Boardgame Production Values: Distraction or Blessing?

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I have only been in in this hobby for 5 years or so. But, in that time, I have seen a pretty marked increase quality of boardgames components. Not only that, but believe that, in the last 5-10 years it seems like there has been an increased importance given to the art assets in boardgame components.

Now, by saying this, I realize that there are still games being released wherein the component quality and/or the art assets seem to be pretty low on the priority list when it comes to designing and developing a game. But, of course, there are also games that are released where the biggest effort seems to be put into the component quality and/or art assets. I haven’t played it, but from the gameplay videos I have seen and the reviews I have read, it seems like #Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game may fit into this description. But, of course, many, maybe most, games do focus, both on tactile/visual quality and on the game gameplay experience.

When considering art in a game or component quality there are a number of things that contribute to the perceived quality, or lack thereof.

  • Art
    • Does the art help or hinder the communication of the theme?
    • Does the art help or hinder the actual playing of the game?
    • Is the art good from a technical sense?
  • Component quality
    • Does the component quality help or hinder communicating the theme of the game?
    • Does the component quality help or hinder the actual playing of the game?
    • Is the component good quality in the technical sense?

There are two games I have gotten the last year or so that have really had me thinking about the way that art and components can help or hinder a game.

 

The first of these games is #Pax Pamir (Second Edition). Before I talk more about PP2E I do want to offer the disclaimer that I do have the metal coins. Those have been offered in every Kickstarter run by Werhlegig games, but they are a $15 extra. That disclaimer aside, this is a game with absolutely incredible production value. The map is a gorgeous cloth map. The cards are impeccably illustrated and are high quality. The coalition blocks are beautifully worked resin pieces that look great and feel sort of like some sort of chalky stone, like limestone or sandstone. The cardboard coins that come with the game are great, they look and feel nice. But the real crème de la crème is the metal coins. Those are spectacular. And, in lovely attention to detail, they are ever so slightly cupped to make them easier to pick up.

This game is, hands down, the game with the best production values that I have ever seen. I, however, don’t think it is the game with the most expensive production I have ever seen. What makes the production value so great is the extreme thoughtfulness put into the component quality and to the art. Every piece of art enhances the theme that PP2e is trying to communicate. Every component draws you into the theme. Those components actually make the game easier to play. For instance, the coalition blocks are easy to pick up and move around, but they also come in a cool clear box so that you can instantly see which coalition is in the lead and by how much. The coins are ever so slightly cupped to make them easier to pick up and move around. The player boards have the spots for your discs numbered so you can see at glance how many you have out. This is a game wherein every component has been thoughtfully considered, and the art and materials seem to all be chosen for how they contribute to the game as a whole rather than merely considering each component in a vacuum or being married to a preexisting ideal for what components they should use. Seeing what Werhlegig did with PP2e makes me super super excited for #John Company (Second Edition).

 

The second game I will mention is #Cloudspire from Chip Theory Games. Now I have a disclaimer for this game as well. I bought the premium health chips for this game. These are a real upgrade to the base health chips and, in a first world setting, I would say that they are pretty close to essential.

This is a massive game in a massive box. It is, pretty easily, the biggest box I own, and, unlike #The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-earth, if fills its box up. When Cloudspire was announced, Chip Theory Games announced that they would be selling it for the same price as there smash hit #Too Many Bones, but that it was, by far, their most expensive game to produce to that point. And, it is easy to see where the money went. It sports modular neoprene tiles, as far as I know it is the only game in boardgame land that has modular neoprene. It has 100’s of beautiful custom chips. There are lovely plastic holders. The rulebooks are gorgeous and well laid out. It is obvious that the art is worth a fair amount of money. There are a number of nice custom dice. The game comes with quite a few nice, heavy, plastic organizers for the dice and upgrade chips that are helpful, both in the box and during gameplay. It has, for each player, a lovely plastic market stand for their faction chips. And, I want to make it very very clear. I believe that the gameplay in this box backs up the component quality. The gameplay seems very good. I am not going to say that it is a bad game, but I will complain just a little bit about the component quality.

This, to me, feels like a very good game that has had exceptional components pushed onto it without consideration whether or not they fit. I will give you several examples:

  • You have to shuffle the earthscape tiles before the game. Neoprene is extremely difficult to shuffle. Unfortunately, CTG is married to the idea that all their games need to be waterproof, so they had to use neoprene. The game would have been much better served, I believe, if they would have used cardboard earthscape tiles.
  • Once again, speaking to then “necessity” of waterproof components. There is not a tremendous amount of card play in this game, but there is some. And I am here to tell you that PVC cards are terrible to play with. I hate how they feel. I hate how the stack falls over if you look at it wrong. I hate how springy they are.
  • Lastly, the chips…. The chips are THE hallmark of a game from CTG. In fact, it is even in the name, Chip Theory Games. However, the gameplay has you stacking, and sometimes moving around, huge piles of chips and that can become a bit balancing act in and of itself.

These complaints might seem a little trifling, and maybe they are. I do truly love this game even with the perceived shortcomings I have mentioned. But, Cloudspire does seem to have needed to sacrifice some desirable aspects to the preconceived necessity of a certain type of components. Too be clear, this is forcing of components on games is not the sole purview of CTG. I have also suspected it with some euro games where they have all these cubes of this color….  And so they have to use them in their next euro whether or not it really fits or not.  

 

These are some of my vapid vaporings about component quality, and a little tiny bit about art.

So, tell me, what do want in components? Are you a person that finds the component quality of huge importance? Or, are you one that don’t think that the quality is all that important? Have you played games with great components that the components distracted from the gameplay in one way or another? Or have you played a good game where the components were so awful that you didn’t like the game?

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Supporter12 months ago

Gameplay needs to be first. Everything can definitely be excellent and in fact many of the other "else's" need to be at least ok for a game to be amazing. If you only have great components and miniatures and no gameplay - then your game is terrible. 

Moderator Level 112 months ago

Have you ever had played a game with great gameplay but the components were so terrible that it ruined the game for you?

Supporter12 months ago

No, mostly because I really research games first so I know what I'm getting going in 

Moderator Level 112 months ago

You and me both

12 months ago

I'll play for great art, but I could honestly forgo most fancy components. I actually just posted elsewhere about how I would love to have the opposite of a deluxe option - - a cheap barebones edition in a plain box with no special tokens. I have so many cubes and meeples and other little tokens that I really don't need my games to come with them.

The craze for metal coins baffles me more than anything. We all have currency with actual metal coins, right? It's not like metal money is an exotic element of fantasy that whisks us away from the real world? People could use our actual metal currency at a lower cost than they are paying for pretend metal money! I just don't get it. I especially don't get why people would pay metal money across multiple games. Just buy one set of cool fantasy money and use it for everything.

But then, I also would have laughed the crazy man out of my office if someone had offered me an investment pitch for the world's first roller coaster, so I clearly don't have any intuition for what the typical person finds fun and rewarding!

I would make exceptions to my components indifference for games that I adore and that get a ton of playtime. I like the relatively fancy components in Wingspan, for example. The eggs feel nice. Everyone loves sending the dice through the rolling tower. In fact, the pleasure of rolling the dice this way is practically a mini game for some of my family members. So there are occasional games where the components intensify the pleasure of the game. But the vast majority of my games just don't get enough plays to make higher priced components worthwhile, and/or don't benefit enough from the fanciness to justify the price.

In fact, I frequently find myself holding back on games that looks interesting because the prices have gotten so inflated. This seems like it is often a function of overproduction. I just don't want to take a risk on a $75 game only hitting the table once or twice.

Additionally,  the trend for overproduction and higher prices seems to be leading to price inflation even on simple little games that have no reason to be expensive.  Why on EARTH does Splendor cost $45 MRSP? It's a card deck with about 15 unique faces and a handful of poker chips with gem stickers on them. I felt ripped off even at $25, to be honest. At least a game with great production has an excuse for the price tag!

I can only think of a single game that was actually unplayable due to component quality, reaching far, far back into my early childhood: Mousetrap! 😆 Yes, the mainstream childhood classic, where you race to construct a Rube Goldberg contraption to catch a mouse, almost always ended in a disappointing anti-climax when said contraption failed to actually work due to the shoddy, wobbly construction of the interlocking components.

I'm pretty sure it's still in print, being sold at Targets and Walmarts to parents who have apparently forgotten how disappointing the gameplay was, so I suppose that says a lot about how consumers are seduced by cool looking game bits.

Moderator Level 112 months ago

The first point that I will address is metal coins. For years I was a coin collector. I have since sold most of my collection, but I still have a an numismatic bent. For me, the way the coin looks is super important. I have 0 interest in using mismatched money, especially in historical games. For me, in PP2e for instance, it is important that the coin "looks" right. I would far rather use the cardboard money that looks right rather than use a generic metal coin. That being said, I do agree that metal coins aren't even close to necessary. And, I think for fantasy games the idea that you mentioned of buying one set, would work well. But I also must admit, that for #John Company (Second Edition), I did spring for the metal coins.

I am with you in some ways with the desire for cheaper, more basic, games. I do welcome what Awaken Realms did with #The Great Wall. There they sold a version with meeples and a version with minatures. There have been a number of other companies that have used this approach as well. I do think that this is a small step in the right direction. I do hope that it does portend offering more choices on game components in the future. Actually, I do think that one potential outcome of the price increases in everything connected with game production and shipping, MIGHT be towards a simplification of some of these things. Also, if you want basic components, have you checked out Hollendspiele's offerings? 

Moderator Level 112 months ago

Thought provoking, and well written.  I'd be interested in reading a followup article on the art aspect you mentioned.

Thinking on the games in my collection and those I've played owned by others over this past year, I'd say I want my  thematically appropriate and functional, i.e. they are easy to understand, use, durable, and feel good.  

Componenet quality isn't of huge importance to me, as I find the quality of the games I have to be fairly similar, but it needs to be consistent.  I can't think of a game that I've played with poor quality components.  (Although I do have #Terraforming Mars, which people have pointed out the mashup of art styles in the cards, and  #Draftosaurus which I don't intend to buy the expansions becuase of the inconsistency of the components compared to the original that I've heard about.)

I like the cars in #Downforce, eggs and artwork in #Wingspan, runes in #Call to Adventure: The Stormlight Archive, the ghosts in #Disney: The Haunted Mansion - Call of the Spirits Game, the item tokens in #Lost Ruins of Arnak, and the miniatures in #Scythe.  I do not find any of these distracted from the game, but added a lot to the game play experience.

I can't think of a game I've played with poor components that caused me not to like the game.

Moderator Level 112 months ago

I might do one on art.... That is the danger of saying that you are interested...LOL

Moderator Level 112 months ago

I like danger... 😀

12 months ago

"#Draftosaurus which I don't intend to buy the expansions because of the inconsistency of the components compared to the original that I've heard about."

I presume you're referring to the reports of mismatched artwork or slightly different board widths?

I've got both expansions, and I'd say that I don't notice it much on mine. If you're interested, my family loves the #Marina expansion and wants to use it every time, but we are pretty much unanimous in saying we don't really want to play with the #Aerial Show expansion anymore. It adds more stuff to the game and the bonuses and choices look reasonable on paper. I can't put my finger on exactly why, but it just doesn't make the game any more fun for that addition of more to do.

Moderator Level 112 months ago

Yes, that's what I'm referring to.  Thanks for sharing your experience with the expansions.

Premium User12 months ago

Interesting questions raised.  A lot of this hinges on personal opinion which is neither right or wrong.  

For me I would say that component aesthetics and quality is one aspect of a game that matters but is in conjunction with many other factors.  All of which will be weighed differently on a per person basis. On a scale of it doesn't matter at all to it's the only thing that matters I'm probably just to the right of middle.  It matters to me but it's not a decisive factor.

Another aspect to consider is in comparison to other games.  A LOT of games are published these days with many of them having fine to good gameplay.  If you can play a game that is good and beautiful/high component quality versus a game that is good with low component quality it seems to make sense all things else being equal.

To answer your other questions:

  • I want components that are first of all functional, feel good to play with, and are aesthetically pleasing.  
  • I don't find component quality of huge importance but it does have importance among many other factors.
  • I love #The Castles of Burgundy but playing it in low light due to a reno made it EXTREMELY hard to tell some of the colours apart.  It prompted me to buy the bags from BGG but honestly I will never play the original version of it in low light again.  That's about the only time component quality caused an issue with gameplay.
  • I can't think of a time that component quality was so awful that I didn't like the game.
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