Originally from this forum thread, here is a guide to designing maps.
Note that we currently have many more maps than are used. If you want to be creative that's fine, but don't be upset if the map isn't taken up for a while!
- Ideally, maps should be 540px × 400px if you want a taller map we can cope, although it make be tricky for some players to see the whole map at once. Please don't make new maps wider than this.
- Provinces should have a solid border all the way around them. Some maps don't have province borders on the edge of the map, or only have very thin lines in some places. This can make detecting province boundaries much tricker, so some functionality won't work.
- Make sure that the entire inside of the province can be filled with a single flood fill.
The original map is probably the best example of how to follow these points.
It's very tempting to over design a map for the specific game you have in mind. Whilst this has led to some awesome X-Games in the past, it can mean that the map is never used again. The X-game rules can use the map however you like, but if none of the features of the map require an unusual feature to be in place then it will get more use afterwards.
The same goes for very uneven distributions of POP or having a few key provinces. It can make your first game more fun, but it makes a balanced start much less likely for future games.
This is probably the most important thing in getting your map played. If people don't like to look at it, they won't want to play it.
- Provinces shouldn't look cramped up. (For example Caribbean which has some tiny provinces. It doesn't necessarily make a difference to strategy, but players feeling cramped think they've been hard done by. The easiest way to solve this is by having more land than water and keeping provinces roughly the same size.
- A nice touch on province size is to make the sizes roughly reflect the amount of POP available. Again, Original is a fairly good example of this.
- Most maps that people enjoy also have quite balanced visiually. You don't need to go over the top (Squares) but if left and right look about even and so do top and bottom then people only think they've got a bad start when they actually do. Good examples of this are Forest Lake and Water Crossing.
- Finally there's the colour scheme. Provinces need to be white with black borders (actual white and black please, not just nearly white or nearly black), but almost all maps also have some non-province areas. Blue for water is a good choice here, but not too bright. The 'official' water colour is a sort of bluey-teal (#008080 or 0,128,128 depending how you define your colours). This doesn't look very realistic, but does work well with the player colours. There are plenty of exceptions to this that work (Austrian, Pentabottlenecks, True Vertical) so you don't have to go with that colour, just keep the background looking like background.
Players like maps where they can use tactics. Specifically, players like bottlenecks. Or at least they say that they do.
Center Island is great for bottlenecks, but it's not very popular. The problem being that there are 5 bottlenecks, each of which control a large number of provinces. Get a good start and you're guaranteed a place in the last 5. If you have an ally who also has a good start then you've probably won.
By all means put pinch points on islands, but unless it's a tiny island, put two on. If it's big, put three on. That way, the resources are still defensible, but players have to work for it. Gardenic and The World are good examples of this.
It's also fun to be able to do something impressive with 7 attacks and there's nothing quite so impressive as storming the length of the map to help your ally. Try not to make the maximum journey length between two players too long. That way players always have the *option* of working together. (In Pentabottlenecks from any one province you can reach almost any other province in 8 attacks. - So long as you don't mind you trample in the process!)
Most important is to make neighbours obvious. - Let them share a decent amount of border so it's clear that you can go from one to the other and please try to avoid provinces meeting on a corner. Sometimes this is unavoidable, if so, put a little circular lake at the meeting point to show that the corners don't border. If connections between provinces are not obvious, write it down on the map as in Homelands.
Make province numbering as sensible as possible. This is not as important as it used to be, since missiles have been reworked, but it is still easier to work with contiguous blocks of provinces. Look at Missilemania to see why.
Use dotted lines to connect up provinces over water. It works surprisingly well - even Water Crossing is clear what connects to what despite the very many connections.
So you've gone through everything above and you're still not discouraged? You're familiar enough with the maps mentioned to get the point (or dismiss it as senile ramblings)? In that case you're ready to go!
Use the image editor of your choice to create the map, but please save it in bitmap format.
For creating the ini file, Brykovians's WoK map assistant cannot be recommended highly enough. It could do with an update to handle maps without 60 provinces, but it's by far the least error prone way of making an ini file. Use it!