Save Art for Beta Testing

Being the pixel diva (graphic artist) that I am, it’s REALLY hard not to futz with art on ideas. Sometimes I’m so excited about the aesthetics of my new game idea that I get wrapped up in them and take days to get out what should be a 15 minute prototype for testing. There are a few reasons this is bad, terrible, and wrong.

The first reason: you get wrapped up in mechanics that may not work and NEED to be changed. But you put in TIME and EFFORT into design and art and now you are married to them in your own mind. This is a design trap. A pretty, crappy game is still a pretty crappy game.

The second reason: It takes too long to get the game to the real world. You need to know if this idea WORKS. A week from now you may not remember the nuances of mechanics or rules that you had safely tucked away in your brain when you started laying out cards and components. Now you have something to look at, BUT how the hell do you play?

The third reason: Cha-cha-cha-changes. If you start with art on a brand new prototype it will take even longer to make changes. If you have icons and graphics that convey concepts, the people you are testing with or running ideas by (and even yourself) will have trouble moving beyond what is already in front of them. So you’ll have to make the changes before using your components in a different way.

I am SO guilty of this. So, so guilty.

Now I have make myself NOT use the computer at all for preliminary “is this even a game” prototypes. I test the heck out of them on paper and index cards written on with markers. When I’m satisfied that it is, in fact, a playable thing I take it to the computer and make a text version of cards and components. Think big bold type: “Red Faction” or “Move Forward Two” written on the center of a white card. Then I play test the heck out of that, now that all the components are standardized.
THEN it’s time for art and a “show the public” prototype. Still, this first art prototype I show to my nearest and dearest “I know them in person” real life play testers. At this point I make a rule sheet (not to be confused with a final rule book) too. I play and play and play and THEN make all the changes we’ve collectively come up with. I play test different variants that we’ve come up with. I make more changes. These often include art suggestions!

Then it’s time for real art. What, you thought that’s what we were talking about all along? No, no honey. The “art” we’ve been talking about up to this point is ANYTHING like borders, thematic fonts, backgrounds, card backs, stand in images clipped from the web, anything that’s not necessary to see if your game is a game at all.

I always like to have SOME art on my game before I take it to any mini-cons or local game nights with strangers. I want them to at least get an introduction to the aesthetics of the game. I do skimp at this stage though. If I have 5 characters, I’ll do art for one and change the name/background/color to distinguish from the others and use the same art 5 times. This stage is never “final” art for me. I use all sorts of truly copyright-free and royalty free images.


What happened? Everyone loves it! It’s going to be bigger than Catan! Then it’s time to weigh the art cost vs. the viability of the game. That’s a whole different post!

Now is when I spend hours coming up with card backs, graphic design, and plan the illustrations for the components. I create a list of things I need that I cannot do myself and put out feelers for artists and get quotes. I am completely honest with them, this may be a project a month from now or three or never.

Art questions? Ask away!

Adrienne “Penny” E.


Inclusivity: Making Everyone Feel Welcome In Your Board Game

I’m going to take a short break today from talking about printing to talk about inclusivity.  What do I mean?  More than just including everyone, it means that every single person that plays your game is not only welcome, but feels at home.  That is not as gargantuan a task as it seems at first. Inclusivity is NOT about people being OVERLY sensitive. It’s about showing respect to everyone and saying what you really mean.

Let’s dive in to gender.

Written words

The rules for Ventures in the Void uses “they/their” rather than the gender specific “he/she” – “his/her.”  To avoid repetitiveness I also employ “player/opponent.”   This is something that is relatively new to the writing world and technically incorrect when looking at APA/MLA writing styles.  My formal education is in Journalism and Communication so it took some getting used to.  The fact is, not everyone identifies as male or female. I do not, and never have, meant anyone any offense by my use of pronouns, so it is incredibly easy for me to make the shift to non-gender specific pronouns instead.


When sending out rules for friends, family, and industry types to proof and generally peruse, I outright tell them that my intent in regards to pronoun usage and themes, idioms, phrasing, etc. is to be inclusive of everyone. Not only does that keep my more literary editors from marking every generic pronoun, it also leaves them free to point out any other issues they see as roadblocks to inclusivity in the writing. Everyone has a different frame of reference and thus everyone has the potential to be supremely helpful when looking for these issues.

Depictions / Art


My current “front burner” project is Ventures in the Void which will only have any humanoid characters if a stretch goal is met. Mechanics-wise they will just be a bonus once per game so won’t be necessary.  Some of my other games, however, are entirely based on the persona a player chooses to represent them.  Legendary Tales is a story telling game when you play a hero.  Since I’ll have my players taking on personas that I portray with art and express as specific genders I feel it is my obligation to at the very least have a male and female version of each hero.  Like I said, the very LEAST… I am currently contemplating how to thematically include non-gendered heroes as well.


Unless we’re talking about a tongue-in-cheek, sarcastic game based in humor, I think the days of mostly naked, ridiculously top-heavy, female characters is done.  There IS a time and place, but around an inclusive gaming table is NOT it.  That said, the male characters don’t all have to be brawny and intellectually challenged or wiring and geniuses either.  In general, I stay away from stereotypes.  They are just bad business.  Why take the chance of offending a potential player with your art, when really it was just laziness or a lack of creativity.  I KNOW coming up with 200 cards or pages and pages of art is challenging.  Again, this is one of those times I let my artist know up front that my intent is to be inclusive of everyone.  I want all genders, skin tones, body types, etc. expressed in my games if there are many opportunities for art.  If there are just a few (like say a 5-6 hero game) then at the very least I want mid-range body types, both genders (and one un-gendered character if I can work it in) and a variety of skin tones.


Idioms and Slang

Chances are, if there is a slang word for a profession or nationality then it is derogatory.  Unless you actually mean “Hey, [insert profession/nationality], F You!” look it up first to be sure.  Watch using “female” as well.  Why? “Look at that group of males over there.” Sounds off, doesn’t it?  So don’t use “female” that way either.

By now, most of us have heard the story behind “rule of thumb,” just don’t use it. Lots of other idiomatic expressions are just as awful.  “Gyp/Jip/Jyp” is actually a derogatory term for Romani or Gypsies, just don’t use it. When in doubt, look it up.

[Bonus food-for-thought: When playing games – THINK about what you say.  Maybe you wiped the board with someone. You’re celebrating, you’re happy – so why bring rape into it?  Is rape funny?  You probably just answered “no.” So, why would you repeatedly chide another player by shouting about how you “raped them so hard?” See, now that you are thinking about it – you wouldn’t.  Let’s keep that away from the gaming table, shall we?]



The biggest tip for keeping your themes clean of unintended slights is to research.  Historical themes are the exception that proves the rule I think.  Some parts of history are just ugly.  I am not currently working on any history heavy games – but I think sugarcoating actual events is a whole different matter. These games take a lot of research – just be sure to get your facts correct.

For the rest of us with non-historical games. Research, research, research.  Naming fantasy continents?  Look up the name you chose to see if it has a meaning already.  Same with ships, tribes, civilizations – anything you are getting creative with.


Maybe I should have put this at the beginning, because if you’ve made it this far you obviously want to enlighten yourself on this subject.  So here it is: Inclusivity is NOT about people being OVERLY sensitive. It’s about showing respect to everyone and saying what you really mean. (ok, I DID go back and add that bit to the top!) I’ll admit that I’m educated and I surround myself with like-minded people.  We tend to speak tactlessly to one another because we take for granted that the person hearing us speak knows what we mean.  In reality, this is NOT a good thing. When bits of our vernacular are pointed out as “wrong” we tend to get defensive because we didn’t MEAN to offend anyone.  It’s HARD not to get defensive. At least for me, the reason I get defensive is that I truly didn’t mean to offend and I feel like I am being told I’m a horrible person because I did offend someone, or could have offended someone.  *Sigh* So the way I am proceeding with the distinct possibility that my words and art will be in print and distributed all over the globe (I hope!) is to educate myself and say/write/depict what I really mean.  Plainly: Everyone is welcome to play my game and I strive to only produce games that make them feel that way.


What did I miss?  What do you do to ensure your game is welcoming to all?

Why Would I Want My Board Game To Bleed? Printing Terms for the Board Game Designer

Why WOULD you want your board game to bleed? Because white edges are ugly. If you have already looked around at some self-publishing avenues, you have no doubt found printers that have templates for you to download and use.  Some commercial “final” game printers have some as well to help you along in the process.

Now you have a template and art. You open the template to prepare your files only to find 3 sets of lines, sometimes more!  What do you do with this? What do these lines mean?  If you’re lucky, they are even labeled – but what do the terms mean?  Check out the info graphic below.  (Bonus: Sneak Peak at Ventures in the Void Beta Ship Card Art!)

Printing Terms for Board Game Cards


Ok.  The first term and line you need to be concerned with is the trim area or actual size of your document.  It is, indeed, the ACTUAL SIZE of your finished piece.  So for a bridge card that is 2.25”w x 3.5”h.  For a 24×24 game board it’s 24”w x 24”h, a letter size document is 8.5”W x 11”h.  It is the literal size of the piece.  Remember to take rounded corners into account and do not design your cards with information that extends to these areas.

The next most important of these is the live area, safe zone, or DNE (do not exceed) area. Why?  This is the area that you need all your important bits to fit in.  No text should EVER exceed, or go beyond your specific printer’s “safe zone.”  What the printer is formally telling you is:  We can’t say for 100% certain that anything outside of this zone will be on the final card.  That sounds scary and a little crazy, I mean you’re paying them to print your stuff – shouldn’t they print it how you want it?  The short answer is: Sh*t happens, don’t go over that line.  Long Answer: In a perfect world every printing press and cutter is perfectly calibrated. In the real world, things shift and get “off.” The difference between the safe area and trim or actual size is a buffer to ensure everything important actually ends up on the finished piece. You will undoubtedly see requests from printers (usually on the template page) that says something to the effect of: please do not design your documents with thin lines along the outer edge.

Bleed is the same as the area between the “safe zone” and the trim line – except on the outside.  This prevents your cards from having an unprinted white edge if the cut is slightly off.  Industry standard is an eighth of an inch all the way around.  In the case of rounded corners, the bleed is still squared off.  Below is an example of an Adobe® program work space – the red line is the bleed, the black boarder on the white box is the actual/trim size.

Example Image Showing Bleed and Trim Lines

To recap – all your important stuff must be within the live area or safe zone.  Only backgrounds should be outside the safe zone and should extend PAST the trim line all the way to the bleed line.  Think of the area between the safe and trim lines as the danger zone (DANGER ZONE! – Archer) and the area between the trim line and the bleed line as your insurance zone.

Safe Insurance Danger Zones for Board Game Cards

I’ll cover rounded card corners in the next installment.  Do you have any particular questions about bleed area or printing? Let me know below!

Paint With All The Colors Of The Wind: RGB, CMYK, PMS, 4-Color Process, Spot Color – Make Your Board Game Gorgeous

We’ve covered which type of printing process and paper to use for your prototype and final game, now were going to bridge the gap between art and production and talk color.

Below is a quick primer on the color jargon you’ll run into.


RGB: Red, Green, Blue – refers to LIGHT. Used exclusively for electronic viewing since monitors display images with light.  100 percent red, green and blue results in WHITE.  Request RGB design and illustration for web graphics, online previews of your components, and the headers for your KS page. If you print RGB, most modern printers can deal with interpreting RGB into their CMYK outputs, but it can still result in a muddy output. It’s best practice to use RGB for web and CMYK for print.

CMYK: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black – conventional printing colors. Also used as a generic name for 4-color process, the 4-colors refer to cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.  100 percent C, M, Y, & K is BLACK. Request all production graphics in CMYK so they will reproduce as expected. On a quote, 4-color process will appear as 4/0 for single sided or 4/4 for 4-color process on both sides.

PMS: Pantone® Matching System, “PMS” is followed by 3-4 numbers that indicate the specific color. PMS is used for precision color when a specific color is important. On quotes you will see this listed as 4+1 or 4+2 or 4/4 + Spot Color, indicating 5 or six colors used in printing.  That means Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black + PMS 187 is 4 color process plus fire engine red.  You can also order prints in 1 color and indicate a PMS color rather than black (1 color process is usually black) – a great trick to have color printing by save printing costs.  PMS can also be used to add metallic colors to a print job.  Spot color is another term for PMS because technically PMS is a brand.  TIP 1:  If a specific metallic gold or silver is not that important to you, you may be able to save money on printing by asking the printer what they have in stock and using the “house PMS metallic gold.”  TIP 2: When looking at a PMS color chart like the one shown below, pay attention to the C after the numbers – it’s what it will look like on coated stock.  You guessed it, the C stands for “coated” – coated refers to gloss, matte, and dull finishes applied to paper.  UC is similarly “uncoated” like the paper in the copy machine.

PMS Color Charts

PMS Color Charts

Have questions about color?  Hit me!