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My Favourite Game Boards

Greg Aleknevicus

February, 2005

I'm a confirmed cartophile, which is to say, I love maps. Give me an atlas and I'll happily browse the pages for hours on end. This interest extends to the boards used in games and while they needn't necessarily be a map, I really appreciate one that has been well designed and attractively rendered. Here then are ten game boards that I'm especially fond of...

Aladdin's Dragons
Artist: Doris Matthäus
AladdinsDragons2.jpg (114944 bytes) A lot of games use a board merely as a placeholder for pieces and settle for a simply matrix of boxes. Not so with Aladdin's Dragons—each of the 15 boxes is a wonderful depiction of a mythical Arabian city, from the dragon caves to the marketplace to the many palace rooms. 

Don Pepe
Artist: None listed
One of the qualities of an especially attractive board are those little extra features hidden around. Even better are when those features are actually part of the game and this is the case with Don Pepe. Scattered around the dining table are guns, knives and glasses. Each has a specific purpose (a glass allows you to poison that gangster, you can guess what the guns and knives are for).

EastFront
Artist: Eric Hotz
One problem that wargames face is that real maps do not always conform to the requirements of a hex grid. So, the graphic artist is usually faced with the choice of making the map attractive or functional. Eric Hotz managed both with EastFront and at first glance you could almost miss the fact that there's a hexgrid at all.

Elfenland
Artist: Doris Matthäus
Another Doris creation and another example of a game with very simple requirements but a masterful execution. Each of the 21 cities are unique and have their own flavour—it's easy to imagine a whole history and back story based on this fabulous map. 

Elfenwizards
Artist: Doris Matthäus
This is perhaps my favourite board of all. There's something quite evocative about the mist covered tree that I find very pleasing. Especially nice are how the little extras are fit into the overall scheme. For example, the turn round marker (upper right corner) is nicely detailed as a wooden board attached to one of the tree's limbs.

Entdecker
Artist: Franz Vohwinkel
I love maps in general and there's something about one that slowly emerges during gameplay that I find especially satisfying. I really like the fact that even functionally identical tiles in Entdecker are rendered a little different—it adds verisimilitude to the notion of discovering a collection of small islands.

Formula Dé
Artists: Bernard Bittler, Guillaume Rohmer
Many racing games make do with a very plain grid on which to play, but not Formula Dé. All of the many available tracks have detailed renditions of the surrounding track and countryside. A few points are lost due to the the oversized cartoons but the tracks are still wonderful to race upon. 

High Kings of Tara
Artist: None listed
I'm a fan of Celtic knots and so this game, which uses them as a central mechanic, was a natural. The small tiles that create the knots are a little fiddly to place but I'm willing to overlook that as the results are so beautiful. The very colourful border is also puzzle cut allowing multiple copies to be combined into even more elaborate boards!

Mystery of the Abbey
Artists: Julien Delval, Emmanuel Roudier, Cyrille Daujean
Any of the big box games from Days of Wonder could have made this list but the one I especially like is Mystery of the Abbey. It captures the feel of Eco's The Name of the Rose which was the inspiration for the game.

Roborally
Artists: Tom Wänerstand, Daniel Gelon, Anson Maddocks, Maria Cabardo
There's an awful lot of detail on the Roborally boards and it all works very well to evoke the theme of hapless robots caught in a demented and dangerous factory. It's impossible not to start humming Raymond Scott's Powerhouse when riding the conveyer belts through the Cannery Row board.

Space Hulk
Artists: Richard Wright, David Gallagher
I've detailed my obsession with Space Hulk elsewhere, and every time I play I still appreciate the incredible detail that went into the design of the puzzle-cut tiles that make up the playing surface.

Tikal
Artist: Franz Vohwinkel
Franz Vohwinkel is my favourite graphic artist; his work is absolutely stunning. The Aztec themed elements on Tikal's board are wonderful but what I like best is how the board resembles a jungle slowly being cut away to reveal the hidden temples, matching the game's narrative.

- Greg Aleknevicus

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