By Susan Robinson, Lys Fulda and Mike Bennighof,
The namesake of our Rome
at War: Queen of the Celts game, Boudicca,
was a fierce, take-no-prisoners kind of gal.
Although she lost her final battle against
the Romans, her army and allies killed 70,000
civilians in the violence that preceded her
We knew we wanted a certain look for the
box cover of Queen of the Celts, so we
hired freelance artist Lorenzo Sperlonga to
paint a portrait of Boudicca and her two daughters
heading into battle. Lorenzo and Avalanche
Press have a
long, happy history together. He has painted
the covers for several of our games through
Lorenzo has an affinity for capturing the
beauty of women on canvas. Those familiar
with his work know he especially likes to
reveal the, er, natural assets of his subjects.
Because the Celtic warriors (both men and
women) fought topless, we asked Lorenzo to
paint Boudicca true to history but to cover
the “naughty bits” with something:
a spear, a shield, or maybe her long hair.
Lorenzo went to work, and a few weeks later
he submitted the painting for our approval.
He had followed our instructions to the letter,
and the final result is a powerful image.
Boudicca’s intense expression says she
means business, but we weren’t sure
anyone would even notice her face after getting
an eyeful of her bodacious bod. Those bountiful
breasts positively defy gravity.
Avalanche Press President Mike Bennighof and
Vice President Lys Fulda conferred on the
wisdom of releasing the Boudicca cover to
retailers. Lys was positive we'd be burned
to the ground for doing so, and we knew she
was right. But the painting is so good —
and such an accurate representation of the
warrior queen we portray in our game —
that we hated the idea of asking Lorenzo to
alter it by adding something to fully cover
After much discussion, Mike and Lys decided
we should have an alternate cover for retail
sales but keep the original for direct sales.
Of course, we wanted the alternate to be just
as good as the original. Lys suggested using
some Celtic symbols, but then Avalanche artist
Beth Donahue came up with the idea of cropping
the Boudicca image above the chest. That sounded
perfect, but the result wasn't as inspiring
as we had hoped.
Back to the drawing board. At some point,
I suggested putting a faux “plain paper
wrapper” on the box to relay our tongue-in-cheek
admission that the Boudicca image was too
hot for retail. No way, I was quickly told.
We started going in circles. Some ideas were
submitted twice. I since have lost track of
exactly what was proposed and in what order,
but Mike finally said enough was enough. It
was time to make a decision.
In the end, Beth created a beautiful illustration
of a Celtic sword and shield. So now we have
the “PG-rated” cover and the “G-rated”
version. Something for everyone!
Softcore Art for Hardcore
When William Sariego revived our Rome
at War series with Queen of the Celts,
I knew we'd want to make a splash with the
new game. The first game had done well despite
a relatively high price tag, the second only
reasonably so. But it's important for us to
address more eras than World War II, and I
knew the game itself would be very good. Rome
at War is going to get many more new games
in coming years. and it needs to be noticed.
So I turned to the same reliable source
for a product launch, Lorenzo Sperlonga. Lorenzo's
covers had become to trademark of our role-playing
line, giving us what one industry magazine
called "an unholy mixture of soft-core
art and hard-core history." The role-playing
line helped push our boardgames into many
retailers who never would have considered
them, and the artwork opened those doors.
Of course, it also brought fits of online
ire from other role-playing publishers —
one raged that "Avalanche Press has destroyed
the seriousness of role-playing" and
wept in public when the cover for Ragnarok
was nominated for an Origins Award.
The role-playing covers are beautiful work,
and just as important, Lorenzo Sperlonga is
extremely professional and a joy to work with.
Real professionals are thin on the ground
in the game industry, and every time I get
an e-mail from a fan asking "Why don't
you ever use X's work?" I usually have
a whole litany of deadlines blown by months,
refusals to follow specifications, temper
tantrums, and worse. Like the guy who blew
his deadline by three months, then demanded
to be paid "on publication" before
he'd turned in anything, since the website
said the product would be published in July
and it was now July so where was his money?
(Yes, you read that correctly — I had
to look at it a few times myself.)
Anyway, Lorenzo is no pampered artiste —
he does his homework, he delivers on time
no matter what the cost in lost sleep, and
he works hard to figure out what the product
needs. It was Lorenzo I'd turned to for a
cover for Granada to launch our line
of European-style deluxe boardgames, and so
it was Lorenzo I went back to for Rome
The "Red Goblin" turned in the
game as a set of battles between Romans and
Britons, and I'm not sure he even used a project
title. Lys Fulda rejected "A Woman Scorned"
as sexist drivel, and at first wanted to call
it "Celtic Amazon," but Daily Content
editor Shane Ivey suggested Queen of the
Celts. The final title put the marketing
focus on the Boudicca, and so the cover should
I wrote the cover specs to ask Lorenzo to
base the painting roughly on the famous
statue of Boudicca and her daughters astride
her chariot. I provided several historical
references — I'd written Celtic
Age at the height of our role-playing
venture — and Lorenzo dug up others
on his own. Knowing Lorenzo's love of the
nude figure, I specified that she could be
topless (as Celtic women, when they did fight,
usually did so semi-nude) but her naughtiest
bits should be covered by hair, arms or weapons.
And that's exactly what he delivered. And
exactly what Lys feared would bring howling,
torch-bearing mobs to their local retailer.
Unwilling to do without the painting, and
unwilling to compromise it with a Victorian
"paint over" to give her an anachronistic
top or worse, brassiere, I agreed to put it
out for commentary from a number of fans.
They confirmed Lys' concerns — the United
States has become a much more prudish place
in the last decade. I accepted Lys' arguments
but specified that we'd do a comics-style
alternate cover release and still use the
Lorenzo original. Beth Donahue made a number
of attempts to craft an alternate based on
part of Lorenzo's painting, but none of these
worked well. Her sword-and-shield cover looks
fine, though, and is quite suitable for all
What Could Go Wrong?
I was very excited when the idea for this
game came about. Let's face it, everyone loves
Celts, as we proved with the RPG line. And,
um, hot Celtic queens — you couldn't
pry a "no" out of me for any reason
on this project. Add to that the boss wanting
to work with the renowned Lorenzo Sperlonga
again for a cover and I was like, "What
could go wrong?"
Never tempt fate.
Lorenzo likes drawing half-naked chicks,
and we had tossed him the historically accurate
fact that she probably went into battle topless.
Well, he created the image that you now see
as the pinup cover.
My first instinct looking at that painting
was, "I wonder who's going to burn us
to the ground for doing this first: The fans?
Or the retailers?" The United States
was founded by Puritans, and "historical
accuracy" as the only defense before
a populace culturally opposed to nudity doesn't
help any of us get paid on a regular basis.
Mike loved the piece and I think it really
goes against his artistic sensibilities to
ask an artist to change the work. However,
talking with retailers at the GAMA Trade Show
only reinforced the fact that we could not
release the image as the cover. We had to
come up with a compromise. Our amazing in-house
art department came up with a gorgeous safe
cover and voila ... the safe cover as well
as the pinup cover took shape!
Order Rome at War:
Queen of the Celts
in the retail
edition or the pinup