Artwork is the servant of a game. If you are not able to notice a difference between wood and your workers, or you don’t know where to place your buildings, that’s due to bad artwork. You love it or hate it. The art is subjective. Is there a magic element making some art better? Why is artwork important in board games?
Playground for imagination
Good artwork is like fuel. Your imagination ignites with it. The better the fuel, the longer it burns. It brings pieces on the board to life. You hear people trading when you look at the market card. You smell freshly-baked cupcakes when you manage your bakery.
If there are blanks the size of a moon crater, you can’t do much, can you? Have you ever heard battle noises when you played chess? Me neither.
Art sells you a game, making you want to play it. When you see something nice, you want to interact with it. How many times have you been to the cinema only because you liked the special effects? People are visual. You won’t buy a game if you don’t like the illustrations, unless someone recommended it to you.
Expectations meet reality
Have you ever seen different art on a box than in a game itself? Well, it happens often – there is a promise of distant fantasy worlds bursting with forbidden magic. It is killed by the truth of a board with a dull grid which is thrown at you along with a pair of passionless dice. White dice. It’s like giving someone a week-old cheese sandwich in a wrapper from their favourite restaurant.
Artwork should be consistent. What you see on the box, it’s what’s in the box. This consistency also applies to every other element of the game. Every piece should look like a part of a whole. Sometimes objects seem to be from different Universes.
Art detached from the actual feel of the game is almost the same. It should feel right, like a part of it – not like a photo of Mr. Universe with a face photoshopped on it for a dating site. You will feel disoriented if you see dragon scale textures in a game about recycling.
Art vs purpose
Graphic design can go mental. Vivid colours making your eyes burst in pain? Visual chaos causing migraines? Welcome to the world of nightmarish graphic design.
Dull colours and nothing standing out is a step in a different direction in the realm of terrible art. This kind of nastiness makes you steer clear of a lot of games. You may not even be aware of it. That is one of the reasons why so many book publishers outsource all their illustrations and have a graphic designer working for them full-time.
How about colours? Using them to differentiate between components seems to be a good idea. Wrong! A lot of men are colourblind to some extent. Games should use shapes and symbols in addition to different colours. It isn’t that difficult, is it?
As a perfect servant, Artwork helps the Game to unfold in front of your eyes. It tells you a story about its master, making him or her appear great. Great Artwork will make you remember the story because it will play into your imagination. It won’t use cheap marketing tricks to make you like the Master more. It won’t add any unnecessary details about imaginary dragons and aliens – just the ones which are true. It will please your ears with perfect diction and will talk loudly enough to be convincing. The voice can be soprano or bass. It doesn’t matter if everything feels right.
What is your favourite artwork on board games? Do you have a favourite artist? Do you think that artwork is important? Let me know in the comments section.