful, even at the expense of being a serious game, that is moving me forward.

It’s an evolution and an interesting one at that. It seems I’m returning more to my roots (Farmageddon), at least for now.

How do you evolve as a designer? How have you changed? What excites you lately? Anything I should be playing to reference?

Interview with Wicked Boar Games

Chris Urinko has been someone I’ve kept up with for quite some time on Twitter. We met at GenCon in person and have even had a long phone call to discuss game design. He’s a great guy with a diverse set of game design interests, one of which is custom woodcrafting. After he and his design partner won the Ion Award with their game Hold Your Breath, I reached out for an interview.

Bolded words are mine. Everything else is Chris Urinko. 

Tell me about yourself and your design partner. What should we know about you?

Daniel and I have been friends for 8 years or so. We have been designing games together for about 2 years now. Before that he helped me with playtesting the role-playing supplements I had written. The easiest way to describe our partnership is to think of a laser. I am the raw energy and Daniel is the lens that focuses it.

I see myself as the “lens” in your metaphor. Do you both contribute equally in these roles during the brainstorming/concept phase, or does Daniel step in more once you come to him with an idea? Elaborate on your partnership a bit more, if you would! 

I am not very good at being a lens, so I would say Daniel has a pretty strong hold on that aspect of our partnership. But, Daniel does bring ideas as well. I think usually the model is I have an idea, I get a prototype designed, we playtest it, Daniel says fix this and this, we brainstorm the approach to fix the issues, I then revise and we playtest again. Repeat until the game is finished.

Give us the high level details for Hold Your Breath.

Number of Players: 2-4.

Theme: Players push their luck to dive as deep as they can on the first play through the deck and then attempt to swim back to the surface on the second play through the deck. Players have a chance to hinder other players on both the way down and the way back up.

Play time: 15 minutes.

Unique Mechanics: Almost every card in the deck can be used in two ways, so in a hand of 5 cards you feel like you have a lot of options to best match your strategy for that turn.

So 5 cards and up to 10 uses. How did you keep this from becoming overwhelming? What information is on the cards?

One of my troubles with Dawn Sector is that every card can be used in two ways (which can be overwhelming). But in my case the cards only have a single number and symbol. How did you keep this easy to understand for Hold Your Breath

Here is an example of a card from the prototype. As you can see there are two icons on the card, the top icon and the bottom icon. In this example the top icon is 10 air. The bottom icon is a the draw icon which lets you discard this card to draw another card from the Dive Pile.

To make it easy, each icon is large. We made sure the top icons are always either air or swim are in two values: 5 or 10. The bottom icon has green accent if it is helpful for the player and red if it is hurtful to an opponent.

We felt these visual “clues” made decision making very fast once you start playing.

Walk me through a turn of the game.

The player draws five cards. The idea behind the game is to dive. In order to do that, you must play one or more air cards from your hand. Once you have played your air cards you may then play a number of swim cards of equal or less value than the air you played. For example, you play a 10 air card and a 5 air card, you could then play a 10 swim card and a 5 swim card, but you couldn’t play two swim 10 cards because you had only played 15 air.

In this situation, you would have one card left in your hand. You could either play that card using the icon on the bottom of the card, so if that card had a Panic icon on it, you would play it on an opponent and they would need to play a calm card to remove it before they could dive any further.  Or if the card is not helpful, you could discard it and draw back up to five cards. Finally, if the card could be helpful in the future you could keep it and draw four more cards. That makes up your turn.

What was your inspiration for the game?

I was watching my 4 year old son and all the other kids practicing holding their breath and going underwater at swim class. It just kind of seemed like there had to be a game in there. By the end of the swim lesson 30 minutes later I had the mechanics all worked out.

What were your goals when making the game? What did you hope to accomplish?

I wanted a family game that could be played with kids. I wanted it to be colorful, fun, fast, easy to teach, and I wanted the cards to be interesting even for little kids that might not grasp the rules of the game. For example, for my son and I we just use the cards as a matching game. We draw a card and then he plays a card from his hand that has an icon that matches one of the two icons on the card we drew.

Our goal was to create a game that we could get approved by the Board Game Designer’s Guild of Utah in terms of being a quality game both worthy of submitting to publishers and that it would be attractive to publishers because of its ease to produce. After bringing it to the guild, multiple people told us to submit it for the Ion Award Competition so we did.

Tell us about the Ion Award Competition. What was it like? How did it go?

The Ion Award competition is an open competition held each year as part of SaltCon. There are two categories: Family and Strategy. There are four finalists selected for each category. What is exciting to me is that the judges are all from publishing companies. We thought it would be an excellent chance to get honest feedback from publishers on what they thought of the game in terms of getting selected as a finalist. Then, if things went well, to get offers from publishers without having to send a bunch of submissions out and waiting months and months on end.

In terms of the competition, it was really exciting! We had a chance to present our rules and then play the game with the judges. They then asked questions and gave their general thoughts on the game. We knew we had a pretty good game because our judges were very favorable towards the game in their comments. We ended up winning the competition in the family category and had two interested publishers after the event.

Did the award open any doors for you?

Winning the award got us the attention of three publishers in total in the end. Publishers that I had never dealt with or submitted anything to before, so I definitely would say it opened doors for us. That is the goal of the competition; to put unknown designers in front of known publishers.

What was a difficult problem with the game’s development? How did you solve it?

Honestly, the most difficult challenge with the game was figuring out how to take it from 2 players to up to 4 players. In the end, a couple of rule changes allowed us to prevent players from ganging up on each other so badly that it would be impossible to ever get back to the surface. The solution came at SaltCon after a little discussion, us mashing a couple decks together, and then creating two new cards for the deck.

Who would love to play your game? Who is it for?

It went over very well with game players who took it to play with their kids and non-gaming spouse. It went well with groups of kids, and even with a couple of grandparents that we practiced our presentation in front of to make sure I talked slowly and clearly.

What are you most proud of with the design?

It is clean, simple, fun, and very publisher friendly in terms of components. Getting all of that into one game is not the easiest thing, I have discovered.

What were the best parts about working with a partner on the design? Were there any problems you had to overcome?

Having Daniel around means we have two brains analyzing gameplay, considering the critical feedback, and coming up with solutions. Also, I have no graphical skill what so ever, so having Daniel design all the cards was a huge part of the success of the game.  Daniel and I don’t often run into “problems.” We sometimes start a long ways away from each other on ideas, but we both want to create something great so it is just a matter of testing all the design concepts and then fairly weighing the pros and cons of each before making a unified decision.

What recommendations do you have for someone interested in a collaborative design? 

Do it! Seriously, so much fun, not too mention easier to divide and conquer the tasks. Figure out what you are good at and do that as opposed to getting frustrated by doing things that you aren’t good at.

What are some of your favorite games lately?

King of Tokyo, Lords of Waterdeep, Ascension, and Monster Factory are all games I have played and enjoyed recently.

What is most important to you as a designer?

As a designer, I want to create fun games that are attractive to publishers and players.

Anything you want to add?

You can reach me on Twitter @Battlejack. You can see the other projects Daniel and I are working on at our website.

Daniel and I have another part to our Wicked Boar Games business and that is custom components for designers. Originally this started as just producing custom sized painted cubes and tokens in specific otherwise unavailable sizes. However, we have since then purchased a laser cutter and so now we can custom create components out of wood, plastic, leather, cardboard, and even aluminum to some degree. People come to us with requests for custom dice, meeples, keychains, medallions, game boxes, game appreciation pieces and even etched wooden board game boards. We have tools ranging from hand tools all the way up the 5 axis CNC machining and the laser cutter. If you are looking for something specific feel free to reach out to us on twitter, on the website or email us at .

We are actually going to be launching our first Kickstater project in conjunction with Daft Concepts to produce custom dice for people, so look for that to happen the end of April.

If you have other questions or input just add them in the comments below. Thanks for reading!