Sol Rising Visual Development


For whatever reason, about a week ago I decided to take a break from writing and editing scenarios for Sol Rising (previously Mars Rising) and focus on its aesthetics. It's good to vary your efforts as you'll use different aspects of your brain and, if enough time has passed, may find ways to improve old designs.

I did two things:

  1. Hired John Ariosa to do some really quick sketches. I was tired of using my Googled ship art.
  2. Decided to change the previous card layout.

For quite some time, this was the layout for the ship cards in the game:



This got the job done, but I had a few problems with it. It didn't really take advantage of the space. The ability text was smashed into the center and the art wasn't given room to breathe. I listed too much info in the top left corner. Notice the bombers have 0 lasers. If they don't have guns, why bother telling you? Finally, the cards didn't didn't have any subtle reminders for other rules. Specifically, to place damage markers on the cards or to reveal System Failure tokens when shields go down.

Before I reveal the new layout, let me quickly explain how cards are used in the game for those not familiar (rules linked at the bottom). Ships in your fleet are represented by cards. These cards are never in your hand, but act as references. They are played face up in front of you to remind you of a ship's stats and abilities. A single fighter card represents a squadron, or multiple ships. Capital ships are paired with up to 3 cards to form powerful squadrons. If ships are destroyed, you set the card aside. The position of your ships is represented on the board with small tokens.

Here are some of the new cards, featuring illustrations by John Ariosa.

Carrier with Shields Carrier with Shields
Bombers_Wordens_Normal Bomber squadron. There are 3 bombers, each with their own health. All contribute to an attack.
Destroyer with Shields Up Destroyer with Shields
A Battlecruiser with Shields Up A Battlecruiser with Shields
Destroyer with Shields Down Destroyer with Shields Down

You see the small boxes on the cards. Here are where you place 8mm damage cubes to indicate...damage. The two different symbols in these boxes represent Shields, if your ship has them, or Hull, if Shields are gone.

Ability text reads more naturally horizontally and isn't so bunched. I also only show pertinent information. If the ship doesn't have Missiles, you don't see that stat. On the bottom Destroyer, there is an additional square in the top right corner. This icon reminds you to draw and place a System Failure token.

Overall, I'm really excited. I love the art. If this is what John did in just a few quick hours with little iteration, can you imagine these ships with more time and love?

Next Steps: These cards can only go so far with my graphic skills. My skillset mostly focuses on layout (which you can feel free to dispute). I'm very very bad at colors, filters, and anything more than placing an icon. That's why I stick to black and white.

Things I'd love to work with someone to improve are:

  • Select a superior typeface for better clarity and thematic expression.
  • Apply a superior color treatment to really draw the eye to the Icons and Stats.
  • Add a filter treatment to icons to give them some texture.
  • Improve the graphics housing the icons. Better boxes, or adding graphic outlines to the stats.

I'll surely stumble across other tweaks through the course of testing, but those are the known issues at this time.

Balance, Language, Refinement: I haven't touched the core rules for the game for quite some time. I've been focused entirely on the scenarios, which is a very different beast. As I began the work to port every card into the new style (52 cards/9 ship classes/over 85% with Unique abilities), I realized this was my best opportunity to take a balance pass and revise ship abilities where necessary.

Never ever miss such an opportunity! I revised almost every ability in some way. For starters, I stuck with a 12 Point font and with 1 exception, re-wrote every piece of text until it fit on 1 or 2 lines. By forcing such a strict limitation, I really improved the accessibility and quality of my text.

I was able to fundamentally re-examine the weapon and ship role balance in the game.

I was also able to completely remove a feature that I realized just wasn't necessary. This simplified and cleaned up my feature set even further.


I took the opportunity to remove a few unnecessary ships (a third Assault Shuttle), add two Bombers, make sure the abilities were more unique (less re-use), and I added Veteran Fighters. All cards are double sided: Shields and no Shields. That is, except Fighters. They are unshielded and previously all of the backs were blank. However, I realized I could do some neat stuff with persistence in the campaign by adding a Veteran variant to every Fighter card. This means instead of 6 Interceptors and 6 Bombers, you actually have 12 of each. But, still only 6 cards.

Finally, I re-organized all of my graphics files in Photoshop. I always spend the time up front to properly setup my card files so they are easy to edit and maintain. However, like many things, they had grown messy. I took a new pass at organizing them and editing, printing, and adding ships is now simpler than ever.

The takeaway is that you should never skip an opportunity to take a new look at something you thought was finished. I revised almost every card and the game will be monstrously superior. If you have a big game and have moved past a feature, go back to it sometime. You'll be surprised at what fresh eyes can bring!

Back to the Story Mines: With my fleet polished, it's time to finish creating moments for it. I have 5 1/2 scenarios left to design, not to mention the original six to continue scrubbing. Each one requires a great deal of story editing and as I noted in this previous post, there are many variables for every scenario.

I hope to have this finished in the coming weeks. If you're at all interested in testing this game's campaign, leave a comment. I'll provide you with a copy in exchange for your testing efforts. I'd love to have a few blind testers tear through the campaign.

Rules: You can read the rules here. Comments are allowed in the document if you so desire. Some of the Campaign scenarios are in disarray from editing, so I'm not linking to that for now.

A Campaign scene for the book. A Campaign scene for the book.


I like the concept and theme of this game. I'd love to playtest it for you.

Awesome Burke, thanks. I'll keep your name in mind.

I've downloaded the rules and will give them a read. If I have questions or comments how would you like them?

Comments are allowed in the document, or you can email me. Really, whatever is most convenient for you is fine by me.

Excellent read. While I liked the old silhouettes (I'm one of the many suckers totally taken by the Cards Against Humanity -style minimalist aesthetic) adding even rough art is such a great tool for hooking in playtesters. It's why I always want to play a Todd Sanders game in every iteration - even when the rules are still rough, a bit of graphics work makes it LOOK more playable.
I think the other presentation choices are strong as well. As I read the words "It didn’t really take advantage of the space. The ability text was smashed into the center and the art wasn’t given room to breathe", I thought, well, he could make the cards landscape... kind of a big change though...
Lo and behold.
The cards look good. Distinct, clear - not final, but you already addressed all the little negatives I noticed in this iteration. This looks like it'll be in very good shape soon.
PS Sol Rising makes more, ominous sense than Mars Rising as a title, with the story you're telling. Nice move.

Thanks for the commentary, Fin. I really appreciate it.

Cheers! Just found the site and I've been tearing through your articles... we have a weekly board game night at a local shop with a bunch of really experienced gamers. I'd love to playtest with the group, and will undoubtably buy a copy when you produce. Let me know!

Adam V.

Adam -- that is awesome, thank you so much for the kind words. I really appreciate it. I'll keep you and your group in mind.

As a graphic artist, I can see where you need to go with the art. Some blur or shadow to pop the text. Do you want a frame to help define the edges. Some color and maybe some gradients. Maybe a translucent overlay for the shields and hull markers. I can see where you are going with this design. Its a real great start though.

Thanks Bob for all your comments!

I too would love to help with playtesting. i'll take a look at the rules for proofreading purposes. Really love the part about setting a limitation. I'm doing exactly that with a game I'm designing right now.

For Fonts, a couple of space-themed fonts I've used are:

"Neuropol X Font" - the first Google result works. It's free for commercial use.
"Space Age Font" - again, the first Google result. Free for personal use. It's better for headers than text because it's basically an "All Caps" Font.

There are a lot of good sci-fi fonts out there that might give a thematic look.