Nick Nazzaro: Art in Board Games #33

Nick Nazzaro: Art in Board Games #33

EDITORS NOTE: Nick and Lay Waste Games will have a stand at PAX East (booth TT51) from 5th-8th April where you'll be able to buy some cool stuff including stickers and pinny arcade pins Nick designed.

Hi Nick, thanks for joining me! For our readers who aren't aware of your work could you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
Thanks for having me, Ross! I'm an illustrator based in Los Angeles working in TV animation. Right now I'm at Starburns Industries working on a show for HBO called Animals. I've also done lots of work for magazines, motion graphic firms, and various types of merchandise. Basically I just draw all day long. 

Could you tell us a bit more about your development as an artist? Where did you start out and how do you think this broad experience has helped shape how you work?
I came from a family of artists so I started drawing very early on. I think every birthday involved me getting crayons or sharpies up until I moved out as an adult. I went to an arts high school in Boston, and eventually an art college. It was just always the plan to do it professionally, full time.

Space Scene Gif

One of my earliest gigs was illustrating a weekly column in a local Boston newspaper, called DigBoston. I drew some dicks, butts, and a lot of other vulgar stuff you'd find in an indie paper. It was great and I learned a ton by having to report in to an art director a few times a week. After that I started illustrating more for magazines, doing some gallery shows, and trying to make a name for myself by entering competitions. I finished school in the fall of 2013 and started working on Dragoon art in the spring of 2014. Been busy ever since!

Now I'm working at an animation studio in LA while still doing freelance whenever I get a chance. You do learn a lot from all these various industries and I'm fortunate that I've gotten to be involved in so many cool projects. Working in animation has forced me to be a lot more efficient in how I use photoshop, for sure. Working in motion graphics for Buck Design reinforced a lot of my editorial illustrator roots. Working in games was incredibly rewarding and I've learned a lot about mass production and printing of art assets. I could honestly probably write a book about all the skills I've picked up while working after being done with school. 

You are a co-founder of Lay Waste Games, so how did that come about and what were your goals when you set up the publisher?
My personal origin story is a little different than the rest of the founders behind Lay Waste Games. The rest of the team is two brothers and their childhood best friend, and they were setting out to make a single game happen, pretty much. They found me to do the art for the game, eventually, and after it being way more work than anyone expected, I wound up as co-founder when we made the LLC. The original goal was to make Dragoon a reality but that was such an instant success for us, our goals have evolved. Now we want to make a lot of games for the foreseeable future. 

What can you remember about Dragoon and how did you need to change your style to suit the format of board games?
That's a good question. You always have to change what you're doing a little to make it fit into the constraints of actually printing something. That's really a big part of the fun and challenge of making anything on this scale, though. The 3D pieces might have looked different if we weren't worried about sharp angles ripping the mold apart. The map could maybe be even more colorful if we weren't limited to using 6 colors for cost reasons. When things are printed small, you can only manage so much detail. All those constraints helped me figure our creative solutions that in the end looked really sharp, I think. 

Remembering when you first got the spec for the artwork, how has this final version shifted from that original brief? How did you take those initial ideas and turn them into what we see today?
It changed a pretty fair amount. It even changed during the Kickstarter campaign itself. We were making more money than we anticipated and that led to us splurging a little on fancier components. Some pretty generic and boring pieces ended up becoming custom sculpted pieces instead. When I first started doing the art, the rules weren't quite 100%, so some of those changes required new art to be made. It was a very fluid project but we had a strong idea of where we wanted to take the game visually, very early on. The theme was always set in stone. Some card names changed, lots of rule changes, but the style didn't waver. 

What mood and tone were you trying to trigger in the player if any? Why those colours and why that visual style?
We started with a game about dragons, some pretty high fantasy concepts, and decided visually the game shouldn't look like other fantasy games. We wanted it to stand out and gain attention. The first thing I showed the rest of the team were different color palettes that were very limited, for directions we could go in. Having a limited amount of colors was very important in establishing the style as unique and recognizable. The hope was it would be eye-catching and different enough to warrant a further look. If enough people thought it looked interesting, they'd want to learn more, eventually play it, and then tell their friends about. So far it's been working out. 

Did you research other art or games in helping guide that clearly fantasy, yet unique art style?
Not intentionally. I didn't go out and look up a lot of games, movies, and fantasy related things because everyone knows exactly what those look like already. I just knew we had to look different than the first three things you think of when someone says dragons or fantasy game. A lot of the art you'd think of is older, very rendered, muted colors, with a lot of careful attention to detail. Moving in the opposite direction, we went with a bold and limited color palette and simplified, stylized shapes. Kept it very geometric and angular with very little use of rounded or natural lines. Right away this gave us a pretty distinct look that I was hoping would set us apart from other fantasy games. 

Your latest game is Human Era, how do you think your work on Dragoon shaped your choices for this project and how were you looking to stand out with this game? 
I think the first thing we wanted was to go with a different look than Dragoon and to avoid reusing that distinct style. We didn't have such a strong direction to turn with Human Era as we only wanted to avoid looking like Dragoon. Time travel or social deduction games don't have a specific look the same way fantasy games do so there was an abundance of options. We explored many more styles with Human Era and ultimately settled on a style that is much more similar to what my personal work looks like. 

You've said that as a team it's now your goal to make games for the foreseeable future, so what's next for Lay Waste Games? 
The immediate future includes fulfillment of Human Era, which I'm very excited about. We are publishing someone else's design for the first time, a sweet little game by Matt Fantastic and Alex Cutler. We're hard at work on our next game, codenamed Pyramid Project, which is always the most fun time to be a game developer. So far we really enjoy shifting genres and styles on a game by game basis, and Pyramid Project is no different. It will be unlike Dragoon in some really fresh ways. Dragoon had some mass appeal in how easy it was to pick up, and how forgiving it was if you were playing for the first time. Pyramid Project will be geared more towards real tabletop enthusiasts with a lot of gaming experience. The soonest anyone will be able to play it is at PAX East.

What else can you tell us about Pyramid Project? Do you have a clear indication of its visual style yet and what should we expect? 
I can tell you it'll look good for sure. Components wise, it's looking like it has a lot of similarities to Dragoon. Map style board potentially, with a bunch of unique 3D pieces, potentially. Everything is really TBD still, because of how early in development it is, but it's always exciting to be at this stage of a project and figuring out the visual path it'll take. 

What are you currently reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work? 
I feed off the other artists I'm immediately surrounded by every day. They're really inspiring and skilled individuals that I'm very fortunate to be working with. I spend quite a bit of time checking out work online on Instagram mostly. A little Twitter. I haven't read a book in a decade though. One day I hope that changes but I really only have time for so many things outside of being productive and books just don't fit, unfortunately. 

Do you have any current projects underway, or coming up that you’d like (or are able) to tell us about? 
Please watch season 3 of Animals on HBO! Seasons 1 and 2 are only 10 episodes each and they're very funny. Season 3 will be the best yet, for sure though. I've been working on season 3 as a colorist and background painter for about 5 months now. Very much looking forward to showing off all the cool things I painted for the show once it airs later this year. Working in tv animation has been a dream though. Couldn't be much more fun. Every other project outside of Lay Waste Games is still currently a secret, unfortunately. 

Finally, if we’d like to see more of you and your work, where can we find you? 
You can visit my website at or follow me on Instagram or Twitter @TheNazzaro. If you want to find me in person, I'll be in Los Angeles for the foreseeable future, as well as PAX East, GenCon, PAX Unplugged, and probably some other upcoming cons as well. 

(All images provided by Nick Nazzaro, 2018).

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