Sometimes Witty Trumps Pretty

Last week, in his regular BoardGameGeek News article, Eric Martin disclosed that Amigo would be releasing a new version of their durable megahit Bohnanza, where the beans would be replaced with different kinds of flowers.  The game will be called Bohnanza: Dahlias and the art will be created by the very talented Beth Sobel.  This is a smart move by Amigo to expand the player base for this classic game, particularly since there is already interest from garden stores in stocking the new version.  Greater exposure is good for the publisher and good for the hobby in general.

In the comments section following this announcement, a few gamers expressed enthusiasm for the new version, since it would mean eliminating the “ugly” art of the original.  I acknowledge that pretty flowers will undoubtedly look nicer than cartoony pictures of beans.  Nevertheless, I was dumbfounded to read these comments.

Is there anyone who questions that Björn Pertoft’s imaginative and very funny bean artwork has played an enormous role in the acceptance and appeal of Bohnanza?  I mean, these are iconic images, which represent the hobby almost as much as the celebrated meeple, and they’ve been doing so for over a quarter of a century!  Even people who don’t understand some of the German language puns behind the pictures love these images.  They also do a great job of making an essentially abstract trading game more immersive and thematic.  After all, you rarely hear people say, “I’ll trade you a 16 for a 14”.  No, it’s always, “I’ll trade you a Stinky Bean for a Sick Bean”, which is a definite improvement.  Even after all these years, I still smile at the artwork when playing Bohnanza and I view the different bean characters as old friends.

Look, I have no problem if someone prefers pretty flowers to cartoony beans; a person’s personal tastes are never wrong.  But to call such distinctive and historically important art “ugly” seems to be going too far to me.  I find it similar to the objections many players have with the artwork in Knizia’s Modern Art.  Is the art depicted in that game less than attractive?  Yes, and that’s the whole point.  Using pretty art would have run contrary to the theme.  Similarly, in a rambunctious trading game like Bohnanza, cartoony art seems to fit the style of play more than attractive images.  It’s not essential, but that’s the concept that Pertoft chose to go with back in 1997 and, given how beloved those figures are, you’d have to say his instincts were spot on.

My point is, not every game needs to be drop-dead gorgeous.  Sometimes a less realistic or attractive style works better, particularly when the artwork is humorous.  Again, I have no issues if someone prefers a beautiful game, but dismissing a classic that has maintained its massive popularity for a quarter of a century as “ugly” seems unfair and out of touch.  Sometimes, witty does trump pretty.

Anyway, that’s my minor rant for the day.  I hope Bohnanza: Dahlias sells oodles of copies and exposes lots of new gamers to this great game.  But as beautiful as I’m sure this new version will be, I’ll stick to trading the beans.

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5 Responses to Sometimes Witty Trumps Pretty

  1. Andy Mesa says:

    I would not be so eager to defend the art of someone who made overtly racist caricature stereotypes in the multitude of expansions to this game.

    • Greg C. says:

      Did someone get their tamales in a bunch? It must be hard to see everything as not “Politically Correct.”

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  3. Phil Bauer says:

    I agree with you Larry, but then again, I seem to be in an ever-shrinking minority of people who don’t require beautiful art to make a game good. Coversely, great art doesn’t make a crappy design any better. Other than bad graphic design, I can’t get too worked up over sub-standard/cartoony/cut-and-paste artwork in an otherwise good game..

  4. Larry Levy says:

    Absolutely, Phil, particularly since one’s appreciation of different art is, by definition, a matter of taste. For example, people froth at the mouth about how “ugly” the art is for Terraforming Mars, but I think the game looks fine. I guess it just doesn’t fit the current standard of what “beauty” is, but I’d be a lot happier if folks could expand their definition of what is appealing in a game. One case in point is Food Chain Magnate. I think the diner-style images they used, culled from the 50’s, are brilliant and fit the game and its theme perfectly; to my mind, they were a perfect choice. However, because they’re not necessarily “pretty”, they are sometimes criticized. Obviously, there is no design choice that will please everyone, but I just hope that we’re not getting to the point where every game has to have the same look or the same definition of what makes it attractive.

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