Designing the Look of History of the World

Enjoy a behind-the-scenes look at creating the art for History of the World

From the art to the pieces to the gameplay, a lot changes over the course of development before the games you know and love end up on your shelf. With this article, we'd like to take you behind the curtain so you can get a glimpse at what goes into making a game.

We’re going to start this new behind-the-scenes series with one of our recent releases: History of the World. We caught up with Z-Man Games' Art Director Sam Shimota and Z-Man Games' Head of Studio Steve Kimball about this remastered version of a beloved classic. Read on to learn about what went into creating the board and art for the game!

Q: When you work on updating an existing game, how is it different from working on a brand new game?

Steve: It's a tricky proposition. You want to stay true to the game's original intent and improve it, while being wary of the urge to over-tinker. First you must determine what's integral, and you do that by going back to the original source. We reviewed the maps, the pieces, and the rules for all previous versions of History of the World, and this gave us a firm grasp of the game's heritage, which helped us make decisions for what the new incarnation should be.

Q: What were some of the aspects of past versions of the game that jumped out at you?

Sam: The very first version of the game (1991) came on a cloth board that featured an "aerial view" of the globe, with the north pole as its focal point and the earliest starting regions of the board featured prominently front and center.

Cloth board from the 1991 version of History of the World

Hasbro's 2001 version opted for a more traditional west-east rendering, reminiscent of the kind of map more commonly found in other classic area control games like Risk. When the Ragnars worked on Brief, they chose to return the map to its roots and we carried that vision on for the Z-Man version.

World map from the 2001 game

Q: That north-pole focal point really is striking. Speaking of the board, how did you approach designing something as commonplace as a map of the world to make it stand out?

Steve: Some features of our board were deliberate choices to use a more realistic illustrative style: we adjusted the mountains to fit properly within their borders; we used different types of trees depending on the region; we gave the water a more realistic texture and waves; we also adjusted the connections for the regions so they looked like rocky outcrops instead of just a dotted line. Together, all of these adjustments combined to create a beautiful and textured world map.

Q: The board really does look great from both a form and function standpoint. It must have been a challenge to make all the colors work. How did you reconcile working with so many different colors over such a limited space?

Sam: To be honest, color might have been the single most challenging aspect of the game's visual design. Both the 2001 and 2009 versions have very colorful boards, so clearly color had to play a very important role in the game's overall design aesthetic. Players needed to be able to quickly look at the board and find the region they were looking for. Our near-final version of the board was certainly colorful, but it ended up needing some tweaks, thanks to the feedback from our seasoned playtesters.

Steve: Playtest feedback is an invaluable resource. The initial playtest feedback to this near-final board was marked by confusion. The regions that the marauders came from were teal and pink. The icon design on the corresponding marauder card showed a torch in the bottom corner. The torch's flame was the color of the empire's starting region to help players find it quickly. With the original region color selection, that gave us a teal-flamed torch that didn't read like a real torch with a warm-colored flame. To fix this, the marauding regions needed some color adjustments. As painful as any changes would be to make at this point in the development process, I took that feedback to heart and approached Sam about options for addressing the issue.

The original green flame was changed to the warm tones to look like a real torch

Sam: We reassigned the three regions that contain marauders as red, orange, and yellow. Then, due to the adjacencies and reconciling the thirteen (13!) different colors that had to work together, nearly all the regions had their colors switched. This was quite the undertaking! Since we had grown accustomed to the board in its previous state, it took us a few weeks to "mentally adjust" to the new colors (it's surprising how resistant the mind can be to simple changes like this). But, in the end, we feel strongly that it was worth the effort.

Version 1 of the world map to the final version

Q: So the cards are the heart of the game, right? The empire cards drive what story is created. How did you develop those?

Steve: The empire cards have a lot of subtle functionality. Even though the drafting rules in our new version of History of the World closely follow the rules from Brief, we appreciated the full list of empires seen on the card backs of the 2001 version. Going this route also allowed us to include the original empire selection as an optional rule for fans of that system.

Q: The event cards are another important piece of the game. What changes to the cards are you most proud of?

Sam: It never ceases to amaze me how good design balances both form and function—making something visually pleasing that also works for the game. Sometimes the most nuanced design choices can actually be the most impactful.

For example, each Epoch had to be visually cohesive, but also a little different. As gameplay unfolds, players journey through time, through history itself. Although the history of your game could be an entirely different journey from humanity's, we wanted the cards to represent key moments in the timeline to properly place each Epoch. The stone carvings of Epoch I all the way up to the steam engine in Epoch V offer an impressive and diverse montage of human history.

If you look closely, you'll see the hexagon and its surrounding design become more complex on each Epoch. The fifth Epoch has two circles surrounding the hexagon as well as points and lines extending from the center.

The subtle but important details continue in the event card illustrations. For the event cards, our artist Antonio Mainez hit the nail on the head with the pen-and-ink art style. The imagery presents events from human history with a treatment that evokes the days of yore.

Also during development, sometimes things hit the cutting room floor. That was the case here. There were originally six Epochs. To shorten game length we trimmed it down to five, requiring us to cut one of the card back designs. The Egyptian art was a cool design, but it just didn’t make it into the final game.


So there you have it! A big thank you to Art Director Sam Shimota and Head of Studio Steve Kimball for taking the time to discuss the game design process.

As you can tell, the Z-Man team is extremely proud of the look of History of the World. We hope you enjoyed our peek behind the curtain and that the next time you play you'll be able to appreciate the game even more than before.

History of the World is available now! Grab your copy from our website or your local retailer.

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