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

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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!


We’re Baaaaaaack…

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Hey everyone! After laying low for awhile post-Gen Con and recharging our batteries, we’re back and at it again. We’re ready to push Diabolical! to completion.

Very soon, we’ll be looking for play testers to expand our feedback opportunities and put some final refinements in. If you’re interested in being a play tester, please send us a Facebook message (our contact form is temporarily broken).

We look forward to sharing more of our progress as we keep moving forward on the game. As always, email updates will only be used for big announcements like conference appearances or when we go live on Kickstarter. If you’d like to follow along more closely and see what we’re working on behind the scenes, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

In the meantime, thanks so much for following along and your interest in our little indie game. We wouldn’t have gotten nearly as far as we have without the help of folks like you!


Thanks for a Fantastic Gen Con

By | GenCon 2016, Progress Updates | No Comments

GEN CON. WAS. AMAZING. Thanks very much to the fantastic attendees as well as the wonderful work of the planners and organizers of the event! We wanted to share a brief write-up of our favorite experiences and some of our main takeaways from the event.


Connecting with the tabletop gaming community

Obviously, our favorite part of Gen Con was the opportunity we had to connect with the amazing people in the broader gaming community. It was so great to see people outside of our local community in Kansas City be as excited about Diabolical! as we are. We got the opportunity to talk to thousands of people over the course of the four day event, and it was astounding the degree of kindness and enthusiasm we saw among the attendees we spoke with. It was so much fun y’all. Thanks for that.


Gaining insight on what it means to be an indie game company

Gen Con represented for us a pretty significant shift towards making this game a reality. When we started work on this project, we were just a couple of passionate hobbyists wanting to contribute to an area which adds a lot of joy to our lives. While we’re still fundamentally those same passionate hobbyists, this event caused us to open our eyes to some of the realities of what it means to work in this industry. Having an opportunity to learn from folks in the industry – including other designers, shop owners, publishers, manufacturers, and bloggers – was inspiring and will surely prove invaluable as we continue our journey.


Meeting other fantastic exhibitors

Along these same lines, we made great connections with other exhibitors at the event. I left the event with a wallet stuffed to the brim with business cards of interesting folks. While we didn’t have as much time as we would’ve liked to walk the convention center floor, it was so cool to see all the neat things that everyone is working on, including gaming goliaths like Asmodee and Paizo, as well as small-timers like us. Some of the smaller companies that stood out were the fine folks over at Heroic Games, Devious Devices, and God Hates Games (NSFW-ish). You should check them out! 🙂


Gaining valuable feedback from playtesters

At Gen Con, we had the opportunity to participate in the First Exposure Playtesting Hall. It was an incredible experience getting to watch people check out the game first hand and to see how they reacted to it. We’ve been testing the game for quite some time now, but the opportunity to test with the Gen Con attendees proved particularly insightful. Generally, people reacted very positively to the game. One group even said that Diabolical! was one of the best games they’ve ever tested, and they’ve been testing games at Gen Con for several years! Playtesting overall definitely confirms that we’re on the right track (although there’s definitely some issues to be resolved yet).


What’s next?

You’ve probably noticed that this post is coming a week or so later than many of the other Gen Con write-ups out there. That’s because we’ve decided to take a brief break from the game to focus on our lives and to recharge a bit. For the two of us, working on Diabolical! is a wonderful and exciting experience, but it’s also in addition to our daily lives and full-time jobs (boo, adulthood!).
That said, we walked away from the event with so much inspiration that it’s been hard not to dig up our designs and keep working on them! We have a million ideas on where to go from here and it’ll take us some time to synthesize those and narrow them down into concrete next steps. Soon, we’ll be looking to send copies of the game out to testers to play with their friends and let us hear about their experiences, so be on the lookout for that!


Thanks again to everybody who stopped by our booth to chat with us, who signed up for our email list, and to those who tested our game. We really enjoyed our time at Gen Con and look forward to seeing you at another convention near you!


Exhibit hall on the day before Gen Con

Exhibit hall on the day before Gen Con

Giant Pikachu being set up over Pokemon booth

Giant Pikachu being set up over Pokemon booth

Our booth after being set up

Our booth after being set up

Our set up at the League of Xtraordinary Programmers

Our set up at the League of Xtraordinary Programmers

The massive group of people waiting to get in on Saturday

The massive group of people waiting to get in on Saturday

GenCon 3 header

The Road to Gen Con, part 3

By | GenCon 2016, Progress Updates | No Comments

Well, Gen Con is only two weeks away, and it’s really coming down to crunch time. Right now we’re working on tying up all the loose ends needed to make sure we have everything in place in time for the convention. Remember to come say hi at booth 3040 under the name Idea Wall Games!


Our first high-quality prototypes have arrived from The Game Crafter! We couldn’t be happier. The print quality is great and being able to see how all the components come together is a really satisfying feeling. Here is a picture of the box. If you want to see all the individual bits-and-bobs, be sure to watch our gameplay video coming out early next month!

Box Front
Box Back

First Exposure Playtest Hall

Have you been dying to play Diabolical! in person? Well, now you can! We’re excited to announce that we’ll be participating in the First Exposure Playtest Hall organized by Double Exposure, Inc. Come participate in the event to get a chance to see Diabolical! in action. We’ll be testing our game on Friday from noon—2pm, and on Saturday from 10am—noon, 2pm‚—4pm, and 6pm—8pm.

League of Xtraordinary Programmers

No new developments here per se, just wanted to remind you that we’re excited to be an on-site sponsor of the event and we’ll be demoing Diabolical! there as well. If you miss us at the First Exposure Playtesting Hall, be sure to check us out at the League of Xtraordinary Programmers, Friday, August 5 from 7—9pm. Early bird tickets are only 12 buckeroos if you register by July 31st. With that, you’ll get to enjoy some hors d’oeuvres (I can never spell that word) as well as craft beers and cocktails, AND you’ll get to check out various games, including the illustrious iOS game King Rabbit, made by RareSloth!

Printed Items

With just two weeks before the convention, anything custom we want has to go out the door for printing this week. We’ve ordered all kinds of fun stuff, including banners, art prints of each of the villains, as well as some beautiful large canvas prints to have available as giveaways. Remember, booth 3040. Below is a sneak peak at a couple of our handouts.

Captain Villainy handout
Cthu-Loo-Loo handout
Gorlok handout


Recording for the gameplay video is underway! We brought in some volunteers to help us play the game on camera and now we’re moving into editing and motion graphics. Below are a couple behind-the-scenes photos of some of our recording time.

Video Recording 2

Wrapping Up

Well, we’ve covered a lot over the last couple weeks as we continue trucking along to get ready for the convention. This has been one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life so far and we’re not even there yet!

The Road to Gen Con, part 2

By | Art, Game Design, GenCon 2016, Progress Updates | No Comments

It’s just a little over a month before the curtains raise on Gen Con 2016, and even with that much time to prepare we can definitely feel our deadlines looming. Here’s what we’ve been up to over the last two weeks!

League of Xtraordinary Programmers

We’re excited to announce that we’ll be an onsite featured sponsor for the upcoming League of Xtraordinary Programmers (LXP) event hosted by Techpoint! This annual event is organized alongside Gen Con for attendees to extend their Gen Con experience and get a chance to see what’s going on in Indianapolis’ tech scene, play yet-to-be-released games (like ours), and rub elbows with other tech enthusiasts.

We’ll have a table set up with Diabolical! running so you can get an opportunity to try out the game if you missed us at the convention. If you’re a tech-type person planning to attend Gen Con, stop by the LXP and say hi! Tickets are $12 and come with two drink tickets as well as light hors d’oeuvres. No promises, but I heard rumors they would have those little quiche things there. Show up early before I eat them all.


At Gen Con this year, we will have several high-quality prototypes for attendees to look at, interact with, and hopefully try themselves! We’ve been hard at work tying up some loose ends in our gameplay and with our artwork to get the prototypes ready to roll. We just sent our first one to print last Friday and will be ordering more a little bit later this month. James has been hard at work nailing down our card layouts and they look great!

A Minion card. This one is the Orakill.

A Minion card. This one is the Orakill.

The backs of our Minion cards.

The backs of our Minion cards.

A Scheme card.

A Scheme card.

I think James has done a really great job visually capturing the essence of the feel of the game. The bright colors really pop and make it feel like the chaotic, lighthearted rampage we’re going for!

We’re really excited to see how these prototypes turn out.


We’re continuing to test, refine, and polish our gameplay for the prototype to ensure players are having the best time possible. We’ve really ramped up our iterations on the game and think that things are really moving in the right direction. We’re getting very positive feedback from our play testers which is really great to see! It’s amazing to see how far it’s come from the broken, unplayable mess I forced friends to endure in my first play test almost two years ago.


We’re moving forward with the video and filming will start July 7th. So far, we’ve created storyboards and reviewed them with our videographer, the illustrious Maria Brenny. From there, we will be starting to script out some portions of the video (namely introductions and such). Don’t worry, none of the gameplay will be scripted. 🙂


In preparation for our trip to Gen Con, we’ve been working to transition our site from a super-cheap shared server to a big hoss server that will make it perform much better under pressure. The transition just completed last week. This will mean faster loading time, less down time, and just general all around reliability. All of these things are good things.

Whelp, that’s about it for now. We’re continuing to push forward but there’s still so much to do. Next, we’ll be working on t-shirts, swag, banners, signage, and all kinds of other stuff to get ready for the convention. We hope to see you there!

Check in next week for our next installment of The Road to Gen Con.


The Road to Gen Con, part 1

By | Art, Game Design, GenCon 2016, Progress Updates | No Comments

We’re on our way to prepping for this year’s Gen Con, and it’s safe to say it’s a lot of work for just two people. Being a small operation definitely has its advantages, but prepping for a large event definitely isn’t one of them :).

Booth number!

We have received our booth number from the folks over at Gen Con. Come by and see us at booth 3040 (highlighted on the map below)! Be aware that we’re listed as Idea Wall Games, which is our game design business working to create Diabolical!

We're booth 3040!

Click the image to see Gen Con’s full, interactive booth map. Remember, we’re listed as Idea Wall Games.

Great googly-moogly that’s a huge (and full) convention center!

Game updates

After returning from a trip in May, I decided to take stock in where the game was at currently versus where I wanted it to be. The time away really helped clear my mind and I was able to reconsider some of the issues that the game was facing in a new light. What the game was missing was a solid narrative structure to help tie the whole experience together. We also found that players didn’t really “feel” like villains trying to take over the world (which, it turns out, is an issue when the theme is “villains trying to take over the world”). Ultimately, it felt more like a game of Civilization than the lighthearted rampage we wanted it to be.

After considering these issues, I decided to start trying to address them by writing a brief synopsis of the “story” I wanted players to experience while playing this game. This exercise really helped me to frame the game around the aesthetics of play (the intended experience of the players), rather than the mechanics of the game. Here is a great video on mechanics vs. aesthetics in game design if you’ve got 10 minutes to spare. With the gameplay narrative in-hand, I set about restructuring the elements of the game to allow that story to come through. This is one of several transformations the game has gone through as we’ve worked on it, but changing it significantly at this point was a bit of a gamble as Gen Con is fast-approaching and we don’t have a ton of time to throw at revamping the game if we’re going to have nice prototypes to show off at the convention.

Since the restructure, players have been much more engaged and excited about the game which is great to see. One tester even went so far as to call the game a “masterpiece!” It’s really exciting to have players so enthusiastic about this newer version of the game, and now that this core structure is in place, mechanical and balance adjustments are far easier to test. It’s a win, win!

We’re really stoked that we get to share this new and improved Diabolical! with you at Gen Con.

Art updates

James has been kicking butt on pushing through the mountain of artwork we need for the game in time for the convention. He’s worked through a bunch of different minions, including evil sock puppets, robo-sharks, and our old friend hypno-cat! Here’s a few examples of his in-progress work below:


In addition to the minion art, he’s also working on art for our evil scheme cards. After that, we’ll move on to card layouts, box art, tokens, and all the other stuff that’s easy to lose track of when working on game assets.

Other updates

We’ve been hearing for awhile that people really want to see the gameplay of Diabolical! We do play testing each Thursday at TableTop Game and Hobby in Overland Park, KS which we’d love for you to stop by and join us to experience first hand. However, we do understand that schedules and location don’t always allow for folks to be there in person, so we’ve begun planning for a gameplay video which we plan to have up and available while we’re at Gen Con. This will give interested folks an opportunity to see the game when they otherwise couldn’t, which we see as huge!

Finally, if you are on the fence about wether or not to attend Gen Con this year, they have a great deal going on until tomorrow, June 19 to get $30 off your 4-day pass. Get your ticket here.

See you next week for our next update!


See You at Gen Con!

By | GenCon 2016, Progress Updates | No Comments

Hello friends of Diabolical! We are extremely excited to announce that we will be exhibiting at this year’s Gen Con in Indianapolis, Indiana!

Stop by our booth at “The Best Four Days in Gaming” from August 4th–7th to meet us, buy some fantastic art, enter to win cool prizes, and to see (and possibly play) Diabolical! in person. We will have special promotional materials available only at Gen Con, so be sure to come by the booth and say hi! We will update here when we are informed of our booth number.

As part of this process, we will also be starting a blog series called The Road to Gen Con where we’ll talk about the things we’re working on to get ready for the conference.

We are honored to have been selected to exhibit at this convention, and we look forward to meeting you!

See you then!


Captain Villainy Process

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Captain Villainy’s design is closer to classic Hero/Villain tropes than any other villain in Diabolical! Of course – with our characters – we want to make them our own… fresh. His design stems from notable heroes like Superman, Batman, and Captain America, if those characters had fallen from fame and became bench-pressing hermits.


His biography helped in his design development. Asking questions like, “What would I look like if I was a once famed Superhero who washed up and strictly ate TV dinners for sustenance?” The result is the Captain Villainy you see in our board game.



Even after losing all of his notoriety, his confidence still remained; it just became a more vengeful confidence. Characteristics like this help determine things like pose and facial expressions. Knowing your character beyond a “cool” design and building a personality for them can help bring more life to the design.





Play Testing Goes Public!

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Exciting news from the world of Diabolical! Recently, our testing has become available to the public!

Come join us at TableTop Game and Hobby in Overland Park, Kansas on Thursday nights starting at 6:00 pm to give it a whirl. If you’ve been out there recently, you may have already seen us testing. We decided to hold off on a formal announcement until we knew more about what to expect and worked out a couple of kinks, but we’re ready now!

testersTwo of our testers – Eric and Jill – enjoying some nefarious chicanery! 

Interested in hearing more about our progress or playtesting opportunities? Sign up for email alerts.

Keep an eye out for a very special announcement coming within the next week!


Cthu-Loo-Loo Process

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A recurring theme for the visual development of Diabolical! villains seems to be growth. Growth in that the character we develop changes drastically in the creation process. What we end up with are villains I’m quite proud to include in our board game.

Cthu-Loo-Loo went through a lot of change in her development. For me, there are a few contributing elements to the growth of our characters. The two primary elements are collaboration and the digital process.





In previous posts, I’ve mentioned the benefits of the collaboration process and how conversations and brainstorming can push an idea even further.

The digital process (Photoshop) has many benefits and possibilities, but there are also downsides. Below are 5 Pros and Cons I’ve found working digitally.


  • Extensive editing ability 🙂
  • Ctrl + Z (undo)
  • Fine tuning color
  • Layers
  • No clean up


  • Extensive editing ability 🙁
  • File Saving
  • Software Crash
  • Screen Fatigue
  • Not tangible

With most things there are pros and cons and I’m beginning to find a healthy balance of traditional and digital in my process.

Cthu-Loo-Loo’s appearance started more “immature,” kind of in a young adolescence stage, which was fun and worked in the initial sketch. Somewhere in the translation from sketch to digital, it wasn’t interesting to me anymore. It felt safe for me and I felt I needed more practice depicting the female form.




In the end, she looks more like the angsty daughter of a great demigod and not just your standard angsty teen. My initial paintings were somewhat frustrating, but I feel like she turned out to be a fantastic inclusion to the villains of Diabolical!