Grand Trunk Games
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Grand Trunk Games

Graphic design and production decisions for Shikoku 1889

So I won’t be dissecting components like I have done in the past for my “Messing around with graphic design” series. My plan is to just highlight a handful of the decisions we made about this production and explain our thought process.

The first point I’d like to make is that any time you reprint a game, there is actually a pretty big tradeoff. If the game is worth reprinting, it probably has a good reputation and that goes a very long way in terms of the game marketing itself. However, the tradeoff is that with your new edition, you don’t have a clean slate to build expectations from— your production will always be compared to the previous versions.

When it comes to 1889, I would say there were not one, but actually two versions I had to consider: Deep Thought Games’ published version and “Carthaginian’s” redesign. Given how different these two versions are, I realized that no matter what decision I made about the production, whether it was aligned to DTG, Carthaginian, or completely original, it would go against someone’s preference. So at the end of the day, we went for a style that was fairly inspired by the Carthaginian’s redesign and updated where we felt it appropriate. This especially made sense because the graphic designer on the project, Karim Chakroun, is Carthaginian.

Now let’s talk about some components.

Corporation colors, heralds, and screen printed tokens: I’ve actually had a handful of people reach out to me about the corporation colors and heralds. Those who were familiar with the DTG version insisted that they should match the original. I can see that changing the colors would be confusing for players familiar with that version, but I actually felt that the heralds for Carth’s version were far more visually distinct. Not to mention that those heralds were about as historically accurate as we could get. (I considered updating a few heralds but, as we dug into it, we realized Karim had done his homework for the Carthaginian redesign.)

I toyed with the idea of using the Carthaginian heralds with the DTG colors, but then I think I would have just ended up with a compromise between the two versions that no one would be completely satisfied with. Instead, I decided to opt for the Carthaginian colors and heralds — but there’s also another reason I went this route.

While this will be a stretch goal in the Kickstarter campaign and is not guaranteed, I am hoping for all tokens to be screen printed. Stickering tokens adds a daunting task before play can even begin and should be avoided if possible (a big lesson for me from 1861/1867). Players are already trying to wrap their minds around a new game system. If they brought a shrink-wrapped game to game night and then realized there was a full hour of stickering tokens before play could begin, I just imagine that would be a disappointing experience for everyone.

Screen printing the tokens skips the stickering step entirely and the Carthaginian heralds are a great fit for that manufacturing process. Screen printing is applying one pigment layer at a time. These designs would be one layer of white on top of a colored token and is basically the ideal use case for screen printing. It won’t be possible for every game to have screen printed tokens, but since I have the opportunity here, I definitely want to take it.

Making an illustrated map: I wrote a blog last year about why it is so challenging to make an 18xx map that is aesthetically pleasing. The TL;DR is that there is just so much information to convey on each of the map’s hexagons that it is very easy to obfuscate information vital to gameplay. Despite that, we wanted to attempt making an aesthetically pleasing, yet functional map — and here is what we came up with.

After several months of iterating, we found it was best to have a graphic design layer over top with an illustrated layer beneath. Most aesthetic details could only live near the edges of the hexes or outside of the playable area where it would not conflict with foreground information. We added small buildings to hexes with a city or a town, ships nearby off-board locations or coastal towns, and mountains with the perspective of a pictorial map.

For the off-board locations, we swapped the usual solid red hexes for red shipping lines. I’ve seen many players not realize what an “off-board location” actually meant and they would often ask if you could run through it like a normal city. I felt this presentation helps players to visualize that these revenue centers are distant locations not on the board. I don’t think this presentation will work for every game, but I thought it was a great fit here.

You may notice something missing from this map that you probably have seen on every 18xx map before it — coordinates. These can be essential for large maps with many references to specific locations. However, given that this is a smaller map and there are only a handful of references to specific locations, it actually is much easier and clearer to show these locations with icons. We assigned icons to the various Private Companies and you can see these referenced on the map above.

Private Company auction cubes: One thing I have noticed when it comes to the reserve-bid auction is everyone has their own way of conducting it. Do we place bids on corners? Does everyone take their own color of poker chips and we bid in a single stack in increments of 5? Do we take company tokens and put it on top of our bids to mark it?

In the nearly 40 years the reserve-bid auction has been around, plenty of tricks have been figured out, but those are mostly known by experienced players and are not called out in the rulebooks. Not to mention lots of those tricks rely on poker chips which players are not guaranteed to have. I think a simple enough solution is to provide cubes for players to mark their bids with and explicitly call out in the rules how to conduct the auction. Considering the reserve-bid auction trips up a lot of new players, I felt this was a pretty easy improvement that has been oft-overlooked. When the private auction is done, the cubes will be returned to the box.

Building a bank of paper money: Another thing experienced players don’t think about as much that new players can really struggle with is creating their bank. Before I knew the shortcuts to do this quickly, I recall getting out a set of poker chips and counting out the bank before every game. This is certainly more challenging to do if you are new to 18xx, you are not familiar with the concept of a “bank”, and you are counting out paper money.

I realized the way I could address this is how I organize my personal set of poker chips. In my poker chip set, all of my 1, 5, 20, and 100 denominations add up to a nice, round number and 500s are just extra. I did the same with 276 pieces of paper money where 50x 1, 78x 5, 78x 20, and 50x 100 add up to be exactly 7,000 (the bank size of Shikoku 1889) with 20x 500 for when the bank breaks. So to make the bank, a player only needs to remove the 500 notes and they’re ready to go.

I also happen to think the paper money doesn’t look half bad so perhaps I’m just hoping some folks out there get a chance to use it!

Revised round tracker: A big point of confusion I see with new players is when the first green or brown train is bought. The phase has changed, so do we add an operating round to this set before returning to the stock round? The number of operating rounds is set based on the phase the stock round ended in, but that often is hard to represent visually on the round tracker itself.

With this round tracker, a token is set on a path when it leaves the stock round and cannot move onto another path until it goes back to the stock round. And if that’s not clear enough, this is explicitly called out in the rules that the number of rounds does not change when the phase color moves to green or brown.

There’s plenty more I could say about the shares, charters, trains, player aids, the board, or other components, but those components will already get plenty of spotlight during the Kickstarter. Some of these things like the auction cubes or the bank may have flown under your radar, but I felt they were definitely worth pointing out.

I hope this was interesting and that you are looking forward to the Kickstarter for Shikoku 1889 as much as I am!



I’m Josh Starr. I am continually learning about the 18xx genre. Anything I write about here is more of a reflection of my own learning than any prescription for strategy or the “right” way to think about or play games in the genre.

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