Sami Laakso: Art in Board Games #21
This week we have Sami Laakso an artist and designer who has worked on games such as Dale of Merchants 1 and 2, Days of Ire: Budapest 1956, Crisis, and Petrichor and with companies such as Snowdale Design (which he owns), Mighty Boards, and LudiCreations.
Hello Sami, thanks for taking the time to speak to us. Firstly, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Absolutely! I’m the owner of Snowdale Design, my board game company. I focus on creating and publishing my own games in hopes of bringing happiness to people all over the world. And I have a cat named Eddie. He’s awesome.
Now we know a little more about you, I have to ask, as a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
This is a tricky question. I didn’t have a single specific job that I dreamt off as a kid. As weird as it sounds, my goal for the longest time was to simply one day have a job in which I genuinely enjoy spending my time. It might be an unusual answer but I figured that if I have to work for roughly half of my waking time, why shouldn’t I aim to spend that time doing something I love?
So how did you first get involved in making board games?
I love playing board games with my friends and family as I would guess most of the readers do too. A few years ago I got a desire to create a game myself that I could enjoy with my close ones. It wasn’t meant to be a product to sell to a publisher or anything like that. Only after I had created this game (later known as Dale of Merchants) and could see how much everyone enjoyed it did I think about actually publishing it. One thing leads to another and now I work full time in my own board game company.
When you are working on the art of a board game can you give us a quick overview of your creative or thought process and has this changed at all since you first started?
This has changed a lot and will certainly keep evolving as I continue to pursue honing my craft. As I do both the illustrations and graphic design for my games, I usually start with a crude layout for my prototype. While the first prototypes can be rough around the edges, I try to make them as user-friendly and clean as possible. Clarity is key at this stage. I jump into illustrating the art and details only after I’m satisfied with the layout and game design. Then I look for a lot of reference images, which is usually photos of animals as my games don’t have humans in them. I try to keep all the animals as close to their real-life counterparts as possible whilst giving them personality and character. This often means that I take a bit of artistic freedom when drawing their facial expressions.
You created Dawn of Peacemakers, so could you tell us a little bit about what that involved and what were the biggest challenges you faced?
Dawn of Peacemakers was and still is a huge project. It wasn’t supposed to be as enormous as it eventually became. At first, I only wanted to make a game against war. Then I wanted to add scenarios to it. I figured scenarios would be even better if they were linked to each other. Then thought there should definitely be a story behind these events. Why not teach the game during the scenarios and have twists and turns during the campaign? Whoa, that got out of hand fast.
One of the biggest challenges was the plain act of dividing such a huge game into manageable chunks, tasks that can actually be achieved in days or better, hours. Bit by bit, I ticked to-do items and got the game ready. Or as close to ready as it needs to be for the launch of a crowdfunding project.
What was the inspiration or core idea that drove your work on Dawn of Peacemakers?
I wanted to create something unique, a game that there isn’t anything else quite like yet. The idea I settled on was a war game where the players' mission was to end the war in peace, instead of crushing the opposing side. It wouldn’t make sense for players to directly control the bloodthirsty warring sides, not if they actually wanted to end the conflict so this choice lead to unique mechanisms as well.
What are you currently reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work?
There isn’t any single one piece of work that I can name for that. I consume books, movies, podcasts etc, that I enjoy. Then parts of them influence my work, wanted or not. Still, to name at least one name, I adore Hayao Miyazaki’s movies. They don’t hammer their ideas and motives down your throat but are way more delicate with their approach. They make you think.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to work in the board game industry?
Get involved! Being it drawing, designing, proofreading, volunteering at conventions, anything. Gathering experience and making contacts is generally the best thing you can do regarding any passion you might have. It doesn’t matter what your specific goal is. If you want to work in any industry you should start with small steps, and work your way through. Sooner or later an opportunity will appear. You have to be willing to do the legwork.
Do you have any current projects underway, or coming up that you’d like (or are able) to tell us about?
Obviously Dawn of Peacemakers! But seriously, it has consumed my time for so long I haven’t been able to work much on anything else. That being said, I have managed to design parts of the next Dale of Merchants game a bit here and there. Rumour has it, that will come in a bigger collector friendly box and with never seen before goodies.
Finally, if we’d like to see more of you and your work, where can we find you?
By far the best way to stay up to date with my stuff is to subscribe to my email newsletter. Occasionally I’ll also post some sneak previews and other nonsense on Twitter. Finally, if you have any questions about any specific game of mine then a message on BoardGameGeek is the best place to ask those.
Dawn of the Peacemakers is available on Kickstarter until Sat, December 2nd, 2017.
(All images supplied by Sami Laakso, 2017)