“Do you fancy a game of Race for the Galaxy?” I asked. “That’s the one set in space, right?” they replied. “With settle, develop, and all that? And… the icons! It’s the one with the bloody icons, isn’t it!”
Text vs icons is one of the major visual design decisions in board and card games. Icons are generally more concise and make the game easier to translate to other languages, but are harder to understand for those new to the game. Text is easier for new players but can get quite wordy. Whether icons are a good idea partly depends on how well they have been designed. Race for the Galaxy has a lot of information to convey, and it tries to do it all with icons. The bloody icons. Here’s one of the cards from Race for the Galaxy:
The height of Race for the Galaxy’s over-use of icons, mid-left.
Endless Legend is a turn-based fantasy strategy game. It’s a lot like Civilization V: building a network of cities, exploiting natural resources and commanding armies on a hex-based grid. Its interface has an array of minor niggles — let’s take a whirlwind tour of where it could be improved.
Tichu is a card game for two pairs of players. It contains cards of thirteen ranks (2-10 plus Jack to Ace), in four suits — and four special cards. Thus, despite the manual’s claims to be a lost Chinese masterpiece, it is clearly derived from a standard pack of playing cards. The interesting visual design aspect of Tichu is the approach it takes to distinguish itself from standard playing cards, and whether it helps to make the rules clear.
A Tichu straight, using the Phoenix wildcard
Hearthstone is a virtual collectible card game from Blizzard. It has a very polished interface, but that doesn’t stop there being some gremlins amid the goblins. This post is an in-depth look at the interface design of the PC/Mac version.
The state of a Hearthstone game is completely visible from a single screen — you can see your hand, your minions, and a few other pieces of information:
I wonder whether it was worth adding the 3D scenery in the corners of the arena. I know they are interactive, but I fiddled with some of them once and then left them alone.
The display of your opponent, in the top half of the screen, is the same as your own, just mirrored vertically, and with their cards hidden.
Visual design is important to many forms of media. Films and television make careful choices about framing, camera angles, palettes and so on. Video games must not only make similar choices about the in-game view, but also must design an interface, whether it’s a minimal no-HUD first person interface like Mirror’s Edge, or the information-heavy view of game like Civilization or Football Manager. And video games are not the only games that need this; board games face related challenges of conveying information and game mechanics through their visual design.
This site aims to explore visual design and interface design in video games and board games, in detail. I have some experience designing software interfaces, and s decent amount of experience of playing games, so I’m going to try to put these together and explore the interface designs of games.