How we got here

From Alpha to Beta

It’s been a very busy last month for Lyssan. In the last few weeks, the game has:

  • Had a major redesign of the board, along with numerous lesser rules tweaks.
  • Picked up a graphic designer.
  • Completed alpha testing.
  • Been mailed out in several beta-test kits, for testers in other cities to get a crack at it.

The biggest lesson of the past month has been how a prototype made for alpha testing may be a death march to reproduce in volume for beta testing. The final alpha-test version of Lyssan was made with all laser-cut tiles and counters, hand colored counters and cards, a board glued together from 41 pieces, and 90 cards sleeved with the latest printout of their game text so they can be changed as needed. Building a copy of the alpha-test kit from scratch took days and a considerable volume of art & game supplies. Even after bringing in friends to help copy it for beta test kits, scaling from making one copy to making twenty of this version would take an army.

Card art for the Influence card, "Rally"

So as we rush to make beta kits for distant playtesters, the methods change.  Hand colored tiles are replaced by block printed ones. The next board may be silk screened instead of glued together. While the rules stay the same, most of the games props change. The upside of all this is that it’s another step in the direction of making beautiful artisanal game sets possible. There’s something beautiful about the thought of making a deluxe handcrafted copy of the game, long after it’s being mass produced.

How we got here The World

How the Art is Made

One of the most gratifying things about making a game is seeing all the ideas that have been stuck in your head for weeks, months, or years make it out into the world. Seeing professional art – not just your imagination – makes the game suddenly real. For Lyssan, I have the honor of working with the exceptionally talented and creative Marek Madej.

The world of Lyssan is one I’ve had in my head for years now, so the cards all have stories behind them. Many of them feature characters that I’ve already explored in other, unpublished games, who have never seen a wider audience before. The first challenge is to take all this and pack it down to a short description – one that hits the essential points, and gives Marek plenty of room to play.

For the card “The Brothers of Garus”, the write-up looked like this:

Card Name: The Brothers of Garus
My image for the card: A crusader-knight wears armor covered in religious symbols. We see him at the moment of a hasty salute as he charges into battle.
What this card does in the game:This card a vassal that supplies the player with new Knights and Priests
Aspect ratio: Portait 1×2
Notes: This is another vassal card – a card representing an alliance with a powerful faction in the game. The Brothers of Garus are a militant faction within the Church of Alor. Their name is taken from Saint Garus, formerly named General Garus. According to legend, he was sainted after personally defeating the demonic general of an evil army that threatened to destroy the old empire. It is thought that the Brothers of Garus might be cast out of the church as heretics, if some orthodox priests of Alor gain power. It is said that they worship their saint above the creator, and would make all do so if they grew strong enough to try. Reminder: The church of Alor is inspired by the historical Catholic church, but they’re fictional. They have their own symbols in place of the crucifix, fish, and so on. Feel free to invent a few of these symbols.

Whew. That’s a wordy one. Not long after, Marek gets back to me with four thumbnail sketches for this image, along with the rest from this batch of images. They look like this:

The Brothers of Garus Sketch 1

The Brothers of Garus Sketch 2

The Brothers of Garus Sketch 3The Brothers of Garus Sketch 4

Marek has his own commentary on the images at this stage, and it reads like this:

The Brothers of Garus

01 – The first one… is maybe not looking like hasty salute, but I just thinked that significant version can also looks nice.
02 -The second one is my favourite.
03- I didn’t know… there wasn’t any informations about horse in this one, but… I’ve done also version with a horse.
04 – The pose in this one looks too stiff

At this stage I’m looking over the thumbnails for a favorite, but I’m also looking for any problems. It could be something that would be an anachronism in the world, or something that doesn’t fit the storyline, or something in the image that’s going to take emphasis away from the part that should be the focus for the game. In this case, they all look good, and Marek has indicated he has a favorite. I’d be a fool not to let him chase his muse. He gets the go ahead to continue with that one.

Over the next few days, the images from this batch come in, in first draft mode. Marek is giving me a chance to make any last-minute corrections to the images focus, lighting, or details. At this point, the roughed-in version of The Brothers of Garus looks like this:

The Brothers of Garus First DraftI’ve got no corrections or complaints. It’s shaping up to be a fine image, and one that captures the spirit of the card. Before diving into finishing this image, Marek brainstorms a quick dozen symbols that might be on the knight’s tabard. Now everything that happened before it fun enough, but this stage is a bonus. All the while, the world of Lyssan has been in my head. What it looks like has been a one-way flow from me to Marek to you. Now I get to look at his ideas for symbols, and figure out which one fits into Lyssan’s story. In the end, I pick the ninth symbol from his brainstorm, reasoning that:

9 is a version of General Garus’ personal Coat of Arms, as seen on his shield when he was alive. It’s been simplified over the years by the church to resemble the symbol of Alor – the three dots were originally heraldic devices like a ‘lion rampant’ or somesuch. The three lines are the dividing fields of the shield, where it was originally split into three fields. In the 200 years since Garus’ death, the story of Saint Garus has grown, so now a visitor to the church is more likely to hear that the central T represents Garus himself and the three dots are his loyal Corporals, or some other corruption of the original meaning of the symbol that makes it seem more grand.

And it’s not long after that when Marek finishes the final version of the image.

The Brothers of Garus Final…and that’s where the images come from. Cool, huh?

How we got here

Happy birthday, Lyssan website.

Hi. I’m Sam. I’ve been working on a wargame, named Lyssan, for the past 6 months – since July, 2010. I’d designed boardgames before, but I knew this one was different from very early. Something about the way all the parts fit together made something magical and new.

I’d first set out to design a competitive game of crisis management: Something like Matt Leacock’s “Pandemic”, but with the players struggling for top ranking amidst the crisis, offing each other’s agents, and risking bringing the world down around their ears. I set the game in a warring, feudal world, where the competing lords would be happy to take advantage of chaos to get the upper hand on their rivals. By the time the game was ready to have the crises added in, the diplomacy and strategy of the struggle was already rich enough to be its own game. The original idea for the game is now the first expansion.

It took a week to get the first draft of the rules down. The rest of the month before I had a prototype assembled. This isn’t a small game – the first version had more than 200 units, 37 map tiles, a deck of 90 cards, plus coins, recruit tokens, and other odds and ends.

In spite of that, from the first playtest, we were wrapping games up in two or three hours each, and people really liked it. And it could have continued on this way for much longer, a few playtests at a time.

For years before, I’d been bookmarking the portfolios of online artists whenever I’d found one I liked. While playtesting Lyssan, it was natural to go through that list and pick the ones who drew most like the images of this world I had in my head. And then a few days ago, I wrote to one of my favorites, and asked if he was available to freelance on the project. He said yes.

That was eight days ago. In the meantime, a company has been formed to publish Lyssan. The contact went off to our mystery artist. And this site was put up. Welcome to it. Stick around. In a few more weeks, our mystery artist (along with his first few sketches) will appear, and there will be sneak peeks of the game.