It starts with color, and typography. Whenever I do a box cover, I tend to limit my palette to two or three very stark, bold, direct colors. For The Scheldt Campaign, I started with a bright, rich red (d8161e). This would be the color that dominated the canvas.
I then decided to use white as my primary text color. It's clean and reads well on red, without the need for any outline, shading, or drop. I'm not afraid of using those elements when I need to, but I prefer to stay away from then when I can. It gives the text a more "classic" look.
I used the font Modern No. 20, a very serify font, and I set the tracking/character spacing to -50. This lets the letters "bleed" into each other slightly, mostly where the serifs meet. To give it some visual impact, I staggered the "Scheldt" and the "Campaign" in the title. I then put the credits for the designer and the map illustrator in black text, filling in the staggered spaces.
As a general rule, I tend to stick to the same color palette when I put in the company logo, so I used black and white there. So, the earliest version of the cover looked something like this:
Obviously, that's not quite a cover yet; it needed some kind of graphic design element to really bring it together. Said element needed to conform to the color palette, and my first instinct was to place it in the lower left.
To emphasize the special role played by Canadian troops in the campaign, I decided to go with a white maple leaf. The maple leaf of course is a very clear visual shorthand for Canada; I went with white since the red is already well-represented on the cover. I figured the two together would really sell it as "Canada played a major part in this".
To drive home that this is a game about a World War II campaign, and that the Germans were the other side of the story, I decided to use a visual shorthand for Germany as well. There are two symbols that are clearly associated with Nazi Germany. The first, the swastika, is arguably the one that is the most recognizable, but it is a very loaded and problematic symbol, and I think using it would be in poor taste (it would also impact our ability to sell the game in certain countries). The second, the black cross of the Wehrmacht, hasn't pervaded into mainstream consciousness in quite the same way, but is well-known by wargamers and military history buffs. Since they're the ones most likely to be buying the game, I went with that.
I then interspersed the two and transformed them. I elongated the cross, stretching it over the mini-canvas formed by the white maple leaf, and then I broke it up to re-emphasize its original shape. Just as I replaced red with white for the leaf, I replaced white with red for the cross. I tilted the cross one way, and the leaf another; if I had just left it head-on, it would look really dull. I added a simple black outline of the leaf for some added visual excitement.
I really dug it, as did Mary. Brian, the designer, was less enthused; he felt it was too simple and garish. Now, just because a designer doesn't like a cover, doesn't mean it necessarily needs to be scrapped. It is after all our money that's funding the publication of the game. In the end, the box cover is a part of how the game is packaged and marketed, and those kind of decisions fall very much under our purview and are up to our discretion.
That being said, as a designer myself, I've seen my games saddled with covers that I'm less than excited about. I know what that feels like, and a big part of Hollandspiele is that we want to follow the golden rule, treating designers as we'd like to be treated. What this means is that while we may or may not change a cover that a designer doesn't dig, we at least owe it to him to have a conversation about it, and to look at alternatives.
Brian suggested using a particular photo of the Toronto Scots. I'm not thrilled about "using a photo as a cover", but I thought I might be able to marry the photo to the existing color palette and transform it into more of a graphic design element.
First, I opened the photo up in Photoshop, and kicked the contrast way up, while dialing down the brightness slightly. Then, I applied the handy-dandy Poster Edges filter. This is a filter that's really, really easy to overuse, and I try to stay away from it when I can. In this case, I set the Edge Intensity to "2", and the other parameters to zero. Then, I did a Color Range select, with a fairly high fuzziness, to remove the white from the black-and-white photo. This left the black portions only, with the rest becoming transparent. The black portions were that kind of fuzzy black-and-gray mixture, so I applied a black-black-black color overlay before I moved it over to the cover.
Note that because I was using the black visual element that I had to change the designer/illustrator text to white so that it wouldn't get lost in the black. I also italicized it, and resorted to a light black stroke to make it pop a little better.
The problem with this cover, of course, is how damn happy everyone is, which maybe doesn't fit the whole "brutal grinding campaign of attrition" thing. Brian suggested another photo. I applied the same tricks to that one, and that's what gave us our final cover.
What I like about this cover, and one thing that in the end gave it the nod over the maple leaf cover, is that it makes the black the co-equal of the red.