Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Wizard Microgame: Micro-art

One of the really interesting things about the microgame phenomenon, which, while true for the wargames that proceeded it, was significantly amplified by the explosion of games in the compact game segment, was the development of what I sometimes refer to as micro-art.

By micro-art, I mean artwork that is placed on 3/8" to 7/8" cardboard playing pieces, accompanying the wargames and microgames themselves. I want to share a few examples of micro-art with you, as they appear on the Wizards and Melee playing pieces.

Before the introduction of micro-art into the wargame and microgame segments, most cardboard playing pieces employed military designations and numerical factors to differentiate the game units. Tank units might have been a rectangle with an oval inside. Infantry was a rectangle with an X through it. Combat Engineers were represented by a Capital E facing downwards. And so on.

The numbers on the wargame counters often represented the strength, defense, speed and other abilities of the military unit, and some counters also included the size or name of the unit, if the game was a historical recreation.

That system of unit representation worked fine for wargames. However, with the broadening of the boxed game segment, to include non-wargames, and introduction of the compact game, game designers needed playing pieces that were equally representative of the types of units that their games utilized. Military symbols were not going to be nearly as appropriate for Chitin:I, a game based on rival bug hives harvesting each other for food.

The other consideration for those game designers was that the new cardboard counter symbols had to be both representative of the kinds of units used in the game, and needed to fit on a cardboard counter roughly the size of your thumbnail. Therefore the image had to be iconic and immediately recognizable as representing the unit being activated.

The accompanying images are some of the unit counters for Wizard and Melee. The actual size of those counters is roughly 3/4", but I have scanned them at a higher resolution so you can see the fine detail. While some microgame counters -- like those for Ogre, for example -- included printed attack, defense and move numbers, the Wizard and Melee counters used a single letter to allow differentiation between various units.

The first counter is from Wizard, and represents a female mage. Note that the artwork itself is quite minimalist, with no shading or detail. The face and hair are represented by a few short strokes, the inside of the cape is block-filled, the legs and arms have minimal definition. At the original size, you know immediately what or who this counter represents.

The next counter from Melee, sporting the capital L, is a two-blade-wielding swashbuckler, lightly armored and with a flowing mane of hair. Some of the Melee counters were screened to give them a shaded effect. At the normal resolution of these counters, you don't notice the screen, but at this higher resolution it becomes more obvious.

The next two counters are two male fighters. The first appears to be heavily armored and wearing a helmet, with a greatsword held aloft. The second is a sword-and-board fighter, sporting some funky pointy-shouldered tunic or vest. The micro-art for the Wizard and Melee counters have a certain disco vibe, particularly obvious with the sword-and-board fighter and even more so with the bell-bottom-wearing Giant that is included in the Melee counter set.

Another unusual feature of Melee and Wizard was the inclusion of weapon and shield counters. A weapon or shield might be dropped by an opponent, or the encounter might include several spare weapons already on the battlefield, and those counters were intended to be used to represent them. Those weapon and shield counters were nearly impossible to pick up, being as small as 1/4" by 1/2", and were easily lost. Here are three example of those counters: a greatsword, a mace and a handaxe.

Melee included about 40 character and opponent counters and 25 weapon and shield counters. Wizard included about 60 characters and opponents, but those were provided via two identical sheets, one printed in blue ink and the other printed in red.

I don't recall seeing the illustrators of those microgame counters being credited for their efforts, though it may be that I simply did not appreciate their work when I was younger. Looking at the breadth of micro-art now, I can only imagine the unique kind of illustrator who can reduce a image to its essence and place that on a 3/4" square counter.

12 comments:

biopunk said...

Cool. I've never seen any of these microgames before. How big are the booklets? 6x3?

redwald said...

The swashbuckler has a Liz Danforth look about it - the stance, and the feet - but it's hard to really say at that size.

Bigby's Left Hand said...

I had a copy of Wizards back in the day. That's an item I still regret losing.

limpey said...

I don't remember liking the game that much when I played it oh-so-many years ago (but I was pretty young then), but I do remember those great looking counters. Thanks for posting these!

ze bulette said...

Interesting. It might be fun to do a broader survey of early versions of game counter art, or to follow its development. Nowadays there's the ubiquitous mobile phone app icon where artists and designers can find similar work.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

biopunk said...
Cool. I've never seen any of these microgames before. How big are the booklets? 6x3?

Yes about 7 x 4

A Paladin In Citadel said...

redwald said...
The swashbuckler has a Liz Danforth look about it - the stance, and the feet - but it's hard to really say at that size.

Liz Danforth was the original illustrator, so I would not be surprised if she did the first micro-art of the Melee game.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

Bigby's Left Hand said...
I had a copy of Wizards back in the day. That's an item I still regret losing.

I can empathize. I lost most of my gaming collection in a garage fire.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

limpey said...
I don't remember liking the game that much when I played it oh-so-many years ago (but I was pretty young then), but I do remember those great looking counters. Thanks for posting these!

Where there any microgames that you enjoyed? One of my favorites was Starfire.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

ze bulette said...
Interesting. It might be fun to do a broader survey of early versions of game counter art, or to follow its development. Nowadays there's the ubiquitous mobile phone app icon where artists and designers can find similar work.

Yes, making a good app icon, thst communicates what that app is all about, is quite a challenge.

Liz said...

Yup, I did the artwork on the Melee chits, as redwald notes (although I didn't do the very first example, the one with the "E" tag). Good eye! The weapons too, iirc. Thanks for the flashback!

(BTW, the Blogger link this comment goes to is very old. I have a standalone website at lizdanforth.com, if anyone wants to know what I've been up to in the *eeeep* 34 years since Melee came out!)

Aaron E. Steele said...

Thanks for the heads-up. Hope you had a blast at Gencon.