15 September 2019

Becoming a judge

The Board Game Workshop Design Contest 2019

Judge in Design Contest 2019, from The Board Game Workshop. An initiative fueled by the enthusiasm and dedication of Chris Anderson! And another new experience in this first year of returning to the Land of Games, a year now almost coming to an end.

The responsibility: supporting creators, contributing to the realization of their ideas.

The challenge: to treat very diverse proposals in a fair way.

The doubt: would I be up to the task?

The doubt had been anticipated: the contest page contained detailed information about the entire process, the judges’ role, the amount of time involved and, most importantly, on games submitted in previous editions, allowing one to experience being a judge before committing.

Self-assessment done. Let's do this!

More than 100 projects at the starting line.
More than one hundred creators, individually or as a team.
So many dreams, ideas, projects, hours of work.
Abstract or themed games; Cooperative or competitive.
Boards and parts.
Mechanisms and combinations.
For two players; For three, four or more.
For fifteen minutes of relaxation or a few hours.
In different development phases.
Aiming to provide different experiences.

Material available for the first stage of the contest: a short description and a 2-minute video.

Maybe the hardest phase to judge. Two minutes is definitely a very short time. And, therefore, one must try to look beyond, while avoid sticking to first impressions. Avoid being influenced by the video production level, voice over, animations or subtitles. Avoid deciding based on personal preferences as a player. For all this, the hardest question for me was undoubtedly: "How excited are you to play the game?".

Focus on the game, first and last. Focus on the intended recipients.

I opted, from the start, for not trying to judge all the games. I also decided not to evaluate games whenever I was not able to look at them from distance enough. I chose to make enough time for each proposal. View and review the videos. Try to understand the intent and envision the hidden potential.

I've evaluated 19 games.

On the way to the second phase, the innovation of this edition: working sessions with the creators!

An opportunity to know a little about the person behind the game.  An opportunity to better understand the path, the ideas, the objectives, the options, the whys and why nots. And thus, better contribute to the development, through listening, questioning, suggesting, providing opinions.

Conversations with two creators, face to face, across distance, in space and time, over the Atlantic, between Portugal and the USA. And a few more messages to continue polishing the game, preparing the rules and developing a video up to fifteen minutes long.

Congratulations for this idea, Chris! Very interesting and enriching, besides enabling a more effective contribution towards game development!

And we have reached the second phase, now with the complete rules of the game and the longer videos.  Demanding greater time availability to digest all the information, to imagine the game in action, to evaluate balances and imbalances, to identify virtues and problems.

I've devoted my time to just two games.

Just one more phase to go: to test the real thing, a complete prototype. Of course, this must be done on location, by a panel of judges, and so my contribution ends here, believing that many of these projects will become games, available at a nearby store!

3 September 2019

An Gleann Mòr

In the Great Valley, at last.
The Great Glen.
Glen More.
An Gleann Mòr.

Travelling. Across High Lands.
Amid the mist, beneath the hidden skies.
Amid the clouds, out in the rain.
Land of water. Land of waters.

To the sound of the wind.
To the sound of Gaelic.
Turning it even more mysterious.

An Gleann Mòr.
From Inbhir Nis to Fort Williams, 73 miles shaping Scotland.

Urquhart Castle, Caisteal na Sròine, close by Drumnadrochit.
Watching, for centuries.
Over the lake.

The lake.
Loch Ness.
The first one, for those who come from the north.

The game embraced this journey, searching for its origins.
Traveling light, with no box, out of the box.
Glen More.

Loch Lochy. Loch Lòchaidh.

Just after passing by Loch Oich. Loch Omhaich.

Lakes that succeed along the valley, forming the Caledonian Canal.

The highest mountain was not to be seen, protected by a blanket of clouds.
Beinns, mountain, as in Beinn Nibheis, Ben Nevis.
The highest point of the big island, here measured in feet, 4400 of them.
After Fort Williams, turning west, towards the jagged shoreline.

Loch Shiel. Loch Seile.

A sight dismissing any words.

You do not feel the falling rain anymore.

Time slows down.

It almost stops.

The game embraced the journey.

The tiles have left the box.

They have found their roots.

Eilean Donan Castle.
The castle of Donan island.

Eight Centuries of history.
From the Vikings to the Jacobites.

Rebuilt over 20 years in the early 20th century.
By the sight and hands of a military and his chief of works.
John Macrae-Gilstrap and Farquar Macrae.

Time to head to the island.
To the Isle of Skye.
Exchanging a visit to the castles of Armadale and Moil by the Old Men of Storr.

Climbing, climbing and climbing even more.
Until reaching the mists.
Above the rainbow.

Before the descent.
In the rain, sent by the Old Men to keep us away.
With this rain, that is already part of us.

In Clans Map of Scotland, Bartholomew

Time to leave behind this land of Clans.
The game will return to the box.
For now.

An Gleann Mór.

4 August 2019

On the road again

Photo by Leonor Conceição

Vacation time.
Time to hit the road.
On the menu, one of the major metropolises.

São Paulo? 
Nova Iorque? 

Tokyo, ichiban!!

On the access ramp

Still time enough to see the landscape and the skyscrapers in the background

Bends and angles in the freeway! (photo by Leonor Conceição)

Heading downtown

Searching for the right exit!

Naotaka Shimamoto e Yoshiaki Tomioka (2018), Tokyo Highway, Itten.

21 July 2019

At the botanic garden

It's summertime, in this latitude. It feels good to walk among the trees, enjoying the shade, tasting different aromas, dancing with a variety of shapes and colors.

Even better is to make our own botanical garden! Planting, at our discretion, trees from varied places: blue spruce, cassia, cherry blossom, dogwood, jacaranda, maple, oak, royal poinciana, tulip poplar, willow.

Trees, side by side, without any concerns regarding compatibility, origin, age, amount of light, degree of moisture or nutrients.

Trees that do not have to be arranged in defined sequences, nor organized into specific groups. But which may only be planted according to horizontal and vertical lines.

Such are the rules of this garden.

And as the gardens are to be visited, one must create paths that visitors can enjoy.

Paths that begin and end in the same species.

Numbered paths, in ascending order, so that we can follow them.

Paths that must have something more than other paths, in other gardens, so they deserve to be visited.

Botanical Gardens in competition.

Among colors and shapes.

Dan Cassar, Arboretum (2018). Illustrator: Beth Sobel. Renegade Game Studios.

7 July 2019

Six Pack

In groups of six.

As the sides of the hexagon.

Photographs without much comment.

Gathered under some common feature.

30 June 2019

What have these games in common?


Resist the urge to scroll down to find the answer!



Some have buildings, and construction works, but not all of them.
The same goes for people and professions, present in more than half.
Past, present, and maybe future. Some diversity time wise.
Only two appear to be environmentally focused.
Guess we can rule out a common theme.

Different authors.
Game mechanisms.
Even cover languages!

Days of Wonder.
Blue Orange.
Cranio Creations.
Studio Bombyx.
A set of different publishers.

Any more guesses?

Well, there is, at least, one common element, one common person, linking all these together.

Time is running out!

5 …
4 …
3 …
2 …
1 …

And here she is!

Sabrina Miramon, the artist for those seven games, and our guest for today.

I think I first came across Sabrina’s work through Photosynthesis, a game designed by Hjalmar Hach and released in 2017.

The impressive cover drew my attention, with the combination of light and shades, the small surrounded tree bathed in sunlight, the matching title. Opening the box, the lively tree colours and the seed parts cranked it up a notch, and the very concept behind the game did the rest. It was a quick buy!

You can read some more about this game in here.

Photosynthesis cover, final version

Afterwards, I was looking into Dice Hospital, curious about the handling of the theme, just to find out that the very same artist, in a rather different take.

Well, I decided to give it a go.

A quick search, an interview request, a bunch of questions and Sabrina’s kind and prompt reply, sharing some insights into her worlds.

Which one did come first in your life: illustration or games, and board games or videogames?
Definitely videogames, I started playing them from a very young age. Illustration came up way later in my life.

When and how did illustration met games, and how has this relation evolved? 
One of my first job as an artist was making assets for an online RPG [role playing game], and then doing backgrounds for an animation series. My first board game “job” would be 6 years later. Now I can say that for the last 3 years, boardgames are probably my main specialty.

Miscellaneous characters 

What place do you now award to boardgames and videogames?
I’m an avid gamer so video games are still a big part of my life. I try to play boardgames whenever I can with friends and whenever I go to conventions. But work takes most of my time lately.

Is it possible to make a living illustrating board games?
It is possible to some extent, but it is very hard. Sadly, this is an industry that doesn’t have the same budget as Hollywood. Illustrating board games is not my only activity, I do other creative work as well but being a freelance artist can be a struggle. It’s a lot of work, countless hours, sleepless nights, but I’m happy I can do something I enjoy.

Boardgames seem to be in an upward trend, in terms of new games being created, enhanced visibility, more funding, and an increase in the importance accorded to visuals (illustrations, miniatures, add-ons). That may mean both more work opportunities, as well as more competition and more pressure (specifications, time, budget). What’s your take on this?
There’s definitely more opportunities workwise, and a little more pressure because of shorter deadlines. More publications means more competition as well. I think publishers now put more importance towards the look of their games, whereas a few years ago artwork didn’t matter as much. This is one way you can make your product stand out from the rest.

How early in the process do you usually start to work (raw idea, prototype, fully developed mechanics)?
Most of the time I start work once the mechanics are in place and the client knows exactly what assets are needed. Artwork and graphic design are one of the last steps before the game gets sent to printing.

Photosynthesis, sketches for the trees

Photosynthesis, sketches for the cover

Do you need, or prefer to have, a feel for the actual playing, before starting the creative process? 
I prefer to know how the game works so I can figure out how the artwork will play out. Sometimes I get sent a print and play version, photos of the prototype or a video showing the game and mechanics.

Do you get to play most (any) of the games you illustrate?
I play the ones I illustrate once I receive a retail copy :)

Have you a kind of standard approach? Where does inspiration come from?
I like to do some research on the subject, then do sketches (sometimes several iterations), send it for approval and once approved, I work on the rendering/final version of the illustration. Inspiration comes from many things, art, other games, movies, books, it really depends on the subject I’m working on.

Illustration process, buildings for Little Town

Is it more of a solitaire work or a cooperative one, with game designers, publishers, other illustrators?
It’s mostly solitaire work, I’m a contractor hired to do one specific job.

Is there a “typical” duration (or range) for a project?
Not really, it all depends on the amount of work required, the number of projects I’m working on simultaneously, the release date. It’s always around a few weeks, sometimes more.

What are the main challenges usually faced?
The biggest challenge for me, apart from doing the best job I can, is the technical aspect of illustrating a game. I need to consider how the painting on my monitor will translate to the printed version, because printing on card or paper will alter the brightness of my colours.

Did you ever had an impact, during your work, in a game design (rules change, different parts, …)?
Not really, I’m not usually involved in the development of a game until the art is needed. Sometimes when something seems off visually, I’ll bring it up, but I’m definitely not a game designer :)

Illustrating board and video games must be substantially different,  namely concerning “still” vs “moving” characters and landscapes. What are the main differences? And what do you enjoy more in each one?
I’ve actually never made an animation in my life, my work in both industries always was “still” images, so I’m afraid I can’t really answer that. But I do love both equally, although I like that my work in boardgames is usually short-term, I never get bored.

What makes you smile, while working on games?
Realizing I’m really privileged to do a job that I love in one of the greatest industries. I feel so lucky.

Any new projects in the making?
A few boardgames coming up before the end of the year, starting a new project soon. I’d love to work on my own indie video game with my husband, as soon as we both get the time :)

Upcoming projects

And now a quick quizz about games!

Name an “oldie” that sticks to your memory or even that you still play.
I used to love Risk! Haven’t played in so long…

The last one you played.
A few games of Jungle Speed

The next one to be probably played / wishing to play.
I’d love to get my hands on the Enigma Box, I love puzzles.

A game you love art-wise.
So many great looking game to choose from! One of the latest that I like is Root.

A videogame you like.
Metal Gear Solid.

Your favourite colour.

Ely, UK. Photo by James Billings

And that’s all from Ely, UK.
Thanks Sabrina!

To know more about Sabrina's work, go to https://sabou.uk/.
All images courtesy of Sabrina Miramon.

22 June 2019

Summer PAW

On the longest day, with the sun setting after 21:00, the half-hour trip was made at dusk.

Direction: Águeda; better said, Borralha, a small place; yet more precisely, the parish council building. First time at the site, not far from Águeda’s Municipal Stadium, home for Recreio Desportivo de Águeda since Euro 2004, and just above the Palace of Borralha, a building classified as monument of public interest.

Reason: The monthly meeting organized by Aveiro Boardgamers Group. Finally managing to attend one of those, after several missed opportunities due to conflicting agendas.

Aim: To try a few more games.

As a starter, Bärenpark, a 2017 game, authored by Phil-Walker Harding and with the art of Klemens Franz. The cover does not deceive: it really is a park with bears, one to be built by each player.

At the beginning, an empty land and a set of diverse elements: green areas, recreational parks, food zones, water lines, sanitary facilities, animal enclosures and, of course, the very own animals.

As important, if not even more, than the motifs in the parts, are the actual size, shapes and points associated with each element.

This is because the main goal is to completely fill the terrain of the park, through a judicious and timely choice of the different elements, in a kind of Tetris-way, so in vogue in many games.

Easy to learn, fun and fast to play.

And here's a part of my Bear Park!

In the base version of the game, the theme falls behind rather quickly, since the only real interaction between the different pieces is their form. However, there are advanced rules according extra points for the player who, for instance, has built the largest water line, or the one who managed to gather a certain number of animals of a given species. An apparently small change entailing a very different look to gameplay.

Then came the Qwirkle! A proper name for this game, authored by Susan McKinley Ross, which, being related to Scrabble, uses an alphabet without letters. Or rather, it uses two alphabets, one of colors and another of symbols, thus adding a second dimension to the possible combinations.

There are 6 colors, 6 different symbols and 3 copies of each piece, to form rows and columns, without repeating color or symbol.

The wooden pieces give an additional touch to the set, which sits nicely on any table.

Here, we were 2 at the board, which makes it closer to a classic strategy game. At three or four players it will become more unpredictable, by the new possibilities created, and the ones eliminated at each player’s turn.

To play again!

On a night with few players around, maybe because of the solstice or of the holiday-weekend combination, we still managed to peek at another table, where very lively matches of Zombie, Skull or Monster Match were going on.

See you next time!

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