board game artwork pt.1

Those of you who have known me for a while have probably at some point been invited to a board game night. Or day. Or party. Or pretty much any excuse to play board games imaginable. I love board games. (I also love video games, but that is a discussion for another time.) So this week, I wanted to tie together two of my loves, design and gaming. I really wanted to do a series talking about the many different types of artwork found in board games, but as an introduction this week, I want to talk more about why good artwork for a board game is so important and give an example with one of my favorite games, Dixit.
A lot of time and effort goes in to making a game successful, and a large percentage of that time is spent making the game look visually appealing. If the play of the board game is good, then the game will be successful once people spread the word about it’s awesomeness. However, you first have to attract people to play your game. In my opinion, the way you attract people (aside from the general game description) is through the visuals; the look of the game is what sets it apart from others of the same style. Once you have played enough board games, you start to fit them into categories and compare them. What really makes games stand out from each other, even if the play styles are very similar, is what the games looks like, and Dixit is the perfect example.
Dixit
Dixit, created by Jean-Louis Roubira, is one of the most beautiful games I have every played. Before I show you why, let me quickly explain how the game is played so you have a background. (As an interesting side note, the title for Dixit comes from the Latin for “He said.”)
Each person has a hand of cards, and the leader for the round says a word, phrase, or noise that matches a card in their hand before playing it in the middle face down. Everyone else then picks a card from their hand that they think best fits what the leader said and plays it as well. The cards are flipped and everyone (minus the round leader) votes on which they think was the leader’s card (you can’t vote for yourself). The leader gets points if people pick the right one, and other people get points if their card was voted for too. Points are marked on the board with cute wooden bunnies corresponding to the player’s color, and play continues in rounds until someone gets 30 points.
As far as play style is concerned, it's a party game similar to more well-known games like Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity, which is why the visuals are so important. What really sets Dixit apart from those other games is that each card is a unique piece of artwork, designed specifically for the game by one of a few select artists. The art really attracts me personally because I am a fan of surrealism, and all of the cards are very strange and fantastical. It makes each play of the game unique and interesting because everyone sees something different when they look at the artwork. Here are a few of my favorite cards:
  1. Managing Director
  2. Managing Director
  3. Managing Director
  4. Managing Director
  5. Managing Director
  6. Managing Director
  7. Managing Director
  8. Managing Director
  9. Managing Director
  10. Managing Director
  11. Managing Director
  12. Managing Director
  13. Managing Director
  14. Managing Director
The artwork for the base deck of Dixit, as well as the Quest and Odyssey expansions, was illustrated by Marie Cardouat . She has a blog where you can view some of her other works besides Dixit, but it is in French, so I just go to look at the pictures. =) Some of the card contents are a bit weird (as is true of any of the Dixit cards), but overall her decks feel cheerful. They tend to center around dreams and alterations of reality. The colors are generally very bright and vibrant, many with simple backgrounds so the colors stand out prominently. There are so many of her cards to look at it is impossible to see them all fully during your first play through. I have played many times and still find new things to look at each time.
  1. Managing Director
  2. Managing Director
  3. Managing Director
  4. Managing Director
  5. Managing Director
  6. Managing Director
  7. Managing Director
The third expansion, called Dixit Journey, was illustrated by a new artist, Xavier Collette . This one is probably my overall favorite because it has a very fantastical feel. The colors of the cards are very rich; the dark colors are deeper, and the lighter colors fall within a narrow range making them all feel very connected. The line edges are also crisper, giving them a sense of realism within the fantasy. The card’s themes, which center on storybooks and fairytales, depict imagery from childhood fables and imaginings.
  1. Managing Director
  2. Managing Director
  3. Managing Director
  4. Managing Director
  5. Managing Director
  6. Managing Director
  7. Managing Director
Although I don’t have any pictures for the last two expansions, I will still mention them here since their artwork is no less unique than the originals. The fourth expansion, Dixit Origins, features a third artist, Clément Lefevre. I know the least about the artwork for this deck, but it seems that in general the illustrations are slightly more muted, although no less beautiful in their presentation. The imagery feels more like those of Cardouat, with very light, dream-like themes.
 
The most recent expansion, Dixit Daydreams, was illustrated by a fourth artist, Franck Dion . Although I don’t own this one, I have played with it before, and can say for certain that this is the creepiest and darkest of the decks by far. The colors he used were much more subdued, and the content of the cards tended to be more disturbing in nature, although perhaps more thought provoking at times. The illustrations for Daydreams were still amazingly creative, but I don’t feel like in general they fit in as well with the lighter, brighter themed cards from the earlier decks.

So now you know all about the artwork for the board game, Dixit, and briefly why creating great artwork for games is so important. If game artwork is something you are interested in, you might want to consider supporting some of the new games on Kickstarter that are trying to raise money for production. A lot of groups list “artwork” as one of the main reasons they need funding.
 
And finally, if you haven’t played Dixit before, find someone who owns it and check it out (even if it’s just to look at the beautiful cards). I would pick to play this game over other party games any day.