Here’s a poster I’m working on for the upcoming Boston Festival of Independent Games. I originally had only the goat wizard and title on a blue background but my brother and co-designer, Jan, had suggested adding the landscape to convey more of the flavor of the game, which is after all about taking over land. He and Emma Skurnik(http://emmaskurnick.com/Emma_Skurnick_Site/Emma_Skurnick.html), my sister-in law and awesome artist/illustrator and go-to adviser for all photoshop problems, also explained some aspects of line and color that I’d been having problems with.
My Rootlands images are partly inspired by the French cartoonist, Joann Sfar (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joann_Sfar) who has made some amazing children’s and adult graphic novels.
Here is an example of three stages of changes I make in the cards for my game. On the top left is the first stage of the Ratmen card and on the bottom is the latest stage of it. At first I just drew pictures on index cards, then over a number of iterations I colored, reformatted added a font and shrunk the cards to near the size of playing cards. The simple graphic style of art I used for the cards has the goofy light-hearted quality I really liked in games I played as a kid, like the Awful Green Things from Outer Space and Wiz War.
Another aspect of the game that has to do more with the feel than the structure, is the way I have included the group terms on the cards. As I was designing the game I realized I wanted the smaller creatures to come in groups so that they could have some hope of fighting larger creatures like Dragons. I love the group names of animals and realized that I could have a lot of fun with using them on the cards. So for Ratmen I used “a Mischief of” which is one of the group terms for rats. Rats have a number of great group terms: pack, swarm, plague and mischief. I love mischief because it is so unexpected and whimsical, but pack, swarm and plague are all so evocative and would work very well for the game. There is nothing about including this word play in the game that makes the game mechanics better, but for me, it adds a certain kind of delight that I think is so central to what games are about.
The blog Hyperbole has an excellent post on the importance of a good theme and feel along with strong game structure in making a game fun to play: Hyperbole games: Good Theme. When I read it it resonated with what I like so much about games and why I seem to tend towards a certain look and feel when designing them.