Saturday, January 19, 2019

Thoughts on theme (Deities & Demigods) - and artist needed!

If you've been following this blog, then you probably know that the theme of Deities & Demigods is Greek mythology. You play as a demigod, showing devotion to the gods of Olympus, and asking them to do favors for you (the more they like you, the bigger the favor they do for you).

I like the Greek god theme because it's recognizable. People know that Zeus is the king of the gods. It makes sense that Ares helps you move your troops. Hephaestus is a blacksmith, so obviously he's the one that builds artifacts and buildings... it's the same reason I think generic fantasy works for games like Belfort: it's easy to remember that Elves collect wood and Dwarves collect stone because of the stereotypical traits of elves (associated with the forest) and dwarves (associated with the mountains). While you can argue "that's been done," I believe the familiarity there is useful, it helps the players grok the game.

Deities & Demigods game will be published in 2019 (and incidentally, it could use a different title), and I have been looking for someone to do the art for it. In thinking about the art direction, the Greek god theme looks like a worse and worse idea. While I still like the familiarity aspect mentioned above, if you look at all of the similarly themed games, they all kind of look the same. It's very difficult to stand out and not to get lost among other Greek themed games such as:


So how do you do make a game with a common theme stand out? Here are some ideas I have had for Deities & Demigods:

First thought was to change the theme to something less common --perhaps Egyptian or Norse pantheons. Egyptian was the front runner here, and perhaps that's the way we'll go. Some of the familiarity may be lost, but to be completely honest, is everyone so familiar with Hephaestus to begin with? And some Egyptian gods, like Ra/Osiris, Horus, etc might be similarly recognizable. Unfortunately, the Egyptian gods seem a little less focused in what they actually do (or maybe that's a plus, as just about any of them could do just about anything in the game).

My first reaction to changing theme was "well, we COULD, but I'd really like to keep the Greek theme." In an effort to do that, my next thought was to just increase the art budget. Try and get some really fantastic looking art, which would stand out amid boxes like Oracle of Delphi. I started looking for artists with this in mind, but I think it's kind of a fool's errand. If you look at some of the games linked above, they've already done that. Not only would the art budget for "fantastic art" be enormous, but it wouldn't even solve the problem of standing out in this case!

Today I had a new idea though, and so far I think it might be a good one. I was looking at games like SPQF and Everdell, and I thought "Would it be totally stupid to do Deities & Demigods as Greek mythology, but with animals instead of people?" And right away the idea began to grow on me. I'm not sure it's the right way to go, but I think it's definitely worth thinking about. It could set the Greek theme apart from other similarly themed games, or it could even work with a change to another pantheon.

Here's a draft of a descriptive blurb I whipped up, which could be the intro in the rulebook, for example:
Atop a hill in the Big Clearing stands a mighty Baobab tree called Olympus. Most days, resting in the shade of Olympus, you can find the lion Zeus, the King of the Jungle. His wife, the lioness Hera, comes around on occasion to make her will known. By the watering hole at the base of the hill, or just inside the tree line, you can always find Hermes, the long-tailed macaw; Ares, the [wild boar][OR][solemn elephant]; and Hephaestus, the orangutan.

All other animals look up to these gods of Olympus, showing their devotion by bringing them gifts of [something to replace gold... food?], or begging for their aid -- the more devoted you are to these mighty animals, the bigger favors they'll do for you.

So what do you think? Is this a good idea? And if you had to re-imagine Greek gods as animals, what would you choose? Feel free to take liberties with changing which gods to use, but keep their game effects in mind:

Zeus: moves you up an Olympus track, which gives various bonuses as you go
Hermes: Gives you gold (food?) with which you show your devotion to the gods
Ares: Moves your troops around the board
Hephaestus: Builds you artifacts, buildings, and monuments
Hera: Bestows start player upon whomever best satisfies her demands for the round.

I wouldn't mind getting another female deity in there...
maybe Athena instead of Ares (though Ares works a little better thematically)?
Or Demeter (goddess of harvest) instead of Hermes (especially if changing people to animals and therefore gold to something like food)?

Let me know what you think in the comments below. And if you're an artist/graphic designer and you think you would be a good fit for this project (and think you can finish it by mid-April), please let me know ASAP!


Ben Phelan said...

I love anthropomorphic art. This sounds like a cool twist on a recognizable theme.

Nathan Nabeta said...

I am always a sucker for animals and it would definitely stand out more.

Michael Brown said...

It certainly would be better than nothing, but you could also try an island mythology - Maori for instance. They have interesting stuff, and don't seem over used.

Jeff said...

Bad idea (I claim) -- fairly or not, it would come off that you're chasing a trend and this could spill over into the overall impression of the game as well.

I've often had the same thought about Tolkien games -- why do they all have to have John Howe-esque art? How about a totally different /visual style/?

Why not something similar here? In other words, instead of "fantastic art", how about just art of Greek pantheon as illustrated in a totally different style than what we've seen before? For example, Santorini manages to look really fresh with its chibi art. This suggests that it's possible to give this subject a fresh visual treatment.

Seth Jaffee said...

@Jeff - interesting point. I agree there are a few games out there that have anthropomorphic animals (off the top of my head: SPQF, Everdell, and Root, but I'm sure there are others), but I don't see it as a "trend" perse.

But to your idea (which did cross my mind before), what do you suggest? I had considered "normal" (common) art style, Santorini's chibi style (which looks GREAT, but (a) it's been done, and (b) I don't know that a whimsical or "cutsey" style would work well for this game. Maybe it would?), and I about ran out of juice at that point. I can't really think of a style that would look good and also different (until recently, when considering Lion King style animals).

I guess there are two ways to do animals as well... anthropomorphic (which might look like it's chasing a trend as you suggest), or like Lion King, just animals in the African Plains, in a reflection or sort of parody of Greek mythology.

Jeff said...

Yeah, but Root and Everdell are REALLY high-profile so you're third past the post at this point. I like the they're-just-animals idea better than anthropomorphic.

I don't know enough about art styles to know what to suggest but surely there must be some that haven't been applied to game art previously and surely someone artistically minded could think of something. I don't know if anyone would have thought of chibi art applied to Greek deities before Santorini did it, so, there must be other styles that also haven't been explored.

Scott Johnson said...

Mikael Shadows born around 23 B.C. was a Greek demigod and he also was known as the “earth devil” It is said that he is comparable to Lucifer in means of the ability to torture others.