Secret Hitler Illustration & Graphic Design
For the last 6 months I’ve been working as the graphic designer and illustrator for the hidden-identity game Secret Hitler. The game is currently in it’s last 24 hours on Kickstarter and has received an amazing amount of support and interest. So, it seemed like now would be a good time to share some of the graphic design and illustration that went into the game.
I had planned to write about the visual development of Secret Hitler in a way that would draw a clear line from the project’s start to it’s conclusion. However, in trying to articulate that process, I found myself cutting out dead ends, experiments, and bad drawings. With Secret Hitler I haven’t just had the chance to work on a fantastic game, but also the opportunity to take my time doing so. As a result, I’ve generated more work than I typically would with a project this size. Hopefully sharing a largely unedited selection work will offer more insight than a narrow artificial one.
I picked a selection of components that I feel changed the most (and in the most interesting ways) throughout developement. I’ve roughly sorted those categorically and then again chronologically. Some of the work I did was ineffective, but interesting. Some of it was effective, but didn’t make sense with the game. A lot of it was just not very good. In one way or another all of it steered the game to where it is now, even if it didn’t follow the straightest path.
The first version of the game I worked on replaced the small manilla envelopes of the earlier prototype with miniature dossiers. These contained your identity, tips on being a good (or evil) player, general game rules, and a removable party membership card.
Overall this proved to not work very well.
Because they were stapled booklets, if a folder was accidentally marked (as was the case with the Hitler identity, where anxiety would cause players to fidget so much they’d rub the ink off the cover) it could ruin every future game by identifying a player’s role. It also became clear that players were so protective of their secret identity that they wouldn’t flip open the booklet to read the rules or tips.
We went back to envelopes
I spent a surprising amount of time on the secret “X”.
PARTY MEMBERSHIP ICONS
The party membership icons started out as very simple icons that could be easily reduced to a smaller size, but having space to spread out (both on the membership card and the board) they became an ornate seal for each party.
The boards are one of the only things players see regularly so I spent the majority of my time trying to make sure they were as visually interesting as possible.
I developed a number of patterns that could border the policy tracks. They were all meant to feel like simplified versions of the ornate borders from period documents.
Initially the election tracker was a separate strip, but was eventually integrated with the liberal board.
For the final version of the boards the patterns along the edge were replaced with iconography to further distinguish the fascist and liberal tracks.
These are the very first fascist sketches — a lizard fascist, a demon fascist, and a regular fascist fascist. I am happy we went with lizards.
I had initially planned to paint the player portraits. However, in a game about quickly identifying roles at a glance, this began to seem like an overly complex approach. It didn’t stop me from drawing and painting a LOT of lizard fascists first.
I experimented quite a bit with human masks for the lizards. But in a game where you’re the only one who sees your own portrait it ended up seeming redundant — your face is already hidden by an envelope — and made the portraits harder to recognize at a glance.
The first complete painted illustration felt strange when it was pulled from an envelope alongside other cards. It made a player’s identity card feel separate from the cards/documents alongside it.
To solve this I swapped out the hand drawn images with illustrations that more closely matched the simple, blocky typography and design of the rest of the game.
The other reason for switching styles was it made the images feel more like photographs than paintings. It makes more sense for you to find a photograph along with documents than a painting.
I briefly experimented with color and gradation in the portraits. In the end simplicity won out and the final cards had neither gradation or color. Again, this matched the style of the rest of the game’s typography/graphic design.
These are a couple later approaches to the identity card. In the end we used something simpler — dropping the black border and scalloped edge in favor of a card that felt more like a small photograph. The final illustrations were also cropped down to headshots for the sake of clarity. Also it’s funny to have a lizard head peaking out of an envelope.
While the logo changed typefaces (along with the rest of the game) the general look stayed largely the same.
I ran out of interesting images.