Mary Russell

With any cover design that I do, I try to find the simplest and boldest way to represent the game and its theme. Sometimes I succeed - Supply Lines seems to pull this off rather well, as does the cover for the forthcoming Wars of Marcus Aurelius.

But Table Battles isn't about a specific battle, personage, or era. It is, instead, about everything. The base set covers some four hundred years of warfare, bridging between the late Medieval period and the American Revolutionary War, but expansions will go back into the days of Alexander and leap forward into the twentieth century. You can't really represent that in a single image.

But if, per the late Roger Ebert, movies aren't about what they're about, but how they are about it, the same can be said about a game like this. And so I thought that the cover image should emphasize the "mapless" nature of the game, and the use of wood blocks. The best way to do this would be through a photograph of red and blue block armies arrayed against one another on a table.

The first question was what table we should use. We knew it was going to be wood of course, but different tables will give you different effects.

We briefly considered using our dining room table, which is dark enough to be reflective. The problem is that the lighting inside the room was less than ideal, with a rather ghastly looking glare. We could throw more light on it, but that would just wash out the color of the blocks.

So, that one was no good. My grandmother has a table that I used once before when I had to snap a picture of Dead of Winter for a magazine article. It actually turned out looking pretty good, with a nice reflective quality.

But I didn't think that the wood bits would necessarily reflect all that well, and I wasn't sure how that would lend itself to a top-down approach.

Ultimately, I settled on a coffee table with a blonde veneer which I usually bring out onto our little porch to facilitate outdoor gaming. Mary snapped a series of pictures. One of them caught my eye as being a particularly strong composition, though the overcast daylight kinda drained the table of its color.

That was okay, though, because it emphasized the character of the table - its grain and scratches - and gave the wood bits a chance to pop.

I decided to heighten this contrast by working from two different versions of the photo. In one, using Photoshop's color selection tool, I selected and removed the blue and the red, leaving the empty spaces transparent. Then I rendered the image in black-and-white, jacking up the contrast and only slightly turning up the brightness.

With the second version of the image, I super-saturated the colors. When I put the first on top of the second, I ended up with exactly what I was looking for.

Then it was a simple matter of putting a title in one corner and my name in another. Viola!

I generally stay away from using a lot of blending options for the text elements of my covers. Check out, for example, The Grunwald Swords, where there's no drop shadow, no stroke or outline, nothing. But in this case, I needed to make sure that the text elements didn't get lost against the background, so I used a very slight shadow to help 'em pop.

I rather like the end result, and when we first shared it online, a lot of folks had a similar reaction. Even before there were many details about the gameplay, the cover seemed to generate an awful lot of excitement. Which is, of course, exactly what these things are supposed to do, making it one of the more gratifying cover design experiences I've had.

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