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April 2017


Box Design: What’s in the box vs. What’s *in* the box

By | Art | No Comments

The humble box is one of the most crucial graphical elements to any board game. In many cases, the box is the first experience a potential player will have with the game, and that experience can have a strong influence on whether that game gets opened up and played or remains on the shelf. The box has no small job in the board game world. Here are but a few of the questions the box needs to answer for a potential buyer or player:

  • What is the name of this game?
    This is probably the most obvious one. However, the treatment of the game’s title is also an opportunity to answer other questions as well.
  • What is the theme of this game?
    This is also fairly obvious. If your game is themed around techno-goblins trying to escape a burning builing or street performers trying to pickpocket passers by, you probably want to communicate that. However, less important than the type of characters in your game is the story they’re trying to convey. Your theme should help to communicate what it’s like to play the game. Speaking of which…
  • What is it like to play this game?
    This is one of the most crucial elements of your box design. If your potential player thinks they’re in for a lighthearted chaotic romp through board game land and you serve them with a high strategy euro-style game, they will be less-than-pleased. Even if your game is objectively great, people get grumpy when reality doesn’t match their expectations.
  • Why should I buy this game?
    A game is much better off in a gamer’s collection than on a game shop’s shelf, but to get it there you’ll need to convince someone to buy it first. There’s a lot of competition in that game shop, and your box needs to confidently convey what differentiates this game enough to warrant someone spending their hard-earned money on it.
  • What am I in for when I open the box?
    Am I going to be sitting down with this game for 3 hours or 20 minutes? Will there be a million miniatures, tokens, and tiles I need to deal with or is it going to be a straight-shooting card game? This is related to but distinct from the “feel,” as it is more reliant on the physical interactions with the game rather than the emotional or cognitive ones.

We’re currently working on designing the box for Diabolical!, so we wanted to make sure we do our due diligence and research what’s out there today. Below you’ll find some of our favorite box designs and why we think they’re so successful.



Holy moly that box is beautiful. Their use of saturation to create depth was very intelligent, with the close buildings being super vibrant and the further ones less-so. The way the title is broken up by the buildings also creates visual interest.

At a glance, the quality and attention paid to the illustration on the outside of the box tells the player quite a lot about the quality of the game inside the box. Right off the bat, it’s pretty clear that these large and wondrous buildings will play some central role in the game that’s about to take place.

A closer look at the people, however, shows that it doesn’t end there. Each of these characters is very unique and there is definitely some kind of story going on here. Take a look under the bridge. What are those two nefarious characters up to? Is some noble paying off an assassin to off the king perhaps? What about the person subtly listening in to their conversation? Is he loyal to the king and going to warn him that there’s a plot afoot?

This box does a fabulous job communicating that there will likely be some backstabbing player interaction as a theme within the game. The bright colors help to convey that this game isn’t too heavy. The one mark against this game is that the size of the box overstates what’s on the inside. This box is not small: 10 inches on each side and 2 inches deep. However, the game in reality is just a few tokens and some cards, which could’ve been achieved in a much smaller space.

That said, the illustration is so gorgeous I don’t even care.



Of all the game boxes I’ve seen, this is among the best uses of color. The vibrant colors of the sugar skull contrast beautifully with the dark purple background. The simple vector shapes and the small size of the box (about 5 inches square by 2 inches deep, or about a quarter the size of the Citadels box), help to convey that this is a quick, simple game. The hypnotic, wide open eyes of the skull help convey the bluffing element of this game.

One of the things I really like about this box is that it differentiates itself effectively on a store shelf compared to what’s around it. Big boxes with super detailed (and generally somewhat serious) illustrations currently dominate the broader hobby gaming market, and this little box is definitely zigging while most others are zagging.

It’s a great example of doing something simple and doing it extremely well.

Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Duel at Mt. Skullzfyre


If there’s anything this box communicates it’s “pandemonium.” There’s tons of movement: the swirling lines of energy from the different wizards, the flying chicken, the fire breathing dragon, the green slime from the alien, and the lava-vomiting volcano are all in motion. Even the skeleton’s eyes are popping out of its head.

The fact that they’re all locked in some kind of conflict also helps communicate what it’s like playing this game. Very direct player interaction is one of the key elements of this game, and showing what is essentially a magical pub-brawl really gets that point across.

Finally, the smaller, thinner box with the wacky/cartoony characters helps communicate the weight of this game. At about 9”x6”x2”, or roughly half the size of Citadels, this box shows that this is no heavy-duty worker-placement euro game we’re playing here. When you open this box, you’ll find about what you expect, simple elements with wacky artwork that doesn’t take too long (or too much thought) to play.

Sheriff of Nottingham


Of all the games in this list, I think this one does possibly the most effective job at telling the game’s story. For the uninitiated, in Sheriff of Nottingham players take turns playing one of two roles: the Sheriff, who inspects merchants’ wares for contraband (or maybe looks the other way if they give him enough coin), or one of the Merchants, who bring goods into the town to sell (or maybe try smuggling contraband past the sheriff to sell for extra profit).

The Sheriff is front and center, looking down skeptically at the viewer, framed by a pile of coins and writs from Prince John. Behind him, the sly merchants seem to be plotting some ruse and stay out of sight of the Sheriff. One of the things I like about this approach is that by putting the merchants smaller and in shadow behind the sheriff, they don’t compete visually and it creates more depth. In addition, it helps to tell the story of the merchants trying to sneak past the sheriff. They also frame the title of the game really effectively.

Finally, the quality of the illustration and attention to detail give the viewer a lot of faith as to the quality of what’s in the box. When opened, they will find nice materials as well, including player mats, snapping bags for hiding their materials, and a nice little standee to mark the sheriff.

Sneak Peek!


Thanks for reading. I wanted to share a sneak peek of the box we’re working on for our game, Diabolical! In this game, players are wacky super villains trying to take over the world. The game is very tongue-in-cheek and players spend a lot of effort trying to hamstring their opponents’ plans as they all are competing for the same objectives.

We wanted to communicate this by having each of the villains focused on the same area of the box, in this case the globe in the center of our logo. We plan to reinforce this by having each villain bound up in one another, not only progressing towards the globe but also pulling another villain back.

Obviously, this artwork is still very much in progress, but we’d love to hear your initial feedback. Tell us what you think!