Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but whatever your preference, we’ve all had that experience of seeing a game’s art and knowing we just had to give it a play.
The Diamond Climber Awards are in their 4th year, and with each year we’ve grown and changed, sometimes in uncomfortable ways. Because our team has such a wide and diverse taste in games it was tough this year to come to a consensus on a single game that really fit the category. So this year we’re presenting multiple picks for Best Artwork, written in the words of each author who loved this category. We feel this will better represent the breadth and diversity of the games on the market, and offer a more genuine selection for our readers.
So without further ado here are our picks for the most eye-popping games of 2021.
Everything about this game screams “you’ve crash landed on a frozen hellscape and you’re going to die,” which underpins the urgency of the game itself.
From the first time I saw Cryo I was hooked. Many games these days have rich painterly artwork, or 3d rendered figures, but Cryo is a dream with its clean lines and psychedelic color palette. The illustrations by Bree Lindsoe, Jasmine Radue, and Samuel R. Shimota are simultaneously flowing yet crisp and well defined, a perfect balance between cool blues and purples, and fiery reds, yellows and oranges. The straight lines of the vehicles are a perfect contrast to the organic nature of the game board.
Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile
Kyle Ferrin is simply very good at what he does. Every new card you reveal from the deck is equal parts charming, menacing, wondrous, and funny. As with his exemplary work on Root, Ferrin’s art goes a long way towards making a honker of a title feel a bit less daunting. Ferrin manages the difficult task of being detailed without every getting cluttered. The only board game artist who’s work I’d proudly hang on my wall.
The artwork and illustrations by Amélie Guinet, paired with maybe the best iconography I saw in a new release last year, really made Wild Space shine. The pictures of those animals are gorgeous. My kids like looking at the cards from this game so much they would sometimes keep them out on my kitchen table long after our games were completed!
I may be in the minority here, but I think that Sam Phillip’s usage of bold colors and thick lines creates a visual style that is unsurpassed. There’s a lot of great artwork out there, but the artwork for this game is just a stand out for me.
The unique world that Ryan Laukat has created in Sleeping Gods is brought alive with his beautiful artwork. The bright, bold colors combined with the sharp contrasting hues make for a visually stunning production.
Bob Pazehoski, Jr.
Genotype is a stunning worker placement game in which you are growing pea plants at a 19th century monastery alongside Gregor Mendel. From top to bottom, this game is beautiful. The board is marvelously illustrated (even the back of the board features a painting of the monastery that will gather a few “oohs” and “ahhs”). The components are substantial, and if you get a hold of the deluxe coins and stones you won’t regret it. The cards, which feature pea plants, tools, and assistants, are all illustrated in the same style. I’ve yet to bring this to the table without several comments about the artwork.
These days there are a lot of gorgeous games, and a lot of gorgeous games about nature. So it takes something pretty special for a game about nature to wow me but my word is Meadow a lovely looking game. The art itself is captivating but its the visual design work and gameplay that helps Meadow to stand out. Those cards are 95% artwork, 5% the symbols you actually need for playing the game, and at the end of a game when everything is laid out on the table it positively hums with life. It’s also an incredibly effective education in habitats, food webs and biodiversity, all without a single written word (until your curiosity gets you looking in the provided guide book). Chuck in the fact that the boards, tokens and card holders are just as beautiful and you’ve got the best looking game of the year, easy.
It’s hard not to get drawn into a game of Canopy. Its evocative illustrations are as lush and vibrant as the rainforests they portray. Each component is full of delightful little details that bring the game to life. My favorite pieces are the deluxe edition’s central three “boards” which together show a wildlife scene replete with an array of unseen animals hiding in the shadows. And in terms of art matching mechanics, nothing inspires me more than Canopy’s clever use of vertical cards for tree trunks and horizontal cards for the treetops, turning each scored tree into a thing of beauty. Canopy is a great game made all the better by gorgeous art that truly uplifts its ecological theme.