Jordi Roca: Art in Board Games #12
This week we have Jordi Roca a graphic designer and art director who has worked on games such as Victus - Barcelona 1714, Verbalia, Enigmàrius, and Barcelona - The Rose of Fire, and with companies such as Devir, Vexillum and Saladin games.
Hello Jordi thanks for taking the time to speak to us. Firstly, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hi everyone, I'm 53 years old and I graduated in graphic design at art school and started working in 1986. Since then I have worked in different studios, graphic arts workshops and agencies, as a designer and art director. At the moment I am director of graphic services in an advertising agency, but have frequently collaborated in editorial projects related to the world of boardgaming for 12 years now.
At the same time, I've been a board games enthusiast from the beginning, although I discovered a new generation of games, taking my hobby in a new direction when (in 1979) I bought Kingmaker, my first game from Avalon Hill Games. Since then my passion and collection has never stopped growing and already exceeds 1,000 titles.
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?
My father's fondness for art and illustration surely predisposed me to my willingness to work in the graphic world. When I had the opportunity I trained for it and entered the professional field. After working intensively in the advertising world, it was not until years later, that my first works in the world of games arrived.
So how did you first get involved in making board games?
My link from graphic creations to board games came much later than my work in design, when I became acquainted with Oriol Comas, a creator and promoter of tabletop games in my country. I started work with him in 2006 to carry out the graphic parts of several projects after we had met thanks to our common liking for board games, and we kept traveling together for years to the Essen Fair. In 2007 we worked together on a game funded by the University of Barcelona, alled Pompeu Fabra i el seu temps, a card game that was the first box format game I worked on the graphics of. Through Oriol I contacted Vexillum, who wanted to publish their first board game Patim Patam Patum and two years after that became the first collaboration with Devir, a brand with which I have already carried out many more projects on an ongoing basis. The first was Verbalia in 2010 and the most recent is Barcelona - The Rose of Fire published this past year.
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?
Depending on the type of game, the work plan may be slightly different between some projects and others. For example, it would not be the same when making a game based on a historical moment, than it would be when working on an abstract games theme or environment. Having said that, I can identify these steps in the creative process of the graphic part of a game:
The first step is to test the prototype of the game that the authors have, as many times as necessary. In this first step I begin to take notes and imagine where visual and graphical improvements could be implemented with which to enhance the player's experience.
The second step is a documentation and research phase. Keeping in mind what components and mechanisms the game includes, I start a data collection phase. In this part of the process I research for data through the network, but also in museums and libraries, or in places where I can trace information. A good example would be when I worked on Barcelona - The Rose of Fire, where I spent a lot of time collecting old objects and publications, mainly in flea markets and from antique stores.
The next step is to elaborate on the overall graphic proposal of the project, describing the approach of the different components to present to the authors and editors. This proposal will be studied in terms of gameplay, simplifying and improving the visual language of the different elements, rethinking formats, ergonomics and accessibility of these game components.
Once the proposals have been approved, we establish the graphic work plan with the rest of the team and the illustrator makes the first sketches and illustrations that will be gradually incorporated into the final art of the project, before eventually sending them to the press.
All this creative process, depending on the project, can take 8 to 18 months.
You were involved in the creation of Barcelona - The Rose of Fire so could you tell us a little bit about what that involved and what were the biggest challenges you faced?
In April 2015 Marco Maggi and Francesco Nepitello were working on the development of Barcelona - The Rose of Fire for Devir. At that time, Victus - Barcelona 1714 had just been published, for which David Parcerisa and I worked together on all the graphics. Marco and Francesco liked the work we did for Victus and spoke with Devir about the possibility of us taking over the graphic part of their project. Two months later, the first playtest of the games prototype with the authors took place, in which both David and I participated.
This project meant working on a game for the revered authors of War of the Ring, surely one of the best strategic games for two players that exists and a massively popular best-seller. For David and I, it was a challenge to accept and live up to the demands of this project, and especially exciting as this game tells the story of our dear hometown.
What was the inspiration or core idea that drove your work on Barcelona - The Rose of Fire?
Barcelona - The Rose of Fire recreates a long period of time (from 1850 to 1930) where the city lived a real revolution in many aspects. From urban and sociological to industrial and artistic, this era brought about its definitive transformation from city to metropolis. This moment in the history of the city has multiple elements, of which, without a doubt, modernism is its greatest expression, encompassing architecture, painting, new construction techniques, mosaics, amongst many others. The biggest challenge we faced, both David Parcerisa and I, was trying to capture all those icons and visual elements and interweave them in the most harmonious way possible in the final aspect throughout the project.
What are you currently reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work?
As a fan of boardgames, I have always liked fictional historical novels, because of their resemblance to the What if effect. They propose alternative versions of history, with the same elements or protagonists as we have when playing historical games. Within this genre I am follower of the work of Matilde Asensi, and now I am reading his last book The Hall of Amber.
Related to games, I also find inspiration in Sid Sackson's books A Gamut of Games and Philip Sabin’s Simulating War.
In terms of art, I love books that compile contemporary art trends from the second half of the 20th century, applied to graphic design, for example 1,000 record covers by Taschen.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to work in the board game industry?
If someone who wants to dedicate themselves to the artistic part of the game world I would recommend that they really immerse themselves in it, in order to understand the challenges they face from within. I think that they should play and know as much as possible about published games, existing forms and game mechanics. For this, the great events of the world of games like Spiel fair in Essen each year, can be extremely enriching.
Do you have any current projects underway, or coming up that you’d like (or are able) to tell us about?
Lately I have rejected some proposals from a couple of publishers to better focus on personal projects, also related to the world of games. These projects will probably see the light next year.
Finally, if we’d like to see more of you and your work, where can we find you?
You can see all my game projects in my profile in Boardgamegeek: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgameartist/11896/jordi-roca-parse
(All images supplied by Jordi Roca)