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Overrun by Barbarians
Counter Design in 'Queen of the Celts'
By Susan Robinson, Production Director
May 2007

When I finished the intricate counters for Napoleonic Battles: Austerlitz, I was a happy woman. I finally was done with a project that I likened to dental surgery without anesthesia. But my relief was temporary. Lurking in the back of my mind was the knowledge that agony soon would return with our upcoming game Rome at War: Queen of the Celts.

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy seeing all the artwork for our games — counters, maps, boxes, book covers — come together. I take pride in my work, and I’m usually fast as well as accurate. When the design gods are smiling down on me, I can finish a counter sheet in a few days or less. But with these elaborate counters, I swear I can feel time simultaneously slowing down (“Why is this taking so long?”) and speeding up (“That can't be my deadline approaching!”).

I’ve been talking to our Web master, Shane Ivey, about the Queen of the Celts counters. He has designed counters for us in the past, so he feels my pain. He thinks our customers might like to see a little bit of what goes into this work.

With Queen of the Celts, I use the Rome at War: Fading Legions counters as templates. I borrow the basic designs and the drawings of the warriors, such as those in Figure A.

Figure A: Just the beginning.

“This’ll be easy,” I tell myself. Wrong! I discover I must give each of 16 Celtic tribes a separate shield design. (Fortunately, our artist, Beth Donahue, has drawn the shields for me.) I have to “take apart” the Fading Legions warriors, get rid of the old shields and add the new ones — see below for Figure B. Eeeew, that one in the middle with missing body parts looks a little freaky.

But it’s not quite as bad as it seems. With the convenience of copy and paste, I don’t have to reassemble each and every barbarian. So Figure A is transformed into Figure C.

Figure C: Celts!

No, no, no. Something is clearly wrong. Aha, these figures have not been “arranged” from front to back to represent the correct perspective. The warriors at the bottom (“closer” to the viewer) are “in front” of the row above, which is in front of the next row, and so on. Also, when the figures are so close together, as they are here, care must be taken so that one barbarian’s shadow does not obscure his buddy next to him. OK, a quick rearrangement and all is well (Figure D).

Figure D: Shadows shifted.

Oops, not quite. See the shadow of the spear at the bottom left? It’s intruding into the next compartment, which sets off my perfectionism alarm. Gotta fix that. There are a couple of ways to go about it, and each involves layering. The cousin of arrangement, layering allows a designer to keep elements that belong together (such as text, which always is on top) in the same dimension, if you will. In this case, I’ll put the shadow in the same layer as the base (the green background). Then I’ll arrange the shadow to be “in back” of the green background so it won’t show (Figure E). Are you with me so far?

Figure E: A layered approach.

I switch out the shields on a few more counters and send them to my boss for review. He says he didn’t realize the helmets would be so noticeable, and I have to get rid of those because the real Celts didn’t wear helmets. No problem. I end up with counters that resemble beautiful Figure F.

Figure F: Helmet hair is history.

“All right,” you say. “That’s not so bad. She does that 16 times and she’s done. What is she whining about? Slacker!”

Oh, but I’m only getting started. That’s just the elite barbarians for the long counters. Add the plain old barbarians and the lesser barbarians. Plus all three kinds of barbarians for the short counters, the light infantry, the light and heavy cavalries, the chariots, the slingers, the Wild Women. . . .



My head is starting to hurt, and I haven’t even started on the Romans. I’d better get back to work.