I will start by admitting that my personal experience with game graphics is limited. My full-time job requires me to know a little about Photoshop techniques, but most of what I know comes from personal experience. Through trial and error (and many scrapped projects), I have gained a small bit of insight into the world of computer-based art.
I am also by no means an expert on all of the different game genres. Like most gaming enthusiasts, I know the difference between American and European style board games as well as the art differences between them. There are very few unbiased explanations about the differences between Euro (or “German”) and “Ameritrash” styles, but here is a brief synopsis if you find yourself unfamiliar with the genres. European style games are very mechanic-driven. They are designed to keep as many people in the game as possible, and emphasize strategy. Settlers of Catan is an often-referenced European style game that most people have at least heard of. In contrast, Ameritrash games are very theme-oriented, and often feature tactical scenarios and detailed, complex rule sets. Battlestar Galactica and Risk are two well-known examples of Ameritrash board games. Oftentimes, whether a game is classified as Euro or Ameritrash, games with themes that are solidly integrated have more replay value, and are more popular among varies gaming communities.
I have been especially fascinated with all of the different art styles that people choose, as well as how the respective styles affect the mood of the game. One of my favorite games, and one that does a fantastic job in capturing the mood in its art, is Gloom. It is a card game produced by Atlas Games, wherein you play a family of misfits who befall terrible tragedies of your own making. The Victorian-Gothic style adds the dark element that the game requires, and the caricatured elements on the card portray the underlying lightheartedness. After all, how serious can you take a game where you make up outlandish stories in order to kill your characters in the most tragic way?
Another board game with an immersive theme is Fantasy Flight’s Arkham Horror. For those of you who have never played Arkham Horror, it is a game that I will always highly recommend. Although game play can take several hours ( it can take up to an hour to get the rules down), it is a fun yet challenging experience, which is probably why it has been a popular game since the 80s. The Lovecraftian element is woven perfectly through every step of the game, and the artwork does a fantastic job of integrating the fantastical and the macabre.
As someone who would like to delve further into gaming graphics, I find it immensely helpful to study successful games, and see what about the art style gives the game replay value. Ultimately, the game mechanics make a game good; however, I truly believe that the art is what makes a game great. Capturing the essence of the game in its art is really what makes it captivating; there’s nothing more satisfying than being able to lose yourself in another world for a short period of time, and come out feeling like you’ve experienced something magical.
Have you recently played a game that does a good job of capturing the theme? Or are there games out there that could benefit from an art overhaul? Let us know what you think!