THE NEED

When we started playing Gaslands at our local club we used the simple dashboards that were at the time generated by the ever useful online vehicle creation tool. These dashes recorded the stats for the vehicle and then you would use tokens or dice on or next to the dash (or, as we trialed in one game, next to the vehicle itself) to track the status of things that change during the game – current gear, ammo, uses of upgrades like nitro boosters, hull points, hazard tokens, and whether the vehicle is on fire.

During these games it didn’t take long for us to find the profusion of tokens and dice quite confusing - even annoying.  Mistakes would often occur, for example accidentally picking up and rolling some of the dice you’re using to track the vehicle stats, or confusing the dice being used for hazards with current gear.  We also found tokens to be hard to read quickly – is that a pile of four hazards or five? Putting the tokens next to the vehicles had the advantage that other players could quickly see the status of a vehicle on the board, but soon there were piles of tokens all over the place, making it almost impossible to place templates or move vehicles without disturbing the tokens.


THE INSPIRATION

It really ruins the visual spectacle of a table top game when the table is littered with rulebooks, army lists, tokens and dice

As all of us have played Guildball in the past and several played Malifaux. In these games the playing pieces have stat cards with checkboxes that you put in plastic sleeves and then use dry wipe markers on the sleeve itself to track things that change during the game by dotting over the checkboxes. 

I thought this basic concept would work well for Gaslands, because you could then do away with all the tokens and dice and just have one pen to contend with. In my experience having anything related to rules be compact is important when gaming.  I think it really ruins the visual spectacle of a table top game when the table is littered with rulebooks, army lists, tokens and dice.  At our club we don’t necessarily have access to a side table to keep these things on, and I suspect this is fairly common.


DASHBOARD IDEAS

In the early stages I was batting around two ideas.  The first was a large “universal dashboard” that would list every weapon, upgrade and perk that you could possibly select, with checkboxes to show which weapons, upgrades and perks had been bought for the vehicle, plus more checkboxes for all the things that can change during the game.  I figured the smallest I could make this would be A5 (half a sheet of standard paper).  This would need laminating, or putting in some sort of large sleeve (if such a thing even exists).

A possible variation on this would have been Sponsor specific dashes, which would cut down on the options (e.g. only Mishkin would have the electrical weapons as an option, and the dash would only have to list the 12 perks available to that sponsor instead of all 36).

The second idea was a smaller playing card sized dash that could fit in standard card sleeves.  Being smaller these would obviously not be able to have checkboxes for every conceivable option, so instead you would need to fill in the dash with the weapons, equipment and perks for the vehicle before the game, and then use the checkboxes to track changes during the game.  The cards could be designed for use for any vehicle, or there could be variations for different vehicle types.

I opted for the second idea, as while the “universal” aspect of the full dash appealed in terms of allowing players to “build” a vehicle just by checking things off, the reality is that almost all the information and space on the dash would be irrelevant to any single vehicle. 


PROOF OF CONCEPT

With the direction decided I started by listing everything a Gaslands player would want to record on a vehicle dashboard – from the vehicles name and cost in cans, to it’s hull point status and current gear.  It was a formiddable list to imagine fitting on a small card (and I forgot to include “on fire” at this stage as well), but I felt it would be workable with enough design time.

I knew from playing Guildball that small round checkboxes are highly convenient for tracking any type of value that can go up or down during a game.  So I also noted down how many of each type of checkbox a Gaslands vehicle might need – 6 for current gear (obviously), 20 for hull points, between 3 and 5 for ammo and so on.  Some of these were not quite right, and got refined later.

I then started sketching possible layouts on paper.  Here, there were two general guiding principles that I tried to follow:

  • Values related to each other should be near each other. For example, max gear should be near to the current gear, handling near to hazards. I futher decided that gears and handling were together the “driving” stats and so they should be near each other, and in the final version ended up being separated from the other vehicle stats like crew, slots, weight – a bit of a divergence from the example dashboards in the rulebook where all stats are together.

  • Parts of the dash that need to be most frequently changed with the dry wipe marker should be at the bottom or right hand edge of the card.  This is because these parts of the card are most accessible to a right handed writer. Putting a frequently used field at the top of the card risks the player repeatedly resting their hand on the card at which point anything marked lower down the card could easily get smudged or rubbed off.  For the Gaslands dashboards this meant that current gear, hazards and hull points should all be near the bottom or right as all three would likely go up or down frequently.

There were relatively few layouts that satisfied both principles so I settled on the one that seemed best and began a quick draft on the computer, bringing in the type of imagery I wanted to use to play on the Gaslands setting – distressed borders, rusted metal, tyre tracks and gears.

Bottom left is an example of one of these early digital proofs, which I ran past some of the guys at the club to get their thoughts before refining. I didn’t want to spend too much time here not least because actual testing could proove the entire idea pointless. Another obvious thing I did at this stage was print off the work as it was coming together, to test the sizes of the various fields. After a while I had something that I felt could easily be filled in and used during a game, below right.


TESTING

I printed a few copies of my initial dash design on paper and cut them out before sleeving them using some old Magic cards as a backing.  This allowed me and some other members of the local gaming club to use them in some actual games and give some initial feedback on the design, layout and usability of the cards.

The cards came off of the printer with a significantly different hue compared to what I had on my computer screen, and the quality of the print left something to be desired, but I wasn’t worried about this as using a home laser printer is bound to be a bit rubbish compared to the final professional job. 

In terms of layout and usability, we all felt they were an immediate improvement on using stacks of dice and counters to track the status of our vehicles, but there was certainly a bunch of changes needed if these cards were to be truly useful, so I was very glad of being able to give them a good dry run so early in the development process.

Testing had shown up a few immediate fixes that would be needed to the initial card design. Most were minor but for the Gaslands dashboard the key changes were:

  • Increasing the size of the Weapons & Upgrade field to comfortably accomodate four rows of hand written text (four rows was possible on the initial design, but the text ended up too close or overlapping the border of the field).

  • Switching the Hazard and Hull Points checkboxes and titles to a horizontal layout.  In the vertical two column arrangement it was harder than necessary to wipe out one of the hazards without accidentally wiping out another. In a single row this would be easier.

  • Reducing the number of Hull Points and Hazards from 20 and 10 to 14 and 8 respectively.  For most vehicles 14 is ample Hull Points (a pickup with extra armour), and you will rarely get past 8 Hazards, so the excess felt like a waste of space.

  • Creating a second variation on the card for use with War Rigs and Tanks especially – I added a fifth Weapons & Upgrade slot and increased the number of Hull Point checkboxes to 24.  To make space for these additions, the Perks & Notes field had to shrink and the number of Gears available dropped from 6 to 5 (no big loss there considering Rigs are limited to 4th gear).

  • Adding an “on fire” status checkbox to the card, which was overlooked in the first design.

With those fundamental changes made it was on to the next step.


CARD PROOFS

The next step was creating lots of variations of the cards for proofing.  Referring back to my previous point about the differences in print quality between a home printer and professional job, the point of this step was to understand how variations affect the legibility and usability of the dashboard card once printed professionally on proper card stock. Perhaps my home printer is right – maybe the background IS more red than it looks, maybe the fonts are too hard to read. On the other hand, perhaps I would find the professional print would correct the colour and tighten everything up, and I could even shrink the font to fit more on the cards.

I created 36 variations of the card front and back, with numerous combinations of the variations mainly to compare:

  • Font. This included the size, font face, and the size and intensity of the shadow cast by the font.  The distressed fonts that are so suitable for Gaslands are also harder to read at any size, let alone squashed on to a busy playing card with a background image as well, so this was one of the key things to assess.  The variations included 7 fonts in 3 different sizes with 4 levels of shadow – in total, 84 possible fonts.

  • Background image.  While the basic imagery was set, I tested 6 levels of intensity and saturation on that image (which also affected the hue, making it more orange, to counteract the potential “too red” issue).  The most intense image looked completely over the top on a computer screen, but it was worth running off to see how it would look.  I also tested versions with and without additional texture layers, to see how busy I could make the background before it became a distraction.

  • Card backs.  About 10 different rough ideas for the card backs were included at this stage.  I knew the wording and iconography to use, but was testing things like font colour, portrait or landscape, and whether to use the same background as the fronts or something different like a distressed white finish similar to the official Gaslands logo.

These 36 cards were printed by the same manufacturer and with the same finish and card stock as the final cards would be. 

When I received the proofs, I combed through the variations making tweaks to the final design by selecting the best parts from all the proofs.