Here is a secret that anyone who has ever playtested a game can tell you. Games on white scraps of paper are not very fun. I mean, they can be fun, and when they are fun you know a game is really actually great. Because fighting over a super awesome Eurasian continent with Steam Punk inspired Mechs is super fun. Fighting over White Hexagon #18 is less so.
When you are playing a game without art, you are generally fighting over the honor of White Hexagon #18. Sometimes White Hexagon #18 will have a name or some text in it. More likely some text that has been scrawled on top of and written over because whatever it used to say wasn’t balanced.
Wasteland is such a game that is actually fun to play without art. It’s a sign of a really good game. Because even good games are usually moderately fun without art. Design of player pieces and boards is much more about simplicity than it is about fun. And when I say simplicity, I mean simplicity to create. It takes really good graphic design to make the game easy to follow. Turn order, reminders of what goes where, how to play, what the cost of going on a space, what the space gives you. This is all graphic design. This is what simplifies a game and makes it both fun and easier to play.
Before we get to the challenges of Wasteland Express specifically lets talk about a game that everyone is familiar with. Carcassonne. Carcassonne is a very very good game. It’s also an evil mean despicable battle over fields and Castles if you are playing the game right. Now imagine playing a version of Carcassonne where the castle walls were little squiggles, and the fields were just green solid colors. Now you aren’t fighting over fields and castles, or long roads or Cloisters. You are just fighting to follow rules of some colored piece and getting the most of that colored piece there. Carcassonne is not a terribly thematic game, but it’s more thematic than a pure abstract would be. It’s also pretty easy to memorize how you score the different sorts of pieces because they seem to have their own character and graphics that give it to them (ok, once Dragons and Tower and Catapults start showing up it gets a bit harder to remember everything…).
Enter Wasteland Express.
Wasteland Express has a fantastic mix of elements that really drive the game. The Raider cards, the board, the Mod Shop, The Temp Mod Shop, The Marketplace and The player board. The player board is where we are going to spend some time today. We spoke about how player actions work two weeks ago. Today we are going to show you all a work in progress version of Tweeks player board.
See, the game as was had a relatively workable board. You take cubes, you put them on the action you want to select (Drive, Sell, Buy, Combat, etc) If you drive twice in a row you move a bit faster than the time before that. If you move into a spot where you can take another action following a drive action you can immediately move that action selection into one of the other slots (but lose your momentum).
Enter a graphic designer. Here we have the dashboard of Tweeks Tractor Trailer. Suddenly blank squares become buttons. We have some hand-drawn arrows showing the movement of your action selection (and the one space where your cube can’t move to after movement hiding off on it’s own as a sad reminder of what you cant do). This, is good graphic design. Obviously I am less than impartial here, but this makes you feel like you are in the game world. You aren’t just moving cubes around blank white squares. You are upgrading your truck via a busted old-world HUD. You are using controls on your dashboard to take actions. And it helps the gameplay by making it much easier to understand your action selection mechanics.
Now, lets look at some city tiles. These are much more of the “well that looks cool” variety of graphic design. They need to convey some information. The name of the city can be important. The faction they are aligned with can be really important information. Some cities produce goods. Some have demand for goods. Some may have special actions you can take at them (such as going to the Mod Shop). White squares with boring logos are not very fun. Awesome birds eye views of burning cities made out of random old world junk with cool bullet holed up signs are very fun.
Same with the world tiles themselves. No one ever said “man, I wish someone made a game about driving across white octogons and delivering cubes for money”. Driving across a desolate hellscape after the world has come to an end to scratch out a living? Sign me up.
Now, a slight side-step about Chrome vs. Thematic Design. These are two VERY different beasts. Reiner Knizia is a great designer, and one of my favorites. Ra. Battle Line. Modern Art. Lost Cities. Sign me the hell up for all of the above. These games have very nice art. These games are not thematic. These are basically abstract games that have been chromed up to make them look super cool. But they are ultimately basically abstract games about bidding for sets or winning tricks. Wasteland is a different beast here. It has a Euro soul, but the gameplay is thematic. You are driving across the Wasteland, picking up goods and delivering them. You are completing missions for factions. You are fighting Raiders and digging up artifacts. This is a thematic game. I say that only because I don’t want anyone to get the impression that graphic design makes a game thematic. Games that are thematic are thematic all the way back when they are scribbles on a white sheet of paper. Wasteland feels like you are a truck driver driving across the desert right now, even when that desert is a white field. I imagine very much so that War of the Ring felt a lot like a Lord of the Rings game before they ever put any artwork to it. Descent a PNP RPG well before there were minis. Arkham Horror was probably deeply disturbing before FFG started making it pretty. So, the point of this rambling entry is not to say that art = theme. But I know Descent is a whole lot more fun with a pile of minis and those amazing dungeon tiles.
My hope as a publisher is we’ve done our part along with some very very talented artists in making an already great game more fun with the work we’ve contributed.
Oh, and have some Raider Art. This is Carrion. I’m expecting her to stir a bit of controversy, but we’re both totally 100% fine with her. Without getting all SJWy on you, we feel that she is about as non-sexualized as an almost totally naked woman can be, and is definitely not drawn with the male gaze in mind. Given that we were ok with Bean Man and his bolted on nipple clamps, we’re also totally fine with Carrion here.