Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Making a Board Game, Part II

In our previous installment, I discussed material choices and card printing. I discussed some assembly of parts as well. This time, we're going to discuss a subject a little closer to restoration than original production. Today, we're replacing pieces.

You'll Need:
  • A game in need of new parts
  • A graphic manipulation program. (I use GIMP)
  • Source images
  • Printer, cardstock, spray adhesive, cutters, etc.
NOTE: With Our Powers Combined does not condone using the following methods to re-produce someone else's material for the purposes of getting things "for free." Creators deserve to be paid for their work. The techniques are offered to create new components or replace existing ones of a game you already own.

In my particular case, the game in question is a Games Workshop war game from 1985, Warrior Knights. I bought the game at a flea market last year and inspected the components. The board was in good shape, lots of plastic baggies filled with chips and tokens and file cards for nobles, all that good stuff. I looked it up on BoardGameGeek and saw that it was similarly rated to Kingmaker, a laboriously long-winded medieval thing about the War of the Roses a friend had shown me not long before. The price was right, so I forked over some money and bought the game.

But not the rules.

Yes, in my haste to inspect the contents, I somehow failed to notice that the box I bought contained no rules. No matter, the instruction booklets for everything from retro video games to programmable remotes are available as pdfs literally anywhere so it should be easy, right? Skip ahead a calendar year, and I've finally negotiated a copy from a German board game enthusiast who sent me a pdf of a photocopy of his set of the original rulebook. Victory! Or so it seemed at the time: The rules make reference to over a hundred components that were missing from the box I had. Well, I'm not one to let that stop me, nor should it stop you!

A lot of what I'm going to talk about today is equally applicable for writing and producing your own expansion material. Games like Heroquest or Descent benefit from user-generated content, but the hard part is always making those bits look like part of the original. The following techniques should help.

First, get a good sense of what you are missing. In my case, it was 78 copies of the "Vote" tokens, over a hundred coins, a bunch of little status markers, and the chips that show when in the turn you are. Also, one noble card out of 24. Altogether, not the worst news. In the long run, I decided not to make the coins, as keeping track of your wealth on a notecard makes just as much sense, and the missing noble will get done sometime in the future. I doubt I'll have a six-player game of Warrior Knights anytime soon, so that should be fine.

Two of the tokens appear in the rulebook, the "End of Line"/Reaper token and the Fleet token. I was able to zoom in on the page in the pdf and take a screen shot (That PrntScr button you never use? Actually pretty useful). From there it was a matter of straightening the angle of the tokens and cleaning up the image in GIMP. I'll describe that process in a little bit.
Where I come from, this is a very, very cool thing.
The rest of the tiles ("Royal Pretender"? "Razed City token"?) I had never seen or heard of. They do not appear in the rulebook and my plastic baggies didn't feature a single one to compare it to. To the internet! Among its other delightful features, Board Game Geek features pictures of users playing the game. You get to see the game set up, decide if the art style is cool, or at the very least make sure that other gamers don't have nicer kitchen tables than you do. A couple close-up shots of tokens gave me what I needed to get started.

Not mine. But very, very helpful.

This was huge, a Rosetta Stone of board gaming. From here I could take measurements of something I knew (i.e. the Vote Token) and compare it to the missing pieces. It became clear that nearly all the missing pieces are 1/2" squares and the Razed city is 1" square. For a project like this, I could have just made up new pieces, but I wanted to recreate the game as exactly as I could. I matched the font on an existing piece to one on my computer and made new Vote tokens (20mm square, the only piece apparently in metric)

Their's is on the left, mine's on the right. If anything, mine are centered better.
Unfortunately, I'm not a CSI computer wizard, and spending the afternoon shouting "Enhance!" at the screen did little to improve the quality of the scan of the photocopy of the thirty-year-old rulebook or blow up someone's 800x600 digital snapshot of their kitchen gaming set up. I was going to need new information to fix some of these.

The next breakthrough was an eBay seller who wanted 85 pounds for a complete copy of the game seven years ago. As I already had most of it, that's not what I wanted from them. However, to prove the condition of the game they had taken excellent closeups of the components!

The detail on this made my previous pull from BGG look like butt.
So, what are the steps to making something like this work for you? Well, follow along. Any of what I'm describing should also work in Photoshop, but my pockets aren't that deep these days. Open your image and crop out everything but what you need. It's pointless during the rotating and adjusting levels to let extraneous info bog down your computer.

From there, rotate your image so that you have to do the least amount of stretching possible. There's a tape measure tool in GIMP (Shift+M) that lets you select two points and find the distance and angle between them. I use this to double check the straightest part of the image and rotate to match. Once you've done that, set the canvas to a square (as the piece, ultimately, will need to be square) and fire up the Perspective tool. Normally we would use this to make a sign or something fade into the distance, but for this we're using it the opposite way, to correct for perspective from the original photo.

Hip to be square, I guess.
Once you've got a square image, there's some cleanup that is required. Desaturate the image so you are working in pure black and white, and then erase the fuzzy edges around the outside of the token. I use a white pencil setting to blank out the rim of the piece. Next, correcting the contrast. While it's tempting to use Brightness-Contrast for this, I prefer to use the Curves tool as I have better fine control. The white of your adjusted image might be slightly gray and the black is likely not a true black. We can fix that:

This is the most subjective bit. Guess what the original wanted and do that.
We could call it quits here, but the fuzzy text is an issue for me. When this is printed out at a 1/2" square size, I don't want to guess what it used to read. In the case of the Razed City token, I had to do enough stretching that the white text was grossly fuzzy and distorted. In that case, grab the text tool and a matching font (Oddly, the font I used was Aparajita Bold, a font normally used to render Hindi. However, the English character set is a holdover from a much older font, which matched the 1985-era font almost exactly! Lucky break) and lay your new text over the original. Play with the size of the letters, the leading (space between lines), and tracking (space between letters) to match the original as closely as possible. Once you have new, suitable text, erase or paint over the old stuff.
Having read the phrase so many times, I'm inclined to name a band after this.
After you've cleaned up the token, move on to the next. Naturally, if you are creating new pieces, it may become necessary to go find new information. The Fleet token is a good example of this for me. The rulebook and internet images just didn't give me a clean enough image to enhance well. The original token, so far as I can tell, had some fairly subtle line work in the water and the rigging of the ship, all of which gets washed out by anything but drawing it by hand. Not going to happen.

Knowing that the original art was inspired by medieval woodblock art, it was a matter of finding a suitable ship! You can do this the proper way by going to your stock image website and paying for the rights for an image (which is precisely how it's done in the real world and the method we'll be using on my actual board game, Cabal) or you can admit that it's a half inch ship on a DIY-repaired board game that will get played a few times a year. I grabbed that junk off Google image search. Also, mad respect for the folks who made woodcuts back in the day. There's a real skill to that. I merely trimmed and stretched their hard work to fit my 100-pixel frame.

The final tokens got a light gray single-pixel stripe on all four sides and were arranged on a larger image to print out on card stock. The printout and cardboard got a light coat of spray adhesive and the pieces were glued and cut apart as described in the previous article. A new, super-sharp pair of scissors dedicated to paper makes this a lot less strenuous. Particularly when you are cutting out almost a hundred bits.

The new ship matches the crown and reaper pretty well. Ooh, the Crown and Reaper would be a great pub.
That does it for this installment of Making a Board Game! If you have any questions about how to do something like this for yourself (or you have something you'd like us to take a crack at), comment below or track us down via email. Also, the playtest process for my own game CABAL is going on right now! If you want an excuse to build your own boardgame and want me to send you all the pieces and parts to print your own, send us an email and we will hook you right up.

No comments:

Post a Comment