Theme is one of the most important aspects of a great board game, and art direction plays a huge role in establishing theme. Believe it or not, the art in a game can hold massive influence over how fun that game feels—Skull just isn’t the same experience when using Bicycle cards, for example.
And then there are games that have art so beautiful that you almost feel compelled to add them to your collection even if you don’t think you’ll ever actually play the games. Exceptional artwork always deserves praise, which is why I want to highlight some of my favorites. Check these out and marvel.
1. Modern Art
Artists: Rafael Silveira, Manuel Carvalha, Sigrid Thaler, Ramon Martins, Daniel Melim
No surprise to see Modern Art on this list, given that it’s literally a game about art! Several versions of it exist, each with its own different art style, so I’m choosing to highlight the CMON version, which includes real art pieces done by real modern artists. How cool is that? The OINK version of Modern Art is also wonderful in its own way, but unfortunately I haven’t been able to find it on sale anywhere.
Hanamikoji is a two-player card game about persuading Geishas using their favorite items. The deck is pretty small—only seven Geishas and a handful of Items cards each—and it’s a short game, but surprisingly strategic. But my favorite part of it? The amazing artwork, of course! The Oriental flavor of the game is perfectly captured.
Artist: Jakub Rozalski
Scythe is an involved economic area control game, set in an alternative 1920s where steampunk has overtaken Eastern Europe under the rule of The Factory. The artwork depicts an amazingly beautiful combination of pre-industrial life and terrifying mechas. Quite immersive, actually.
Artist: Andrew Bosley
Playing Everdell feels like you’re playing a high-quality fantasy mobile by a company that knows what it’s doing. There’s so much detail in every card, and there are so many cards to enjoy. I don’t know what else to say—one look at the board game’s cover should convey everything you need to know.
Artists: Igor Burlakov, Xavier Collette, Oleksandr Nevskiy, Oleg Sidorenko
Mysterium is a game about solving mysteries using nothing but images, so it’s pretty clear right off the bat that artwork is important for a game like this. Well, kudos to the art team, because Mysterium truly has some of the best artwork of any board game or card game, and it all fits the theme of “communicating with ghosts via visions” perfectly.
6. Deception: Murder in Hong Kong
Artists: Marcin Adamski, Ben Carre, Tommy Ng, Ari Wong
The English-Chinese text on all the cards, the beautiful shades of blue and red, the darkness and shadows all over the place—what isn’t there to love about the art in this game? And let’s not forget that Deception: Murder in Hong Kong is downright one of the best social deduction and bluffing board games ever made.
7. Sushi Go!
Artists: Nan Rangsima, Tobias Schweiger, Phil Walker-Harding
Yeah, Sushi Go! looks like a kids’ game at first glance, but the longer you look at the art, the more you’ll begin to appreciate it—if not for the bright colors and how perfectly it sets the mood, then for how absolutely unique it is in relation to most of the dark fantasy and sci-fi that pervades board gaming.
Artists: Villo Farkas, Laszlo Fejes
Trickerion is a heavy game—and an expensive one—that might scare you away with its complex gameplay, but your interest will be sucked right back to it thanks to its parchment-esque motif and design. All of its art—from the board, to the cards, to the tokens—is as intricate as its gameplay mechanics, making it a joy to look at and behold.
Artist: Xavier Gueniffey Durin
Tokaido is a perfect example of a minimalist art style with its own unique personality, so much so that it stands out and begs to be looked at. Everything about it reminds me of the kind of art you might find in the best anime series, especially the panorama cards.
Artist: Xavier Collette
If you notice any similarities in style between Abyss and Mysterium, it may be because Xavier Collette worked on both of them! And so it’s no wonder that both games appear on this list, because the artwork is absolutely fantastic. This mythological card game will have you feeling like you’ve been sucked right into a world as lived-in as a fantasy MMORPG.