I have been thinking a lot about art in boardgames the last while.
I feel like when I started the hobby, art was very important to me. I wanted luscious art. I wanted animeeples or minis. I wanted the art to grab me and pull me into another world. I wanted games like #Scythe or #Inis or #Rising Sun. I remember when I got #Agricola I found the illustrations with people to be a little strange. But all the other illustrations, and the animeeples/vegimeeples were things that I loved. There was a time in my life when I turned up my nose at #Puerto Rico, not because of the theme or the gameplay, but because I thought it was ugly.
Recently I listened to a podcast episode on The Train Rush where they talked about aesthetics and percieved lack thereof present in 18xx games. They were very much of the opinion that the stark, some might say ugly, "art" presentation is what made the 18xx games readable. I feel like they might have overstated their case, but, I don't have enough experience to know for sure. But, that got me started thinking about how I think about art in boardgames today. Following that, I played two games that at one time I would have considered ugly. These games were #1862: Railway Mania in the Eastern Counties and #Pax Porfiriana. Around the same time I played three games that I would have considered beautiful, #Navajo Wars, #Pax Pamir (Second Edition), and #Root. In playing these games I noticed that I didn't notice the art *as much as I used to. In Navajo Wars, PP2E and Root, I noticed the art and enjoyed it. In 1862 I was grateful for the clarity that the stark style provided, and I never once thought about the "lack" of art.
Couple that with the fact that I keep on lusting after games that I used to decry as being aggresively ugly, I speak of games like #The Great Zimbabwe, #Antiquity or #Roads & Boats. These things make me feel like my focus on art has shifted.
I still like a beautiful game, but, I think that that the type of game that it professes to be changes what I expect, or even want, from the art direction.
If I am playing a Euro game I tend to value clarity over art. I am happy to push cubes on a grid. I idealize good quality components: card, cardboard, etc... But, I really don't care about the art the way I used to for these.
If I am playing a game with not theme, once again I value clarity. I love #Innovation. Last year it made my top ten of all time. But, it is, quite frankly, ugly. I have seen and played with the delux edition which actually looks nicer, but I feel to be less playable because of the the distraction that the "art" provides.
If I am playing a historical or thematic game, I still really want art that transports me to that time and/or place. For instance, the art direction in #Pax Porfiriana is busy, and mixed. But, it does very much take me to Northern Mexico at the turn of the century. Of course, #Pax Pamir (Second Edition) I also find very transportive, and it is unquestionably a better and more unified art direction. However, I don't feel any more transported by it than I do by Porf. So, I am actually not sure that I have a clear favorite among those two when it comes to art. They both provide what I am looking for in the art of a historical games.
In financial games I once again want clarity over beauty. #Power Grid, #Acquire, and #1862: Railway Mania in the Eastern Counties are all, at best, plain. But, they do clearly present the information that you need to have. That is what make these games playable, and I worry that to much beautification could mess up the clarity. That being said, I think Power Grid could at least be made to not look ugly....LOL
So, to sum up. I still am interested in art. But, I think I have learned that sometimes art gets in the way of playing the game. I feel like I also have learned that, for me, art is almost not a consideration for me. It is a pleasant surprise when I get good art. Of course, when I am buying games to play with other people, or to try and draw more people into the hobby.... I would probably value art a little higher.
So, where are you? Is good or pretty art a prerequisite before you buy a game? Have your desires in relation to art changed one way or the other in your time gaming? Have you ever played a game so ugly that you would never play it again? Or have you played a game where the art made it harder to play the game? @theDL and @philryuh I want you to tell me how wrong I am. LOL