Matt Leacock is one of the most successful board game designers ever. He is the creator of the Pandemic series, the Forbidden series, and lots of other great games.
I was reading the book “Board Game Design Advice From The Best In The World” by Gabe Barret and came across a piece of advice from Matt Leacock that really stood out.
Matt said, “I over-invested in the visual design of my first self-published game (Lunatix Loop) and was reluctant to iterate on it since I was so attached to the artwork I had already created.”
I also feel Matt was suggesting to keep your games ugly until the gameplay is great. Anyone who enjoys art or has money to pay an artist might have made this mistake in the past. I did with some of my earlier games. Now I design first drafts with cereal boxes.
Someone that spends time creating nice art first will most likely feel a stubborn yet subtle effect on their decisions. Decisions that require drastic changes. Your brain will trick you, create justifications not to make those big changes. You can feel this, unless someone has a super human ability for creating perfect games that don’t require changes or believes they have that ability.
I upgrade the prototypes to white label versions when big changes have been made, the game tests great, and it’s ready for blind playtesters. The final art is only created after a few more changes when the game is running smoothly and it gets high ratings from new blind playtesters.
If game designer believes they are unaffected by this problem and is actually willing to trash weeks worth of work, spent on art, then it is still not the best use of that person’s time or money. Tremendous time and effort would have been saved if the final art came last.
When it comes to successful publishers economy of scale changes things. Jamey Stegmaier, of Stonemaier Games, has an illustration created at the start to help inspire him. As a busy publisher Jamey does commission art on a number of games while they are still in development. Successful publishers can actually save time and money to move faster on the art and later scrap some of it, than waiting months to move to the next phase. The cost of being late to market is greater than a dozen or more illustrations going to waste.
However, successful publishers don’t create all of the final art before even testing a game without knowing if the gameplay is even good enough. That is a mistake made by some new game designers.
I always appreciate ways to improve the game design process. I wholeheartedly agree with Matt Leacock that gameplay first and amazing art later is better for your game, your mental health, and your wallet.
P.S. I love the board art of Pandemic.