Punchboard Media: In Focus - Interview with Beth Sobel
'In Focus: Women of Board Gaming' is an exclusive series from Punchboard Media that spotlights women in all facets of the board gaming industry. Our guest this week is Beth Sobel, the artist for many board games, including Between Two Cities, Circle the Wagons, Coldwater Crown, Herbaceous, Lanterns: The Harvest Festival, The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, Snow Tails, Viticulture, and World's Fair 1893. The interview was conducted over email by Eric Buscemi.
First off, not only are you a prolific board game artist, but you are also an avid board game player. What are some of your favorite games to play? Do you have any favorite designers?
I will always be up for a game of Concordia. Other games I really enjoy include Gold West, World Without End, Medici: the Card Game, and an endlessly rotating collection of others. For me, favorite games vary with player count, who the players are, what the mood is, and a large number of other variables, so choosing one (or even a few!) is tricky. My skill at lists cannot be overstated. Favorite designers are again many and changing, but I have been reliably enjoying J. Alex Kevern’s designs.
Do you often play games that feature your artwork? Do you find it to be a cool thrill or does it make you self conscious? Of the games you've worked on, do you have a favorite to play?
I play games with my art sometimes. This is due to two factors. First, I have been ridiculously fortunate to get to illustrate some very fun and well respected games. Second, my (wonderful, how did I get so lucky) friends usually own at least a few of them, which means they hit rotation more than games they don’t own. I find it very weird to play games I’ve illustrated. I usually just quietly pretend someone else illustrated them, which takes a bit of pressure off and allows me to blame all my mistakes on Imaginary Illustrator, which is fun. Nothing like a bit of temporarily shirked responsibility to brighten a person’s day!
Excluding yourself (we already know you're awesome), who are your favorite artists in the board game industry?
So many! See question one for an assessment of my skill with lists. [Vincent] Dutrait, [Michael] Menzel, [Kwanchai] Moriya, Kate Adams, [Fernanda] Suárez.
Let's go behind the scenes, pull back the curtain a bit. When a publisher contacts you, do they often have a clear, concrete idea of what they want, or is there a lot of back and forth before you even begin to create anything?
That depends entirely on the publisher. Some will contact me knowing exactly what they want, and some will contact me with a vague idea that gets developed over time. Both are interesting, in different ways! There’s no one right way, or one way that will work for everyone.
What do deadlines normally look like for a board game artist? How long would you say a typical box cover, board or card takes you to complete? Do you find one component harder to work on than another?
A box could be between 1-4 weeks, depending on the size. A board could be between 2-5 weeks. Cards vary between a few per day to a couple per week, depending on the intricacy, size, and content. I like all the components of board games, and they all present unique challenges, which is fun. Yay, challenges!
What is your artistic process like? Do you work with pencil and paper, or digitally? A combination of both?
I work digitally. I got my MFA in traditional oil painting, but with illustration, you really need an ease of editing that makes digital work a faster, simpler solution. My process is still pretty similar to what I did in traditional media, just in pixels. I start with a blank page and pencil in my drawing, then paint in basic shapes, then add detail, always working from large to small. Okay, no, that’s a lie. Most of the time working from large to small. Sometimes I forget and get right down to the fun details and then regret it immensely when it messes up my work flow and I have to scrap it and redo so everything has the same level of detail.
Do you often get to play prototypes of the games of the games you are working on? If so, do you find it helps you create the artwork for them?
No. I have played a game before publication twice. I have played a game before completing most of the illustrations for it once. I do often get an overview of how the game is played, though, which is very helpful, and as a board gamer, very fun to think about.
Was the experience being an artist for The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game very different, as it was an intellectual property design, and also had a multitude of artists working on it?
It was lovely! Lord of the Rings: The Card Game was one of my very first professional jobs, and I had a great time working for them. In terms of IP, it was fairly simple… as the company did not have rights to the films, we just needed all the art checked to ensure it didn’t get too close to any protected images. Fortunately there is a lot of scope for imagination in the property, and it was a fairly simple task to be different.
Is there a game out there you would like to work on a new version of, with all new artwork you would create?
Oh, gosh. That’s a tricky question. I suppose Bohnanza, or Wurfel Bohnanza.
What is the story behind the poker cards you designed, that you've posted on your Twitter account, @beth_sobel? Is there an entire deck available for sale?
That’s just a personal project I’m slowly working on. It is not complete, and not for sale. It may be for sale later on; I haven’t quite decided what I want to do with it other than I want to make it. I currently have zero time for personal projects, but since my work is freelance, scheduling waxes and wanes, and free time will happen again.
Do you have any upcoming projects you are allowed to tell us about?
I never really know what I’m allowed to mention, so I tend to just not mention anything! I know I can say I’m working on two projects with Steve Finn, one of which also involves Eduardo Baraf. [Editor's Note: I reached out to Steve, see below for more from him on these two projects.]
Are you currently looking for more board game designer/publisher clients?
Scheduling right now is for a few months out, but I can always be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org if anyone is interested.
Is there anything else people should know about you? Interests, hobbies, quirks?
I genuinely dislike chocolate chip cookies. Just, no.
Steve Finn of Dr Finn's Games was kind enough to elaborate on the two projects Beth alluded to in her interview. From Steve:
Here's what I can add. Beth is working with me on a game that I am developing under Dr. Finn's Games that is called "Waters of Nereus." In the game, players sail ships around the waters of Nereus, a fantasy world that is now mostly water. Players attempt to pick up crystals, which they use to pay their crew; the crew members each provide various kinds of powers. Players use crew cards to select various actions each round. the number of actions is determined by a card draw; some rounds there a lot of actions, while others there are not too many. The game is scheduled to be Kickstarted in late fall/early winter.
I'm also working with Ed and Beth on "Sunset Over Water," which is being published by Pencil First Games. I'm not sure how much I am supposed to reveal about this game, but we're now showing it off at conventions, so I think I'm good to talk a little about it. The premise is that players are artists who hike around and paint various nature scenes, which are turned in for prestige points. The "landscape" is a 5 x 5 grid of landscape cards (beautifully drawn by Beth). Players choose from a limited number of action cards that allow them to move in certain directions, a certain number of spaces, and to paint a certain number of paintings per turn.