Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Designing Tank Stat Cards

As discussed in a previous GaDeJo entry, I’m developing a kid-friendly tank battle miniature wargame. This inevitably requires me to present tank stats so players can use a variety of World War II-era tanks from various nationalities to run historical scenarios. While I expect I’ll provide the stats in the traditional developing a kid-friendly tank battle miniature wargame, I’m relying primarily on presenting tank stats on individual reference cards players can print on a sheet, cut-out, and use right at the game table. (I’m also providing stats in a massive table listing in the main rules for easy reference and transposition to a blank tank card, if desired). As part of the graphic design process I’m faced with the usual dilemma of presenting information in the most clear and appealing way.

(Please bear in mind I’m not a graphic design professional, just some guy trying to produce games who takes on most of the graphic design duties for his projects. Most of what I learned about graphic design came from my time as an editor of a weekly, hometown newspaper -- and that was literal paste-up experience -- and from working closely with West End Games’ amazing production manager and my old friend, Richard Hawran, on the production of The Official Star Wars Adventure Journal and other D6 Star Wars Roleplaying Game products.)

Playing around with the layout I realized I faced three basic issues….

Card Size: I’d like to fit a fair number of cards on each page, though they must remain large enough so players can easily reference them at the gaming table. I initially toyed with four and six cards to a page, but these both seemed to provide way too much white space and demand text and graphic elements at a size larger than practical. I found a workable size at eight to a sheet (slightly larger than business-card sized). This provided adequate white space, room for the essential graphic elements noted below (a symbol denoting the nationality and a tank silhouette), room for stats at a decent size, and additional space for game-essential notes. I fear, however, if I choose to go with some kind of graphic border I might need to revise this to six cards per page, but we’ll see.

Game Information: This remains one of the easier decisions from my graphic design perspective. I’m sticking with my standard rules text font for the five core stats -- move, attack, range, defense, and unit point cost -- with the stat label in bold and the actual value normal. The font size is large but doesn’t dominate the card over other elements, and still leaves room (at a smaller font size) for any special notes essential for play. The tank title font will most likely match the header font I use in the rules for A-, B-, and C-heads, which I’ve yet to determine. A stencil font seems appropriate, though an expected font in a military game. I might try dabbling with different fonts for different nationalities, such as a stencil font for American units and a Gothic-style one for German units, but I can’t think of an appropriate font for British units and will have to hunt around for a faux Cyrillic-looking font for Russian ones. (No clue what I’d use if I include Italian and French units.)

Graphic Elements: I wanted to enhance the cards with some useful graphic elements without making the design too busy. Two stood out as useful in gameplay…a symbol for the nationality in the upper right-hand corner and a side silhouette of the vehicle for basic identification. Right now I only have two nationality symbols, the Balkan cross for Germany and a red, white, and blue roundel for the United Kingdom; I expect to use a star for the United States and a hammer and sickle for the Soviet Union, though I’m not a huge fan of World War II Eastern Front action). If I end up splurging for an art budget and commission someone to render top-down line-art to use as “pieces” (in lieu of actual miniatures players provide) I might use that artwork to expedite unit identification, but that’s a variable yet to be determined. I’m debating including a border to each card, something looking like tank tracks or hull plate bolts, but this conflicted with my urge to include eight tank cards on each page instead of six or four. This is a case where I design a few cards this way not only to see how it looks but to determine how it affects the current layout. Does it make existing elements look too crowded? If I like the design do I increase the card size (and decrease the number of cards per page) to keep other textual elements at their current size? From what I’ve toyed with so far I can say I don’t like the “tank track” border (requiring a smaller font size on the stats) and only marginally like the “hull plate bolt” border.

One related issue emerged as I worked on the tank stat card design: the look of optional rule cards. In the “advanced” game I’m adding a host of optional rules, each summarized on a card players can place on the table to indicate the rule is in play for that game session (in addition to having full sections in the main text, complete with examples and diagrams when necessary). While the tank stat cards serve as references for individual players -- and are not necessarily meant for the entire group to view -- optional rule cards indicate for all players which additional rules apply to the game (as understood and agreed upon by everyone in advance), so they need a larger size to remain more easily visible on the game table’s periphery. Rather than eight to a sheet like the tank cards, I opted to fit only four to a sheet; this may change when I start laying them out and seeing how far I can streamline the text while still using a large font size.

So there’s my rambling analysis of the layout situation on this phase of the game. I’ve provided a few in-progress samples for your benefit and mine. We’ll see how this develops as I find more time to work on the game. As always, I encourage construction feedback and civilized discussion. Share a link to this blog entry on Google+ and tag me (+Peter Schweighofer) to comment.