Case Study Two: Watermarks.

There seems to be a current trend for tactical games to use watermarks of unit badges on their counters. Most of the time either the badge is generic or only partially used.

This begs the question... "Why?"

More often than not, the reply is basically... "Why not?"

True, for a good majority of the counters this watermark does not completely obscure the information necessary for play of the game. True, it shows a bit more research done on the part of the design team. But does it really improve the quality of the game or the experience?

My thoughts are just because I can do something, doesn't necessarily mean I should do it...

These counters give you the same information as those with a watermark. With aging, tired eyes, which would you prefer to look at during a 3-4 hour gaming session?

Disclaimer: After the response to my first study, I feel I must add here that I am not trying to slam MMP, Adam, TDC, War Storm, etc. These are just my views, some will agree, some will disagree...

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Comment by Mark Humphries on June 5, 2008 at 12:15pm
Michael is spot on. Counters today tend to be hard enough to read as it is without adding such headache inducing clutter. Lately ATO and Nicolas Eskubi are the worst offenders in my book when it comes baroquely overwrought graphic design; wargaming's answer to Tufte's Chart Junk, the anti-thesis of design elegance.
Comment by Michael Hayman on June 5, 2008 at 11:29am
Watermarks make the counters muddy. I miss straight up, high contrast counters with functional sans-serif fonts and just enough decoration for flavor but not interference. One man's elegance is anothers recognition nightmare. My father (age 70) has had to resort to picking up counters, taking out a magnifier just to figure out whether the unit was cavalry or infantry. When the icon requires you to note that this unit is light cav vs medium cav, we might actually have to shelve the game as too fatiguing. I want a counter where all of the data is easy to read, preferably from about 30 inches away and does not require flipping the counter to get more. I also like the traditional box crosses, dots, slashes and ovals of infantry, cavalry, and mech which AH/SPI and innumerable history books use to indicate formation type and size.

The worst counters in the world are Clash of Arms La Battaille System. Muddy, obtuse, hard to read, and most of the data is on the back of the counter. And some people love these counters?

I think the electronic playing medium for some (cyberboard, vassal etc.) causes more problems. Designers rarely proof physically, relying on zooming on a monitor, and worse yet the monitor display is a light producing presentation not light-reflecting where contrast differences and distance of view are crucial. Coupled with cpu play testing, with its clicking to reveal a counter in a stack without risking toppling, cause the designer to make graphic decisions that are counter-productive to the player of physical game sets.
Comment by Joel Toppen on June 4, 2008 at 7:01pm
I think that the watermarks make the pieces look more elegant.
Comment by John Bernardo on June 2, 2008 at 1:03pm
As long as the watermarks do not detract from the playing of the game by hiding information or being historically inaccurate.

Which may be happening with CC:Pacific (USMC emblem on US Army units) :(
Comment by Eric Walters on June 2, 2008 at 12:54pm
I think it depends on the game and how the components blend together. As one example, look at STRANGE DEFEAT by Avalanche Press. The map is pretty bland but very functional. The counters have watermarks--and the combination works well. The same effect works for COMBAT COMMANDER: EUROPE and MEDITERRANEAN. Maps are a little less bland and very functional--and the results are the same. Where you have problems is when the cartographic rendering is very, very rich (THE DEVIL'S CAULDRON is certainly perhaps the best example of that!) and the counters are dense with information and you have the watermark on top of it. It can be a bit of a jumble. Some players have no problems with it at all. Some players do. I'd guess it's a matter of taste.

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