Most Beautiful Board Games

Looks aren’t everything. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is not caused, it is. Far more talented people than me have written extensively on the topic of beauty, and their powerful words have been pressed onto fridge magnets and throw pillows for countless years.

A board game doesn’t need to be beautiful to be fun – and in fact, for your average punter, “beauty” isn’t a word they’d be quick to associate with board games at all. Sure, beauty is subjective, and if you want to hold up a Scrabble board and tell me it’s a bit sexy, that’s entirely your prerogative, but I’ll probably quietly leave the room.

But as board gaming has expanded and grown as a hobby, designers have indulged their artistic sides and begun to think outside the box in how they want the experience of their games to be enhanced. There are a wealth of games whose beauty ranges from the intricate to the minimal, and here are just some of our faves.

Everdell

We’ll start with a game widely and rightfullly regarded as one of the most beautiful board games of all time.

Everdell is a worker placement, tableau building game. You send your workers out to claim new resources, drawing and playing cards to add to the city you’re building within the forest of Everdell.

The gameplay might be relatively straightforward and familiar – never a bad thing in my book – but everything is elevated by the simply outstanding artwork created by Andrew Bosley. The anthropomorphic woodland characters come to life and you’ll find yourself getting genuinely very attached.

But the centrepiece – oh, that centrepiece – the tall, leafy Evertree that dominates the playing board which adds levels and support to it, and which takes this from a fun and lovely game into a thing of true beauty. It’s like a story book come to life and I defy you to not let your inner child gaze in wonder as you play.

Hanamikoji

You knew this had to be on the list, right? It’s one of my faves. The first time I played it, I felt instantly transported and could envision the characters and their favours clearly, which for me is a real bonus to any game.

It’s easy to pick up and easier to play. The concept is that you’re in Hanamikoji, a magnet for Geisha – artists who excel with various different performance items. It’s these performance items you must gather for them to gain their favour, and the objective is to be the player who gains the most favour from the geisha. There’s a bluffing element to the game as well as a requirement to make bold moves with the hopes they pay off.

And key to this central conceit is the illustration, which is as elegant as the gameplay itself. Richly colourful, each of the seven geisha masters has their own flavour and character, and their performance items are so intricately rendered that it’s very easy, especially with a nicely curated accompanying playlist, to let your imagination run wild a bit and create a lovely bit of atmosphere.

Board games that have a rare ability to draw you into their world are among the great joys of life, and when that ability comes from a relatively bare-bones 2-player card game, it’s even better.

Shobu

This might be considered something of a left field choice given its simplicity – but it’s precisely that simplicity that makes Shobu a thing of minimalist beauty.

Shobu is an abstract strategy game wherein you move stones around the boards in order to push four of your opponent’s stones off. The pieces in question are smooth, natural river stones in classic black and white, and the boards are simple wooden squares separated by a single piece of rope. The use of natural materials like this has all the hallmarks of Japanese design that creates a sense of calm and connection, which for me is what board games are about. (Except for the calm part…)

Despite only being released in 2019, it instantly brings to mind the classics like Chess, Go and Draughts, and that’s in large part due to its beautifully classic design. Shobu is one you could happily leave out on a side table next to a glass of whiskey and a well-thumbed biography as a quasi-art piece that creates the aura of the refined. And that is precisely what I do whenever I want to cosplay as Frasier Crane, which is often.

Tokaido

Oh, and you know what? Since we’re already in Japanese mode, let’s chuck another one on the pile. It’s no surprise that board game designers are drawn to Japan when they’re conceiving their work. It’s a land that’s beguiled for centuries, thanks to its rich cultural history, its fashion, its unique and instantly recognisable architecture and its natural beauty.

But while there’s no shortage of games to choose from that draw their inspiration from the Land of the Rising Sun, as displayed on this list, one of the more interesting examples is Tokaido.

The game sees players move their way across the board – Tokaido meaning ‘East Sea Road’. It’s not a highly competitive game and very much earns its spot on any collection of cosy games as you meander down the road, the only goal in mind being to maximise your experience on the journey.

It’s unusual in its linearity, and that actually serves to make it even more beautiful, with understated and yet entirely distinctive artwork that is full of life. You visit inns, encounter locals, and collect cards that come together to create delightful little panoramas. It’s a game built around creating cultural experiences, and as you’re putting it away, journey complete, you’ll find yourself having more than one conversation about whether you should take your journey off the board and into a real life trip. See you in Duty free.

Parks

Another one for the cosy files, Parks is a game where you control two hikers as they traverse the National Parks of the US, creating memories, snapping photos and spotting wildlife. An absolutely perfect premise in my book, as it allows me to live vicariously through what sounds like a joyous life experience without having to do any actual exercising.

The game lasts four rounds, designed to represent four seasons, and you’re moving along a modular trail. You’ll gain resource tokens that represent memories – a clear vista, the fresh scent of pine in the air – and at the end of each season you can trade these for a National Park card. It’s these cards that are a standout feature as they incorporate art from the Fifty Nine Parks series, beautiful pieces of graphic design that represent each of the parks and that I would quite happily see lining the walls of my house.

This is one that has beauty in two senses of the word. Of course the physical, not just the designs but also the wooden tokens that represent the hikers and the wildlife they come across. But also in the more abstract sense, the beauty that can be found in appreciating the world around us. A beauty that I thoroughly enjoy appreciating while in my pyjamas. I’ll go out and look at it at some point, but with a game like this the Great Indoors has an awful lot going for it…

Flamecraft

I’m fully indulging myself here because I’m a lover of all things dragon-centric. You can go a few different ways with dragons: they can be scary as heck and breath anything from fire to lightning at you, they can be majestic beasts that gracefully soar the skies. No wrong answers, as long as there are dragons I’m happy.

Flamecraft has chosen to go down the adorable route and more power to it. You’re working as Flamekeeprs looking to develop their town and gain a good reputation that brings more people to visit their shops. The way you do this – and I can barely contain my glee – is by gathering resources and placing dragons in shops that best allows their flamecraft can enchant and delight prospective customers.

It’s a perfect match of aesthetics and gameplay.

If you want to pick up any of these games, check if they’re in stock at Zatu. Buying them there supports No Rolls Barred via our affiliate partnership. Read more here.