I’ve always been attracted to the visual nature of board games. They have the ability to be truly stunning works for art. To be beautiful, comforting, sleek, familiar, confounding, ingenious, colorful, and hopefully also functional. I’ve written about this more obliquely in the past, but today I want to talk specifically about the board games hanging on my wall. I’ve always wanted to turn games into artwork to display on the walls of my home so that I can see it every day and share it with house guests. Over the years, I have finally made a point of hanging more and more game art on my walls, and I thought it would be nice to share it with you. I’d also love to hear what others have done along these lines so that we can all be inspired by each others’ artistic gaming endeavors.
The story has to start, as all good stories do, with Crokinole. Way back in 2007, I wrote Hilinski Brothers Tribute to talk about the incomparable beauty of the Crokinole boards made by Carl and Stan Hilinski. To this day, I treasure my board – Cimarron… American cherry stain on birch, with a black cherry stained ditch, and a reflective chrome center. And then in 2011, I asked all of my Opinionated Gamers colleagues to send me photographs of their game storage shelves. I wrote about those in OG: Cribs, celebrating the beauty and diversity of everyone’s board game shelves, along with the insight that they offer into the minds of each gamer. I still talk about Nate Beeler’s color-coded scheme, Larry Levy’s lack of a digital camera, and Ted Alspach’s sweet setup! In the intervening seven years, I have upped my game with a few on-point decorative elements that I’ve been dreaming of doing for a long time now.
Carcassonne: Where It All Began
Carcassonne was my true gateway into German-style board games. I had learned Settlers of Catan a few years earlier, but Carcassonne is what really sent me down the rabbit hole. I don’t write a lot of reviews, but I did write one for Carcassonne back in 2006 (Carcassonne as heavy as Tigris and Caylus?!) because I did not think (and still do not think) that enough people appreciate all that the game has to offer. I also think that a completed Carcassonne game is so utterly satisfying because of the beautiful and unique board that you and your opponent have created together (not unlike Vlaada’s admonition at the end of the Through the Ages rules). A few years back I bought a second copy of the base game and put this beauty together to hang proudly on my wall:
I find it to be a wonderful conversation starter with guests and a pleasure to look at day after day. I’m really happy with the dark blue matte that makes me think of an island and with the contrasting lighter wooden frame. It took me a few tries to come up with a tile arrangement that I liked and that had no roads leading off the edge plus all of the cloisters right-side up, but this one works well for me (even though I had to ditch a few of the base game tiles to create a square map). This decoration has even worked for getting my three-year-old son interested in the game! One day, he looked up, pointed at the framed Carcassonne, and asked where on that map we lived (presumably because of the placemat seen behind him in this photo). I explained that it was not actually a map, but rather a game instead. Much to my pleasure, he then insisted that we play the game before his nap… and I had to oblige. We played without any meeples, and just took turns drawing tiles (from my lovely and treasured Diane Close bag) and matching them up, which he enjoyed thoroughly and excelled at! Mission accomplished.
My Netrunner Obsession
I played a lot of different CCGs in the 1990s, but for whatever reason did not try the original Netrunner. That is, until my friend Christian Leonhard taught it to me in 2010. This was two years before FFG re-released the game, so I was learning the original Netrunner, and then promptly ordered a sealed box on eBay to continue playing. I’ve always loved asymmetric games, going all the way back to my childhood with Diplomacy (Nota Bene: Allan B. Calhamer is a genius). But there was something about Netrunner that really captivated my interest and imagination. I simply love thinking of new deck ideas and then trying them out. It feels like there are almost unlimited possibilities and a never-ending stream of match-ups to try. I dove right into Android: Netrunner when it was released in 2012, and I wrote about my obsession for Opinionated Gamers in 2013 and again in 2015. After having played so many different board games for the previous decade, Netrunner really broke me of that habit and sucked me into focusing most of my gaming time and energy on a single game (much to the chagrin of several of my hopefully-not-former gaming partners).
One of the things that I love about Netrunner is the art and the variability of the different runner and corporation factions. The game is nice enough to provide extra copies of every identity card (until of course Reign & Reverie, barring Jinteki Biotech), which I thought it made perfect sense to hang on my wall. I used a light and dark purple double matte because the runner side has red-backed cards and the corporation side has blue-backed cards, so I wanted to blend those opposing colors/sides. I went with a modern silver frame (as opposed to a more traditional wooden frame) to accent the modernity and chrome of Netrunner’s world. I organized the identities in a diagonal, descending alphabetical scheme so that factions only ever touched at the corners (and so that my OCD would be sated). I frequently love to look at all of the different runners and corporations, each one promising a completely different game experience and a world of possibilities…
The Game I Wanted To Stop Playing
A good way to stop playing Blokus is to super glue all of the pieces to the board. So that is exactly what I did! I love the aesthetic of Blokus, but I do not particularly enjoy the gameplay. This was the simplest art project because I did not frame the board, but rather just added a wire to the back for wall hanging purposes. From the first time that I played it way back in 2005, I always thought that the game’s stark visual appeal truly made it seem like it belonged in a modern art museum, alongside Mondrian and Rothko. So it was a natural addition to my budding self-made game art collection.
I spent a good bit of time on the design, soliciting input from friends and trying to decide between using more or fewer of the pieces. After starting with the intent of using all or most of the pieces, I ended up favoring the fewer side of the spectrum — all the better to showcase the silver base and ensure that the end result did not feel cluttered. I liked starting each color with a different piece, and I really liked using less red than the other colors in order to use it as more of a loud slash across the “canvas.”
Dixit: Last… For Now
The most recent piece that I’ve hung on my wall is Dixit. I chose my 12 favorite cards that I thought worked well together and matted them with a narrow cream matte and dark wooden frame (to avoid distracting from the cards themselves). I started out with the intent of choosing just 9 cards, but I could not make any further cuts (after having an initial pool of over 30 that I wanted to use). I organized the cards in an alternating cool and hot color scheme for contrast.
Dixit is a game that I have enjoyed and admired since it was released ten years ago. I particularly love teaching the rules and watching as understanding gradually dawns on each person’s face as they begin to appreciate how clever the rules and scoring system are. Dixit (and its spiritual successor Tajemnicze Domostwo) are such intuitive game systems that they feel obvious, in a good way, and as if they should have always existed. I love that about both games, and I love seeing the creative — and sometimes disastrously ineffective — clues that my fellow players come up with. The art on Dixit cards is something that just about everyone I know admires. It is fascinating, captivating, perplexing, and sometimes even disturbing. This is a game whose components were born to be matted and framed!
I don’t know what comes next, but I can say with some certainty that I’m not done. I’ve been thinking for a while about buying a second copy of San Marco and simply framing the board. San Marco is one of my favorite games (for three players), and its beauty has captured my attention going all the way back to Aldie’s iconic 2001 photo. I love the color palette, the scattered letters, and the cat staring at the fish most of all. Then again, I’m also thinking about the Scythe expansion box tops (a new game that I’m thoroughly enjoying these days), specifically using the covers from The Wind Gambit and Invaders From Afar together. There are so many beautiful possibilities and so little wall space that it’s hard to choose. What gaming inspired art do you have hanging on your walls and what projects are you thinking about undertaking next?