Restoration Games’ first and immensely successful Kickstarter project was bringing Fireball Island back to life – and what a resurrection it was! Bringing new life to not just the production values, but the overall look and vibe of the game has made it really stand out on shelves and tables. So it’s a natural progression for the Restoration Games team to wander further down the visual path – and that’s in the form of working with a number of artists to release some “BoardGameGeek Artist Series” posters for the game. If you’re not familiar with the BGG Artist Series, take a look here for the first two series and the announcement for the third. They’re a remarkable chance for top-notch artists in the industry to dabble in something they might not get to otherwise – and I love that Restoration Games and BGG have dedicated a whole special series to Fireball Island! Today, thanks to Restoration Games, we have a debut of one of these posters, from Nick Nazzaro.
As well as being the artist responsible for the distinctive look of Dragoon, Human Era, and the upcoming Life Siphon, Nick is the co-founder of Lay Waste Games, the company who publishes all three. Not only do we get to share his fabulous Fireball Island art with you today, but we also spoke to him about the poster, art, and what it’s like being in gaming (on top of a day job!). We hope you enjoy it all – we’re fans of all of the posters but this one’s got such a great style. I can almost see it now, those poor tourists clinging to the wooden bridge for dear life. (And look closely for all the fun details for full appreciation.) Before we get to the island itself, let’s get to know Nick a little, and how much art features in his day-to-day.
So, how did you get into art, and what’s your background?
Nick: I’ve always made art and I think that’s going to always be true of nearly every working artist. Art is incredibly difficult to pick up late in life, professionally at least. My parents were artists so they were supportive of me going to an arts high school (where I dropped out of) and eventually an art college (that I also dropped out of).
DWP: What sort of art did your parents make – something that inspired you, or just the fact that they were making art just helped you realize you could do that? And I’m curious – what made you drop out of school?
Nick: My mom still does a ton of watercolor painting and my dad works with metal. They just put crayons in my hands before I could walk so there was never a realization that art is something I wanted to do because I had always been doing it. A lot of factors led to me dropping out of high school. I really despised spending my whole day on subjects I didn’t have any interest in. I dropped out and got a job and eventually went back to college (with a GED) and repeated the process. School sucks.
What are your tools – do you work digitally? What’s your process from draft to finished product?
Nick: I do work digitally and 99.9% of that is in Photoshop. Sketch to finish entirely in Photoshop. I use Photoshop every single day at my day job where I’m drawing and coloring entirely in Photoshop. I get paid a nickel every time I mention Photoshop.
DWP: You’re a nickellaire, then! How long does a typical piece take? Do you get picky and re-draft during the sketch phase, or does working in Photoshop (cha-ching) make it easy for you to go back and forth between what’s working and what’s not?
Nick: One of the biggest benefits of using Photoshop is how quickly you can make edits. Changing composition drastically is pretty rare these days. Pieces can take half an hour to several hours quite easily. The range is all over the place! I’d say the majority of the cards in Life Siphon took an hour or less but getting to that style originally took probably 10 or more hours of exploring.
What sort of hours do you work – do you strike while the iron’s hot or set yourself office hours?
Nick: Constantly. I work a day job that’s generally 10am to 7pm. Thanks to over enthusiastically agreeing to take on many additional freelance projects, I draw once I’m home as well.
DWP: Holy heck. So what happens outside art hours?
Nick: Out…side…art…hours? What’s that?
What and/or who are your inspirations?
Nick: East Coast indie comic art in general but I could name a ton of artists who make work I really enjoy. Love seeing print artists come up with amazing pieces with only 4 colors or less. Soak in all the design work I can on Instagram. I look to Pam Wishbow for how she stylizes everything and I look to Kyle Ferrin on how to be a good person.
DWP: What’s your favourite comic show? We have TCAF up here (there have slowly been indie video games and a little of the board game stuff appearing there too) which is one of the best IMHO.
Nick: I haven’t been to TCAF but from everything I’ve heard from very trusted friends, it is one of the best. I’d love to go next year. SPX in Maryland is amazing and probably my favorite even though I’ve only been once. MICE in Boston is also excellent if a little small. LA Zine Fest is awesome and nearby. CAKE in Chicago I know is amazing without ever attending so that’s another bucket list con.
What got you into making games? You have a small publishing company – has it been a good experience? What’re the best and worst aspects of it?
Nick: Completely by accident back in 2014. I had dropped out of college the year prior and some random dude asked me to help make some art for a game his friend came up with. Very sketchy stuff. I said no, thought we moved on, but got asked again later. For reasons unknown, I said yes this time. Co-owning a small publishing company has been tremendous fun. The headache and difficulties are typical businesses being hard to run and operate. Luckily I get to mostly focus on the art making.
DWP: It sounds like you’ve got the best end of the deal with making the art for Lay Waste Games. Did the first project you illustrated really give you the confidence to know you could make a go of the publishing game? Do you think you’d ever want to illustrate a game that you don’t have a hand in publishing again?
Nick: We definitely didn’t intend originally to become publishers to the degree we are now. We thought this was a one-time thing, make a single game and see what happens. The success has been unexpected. I already am illustrating some games for outside publishers! The Miri by Precious Cargo Games is completely illustrated by me and should be on Kickstarter in 2020. I do want to illustrate more games but it’s a balancing act with time and other responsibilities. I have to be very picky.
What are some of your favourite games – either for gameplay or art?
Nick: Without a doubt, I have a ton of fun playing Secret Hitler. The design and components are phenomenal and once I got the hang of playing it, generally in a group of 9 or 10, it’s something I always look forward to breaking out.
DWP: Ah, a social gamer! I can see the appeal of the visual design in that one, it’s very particular. If you could retheme that one, what would your ideal theme be?
Nick: Oooh, interesting. I’ve never given that any thought but I default to sci-fi and dinosaurs usually. If we were all astronauts trying to stabilize two types of fuel, one very combustible but valuable, the other required to return home, but some of our party was secretly shape-shifting aliens that could survive a disaster and make off with our goods…that could work. [Ed’s note: yes please]
When you were approached to create this artist series poster, were you familiar with Fireball Island and/or Restoration Games?
Nick: Yes, actually! I had played the prototype copy in the big black suitcase that got autographed by everyone who played it. I didn’t grow up on Fireball Island but I witnessed them crushing it on Kickstarter.
DWP: I didn’t grow up on it either, it never reached me in Australia – but there were a LOT of friends here in Canada super interested in the revamped version. Did you play any board games as a kid that you recall?
Nick: I definitely did but just the super general, everyone has played this, sort of games. Monopoly, Risk, Clue. Eventually Blokus and Bananagrams. I actually love Boggle and Scrabble.
Did you pitch the idea for the image or just run with your inspiration and send it along to Restoration?
Nick: I believe we just ran with it. The image pulled a little double duty by being used at Essen as some display material. Looked good, from what I heard!
DWP: Oh, so this might have already been admired in the wild! [Ed’s note: let us know if you spotted it!] What inspired your piece?
Nick: Just trying to be faithful to what people know and recognize about Fireball Island but include some fun little easter eggs related to expansions. I’d like to get weirder next time, actually. [Ed’s note: YES PLEASE]
What would be your dream project? And do you have a collaboration you’d love to do – beyond the Fireball Island poster, of course!
Nick: Something that was entirely my own. Whether it’s an animated TV show, a successful comic, or even a silly game that I designed. Collaboration wise, I’d love to team up with a video game company and help art direct a fun little indie game. Definitely would be down for making some more posters. I think both those things are pretty realistic.
DWP: What sorts of video games have you been into? PC or Switch or more? Would you ideally want to work on something similar to your tastes?
Nick: I really enjoy story-driven games the most as I don’t want to compete in who can click on who the fastest in these weird online shooters (except for Overwatch). I used to be a big PC gamer, by my own standards at least, but now I break out the Switch more often. Mostly just for Mario Tennis or Mario Kart. Once I got the Master Sword in Breath of the Wild I stopped playing. Truthfully I’m game (ha!) for anything.
What is the best part of your job? And the worst part of your job?
Nick: Best part if I get to do what I love for the majority of my day. Technical issues are one of the most frustrating things to encounter. The widespread under-appreciation and undervaluing of artists is pretty tired at this point. We’re an incredibly profitable and worthwhile part of society that doesn’t get the respect we should from far too many.
DWP: Damn right. I’m glad we’re getting to highlight the work of all the Fireball Island poster artists – it’s also time we see that outside of games and the like, art is also incredibly important.
Nick: Yeah, absolutely. Artists are responsible for so much more than they get credit for. You think art and your mind goes to paintings but every piece of clothing, footwear, furniture, product, vehicle, packaging, accessories, has been designed by an artist, industrial designer, graphic designer, or illustrator. All forms of visual entertainment, like movies and video games, are teams full of artists. The world would collapse without us.
Thanks so much to Nick for his time chatting with us, and all of the time (like, literally all of his time) he puts into making games look great. It’s inspiring to see someone throw themselves into making not just games but also the art for them, as well as a piece like the one for Restoration Games. These posters will be for sale on BGG as a special Artist Series here, and on the Restoration Games website – however, the primary channel will be the BGG store. In addition, a Fireball Island token set will be available through BGG soon – and if you’ve seen their work on the gorgeous resin pieces for Orleans, Le Havre and the like then you’ll be impressed. Those of you heading to Gen Con might be lucky to get in early on that goodness!