Luke: Hey folks, welcome back to Behind the Board, where today we have the chance to chat with one of my favorite artists in the industry, Oliver Barrett! Having worked with Mondo for some time now, he’s best known in the board game industry for having worked on the first batch of Unmatched releases, including the base game, the Robin Hood vs. Bigfoot set, the Bruce Lee solo pack, and the first Jurassic Park expansion.
Thanks for stopping by, Oliver, it’s great to talk with you again.
Oliver: Yeah, it feels like forever since we last talked at GenCon last year.
Luke: Yeah, that was a ton of fun. It must have been a wild experience for you, seeing as you don’t play board games all that frequently.
Oliver: Yeah, I’m more of a distant admirer of tabletop games than a player, largely due to being unable to find a regular group to play with. I have played a handful of quick, party-type of games that I’ve enjoyed, but I really want to try some deeper games.
Luke: Which makes it all the more interesting to see your work highlighting one of my favorite games on the market. How were you first contacted to work on the series?
Oliver: I’ve been working with Mondo for a few years now and I don’t know much about the who, what, when, why, etc of the selection. I’m assuming it was because I’m versatile, due to my background as a graphic designer and art director.
Luke: It’s certainly a boon to have such a varied history. How did creating content for Unmatched differ from other projects you’ve worked on previously?
Oliver: It was more like working on a brand or identity system than just a series of illustrations. I really considered the project as a whole and wanted to come up with visuals that applied not only to the individual card, but to the character, the boxset, and then the gaming system.
For example, in Sinbad’s deck, it became obvious that a ship needed to appear in the same spot in the ‘Voyage’ cards to identify them quickly and separate them from the rest of his deck.
Another great example is how the ‘Momentus Shift’ card that appears in many character decks has a consistent composition with a fist (or foot, if you’re Bigfoot) so that the player immediately knows what that card is by visuals alone.
I guess the big difference is that there’s a TON of stuff to create in an Unmatched release, and the constant fight against perfectionism makes it difficult for me to NOT pour every bit of energy into each piece of the game. There’s a ton of small details that I probably spent too much time on that aren’t really noticeable to anyone but me, but maybe that’s what makes the game special?
Luke: I certainly think the little flairs you included add a lot to the game, and provides Easter eggs for players to find as they play over the years.
Were there any characters that stand out to you in particular as especially fun to work on?
Oliver: Robin Hood, because he doesn’t have a face. I squeezed as much as I could out of that shadowed hood, and it was liberating to not have to stress about making sure the likeness was correct or if the eyes were anatomically in the right place, etc. I could just cast a shadow over it and move on to other details.
Bruce Lee was also a blast, who doesn’t love Bruce Lee?
Luke: He’s certainly one of my favorite to play as, and the color palette and overall aesthetic you used for him is one of my favorites in the game to date.
Was there any one card that you found incredibly difficult to come up with an image for?
Oliver: Alice’s Feint card. It was the last card to finish for Battle of Legends Vol. 1 and I had been awake for over 48 hours to meet the deadline. I remember drawing a line and then immediately questioning if I had just drawn that line or if it had already been there for 20 minutes. This happened over and over while drawing that card, to the point where I rubbed my eyes purple. Sleep is important.
Luke: [laughs] I can definitely appreciate that.
Is there a character you’d love to see included in the game down the road?
Oliver: Iron Maiden’s Eddie, because you could use song titles for each card and change Eddie’s appearance on those cards, depending on what album the song came from. Cyborg Eddie, Trooper Eddie, Killers Eddie, etc., it’s a no brainer if you ask me.
Luke: I can’t say I’m super familiar, but I love the idea behind it, and I think the creative ways you could present cards is very exciting.
So, not being super versed in board games and played it only a handful of times during playtesting, what was it like arriving at GenCon this past year and seeing your art “in action” for the first time?
Oliver: When I arrived at GenCon, the folks over at Mondo gave me a bag with the 3 sets released at the time, which I opened with my wife and son over dinner. I’m not embarrassed to admit that I teared up. They had to put up with me while I worked on the game, so it was an achievement for them too. It just felt really good to see something that I had made that was more of a tactile, tangible object that could be played with instead of hung on a wall and remain static.
Luke: Since then, the Unmatched series has gotten a lot of much-deserved accolades for its art since release; how have you reacted to the strong praise your art direction for the game has received?
Oliver: I reacted the same way that I do when working with other talented teams: share the credit. Unmatched looks great because of Lindsay, Jason, Jay, and everyone else at Restoration and Mondo Games. Sure, I art-directed the illustrations for the cards and boxtops, but the artwork really sings because of the way it’s applied to the game. If the design systems around the artwork were subpar, I don’t think anyone would really be talking about the game’s visuals in the same manner.
Luke: That’s a really thoughtful perspective, I love it.
The next 3 announced sets, Cobble and Fog, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the second Jurassic Park set, will be featuring new artists to the series according to BGG. Is Jurassic Park: InGen vs Raptors your exit from the series, or should fans expect to see your work pop up again in the future?
Oliver: This year got a bit too crazy for me to deliver artwork for another installment of the series, unfortunately. But not to worry… I’ll be back.
Luke: *Phew* [wipes brow]. Glad that you’re taking time for yourself, and I’m definitely excited to see your eventual return.
What would you say is your biggest takeaway from having worked on Unmatched up to this point?
Oliver: Board games are really f$^&ing hard to make, and making a good one is one hell of a feat.
Luke: [laughs] Too true. Do you see yourself working on more board games in the future?
Oliver: If the right fit came along, I’d definitely consider it. Right now, I’m focused on slowing down from a pretty relentless 3 years of working on client projects and figuring out how to apply some of the things I’ve learned from working on all of these different projects into doing my own stuff.
Luke: Awesome, I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for your work for the foreseeable future.
Thanks so much for chatting with us, Oliver. Is there any upcoming projects you’re working on that you’re excited to share with folks?
Oliver: I just wrapped close to 100 illustrations for The World of Critical Role. It’ll be cool to share some of those pieces, they really challenged me to grow as an artist and figure out how to execute stuff that’s a little out of my comfort zone. Aside from that, there’s a couple of things that I can’t talk about yet and then some stuff to finish for Mondo that I’m really excited about.
Luke: Fantastic, I can’t wait to check those out!
Thanks to everyone who took the time to stop in and read. Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments, and we’ll see you next week!