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FROM THE ARCHIVES: COVER STORY BITSKRIEG

I was initially at a loss as to what kind of cover to do for Bitskrieg. Because one of the game's big selling points is that you can just as easily play it with a smart child as you can with a fellow adult-person, I knew I wanted something that would appeal to children.

I knew what I didn't want, which was the "title done in a childish scrawl with random letters written backwards", because kids can smell that kind of baloney a mile away. I didn't want to be phony. I wanted something that was genuine, and would genuinely appeal to them, hopefully without turning off the adult-people who would actually be purchasing the darn thing. But as to how to create a cover that would do that, well, that was tricky. It's fairly easy to figure out what kind of cover might appeal to a certain kind of wargamer, because I'm a certain kind of wargamer. I'm not a child. I'm not sure I ever was a child, and I defy anyone to bring forth evidence to the contrary.

At any rate, my first stab was to try to ape some of the trends in graphic design aimed at kids, along with some of Wil Alambre's top-down tank art.

Mary put the nix on this one right away; she thought the font was okay, but would be better in moderation. I decided to retool it to go for a rough kind of "chalk" look.

This one was better, but a little too minimalist, and also got the thumbs down from Mary.

At this point, it obviously wasn't clicking, and honestly, I wasn’t feeling it myself. I think part of it was that in trying to appeal to kids - an audience I didn't really understand - the cover design didn't have a strong thorough-line. It didn't communicate and engage.

And perhaps it was focused too much on the younger portion of the audience, neglecting the older folks who would actually be buying the darn thing. Because one thing that Scott's been very careful about is emphasizing that Bitskrieg isn't a kid's game, but a game that you can play with kids or with fellow adults. Any cover would have to communicate to both audiences - ideally, it'd be something a grognard could have on their shelf, proudly displayed, and also something where a small person could point to it and say, "What is this? Can I play this one with you?" And so the major problem with these earlier cover concepts is that they only communicated to children, and poorly at that.

In thinking about this, I was reminded of an essay by C.S. Lewis that I had read many times, On Three Ways of Writing For Children. Usually the bit I remember from the essay is the bit about writing things that frighten them. That's the bit that goes,

Those who say that children must not be frightened may mean two things. They may mean (1) that we must not do anything likely to give the child those haunting, disabling, pathological fears against which ordinary courage is helpless: in fact, phobias. His mind must, if possible, be kept clear of things he can't bear to think of. Or they may mean (2) that we must try to keep out of his mind the knowledge that he is born into a world of death, violence, wounds, adventure, heroism and cowardice, good and evil. If they mean the first I agree with them: but not if they mean the second. The second would indeed be to give children a false impression and feed them on escapism in the bad sense. There is something ludicrous in the idea of so educating a generation which is born to the Ogpu and the atomic bomb. Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker. Nor do most of us find that violence and bloodshed, in a story, produce any haunting dread in the minds of children. As far as that goes, I side impenitently with the human race against the modern reformer. Let there be wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, giants and dragons, and let villains be soundly killed at the end of the book. Nothing will persuade me that this causes an ordinary child any kind or degree of fear beyond what it wants, and needs, to feel. For, of course, it wants to be a little frightened.

But this time, it was something else I was recalling entirely. I dug up the essay and read:

We must write for children out of those elements in our own imagination which we share with children… A critic not long ago said in praise of a very serious fairy tale that the author's tongue 'never once got into his cheek'. But why on earth should it?—unless he had been eating a seed-cake. Nothing seems to me more fatal, for this art, than an idea that whatever we share with children is, in the privative sense, 'childish' and that whatever is childish is somehow comic. We must meet children as equals in that area of our nature where we are their equals. Our superiority consists partly in commanding other areas, and partly (which is more relevant) in the fact that we are better at telling stories than they are. The child as reader is neither to be patronized nor idolized: we talk to him as man to man.

And that's all well and good, but the Venn diagram between me and this hypothetical child has very little overlap. I couldn't imagine talking to a child "man to man" (or "man to woman") through a cover that looked anything like the sort of covers I was primarily interested in. It didn't feel like I could just do whatever appealed to me and hoped it would be something that a kid would dig. I was stuck, so I spent a few days mulling it over.

Over the last year or so, and including during those few days, I've been listening to a lot of wargaming podcasts, and an awful lot of folks on those podcasts pinpointed Panzer Blitz as the game that got them into the hobby. They saw the box in the store when they were a kid, thought it was the bee's knees, and never looked back. Since Panzer Blitz was "my first wargame" for a lot of folks growing up in the seventies, and Bitskrieg at least aspires to fill that "my first wargame" niche for slightly younger gamers, I thought we could get a lot of mileage out of a design that parodied the iconic Panzer Blitz cover.

My hope is that it's visually exciting enough to catch a kid's eye, while viciously targeting the nostalgia factor for aged grogs. This in turn, I hope, will allow the cover to appeal to the split audiences.


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