I’m always amazed at the quality of artwork in a board game, and it got me thinking, could board games be considered art? Art is hard to define because it is one of those topics that is subjective and varies from person to person. Two people can look at the same painting in a museum and have two completely different reactions from it. When you think about whether board games should be considered art, the answer is, it depends.
Board games are art due to the considerable amount of art that goes into the game, including the components, the board, and the overall design of the game. If you haven’t seen any board games lately, they are quite beautiful, and you can see how much effort goes into the presentation of the game. Whether that makes the board game itself be considered as art is up for debate, but in my mind, the sheer beauty of the game qualifies it to be considered art.
The Art of the Box
The art in board games is the first thing a person sees when they find a game. The artwork on the box cover of board games serves a similar purpose as a book cover - to intrigue or interest a potential customer. It is there to draw in as much attention as possible, and the illustrators behind the art take full advantage of this to come up with some incredible designs.
There is a massive variety of board game box art through many genres, which ranges from modern, fantasy, and science fiction, and it would be difficult to discuss every game here. However, I want to give some examples that you can look for and why they qualify games to be art.
Board games with fantastic box art range from simplistic to elegantly extravagant. T.I.M.E Stories is a thematic science fiction game that includes art from Ben Carre, Vincent Dutrait, David Lecossu, and Pascal Quidault. While T.I.M.E Stories’ box is relatively simplistic in its design, the primarily white box helps it stand out among other board games and the time pod featured on the right side of the cover adds an aura of mystery that also helps to grab and hold your attention.
Metropolys - a city-building strategy game with artwork by Mathieu Leyssenne - contrasts itself from the simplistic T.I.M.E Stories cover by featuring a more complex, beautiful art. The cover features a lady with an umbrella staring up at the soaring towers of a city, which combined with the title successfully describes the gameplay.
Finally, Stuffed Fables is a thematic family game with art done by Kristen Pauline and Tregis - Regis Demy - and features artwork similar to that of a children’s storybook. This game captures the attention of children and adults alike with its beautifully unique art.
The next time you’re walking through the game store - or down the game aisle - think about the art on the box cover and the amount of work that goes into giving us these works of art. Art does not merely stop at the cover, and once you crack open the box, you’ll see even more that will help lure you into the ambiance of the world the designer crafted.
Following the age-old adage of don’t judge a book by its cover, once you open a game, you'll see how much work goes into the illustration of it. The amount of artists that produce artwork for different games is enormous! Creating art for a board game can launch a career. As a fantasy artist, having your work selected to grace the cards in Magic: The Gathering can be a career-defining moment. Other artists have defined their career by creating original art for other games. Still, other artists create art for games that they also design. There are so many categories of games that have excellent art, I think it’s worth it to explore a few here.
Games with beautiful cards
The ubiquitous Magic: the Gathering boasts hundreds of different artists who have provided their art for the game’s twenty-five-year lifespan. Artists for this particular game include American illustrator Ron Spencer, whose work spanned from the first set in 1993 to the Magic 2011 set released in 2010, and my personal favorite artist - Steve Argyle - whose work fascinated me when I first became interested in the game.
Dixit is board game where its art is the focal point of the gameplay. Created in 2008 by Jean-Louis Roubira and illustrated by Marie Cardouat, Dixit is a game where players use a deck of cards with fantastical images printed on them that can be used to express an idea, concept or phrase for the other players to play, then players have to guess which card is closest to the active player's clue. Think Apples-to-Apples with abstract art and no limits as to which clues you can give.
Mysterium uses similar artwork to Dixit where the gameplay is a combination of the abstract clues of Dixit and the murder-mystery concept of Clue. However, the clues aren’t spoken, and the investigators have to work together to figure out who killed the ghost - who by the way can't talk to the other players, and has to rely on knocks to communicate. Mysterium’s illustrations are a combined work from artists, Igor Burlakov and Xavier Collette.
Many board games stand out with the inclusion of miniatures - essentially small, sculpted pieces of art. These can be some of the most recognizable components of a game, especially in games that have unique, highly-detailed figures. Several games that come to mind and are Descent: Journeys in the Dark, Mansions of Madness, and Stuffed Fables.
In Descent: Journeys in the Dark the miniatures are sculpted with detail and have enemies that range in scale from large to small - dragons to giant spiders to the undead minions of the underworld - in addition to the miniatures for the hero characters. These pieces come unpainted, allowing you to customize your version of the game - or just leave them their default colors, if you are not artistic, like me.
Similar to Descent, the miniatures in Mansions of Madness are wonderfully detailed and include an array of creatures in their line on Arkham Horror following the creatures from the Cthulu Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft. These grotesque creatures are highly detailed sculptures that evoke the feeling of helplessness you’d expect while fighting the elder gods or their minions. These figurines also come unpainted, allowing you to put your own spin on their design.
While not the main focus of the game, the miniatures used in Stuffed Fables appeal to the younger audience it is directed toward, helping attract its target demographic. The immersive, story-driven gameplay and intriguing narrative of stuffed animals traveling through a storybook to save their kid from monsters is compelling, too.
The amount of detail that goes into the artistic components is incredible. Looking at something as trivial as the individual game pieces can help to demonstrate this.
For example, Grimm Forest is a fantasy-themed family game loosely based on the stories by the Brothers Grimm. The game follows the fable of The Three Little Pigs and has game pieces based on the straw, stick, and brick homes from the fable that players use as resources. Players collect these components to allow them to build houses to achieve victory.
Another example of this would be Photosynthesis an abstract strategy, family-weight game which uses a variety of pieces based on trees that players use to “grow” larger trees as the game progresses. Though the pieces are cardboard, the artwork and quality of production fit in nicely with the gameplay.
All of the artwork on the cards, boards, and components makes games look stunning when you set them up to play.
There are some games out that just look beautiful when they’re on the table. These are games that people can’t just walk past without wondering about the game. These are the games that often get people to stop and ask what you’re playing.
Santorini is an abstract family game where players construct the famous blue roofed, white buildings based on the iconic Greek city. The game is stunning in its pure beauty which belies the hotly contested gameplay. If you’ve ever seen the game setup, it’s instantly recognizable and clearly represents the beautiful Greek city.
In Tang Garden, players build the iconic Chinese gardens of Emperor Xuanzong that were constructed during the Tang dynasty. You create a garden while balancing the elements of nature. You also place vertical, scenic panoramas and have noblemen visit your gardens to see how well it's doing. The game has excellent art, and unique display, and looks stunning on the table.
Lastly, the abstract game Sagrada has players use translucent dice to create stained glass windows that create a unique visual. You draft dice depending on player order, and you score points based on the patterns and your variety of dice. The game is very colorful and never fails to draw attention when it’s on the table.
Board games are undeniably art. The amount of artwork produced for every aspect of modern games is astounding. There’s art on the box, on the boards, the components. Everywhere you look, there is art applied to the game that adds to the visual appeal. There are a ton of games that have beautiful artwork, too many to mention here. Playing games that are visually immersive makes for a more engaging experience, and I find it hard to jump into games that aren’t visually appealing.
What games do you think have stunning artwork? Do you play games that don’t look good, or do you gravitate towards games with a good table presence? And the ultimate question: do you consider board games art? We’d love to hear from you, so please join the conversation and comment below!
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