On The Aesthetics Of Board Games

March 17, 2014

No matter how elegant the design of their underlying systems might be, some games seem saddled with an absolutely crap visual design team. Generic Fantasy Art or Really Generic Medieval Art seem to be the default palettes of choice when it comes time to put ink and paint to cardboard.

The experience of a game isn’t lessened by boring artwork, but the thought that it could have been better will linger. Usually upon discovering a fantastic game with a tragicly uninspired theme, the only option is to sigh and mutter, “Oh, what could have been…”

But sometimes licensing contracts allow the same game to be published in different countries with different themes. The recent surge in popularity of micro-games (like Love Letter) is probably related; when the rules are half a page and the assets are 16 cards, it’s probably easiest just to license your brand to a studio in every country and let each deal with the localization.

And so it is that one game in particular, Coup, caught my eye for the wide range in quality of its 3 major releases:

France Coup card game Brazil Coup card game USA Coup card game

De gustibus non est disputandum and all that jazz - there are still cases where I feel strongly enough that one work of art is truly better than another, and this is one of those situations. Two of these releases have humour and character and seem inspired, while the third could be meant for a SyFy channel TV show based on The 5th Element. (That isn’t a good thing.)

I started writing intending to contrast American and non-American design teams, but a dive through BGG didn’t support my suspicion that the artwork coming out of international designers was any better. Germany is certainly at the front of the pack in cranking out lackluster imagery.

The question I’m left with is: how does any game make it through to production without someone saying “I know we can do better”, whether that’s an independent, 16-card micro-game or $100 million FPS like Call of Duty? Is it design by committee? By focus group? By deadline? By inertia?