Friday, 21 November 2014

TW Plastic Castle – Tower


After storing the rather large parcel in the garage for a couple of days, I managed to find a spare hour last night so thought I would dive in and start building my plastic castle by Tabletop Workshop.

Given that their other buildings were so intuitive to put together, how much more difficult could the castle be?

The castle consists of 4 Towers, 3 Walls, a Wall Gate and connectors for the whole lot. I decided to start with one of the Towers…




It all looked very straightforward and upon opening the box I found six sprues of two different types. It's a very cleverly designed kit and, just like the other buildings, TW have managed to keep things very streamlined and production costs low by repeating elements.

The instructions (on the back of the box) suggested that I start with the base so I duly obliged.

Unlike the instructions on the previous building kits, the one for the Tower was more like an exploded diagram, so after a quick look I figured I had the measure of it… err, not really.




The three pieces that make up the starting point were found and stuck together. "This is easy" I thought, but my lack of preparation would bite me in the backside before I was done.




MISTAKE #1
What was not obvious (to me) in my rush to get started was that the three wall sections that appear on all six Tower sprues are slightly different. The one to the right of the image (above) flares out slightly at the bottom and (I was to find out) has different fixings underneath. I began clipping and sticking random wall sections to my base before I realised my mistake.




What I should have done was clip out all the flared sections and use them on my base, as above. Not a problem. With the base piece done I moved onto the first floor.




MISTAKE #2
Again, I began sticking random wall sections, this time to my first floor before realising that, unless I want several window sections on my second floor, there should be three window and three blank walls to each floor. In the photo above you can see I'd stuck two blank wall section next to each other, leaving me with an abundance of windows.

Not a problem. This was fixed and with the experienced gained my (identical) second floor was completed in minutes.




Next came the top of the tower. Being very cautious I managed to get this right first time. You start off by sticking the three outer and three inner wall sections to your floor.




Then you stick the top of the crenulations (again, three pieces) in place to seal it all in. Job done. I would suggest having the joints in the top at a different place from the joints in the walls.




With all my sticking done I had my four floors ready to go. A simple stacking job was required and voila…a tower in an hour. There is a door and step that can be added to the ground floor, but I left things plain for now.




Let's not mess around here – this kit is simply awesome. It doesn't have the detailed elements that, say, the chapel has – but that's good. It's a blank canvas for you to tailor to suit you. All the important bits (like the brickwork) are very detailed, but it's not cluttered with random stuff… books on the floor or drapes on the walls, that you'd have to cut out if you didn't want them. If you do want them, you can add them yourself later.

I'm very excited to move onto to other elements. It'll be great to see the castle slowly come to life.




The models look great in the top of the tower and because I didn't glue the floors together, I can remove floors and have models take their adventures inside.



MISTAKE #3
This morning I realised that I had made a third mistake. The building method above is all good, but only if you intend to build your model as an independent tower.

I, however, wanted mine to be a part of my castle and in my excitement had completely forgotten above the connector sprue (above) which was in a separate bag in the large parcel. Though there are no instructions for how to use these (that I can see) it looks like they replace wall sections on the three lower floors so that they can clip into the (as yet unbuilt) wall and gate sections – notice the bottom piece on the sprue is flared.

This is going to mean either purchasing another tower kit to do properly, or hack up my lovely tower to replace wall sections. Neither option particularly appealing.

Learn from my mistakes…plan your build before you start!

To be continued…


Wednesday, 19 November 2014

A Rather Large Parcel…


A rather large parcel arrived at work today. Anyone who's been following my exploits with the Tabletop Workshop plastic buildings will guess what it is!



Not sure when I'm going to get to look at this in any detail, let alone build it, but I'm a very excited geek right now. Aside from buying entire armies, this has got to be one of the biggest parcels to grace the doorstep.

Watch this space…



Monday, 17 November 2014

Rulebook Design – World of Twilight


Back in March this year I pledged towards the World of Twilight Kickstarter, Travels through Anyaral. I have long been an admirer of what Mike Thorp has done with the game and the fact that he originates pretty much all of it himself is a great example for budding game designers.

The World of Twilight is one of the best branding examples in the gaming industry for me. Despite not having tons of cash to throw at it, Mike has developed a truly unique and recognisable logo and visual style for the game – his pencil illustrations have come to epitomise the brand and is, as I say, pretty unique and easily identifiable. Whilst I've never actually played the game, I have downloaded the first two books as free PDFs and felt compelled to pledge when the opportunity arose.


Last Thursday a parcel arrived containing the book and my Kickstarter exclusive miniature. Given the recent series on this blog about designing rulebooks I felt the need to add a supplement post about this book having given it the once over.


The internal design matches what's gone before in the first two books. It's a pretty clean layout, almost duotone rather than full colour inside, and does the job. The pencil illustrations work really well on the textured background and the whole thing feels like part of the World of Twilight family. There is no page navigation to speak of and the page numbers are very subtle, but I don't think it's really an issue in this instance.


The only real design issue I have is the background fluff (above). It's been set in a display font, which does not work as body copy for me – it's a real challenge to try and read it so I suspect a lot of people will probably not bother, which is a shame as clearly a lot of work went into writing it. Mike tells me it was a conscious decision and that's fair enough, it comes down to individual designers' tastes – even if I don't agree, at least it was a conscious decision not a random selection.

This book is clearly as much of a labour of love as the ones that went before and the passion that went into it is obvious to see. I love the concept of World of Twilight and it has carved out its own corner – and is still carving – in an industry that's notoriously difficult to break into.




Yet as much as I like this book, the format and print finishing lets it down for me.

This rulebook was crying out to be perfect-bound, like the small Malifaux rulebook, but instead it was saddle-stitiched (stapled). Just like the Saga rulebook in my previous review post, it has bowed due to page numbers and paper weight. Mike has since told me that it was a conscious decision to go down the stitched route to match the two books that went before and that's perfectly valid. Although I'd personally rather see perfect-bound, it does makes sense retaining consistency across the range.


The real crime however is the print finish. Mike went for a matt laminated cover, which is a great choice but the printers didn't do a very good job (on this copy at least) on this occasion. You can see in the image above we have bubbles appeared underneath the laminate on the front cover. In the photo below you can see the laminate has started to lift at the edges of the cover. It may just be a one-off in an otherwise perfect batch – I hope so.


As a designer, if I had received this from a printer it would have been rejected and the whole batch sent back to be printed again – it's simply not good enough. The lifting will only continue and in a year it is likely to look a bit of a mess.

As a Kickstarter backer I am disappointed with this end product – though the miniature is excellent – not just for me but because I don't think Mike got value for money from his printer.

The question is, would I even have noticed these things if designing wasn't my day job?






Wednesday, 12 November 2014

How To Design A Rulebook – Black and White



In the previous couple of posts we've looked at three ways to lay out a colourful page in your rulebook – but what about black and white options?

Off the top of my head, I can see only three reasons why you would want to create something in black and white:

1. Print-friendly
You're producing a printable PDF/Word version of your rules and want to save readers' paper and ink when they print it out.

2. Cost
You're having it printed commercially and can't afford the colour price (though this isn't as much of an issue these days thanks to digital printing).

3. Personal Taste
You simply prefer black and white and don't want the distraction of colour.


Let's have a look at how these reasons might be implemented in the layout of your rulebook.




This first example is almost a straight de-saturation of our latter colour example. I have changed our grid somewhat – 20mm borders on all sides except the top edge which has 30mm.

You will notice that I've moved the page numbers to the top of the page (where the extra space is) next to the navigation. The only thing remaining at the bottom of the page is our social media and web links. There is the possibility that these may be lost if the reader's printer has excessive print margins, but it's not the end of the world as they can refer back to the digital document (in fact I'd encourage these links being clickable in the digital document in the first place).

Now the bit that doesn't work as well – images.

I've used grayscale versions of images from our coloured examples and they'll be fine for reasons 2 and 3 above, however they're no use for readers trying to print your document – they're too saturated and (aside from making the paper wet and wrinkled from an inkjet print) they will use an excessive amount of ink/toner.





By using simple line drawings to represent diagrams and filler images (such as this wonderful concept illustration on the right by Heath Foley for Mantic Games) you save the reader some expense and keep your document very legible. Your reader will thank you for it!

Why still bother with images? Because, just like the colour examples, we want to establish our game's brand and/or give our reader some eye candy to stimulate their imagination and get them excited about playing. Just because there's no colour it doesn't mean our document should be boring to look at, hence the re-introduction of an image that breaks out of the grid.

But what could you do to improve things if you have no illustrations and you're just putting something together yourself to stick online for people to look at?

Again, there's no reason why you can't follow the basic principles here.





In this example I've reclaimed some of the border – reduced to 15mm on all sides except the bottom edge which is 20mm. This gives us a bit more text space, so we'll get more on each page. However, this shouldn't mean it's wall-to-wall text, crammed in there. You need to let the text breathe in order for it to be legible and easy to read and take in.

I've maintained as much of the space as I can from previous examples and I've introduced double return spaces before subheadings. Similarly, I've kept the text well away from the top of the diagram box. All the navigation and links have moved down to the bottom, to allow more text space. But remember, it's all about letting the text breathe by adding space.


The 'eyes half-closed' view

If you want to know whether there's enough space on your page you need to look at it with your eyes half-closed.

If your page columns become large grey rectangular shapes then there's not enough space in your page. If you can still identify each section of text (like the image above) then you're on the right lines.


And that's how you design a rulebook!


I'm going to do a final follow-up post to tie up loose ends at some point, but if you have any questions or comments let me know.





Thursday, 6 November 2014

How To Design A Rulebook – Design #2


So now you've seen an all singing and dancing layout last time, it's time to reel things in a bit.

For this next example I've tweaked the original and cleaned it up a bit. Gone are the cut-out images and things take on much more of a gridded appearance.




The main thing to notice is that we now have illustrative edges to the pages and these contain the page numbers and navigation. I've rotated the navigation text in the the top-right to read down the page and added a coloured tab. This demonstrates a way of colour-coding each section of your rulebook so that as people flick through they know exactly where they are at all times. Simple but effective.

You will also see that I've rotated the example box to now span the width of page one. Similarly, the image on page two is at the top of the page to counter-balance the example box.


Still too colourful?

Let's strip things out even more…


The slimline version…


This is exactly the same spread, except the illustrated edges are gone. I've kept the colour-coding and added a coloured ring around the page numbers. This reinforces the colour-coding and make the numbers more noticeable.


Slimline with grids…


With the guides turned on you can see that our columns are still on the same baseline grid and things are still organised and considered. You may notice that I have altered the example box to make use of our six-column grid – the image now spans 4 columns to the 2 text columns.

This second design is still colourful, but it's restricted to the featured images rather than any peripheral 'distractions'.


If this is still a bit over the top we'd better have a look at something a lot more subtle.

To be continued…



Tuesday, 4 November 2014

How To Design A Rulebook – Design #1


With the templates done, we're moving to the visual look of your page and you need to keep in mind a couple of things – who your audience is and how they're going to use your book.

If your rulebook is going out as a Word doc or PDF file and you expect your audience to print it out then have mercy on their toner cartridges. In this instance you don't want to use lots of full colour images, or have important stuff within 10-15mm of any page edge. However, this doesn't mean your rulebook has to look boring – we'll cover this option later.

If your rulebook is meant to be viewed purely onscreen – ebook or PDF on an iPad for instance – then you don't want to have anything took subtle in the background that will become washed out on a screen. Also screens are much brighter than paper, so consideration will need to be made when choosing colour. Screens only require low resolution images and can display incredible detail, so take advantage of that too, especially if the viewer can zoom into diagrams, etc.

If you want your document to be printed commercially (or print on demand via the internet) and high impact then you have an opportunity to go for it (without going over the top). Let's look at this option a bit closer.

Taking our template spread from our hypothetical rulebook, I have commandeered some imagery from the XCom game (which is essentially humans vs aliens) for the purposes of demonstrating how easy it can be to create high impact visuals.


Our example double-page spread – click to zoom, it's a big image!



First of all I've changed the fonts to something more appropriate to the subject matter. Choosing fonts is a minefield and there's something to be said for "less is more". I chosen a rather fancy (but not over the top) display font from dafont.com for my Section Heading, navigation to the top-right and page numbers. They're still very legible, but have a more sci-fi edge to them which helps with creating a feel for the game. For the rest of the text I've gone with Titillium, which is a very strong sans-serif typeface yet has a technical vibe. I've purposefully kept the main body text clean and very easy to read – do not be using fancy typefaces in here! I've plucked out a couple of colours from my background image to add some complimentary colour and made the bulk of the text 90% black instead of 100% black to take the harshness out of it.

For my background image, I took a large, landscape (horizontal) pic and dropped it into the background. This frames the page and adds some atmosphere. However, text is not going to be legible sitting on it so I dropped a white box on top of it big enough to cover my text area (and a little more). I made the opacity of this box 95% to allow a tiny bit of the background image to show through, without interfering with the text.

Similarly, I dropped white circles behind the page numbers to help them stand out. We want the reader to easily find and identify them, without having the page numbers dominate or distract from the main text. The top-right navigation got the same treatment, with a thin white keyline to draw people's eye across the top of the page, to make it easier to find. The box 'bleeds' off the edge of the page so that it can be seen easily as you flick though the book.

A quick lesson in typography…
You will notice that the columns of text sit on the same baseline grid. The baseline is the 'line' upon which most letters sit, and which descenders (such as those found on lowercase 'p' 'y' and 'j') drop below.

Similarly, text in an adjacent column to a Main Title share the same baseline as the Main Title text rather than aligning with the top of the Main Title.  Conversely, the text opposite the Section Header align with the top of the Section Header rather than the baseline – aligning with the baseline would leave a rather large gap at the top of the page. Does that make sense?

That explanation is a bit on the heavy side, but it just means that everything looks more aligned and considered, rather than just letting text fall where it may.


The spread with guidelines – Note the text on the same baseline



You will notice we have some other visual additions to the spread.

In the far left column we have an example diagram (in this instance a screenshot from the computer game but you get the idea). It's accompanied by our example text in italics as per the template. You will notice that I dropped it into a box with a blue keyline. This was to pick it out further from the bodycopy so that it stands out. I could have gone to town on the box itself with metallic effects, or make it look like a computer panel but given how much else is going on it makes more sense to be reserved to maintain legibility – less is more.

As much as I've been going on a lot about grids and templates, it does make sense to break out of these grids now and again, else you page starts to look very rigid. As our copy in the far right column has fallen short of the bottom of the page (a change from the template for demonstration purposes), I have taken the opportunity to introduce a cut-out pic of a Muton alien, breaking in from the edge of the page. I have forced the text to flow around his shape to help his integration into the page. His presence introduces new shapes and angles into our grid and your eye starts to flow more around the pages.

Similarly, I have taken the opportunity to add a cut-out of the flying bot (hilariously named Floaters) to the middle of column two. He breaks out of our column grid and your eye flows around the page as you follow the angle of his body. Obviously, I've cherry-picked my images from a wealthy resource in the XCom games, but what this shows is that if you have images don't simply drop them in a rectangular box – having cut-outs can create interesting shapes on the page. But again, don't over do it.

So that pretty much describes the thinking behind this layout. It is very heavy on the visuals – too much for some no doubt – but we've managed to keep things reasonably restrained. As a piece of communication it works and has plenty of eye candy.

Next time I'll look at something a little more subtle, then look at a pure black and white layout.

Got questions? Leave a comment and I'll try and answer!

To be continued…



Friday, 31 October 2014

Rulebook Design – Saga



By way of an intermission to my How To Design A Rulebook posts I thought I would have a look at the Saga rulebook – the ONLY reason I've picked on Saga is that Kris Marquardt (who inspired this series) has real issues with it. I'm not going to be critiquing the rules at all – this is simply a design and layout review, taking into account some of the things I've talked about so far in the Design series.

I'd like to caveat this blog post by saying that these opinions are mine alone, based upon a quick flick through the book and backed up by my graphic design experience.

Here we go then…

The first thing to note is that the Saga rulebook is 76 pages long (a multiple of 4!) and is stitched not perfect bound, which is an odd choice. This appears to have been a cost reason alone as the quality and finish of the cover itself is on the cheap side, as evidenced by cracking in the print along the trimmed edges (which you can see in the photo above). That's not an unreasonable decision if you don't have the funds but the main issue, as you can see below, is that with so many pages in a stitched document the rulebook bows and won't lie flat.




The other knock-on effect is that, the closer you get to the middle of the book, the narrower the pages are – it'll only be a few millimeter's difference but does mean that the absolute position of things like page numbers will drift as you flick through the book.

If you look closely at the photo above you will see that the pages near the centre of the book have been pushed a good few mm away from the spine due to the volume of paper in there. When the book is trimmed, more is chopped off the middle pages than the outer pages so the page numbers will get closer to the edge of the page as you move to the centre of the book.

You may not consider this an issue, but when you're looking for attention to detail, this is the level of detail that professionals will consider and reflects the effort put in.

We haven't covered…er, covers yet, but the front of the Saga rulebook doesn't present anything too unexpected – nice big logo, illustration of sorts and a publisher logo. The black and red creates impact and give you an idea of the carnage that is bubbling within. It's all starting to get the imagination flowing. It doesn't have a one sentence description of the game, which I would like to see, for anyone browsing.


Inside the cover we're greeted by a table of contents (not an index, as the title suggests) and credits/links page. All very standard fayre. Note the game description "Dark Age skirmishes" under the logo – I wanted to see on the cover and perhaps a touch more descriptive.

The background is a cream texture, which is light enough for the text to be legible, so that's ok. You will see a small Saga logo in the top right – this is where we had the navigation in our example. In my opinion having the Saga logo is of little use here, other than to remind you what book you're reading.

The banner in which it sits is a little odd. I'm not a fan of graduations, or feathered edges, on imagery as it always seems to be the go-to solution when you can't think of something else to do – I find it rather lazy design. In addition, graduations don't always print well and rather than being smooth end up being banded and ugly. I like the idea of introducing some of the red and black from the cover, I just don't think this was the way to do it.

How not to do page numbering!


You will remember me banging on about a rulebook being a piece of communication. This is where the only real design 'crime' is to be found – page numbers. The decoration for the page numbers drowns out the numbers themselves to the point of being almost unreadable, definitely a case of style over function. Nice idea, but it doesn't help the reader at all. In addition, the tinted images in the background around the page numbers interferes with text sitting on top of it. This too becomes very difficult to read and is completely unnecessary. Again, not very helpful to the reader.





Flicking further on through the book you can see the established design elements that I talked about in the last post (apologies for the shockingly blurred image!).

The section title is in a large, decorative font set in plenty of space so you know you're into a new section of the book. The titles are in the same all-cap font as the Saga logo, with the sub-headings in a bold italic version of the very clean bodycopy font.

You will noticed pull-out boxes dotted around this particular spread showing various dice-related aspects of the game. They have a rather elaborate scroll background image which is a little on the heavy side, but breaks up the columns of text quite well. Where the text for this particular page has finished short of the end of the column, they've dropped in a filler image – a viking miniature – alas it's kind of floating in the space. I'd be tempted to move it nearer to the text above, or replace with a more subtle image (this second option would probably clash with the page number background though).

You will note how the text columns start about a fifth of the way down the page. Rather than being a waste of space this is a good thing. It keeps everything well clear of the red/black banner at the top and ensures maximum impact for the section header. They should have done something similar at the foot of the page to stay clear of the page number illustrations.




This final image – I've blurred the text considerably so I don't get into trouble for showing the rules – is another interesting layout. I like the half-page image of the tabletop on the left. It injects some colour into the spread and gets the viewer excited at the prospect of playing. Alas, it seems to be in an odd place from the perspective of the copy. In the very left column we have a title, followed by a single line at the bottom of the column. This is not very visually pleasing and not good practice. I would have been tempted to move this title to the top of the next column, or make the image smaller and bring the sub-title and first paragraph of text from column two back to column one.

The 'Ragnar says…' boxes are fun and highlight a more practical perspective to rules, unfortunately when combined with the info panel beneath and the two scroll/dice boxes it's making the page look very broken up. I wonder if they were short of text for this particular spread and needed to pad things out.

Beyond the rules, army lists and missions, at the very back of the book, you will find a reference sheet and tokens to cut out – all useful stuff.


And that's your lot for today!


A bit of a quick insight into how I see rulebooks when I pick them up – I can't count the number of rulesets I've dismissed due to poor layout or execution – and this one is not so bad in my opinion.

There are things I would do differently for sure and I'd like to see the format and finishing of the print improved to justify the price they're asking. Despite getting the Saga boards included with the rulebook, I think £25 for this is too much. For that I'd expect a perfect-bound book with a matt laminated cover and a few more pages.

To Kris, I can see where you're coming from. The bottom third of the page design really niggles me and I'm not a fan of the banner at the top. The middle bit is ok if a little cluttered, but it's not the worst offender I've seen – the second edition of Infinity saw me put the book down 10 pages in and never look at it again as it was so busy it hurt my head to read.

More soon…



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