I recently saw a thread on Board Game Geek about how ugly, functional game boards are better than pretty ones. I’m pretty sure that idea gets batted around at least once a month and I think the original idea misses a crucial point. (Which I’m sure came up if I read every page of the thread)
Monday, December 7, 2020
Board games and art criticism
Problems don’t come up from pretty or ugly. Problems come when form gets in the way of function. A component can be absolutely beautiful and, if it works, no problem. And a component can be uglier than a-really-ugly-thing-since-I-don’t-want-to-offend-anyone but if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work period.
Of course, to add to the discussion, not everyone’s aesthetic tastes are the same. I think Hex is elegant in it’s simplicity but some people might think someone just tried to make a game out of a tile floor. (Yeah, that was a John Nash joke)
Really, the real problem are poor design choices and those can happen on pretty or ugly games. I’ve seen them happen _at least_ as often with ‘ugly’ games. Components, be they pawns or boards or cards or tiles or mysterious statues, are all about communication. Failure to communicate will make a game fail.
In fact, since you can use theme to help convert concepts and ideas, I would say that artwork will help a game out more than a lack of artwork. I love abstract games but abstraction can make it harder to understand something. Really, I would say that erring on the side of ‘pretty’ often means erring on the side of clarity.
(One of my favorite designs as far as clear communication is concerned is Venture by Sid Sackson. The aesthetic of the 3M cards is definitely from several decades ago but it communicates all the information you need to know amazingly efficiently.)
Pretty versus Ugly is just an opinion unless you had acid splashed thrown in your face and you end up fighting Batman (Wow, were the designers of Two Face shallow or what?) But ‘Does this work?’, now that’s a question!