Continuing from Part 1

I decided early on to go for a more traditional counter design. Something that would hold the relevant information and stand out from the map enough to be easily seen. And what information would there be? In rough order of importance are nationality, availability, the arm (Armour, infantry, mechanized), the unit strength, supply/fuel situation, is an elite/regular unit, can exploit move, the name of the unit (since we’re very much about bringing history alive) etc.. That’s quite a lot but the advantage of making a computer game is that we’re not strictly limited to cramming so much print onto the face of a card counter. Some things will be indicated as and when needed or as additions to the counter.

After deciding on the order of importance I divided them again into permanent characteristics and transient/optional though the dividing line is some what wobbly. Nationality and arm are constant. As is unit name. Strength is a requirement, a constant max value but transient current value. Activation can change every impulse, as can fuel and supply situations. Elite status is a game option and will only affect a handful of units. You can see that this no longer meshes with the order of importance. For example unit name is the least important for game play yet its a constant attribute that adds flavour and can be used to identify units on the map.

There are multiple ways to indicate nationality, arm, strength etc. and which you go with is a result of functionality and design/style choices. Many people swear by NATO symbols despite the historical inaccuracy. Many insist on particular colours always representing certain nationalities. I’ll go through the bits one by one.

Nationality. This is all-encompassing and the first level of importance. Its kind of obvious but you need to know which are your units. At first I went for the obvious choices. Green for Allies and red for the Axis. Oh and brown for the Brits. (see .. I almost fell victim to the propaganda). There was a lot of contrast here and you couldn’t mistake who was who. But there were two issues. The colour palette I’d chosen for Bulge really required reds to be pushed more towards the maroon rather than red. Slightly cooler and less saturated. That wouldn’t work for the whole Nazi red, white and black thing. I toyed with black and dark gray but I just thought SS and we didn’t want that distinction. Then Eric suggested blue. At first I thought ‘but that’s Luftwaffe or French unit colours’ until he described a darker, grayer blue. I tried it and it worked. (It’s since become a lot brighter so it stands out more but it’s still gray/blue, still works and doesn’t make me think of the Luftwaffe.). Looking to the future too, Bulge isn’t planned to be a standalone game. There’ll be other conflicts and nationalities represented in future games so we need to think ahead a little.

So what nationalities do the following colours represent (clue: there’s no right answer)


The arm is considered the second level of importance as it dictates movement and combat abilities/bonuses and hence is of important tactical consideration. I knew from early research the direction I wanted to go in. When looked at close up the map can appear quite busy so I wanted the iconography to be clear and simple over solid national colours harking back to the early ideals of Redmond but with more modern sensibilities. Strong silhouettes of vehicles and infantry with obvious, reinforcing national differences.

There was a debate early on as to the shape of the counters and the orientation of the unit arm symbol. Since we aren’t limited by the cheaper straight edges of printers form tools there’s no technical reason for counters to be square and no reason why units had to be shown side on. I quite liked the idea of a more dynamic 3/4 view. We tried a few options.As it turned out the advantage of squares is two-fold. Firstly you can arrange multiple units side by side more efficiently in any given space. Secondly they offer the best ratio of usable area. Oh and thirdly their geometric shapes and distinct right angles contrast nicely with the map graphics. And I suppose fourthly, many years of board-game tradition means that many of the other shapes have become conventional representations of different items. The shield shape has obvious military might or defensive associations, the circle, currency. Like I said. Two-fold advantages.

As for whether to use side profiles or 3/4 view, I found that 3/4 required additional detail over the body of the vehicle to help define its form and generally took up more space. They also felt a little unbalanced. Their ground plane being at odds with both the map and the counter. Side silhouette seemed to work the best without the need for extra line work and helped maintain the visual differences.

The Sherman .. is .. equally iconic and has that quirky feel common to most Allied design

I chose the Konigstiger over the Panther, Panzer IV or STUG because of its iconic stature with regards the Bulge but also because of its squat and menacing shape. For the US I initially looked at the Hellcat but eventually chose the Sherman because it was relatively small, equally iconic and has that quirky feel common to most Allied design. It also helped that the Konigstiger’s barrel is too big for the counter that makes it seem even bigger while the whole of the Sherman fits. I’ve incorrectly used the Sherman for the British Units. This might change but for now consistency, though not necessary, is for all the Allied units. The Sd.Kfz 251 is also the iconic and most widely produced German half track, synonymous with Panzer Grenadiers. I originally used the US M3 half-track because it’s likewise iconic but it felt too big and as John pointed out was incorrect for the Cavalry units. The M8 was a better fit both historically and for counter size and had a similar quirky design feel.

Because there’s only limited space on the map for the units we did consider using a second colour to denote arm instead of vehicle when zoomed out. This proved a controversial idea. The choice of colour appears to be really quite subjective. In my eccentric, British head, Panzers are pink because of the pink Waffenfarbe all German armoured units (even the SS) wore. Infantry were always white and Panzer Grenadiers green. To me this seemed quite reasonable and made sense but simply received laughter, heckling and a pie in the face from everyone else! Apparently those colour choices are laughable to hardcore Grognards and obviously don’t make sense for the Allies. So I instead explored a number of colour options that complemented the palette. Non of them worked though I still think that with another game the idea has some merit.

Available, spent, selected. Available is simply the default counter. Spent draws on war-game traditions and is the visual equivalent to turning a counter over to the uncoated side, toned down, reduced contrast, darkened. Selected is kind of unique to the computer although it’s the equivalent to putting a marker on an activated unit in a table top game. Computer game conventions suggest a simple white outline around the counter. It fits our colours and is an obvious choice. Not the only one but it just works.

As for strength .. this was a surprisingly difficult decision. In many war-games, a unit is either alive or not. Occasionally you have two levels such as Conflict of Heroes .. two hits and you’re out. Others, such as Storm over Stalingrad have three, spent, retreat, dead. Block games take you to four, each step loss indicated by a rotation of the block. The point being that there’s generally a practical limit. Our strength values go up to seven. As I know from the physical play-testing that number is unwieldy and I used mini dice for mine. But for a computer game that kind of book-keeping is nothing so what actually becomes the issue is how that number is deciphered. How does its value and its relative effect on the game instill itself in the player’s mind?

In Bulge there’s no need for adding unit strengths up. Combat is resolved individually and I found I was most interested in a rough estimate of relative sizes and the benefits of particular arms. Seeing a counter with a tank on it looks impressive. Seeing a tank and the number 7 is also impressive. Seeing a tank with a 1 next to it .. actually takes a little time to register that it’s not as impressive as the visual symbol of a tank is dominant. As I mentioned in part 1, it was this reason that pushed me to explore the relatively sized blocks option. So the strength was immediately apparent from the size of the block and instilled the feeling of overwhelming might on the part of the Germans. It was Nick who suggested using strength pips as opposed to numbers and I immediately realised it was an equivalent visual metaphor. You could count the pips, but you can also get a sense of the units power simply be looking at the length of the line formed by the pips. It also gave us a nice way for indicating the number of lost strength and potential for replacements in exactly the same space.

While I’ve only shown you a small proportion of the work and obviously can’t show you the final counter art yet (though there’s plenty of clues throughout the site), that’s about it. There’s other elements I’ll touch on next time but they’re less important and I suspect you’ll be relieved to see next weeks post is a good deal shorter!

So if you’ve any thoughts on counter design in general, on my choice of icons, colours or anything else, then don’t hesitate to leave a comment, good or bad.