Art Preview - Molly Ostertag's Illustrations for "Curse You, Robin Hood!"

Huzzah! Molly Ostertag just wrapped up a new batch of art for Curse You, Robin Hood! These are the legendary characters Robin Hood, the Sheriff, Maid Marian, Will Scarlet, Little John, Friar Tuck, and the Prince. Here are Molly's final pieces with some of the art direction.

I wanted a more ethnically diverse retelling of the Robin Hood myth, set closer to the Iberian peninsula than Britannia. That flipped things around with casting a bit as the Sheriff would end up looking more like Errol Flynn.

Maid Marian was the only prominent female character in the lineup originally, so I asked Molly to model Will Scarlet on a roguish Ruby Rose. Little John was modeled on the Rock.

Friar Tuck was modeled on Kristian Narn's portrayal of Hodor on Game of Thrones. The Prince was modeled on Brad Dourif's portrayal of Grima Wormtongue from Lord of the Rings.

My art direction initially called for the Prince and Sheriff to be flipped here, but Molly's renderings were so distinctive that they seemed more appropriate this way. This is one of those nice cases where being in the driver's seat lets me adjust the game mechanics to suit the excellent art.

For more on Curse You, Robin Hood!
» One-Page Summary 
» Prototype Rules Doc

Find more of Molly Ostertag's art on her website.

BGG Designer Diary: Branching Out from Kigi to Kodama

Woot! BoardGameGeek just posted Branching Out from Kigi to Kodama, my designer diary outlining the history of how Kigi's international licenses eventually led to domestic development for Kodama: the Tree Spirits. Check it out!

Making Art Direction More Inclusive

When I get the wonderful opportunity to art direct for new characters, it's like opening a big awesome toy box. I have to remind myself of some things so I approach this job responsibly. This isn't necessarily a "tips" list, or in any order of priority, it's just what I try to keep in mind. Hopefully it's something you might find useful, too.

An inclusive mindset is a crank, not a switch.
It isn't a one-time flip from ignorance to enlightenment. It's an ongoing process of checking self, looking back on mistakes, and making assertive efforts to do better. I've never been and never will be 100% "woke," but I must keep trying to "wake up." I will make (and have made) mistakes, but that isn't an excuse to stop putting in the effort to be more inclusive. This has real practical impact when I'm working on a project as an art director. As an art director, I have so much freedom to guide artists in certain directions that it's an awful missed opportunity if I don't at least try to push.

» For more, see the Parable of the Polygons.

Question the "default."
You know how Earth is moving around the sun and the sun is moving through the galaxy, but we don't recognize it because we are born into it? That's sort of like the "Default." My beliefs, body, culture, class, or anything else is not the "default." The "default" is just the motion we're born into and assume is the standard forever. In truth, the "default" is the inertia of history, family, and culture. If I stop putting in effort, just trying to remain "neutral," I turn into debris floating along with that inertia, harming people in my path who can't go along with that inertia. It takes ongoing effort just to keep myself standing still, holding what little progress I've made in improving myself. It takes even more effort to actually move against that inertia, to change what is considered "default."

» For more, see the Medieval POC Tumblr.

Accept responsibility.
Sometimes I see questionable art direction justified by "It's what the market wants" or "It's historically accurate." Even granting that, which I do NOT necessarily, it is still an art director and creator's choices that rule the day. A fictional character doesn't have an ethnicity, gender, body, or pose by accident. It's a creator's choice to present a character a certain way. Even in video games with character customization, the creators set the options available. If an option is available, that's a choice. If it isn't available, that's a choice, too. Deferring and defaulting is a choice; one that I'm trying not to make whenever possible.

» For more, see the recent Extra Credits video on character design.

Know the roles and their history.
I have to ask myself who I'm casting as a villain, a hero, the sidekick, the comic relief, the sage mentor, and all of the other standard tropes. Each of those roles has a real-world history behind it, with many examples of under-representation or ugly caricature. If I'm casting a straight white able-bodied man as the "hero," each one of those attributes is the path of least resistance. I must at least try to counter the history of under-representation or over-representation in certain roles. Does that hero have to be a white man? Are you really going to make another albino villain? If there is only one person of color in a cast, can there be two? If there are already two, can there be four? Half the cast? Most of the cast? Whether my client will go along with me, I must at least try to be the annoying force pushing for more inclusion.

» For more on race tropes to be aware of, check out TVtropes.

Character design has gameplay value.
When I cast the characters for Belle of the Ball, illustrated by Jacqui Davis, I knew they'd be divided into various sub-groups which would represent individual counties and factions. It greatly eased gameplay if each sub-group shared certain characteristics like color scheme, occupation, wardrobe, and ethnicity. It would really help gameplay if the characters who shared some game mechanical traits also looked similar to one another, so they could be recognized across a table, upside-down. In the effort to build those visual similarities, I tried to make sure there was a broad spectrum of ethnicity, age, body types, and gender expression. It wasn't just "pandering," there was real gameplay value in organizing the character design this way. Now I'm working on another game where there aren't really any factions as such. Each character is a unique individual and must all be easily distinguished from each other. Towards that end, I'm being much more assertive in seeking unique intersections of these attributes.

» For more, see Subjective Guess Who, an effort to fix the classic game.

Randomization is a start, not an end.
If I'm casting 60 characters, I’ll try to make a bunch of different lists of various attributes like ethnicity, age, gender expression, and so on. Then I randomize all of these variables for the entire cast, thereby (hopefully) breaking any of my own biases about what a "Fighter" should look like. Even with those tools, I have to remember not to defer responsibility. I can’t lean back and say  "The machine made all the men white. Not my fault! Sorry you're offended!" I must check each outcome and see if it falls in line with the “default.” If so, I give it a really strong skeptical look and decide if I need to swap out or replace some attributes. Generally these changes are towards more diverse intersections. If one intersection is over-represented, I’ll try to change those to push for more even distributions.

» For more, see the RandomizeList tool to randomize your own lists.

Art direction is still my own choices, I have to check it against history and be conscious of the inertia at work in my biases. What do you think? Am I missing something huge here? Is there anything you remind yourself of when you're doing art direction? Share your thoughts in the comments. :)

Two new games to print-and-play: Kintsugi and Fortnight

Two new games are ready for you to print-and-play. Both are short 2-player microgames best played in a series to build up some nice metagame strategy over the long term. Of course, they're just as suited for a fast filler when you're waiting for folks to show up to game night. Give them a shot and tell us what you think!

Designed by Mark McGee and Daniel Solis
Card Placement | Deduction | Area Control
Players repair pieces of pottery using golden lacquer, secretly favoring one color of pottery. If you can guess your opponent's favored color, you could win big!
» Rules
» Print-and-Play Download

Designed by Daniel Solis
Abstract / Hidden Information | Area Control
Players are rival armies building forts during the last two weeks before peace becomes official. This has a very simple almost tic-tac-toe feel to it, but with enough hidden information and metagame that it remains quite replayable.
» Rules
» Print-and-Play Download

I hope you get a chance to play either of these! Please comment on the Google Docs and we'll clear up any questions. Thanks!

DSGN PNCH - A short series of short graphic design videos

I'm trying out something a little different for this series. I want to break down the big giant scary subject of graphic design into the tiniest possible pinches so they're a little less intimidating. I don't know how long this series will last, I only have a few topics lined up so far:

  • Which colors are best to avoid color-blindness issues?
  • How do I lay out light text on a dark background?
  • What's a good font size?

If you have any other topics you want me to discuss in a <90sec ask="" br="" comments="" in="" please="" thanks="" the="" video="">

Testing Updates to Monsoon Market

I'm in the process of updating Monsoon Market to make it more suitable for publisher pitches. I still enjoy this little game, but a few wrinkles have shown more prominently over the years of feedback and I am taking this opportunity to smooth them out.

Check out the current live rules doc here.

There haven't been any changes to the cards themselves, so if you own a POD copy already you're still good. It's mainly procedural tweaks and streamlining.

  • Bonus Goods are spent, no longer permanent. When you spend a good, you note its expenditure by upgrading the Order to silver.
  • Replenish the Market or Orders display at the end of your turn instead of immediately.
  • You only get Bonus Actions if you fulfill an Order at Gold or Silver accuracy.
  • The game ends immediately when someone achieves the point threshold, but you can adjust that threshold for longer games.

Hope you get a chance to test these changes at home and offer your feedback! Thanks for your support!

📹 Watch: How to play Kodama: the Tree Spirits

I'm so honored to see Rodney Smith teach how to play Kodama: the Tree Spirits. He really sets the standard for all other video tutorials for clarity, brevity, and thoroughness. Check out the video embedded above to see Rodney teach the game far better than I could. :D

UnPub6 Feedback for "Curse You, Robin Hood!"

Wow, I'm finally starting to recover from the wild pace of preparing for UnPub. I had two games I was primarily showing, the main one being Curse You, Robin Hood! You can find the full rules for the game on this Google Doc. Overall the response was very good and I made some procedural tweaks after several tests that really streamlined the game significantly.  Check out the scores and responses out of 28 feedback forms. I've bolded some of the more representative comments as well.

(Image Source: Lauren Woolsey)

Was this game predictable?
No 100%
Yes 0%

Will you play this game again?
No 10.71%
Yes 89.29%

Will you buy this game?
(The responses to this question had a lot of "YESNO" responses, so I think there was something wrong with the form. In either case, the results were inconclusive.)

What was one thing you would change?
  • Maybe the option to add the AI with 6+ players
  • nothing comes to mind
  • art
  • Some of the suits look a little similar and get a little confusing at first
  • Nothing in particular
  • Maybe add in some Trump cards that can mess up other players.
  • The game is really easy to learn, but having a quick-reference card for each player that described the order of card-swapping would help a lot.
  • Better instructions or not sure I understood the bartering
  • Find some way to encourage players to arrange deals more. You may want to include a reference card to explain the resolution order
  • Clearer explanation of when I would barter with other players.
  • Nothing
  • N/A
  • Nothing.
  • The exchange system is completely blind. Maybe there could be a way for players to have a card to always go to market.
  • It looks ready.
  • Use characters
  • nothing
  • Rolling scoring option for longer play
  • Not really sure. I found the game to be pretty well balanced
  • This game is well thought out. I would not change anything.
  • Nothing
  • Nothing
  • Something to help me learn the why behind my choices quicker.
  • Nothing!
  • Nothing.
  • Not sure...strategy was hard for me, but I\'m not sure how to make it better
  • change six back to a number
  • Make icons a bit bigger

What was your favorite part of the game?
  • unpredictability
  • card options to play
  • attempting to guess other players possible selections
  • The "solitaire" aspect, ease of learning
  • The art is fantastic, it's a great original idea for a game and a really interesting mechanic. I'm excited to buy it when it's available!
  • The trading and negotiating
  • The fact that there's no downtime!
  • How quick it was
  • the robin hood targeting mechanic is implemented in a very clever way. the forced trades made for surprising results.
  • Fast play. Creativity typing into the Robin Hood theme. Ability to play single to 6 player
  • I love the whole concept.
  • Ability to play up to 6 players. Great for our gaming group!
  • The swapping mechanic.
  • That robin hood always steals from the highest target.
  • You never 100% control which card you will receive at time of card selection. Game allows for different social dynamics to make the game play differently.
  • The bluffing
  • being able to mess with other players
  • Varying random hands (Tuck, etc)
  • Trying to outwit the other players at the table and get the specific card you're looking for in the market
  • This is another game I would love to play with kids because it's easy enough to pick up but also allows for players to try to manipulate the game with what cards you throw into the center.
  • Mexhan (The rest of this form looked pretty broken, so I assume it's some bug?)
  • The additional player card
  • Great art, fun "yes" or "no" moments.
  • That the gameplay made you need to say "Curse You, Robin Hood!"
  • The balance of targets to points.
  • Loved the theme, loved the art, loved the idea
  • never knowing what was coming next
  • Trying to figure out who would wind up with which card

Additional Comments
  • I liked it as is, but could love it with a little more player control though I\'m not sure how to implement it.
  • would buy this today if it were available

Overall pretty good results! We'll see where it goes from here, but I'm pretty happy with letting this game be the fast, wild, rowdy tavern game it wants to be. :)

Game Designers of North Carolina at UnPub!

Come to UnPub in Baltimore this weekend, where you can find me and a bunch of other game designers demoing our latest creations. Details are at the UnPub site. I'm at table 3G, right by the feedback area.

I'll be bringing a lot of prototypes in various states of development, but the big headlines are Koi Pond Second Edition and Curse You, Robin Hood!

Hope to see you there!

Card at Work: 9 - Making a 3x3 Card Sheet

Howdy! Looks like I forgot to post the latest episodes of Card at Work to the ol' blog here. Sorry about that! For new folks, Card at Work is my video series covering the basics of designing cards for tabletop games.

I figured, what could be more appropriate for Episode 9 than to talk about making 3x3 card sheets? :) Check it out at the video above.

The previous episode covered variable front-and-back card designs.

Thanks for watching! I hope you find these videos useful. Support more videos at my Patreon!
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.