There was a game that was published several years ago that had a very good box cover - distinctive, memorable, something special - that is being republished with a very… well, it's not a bad cover but neither could I call it a good one; it's just kinda there, polished and skillful and utterly uninteresting. I'm not going to tell you what the game is - heck, if you're reading this, there's a good chance you know what the game is.
I'm also not going to say that I don't understand the decision. First of all, it's quite possible that the rights to the good cover are tied up with the previous publisher. Secondly, even if they could use the good cover, it's not one that immediately communicates what the game is about, while the new cover absolutely tells you what the thing is in the most literal way possible. The first cover is arresting, bold, and interesting; when you look at it, you get curious. You ask the question, what is this game about?, and maybe you start to look for answers. You engage with the thing.
The second cover doesn't ask any questions, doesn't want there to be any questions. And to be clear, this doesn't make it bad; it just makes it ordinary. It's exactly like almost every other box cover out there, working from the assumption that a cover that asks questions will confuse and alienate a potential customer instead of making them curious, that they will simply shrug and move on. And I am reminded of course of the thing Mencken once said, that no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the public. There's a reason why more people went to see Paul Blart than Annihilation, and it's not because of Kevin James's sensitive and nuanced performance, or an appreciation for the director's grasp of mise-en-scene.
The purpose of the cover, after all, like any other piece of packaging, is to sell the thing that's inside it, and ideally you want to sell it to as many people as possible. There's also a general expectation among customers with board games - I've seen at least one artist working in the form reference it explicitly - that the box cover art will be indicative of the game's art and production values, and so a more minimalist or visually arresting approach becomes much riskier. It's not like a book cover or movie poster, where the outside isn't expected to match what's inside.
Which just reminds me of course that Mary and I exist in a happy little corner that's somewhat inured from those concerns. When I design a box cover, I don't give much thought to the question of will this cover sell the maximum number of copies to the maximum number of people. My primary goal is to create something bold and stylish and interesting. Or, to put it another way, I'm trying to create something that appeals to my own tastes, and to Mary's.
This isn't to say that I'm all Ars Gratia Artis or whatever, or that we don't think of it as marketing. It is marketing, based on the idea that people are attracted to cool and distinctive visuals, and that if you catch their eye, they will ask questions and will try to find the answers.
And in a broader sense, our peculiar brand of box design is a way in which we market Hollandspiele as a whole. It's a cohesive sort of visual identity that ties together what is often a very diverse and disparate catalogue. All the covers look like they belong together, and people are unlikely to mistake one of our games for another publisher's, or vice-versa. That's been an important part of our continued success. Unlike most things we do, this was actually on purpose! We very consciously attempted to emulate the boutique home media label the Criterion Collection, whose distinctive packaging and attention to graphic design helped to build their passionate fanbase. That fanbase is more willing to buy a DVD released by Criterion; if the same DVD was released by another label, they might overlook it.
The idea of Criterion is what's doing the heavy lifting. Similarly, some of our customers are increasingly more likely to try a Hollandspiele game because of the idea of Hollandspiele. First and foremost, that idea is built on the quality of the games we release, but part of selling that idea is the box design.
Which all probably sounds like I'm tooting my own horn a little, since I am responsible for all but a handful of our box covers. And, I mean, I'm proud of my work, but that doesn't mean that I think I hit the mark every time. There are however a small handful of covers that I consider to be better than my average work, and I thought it'd be nice to end the article with those.