Anthelion: Conclave of Power will be my first game published in 2019, published by Button Shy. It's a 2-player strategy game set after a galactic conflict, when the major players sort out their new allies and rivals. You and your opponent play either the Liberation or the Dynasty. You each pushing and pulling influencers until they join your conclave.
If the "push and pull" part of that sounds familiar, you might have played a previous Button Shy game called Avignon: Clash of Popes, designed by John Du Bois. Both games share the same core interaction of five simultaneous tugs of war, along with the idea of trying to pull cards off the board to your side.
Anthelion has been designed from the start to be expanded with quarterly expansion packs. As a result, we couldn't establish a visual language that was just internally consistent. We also had to anticipate what future expansions may come in the future.
A Certain Point of View
In the earliest versions of Anthelion, I tried to use the same visual language as Anthelion but with a little bit more room for text. I used icons to represent "push" and "pull," then using brief text with line breaks to fill in the rest of the effect.
The trouble is that we couldn't arrange the icons in a way that made the relative movement intuitive for both players simultaneously. The original game used arrows with green and red color-coding to help emphasize a card moving to or away from you. We couldn't do this in Anthelion for a couple of reasons, the main one being design space.
Because we knew we'd need to design at least a few dozen different effects for the base game and its expansions, we needed players to intuit the text as quickly as possible. The color-coded arrows introduced just enough ambiguity that it made Anthelion's more subtle effects harder to decipher, even for just a few seconds. Because each card in the game is unique, those few seconds compound very quickly.
Icons as Nouns, not Verbs
It was a hard decision, but we decided to not use the arrow icons. In fact, we removed any icons that represent verbs at all. When we mean "push," we say "push." That made it absolutely clear how a card is meant to move, regardless of your seating position. Plus, "push" is a very short word, so we didn't really take up much more space by saying the whole word instead.
On the other hand, we had some other game terms that were pretty long and real estate was still at a premium. So we decided to use icons for some common long nouns that would appear frequently in the game.
First, each Petition is prefaced by a "document" icon and written in black text. It's the most frequently cited type of effect, so we wanted to present it as the default and clearly legible at a distance. We also gave them names that were verbs, meaning that they can grammatically fit into a sentence like "I will unite the commander."
Second, some characters have Resources, which are effects that activate when they've been recruited into your conclave. We preface these a "stack" icon and write them in green text. These have noun names, representing a thing or idea that you now have at your disposal. You can see an example of that on the Diplomat above as well. When you recruit her, you now have a Revolution on your hands.
Third, some characters have Attributes, which are ongoing effects that remain active as long as that character is on the field. We preface these with a "loading wheel" icon and write them in purple text to contrast against the green. These have adjective names, so it's clear these effects are not things that you do or have, they're just inherent traits of that character.
Finally, we made icons to represent Points, Locations, The Dynasty, The Liberation, and each faction because those words would be often repeated and take up a lot of space on a very short line of text. For example, without these icons, the Diplomat's petition would break into four lines instead of three. Her resource would break into five or six lines instead of four. That may not seem like much, but we have some other cards where the text would overrun the edge of the card unless we shrank it beyond legibility.
Big Giant Head
When I started working on Anthelion, I was really excited to dip into some of the existing character designs that Button Shy already had in their archives. Those characters all had such distinctive poses, expressions, and color-schemes that I decided to zoom in closer with each new prototype iteration.
Given that we struggled to fit text onto the card, it might seem odd that we devoted up to 50% of the real estate to a character portrait. But the art isn't just there to look pretty. No matter how clear the text, or how big we print it, we knew there would still be moments where players would have to crane their neck a bit to double-check its exact wording.
By making the artwork so big on the card, we hope that players will get familiar enough with what a card that they recognize the face. From there, they remember what the card does without having to check. In essence, we knew we had a very chess-like game and we hope to make our cards have the same easily recalled behaviors of chess pieces.
In that sense, it all still goes back to our roots in Avignon, with its more overt chess associations.
Look for Anthelion: Conclave of Power on Kickstarter tomorrow!