Over the past few months, I have shared with you my recent found interest in games published by Compass Games, the first of those games being Saipan The Bloody Rock. I have enjoyed playing this game covering the American invasion of Saipan in the Marianas Islands and also really was impressed with the counters, map and overall graphics of the game itself (check out my unboxing video as well as our 1st thoughts on gameplay). As I started posting my thoughts and links to our videos on Facebook, I would see comments from Antonio Pinar Peña (the game’s graphic designer) thanking me for sharing the game and for my kind comments about the high quality of the components. I started up a conversation with Antonio and asked if he would be interested in talking with us about wargame graphic design and he graciously accepted.

Grant: First off Antonio, please tell us a little about yourself.

Antonio: Hello Grant, I am 48 years old, born and raised in Madrid (Spain). Married since 1998 with Ana and am the father of two kids, Antonio (17) and Clara (8).
Bailen Box CoverMy father introduced me to the wargaming hobby at the early age of 8 with the game BAILEN (NAC – Nike and Cooper Española SA, 1981). Since then, I have never stopped playing wargames! I like all type of games, but the games that I really prefer are wargames or historical simulations.
Grant: What is your profession? How did you get into wargame graphic design?
Antonio: I am Military…a Navy guy, now away from the first wave and working in Madrid. There is a great story behind how I got into wargame graphic design and a great guy involved.
After many years playing games, I wanted to get into the loop designing some VASSAL Modules for the games I like and I did a good amount of modules. Later, I wanted to go further becoming a playtester.
This is how I met Mark Mokszicky. I was accepted as a playtester for the game Operation Dauntless: The Battles for Fontenay and Rauray, France, June 1944 from GMT Games but I never actually ended up playtesting the game, instead I created the official playtest map, which was my very first map!
While doing the OpD playtest map, I learned all the basics about map and counter making, including working with dimensions, techniques for color-coding, textures (some of them are still in use on my designs), etc. One day, Mark suggested I was talented enough to go professional and I did, and here I am today!
Grant: What is your favorite part about the graphic design process? Conversely, what do you struggle with?
Antonio: Graphic design for wargames is very fun!…so I love each and every part of the creative process, but research is maybe my favorite part. On the other hand, some repetitive processes are boring and the worst part of the process.
Grant: How long does it usually take to fully design the graphics for a wargame? How does the process start?
Antonio: It all depends on the size and style of the project. For example, CSS Saipan tookimg_7682 me a couple months worth of work, and it is a quite heavy package with two 22″ x 34″ maps, six full counter sheets, covers for both the rules and playbook, player-aids and charts, and the box design.
Research is the first step in the process…and helps in two ways; they can serve as source complements for the material given by the developer, and it also is a great way to immerse myself into the action to get the right feelings to portray into the artwork.
Grant: Where do you get your information from to ensure accuracy of the maps?
Antonio: It is usually the responsibility of the developer to do most of the research, but I usually search for my own sources that serve as a complement to those offered by the developer. Nowadays, with the internet tools that are available, it is really easy to find great sources for almost every game topic.
Grant: How does design for counters compare to maps? Same process? What is your goal with the look of counters?
Antonio: Counters and maps need different approaches and processes, not forgetting that they must be complementary.
Counters are fully vector elements and maps need both, vector and bitmap elements. I always try to maximize the use of layers to be able to do “non-destructive” changes or fixes.
For game counters (in fact every game element), I need to comply with various goals. I try to provide good looking counters, but they also need to be functional, in other words, the counters need to help the players to play the game properly. All game elements, as a whole, need to help to tell the battle narrative.
Grant: What wargame companies have you worked with in the past? What games have you been involved in?
Antonio: I have worked with many wargame companies. My very first was High Flying Dice Games. I have a very special relationship with them, especially with Paul Rohrbaugh. Paul gave me the opportunity to be a professional, he was the first who believed in me from a developer point of view.
The HFDG guys helped me to reach a wider audience, in part thanks to them, I was later accepted for many other companies like White Dog Games, Decision Games, One Small Step Games, and recently Compass Games.
Working with great companies is fantastic, they have many customers all around the globe, and your games can be accessed globally. But the authentic feeling is given by the names behind the companies, the guys who work directly with you, the designers and developers including names such as Paul Rohrbaugh, Perry Moore, Jon Compton, Ty Bomba, Mark Mokszycki, Adam Starkweather, Ross Mortell, Karoly Szigetvari and Mark McLaughlin to name a few.
I have been involved in many published games: What Went Wrong (High Flying Dice Games), Valor and Vengeance (High Flying Dice Games), Panzers Along the Terek (High Flying Dice Games), The Koltov Corridor (High Flying Dice Games), Diamond in the Rough (High Flying Dice Games), Blood and Carnage (High Flying Dice Games), 1066: The Year of Three Battles (Strategy and Tactics), The First Crusade (Strategy and Tactics), Mollwitz 1741 (White Dog Games), Plancenoit 1815 (White Dog Games), Lodz 1914 (White Dog Games), The Last Stand (White Dog Games), Holy Roman Empire + Expansions 1 and 2 (One Small Step Games), Putin Strikes (One Small Step Games), Extractors (One Small Step Games), Guderian’s War (One Small Step Games) and CSS Saipan (Compass Games).
I have also been involved with several games still pending to be published, like: Huzzah! – Honey Springs (One Small Step Games), Fornaldar – The Nordic Saga (One Small Step Games), Putin´s Northern War (One Small Step Games), If Dragons Fight (One Small Step Games) and Huzzah Vol. 2 – The Wilderness Campaign (One Small Step Games).
Grant: What game’s graphics are you most proud of? Is there one game that you would like another crack at to improve?
Antonio: One tends to be most proud of their latest work, so I’d say I’m most proud of the CSS Saipan graphics. Just in the list presented above, there is also room to include Holy Roman Empire, another project I am very proud of.
Yes, I’d like to revisit my very first projects. I am now much better than I was at that time and I think I can perform much better.
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A picture of gameplay in action for CSS Saipan from Compass Games. I love the colors on the counters and the map is a thing of beauty, colorful, clear and very readable. Nice work Antonio!
Grant: What graphic designers out there have influenced your style? Do you spend a lot of time studying other’s work?
Antonio: Ha…a great question! Niko Eskubi, Charly Kibler, Rick Barber and Mark Mahhafey. These guys IMO are the best wargame artists out there, everyone is great and has very solid styles…I have influences in my work from all of them but I am working to create my own style. At first, I did spend a lot of time studying their works but currently, I am spending a LOT of time working to create my own and unique style.
Grant: What role does a good map play in a proper wargame? How does it help tell the narrative of the battle depicted?
Antonio: Good graphics are very important in today’s wargames and I’d say graphics play a key roll in wargaming.
A good graphic package can serve to increase sales, but the opposite is also true. When I say good graphic package, I am not referring just to a good looking package, but to other aspects like functionality, simplicity, elegance, balance of colors, etc. are very important and have to be considered.
When I work on a wargame, I want to tell the history of the battle being depicted. I want the players being able to feel how difficult it was for the mission assigned to the men that fought the battle. Also, how painful it was for these men to storm that hill in the middle of the battlefield. I want the players to be able to identify with the men they’ll be commanding in the game.
Grant: What games are you currently working on?
Antonio: I am currently working on Battles from the Age of Chivalry (One Small Step Games) and CSS Guam (Compass Games).
While I am responding to this interview, I have sent the final components for the Age of Chivalry to Jon Compton for pre-press review and the first round of fixes and changes for the CSS Guam map are in the hands of Adam Starkweather and Ross Mortell.
CSS Guam Map
Draft copy of the CSS Guam map found on Facebook. Map is not yet finalized but it is a thing of beauty.
Grant: Where do you see your wargaming design career in 5 years?
Antonio: This is difficult to say. I am currently living my dream.
I am working with some of the best designers in the hobby (Adam Starkweather, Mark Mokszycki, Ty Bomba, Karoly Szigetvari) and some of the best companies and developers (Compass Games or One Small Step Games).
I work to improve my graphic skills every day, so I expect to be a decent wargame artist any one of these days…HaHa.
CSS Guam Map Draft Mt. Santa Rosa
A look at a close-up of the draft map for CSS Guam focused on Mt. Santa Rosa.
Grant: I think you may have already become great. I love CSS Saipan’s maps, counters and art. Great job! What is your grail design? Any specific company that you would love to design for but just haven’t had the chance?
Antonio: To me a grail is something you cannot obtain without hard work. Therefore, my grail game would have to be the game designed with my own knowledge and skills, a game that defines my own style. If I said that my most proud game is my latest one, my grail game is the next following game. If I have written this sentence well, you’ll understand that I’ll always be in search of my grail design. I am an irreconcilable nonconformist!
Ha…yes, there are a couple companies that I’d like to do design work for…GMT Games and Multi-Man Publishing.
Grant: Now on to a technical question, that I really know nothing about. What type of software and hardware do you use for design?
Antonio: I use the Adobe Creative Suite package (CS6) to do my artwork and Illustrator for counters. Photoshop is the basis of my maps, although, I also usually use Illustrator to implement some vector map elements.
For hardware, I am a MAC guy…and my ride is an iMac (21.5 inches, i5@3.1Ghz processor).
I just want to end our interview today by saying Thank you very much for inviting me into your home so to speak, and becoming part of the The Players’ Aid family.
PS: English is not my first language…so I apologize in advance!
CSS Guam Box Cover
Thank you Antonio for being willing to take time out of your busy schedule to talk with us. I have been impressed by your work and look forward to enjoying it again and again in the future as I play many of these great games that you have had a hand in creating.
-Grant