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Game Changer

A love of words grew into a creative design project

By Nick Houtman

If you sit down to play Wayfarer with Jeremy Banka, it would pay to read up on the rules in advance. You can choose your character: Knight, Cryomancer (a character with icy powers), Mage (magician) or a Mechanized Armored Pilot. You can assemble playing cards to provide your character with offensive and defensive powers such as the ability to cast spells or use weapons to attack your opponent. Once play begins, you’ll need to know how to make counter moves and wield your assets to drive the enemy from the arena.

Jeremy Banka
Jeremy Banka

Banka, a senior in graphic design and the University Honors College, developed every detail of Wayfarer: the table-top playing surface, an instruction manual and more than 200 playing cards. His creative typography, character drawings and color palette steep players in the spirit of fictional combat and provide everything needed to make decisions as the game proceeds. More than each character’s identity and skill level, the cards give the game an emotional charge — whether it comes from brute strength, skill, agility or magic power.

The graduate of Rex Putnam High School in Milwaukie traces his inspiration to Magic the Gathering, a game designed to be an ice breaker between science fiction fans, gamers and artists at gatherings such as Comic-Con. Banka also drew on Dungeons and Dragons and multiplayer online video games.

“These games have characters with a strong sense of identity and role,” says Banka. “I think they are an amazing social conduit. The players bring their own materials, and because each player is building his or her own deck, each has enough to supply half the game.”

One of the common gaming problems he set out to solve is the length of time it takes to become familiar with the rules. “Wayfarer uses visual design to communicate clearly. The cards are fast to read,” says Banka. “Information is laid out in consistent ways, so people can take up the game quickly.”

Over a typical 15-minute session, Wayfarer can be competitive or cooperative. Players can go head-to-head with allies to control space and drive their opponents out of the arena, or they can go jointly on a quest to solve a problem. Ultimately, the game is about telling a story, says Banka, whether it delves into the struggle between two characters or journeys through an unknown landscape in search of treasure.

Banka’s interest in graphic design stems from a subject many people find less than thrilling: grammar. For him, the structure of language opened a window on communication, syntax and linguistic differences. In high school, he even invented his own language, which he called Srailese, with an alphabet and about 1,000 words.

“What I found most captivating about ‘con-langing’ (constructed language), was the development of the letter forms. I think of myself more as a typographic designer than a graphic designer,” he adds. “Instead of thinking downward from the page, I think outward from words.”

By Nick Houtman

Nick Houtman is director of research communications at OSU and edits Terra, a world of research and creativity at Oregon State University. He has experience in weekly and daily print journalism and university science writing. A native Californian, he lived in Wisconsin and Maine before arriving in Corvallis in 2005.