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!


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!


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.





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!






Chip Banner

Chip Van der Nanner Process

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Before Chip Van der Nanner became the hairiest CEO in Wall Street history, he was a lizard. Not that he was born a lizard and then became a mammal. That’s outrageous. This was the visual decision Evan and I made, shortly after a few early sketches. Before visual development began, we planned to make him more of a movie Kaiju, which is cool, but we realized that with him a lizard, that would make several scaley/slimy villains (very secret unannounced character included ???).


The decision to swap species for the character was made and after sharing some ideas with each other, we started to work on him with the idea of “beast” in mind.


Above are a few class pictures I was able to dig up from Chip’s school years, which show where he began and where we landed. There was a mid point where I explored a Bigfoot route, but that wasn’t developing much. We liked the idea of a snooty/pompous villain and like our process with other villains, we threw ideas back and forth, which eventually brought us to our current Chip.





Görløk Process

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Of all the characters in Diabolical!, Görløk went through the most visual change as we developed him. This is something I welcome and encourage greatly in the creative process. One standout nugget of advice I’ve heard throughout my life is, “The first drawing is just a draft, never settle on the first idea.” By iterating on your ideas and pushing them far from where they started, you’ll likely discover your final product is much stronger overall.


Görløk’s character began as Görløk “The Metalhead” Necromancer, which wasn’t bad, but kind of bland in comparison to where we landed. Around the time I started painting him, I was watching some He-Man clips and the 80’s vibe really got me and helped inspire his costume and physique. The 80’s cartoons + Norwegian Black Metal & CorpseGrinder’s neck really helped bring it all together.




H4-T3 Process

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The villains for Diabolical! begin with a general concept for the look of the character. For H4-T3, we wanted to have some kind of “rogue” artificial intelligence, but we didn’t know what kind of AI this would be or how it would look.




I played around with some generic concepts – like a humanoid robot – but this felt to cliché for the kind of villains that would be in the game. Our goal was to create villains that relate to classic villain tropes, but to also apply our own creativity and personality to those ideas. During the exploration phase, I wanted the character to be more accessible to people, something more relatable. I had a sketch of a smartphone with a little face on it, which really helped her take shape.




Through her development, her personality became “small but mighty,” so one aspect we began playing up were the buff hologram arms. Some additional details that helped give her more personality were her binary brass knuckles, the various app icons on her screen, the cracked glass, and her electric blue hairdo.




H4-T3 is a sleek/high-tech villain and I wanted her logo to reflect those qualities. Taking notes from current smart phone juggernauts, the goal was to create a logo that could believably match up against today’s smart phone branding

h4t3_logo 2



Dr. McHavok Process

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Each character for Diabolical! started as a sketch and Dr. McHavok was the first.


When I joined the project, Evan and I frequently met to talk about the game. Among the topics of conversation were my responsibilities as the character designer. We had a general idea of the kind of villains we wanted to include. Evan had even begun work on a Mad Scientist, but initially these were basic concepts. By continuing our conversations, the villains began to grow. They started to take on more personality and depth.


In Dr. McHavok’s case, we asked ourselves questions like:

  • Where is this character from?
  • What is his backstory?
  • How did he become a villain?
  • How did he acquire his skill set?

By asking questions like these and filtering them through coffee fueled, comedic riffing sessions, we turned a general Mad Scientist into Dr. McHavok: The Scottish Mad Scientist. This would become our formula for creating the remaining Diabolical! characters.

After our discussions, I used the ideas Evan and I came up with and translated them into digitally painted visuals. This was an iterative process, as every time we met, we came up with more ways to strengthen the characters.


Though some of these deeper questions may seem irrelevant to board game characters, it defined the visual voice of Diabolical! and helped solidify the overall tone of the game.