If you’ve spent any time reading about boardgames on Reddit, Twitter, or Boardgamegeek, you’re likely familiar with a game called Concordia, from designer Mac Gerdts. If you haven’t already played it, you’ve likely looked at pictures of the game and the box and questioned the sanity of fans. Unless you’re crazy like us, and get turned on by old maps and the colour beige, you’ve thought to yourself “Not in this lifetime!”.
Mac Gerdts has been around the block. He may be most famously known for his series of games that explore the rondel mechanic. A rondel is a wheel shaped mechanism, usually printed on the game board, with a variety of options and rules for movement. Gerdts played with this in Antike, Hamburgum, Imperial, and Navegador.
In 2013, he took a new approach with Concordia and used cards in place of the rondel, a twist he continued toying with in his 2017 follow-up game, Transatlantic. Concordia is still thematically a “trading in the Mediterranean” game at heart, but the cards and a minor twist in how they play and accomodate scoring was all Mac needed to create something fresh and exciting.
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.
When we last left this tale of gamer-parenting, I was explaining how our gaming time had evaporated for my wife and I, and how I was beginning to explore solo gaming, and how my son was beginning to take notice of our games. Our collection is located in the office upstairs, stacked on IKEA shelves that reach up to the ceiling, and filled with hundreds of boxes. There is no door to this room. My son, now 3 years old, has long since perfected the art of climbing the stairs. He can (and does) sneak quietly into this room without notice, at any time. He knows this is where the good stuff is stored.
Designed by Gregory M. Smith and published by Consim Press and distributed by GMT Games. I bought a copy of The Hunters on a whim back in 2013 during the later days of my wife’s pregnancy. I was starting to feel my gaming opportunities slip away, so solo gaming was a thing I began investigating. Nevertheless, The Hunters sat on my shelf for a couple of years before I finally tore off the shrink wrap and dove in (or under).
When opening up the box, my initial impression was that this didn’t look exactly like a wargame. There is no board or map in the box. There is a 24 page rulebook, some player boards that track the status of your U-boat (double-sided boards for different U-boat models), and about three double-sided charts that contain tables for you to roll against when performing actions and looking up results. There are also a variety of very nice counters to track torpedos, deck gun ammunition, damage, crew status, targets and escorts, etc, and a half dozen dice. It almost looks… like a roleplaying game.
I came across this fantastic article about the history of Avalon Hill, published on a small Earthlink site called the Academic Gaming Review, by Peter L. de Rosa. This was originally written in 1998 and published here in 2002 (seemingly with some updates). I reached out to Peter and got his permission to repost the article here, along with a short addendum I asked him to provide.
In the subsequent 15 years since the article, boardgaming has blown up. Ticket To Ride, Puerto Rico, Agricola, Dominion, Pandemic… all released after this was written. Comparing the boardgame industry/hobby from 2002 to 2017 is like comparing the airline industry in 1950 to today. There are now over a thousand new games coming out every year, from both major and minor publishers and through self-publishing channels. GMT has grown into the premiere wargame publisher, flanked by companies like Consim Press, MMP, Legion Wargames, Compass Games, and Osprey Games. Decision Games and Flying Buffalo, noted within the article as some of the stronger players in 2002, are also still active.
The story of Avalon Hill, which published a lot of important titles in the 70’s and 80’s, is a good one for interested gamers to know. Peter gives a thorough account of the messy details of what happened to the giant, as well as a bit of conjecture about the future.