While catching up on several Dice Tower podcast episodes, I was fairly surprised when I heard the host, Tom Vasel, state that he did not think that board games were an art form. I was so surprised that I had to go back and hear his comment again just to make sure I didn't misunderstand what he was trying to say. His thoughts on this can be heard in episode 197 around the 33 minute mark.
Professionally I am a social worker, and completely understand & respect different points of view. However I am very willing to take a stand when I hear something I totally don' t agree with. I am probably more sensitive to this issue than most others given my mother was an artist for Hallmark Cards and my father was an interior designer. In addition, given our country's economical struggles, the arts are often the first programs to be cut. Just recently the Kansas Governor eliminated an arts council to trim the state budget short fall. I could go on & on about the benefits of the arts as compared to the danger of eliminating them but I won't (although it's tempting.)
As an avid gamer and voracious reader, the graphics bring to life that game or book for me. I could not tell you how many times while reading the Dragon Lance series, I stared the various covers, trying to imagine what you would be like to meet Tanis the half elf. During the fall in 2009 I was a guest lecturer at an honors art class at Desoto High school. The students shared with me that they often dream of seeing a piece of theirs hanging in a gallery or museum. I asked them how they would feeling seeing their work on the cover of a book, in a game board, on a playing card, or in the pages of a comic? Having visited with Franz Vohwinkel several times at past Gencons, each assignment he gets whether it's a MTG card or game board, he is challenged to give life to that designers game.
Is there any doubt that a beautiful board bridges the gap between a game mechanic and the game's theme. Two boards from 2010 that I think were nicely done were Chaos in the Old World,Fresco & Tobago in 2009.
Aside from the physical game itself, the game design can also be an artistic expression. Many fans of the arts can identify a particular artist given their use of colors or brush strokes, (Barry Windsor-Smith comes to my mind - Conan, Archer & Armstrong,) just as many gamers can identify a Reiner Knizia game given his use of game mechanics. Sid Sackson writes in his book "Beyond Tic Tac Toe" (1975,) "games mean many thing to many people; to me they are an art form of great potential beauty. Just as a composer's creation is brought to life by the performing musicians, a game inventor's creation is brought to life by the players of the game. When the creation is inspired and the players are talented, a true work of art results."
Have you seen the newest came by Flying Frog Productions, Conquest of Planet Earth: The Space Alien Game? While pre-ordering it at Gencon I could immediately see their attempt to capture the campy feel of the "War of the Worlds." I can almost hear Orson Welles narrating game play. The art and layout are wonderful. I tip my cap to the Flying Frog team. While it's still early in 2011, it is leading the way for most artistic game. While beauty is in the eye of the beholder (an English 18th century proverb) "art attracts us only by what it reveals of our most secret self." Jean-Luc Godard