Boardgames don’t generally have a great reputation when it comes to art. Some of the most critically acclaimed and most popular hobby boardgames have been adorned in some particularly horrible clothes. That doesn’t matter, we tell ourselves, because we’re in it for the mechanisms. However, in the automated, Twitter linked, high-definition, push-notification lifestyle of a boardgame fanatic… just having great mechanisms isn’t necessarily enough to capture the attention of the crowd any more. In a world that has over 2,000 new boardgames released every year… it’s no wonder art and design are taking on increased importance, even if many boardgamers can’t necessarily name the artists who are responsible for their favourite game.
Artists don’t just paint pretty pictures for the box lid (okay, some do), but every card, board, and rulebook also need artists to help put it all together, and when they do a good job, you might not even recognize that they’re there. This list examines artists who do it all, and do it with flair.
So, let’s take a minute to appreciate some of the finest in the industry. These are some of my favourite boardgame artists. They may not be the same as yours, but that’s not because you’re wrong… it’s probably just because… you know what? Let’s just jump in.
There’s something magical about Ian O’Toole’s ability to not only draw and paint well, but to use his design skills to help convey complicated ideas in a clear and concise way. Ian’s art is always thematically appropriate to the game he’s working on. Just look up Vinhos, Lisboa., or Nemo’s War. His use of colour, space, and line help communicate concepts, all while keeping a keen eye on the theme.
Alexandre’s work first came to my attention with Carson City, and then later with Troyes and Bruxelles 1893. He’s the visionary behind the lovely, colourful Jaipur, and the dark and gritty Rattus. His style varies, but I often think of his illustrations as a modern take on byzantine or coptic art illustrations from medieval times – flattened, but full of detail. This isn’t always the case, however… he regularly takes a queue from the subject matter and deliver illustrations and paintings that are always thematically evocative. He seems to do this effortlessly; delivering images that feel like they came from the satchel of a time traveller who forget to leave something behind.
Sometimes, all I need to sell me on a boardgame is to know that Klemens Franz did the artwork. That’s crazy, of course, but that’s the power he has. With his work gracing the cover, I’ve immediately got a pretty good idea of what kind of game I’m getting into. Agricola, Le Havre, Snowdonia, Orleans, Isle Of Skye, Barenpark… all adorned with Klemens’ signature style. He has a visual technique that is playful and a little bit retro, and instantly recognizable to fans of euro games.
Heiko has a strange talent to somehow tap into the essence of an idea, pull out the shadow of that essence, and illustrate it. He’s not just a minimalist (though he is undeniably that), but his work also sometimes steps over into modern abstractions. The first time I encountered Heiko’s art was in the the gorgeous Glory To Rome Black Box, which is filled with flat, clean, monochromatic illustrations of Roman architecture. He seems to prefer working on smaller projects. Burgle Bros, The New Science, The Networks, and Peak Oil are a few of his notable projects – the last of which is also a game he co-designed.
Catacombs (3rd Edition), Capital Lux, Days Of Ire, Kodama… Kwanchai Moriya’s artwork usually comes in one of two styles – a highly stylized, almost cell-shaded cartoon strip style, or a lush, layered, detail dense, almost “rotoscoped” style. Of course, he’s got a range of shades in between, but after a little while, you start spotting Kwanchai’s distinctive work where you least expected it to be. Always delightful.
Maybe one of the hardest working artists in the boardgame industry, Vincent Dutrait is often cited as a fan favourite – with ten credits in 2017 alone. He’s worked on the latest iteration of Portal Games’ pernicious Robinson Crusoe, Grail Games’ guileful Medici, and Ludonaute’s latitudinal Lewis & Clark. His style is usually realistic but sketch-like. He typically employs dark, deliberate lines overtop watercolours with heavy colour saturation to grab your attention on important parts of his image.
Peter is the only artist on my list that I wasn’t aware of by name beforehand, but whose work I was familiar with, and knew I liked. He initially made his mark doing wargame artwork, and then became ubiquitous with the games of popular euro designer Martin Wallace. He’s the artist responsible for the look of Wallace’s Age Of Steam, Princes Of The Renaissance, God’s Playground, London, and A Few Acres Of Snow – to name a few. He’s also credited with (at least some of) the art on Tammany Hall, and on the 80’s classic Escape From Colditz.
Harald Lieske has a long and varied career. His work spans two decades, many publishers, and an array of designers. He’s worked on Castles Of Burgundy, Dominion, Power Grid, La Granja, Notre Dame, Aton, Puerto Rico… and tons of other popular games. His style is as varied as the games themselves, but I think some of Harald’s best work is what he’s done with Spielworxx. Take a look at Kohle & Kolonie, Colonialism, The Ruhr, or Arkwright for examples of his brilliance.
I added Kotori Neiko’s name to this list despite her having a fairly short catalogue of games with her signature on them. I’m overlooking the lack of quantity, because of the stunning quality of Neiko’s work – and I just can’t wait to see more. Most recently, I was blown away by her lovely illustrations in Moaideas’ Tulip Bubble, and the simply stunning Birdie Fight! from Homosapiens Lab. Last year, she did the slick storyboard style sketches for Osprey Games’ Shahrazad. Always charming, understated, subtle, and never pretentious… Kotori is someone whose artwork will continue looking out for.
Mr. Cuddington (Lina Cossette and David Forest)
Mr. Cuddington is the “stage name” for the husband and wife artistic duo of Lina Cossette and David Forest. Together, they’ve been producing some of the more dramatic, notable artwork in the boardgame industry over the past 4 years – starting back in 2013 with Super Motherload, Steampunk Rally, Santorini, the upcoming Brass: Lancashire and Brass: Birmingham, and the absolutely gorgeous looking Charterstone. They seem to be able to bend their talents to fit a variety of thematic demands, and have a keen eye for clean and clear design.
Anyone who plays wargames knows Rodger McGowan. He’s been in the business for over 40 years, and has worked for Avalon Hill, GDW, Simulations Canada, Hobby Japan, and perhaps most notably, for GMT Games.
Cole is an up and coming game designer who also does a lot of his own illustration and design work, including Pax Pamir, An Infamous Traffic, John Company, and the design for Hollandspiele’s For-Ex.
I can’t talk about board game artists without mentioning Michael Menzel, who has brought us the gorgeous work on Shogun, Andor, Rococo, Thebes, Chicago Express, and many, many more.
Mark is an excellent wargame designer, but as an artist – I know Mark mostly as a map illustrator. He’s designed hundreds of maps, and they’re some of the most gorgeous things I’ve ever laid eyes on.
Someone on Twitter mentioned Fernanda, and I actually had her on my long list before cutting her for brevity’s sake. All her work has been for Plaid Hat Games (none of which I actually own), but I adore her style… and can’t wait for her to branch out.
There are hundreds of artists who have worked on thousands of boardgames. This is just a sample of the ones that I like. Who are some of your favourites?