It occurred to me the other day that there is more art in a board game than just the actual art. There are visuals in every aspect of the package. There is a musical quality to a well designed game with mechanics that interlock and boost the feelings of theme and tension. A truly artistic game designer, along with the Artist and Graphics Designer can create a symphony for all the senses.
First is the most obvious art in a game, the art. If you look at some of the better art on board games you can be transported to the proper time, place or mindset from the moment you look at the box all the way through the reading of the rules and the end of the game. Look at Viticulture (running an expansion campaign on Kickstarter now) if you don’t feel like you are in Italy staring at your vineyard I don’t think you are paying attention. Another good example is Puerto Rico it does it differently, you are overlooking your entire area and the ports but it still gives you the feel of being there.
The next part of art that people sometimes forget is the mechanics. These are a more musical, fluid type of art. Well constructed mechanics can make you feel that you are really acting out the theme. Diplomacy is an example of one that feels exactly like the name. The game feels like you are trying to keep everyone under your control while knowing not everybody will do what you need. Forbidden Island is another. I know my 9 year old believes the Island is sinking and we have to hurry or sink with it. The timing and constant tension that the next card will be the worst one you could get add the needed stress.
Another part of the art of the game that again goes unnoticed is the Graphic Design. If you are playing a game that looks clean, neat, tidy and efficient somebody did a good job of Graphic Design. The games where you you know what to do and where to place your pieces without being told are a result of this. Magic the Gathering shows how much can be expressed with some symbols and a little text. The cards are not (usually) over cluttered, the symbols are easy to interpret with only a minimum of references to the rule book in the beginning and with a clean border the are easy on the eyes.
Now the true masterpieces are the ones that bring it all together. the previously mentioned Viticulture and the upcoming expansion Tuscany (Kickstarter) appear to have done an exceedingly good job of mixing all the angles, light and sound to make a game that is art as a whole. A symphony of thought that brings you to your vineyard and instills in you the need to direct your workers and manage your resources to be sure that you prosper more that your competition.
My final thoughts are a game like this can be a temporary escape to another place or time. A chance to take a break from the bills in the mail and the stack of papers at work. When you play a game that brings it all together you are not watching a performance but participating in it. You are one of the actors and though you know the plot you are yourself working towards the final scene to discover the ending. These are the games that can make a person new to the hobby drop their chin and proclaim that “we need to do this again, soon.”
If you have an opinion on any games the meet these criteria please share them in the comments below. And remember fight boredom with some Board Dom-I-Nation.