art directing ccgs

In CCG art, there’s a school of thought that since it’s going to printed on a postage stamp the colors must contrast so the focal point of the card pops off the ‘page.’ I agree (mostly) with this school of thought.

And here’s why.

CCG art serves many functions and I don’t think most art directors get this. So I’m going to break it down for people who can’t afford an art director who went to school.

  1. The art must look as different as possible to the point of being unique. This will make more sense when you read #3. But even if you don’t agree with #3, the entire point of the game is that the cards are collectible. Why would I want to collect 200 cards that all look the same?
  2. The composition must stand out on it’s own. This is vital. A muddy composition is hard to distinguish from other muddy compositions. This took me a long time to learn as an ad, because i didn’t go to school for this. I learned through trial and error (and some screaming from William O’Connor) that art composition is the soul of the image.
  3. The image must be recognizable from a distance. This is so important. A good CCG may have upwards of 2000 (or more) cards in it over its lifetime. Players intimately familiar with the game, know all the cards. And while the title is right there, at an event, players need their brains to relay to them as fast as possible what has just been played. And recognizing the art is done faster than reading the name. These are timed events and people need to process what’s going on quickly. An expert player has probably memorized all the card text in the game. Seeing a green mox (jewel) at 10 feet away means he knows what that card does just from the art, faster than if you said the words “emerald mox”
  4. Most game company ADs don’t play the games they are in charge of. And certainly not at a tournament level. Trust me when I say, I’ve played most of the games I worked on at a semi-competitive level (not Anachronism). I don’t want to wait around for my opponent to think. I want to get in there and play.
  5. Character cards need to look like character cards. Buildings like buildings. Actions like actions. Items like items. Etc. All of them should follow inherent logic, so that the art is instantly recognizable as one of those card types. Magic is the exception because all of the cards are essentially either: land, creatures, or magic. And those will never be mistaken for one another. But some CCGs have 8 to 12 different card types. Maybe more. A spell card in a game about singing tacos needs to look nothing like a ‘taco follower’ card.
  6. Art is not representational. Art is evocative and declarative. It must adhere to function and form and so many rules that no single writer’s description should ever trump them. People who force the art to mimic the text exactly need to be clubbed. If the art is doing exactly what the text is doing, then you’re completely missing the value of a second footprint on the card.

    Ever watch a music video and the images on the screen are identical to the lyrics? That’s boring. I know the song is about falling in love. Don’t bore me with an echo chamber of visuals that do the same thing. I can imagine people kissing just fine.

  7. Don’t believe me? Check out my art for Black Monk. None of the text has anything to do with the art. The art speaks for itself and stands alone, even if my writing is bad.
  8. When you’re looking at a sketch, you as the art director need to visualize (as quickly as possible), all of this information. The least important thing is “does this match the art description,” because the art description in and of itself is just a launching off point. Who fucking cares what the original intention was. The consumer isn’t going to see the original intention. They are going to see the final piece.

That’s all for now. I’ll post more when I think of it.

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