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Step 4: Know Ben Lichius

Wanna make a game like Super Powered Smash Masters? Befriend Ben Lichius as quickly as possible. No, really. 

Ben Lichius is the art director at Dark Unicorn Games. Our company was established in 2016, but we’ve actually been working together off and on since around 2000 AD (gulp), which means… we’re swiftly approaching 20 years of collaboration!  

Now, aside from being a very talented illustrator, Ben’s also a comic fan like me. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that his love of comics inspired him to become an artist. With his interests and his skills and his sense of humor, I knew this game was going to be a good fit for him. Even in the very earliest stages of the design, I found myself imagining Ben’s take on a card as I was designing it. Even so, I was fortunate that Ben took to the game idea so strongly. 

Ben’s involvement went way beyond illustration. He started playing the game with his family on a regular basis, and his design contributions were absolutely critical. Throughout the entire development of the game, Ben was coming back to me frequently with gameplay suggestions and tweaks and feedback. If I changed the way a card worked, he’d want to go try it out as soon as possible. 

Ethan playtesting the game again (and winning… again…).

We were also fortunate that Ben’s son Ethan took a liking to the game. He’s been our guinea pig, our canary in a coal mine, our dinoshark on a rampage. Seeing the game through his eyes really helped us to understand how kids will play the game, how they gravitate to the characters they really like, but also how the clever ones will min/max their decks. Ethan was always seeking out the most powerful, exploity character combinations, and he’s sent me back to the drawing board more times than I will mention here (it was 42). 

Ben recruited some other talented artists to bring their unique styles to the game. Not because he needed help, but because he wanted some comic creators he admired to get involved. It was a real thrill to see their takes on these crazy characters, and it’s a practice we plan to continue. If you’d like to learn more about the other contributing artists, you can head to our blog and click the artist spotlight category. 

Having an artist partner up on your game is a godsend. If you don’t have time to befriend an artist for 20 years before you pitch him a game you already know he’ll love so that he’ll start a company with you and work his butt off, well… you might have to hire one. There are many ways to do this, but I’ve found over the years that artists really respond in a positive way if you offer to pay them… with money. As a starting point, you might try posting a description of your game and what you’re offering in a place like the Boardgamegeek forums, or try Reddit’s tabletop design community, or you could try hiring an artist from one of those work for hire hubs that spell their names wrong, like Fiverr. Or head over to our forums and start a thread! 

And I’m not even telling you all the other amazing things Ben has done for the game. Like, I’m not telling you how he handled all of the prototyping at Gamecrafter, how he managed everything with our printer, or how he put together this entire website. I know he’s too humble to take credit for that stuff, so I left it out.

Ben’s created 60+ Character and Super cards for the Super Powered Smash Masters Core Set and New Recruits Expansion Set. Truly an epic undertaking! Ben started posting some art tutorial videos about the whole process, so if you’re curious about the tools, techniques, and the black magic that go into making a SPSM character come to life (in card form), check it out right here.

So yeah, in summary: know Ben.

Come back next week for the next installment of “How to Design Super Powered Smash Masters!”

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Author Adam Cogan
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