Variant: The Art of Board Games


Image via BGG User W Eric Martin

No, this isn’t a discussion of board games as art. Instead, this is about the kinds of art that you find in board games. Artwork isn’t necessarily a make-or-break element of the board game experience. But it can certainly add or detract.

In general, board game art comes in two forms. One option is to utilize completely inoffensive pictures that are meant to appeal to as broad a spectrum of gamers as possible (board games are products for sale, after all). The other type often occurs with more violent themes where you can see blood and axes and the occasional bit of gore. This is meant to communicate a more aggressive game, and one which embraces violence.

But what you don’t see a lot of is nudity. That’s probably a combination of most games using inoffensive pictures and the simple fact that, in the U.S. at least, nudity is considered offensive by a fairly large swath of the population. Which is why I was surprised when I received Conan.

Not only is there nudity, but it’s right there on the very front of the Hero Book – in full color, glossy glory. And, while others have written about how the art overall has a tendency to portray women in a disempowered way, I thought this particular picture was problematic. It means I have to control the rulebook when playing with kids. It means that it is difficult to take the rulebook and read it in public without feeling like a bit of a creeper. And I wish they’d gone a different direction.

That said, I don’t personally find the image so offensive or upsetting that I can’t read the rules or enjoy the game. The game is pretty darn fun. But it’s a design choice that, while reminiscent of Frazetta pictures, probably crosses the line for what’s appropriate for a board game. The interesting question is, with Conan’s popularity, will we see other games that begin to include more bare skin in their artwork?

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