How One Man’s Pirate Game Shows the Intricacies of Great Game Art & Design

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Gergõ Gilicze is a graphic designer in Hungary.  In an article on Analog Games, Gilicze chronicled the design of a game for his master’s degree project from the University of West Hungary, giving insight to the process by which he created the components and packaging for his project.  Instead of redesigning an existing game, Gilicze chose to create an entirely new game, based on the concept of pirate rum smuggling in the Americas. The outcome: Rumsmuggler (or in Hungarian, Rumcsémpesz.)

The concept of the game is simple, as Gilicze describes: “In Rumsmuggler a bunch of watchful scamps try to smuggle rum into the royal ports, while the duty of the King’s honorable coastguards is to seize their illegal cargoes. In the meantime the scamps try to avoid the threats of the sea, monsters, reefs, ghost ships, and the most dangerous of all: drunkenness.”

The outcome is a game so beautifully designed in terms of packaging and components that it looks ready to get put onto Kickstarter.

If you’re the kind of person who is designing games and independently publishing them, there’s a lot of interesting lessons and design decisions Gilicze made transparent. The above box, for example, makes clear the deliberate decisions made. “The game title can be seen on three sides so it can be identified easily even when only the smallest side is visible on a shelf at the shop,” the post describes. It seems such an obvious decision, but when a passionate hobbyist starts creating a game, packaging and thoughtfulness to merchandising isn’t always the first thing that occurs, though it is incredibly important if your goal is ultimately to sell a game.

Similarly, how components fit into the box and the ultimate size of the box has huge ramifications for a game. Big boxes, heavy components and costs associated with creating that size of a game has ripple effects into the ultimate costs of producing a game. When gamers tend to look at the price of a game box, we don’t always consider how that price is a reflection not only of the box’s contents, but how much money it cost to just physically ship this game around the world, from where it was printed to where it ultimately gets sold. Big game boxes are more costly to ship, take up more shelf space (and thus are a bigger investment for stores to stock) but also garner more attention because the bigger a game box is, the more ostentatious the game itself tends to be when sitting on a shelf. A huge box calls attention to people perusing shelves, whereas small boxes can be overlooked. Moreover, small boxes often imply a less involved gaming experience but also a less costly purchase. Gilicze made decisions about the material of the map (canvas) for example, keeping in mind the packaging constraints as well as the game’s theme. “The map is printed directly onto canvas. I chose this material for two reasons: it could be a real pirate map and it easily fits in a small box. ”

So too does art. Rumsmuggler’s map is a thing of beauty and the design decisions are both based on creating an element of realism while also integrating a whimsical, playful setting conveyed through the art styling. The graphics on the board are made in the style of old maps, as it shows the islands, mountains and cities from a bird’s eye view,” Gilicze describes. “All those animals come from the Central American wilderness and you can learn more about the flora and fauna of the islands. Also, there are creatures in the water: sea cows, fish and whales.” Even the design of the route lines as depicted are a deliberate decision. “At first they were straight lines, but then I decided to make them curved, inspired by the sea currents and magnetic curves of the Earth. This way they became more dynamic.”

The creation of the wooden components (like the rum barrels and the ships) weren’t really discussed on Analog Games, though Gilicze did offer some insight to us in an interview. While he had no problem with creating the art, the wooden components were a particularly challenging element, partly because as a thesis project, his timeline was rather tight. Gilicze divulged to us, “About the hard parts, one of them was to get the materials (e.g.: purple wood) and produce wooden parts, but I got a lot of help from my family and friends to finish everything in time. I used my father’s workshop to lathe the barrels from pine sticks, one after another, and after 50 pieces I had to go back to finish my thesis. And my brother tested his new mill and milling heads with the ships.” Yes, he used Purpleheart (amaranth) wood and crafted components by hand. Think about the kind of production it takes to make custom, yet very special, game components next time you look at your custom cast minis or specially designed meeples in your favorite games.

Given the amount of work, Gilicze is still refining the game’s mechanics.  “The other hard part was to accept that I didn’t have enough time to finish the rules and make the balance between the opponents,” as he put it to us.  “Now I have new ideas how to finish the game, but I still don’t know when, but I’m sure I want to finish it.” I’m hoping to get my hands on this game one day, if only to have the art of a rum-loving octopus on my gaming shelf.

What do you think? Have you tried to design a game yourself? Share your stories in the comments below! 

Featured Image & Blog Image Credits:  Gergõ Gilicze 

Teri Litorco wrote a fabulous book about tabletop gaming (as featured on Geek & Sundry) and talks about games (and sometimes her cats) on social media: YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

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