Cthulhu: Death May Die - Art and Aesthetics

An incantation has begun to summon an Elder God that has lain dormant for eons. The legends speak of a creature that would drive a person insane by the very sight of it. Luckily for the Investigators tasked with stopping this ancient terror and saving the world… they’re already insane. 

The world of H.P. Lovecraft is steeped in a dense and remarkable mythos. His distinct style for writing subtle, creeping horror about cults, forgotten religions, and terrifying creatures has ingrained him in the culture a hundred years after his stories were first conceived. Bringing those themes and images to the tabletop for Cthulhu: Death May Die (C:DMD) took an incredibly talented artistic team.

Setting the scene was an important assignment. Lovecraft stories take place in abandoned museums, remote docks, and gothic mansions, and getting the tone just right meant finding an artist that could create immersive locations that didn’t overpower the action. Nicolas Fructas did an incredible job with the board art for the game. Because of its modular nature, Fructas had to come up with a number of different settings while keeping the aesthetic consistent. There are a lot of hidden details in his illustrations that players will discover over multiple plays. 

For the illustrations of the Investigators, the task fell to veteran artist Karl Kopinski. He made a name for himself with titles like Magic: The Gathering, but has become a regular collaborator with Eric M. Lang in recent years, working on games like The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire, The Others, and now, C:DMD. His realistic approach to illustrating people gives them a gritty personality that leaps off the page. A single picture captures an entire backstory. 

For the creature designs, the choice was fairly simple. Adrian Smith has teamed with Lang for numerous projects in the past, and he is one of the most accomplished board game artists in the world today. As well as working on classic mythological games like Blood Rage and Rising Sun, more recently, Smith’s graphic novel HATE has been given the board game treatment with a successful CMON Kickstarter, and Smith provided the art for the latest Zombicide installment, Invader. Smith has a knack for envisioning the type of monsters that will haunt players’ nightmares, and he’s delivered again for C:DMD.

The art of the game is one important element, but bringing that art to life in terrifying 3D miniatures was a key component in completing the aesthetic to C:DMD. CMON teamed with long-time partner Studio McVey, under the supervision of legendary sculptor Mike McVey to bring the characters to the table. 

The biggest challenges were certainly technical. When the creatures are covered with so many tentacles, and feature strange and bizarre anatomy, it’s always a challenge working out how they are going to be handled in production. We want to be able to represent the art faithfully – but in a way, that doesn’t compromise the production process,” said McVey.

“The Investigators presented us with different challenges. In this game, the humans are all very ‘realistic’, and by that, I mean they aren’t 7’ tall super-warriors carrying enormous weapons and wearing spiked armour. It’s much easier to represent fantasy characters at the small scale we work in, as opposed to real people. Normal human miniatures can end up looking like model railroad figures if you’re not careful – very static and boring. We had to find the balance between exaggerating certain aspects just enough (anatomy, pose, and weapons) so they work well at the final scale. Too much and the miniature looks cartoony, not enough and they look too small and static.”

The sculpting process for C:DMD relied heavily on the illustrations provided by Smith and Kopinski. 

“The art is pretty much everything in the design process. The artists are the ones who ‘design’ the creature or character. The sculpting team are the ones who take that information and work out how to translate it to something that can be represented in 3D,” said McVey. “We want to make miniatures that are faithful to the art, but will be able to be produced in large quantities in the materials we’re working with. It can be a tricky balancing act.”

Despite their years of experience, the intricate designs for C:DMD offered some new challenges for the team at Studio McVey.

“All projects have their own interests and obstacles to be overcome, and this one had more than most. It’s exciting to look at a new piece of art and think ‘how are we going to make that?’! Then be able to work with the sculptor and figure it out.”

From the cover of the box, to the game boards, to the miniatures on the table, many different elements come together to create the overall aesthetic for a game. A project like C:DMD, with a built-in fan base and existing mythos, required the talents of many industry leaders to come together and get the tone just right. We've mentioned many of the different artists, but the list also includes Stefan Kopinski (who illustrated the cover), Richard Wright (who provided illustrations for each different Episode), and Filipe Pagliuso (who did the illustrations for the Insanity cards). Players will be thrust into a setting taken from the pages of a Lovecraft story and embody the Investigators trying to save the world. Over the course of the game, they will face nightmares that will appear all too real, as they take a physical form on the board. In C:DMD, they write a new chapter in the Cthulhu mythos, and the fate of the rest of the world hangs in the balance.

Cthulhu: Death May Die is coming to Kickstarter on July 10 at 3PM EST. Stay tuned for more updates as the launch approaches.

Read our C:DMD Overview article here.

Read our C:DMD Design and Development article here.

Read our C:DMD New Take on an Old Mythos article here.

Cthulhu: Death May Die - Art and Aesthetics

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