Are board games art? Many aspects of the board game product are obviously art. A game has to be visually appealing. The components, even if mass-produced, must meet certain aesthetic requirements. Linguistic and design skills are also required for a good rulebook, which should perhaps also be thematic. But what about the game itself? 

First things first: Board games can be described as art with a clear conscience. This even works if you subtract the visual and haptic. Matching the mechanics and designing the gameplay is an art, even if it may not seem obvious at first glance. There is a lot of manual work involved here. Corners must be smoothed and excess trimmed off. Important supports may also have to be attached later.

In the conversation we had with Shadi Torbey about the new publisher in Patience we also got to talking about the similarities between music and board games. When two passionate musicians and board players exchange ideas, some thoughts and experiences accumulate.

10.000 hours of practice

In order to reach a master level of an art, a practice effort of 10.000 hours is considered the limit. Malcolm Gladwell's thesis, despite its inaccuracies and strong generalizations across different art forms, remains popular. She is often quoted in the music field. Here, too, it is easy to narrow down what “practice” is: time with the instrument. To some extent one has to factor in active listening to music, but to develop true virtuoso skills one must hold the instrument in one's hands.

What about board game design? You can take a look here as an example of how long it takes to develop a medium-complex expert title. In an interview with Pegasus Games, Virginio Gigli and Gabrielle Ausiello report that it took just over two years from the initial idea for First Rat to presenting the prototype to Pegasus. It took a little more than two years before the game was released in spring. 

Are those the hours that count? Yes and no. I think you have to differentiate here between creative art (developing board games, writing operas, albums or symphonies) and reproducing art (replaying existing works, some of which have high technical requirements). A comparable activity for imitating and internalizing movement sequences, as there is when practicing classical music, does not seem to exist in game design.

Just playing board games shouldn't count as "exercise" in game design preparation at this point. This is more like the equivalent of listening to music in everyday life. Of course, this is not completely useless either, since you learn what feels good. Stephen King also recommends both to be a good writer: read a lot and write a lot. If you don't play board games, you won't be able to develop them either.

Put the idea on paper

board games art

Colors and shapes – board game design is also about that. Photo: Volkman

Coming up with ideas is relatively easy. The hard part is giving those little sparks enough "breeding ground" to grow into something big. This is where exercise comes into play. Shadi shared that at the beginning of his musical career there were days, like everyone's, when you just can't reach your highest level. Overcoming these “problems” takes practice. It is important to adapt your technique so that you can reach your goal despite problems. You have to learn to learn.

This is where board game design and music are very similar. I would even call it the most important similarity. 

If you want to publish the perfect game, you will never publish it. It does not apply to constantly increasing the 100 percent, as it will not be possible to achieve this peak performance continuously. It's much more important to get to 80 percent to 90 percent as reliably as possible.
If you encounter problems, don't get discouraged. Over time, one finds ways to solve these problems and can thus develop working strategies for similar problems. If you recognize during the test phase that a resource is "more expensive", you have to take this into account in the cost of cards, for example. Once you've cleared a hurdle like this, you can apply what you've learned in solving the problem to other things that also need to be adjusted.  

Mistakes are part of it

You won't be able to launch the next Gloomhaven or Spirit Island with your first idea within two weeks. Usually the first idea never sees the light of day in its original form, but remains in a drawer with other instructive ideas. Even if you have an idea that has made it to publication, it has often gone through at least a double-digit number of versions. 

Mistakes are part of it - whether in music or in game design. How else should one be able to recognize where the current capabilities are not (yet) sufficient. You can only learn things by doing them. In the beginning, they are usually done incorrectly or at least in need of improvement. There are also things that are good and work for self-playing at home (in both art forms). If you then put them on stage, there are reactions that can be positive or negative. You can learn something from both.
On the negative side, it is also important to note that…

...you can never make everyone happy

Art is subjective. One should not hold back one's art for fear of negative reactions, which there will probably always be. You can't predict what will be recorded and how. Maybe something you're only partially convinced of is a hit. The work only becomes really relevant when it is accessible to the public.

Taste changes and new technologies offer new possibilities. App-supported storytelling games like Forgotten Waters could not have existed 20 years ago simply because of the lack of technical possibilities. Nowadays the game is one of the most popular titles on BGG.

Things that contain something new cannot be predicted with existing knowledge. A good example seems to be the Pegasus GAME novelty Spaceship Unity. There has never been a board game in this form in the whole apartment with vacuum cleaners and extractor hoods. But the anticipation in the community is great. The game was temporarily in the top 50 "Hotness" on BGG.

“Art is never finished, only abandoned”

This slightly modified quote from the French poet Paul Valéry sums up a lot. Perfectionism is the artist's greatest enemy. At least to a certain extent. Of course, this isn't a free pass for half-baked works either. What is the best you can do today will be a little less perfect a day or a week later due to new things you have learned. At some point you have to make a decision to publish something. From then on, the work “takes its own path”. 

Compared to music, board game design as an art isn't nearly as schooled or "professional". Many designers also have another job that they do. Nonetheless, as an art, board games are on par with other art forms. The way to a first success is just much longer here. If you learn the simplest pieces like “Hänschen Klein” on an instrument, you quickly have the feeling of having landed a small interim success from which you can continue working.

You know all the “good” games that are released. Your own prototypes are not so round at first and need time and work to become round as well. A game can be compared here with a “big” musical work, which cannot be completed after the first lesson, but just needs time.

If you take the time, are not discouraged by mistakes or failures and are open to learning, you will be able to create things that are successful in all areas of art. 

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