White Eagle Defiant is a sequel of sorts to last year's popular introductory wargame Brave Little Belgium. I think that game had one of my better covers.
My ideal cover for any game is one that's very simple - almost too simple - but communicates. I've also a strong preference for bold, solid colors that I hope confer a strong sense of visual identity. So, the cover for Brave Little Belgium ticked all my boxes, and I was looking to do something in a similar vein for White Eagle: a simple image defined by solid color.
My first instinct was to use the eagle motif - I mean, it's right there in the title. When Ryan Heilman (who designed both games alongside Dave Shaw) sent us the prototype copy, his logo was built around Poland's coat of arms - the white eagle on a field of red.
My own first pass at the cover relied on a simplified white silhouette of that eagle, against a brighter red.
I felt like this was a really eye-catching cover - though looking at it now, I would probably switch out the black Hollandspiele "H" with a white one - and I plopped it into the dropbox for Mary to approve.
"I don't know about this one," said the queen of my heart. "It's not bad, but it feels like something for a World War I game. It doesn't have the kind of grit you want for World War II."
And so, with grit in mind, I started digging around archival photographs from the period. I was very specifically looking for photos that told the Polish side of the story. There have been an awful lot of World War II games, and an awful lot of their box covers tend to center the German experience. Unintentionally or otherwise, this plays into a glorification of the Nazi military machine, and that's something we were very studious to avoid. (Likewise, when we began working with map artist Mark Mahaffey, the brief specifically asked that Nazi imagery be avoided; Mahaffey told us he was very happy to read that.)
The photo I landed on was this one, of a Polish soldier.
I didn't think using the photo as-is would really gel, and so I fell back on one of my favorite Photoshop tricks. I removed all the white from the photo. All that remained were shades of black and gray, which I slammed all the way up into black-black-black.
I wanted to keep the eagle motif, however, and that nice big red, so I put my stylized soldier's photo behind the eagle.
This, as Mary was quick to point out, was too messy and distracting - it was hard to tell that it was a soldier unless you were specifically looking for it. And so on her advice, I dropped the eagle motif entirely, aiming for a much starker cover that was entirely black-and-white except for red title text to draw the eye.
The photo itself wasn't quite tall enough to fill the canvas, and so I simply mirror flipped the left-hand portion of the image. I liked this effect well enough that I did another mirror flip on the back cover.
The end result is not only one of my favorite box tops, but also one of my favorite bottoms. Which as you can imagine doesn't happen all that often - there's a reason why there isn't a recurring series of blog-things about the backs of our boxes.