I have reached out to many designers over the past year and a half for interviews to discuss their upcoming games. Recently, I have decided that I wanted to broaden my reach and move into other areas of wargaming. We have had interviews with publishers (such as Legion Wargames and Against the Odds Magazine) and now I have started to seek out graphic designers. I have come to the realization that my enjoyment of a wargame (or any game for that matter) is directly linked to the way it looks and the quality of the components. If it looks good, it is sure to play better! I have previously interviewed Antonio Pinar Peña and now have reached out to his Spanish compatriot Nicolás Eskubi.
Grant: First off Nicolás, please tell us a little about yourself.
Nicolás: I am a lover of military history who also loves to play wargames (including board and PC), and am in love with his profession.
Grant: What was it like to win the Best Wargame Graphics CSR Award in 2005 for your work on Fire in the Sky? How did that award change your designs?
Nicolás: It was amazing. I had not worked for a long time in the world of wargames and it was a very pleasant surprise. If I am being honest, I did not change my way of working or the style in my designs, but was motivated to work harder and continue to evolve in my work.
Grant: What is your full time profession? How did you get into wargame graphic design?
Nicolás: I am a graphic designer/illustrator. I was tired of the advertising world and with the internet eruption I started looking for other options and it was then that I considered the possibility of turning my hobby into something professional.
Grant: What is your favorite part about the graphic design process? Conversely, what do you struggle with?
Nicolás: The creative part: designing maps, looking for information, making the illustrations, etc. and on the contrary, what I least like is to do the counter templates and the hexgrid with the number grid.
Grant: How long does it usually take to fully design the graphics for a wargame? How does the process start?
Nicolás: It all depends on the type of game, the era it represents, scale and the number of components. Let’s just say there is no hard and fast rule by which I can say with each type of game the time it will take me to do it.
And another point to take into account is the inspiration required. I know it may sound strange with doing work on wargames, but there are days when you get everything quickly and easily at first try and then others on the contrary can take weeks.
Once I know all the details of the game, the first thing I do is inform myself about the conflict that the game represents. I study it to familiarize myself with the subject and I start to look for information about the weapons, uniforms, maps, etc. Normally, I start with the map that is the most complicated piece of the game and the base of it, in this way, once created, the counters have to go according to the map so that the set of components, once used, are pleasant and functional and both complement each other.
Grant: Where do you get your information from to ensure accuracy of the maps? Terrain?
Nicolás: It depends a lot on the designer of the game, if you have information such as authentic WWII military maps available, the work is much simpler, but if you only have a sketch created by the designer to carry out the playtesting or the design, I use it for reference but I have to search material on the internet, documenting the area represented by the game, looking for specific era maps and looking at Google maps to familiarize myself with the terrain, etc.
Grant: How does design for counters compare to maps? Same process? What is your goal with the look of counters?
Nicolás: Counter design is much simpler. The process is similar, once you know the era, the front involved and the date, you have to verify the armaments used, styles and colors of uniforms, camouflage of the units, etc.
I always try to create functional counters that at the same time are as attractive as possible.
Grant: What wargame companies have you worked with in the past? What games have you been involved in?
Nicolás: Right now I am the Multi-Man Publishing artist. I have worked for GMT, Omega Games, Lock ‘n Load, Decision Games, Compass Games, Dan Verssen Games, Matrix Games, Slitherine, AGEOD, Esim Games, Armchair General Magazine and in my own wargames firm, War Storm Series. I do not want to appear presumptuous but it would be too long a list to list them all.
But in short, I have realized the art of some as the Grand Tactical Series, Canadian Crucible, Salerno, Fire in the Sky, Band of Heroes, PQ-17, Line of Battle, Crusade and Revolution, Paths to Hell, Battle Above the Clouds, Elusive Victory, Decisive Campaigns The Blitzkrieg from Warsaw to Paris, To End all Wars, Wars of Napoleon, A Victory Lost, etc.
Grant: That is a great list with a lot of really good games. What game’s graphics are you most proud of? Is there one game that you would like another crack at to improve?
Nicolás: I’m really proud of all my work and it’s complicated to list only a few but if I had to mention some, my War Storm Series, any of the Grand Tactical Series, A Victory Lost game series, Tactical Combat Series, Fire in the Sky and Monty’s Gamble new map, etc. But as I said it is really difficult to choose just one as I am sure to leave out many.
Grant: What graphic designers out there have influenced your style? Do you spend a lot of time studying other’s work?
Nicolás: [Mark] Simonitch and [Craig] Grando. Yes, I definitely look at others work and when I find interesting things I usually try to learn the best of each one. You can’t stay anchored as we say.
Grant: What role does a good map play in a proper wargame? How does it help tell the narrative of the battle depicted?
Nicolás: For me it is fundamental, a good map is the backbone of the game.
In my opinion, it is preponderant to the narrative but also depends on what type of game it is, which mechanics used (cards or counters), etc.
Grant: What games are you currently working on?
Nicolás: Right now I’m working on The Greatest Day: Utah Beach GTS (MMP) and Normandy, The Beginning of the End (WSS).
Grant: Where do you see your wargaming design career in 5 years?
Nicolás: I hope to continue working as now for MMP as well as creating our own games together with my partner Juan Carlos and our new editor Draco Ideas. A new adventure that I hope will be the beginning of a long and fruitful collaboration.
Grant: What is your grail design? Any specific company that you would love to design for but just haven’t had the chance?
Nicolás: Hard to say at this point….
I would love to maybe do some design for Jon Tiller Software.
Grant: What type of software and hardware do you use for design?
Nicolás: Freehand 10, InDesign and Photoshop on a PC.
Grant: Tell us about your own designs and your game series titled War Storm Series.
Nicolás: The game system is based on the principle of simultaneous execution, or simply “WE GO”, a hybrid system of turns and “real time”. In that way, both players must activate unit leaders to perform many actions (fire, assault, move, coordinate, etc). A turn ends when both players have completed all their activations. The system emphasizes the role of officers that lead the combatant units under their command. Officers can activate units, coordinate with other officers and their units, call for artillery support, air support, smoke screens, influence moral checks, coordinate assaults, and much more. Each game turn represents about 12-15 minutes of action.
The scale is platoon level with units representing groups of between 30 and 40 soldiers, weapons units representing groups of 3-4 weapons and their accompanying crews (20-25 soldiers), and the AFVs-Transports representing groups of 3 to 5 vehicles and their corresponding crews.
The series rules are easy to understand but each game’s scenarios require a solid application of various strategies to win. The result is a good balance of fun, fast-paced, and exciting game play, using realistic game mechanics. WSS games are highly re- playable due to their variety of unit types, numerous scenarios, varying leader capabilities, and random leader selection, and therefore, represent great value for your gaming buck.
Grant: How is game design different from graphic design? How are they similar?
Nicolás: Game design is much more complicated! It requires more work and dedication, really until you get involved in designing a game you do not realize all the work behind it. I honestly think it is not valued enough.
The similarity between both types of design is that they both require the need to study and obtain information on the subject era to represent.
Grant: What has been your favorite game you designed in the War Storm Series? What other games are you working on?
Nicolás: A las Barricadas! designed together with my partner Juan Carlos.
Normandy, The Beginning of the End (WSS)
Grant: Any questions for me?
Nicolás: How does a person decide to dedicate himself to writing game reviews?
Grant: Great question. I have played games for most of my life and over the past 5 years or so have really dug myself deep into wargames and historical games playing with my brother in law and good friends in our local group. One day a little over a year ago, we were commiserating about the gaming hobby and all of a sudden we had an inspiration to get involved. We didn’t exactly know how to get involved but had the idea to try doing a written blog where we could share our favorite games, write up AARs and session reports and offer reviews. So, in April 2016, we started The Players’ Aid Blog. Since that time, we have expanded into doing video reviews (I really enjoy doing them but always feel that I sound goofy) and also offering designer interviews as well as strategy articles on our favorite games including Combat Commander (Russians, Americans, Germans), Labyrinth (US and Jihadist) and Wilderness War (French). We truly enjoy what we are doing and we hope that it shows in our writing. The best part about doing a blog is when someone comments on a post and states that they liked what they read.
Nicolás: Are you going to do a review of our future wargames (WSS) published with Draco Ideas? 😉
Grant: Absolutely! We are always on the lookout for great games and I definitely have a keen interest in your upcoming Normandy, The Beginning of the End title.
Thanks for your time Nicolás. I know that you are busy working on several new projects but appreciate that you were willing to share your story and give us a little bit of insight into the life of a graphic designer. You have a very impressive list of games that you have both done graphics for as well as designed and I look forward to enjoying your work for years to come.