Topic of the Week: Illustrious Illustrators

We‘ve probably talked about this in some threads before. But not as a dedicated topic I think. I‘ll try my best to come up with interesting stuff while @Acacia is taking a bit of a break. (If anyone has ideas for a topic, let me know or get in there before I post one for the week)

Illustrators are often the same person as the cover artists of course. But I don‘t want us talking about droolworthy expanses of space or nature or horrendous pink mushrooms that grace the front of the box. Covers are just the parts where the artists can (try) to show off. A good cover may sell a game. I would rather talk about what is inside the box. Because good illustrations are probably far more important once you own a game.

  • What are some examples of games that have great illustrations that enhance the game
  • What are games that are more difficult to play because of the illustrations?
  • What defines good illustrations?
  • Any artists that are consistently making good illustrations? Bad?
  • Have you got rid of games because of bad illustrations?
  • Do you have a favorite style of illustration?
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Our friends recently stated that I tend to buy pretty games. I don‘t know about pretty. Games need to look good on the table and good illustrations play a huge role in this.

Positive Examples:

  • I am almost buying Age of Steam all the time because those maps of the latest edition look so … nice (checking BGG it looks like that‘s Ian O‘Toole)
  • On Mars is one of the games I have with the nicest board and clearest illustrations. I may have bought it because it looks like that (yes another Ian O‘Toole).
  • Cascadia may not be the prettiest nature art I have seen but those are some very fine illustrations that just work.

Negative Examples:

  • One recent example of bad illustrations or bad decisions for illustrations includes Wyrmspan. I have complained about this before. The choices for colors for the caves are too similar and then the cards you place on them have weird colors that are not associated with the type of cave at all. Very confusing. Definitely not making the game easier to play.
  • Games that have boards so colorful and busy that I can‘t even look at them and will probably never play them: Bitoku & Arborea
  • Planta Nubo was already difficult to learn because of the bad rulebook. But the illustrations didn‘t help it either.

Ian O’Toole seems to be one of the few illustrators who also know enough graphics design. Train games like Age of Steam thrive because of him. S-Rocket is masterful on how the Grail Games edition is way better than other editions.

Bad news, IOT is dreadful at iconography. He basically tries to explain rules using icons. Bad. And so you end up trying to decipher what this icon does every time you play the game. Icons are suppose to remind you things within nanosecond of seeing it. Teaching is during a teach.

In addition, I have IOT’s Race for the Galaxy poster. The only artist who didn’t put the title of the game as the main focus of the poster. I refuse to buy the other BGG posters due to this reason.

I also like Kwanchai Moriya’s works. I find him very unique compare to others.

Beth Sobel’s art is nice, but found them distinctly very noisy to the point that I sold some games precisely because of the terrible graphics. Pollen is the worst offender to this.


I really like Ynze Moedt’s work.

For each game, Food Chain Magnate, Indonesia, Antiquity, and The Great Zimbabwe, they went all-in on a strong concept and really made it work, while also promoting clarity (for the most part: Indonesia has a hiccup or two).


Glow is a very good candidate for lovely artwork that makes the game harder to play.

The majority of each card is taken up by a lovely bit of artwork that has no bearing on gameplay. All that matters are the icons at the top and bottom.

Similarly, the board is a chaos of lovely black and white imagery that overwhelms the coloured icons that you actually need to pay attention to.


Inis has lovely illustrations. The game as a whole is pretty, and it does not detract from the clarity of the game state.

For an odd dichotomy, I love Kyle Ferrin’s artwork for Root. Charming and adorable, for what is ultimately a rather cutthroat game. However, I found it actively detracted from my enjoyment of Oath. Somehow the plethora of random critters and oddly colored characters just did not work for me, and I think I would have preferred more realistic artwork instead.

Ethnos is rather ugly, with a very plain board and what I have called “muddy” artwork on the cards. At a quick glance, it can be easy to miss the difference between Dwarves and Minotaurs because both are just a combination of brown and orange. Could have been better, but the theme is rather pasted on anyway, so…eh?

Unmatched also has some rather simple board artwork, though some are definitely better than others. The card art though? Chef’s kiss. Fantastic throughout, to the point that when you get a new set, you want to look through the cards not just for the effects, but equally for the artwork.


No, but we have kept a game because of good illustrations. Madame Ching isn’t great (though it’s not utterly awful), and we may well have sold it if it wasn’t so darned pretty. In fact I suspect its prettiness might be the main reason we ever play it.

It’s Vincent Dutrait, who does do nice work.


Illustrations that made me keep a game: the latest Osprey Games edition of High Society, because otherwise I don’t usually like auction games / extremely aggressive take-that games. (The illustrator is the excellently named “Medusa Dollmaker”).

A more extreme example is a game I’ve never managed to play yet, Vampire the Masquerade: Heritage. The art is so dark and atmospheric! But the game has issues and isn’t very balanced.

Most of my examples of good illustration that enhances a game are nature-based: Everdell, Cascadia, Parks.

Shout out to Inis because I love the style, Nemo’s War because the art on the cards is so important for the theme of the game and looks amazing, London 2nd ed for exactly the same reason, and Pulp Detective for selling me on the entire concept just by the art.

Favourite illustrators? Beth Sobel, but not for Wingspan (which I’ve only played once), more for Herbaceous / Sunset over Water / Lanterns.


Also, I just can’t get used to the new board colours in the latest edition of El Grande and I wish they’d chosen literally anything else.


Most of the time I feel about game art the way I feel about background music in films: it’s there to create an atmosphere, and if I consciously notice it something has gone wrong.

On that basis I like the art of Jarek Nocoń (The Resistance, Coup, Pirate 21, Among Thieves, many others). Here is a person, here is the broad sort of person that is, job done. And at least in the things I’ve seen he’s less prone to eroticising the women than many (though of course that may have been art direction).

But I like Star Realms and I don’t like Hero Realms, and theme and art are basically the only differences between them

I’m interested in the upcoming Pandora Celeste (“Nemesis, but you can play it in an evening”), but I am finding it hard to overcome my visceral reaction to this character art:


I’m a big, big fan of Andrew Bosley’s art in Everdell. It’s beautiful and really communicates the theme well.

Conversely, the art on the board in Bitoku, while lovely, is so busy that it makes the board harder to read. It’s really good art, but there’s so much of it detracts from game elements.


IMO, the best board game artist of all time is Ian O’Toole. He’s one of the very few artists that incorporates stunning artwork into functional gameplay utility… like, his art makes sense in a way that actually helps the games. They’re not all bangers, but gosh when they’re good, they’re really good. Black Angel, Kanban EV, and Fit to Print are all gosh-darn gorgeous.

Kwanchai Moriya is my second favourite, and he has some of the only board game art that I would hang on my walls. His designs tend towards bright, explosive colours, and they can be a little distracting from the game design, but his alternate cover of Galaxy Trucker is some of the best board game art ever. Also love his work on So You’ve Been Eaten and Under Falling Skies.

After those two, we get a lot of honourable mentions. For a long time, Chris Quilliams held the third spot almost exclusively for his work on Parade, which is way prettier than it deserves. I hated The Miko for a very long time due to the arrogance of including the word “The” in his self-selected name, but I’ll be the first to admit that if you like his style, he’s at least consistent (the new Celtae is gorgeous, and he seems to be moving away from his tendency to draw women with utterly impossible proportions). Kyle Ferrin is insanely talented, Ryan Laukat just keeps getting better and better…

I recently decided that I had a new 3rd favourite artist, and the fact that I’m completely blanking on who is bothering me. I’ll remember as soon as I get to work, but still. Distressing. Ah well… oh! I remember! The fantastic Vincent Dutrait! Another one of those artists like Moriya that you look at one of his covers and you instantly know its his work, he’s been putting out bangers for the last few years. Canopy, The ART Project, El Dorado 2nd Ed… all killer, no filler.


I forgot Vincent Dutrait. It’s his work that makes me want to play certain games. Sometimes disappointed because the art hyped me and didn’t like the game. His style of art tends to invoke a sense of adventure e.g. Whale Riders, Tribes of the Air, Madame Ching, Oltree, The Quest for El Dorado

And now he’s doing the art for the reprint of Finca!


A few samples from my collection:

Very pretty cards. This is effectively my copy of Nokosu Dice (originally this is Parade in the non-German edition)

Next up an example of illustrations that are … functional? Possibly because the game was designed by a software developer? (not illustrated by one but it is entirely possible that that would be the look). Many people also hated a lot on the cover of Beyond the Sun which I actually liked.
I must say, if you don’t want to go and invest in colors this minimalist approach with a small set of icons that are easily read is fine by me. The game speaks for itself and the way most actions explain themselves from the icons is very well done. The higher level ones get a little text but unlike an example further down this post the text actually fits on the cards which works for me.

Card art in BTS is also quite simple. But these cards have to give a lot of information so I guess a very illustration works best. I find it far more important to easily read which types of resources I get, if there is an ability when I get there and how much strength I need for colonization.

Very basic board. Compared with BTS this seems–despite the colors–even more basic. It is functional but nothing more. I wanted to contrast this one with BTS I admit :wink:

I like the general style of the cards in Pax Pamir 2. And luckily the number of action icons on the cards (bottom right) is not huge. Overall, once learned they are readable and someone took pains to match the backgrounds with the suits. This helps a lot.

For Legacy of Yu we did not get The Mico art–this is actually Shem Phillips himself credited here. The iconography is recognizable. It didn’t take long to learn it all and once you know the cards are easy enough to read. I think this is not a standout style but I found the overall look of the game pleasant.

The board for Legacy of Yu has pleasant enough colors with enough contrast so the icons remain readable and its layout is generally useful. Most of it is covered by cards most of the time btw.

I don’t mind The Mico as much as others (yes yes “The” is a bit … The Doctor…) but the depictions of people take some getting used to. However, I found the iconography and illustrations in the West Kingdom trilogy a) consistent and b) useful. This was especially important for Paladins and Viscounts. Less so for Architects which is a bit simpler.

A game I previously complained about. These are cards from Oranienburger Kanal.
The top part which is the cost and the VP is ugly but fine. The general industrial look of the board and the other materials is fine. It matches the theme. I can even live with the yellow cover. And no it is nothing new that Uwe Rosenberg games come with a glossary explaining every single card because as much as he would like to icons do not suffice as can be seen here. But this oen really takes the cake with the attempt to make a language out of icons.

If you play this game a lot maybe you won’t need the glossary after a while. But there are 4 different decks of cards to use in the base game…
I usually run from ugly games… so imagine how good this game is that I am keeping it! Most Uwe games suffer from “meh-diocre” art at best…

Daybreak is one of the better examples of how to make lots of cards work. The illustrations all have a consistent graphic style that is matched throughout the game. Consistency is key here because the actual style is fine by me but nothing I want to rave about … what is important is that most cards work easily without lengthy text. But they kept the amount of iconography limited and used some small amount of text where the icons will not suffice. Smart choice that. There is an internet glossary that I have consulted once!


In Imperium, his manly warrior types work just fine for me, but I find his women less convincing—not boobalicious, just weird.


Sam Phillips, I think. Shem’s brother, I believe.


I very much like The Mico’s art in Garphill games. I liked it in Imperium too, although not enough to keep the game because of it.

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I really like the crisp clean art of the ‘Whistle’ games. That’s the only one really which is noticable.

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I have so many visual issues with Burgundy despite liking the game. Net new comment would be how the depots and the tiles are the exact same size/color so it takes focus to determine where tiles are available or gone.

I love the second edition buildings where each building is cleverly designed to allude to its function. Either by shape or color.

Empyreal is another one I wish I could tweak. Hexes can hold up to three trains and a good. The color and contrast is lacking so it is hard to take in board state. You again have to really focus and scan the board to identify train networks and distribution of goods. It’s pretty, but the board needs a little beige (meaning desaturation here) for the game state to pop.

I’m big on psychology of perception and demanding that a game be readable without foveal focus on every part of the board. Which may make sense to some people.


Benoit Billion did the work for both editions of the King is Dead. Another thing he worked on is Ortus Regni

Ortus Regni is unique where the cards do not have any text or icons in them. And so, what the cards do is something to memorise. The list of cards are very limited though which makes this doable. The game is also pretty deep so, the need to play this repeatedly is there anyway. It’s a highly interesting game where I don’t mind playing this with 3 or more and bash anyone you want with player elimination. And the 100% illustration cards are very beautiful