Cardboard Children: Beautiful Boards

By Robert Florence on January 20th, 2013 at 12:49 pm.


Hello youse.

Yesterday I was doing an interview about a gaming strand I’m presenting for Glasgow Film Festival. The interviewer and I got to talking about board games, and why there seems to be a little bit of a “boom” happening right now. Why are so many people starting to play board games again? Why are so many games websites covering boardgames too? I suggested that it might be because computer and video games are becoming less and less physical. As downloadable games become the norm, we lose the ability to hold our treasured things in our hands. Gone are the big thick manuals and the books of lore, gone are the cloth maps and the otherworldly coins. Game collections seem increasingly like nothing more than temporary personal access to some strange ghostly lending library.

We like something we can hold. We like something we can lay out and look at. That’s my theory anyway.

BEAUTIFUL BOARDS

What do we mean by a “beautiful” board? Are we talking about the illustrations? Are we talking about how the board works as a key component of play? I think we’re talking about all of this together. I don’t think an elaborate, staggeringly illustrated board can be beautiful if it fumbles delivery of the game. And I don’t think a totally practical board can be beautiful if it does nothing to emphasise the theme or the feel of play. A beautiful board, then, is a special thing. A rare treat. It’s a board that delivers an experience to a high level, but also recognises that there is artistry in any design of an object of play.

I wanted to show you a few beautiful boards from some less well-known games, because we all know that Talisman looks gorgeous, right? I also wanted to illustrate the beauty of these boards with nothing more than little snapshots. If you want to see these boards in their full glory, go out and pick up the physical objects. These things can only be properly appreciated in the flesh, or the cardboard. And these are all great games. You should own them anyway.

Shall we take a look at a few?

LETTERS FROM WHITECHAPEL adapts the well-known design of the Scotland Yard board into a blood-spattered, sprawling, sepia take on 19th Century London. The board is clean and easy to use, but over the hours of play within the game the board transfers a feel of desperation and bleakness. The crime scenes start to dot the map. The streets start to blur and mist as Jack the Ripper evades your grasp. This is a dark, attractive, and very emotive board.


ANDROID has a board that captures the feel of the cyberpunk world of the game’s setting. We see the city, the sky, the stars. The locations, gaudy and neon-like, carry icons that aid play. A player’s visits to each location are executed using a template that represents vehicular travel. You are no slave to adjacency here. The locations feel distinct and look almost lonely as they hang in that futuristic city skyline, unconnected. You’ll visit those locations with some troubled characters who are struggling with connections of their own. A fascinating, beautiful board for a fascinating, beautiful game. We really have to take that look at Android that I’ve been promising for so long.


HIGH FRONTIER is truly beautiful. And as with any truly beautiful person, the beauty can remain hidden until you dig deep enough to understand where the beauty lies. At first glance, High Frontier’s board is like an illustration from a school science textbook. But as you play, and as you realise that the board is one giant invitation to a universe of discovery, you start to see the beauty within. It’s information-heavy, practical, detailed… and yet with familiarity, the lines and icons become romantic swoops that suggest true wonder. As your finger traces these trajectories, your brain riffs on the possibilities. You know there is magic out there in space. You can see that strange roadmap laid out before you. How to get out there is the trick. How do you follow those lines out and out and further out?

High Frontier’s board is a promise. A tease. And further confirmation that science itself is beautiful.


THE REPUBLIC OF ROME is a game of negotiation. The board is used as somewhere to organise components, track the status of various events, and display information for the player. In that sense, it is unlike the other boards I’ve mentioned so far. The Republic of Rome is a game that takes place in the mouths and minds and hearts of the people at the table, so the board could almost be an afterthought. And yet, this staggering board does all it can to create the impression that something truly epic is taking place at the table. It’s beautifully illustrated, beautifully organised, and invites a player to stare at it in awe. It’s also an incredibly intimidating board. It suggests that this game has a million things going on – and it would be right. But nobody ever said that beauty has to be a safe and friendly thing. Beauty can be frightening to approach.

NEXT WEEK -

Prepare for a tale of mystery, as I hand over my column to the great Sherlock Holmes. Yes, next week, the great man will set you a challenge that you might not be fit to overcome. That’s if he isn’t all fucked up on cocaine or opium or something. He is a junkie, let’s be honest.

Keep rollin’ and/or stay dicey.

, .

28 Comments »

  1. Duke of Chutney says:

    i actually own most (Don’t have Android)of the games in the thread for once, but this is partly due to be me being easily won over by nice boards.

    Letters from Whitechapel is coming back in to print with Fantasy Flight in the near future, and High Frontier is getting a new expansion board this year.

    I also consider Sekigahara, Colonial Europe’s Empires over Seas, and Amateurs to Arms as having some of the nicest maps on the market.

  2. Syra says:

    I really want to play boardgames but I don’t know anyone who would want to play with me, help!

    • studenteternal says:

      Ask your friends! Seriously, I have invited a fair number of friends, none of whom were hobby board gamers, and they all had a good time. Pick something light and approachable, on of the classic gateway games like ticket to ride, or Carsacone, or dixit. Have some beer ready. I have not had any one turn down some beer and a light board game. People wil come over, they will have fun, and some of them will say “that was fun, but is there anything like this game but deeper/more complex/longer?”

      Repeat until you have enough new hobbyist gamers for a full game of twilight imperium 3.

    • Slaadfax says:

      You could also browse around on Board Game Geek. I do believe they have forum sections where people of different cities can express interest in meeting new folks for board game play.

      Alternatively, you can see if there are any local game shops, as often times they have tables and various areas where people can play games, paint minis, and whatnot.

    • Synesthesia says:

      im’m with studenteternal in this one. Really, just ask your friends. It’s just having a beer with friends, with a beautiful object between you.
      For good gateway games i recommend Bang!, and King Of Tokyo. Both are games (specially bang!) that can be played without being completely fixed on the board, quite casually. You’ll have a good time, they’ll want to do it again. Rinse, repeat.

    • chunkynut says:

      I went out and bought Space Alert upon reading it on Cardboard Children, took it round my friends flat on several boozy occasions before we actually played it and now about 8 of my friends all play at some point or another on a host of different boardgames. They love it, we have a gaming night ever couple of weeks and I’ve bought lots of games now. The second game we bought was Mansions of Madness and that is now a favourite and its not the easiest of games to get into.

      Buy a game and force it on your friends, if they like computer gaming they will like boardgames.

  3. McDan says:

    That Letter for Whitechapel board looks brilliant, might give that a buy now. I’d also like to say, even though it doesn’t actually have a ‘board’ in which the action takes place, that the pieces that make up Cosmic Encounter are very enjoyable. For me anyway. Like the effort put in the make all the planets different when they could easily just have been the colours that are on the opposite sides of them (anyone who has played will know what I mean, tried to think of a better way to say it but couldn’t).

  4. SanguineAngel says:

    I think the physicality of board games is a part of it. But more i think it is the sociability.

    Over the past few years, board computer games have become WAY less sociable. Where once couch-multiplayer was common-place, encouraging us to get together, crack open the food and drink and get stuck into to games libraries with all our friends now if you want to play with friends you almost always have to do it over the internet. Multiplayer has become an almost solitary experience.

    I just think it’s taken a few years for people who wouldn’t ordinarily have looked at the more niche boardgames to look at them and see that they might scratch the itch they’ve been looking to scratch for a while.

    • noom says:

      I quite agree.

      As a recent convert to board gaming, I’ve been having great fun with it. As well as the whole social element, I’ve found another advantage is that amongst my friends this is all quite new territory, so a board game often feels like nobody has an advantage. This is a Very Good Thing as whilst I love a bit of 4 player Halo or whatnot, there is an unfortunate mismatch in terms of, well, skill amongst those I end up playing with, so things tend to end up very lopsided and not so much fun for all involved.

      Quick note: think you meant computer games, not board games, at the start there

      • SanguineAngel says:

        hah, I did indeed! Thank you :)

        You are right, most of my friends are on an even keel and i think we benefit from it. Although one of us has always been very much luckier than everyone else and usually wins. The git

    • Saarlaender39 says:

      Quote:”Multiplayer has become an almost solitary experience.”

      So true…and because of that, I’m sad.

    • Treebard says:

      I also agree, and I find it baffling. Even the kids who grew up playing games are now either in college (where they have roommates, etc.) or older (and are possibly married, etc.), and yet the industry increasingly seems to be not catering to these crowds. (Oh, how many times I’ve lamented online-only multiplayer!)

      So yes, board games are very much filling that niche. And admittedly, the physicality does help bring people together (it wouldn’t have quite the same draw if everyone was crowded around an iPad, for example), but yes, the social aspect is the real draw.

    • Rindan says:

      I agree completely. Personally, I care absolutely nothing for the physicality of board games. In fact, I find the overly large boxes that don’t fit the components well to be annoying. What I like about about board games is the social component. In fact, my taste in board games has shifted pretty dramatically far over for a strong preference for games that have a social component. I love Spartacus becomes the game is more about scheming, coercing, and plotting than it is about its pretty simple mechanics. Don’t get me wrong, I like games with mechanics that don’t have a social aspect too, but they are not my favorite.

      When the day comes where I have a universal roll out display the size of a small table, and everyone holds their “hand” or whatever components need to be hidden on their phone display or tablet, I’ll be first in line and not miss the old boxes and components in the slightest.

    • plugmonkey says:

      I think that’s definitely a large part. I miss the social gaming experience of all my friends coming around to play things like Tekken, and boardgames bring that back. Or looking more recently, it might be off the back of the rhythm action implosion. That was the last video game we would all pile round people’s houses to play.

      In addition to that, I think that as gaming has become much more mainstream generally, people are far less put off by the idea of sitting down and learning a new game.

      Instead of it being something they haven’t done since childhood, it’s something they do all the time.

      I don’t think it’s really to do with me not having enough shiny things to fondle. I’m drowning in them.

    • Reapy says:

      For me it has been about exploring new mechanics. I’m growing sick of the same old thing in video game land and while board games suffer from this too, it is all relativly new to me still, so am enjoying it a lot. Also, I am partial to minis, so games that encorporTe them get me looking, so maybe I liied and it is part physicality too heh

    • gwathdring says:

      I’m with Reapy. The mechanical playground of board games is a big draw for me. I’m also into the social element, but sometimes it’s hard to get people involved which can be frustrating. The biggest frustration for me is the size. The tactile nature is nice, but porting around boxes as a young person still going through grad school and looking for employment … I’ve had to lug what I’ve got to a number of different places and in undergrad, I had to decide what games to leave with my folks every semester and which ones to carefully arrange into one or two game boxes I could squeeze into various parts of my luggage without damaging them. Shipping was just too expensive and I wanted to save that money for new games.

      It also puts a lifespan on the games that, in this digital age, becomes slightly more conspicuous. They can last for decades. But they can also be ruined by a spilled drink and can age faster if someone in your play group has sweaty hands or unusually oily skin (I have both, and I watch my cards and paperback books suffer for it). When a game goes out of print, you have to nervously fiddle with the idea of sleeving the thing to preserve it less you be left without such a wonderful purchase if it breaks down or gets lost or stolen. I’ve taken to making digital backups of my games so that, in a worst-case scenario, I can rebuild a game without buying more than my game collection’s worth in sleeves on the off-chance my games both go out of print AND out of commission at some point in the future.

      That last bit there isn’t something I spend a lot of time worrying over, and digital products can have a hidden lifespan due to compatibility problems with future technology and data-backup failures and so forth. But all together, I think the physical nature of games balances out for me. It’s good and bad. Long set-up times, big bulky boxes, physical threats to a physical product, and the lack of various organizational and time-saving elements that make digital versions of board games more accessible … but on the other hand: pleasantness of rolling dice, the use of physical mechanics (more in playing-card games than board games, but there’s Jenga and company), the gorgeous artwork up close and personal (without annoying back-lighting), and more flexibility to mix-and-match components and make modifications to the rules and so forth.

      • gwathdring says:

        P.S. It’s also easier to design my own board game than video game! Knocking out some physical components using my board game collection and some pieces of paper is a lot easier than learning new programming tricks before I can implement certain elements of my design. For someone who’s design oriented like me, board gaming and tabletop-roleplaying opens an amazing world of story-telling and mechanical design without the barrier to entry found in video game design.

  5. Jim9137 says:

    No Dune. :(

  6. angelanancy409 says:

    just before I looked at the paycheck that said $8096, I accept that my mom in-law woz like they say actualy earning money in there spare time on their apple labtop.. there brothers friend haz done this for only about 1 year and resantly paid the debts on their place and bought a gorgeous Lexus LS400. read more at, http://www.bit90.com

  7. KingCathcart says:

    Could I be so bold as to suggest that one of the reasons why we are experiencing a boom in popularity for board gaming is down to the great writing and support the likes of yourself and Mr Q Smith have put behind it?

    • Synesthesia says:

      i, for one, got into them thanks to Rab and Quinns and Paul. Primarily Rab. I remember how hooked i was with that mansions of madness review. Surely there are more!

      • gwathdring says:

        I’ve always been into board games, and I’d been playing some great ones at my local gaming club before I found Cardboard Children, but I didn’t start heavily investing in a collection until Cardboard Children. Board Gaming heroes, indeed!

        I found The Dice Tower and BGG during my “Oh dear, BGs are expensive I want to find “second” opinions #2-10 before I buy this game” fretting over my first major, modern Board Game purchase. Ghost Stories, in fact, which I mention further down as the prettiest game in my collection. :)

        And now I have a massive heap of Board Games. Let’s play spot the CBC/SU&SD recommendations:

        Risk: LOTR edition (eyeing Game of Thrones to replace)
        Descent: JITD*
        Ghost Stories
        Dixit
        Shadow Hunters**
        Wiz-War***
        Battlestar Galactica
        Android: Inflitration
        Android: Netrunner
        Survive! : Escape from Atlantis****
        Hive (BRILLIANT!)
        Memoir ’44
        Cosmic Encounter
        Arkham Horror (glad I didn’t expand it, but I love it)
        Galaxy Trucker
        Space Alert
        Spartacus
        Devastation of Indines (Sort of: P&P, via Kickstarter)
        Yomi (P&P … I had spare sleeves, so it was cheaper than a two-character combo)

        There’s a few older older games and hand-me downs too, but most of my modern acquisitions are recommendations from right here!

        Thanks, Mr. Florence! Thanks Paul and Quinns! I couldn’t be happier with the purchases–though not all were directly recommended by you folks, you got me looking beyond my local gaming club and amassing enough games to start my own. :)

        *A poorly timed, mint condition (except the box and (free) baggies inside) purchase for appreciably under the sticker price–just before 2nd Edition mumblings got really loud.

        **It’s like BANG!, if you’re familiar, but I like it better. Except the art, but the art in BANG! is nothing to write home about either.

        ***Old-school, but I’ve re-done most of it via some beautiful, fan-made P&Ps. First thing I ever got sleeves for. There’s nothing wrong with sleeving non-P&P games, but for me it’s been a matter of successfully battling unhealthy obsession. I was recently gifted the FFG edition for Christmas, so I’m re-purposing the sleeves for some P&P games. If I hate it, I found a cheaper sleeve I’m happy with so I can always return to it or mix-and-match with the new version.

        ****I like this a lot more than anyone I’ve played it with. :( I’m also a sucker for the little animeeples, so perhaps that’s part of the reason. ;)

  8. The First Door says:

    My favourite recent (at least for me) board game board has been the one for Discworld: Ankh-Morpork. It’s just so utterly lovely, like an old map.

    http://boardgamegeek.com/image/1434819/discworld-ankh-morpork?size=large

    Of course it doesn’t hurt that all the cards in the game have new artwork featuring Discworld characters either.

    • Premium User Badge

      Arathain says:

      I agree, it’s a really nice board. The game is a lot of fun, especially for a longtime Discworld reader. IT’s neat to see how they’ve translated each character into mechanics. Each player having different and unrevealed objectives is a fun touch.

  9. gwathdring says:

    Ghost Stories is the most beautiful game in my personal collection. The style isn’t for everyone, but if you like the style, the art quality is top-of-the-line. I like the style, so every time I play it I have to spend a moment just admiring the thing. Yggdrasil has the same artist (and a rather similar design document … ), but I don’t own that game. Both utterly gorgeous things and wonderful games (well, Ghost Stories .. haven’t played Yggdrasil but it’s similar enough that I’m confident saying it’s good).

    It’s technically not a board, but Dixit is incredibly to look at. Dixit Journey, in particular–it’s a different style compared to the first three Dixit sets, but I think it’s even more beautiful than before. Dixit is the only game I ever seriously considered sleeving for aesthetic reasons. The only other non-P&P I’ve considered sleeving is Cosmic Encounter since I’ve considered a few personal modifications and planned on picking up the expansions as budget allowed, so I was worried about heavy usage in between expansions preventing the expansion cards from mixing as nicely. Now that I have them, it’s obvious which cards are new–but it’s never affected play, so I’m glad I didn’t sleeve.

  10. Christen says:

    Hi Rab
    Thanks for your collum. I love it, bought several game after reading your posts.

    I dont know if it has interest to you, but do you know that there are game jams, where they make board games? Ie. this weekend there where one i CPH: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pM3AkvoQsYk

  11. Premium User Badge

    corinoco says:

    Cyclades. Bought it at Christmas, wife & I have played it heaps. The cats play too; forming a random event we call WRATH OF BASTET.

    Love it. The board is simple but pretty. The best best best thing is The Kraken, and they player who plays The Kraken gets to go “rrrraaaaaarrrrrrgh!” as they eat ship after ship…

  12. sonson says:

    Fury of Dracula’s board (FF version) is a beauty. Really invokes the dawn of modernism and a new age vying against Christian culture and vibrant superstition.