There is an old saying: do not judge a book by its cover. Can the same be said about board games? I do most of my reading via audiobooks on my way to and from work. I get a lot of recommendations from trusted friends and mostly from my wife. I am particular about what I read, and if I get a good recommendation, I very much will consider reading that book. That same principle factors into game buying. If I get a recommendation from a trusted friend, I am far more willing to look at that game than I am to impulse buy any game. I know you should not judge any game by it’s cover art. However, visuals are one of the first things that attract our eyes. When I am visiting any game store and perusing that store's game shelves, cover art is going to be one of the biggest, if not the biggest, reason that I will pick up a game to learn more about it. When we look at games, our mind sees the image, pulls it in, and compares that image to other factors that appeal to us, theme, color, familiarity, or even an emotional reaction. Personally, great cover art tends to pull me in, while bad cover art tends to push interest away. If the art is in a form that detracts from my tastes, then there is a really good chance I will never pick up that game. So, yes you can never judge a game by it’s cover art, but cover art will determine if we give a game a second glance.
I know art is all in the eye of the beholder, and that art is all about perspective. I also am very aware that “bad art” I may be pointing out takes far more skill than I could ever produce. I have a ton of respect for artists who work hard, and practice their trade and do it well. But, going back to my first line, art is all in the eye of the beholder, and to me, some art appeals more to me than other art. Just like some games, books, shows, all appeal to me differently than they do others. So take what I write from here on with a grain of salt.
I have purchased and culled several games over the years that I bought because the theme of the game was very appealing to me, but the art was so off putting to me that it affected my desire to play the game. One such example is the 2016 game, Legendary Encounters: A Firefly Deckbuilding Game, from Upper Deck. I very much enjoy the mechanics in the other Legendary games from Upper Deck. Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game is still one of my favorite games, followed closely with Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game. I am a huge fan of the Firefly TV series. So taking the Legendary model, and adding the Firefly property to a game should be gold in my book. It was not. The art in the game grated against me tremendously. So much so that despite the model and the theme of the game I could not play it. After a short time in my collection the game was culled. Another one that I still own but do not play, is a game David spoke about in a recent episode, and that is Ascension: A Deck Building Game. This is a great game. One of my more favorite deck building games. Some of the art is amazing and some of it less so. The same thing can be said about Dominion.
All of this being said, I have been recommended many games that I would have otherwise completely overlooked when I saw them on a game store shelf because the artwork did not draw me in. I have picked up these games because they came as a recommendation from someone I know, or, from someone who knows me. Also, as we listen to our favorite reviewers we will also take into consideration games they may suggest or recommend. Those opinions hold more weight to me, then a random add or recommendation from someone I do not know.
Some of those games with plain or cover art that does not “pop out” to me have been Just One, Abandon All Artichokes, Bohnanza, Drop It, New York Zoo, Half Truth, Ice Cool, and NMBR 9. All of these are great games in my book. However, all of them I would have walked past at a game store because the covers did not stand out, or they came across as games for a different audience than me. Games like Just One, Drop It, Half Truth, and NMBR 9, are all games that do not really have a theme. They are word games, or even dexterity games, but they are games that have value to me. They are simple, and fun. Games like Ice Cool, New York Zoo, Abandon All Artichokes, and Bohnanza, all look like they might appeal more to younger audiences, but these each require skill, strategy, and logic. Yes, a younger player can enjoy these games just as much as a more experienced player, but none of the games would ever be excluded from my regular gaming night.
There have also been games that the cover totally pulled me in and then the games flopped for me. Dragonfire, Horrified, Etherfields, World of Yo-Ho, are just a few. Dragonfire has an epic cover in my opinion and it pulled me in hook, line, and sinker. I then put this game on my 10 for 10 in 2019. It was the last game to check off and the hardest game ever for me to check off. Dragonfire is the reason my 10 for 10 now contains an alternate game. An option which paid off this year, 2021, because this year I added Etherfields. I really want to like this game. The art is beautiful, the theme is there, the board is great, but for some reason, it simply fell flat. I want to play it some more to see if my first three plays were tainted somehow, but on the other hand, I am not fighting to get it to the table. Horrified appealed to a lot of people, to me it felt very campy, meaning that the game felt too simple and did not excite me to play it at all. World of Yo-Ho, I really liked the idea, but the fact that everyone's phones had to be on the board and the game lasted too long that everyone needed to be charging their phones while they were on the board, really simply distracted too much from the game, and it ended up getting culled. Oddly enough with my new phone the battery lasts much longer and I could use my phone for this game now. Not sure everyone else's phones could though.
Circling back to my original questions, does cover art draw us in, and do we judge a game by it’s cover? The answer is yes to both questions. Art work very much draws us in and attracts our eyes, and yes we often do judge a game by it’s cover. However, there is so much more to a game than it’s art. We need to know what we are looking for and we need to ask others we know and who know us for recommendations at times, and also it is always good to take into consideration even those suggestions that come from folks we don’t know. We could be missing out on the opportunity to be playing an amazing game, because we passed it by on the game store shelf.