"Nobody gets me. I'm the wind, baby!" - Tom Servo
"Push the button, Frank!"
Original 1st & 2nd Edition Covers
Way back in the mists of time (around 1977) I discovered the Metagaming Microgames series. I first discovered them in a game magazine (probably Space Gamer) and mail ordered Ogre from an ad I saw in it. For the young in the audience, back in the day you had to use checks which you put in an envelope and then waited patiently 4-6 weeks for delivery. Ah, the good old days! Fortunately I got the second edition which featured a beautiful color cover by Clark Bradley (still my favorite cover). That game got me hooked and I bought every microgame they released.
Chitin: I was the second in the series and one of the most intriguing to me. I thought the whole concept of intelligent bugs fighting over the Fall harvest was a neat idea and making dead units food even more interesting.
Hand built Travel Editions (from 1977/78)
My dad and grandfather are both good carpenters so I thought it would be a fun project to make these games truly portable. Working with my dad, we designed folding wood boards that held all the game materials inside. They had hinges and magnets to keep them closed. Even a space for a die! I originally built three of them but stupidly sold the one I made for Rivets to someone in high school for a mere $10. Maybe it still sits in some forgotten attic just waiting to be discovered by a future gamer. My plan was to build one for each game but Metagaming started popping them out so fast I couldn’t keep up. Each wood box took many hours to make.
In high school I used to play a lot of wargames and WWII miniature games. But as computer gaming grew, I lost interest and had more fun playing games on my Apple II. After college I got a job at a little computer game developer called Interplay (Video Game). Many of the employees were big into RPG’s so I joined various games. During the 1990’s I used to go to the local gaming cons with my buddies and role play. Then we discovered Catan which drew us into boardgames. As the years progressed, we all drifted away from RPG’s as time and family took up our slack time. Boardgames were a wonderful alternative since you could finish them in one night (usually!)
Today I’m a huge boardgame fanatic and have a fairly impressive collection. I game regularly with three other gamers (with a few guests sometimes) and a regular at the local Strategicons. We’ve all built up huge collections of games. And two of my friends are now published game designers. So I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to do boardgame graphic designs in my spare time. Both just for fun and for my friends’ games.
My early projects were really small things like ref cards and small add-ons. It wasn’t until I did a full graphic redesign of Dune that I really got crazy. Check out my previous blog on that story!
After doing Dune, I wanted to find another project to do for fun. But not so large so I could finish it in a reasonable amount of time. I looked over my various ideas and Chitin: I jumped out at me. It was on my potential projects list for a few years and I remembered how much I liked the design. Unlike Ogre, it never got any attention after the second printing. The designer and publisher were long gone and no one knew where the rights were. It had fans that might appreciate a redesign.
I’m not an illustrator so when I did Dune, I used the original illustrations. There was no way to get permission since the original publisher was gone and no one knew who owned it any longer. Because of this I couldn’t host the files on BGG. So they reside on a separate FTP site a friend and I rent.
For Chitin: I, I was doing an all new graphic design but needed art for the counters. I decided to track down Jennell Allyn Jaquays who did the originals and see if I could convince him to give me permission. He was easy to track down from his website. I had a mockup of the map so sent him an image so he knew I was serious. Both of us are in the video game industry and we happened to have a mutual friend. So I chatted with him online through several emails. He told me he’d be happy to let me use them but didn’t know if he actually owned the images! Seems Metagaming didn’t do a lot of contracts so there was no way to actually know from way back then what his agreement was. I decided if he was ok with it, then that should be good enough!
Now that I gotten the illustration stuff worked out to an acceptable compromise, I started working on the final map. I decided to go with a more realistic look. The manual only has a few lines that describe the battle area-
Beneath cool, gray morning mists, the fields of reddened grain wait for fall. But as dawn’s yellow glint pierces the fog, the early calm is broken by a chitinous rustling. Moving through the fields in gleaming rivers, their carapaces sparkling with dew, come two deadly harvest parties.
My Map & Original 2nd Edition Map
So the map would be dominated by reddened grain, forests, and rivers. The actual first job was making the hexes. The first edition map was larger. It had an extra hex on the left and right side of the map. They removed them from the second edition since there were complaints of the counters being too large for the map. I decided to restore the map to the original first edition. Since I own both editions that was easy enough. I scanned in the map to use as a template. The hexes I had are 250 pixels across and so I built a big field of them and then laid the map template on another layer so I could be sure not to make any mistakes when I put in the different terrain. I didn’t want the hexes to be overwhelming so faded them out between vertices. I put in the megahexes in thick solid lines. The megahexes are used by the Plunge and Basic units. Finally I added a dark brown border to finish the edge.
First job was finding a good field texture. There’s a great site called CG Textures that I’ve used in the past for various projects. I looked through the tiled grass textures until I found something that looked like fields of tall grass. Then tiled it across the whole hex map. I played around with the hue, saturation, & contrast until I was happy. Then put in some red & orange tinting with random dark patches to break up the pattern.
The original game had slope terrain & forest terrain which they called collectively, rough. I decided not to associate both terrain types as rough. Instead I changed slope to rough. It seemed to make more sense to call each terrain type by a distinct name instead of grouping two together. Plus, it was difficult to draw convincing slopes. Much easier to make rough, rocky terrain. I know, I cheated a bit!
For the forest area I wanted to use frond like plants. I used a program called SpeedTree in the past and still had it installed. So created a new frond image and set it up to make a bunch of random plants using this texture. I came up with about a dozen different plant variants and built my forest sections from those.
The rough area was a simple tiled rock texture I found on CG Textures that I enhanced with some shading and color. The water was created with a tiled water texture and a bunch of Photoshop blends & hand painted shading.
The final touches included a sand layer made from a pattern overlay and hand painted along the river edges and around all the little rock groups. The rock groups were little blobs of white with a rock pattern, emboss, and shadow added. Flowers and small plants were hand placed along the rivers. Finally I added a logo in each corner and hex detail over the brown map edging to make it look more interesting.
I did several test prints using a good quality laser printer. From these tests I did minor changes to water, saturation, contrast, & brightness until I was happy. I then took the plunge and uploaded it to Artscow for printing.
Ref Card & Dead Unit Tracker (Ver. 1)
While waiting for the print to show up, I started work on the Ref card. At first it was just going to be the letter/number codes as seen in the original game. My first test looked pretty dull and was somewhat confusing. I wanted this game to be new player friendly! I’ve made many icons for various game projects and it hit me this might be a good solution to replace those dull letters & numbers. My first tests showed promise so decided to see what other people thought. I feared the wargamers would hate it but almost everyone liked the icons! I created a bug-like claw for attack, a chitinous shield for defense, wavy noise lines for disruption, and arrows for retreat. I also decided to add some color and shading. I find icons work best with unique colors. You not only pick up the shape but the color so they are easier to differentiate.
I then made an icon version of the Combat Adds chart and an Icon Key. The icons took up a lot of space so there was a lot of time spent getting everything to line up in an attractive way. I made this card large so no squinting or glasses required!
After I finished it I decided I should also include a Terrain Key. Since different bugs moved differently on some terrain, this was useful for new players. I widened the card and put all that info on the right. Again, getting it all lined up was difficult. But finally got it all to look right.
So how do I deal with the Harvest tokens? The original game suggested keeping them all written done on scraps of paper. Well, that just won’t do! So made a Tracker card that made it easy to track each harvest token with glass beads, dimes, or any old token. The first seven were for the central megahexes with fixed starting values. And also made two more cards to add fourteen more tracking tokens for advanced scenarios. That should be more then enough. If players did run out, they could reuse scored tokens. The only downside is they take a large amount of extra table space. This game certainly won’t fit in your pocket!
Harvest Points/Dead Units Trackers
This wasn’t included in the original game but I thought it was a good idea for players to keep up to date scoring. As units are killed and harvest tokens are scored, players can instantly record that info on these trackers. It’s only needed for advanced games (same for the Harvest Trackers.)
Unit Counters & Harvest Tokens
So, I mentioned before that I emailed Jennell Allyn Jaquays about using his illustrations? I started working on the counters and was having horrible problems making Jay’s bugs work. I planned to make the counters 11/16" so they would work on either wood blocks or by themselves mounted on chipboard. But at that size his illustrations looked like a mess. They were just too detailed. All that detail became mush at such a small size.
3D Test Counter Mockup
So what to do? I was crushed! But then Nick Hayes came to the rescue! We’ve met at the Strategicon conventions in the past and even played my Dune copy so decided to ask him if he’d be interested in doing all new illustrations for the game. He graciously said yes! He immediately started working on the Gantua as a test. While he worked on that, I worked on the layout of the counters. I had already started but scraped most of the work for a new cleaner layout. Meanwhile Nick sent me the first illustration and it looked great. The lines were clean and it had a fun, whimsical look. That gave me something to use as a guide for refining the design. We then discussed colors. He sent me thirty-two different choices! I waffled for days before I finally narrowed it down to three. I finally compromised and included all three colors in the final design so players could choose what they liked best.
At first I had no plans to add the two expansion bugs but Nick was fine with doing the extra drawings so we went ahead and added them. Though they are more complex to play, they add some interesting options to the game.
One concern during the early stage was the difference in style between the bug illustrations and the map. I was a bit concerned until I did some mockups. I liked the difference since it made the counters stand out from the board. And the feedback I got seemed to agree with me.
I really hope Nick and I can work together on a future title. I really loved working with him. I’m hopeful we might do a full published game with one of my game designer friends. All this local talent needs to work together on something!!
Various 3D Mockups
Throughout the process of making the various components I created several 3D mockups in 3D Studio Max. I really like to do this to get a sense of how all the elements work together. And it allows me to show off the components early before I start building anything. If any problems are noticed at this stage, it’s a lot easier to fix.
This wasn’t planned originally and I had to really decide if I wanted to do it and release it. My good friend Chris Taylor (I) suggested we do a nice manual modified with the minor changes I did. He’s an expert on InDesign so offered to do all the layout work. I took my original second printing manual and OCRed the text. It worked really well since the text was so sharp. I put together all the example images and gave him the raw text. It turned out great! As a final touch I put in a new additional foreword describing this version.
I tried to do research on who owned the rights to this game and went away with more questions then answers. Metagaming went out of business in 1983 which was owned by Howard Thompson (also designer of Chitin: I). He left the gaming industry and has indicated that he wants nothing to do with it after he closed the company. I talked to a small wargame publisher owner and he indicated he heard the remaining rights might have been sold to The Avalon Hill Game Co (now owned by Hasbro). But it was unknown if all or only some of the games were sold. In conclusion, Mr. Thompson is no longer available for comment and Hasbro probably has no idea what they own (and probably doesn't care at this point).
With the new art there were no issues. Lots of graphic redesigns have been made over the years and generally no one has any problems with that when the game is long out of print. But here’s the problem, doing the manual is a line that I feared to tread. Without the manual, you still need to own the game to play a copy. At first we were just planning to make the manual for ourselves. But searching around online I found full scans of the game in just a few seconds. Heck, one site actually charged for a PDF of the game scan! At this point, the only people profiting from game sales are eBay resellers. I thought about it a lot and finally concluded that no one probably would care after over 30 years of being out of print. I placed the file on my own FTP site and so far have had no complaints.
Once the last of the files were complete, I revised the various post links on BGG and let the fans have fun making copies.
I built my copy with the best materials I could find. The map was printed by Artscow and laminated (collage prints come that way). I mounted it on self adhesive foamboard and covered the edges in book binding tape for protection. The counters I printed on label paper and laminated with 3 mil plastic. These were stuck on 21x21x4mm wood blocks I got from Spielmaterial. The Harvest tokens were mounted on 19x4mm wood discs after being punched with a 5/8" circle punch. Also bought color matching wood dice. A friend has access to a die cutter so made the Arch Reaper’s ranged attack tokens with 1/2" round counters. Though I made counters for the Harvest Trackers, I decided to use red glass beads for my set instead. The Ref cards were printed on 32 lb. paper on a high quality laser printer, then laminated with 5 mil plastic. The manual was also printed on 32 lb. paper (double sided) and spiral bound at my local Fedex Office.
Hope you enjoyed my rather long essay on making this redesign. It was another fun project that took up a fair amount of my spare time for a couple months. I got to play it at the last LA Strategicon for the first time in over 30 years!