One of the reasons why I started designing box covers for my games was to have more control over the process. There had been a couple of instances in the past where the publisher had saddled my game with an ugly cover or a terrible name or both. One particularly egregious example never made it to market - I guess thankfully in retrospect. I'm not going to pretend like that's the worst thing that ever happened to somebody, or that even the worst thing that ever happened to a designer, but it was still an experience I wanted to avoid. When I look at one of my games, I want to look at it with pride and without cringing.

Not wanting to go through it myself, I certainly didn't want to put another designer through it. So when I do a cover for another designer's game, I want to make sure it's something he or she will be happy with. Barring that - everyone has different taste, and as a publisher Mary and I want to be happy with it too - I want something they can at least tolerate. Some designers are fairly indifferent to covers, and others have stronger opinions about what they like and what they don't.

Brian Train falls into the latter camp. And don't get me wrong: that's a good thing. That's one of the reasons why he's a joy to work with; he communicates very clearly and challenges me to bring what passes for my A game. It's something of a collaborative process, and that makes the whole thing run smoother. The cover for The Scheldt Campaign went through a few different iterations before its final version, and that final version was the best possible cover for that game. Similarly, the cover for Ukrainian Crisis/The Little War went through a few different drafts before we found the cover that worked.

To begin with, I wasn't quite sure what to do with the cover. There wasn't any kind of image that really jumped out to me as being particularly iconic. I ended up starting with a rather clichéd bit of resistance graffiti on a brick wall. I know, I know: I'm a little embarrassed myself. But I got to try out a few new Photoshop tricks, so it wasn't a total loss. I was neither surprised nor upset when Brian gave it a pass.

The second cover was a bit more inspired, in that it had an actual concept behind it: I designed the cover as the front page of a newspaper. I applied a half-tone to a Voice of America photograph of the conflict's famous "Little Green Men" and used that to anchor the cover. At this time, we had added a second game, The Little War, to the mix, and I was able to work that in as a second front-page story.

UCLW cover

Brian found this cover to be more interesting, but something was off. Rather than immediately trying to fix it, I thought I'd try another concept. When I had created the newspaper cover, I had spent some time trying to get the half-tone right, and had experimented with different radiuses applied to different resolutions of the image. Some of these effects weren't right for the newspaper cover, but were interesting in their own right. So I wondered if I might be able to use one of those effects as the basis for a cover:

UCLW cover 2

It reminded Brian more of a book cover than a game's box cover (I was kinda going for more of a Criterion-y DVD thing), and he thought that I was "giving this Brian Train guy's name too much prominence." Brian suggested I continue to tinker with the newspaper, further suggesting that I place the designer's name "in a small apologetic typeface".

This went through a few iterations - I'm not going to bore you with every little tweak - before arriving at the final cover:

UCLW cover 3



  • A great cover isn’t going to save a Crappy game, but it is going to give you the best opportunity to sell to the best of the game’s potential. Same with books and albums.

    Steven Davis

  • We’ve done well over 100 titles of wargames for a bunch of clients and the one thing I can tell so far is that my opinion of the cover art has no correlation to actual product sales.

    It is my (perhaps optimistic) view that wargamers are interested in many things about what they buy, the cover being only one of them.

    Of our own games, the first had a highly stylized Art Deco train on it. Really cool. The second had cover art that looked like it could have come from a clipart site. Second one sold a lot better.

    Steve Jones

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