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Art in Boardgames.

Supporter

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? and I want you to tell me how wrong I am. LOL

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Owner2 months ago

You're wrong!!

Just kidding. When it comes to art and graphic design, I'm more critical of bad design choices than I am of pure aesthetics. That's why I'm okay about games that don't look wow worthy. It may not be top tier art, but if the art and graphic design is cohesive with the theme and elevates the gameplay, then I won't mind it at all. For example, #Friday has an "interesting" art style but I don't mind it at all because there's clarity and it all goes well together, to a point that it has its own charm. In fact, bad graphic design is usually the more common offender because when it comes to pure illustrations, they're a lot more subjective and there's a wide range of styles and preferences. So while bad illustration will sometimes make it harder to grab my interest among thousands of games that come out, once I do look into a game, what usually makes me complain are the bad or outdated graphic designs. Busy, crowded, unreadable, color choices that clash together, etc. But yes, there are some that are too ugly in terms of illustration that there's no saving it lol.

In general though, art has taken a lot of priority over the years because of market trends, so I think the "average" has improved overall because creators are hiring more experienced illustrators and graphic designers. There are plenty of cases where they don't and prioritize aesthetics over good design, and that's when I would deduct points from a game. In fact, this is more of a side point but I'm more often disappointed by a game that looks amazing but is overly compensating for an underwhelming gameplay or mechanic. And going back to ones that I consider more on the "ugly" side, those games could typically look a whole lot better if the graphic design got an upgrade.

Supporter2 months ago

Make sense, and, yes, a rising tide lifts all boats, and the art does seem to be getting better overall. I am also mostly pleased with the direction graphic design is taking. It seems to be getting generally better all the time. 

2 months ago

Art is almost always important for me to like or buy a game. I usually can't enjoy a game with bad art, because it forces me to look at it the entire game. Like #Terraforming Mars. I played it once and disliked it. I'm sure the gameplay was good, but I don't remember because all I could think about is how bad the artwork is. It's just like google stock photos, with cheesy real-life images. Bleh. I don't think I'll want to ever play that game again. I'm sticking to #Scythe and #Call to Adventure, thank you very much

Premium User2 months ago

I think I land in the camp of nice art, while nice when it happens, isn't a huge priority for me. I love too many ugly euros to honestly say I want my games to look pretty lol.

Supporter2 months ago

That is a good way to put it.

2 months ago

I don't think bad art would prevent me from playing a good game, but if the style is something that's not to my taste then I need to be convinced a lot more to try it in the first place (by recommendations, reviews, etc.). I find myself thinking "I know I would probably enjoy this more if it just looked better." Maybe my views on this will change over time as I experience a wider variety of games.

Somewhat of a tangent, but I really don't like the art style of #Santorini. I honestly think it's well done, but I'm just really bothered by the baby-ish aesthetic. I have a lot of fun playing it, but don't make me look at the box or god power cards haha. Totally an opinion thing so it just goes to show how subjective a view of art can be.

2 months ago

totally agree. My thought isnt so much art vs mechanics or clarity but rather does the artwork suit the game. I really do like when a game hasgood art or components, but if it doesnt suit the game or theme, it for sure turns me off. For instance, i love the corny dryness of #Agricola and #Puerto Rico mainly because it just fits the theme and theme whithin the mechanics. A game like #Star Realms, because of its theme, needed good artwork. its art makes the game so much better even though the mechanics are the more subtle but stronger draw. idk if I am making sense but those are my first thoughts haha

2 months ago

Lots of good thoughts in there! I will agree that my top reason for valuing art so highly in games is attracting more casual gamers, or just other people in general. If I'm buying a game that's ugly, I've done the research and know that it is a quality game, despite the visuals. Someone I'm trying to convince to play with me has not done that research, and, unless they have a lot of trust in my game choices, they are going to be skeptical of this ugly game. A pretty game just removes that barrier.

For myself, I do value the art on a game, because it's part of the complete expereince. I do agree with you, however, that it should be function over form. If the beautiful art makes the board hard to read, for example, then that's to the game's detriment. I think an example of sacrificing form for function is the new #Dune: Imperium game. There's a fair amount of symbology in the game, but the board is actually pretty sparse in terms of art, and I think that's done intentionally to make it easier to read and figure out how to play the game.

Supporter2 months ago

The new dune game is a good example. 

2 months ago

This is an interesting topic for me. I never say no to a game based on art, a game can be ugly as all get out and I will be fine with it. I find myself in a position where I question whether a game will be good though based on art. Not in the way you might think though...sometimes for me a game that is super beautiful and highly designed I question whether the game is good. Blood Rage/Inis/Rising Sun all are beautiful with big minis but the gameplay they offer is not appealing to me. A lot of new Kickstarter games just seem hyper produced and I lean towards questioning their gameplay depth. 

One game that I am looking into right now that looks GORGEOUS but I am not sure about gameplay is #Cosmic Frog. looks super cool but still not sure about the depth of play. 

2 months ago

I'm not sure where I come down on this to be honest! There are some games that I own despite the boring/gaudy art (castle itter most recently) but I'm also quite quickly turned off from a game if the artwork or theme is unappealing. Ethnos is the quintessential example of a boring/ugly theme that does nothing for a game.

Supporter2 months ago

I hear Ethnos is super ugly, I have actually never seen it in the flesh.

Supporter2 months ago

I wouldn't say that it's the be all end all for me, but it is hugely important.  Maybe I'm lucky in that I haven't really found an "ugly" game for lack of better terms, that seems so great to me that I want to overlook it's ugliness.  I also think your asking a different question from components.  For instance, I sometimes enjoy simple cubes in a game, but the game can still have beautiful art.  

Having said that, I'm sure there are some games that I could like that I didn't love the art for.  However, there are some games that the art is so bad I would mostly avoid them.  The one that comes to mind for me is #The Expanse.  I love this IP and I love the sound of the game, but I abhor screen stills and I don't know that I could consistently play a game where the "art" are stills from a TV screen.

Supporter2 months ago

Stills are annoying. 

Look up The Great Zimbabwe or Antiquity on BGG and tell me what you think about those as art pieces. LOL

Supporter2 months ago

So what I see of The Great Zimbabwe from an art perspective is that the cards are (in my opinion) very nice.  The board is a bit ugly.  From a components standpoint... I actually like the simplicity of them.  I tihnk overall based on the art it's not overly ugly and it's something I would play (assuming the mechanics interested me).

Antiquity looks ok too.  There isn't much in the art.  I don't love the chits they look a bit ugly and I'm not generally the biggest fan of a lot of cardboard bits that have a lot of table precensece.  Overall though I think I'd play it.  I like the wooden components and I like the simplicity they offer.

Supporter2 months ago

I'm surprised you are that positive... 

Supporter2 months ago

Well the art on the cards is nice, the board could do better and almost puts into the too ugly territory for me.  But if it were a killer game I could get over the board art.  And I love simple components, and they aren't ugly.

Antiquity would probably be a bit a stretch for me aesthetics wise...

2 months ago

I definitely see the trend in which the industry is placing more and more value on visual appeal, and I think the age of Kickstarter deluxe editions has a lot to do with that. $/mini is a metric I've seen people use as a justification for a purchase and it's kind of crazy. But the urge to have a lavish production is absolutely a strong one; games come out with art and components that actually hinder the usability of the game (#Tang Garden and #Everdell come to mind). When so many people are buying games with limited play experience, marketing becomes more important, and art is a big part of that.

Supporter2 months ago

Marketing.... Yay for that. 

Seriously I have no problem with people who buy games based on aesthetics. If that is how one chooses to enjoy the hobby that makes them no more, and no less a gamer. 

2 months ago

I haven't really thought about it much, but I suppose It depends on the game.
Now granted, a beautfiul game is more likely to at least catch my eye, and I'm probably guilty of buying one or two games based on the box art!  But mostly games are like books in that you can't judge a game based on it's box art.
I certainly appreciate good art in a game, but a point to note is that 'good art' is subjective.  Case in point is 'Root', all I hear about is how good the art is in that game yet I well frankly, don't like it (the art).  The game itself is fine; I've played it a few times and would play it again, but I think the art is way overhyped.
A game's art should never get in the way, fortunately no game I have comes to mind that I have this issue with, other than in some games the text can be too small--but that's not an art thing per se, just a design choice.

As far as the importance of art in a game.... 
If a game is heavily themed, well of course there has to be some art to present the them, art is what defines the theme really.  Sure some game mechanics might reflect the theme, but I would think that most wouldn't notice it unless the art presented the theme first.
In abstract games, art is ...rare, for the basic fact that as soon as a game includes art in it, it picks up a theme of sorts and is less abstract.

Owner2 months ago

I could see that. Kyle Ferrin has a signature style that really works for me, but it's bound to be more divisive than an artist who only produces good looking art that doesn't make much of a statement. I'd say that The Mico (#Architects of the West Kingdom, #Raiders of the North Sea, etc) also falls in that category where he is generally very well loved because of his unique style, but I'm sure there are people out there who really don't like his approach.

Supporter2 months ago

I'm more or less in the same basket as you Chris. Great art is nice but it isn't required. I'm not bothered by "ugly" games any more and the perceived lack of art would not deter me from picking up a game. 

That said, games like#Everdell and#Scythe are undeniably beautiful and are a joy to behold. But what makes them great is their underlying mechanics. That's what keeps them in the collection. 

Premium User2 months ago

Mechanics are far more important for me, great art or not! #Lorenzo il Magnifico is a perfect example of this for me. A game that is pretty darn ugly but mechanically sound. 10/10 will keep it in my collection lol

Supporter2 months ago

I like how close we are in some aspects of gaming.

Supporter2 months ago

Indeed. We could make a really good game group. If time and space didn't matter. Small concern. 

Supporter2 months ago

Maybe someday there will be a BGA CON.

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