In an effort to keep our content varied and most importantly interesting, we have recently been reaching out to Graphic Design Artists to provide them an opportunity to talk about their craft and their works. I for one love a good looking game as much as a well designed game and feel that the visual element to wargames can make them successful or hold them back. Prior interviews with Graphic Design Artists that have appeared on our blog have included Antonio Pinar Peña and Nicolás Eskubi. In this interview, we talk to an up and coming artist who has actually done a lot of really great looking games over the years in Ilya Kudriashov. I have done interviews with several designers who have used him for design, including Tom Russell for Seven Pines; or, Fair Oaks from Hollandspiele and Ty Bomba for Operation Unthinkable from Hollandspiele.
Grant: First off Ilya, please tell us a little about yourself. Where do you live? What are your hobbies and interests? What types of games do you enjoy playing?
Ilya: I’m an historian by trade, born in Moscow and graduated with a degree in History from Moscow State University in 2006. I’m now living in the small country of Lithuania. My hobbies include Napoleonic reenactment since 1991 and wargaming. I love different types of games: old simple SPI games like Panzergruppe Guderian, Revolt in the East, Battle for Germany, as well as some modern games like KRIEG (DG), Twilight Struggle (GMT), and Europa Universalis. I also love Jim Dunnigan games, no surprise there!
Grant: How did you get into wargame graphic design?
Ilya: I’m an historian and work in a small firm, where we accumulate big data about Russian and World military history. I started by making the maps for books about the Napoleonic Wars, Seven Years War and Great Northern war for my friend who is an Editor. Then I think ‘I play the games, sometimes the maps are terrific, but I feel that I can do better’ and write to some publishers, post my maps on BGG forum, so that I can connect with a publisher for my first artwork. They were not published, of course, but I didn’t give up and started to work on wargame maps next. I make historical maps for magazines on Ancient History as well as for books. Last year I made a total of 54 maps for a book about the French Revolutionary Wars, just for 1st volume (1792-93), now I have to make the next portion of maps for the 2nd volume (1794-95).
Grant: What is your favorite part about the graphic design process? Conversely, what do you struggle with?
Ilya: To finish the job and recieve customer admiration. A joke!
The most interesting part in the process is to search historical style, find a look to mimic maps of the epoch, search fonts, pictures, textures, try different ways to get a similar feel.
But as a task, the most interesting part and most complicated as well – is to make the cover, and try to cause the customer who looks at the cover first to then decide to look inside and (maybe) buy the game.
What do I struggle with? Hmm…When I don’t understand exactly what I have to do. When I don’t understand the task. When the task is unclear and changes half way into the process of work 180 degrees. “You have now made the map, and it looks really good, but we have another idea, let’s try this.” Usually its game designers, not publishers, that do this. This can be a real challenge.
Grant: If you are given strict design parameters for a specific game, does this stifle your creativity?
Ilya: No. I’m always ready for a new and different task. I’m not a Big_Artist with Big_Creativity. I understand that my work is a part of a business process. For example, I make card sets for games already published who might have used another graphic design artist and I always try to make those cards as close to the initial art as possible, while always taking the opportunity to improve upon it by adding in my style.
Grant: How long does it usually take to fully design the graphics for a wargame? What is the starting point for the whole process?
Ilya: It depends a lot on the size of the task. Sometimes I make a card set in 2-3 hours (for High Flying Dice Games), but sometimes only maps (Hollandspiele) which might take 2-3 days, sometimes the whole little game. Once I made the art for a game in 6 hours, which included the cover, map, cards, counters and rulebook. But it was only once!
If the project is a big game with a large map, 4 or 5 countersheets, Player aid cards, box and advertising banners – this can take about a month or even more to complete, depending on the length of time it takes to get approvals and answers back from a game designer.
The starting point is typically the map or the cover. They set the style of the game and are very important.
Grant: Where do you obtain information from to ensure the accuracy of the maps, terrain, etc.?
Ilya: As I said, I’m an historian. I have the books, atlases and more resources available to search. Then I know where to search for information available on the internet and how to evaluate the accuracy of a particular source. But mostly, game designers usually provide me with a sketch of how they want the map to look and then I have the job of realizing that vision. I try to see to the accuracy of the map as well and propose corrections if they don’t effect the game balance. I know that the game has been play tested and map corrections may break down game balance, so each time I try to be careful with that. Once, I found that the road on a sketch was in reality a water pipeline. I pointed this out to the designer and we removed that “road” from the map. Or another example was replacing in a game about 1985 conflict in Germany with Soviet tanks, including replacing T-72s with T-64s, because T-72s weren’t found in the Soviet Group in Germany.
Regarding the counters?
I like maps to be faded and counters bright for contrast. When you look on the map with counters you must understand the whole strategic/tactical situation, and don’t lose any counters on the bright map. Then I am also concerned about while playing that a player’s eyes won’t get strained or tired from visual garbage, so this is another reason to make the maps faded.
Grant: What do you think are the most important qualities in a graphic designer?
Ilya: It is very important for a graphic design artist to follow through and keep the promise that won them the job as well as to keep the game on time and within the terms agreed to.
Grant: What wargame companies have you worked with in the past? What games have you been involved in?
Ilya: I have worked with Victory Point Games (once), Tiny Battle Publishing, High Flying Dice Games, Flying Pig Games, Hollandspiele, Compass Games and White Dog Games.
Now I have done work for about 25 published games, including Lebensraum (Compass Games), Chosin Few (Victory Point Games), Blood Before Richmond Series including Savage’s Station, Gaine’s Mill, Beaver Dam Creek and Glendale & White Oak Swamp (Tiny Battle Publishing), Forgotten Battles: The Overloon Campaign (High Flying Dice Games), Donetsk Airport (FPG), Breakout to Paris (High Flying Dice Games), Heroes’ Crossroads: The Battle of Lausdell, December 17-18, 1944 (High Flying Dice Games), Constantinople, Horse & Musket: Dawn of an Era (Hollandspiele), Seven Pines; or, Fair Oaks (Hollandspiele), Operation Unthinkable (Hollandspiele) and many more.
Grant: What game’s graphics are you most proud of? Is there one game that you would like another crack at to improve or simply do differently?
Ilya: I’m most proud of the graphics that I made for Constantinople, that won in the PnP BGG contest in 2016 as a Best Game and Best Art. Now Victory Point Games is working with this game to publish them. In Operation Unthinkable I make the city symbols on the map, that I take from atlases from the years of the 1940s. I am also very proud of my work for Kursk ’43 (FPG) and Donetsk Airport (FPG)
For Donetsk Airport I used google earth as a source and Wikipedia from which I read memoirs of participants and used real photos for the counters.
No, I don’t think I need another attempt at any of my work, I like them just the way they are. I never want to change anything in the past, but only want to try and make new maps better than before.
Grant: What graphic designers out there have influenced your style? Do you spend a lot of time studying other’s work?
Ilya: Yes there are several. I particularly like Joe Youst’s map artwork for Typhoon! (GMT), and the Totaler Krieg map and counters. I look at the work of Mark Mahaffey too and some artists on cartographersguild.com. Yes, I spend a lot of time studying others works – I know that I still have much to learn.
Grant: What role does a good map play in a proper wargame? How does it help tell the narrative of the battle depicted?
Ilya: A good map gives the players the sense of being involved in a real historic battle. Maps must be the conduit to the senses and feel of the epoch depicted, and allow the players to understand the key points of the historical event.
Grant: What games are you currently working on?
Ilya: Currently, I’m working on Korea 1950-53 (whole war strategic game), Fulda Gap 1985 (an operational level what if style game) and the same theme but tactical level game. This week I will finish the art for Albufeira 1811, which is a Napoleonic battle game.
Grant: Where do you see your wargaming design career in 5 years?
Ilya: I want to be able to eventually draw a good looking picture by hand, make art for digital games and publish my own games, sometime in a publishing company, sometimes by myself as a print-on-demand system. I have some of my own games that are good ideas, or at least I think so, that I would like to publish.
Grant: Any specific company that you would love to design for but just haven’t had the opportunity yet?
Ilya: GMT Games. I’ve done part of the art for one of their games on P500, but it has yet to achieve the 500 orders to Make the Cut!
Grant: What type of software and hardware do you use for design?
Ilya: I mainly use Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, Inkscape (for making hexagonal grid), Prisma and Sketchbook on Ipad. Pencil, fountain pen and paper as well. Not just technology.
Thank you for your time Ilya. I appreciate your comments on the design process as it gives me a lot insight into all the effort that is put into the creation of a wargame, not just the design work and playtesting, but the art. Also, you did a great job on the interview even though English is not your primary language. Thank you for doing this.