How to Make a Beautiful Board Game Box

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Box art is incredibly important in the board game industry. Not only are board game boxes beautiful, they are also iconic. People love looking at board game boxes – just check out Instagram sometime. There are whole accounts dedicated to showing off board game boxes!

People judge books by their covers. This is true for board games, too. The naive designer may lament that board gamers are only looking at the surface, not seeing the mechanics or the potential for incredible gameplay. It’s a valid complaint, but the simple fact is that board game boxes are a huge part of board gamers’ decision-making process when it comes to making purchases. Your board game box is the most important art you’ve got – make it count!


board game box - gloomhaven


(If you’re looking for regulatory or legal requirements for packaging, check this article instead: How to Create Board Game Specs and Files for Your Printer.)


The Board Game Box as a Marketing Tool

Board game boxes serve not just as beautiful objects for their own sake, but also as critical means of communication between you and your potential customers. That includes the obvious stuff you normally see on boxes – the name of the game, the designer(s) and publisher, the age range, play time, and player count. But that also includes the messages you send about your game through your art. Through symbolism, you need to communicate most or all of the following information:

  • The complexity of your game
  • The “weight” of your game
  • The amount of components your game has
  • How long it takes to play
  • The theme of your game
  • The “hooks” that make people want to buy the game

Your box communicates not just through its cover, but also its size, and the information you provide on the back. People associate light games with small boxes and heavy games with big boxes. When gamers see a thick box, they expect a lot of components. If the art is whimsical, they expect it to be light-hearted. If the art is gritty and detailed, they expect it to be complex or dark.


Board Game Boxes & Perfection

The perfect game doesn’t exist. Games are only perfect for specific gamers. You need to attract the right kind of gamers by giving them all the information they need to know whether your game is right for them. Many gamers – wittingly or unwittingly – use their intuitive sense of what a game is or isn’t based on how it looks. That means you need to imply the essence of your game with your packaging. You have to send the right signals.

This is a really complicated concept. There is a field of study called semiotics, which is dedicated to understanding how people interpret signs, symbols, and metaphors. You don’t have to be studied in what they call the Saussurean tradition to understand how this works in board gaming. All you have to do is look at similar board games that sell well.

Look at the boxes of games similar to the one you’re making. You want it to be as similar as possible in the six qualities I listed a few paragraphs ago. Use Kickstarter and Amazon to look at some board game boxes. Look at them until you get a sense of what your own game box should look like. Copy the style you see, but still express your own personality.

When in doubt, follow the “Instagram rule” when designing board game boxes. Put a clear object in focus, use lots of detail, and make sure there is a sharp contrast between the foreground and background. That way, people will stop scrolling and look at your box online. In the store, it’ll catch their eye.



Real Examples of Board Game Boxes

As you can see, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to designing board game boxes. For that reason, I’ll be looking at the board game boxes of the five games highest up on the Board Game Geek hotness list. I’ll be analyzing each one and explaining what I think it works. By sharing my methods, I hope you’ll be able to develop your own 🙂


Board Game Box 1: Gloomhaven


board game box - gloomhaven


Good grief, look at this monster of a box! It’s wide, it’s deep, and it’s tall. Just seeing this on the shelf, you know you’re getting in for a heavy experience. With a weight of 3.77, this is definitely considered a heavy game on Board Game Geek. It’s usually priced at $150 or more, but you get a lot of parts.

The box art itself communicates a massive, complex world. It’s not a happy one, though. The name and color palette suggest otherwise. There is something to look at it in practically every corner of this box. There’s somebody hiding with a dagger in the bottom left, a creature playing cards near the bottom right, and decorative ribbons in the upper right.

Then when you look at the back, it shows off the minis and explains how the game works. This is really important because showing off components has shown to be one of the best ways to get and hold the attention of gamers.


Board Game Box 2: Root


board game box - root
Photo by W Eric Martin, posted to Board Game Geek under the CC BY 2.0 license. (Source)


Root is a different kind of game than Gloomhaven, and the box art immediately makes it clear. Like Gloomhaven, it’s a fairly heavy game and it comes chock full of a lot of components. The box is fairly large, but not nearly the size of Gloomhaven. It’s a slightly shorter game.

Root has a veneer of whimsy – little woodland creatures. Underneath that, though, there’s a complex game with mechanics such as engine building and area control. The game openly displays its darkness, intrigue, and complexity by arming the woodland creatures with dangerous weapons on the box. The size of the box and the price point also help establish the true weight of the game, so no one is surprised by it being too long or complex.

I juxtapose this with Gloomhaven to make a point – you have two complex games with two different tones. There are ways you can communicate the different tones without burying the true complexity of the game in the process.


Board Game Box 3: Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig



board game box - between two castles of mad king ludwig
Photo by W Eric Martin, posted to Board Game Geek under the CC BY 2.0 license. (Source)


This game is fairly light and the price point hasn’t been released yet. It takes a bit under an hour to play and Board Game Geek gives it a 2/5 on the weight rating. The art painterly and peaceful, unlike the more conflict-driven games that we’ve shown above. You get the sense that you’re in for a more relaxing experience.


Board Game Box 4: Vampire: The Masquerade – Heritage


board game box - vampire heritage
Photo by W Eric Martin, posted to Board Game Geek under the CC BY 3.0 license. (Source)


Little is known about this game at the time that I’m writing it. The art is minimalistic, showing a symbol, the name, and decorative framing. That’s pretty much all you have to go on. Yet even from this information alone, I suspect the game is going to be set in a dark, gloomy, conflict-driven world. That’s pretty amazing when you realize there’s essentially no art to go off of. That’s the power of symbolism.

Ask yourself: if you saw this in the store, what would you expect the game to be like?


Board Game Box 5: Terraforming Mars


board game box - terraforming mars


Terraforming Mars is a new sci-fi classic. The name, the font, the picture in the center of the frame…all of these imply the sci-fi theme. If you pay close attention, you’ll notice the art doesn’t depict conflict, but you still get a vague sense of unease. I think it’s because of the prevalence of hard lines throughout the art, which give you a sense that you’re getting into a complex game. It’s subtle, but you can feel it long before you can recognize it.


Board Game Box 6: Tapestry



The second Stonemaier game on our list, Tapestry falls within the same basic category of Between Two Castles. However, Tapestry is a heavier, more complex game than Between Two Castles. It’s a strategy game in the subcategory of civilization game, which appeals to a specific audience.

The box art for Tapestry is appealing for a couple of reasons. First, it contrasts the ancient and the modern in a way that makes you look twice. Second, and most importantly, it mirrors the box art of Sid Meier’s Civilization in color, structure, and content. Basically, this box art is a clear reference to other games played by this game’s intended audience. That’s a smart move.


Board Game Box 7: Paladins of the West Kingdom



I’ve spoken at length about Paladins of the West Kingdom, but some points bear repeating here. Let’s say you’re going for a hardcore fantasy audience. I’m talking about the sort of people who read medieval fantasy novels such as Lord of the Rings and who play games that resemble the style of that famous series of novels.

So what do you do to reach out to that audience? You use the word “Paladins” in big text on the box. Emphasize suits of armor and medieval weaponry. Do all of this with contrasting, highly focused colors that look great on the shelf and in your Instagram feed, and voila.


Board Game Box 8: Parks



Parks is an entirely different sort of board game than anything else we’ve mentioned in this article. They completely commit to their theme by mimicking the style of classic US postcards. It’s a deliberate way of bringing up people’s nostalgic memories of Americana.

But there is one crucial aspect that cannot be overlooked. It does this all, but still with contrasting colors and a lot of detail. The modern attention-grabbing requirements of board game boxes are still captured in this art style, even though it originates from the Golden Age of Travel.


Board Game Box 9: Nemesis


Photo by W Eric Martin, posted to Board Game Geek under the CC BY 3.0 license. (Source)


Where Tapestry imitates Sid Meier’s Civilization, Nemesis imitates the movie Alien. The structure of this box art is deliberately close to the movie poster for Alien while borrowing the color palette from its action-packed sequel Aliens.

In short, this box art works because it deliberately and very clearly references a major franchise in pop culture.


Board Game Box 10: Wayfinders


This last box art works for reasons very similar to Parks, but I think it’s worth including for a couple of reasons. First, the color palette is diverse, gorgeous, and eye-catching. Leave it to Pandasaurus to know how to use color to their advantage!

Second, this is a subtle detail that’s hard to see on the Internet, but very, very clear in real life. See how the plane’s bottom wheel and right wing overlap with the white area of the box? You can’t see it very well in this article, but on the shelf, that will make it look like the plane’s flying right at you like some kind of early 2010s movie that arbitrarily shoehorned in 3D. That is a really cool effect for a board game box!



Is there a board game out there with great box art that tells you what you’re getting into? Let me know in the comments below!

4 Lessons from Paladins of the West Kingdom for Aspiring Board Game Designers

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Behind the Scenes

In March of 2019, Paladins of the West Kingdom by Garphill Games raised nearly a million New Zealand dollars (around $600,000 USD) on Kickstarter. Ever since then, Paladins of the West Kingdom has been on the Board Game Geek Hotness list nearly every time I’ve checked. For this reason, we are going to dig into what makes this game so successful.

But first, here’s a brief explanation of how the game works, taken from the Board Game Geek page:

The aim of Paladins of the West Kingdom is to be the player with the most victory points (VP) at game’s end. Points are gained by building outposts and fortifications, commissioning monks and confronting outsiders. Each round, players will enlist the help of a specific Paladin and gather workers to carry out tasks. As the game progresses, players will slowly increase their faith, strength and influence. Not only will these affect their final score, but they will also determine the significance of their actions. The game is concluded at the end of the seventh round.


1. Board gamers really like themes set in certain time periods.

When you’re making a fantasy board game (or novel), some time periods draw more attention than others. Think of all the fantasy books set in the Middle Ages. That time period is used as the setting for many stories at least partly because readers like and expect it. This is just as true with board games.

This may seem like a pretty superficial point to analyze regarding Paladins of the West Kingdom, but it’s really not. When board game publishers set out to either create a game from scratch, publish an existing game, or retheme an existing design, they do not do so arbitrarily. They look at many possibilities and make a determination based on market demands. Then they create a game that meets those demands, in short, assuring product-market fit.

If you’re a board game designer looking to make a financially successful game, one good place to start is by researching the market. Pay attention to what board gamers like. Look for repeating patterns of consumption. From there, you can make a game that fits within a defined, tested niche of the market while still applying your own personal touches to it.


2. Custom wooden pieces add component variability to the game without inflating cost.

This is a simple lesson, but an important one. A quick look at the Paladins of the West Kingdom rulebook reveals that there are nearly FOUR HUNDRED wooden parts included in every game.



Having so many wooden components gives players the sense that they are getting a great deal. And, indeed, wooden components add a lot to the tactile experience of the game.

However, in my experience with the creation of Tasty Humans, I’ve found that individual wooden pieces are often very cheap. Sometimes as little as $0.03 each even for custom wooden components. That means you can add a lot of them to a board game without driving the cost up too much!


3. Establishing intellectual property takes a long time, but makes selling new games easier in the long run.

Anyone who’s been watching board games for a while has likely noticed the rise of “intellectual property.” That is to say, games that fall within a larger series. The principle is the same as Marvel movies – create individual movies that cohere together into a massive whole.

From a quality perspective, there are pros and cons to focusing on series of games instead of individual games. Some people find the steady delivery of new games with a similar theme to be comforting. Others find it to be stultifyingly repetitive.

From a business perspective, though, it makes perfect sense to create series of games instead of individual games. You can reuse the same brand, the same mailing list, the same audience, and many of the same art assets when creating new games within a series. You can’t do that when your business model depends upon the steady creation of brand new one-offs.

So how does this tie into Paladins of the West Kingdom? It’s simple. Paladins of the West Kingdom is part of a series of games that includes Architects of the West Kingdom and stylistically similar games Raiders of the North SeaExplorers of the North Sea, and Shipwrights of the North Sea.

This is a rising trend in the board gaming world. Other examples include Scythe: Rise of Fenris and Founders of Gloomhaven. What’s more, board games draw heavily from fantasy and science fiction, which have been series-based since Lord of the Rings and Dune respectively.


4. Some gamers love making lots of decisions, but your theme has to set expectations to attract the right audience.

Many game designers see theme as having two primary objectives.

  1. Draw players in.
  2. Keep players engaged with the experience.

These two objectives are very important, and indeed, make board games worth playing. There is an underrated objective with game theming that many people often miss. That is: setting expectations.

For all the talk of accessibility in board games, sometimes you want to make an experience that isn’t for everyone. Gamers have described Paladins of the West Kingdom as being a game full of decision-making. For some people, this is amazing. Many of the best board games of all time are full of complex decision-making. But for some people, it’s a special circle of hell.

So what is a game creator to do? You use a theme that only attracts the type of gamers you want to attract. By using terms like “paladin” and showing medieval armor on the box, Paladins of the West Kingdom – and I say this with love – brands itself as a nerd game. That’s good – because with a weight of 3.63/5.0 on Board Game Geek, this is not a game for casual players.


Final Thoughts

Paladins of the West Kingdom is a good game for teaching board game creators how the board game market works. By looking closely at its financial success, we see the importance of theme both for attracting some gamers and repelling others. We also see the value of going all-in on wooden components and multi-game world-building.

And it does this all by being a enjoyable game on its own merits 🙂


The 10 Best Board Games of All Time and What We Can Learn from Them

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There are over 100,000 board games in existence. The vast majority have been forgotten and buried in the sands of time. A handful have stood out head and shoulders among the rest, working their way up to the top 10 games on Board Game Geek. This is a truly staggering achievement because pleasing Board Game Geek users is no easy task!

Today, we’ll focus on the best of the best board games and reflect on why they’re so great. Or, at the very least, why the dedicated gamers of Board Game Geek consider them to be the best board games. By studying the greats, we – as designers and publishers – can create better board games for future generations.


Honorable Mention #1: Terra Mystica


best board game - terra mystica
Photo by kilroy_locke on Board Game Geek under the CC-BY 3.0 license. (Source)


The hardcore gamers who rate games on Board Game Geek are, in their heart of hearts, intellectuals looking for a challenge. Games allow us to transport to distant times and places, forgetting our day-to-day problems by letting us focus on innumerable in-game decisions.

Terra Mystica does this beautifully. It’s one of the heaviest, brainiest, most complex games to achieve notoriety. It’s a perfect information euro with a lot of rules and a lot of ways to play. It does this with a theme of perennial interest to gamers – building civilizations. In these ways, Terra Mystica was early to rise in the current board game boom – bringing heavy games back into vogue.


Honorable Mention #2: Great Western Trail


best board game - great western trail
Photo by W Eric Martin on Board Game Geek under the CC-BY 3.0 license. (Source)


Great Western Trail isn’t a trailblazer if you read the reviews. It didn’t invent new ideas. It didn’t bring anything completely novel to the table. Yet it succeeds by the merit of being generally well put together. That’s no backhanded compliment – “second but better” is genuinely important in this world. It gave us Google and iPhones.

By generally well put together I mean it feels satisfying, doesn’t introduce new elements but marries them exceptionally well. You can see this reflected in the 9 and 10 scores of Board Game Geek, where people repeat some variation of “I really can’t explain it” and rattle off mechanics while trying to explain it. That’s the way empirical, logical, or intellectual people speak when they’re in love. That tells you all you need to know.


10. Scythe


best board game - scythe
Photo by Hilaryg on Board Game Geek under the CC-BY-SA 3.0 license. (Source)


In its own right, Scythe is a fantastic engine-builder with an engaging theme. It really nailed the 1920s alt-future aesthetic while giving gamers a complex game to analyze and replay.

Yet Scythe cannot be decoupled from Jamey Stegmaier, the generous spirit behind the Kickstarter lessons blogScythe is not the first home-grown game to succeed, nor is it the first home-grown game to make millions. The visibility of the project just made it feel like it was, and that’s important. The biggest thing we can learn from Scythe comes from the fact that it is proof that small publishers can make it.


9. Brass: Birmingham


Photo by d0gb0t on Board Game Geek under the CC-BY 3.0 license. (Source)


Brass: Birmingham is a recent strategy to the well-loved original game Brass, which came out in 2007. It’s an economic strategy game where you can take two of the following six actions every turn:

  1. Build – Pay required resources and place an industry tile.
  2. Network – Add a rail / canal link, expanding your network.
  3. Develop – Increase the VP value of an industry.
  4. Sell – Sell your cotton, manufactured goods and pottery.
  5. Loan – Take a £30 loan and reduce your income.
  6. Scout – Discard three cards and take a wild location and wild industry card. (This action replaces Double Action Build in original Brass.)

Economic strategy games are a mainstay of the board gaming world, and Brass: Birmingham has been considered by many reviewers to be an instant classic. In short, it’s the best possible implementation of a crunchy, complex, problem-solving game in a beloved genre.


8. Gaia Project


best board game - gaia project
Photo by W Eric Martin on Board Game Geek under the CC-BY 3.0 license. (Source)


As if Terra Mystica weren’t a fantastic achievement in board gaming in its own right, Gaia Project is a souped up version IN SPACE. It doubles down on everything that made Terra Mystica brilliant – the complex decision making and the epic theme of expanding civilization. Then it marries the game to a theme board gamers have demonstrated time and time again that they love – science fiction.

Gaia Project is a picture-perfect study on how to “fix something that ain’t broken.” The game’s existence is proof that the creators were listening to feedback on a deep level, addressing gamers’ basic needs while taking the game in a surprising cosmic direction.


7. Twilight Imperium (Fourth Edition)



I’ve spoken about Twilight Imperium at length in a different article, but it’s such a good game that it bears mention again here. This is a long, complex, expensive board game. There are a ton of different components and it can take up to eight hours to play.

What is the appeal of a game that monstrous in scale? Simply put, Twilight Imperium is a game that you can completely immerse yourself in. That’s the appeal – everything else disappears around you as you play it because the fantasy world is so well fleshed-out.


6. Star Wars Rebellion


best board game - star wars rebellion


Star Wars Rebellion is the only high-dollar intellectual property that you will see on this list. Board gamers are rightfully skeptical of the quality of games that come from movie studios and video game companies. Yet Star Wars Rebellion shows that big money can produce fantastic games that are really high-quality from a gameplay standpoint.

It also marks a turning point in board game storytelling. People on Board Game Geek who give this game a 9 or 10 keep saying “Star Wars in a box.” Star Wars is an incredibly enduring franchise based around story-telling beats that go back to ancient mythology. Board gaming, as abstract and mathematical as it can seem on the outside, is dependent upon story, too, whether we build it into the game or not. This game’s success proves that people want stories in their games.


5. Twilight Struggle


best board game - twilight struggle
Photo by killy9999 on Board Game Geek under the CC-BY-SA 3.0 license. (Source)


Speaking of stories, you can’t get much more interesting than the utterly insane forty-odd year stretch of time where the USA and USSR had nukes pointed at each other. The concept is so absurd that Stanley Kubrick made a comedy movie out of it. Twilight Struggle masterfully captures the tension of that era in the best wargame ever designed.

It has incredibly clever area control and hand management mechanics. It has depths that have led to 400 page strategy guides on the internet. It’s complex, engaging, and never seems to play the same way twice. Yet it always goes back to tension. Twilight Struggle is a masterpiece of capturing tension in games.


4. Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization


best board game - through the ages
Photo by JanaZemankova on Board Game Geek under the CC-BY-SA 3.0 license. (Source)


Through the Ages was a smash hit when it came out in 2006 and was an even bigger smash hit when it was reissued in 2015. Like Terra Mystica and Gaia Project, it is truly epic in size and scope. It is a long, multi-hour game that spans thousands of years.

The mechanics are great, the decisions complex, and the gameplay overall is a blast. That’s not why it’s so enduring, though, at least not in my opinion. It’s a matter of size and scope. There is something deeply awe-inspiring about taking a civilization from antiquity to modernity. All the beauties of developing culture and all the ugliness of waging wars is captured within this game. It’s really kind of jaw-dropping, even more so because of the fundamental – if exaggerated – truth of its basis. This is not some sci-fi fantasy world. This is the world in which you and I live, work, and play.


3. Terraforming Mars


best board game - terraforming mars


Terraforming Mars was a smash hit when it came out and the hype has never died down since. For good reason, too. It is a truly fantastic game and we have a lot to learn from it.

I went back and forth in my own head thinking of how best to describe what we can learn from this game, but I think my friend Dr. Michael Heron at Meeple Like Us says it best in his own review:


I love this game – it’s fun, full of fascinating mechanisms and satisfying decisions.     It’s collegiate in its competition while also being cut-throat in its communality.    It rewards creative play more than any game I’ve seen in a long time.


2. Pandemic Legacy: Season 1


best board game - pandemic legacy season 1


Pandemic Legacy is already built upon the incredibly durable and interesting mechanics of Pandemic, the international sensation of a game that inspired so many spin-offs. That alone would make it a solid game in its own right, but Pandemic Legacy takes in one step further. It was one of the first major legacy games, promising players an engaging story that unfolds over time. This paved the path for future legacy games, which is yet another reason to enjoy it.


1. Gloomhaven


best board game - gloomhaven


Gloomhaven is so massive that it’s hard to begin to describe why it’s good. It’s heavily story-driven, huge in size and scope like Through the Ages, and it has great components. The theme, backed up by lots of story, is incredibly in tune with gamers’ desires for rich, lived-in fantasy worlds. This game captures what gamers love about literally every other game above it in this article. Gloomhaven truly is the apotheosis of gamer desire.