Going Analog

Where video game industry veterans introduce great board games to video gamers

Great board games that deserve better art

We're putting out a request for a personal print run.

We’ll admit it. We like checking out a good package or two. What can we say? Board games have become beautiful things these days, their boxes now proudly mounted on our shelves, ready to be admired. The trouble is, all that exemplary artwork only makes the ugly cardboard ducklings stand out further. 

No matter how much we love the way they play, it’s hard not to dream about a new print run for some of our favorite releases. We’re probably casting wishes to the wind here, but these are the great board games that we think deserve better art. Are any publishers out there reading this? No? Ah, well...

Great Western Trail

Great games with terrible art - Great Western Trail

Great Western Trail transports players to the burgeoning industries of the Wild West. Living out the fantasy of herding cattle across the gorgeous plains of America, you build up a steady supply of beef, trading with the indigenous population, and expanding your business to dominate the market. It’s a brilliant, engrossing experience that was rightfully lauded on release back in 2016. 

So, how to convey such a tale of work, sweat, and adventure on the box? With three generic dudes’ faces in a palette that barely scrapes above black and white, of course! Are they different men...or the same guy at different points in his life? We have no idea, and frankly, we don’t really care either. It doesn’t help that their terse visages are more than a little unsettling. We know the frontier wasn’t close to the Grand Canyon, but did we have to stray into the uncanny valley instead?

Great Western Trail is one of the best games of the last five years, but its current cover makes it depressingly easy to pass over when scanning the shelf. The board and pieces inside have plenty of color to go around, which leads us to wonder if the printer ink was just running low by the time they reached the box. There’s no need for an entire overhaul -- just please give us a flashier chunk of cardboard to package this excellent game in.

Terraforming Mars

Great board games that deserve better art - terraforming mars
Image credit: Board Game Geek, user EagleEye80

Perhaps 2016 was just a cursed year for board game art design, because following swiftly in Great Western Trail’s cattle-shaped footprints is Terraforming Mars. A stellar economic development game about turning the red planet green, Terraforming Mars is, unfortunately, a visual catastrophe. 

It’s not just the inconsistent mix of real-life photos and public-domain digital art you’ll find decorating the cards. From color schemes to board layouts and even components, everything inside the box gives a distinctly cheap impression. Player boards are ugly and confusing to parse, and it’s not uncommon for copies to contain offset printing. In fact, issues are so commonplace that some buyers have even questioned if their copy was legitimate. Had Terraforming Mars been released back in the ’80s, this might have been acceptable. In 2016, for over $50? That’s a far harder sell.

Terraforming Mars is a truly fantastic game that we’d recommend to almost any board gamer. Its art and production values, however, make it hard for any first-time player to hold off uttering a quiet “oh dear” when an eager friend opens up the box. A game this good shouldn’t require repeated assurances of its quality during setup. 

If you want an idea of just how spectacular Terraforming Mars could have looked with the right approach, cast your eyes at the design of Vital Lacerda’s On Mars, which features the lovely artwork of Ian O’Toole. It’s about time we strapped Terraforming Mars’s confused old design to a rocket and launched it directly into the sun. Bring on a second version.

Favor of the Pharaoh

Great games with bad art Favor of the Pharaoh
Image credit: Board Game Geek user Camdin

Favor of the Pharaoh isn’t a comedy game, yet we’ve giggled more at the bizarre budget art of this Ancient Egypt-themed dice roller than any Adam Sandler movie. Though thinking about it, that’s not really saying much. 

Unless you’re a gung-ho risk-taker, some serious maths are involved here. Rolling for Yahtzee-esque combos, you claim rewards and build a path to a dice display impressive enough to raise even the Pharaoh’s eyebrow in acknowledgement. It’s hard to focus on any calculation, though, when every upgrade you’re trying to grab looks like a junior high school’s first attempt at green-screen production. 

We’re pretty sure several of the pieces in Favor of the Pharaoh feature people with “Ancient Egyptian” clothes photoshopped onto their bodies, and the copy-and-paste hieroglyphic backgrounds do nothing to save the design. It isn’t a cheap game either, which makes the included art all the more strange.

That said, while we’d love to see this dice-driven design glossed up in a new set of clothes, there’s also something oddly amusing about the Favor of the Pharaoh’s low-cost images.  Perhaps we’ll keep this design safe from Ammit’s gullet for now.

Glory to Rome

Think you could rebuild the fire-ravaged heart of the Roman Empire? Competitive card game Glory to Rome tasks you and your friends with exactly that. It’s clever, relatively quick, and addictive enough to rope you in for multiple games at a time. Unfortunately, it also looks like this:

Glory to Rome

The inside art doesn’t get much better, either. Looking like a clip-art history advertisement you’d find stapled to a wall in a school or local museum, Glory to Rome is -- to our embarrassment -- the only game we’ve initially turned down playing based purely on its art. Sometimes we’re shallow, OK?

There was an attempt to revitalize Glory to Rome back in 2011, but due to a litany of publishing woes, both the original and Kickstarter versions of the game are now almost impossible to obtain -- unless you don’t mind shelling out an awful lot of money. We may never see a new print run of this cult classic title, and in our view, that’s a real shame. There was once a dream that was Rome. It may have been ugly, but it was also glorious.

If you have a game in your collection that deserves a fresh lick of paint, let us know Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Be sure to have a listen to the Going Analog podcast as well for more gaming news. Need a balm for your eyes after all that offputting art? Read our list of favorite board game box arts to soothe those mistreated ocular engines.

Author bio: When he’s not losing himself as a mercenary in Frosthaven, Henry Stenhouse can be found scouring the web for the latest and greatest games, then wondering why he never has time to actually play them. Share your love of deck builders with him at @Fernoface on Twitter or drop an email to henry@moonrock.agency.