The ugliest game boards of all time (the good, the bad, but all UGLY)
Moritz Eggert
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Munich/Germany
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ADDENDUM October 2004: THIS LIST IS NOW OPEN TO NEW ENTRIES, please make sure that there are no double entries...

With this list I want to collect the atrocities that have been committed by so called graphic "artists" on the eyes of hapless gamers all over the world. Don't forget: an average persons looks 10 seconds at a picture in a gallery, we gamers have to endure the worst artistic atrocities for hours on end, while we are forced to stare at them incessantly!
While this list is a work in progress, I will regularly add items that are pointed out to me - please mail any suggestions to HeuserEggert@compuserve.de
I have to stress that this list is not necessarily about bad games, but about games that are a sore on the eye, even if you like them. But the top of this list would be the game that is ugly AND bad!
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1. Board Game: The Hammer of Thor: The Game of Norse Mythology [Average Rating:4.96 Overall Rank:17709]
Board Game: The Hammer of Thor: The Game of Norse Mythology
Moritz Eggert
Germany
Munich/Germany
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This definitely has to be the top contender in the list for now, although the game itself is actually nice ruleswise. This game board is the worst nightmare I've ever seen - the creator must have been totally colour-blind. The game is actually quite complex, and you have to move around and look up things on the board a lot. The problem is: you won't find it, and there is no room to place the counters. Some of the place names are obscured by the lines that connect them, and the weird text fonts have to be seen to be believed (this practice extends to the truly horrible cards as well). Instead of using colours that blend in nicely the designer has chosen to collect the most garish colours that he could find, so it's not yellow, but "piss-yellow", not green but "vomit-green" and so on. I think some of the colours don't even have names (look at the colour of the "Alfar"-stack outline, for example - see the picture).Even worse, the whole board has some weird unintelligible back-picture underneath, which might or might not be a wanking dinosaur. Also, the back picture is red, and guess what the colour of the text-boxes is as well? RED...
sheer genius - this board has all it needs to be TOP!
This game board lets you simply ask the question: WHAT DID THEY THINK?
 
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2. Board Game: 007 James Bond: Live and Let Die [Average Rating:5.36 Overall Rank:16538]
Board Game: 007 James Bond: Live and Let Die
Moritz Eggert
Germany
Munich/Germany
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What do you think of when you hear "James Bond"? Yes, beautiful exotic locations, gorgeous women, phantastic cars and gadgets....
but not this totally expressionless game board which looks like a 4-year old had drawn it by numbers. Well, this is supposed to be an exciting race through a swamp river, but it looks like a bland golf course to me. There is absolutely nothing on this board which somehow makes you think of anything remotely spectacular, which I think is a grave sin for any game that depicts action. It looks like a game on the back of a cereal package. How they thought they could interest kids with this remains a mystery.
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3. Board Game: Source of the Nile [Average Rating:6.51 Overall Rank:3714]
Board Game: Source of the Nile
Moritz Eggert
Germany
Munich/Germany
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This might be a controversial entry, as the board of "Source of the Nile" is not ugly per se, just very bland (it is a map of Africa to be explored, with most of the hexes left blank). What makes this game ugly is the simple fact that the designers intended YOU to map out (and DRAW yourself!) the various wonders of Africa as you discover them with your hapless explorers. Which in itself shouldn't be bad, as there might be artistically inclined players who would do a great job - the problem is that the crayons provided with game are simply the crayons from hell (the crayons from hell known to every "Empire Builder" player). Not only are these crayons totally useless, they also won't really work on the playing surface as provided. And if you manage to actually draw something, it won't "erase easily with a cloth" as described in the rulebook...it won't erase at all! Ever! After mapping out a few hexes (which, due to the fiddly rules and slow gameplay, takes ages anyway) you are already left with a gameboard that is any cartographers nightmare, or any sane persons nightmare anyway.
All the "Empire Builder" games would also fall into this category, but there you mostly have to draw lines, which isn't that difficult. Here you have to draw complicated symbols which represent jungles, lakes, mountains, and everything just becomes a horrible mess. Perhaps it was intended, as historically most explorers got lost searching for the Source of the Nile anyway...
Has anybody got a good scan of a board of this game after playing? This would prove my point. And no, I won't accept "tinkered with" versions that use a clear plastic overlay with erasable felt-tip pens - it has to be the original as provided!
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4. Board Game: Alexander the Great [Average Rating:6.19 Overall Rank:5931]
Board Game: Alexander the Great
Moritz Eggert
Germany
Munich/Germany
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This has been suggested as a "spilled-the-pudding" school-of-design gameboard. I don't own this game, but I have to admit that it looks pretty horrible in this picture. Although I'm not sure which is worse: the gameboard or the zombie with the empty glare who somehow is supposed to depict Alexander the Great on the cover. I think he would win every battle - everybody would just run away in horror when seeing him!
No wonder Gary Gygax later moved on to invent role-playing games- no image created in your mind only can be as horrifyingly revolting as this early war-game effort of his.
Thanks to Ray for mentioning this game!
 
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5. Board Game: Diplomacy [Average Rating:7.05 Overall Rank:587]
Board Game: Diplomacy
Moritz Eggert
Germany
Munich/Germany
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This was also a suggestion, but when I remembered the atrocity of the Gibson edition, I had to immediately include it in the list. Diplomacy has of course been published several times, mostly in beautiful editions like the new Hasbro one. But somewhere in the back of each wargamer's memory lurks the horror of the "Gibson-edition" depicted here, which might have been the most inappropriate game map ever. "Diplomacy" is , as we all know, a relatively serious game of war and...well backstabbing and diplomacy. Perhaps the graphic designer thought this was too depressing, and that the players needed something to lighten them up while they were overrun and annihilated on the board. This resulted in amazingly creepy "caricatures" of balloons, soldiers, etc.. Not only do the uselessly clutter the board, they also don't really have anything to do with the game (where is the russian balloon squadron?). In addition the selected colours nearly match the ineptness of "Hammer of Thor", russia is coloured like the sea spaces should be coloured, which makes you first think you're gaming in some weird alternative world in which Western Europe is surrounded by ice and borders on a vast ocean to the east. The North Sea even has marching soldiers on it to further this interpretation! And every turkish person will scream in outrage at the most clichè-ridden depiction of a turk ever on the map of Turkey.
Thanks for pointing this out to me, Daniel!
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6. Board Game: Battlemist [Average Rating:5.94 Overall Rank:8305]
Board Game: Battlemist
Moritz Eggert
Germany
Munich/Germany
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This is more of a joke entry, as "Battlemist" is of course, as most Fantasy Flight games, a beautifully produced game with nice graphics. I have added the game solely because of the picture, which shows that player neglect can certainly turn ANY game into an UGLY game. The "god-awful" (quote) tablecloth on this picture has already created quite a discussion on other lists. How anybody could combine the already quite informationally overloaded graphics of the "Battlemist" area tiles with this weird cthulhoid tablecloth is anybody's guess. The picture clearly shows that "the cloth" doesn't follow normal geometric laws, it is an object of an infernal outer dimension. Even weirder, "something" was eaten on the table - the mind reels in horror at the thought of "what" has been "eaten" on the plate with the knives.
This is already a cult picture on "Boardgamegeek", so I just had to include it here. I would actually love to hear what the photographer of this pic can tell us about the circumstances of the picture....
Thanks to Mark for reminding me of this one!
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7. Board Game: 4th Reich: Puremen vs. the Mutants for Control of the World [Average Rating:5.04 Overall Rank:17852]
Board Game: 4th Reich: Puremen vs. the Mutants for Control of the World
Moritz Eggert
Germany
Munich/Germany
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This is one of a rare breed: A game that has an ugly board AND an ugly theme (some might argue that the rules are ugly as well, but I have actually never played this game, although I own it). This game takes a bitterly satiric SF-novel written by Norman Spinrad, "The Iron dream", in which a parallel world Hitler (who makes a living as an author of SF-pulp-novels in the US) describes a future world in which his ideas of the battle of a superpure race against the horrible mutants is described with glee. This game takes this novel (not the novel about the novel) as a theme, which means basically it lets you play in the dreamworld of Hitler. Hey, I never really wanted to do that! Whereas historical WWII wargames *might* teach you about the madness of Hitler's plans, this game actually has you take on the role of "Hetler", an idealized fantasy "Hitler" (yecch). So you move armies of "puremen" over a cheaply printed board to combat "evil" mutants (it is never explained why they are evil, although you're opponent might think something up). The cover of the box is already an ill-fated attempt of a parody of Picasso's "Guernica", where Picasso's screaming figures of pain are replaced by squirming mutants crushed by a "puremen"-tank. Well, very funny indeed. The board itself is a future Europe "after a nuclear war". It follows the practice of many hex-wargame graphical designers: draw something ugly on a sheet of paper (look at the inept city silhouettes) and then "gloss" it over with globs of ugly colour to create "terrain". Well, it doesn't work really.
All this is apparently intended to be some kind of "parody", but it really is a very ill-advised one.
I could never bring myself to play this game with anybody (fittingly enough it includes a "solitaire" rules version). Somebody might actually think I'm a crazed Nazi when I proposed to play this game! I always hide it at the back of my games collection, so nobody can see it. I dare not to play it - it is just too horrible to behold.
Has anybody ever played this???
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8. Board Game: Glebdo [Average Rating:5.86 Unranked]
Board Game: Glebdo
Moritz Eggert
Germany
Munich/Germany
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This is what my gaming friend Aaron writes: "This is a great idea and I'm all to happy to add one of my favourites to your list: Glebdo, a game published by PlayNet 1987. The game board is simply a gem in tems of causing confusion and even nausea after a while. At first glance the Escher like depiction of Castle Glebdo may have a certain appeal but playing on the board for hours makes one sick. It may well be a deliberate attempt by the authors (Helmut Dressler & Manfred Schnmidt) to make finding routes difficult but they definitely overdid it. This is actually quite a shame as the game has some of the nicest game material I have seen for a long time: handpainted clay figurs! I've added a partial scan of the board and a photograph of the clay figurs for reference."
Moritz' comment: I have actually seen this game, though never played it myself. The idea of an Escher gameboard sounds cool at first (I am fan of maze games), but the problem is you can only look at it from one side of the table, as it is a 2-dimensional gameboard depicting a 3-D object. I guess that you not only have to find the right routes to move through the castle yourself, the other players have to check them for correctness as well, which induces constant happy nausea for everybody.
This game is an example of an artistically sound approach gone terribly wrong.
I personally find the clay figures incredibly horrible, but Aaron seems to like them. How about a new list - the ugliest game-tokens of all time?
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9. Board Game: Mystic War [Average Rating:5.82 Overall Rank:13174]
Board Game: Mystic War
Moritz Eggert
Germany
Munich/Germany
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Well, just look at the above picture- it is "Mystic War" in all it's miserableness. Similar to the above mentioned "James Bond" game this game just fails in the expectation/atmosphere department. It is actually quite an ok game (Tim Jim after all has published some very good games), an abstract duel between sorcerers mostly done by playing cards. But each player has his "own" board depicting his "magic empire", which consists of some bad layout, boring text with bad fonts, and....nothing else. All you can do the whole game is stare at an accountant's wet dream, (which isn't anybody else's wet dream, that's for sure), printed in a cheap "copy shop" blue. Far removed from the beautiful palace boards from "Princes of Florence" for example. For god's sake: this is a game about spells, magic warfare, fabulous treasure and mighty dragons! Well, there are the cards to look at, but the pictures on them are drawn by the 6-year-old niece of the game designer (at least that's what they look like - check them out at the page of the game). We once actually played this game in a large group, and believe me: never again was it so difficult to get transported into a magical fantasy world (which everybody was willing to!). After checking his "chart" for the umpteenth time and moving some bland coloured plastic markers along totally boring charts for the umpteenth time somebody said "Is this actually a fantasy game?". Food for thought, my friends....
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10. Board Game: Fast Food Franchise [Average Rating:6.36 Overall Rank:5097]
Board Game: Fast Food Franchise
Moritz Eggert
Germany
Munich/Germany
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I really hate bashing the actually praise-deserving TimJim-games (games by gamers for gamers), but people persistingly pointed this specific game out to me, so I just HAD to include it. "Fast food franchise" is a strange game - the theme doesn't really work that well (who wants to manage burger imperiums?) but the general mood in this Monopoly-variant is light, so I don't care. Shame about the high luck-factor, though - why make a mod of Monopoly even MORE luck oriented???
Whatever, whereas the game is sort of ok (not TimJim's best, though), the board is the most uninspired that one could imagine. It could serve as a pinup for accountants perhaps, but the only emotion it will garner from gamers is total contempt. Come on, a cartoon of burger-gobbling capitalists would have helped, even the garish Diplomacy cartoons would have actually made this board more interesting! The mystery is that TimJim actually HAD access to graphic designers that were capable (see the cover of "Age of Exploration" for example), why not pay them that little more to make a game board nicer? Well, ANYTHING would have been better, even a glop of ketchup here and there, but....hey....I understand: Fast Food = bland, therefore a game has to be bland as well?
Bollocks!
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11. Board Game: Formula Dé Circuits 27 - 30: USA Track Pack #2 [Average Rating:7.32 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.32 Unranked]
Board Game: Formula Dé Circuits 27 - 30: USA Track Pack #2
A L D A R O N
United States
Cambridge
Massachusetts
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Just one of many examples from this series. They're so crammed with idiotic and distracting junk that it's almost impossible to find the playing surface. Some of the worst graphic design in the industry.
 
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12. Board Game: The Willow Game [Average Rating:5.79 Overall Rank:13003]
Board Game: The Willow Game
Jeremy Fridy
United States
Kent
Ohio
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Take a look at that board... Just solid colors, very ugly. My best friend bought this at an auction and after looking at it put it on a shelf and said we would go blind if we ever unfolded the board.
 
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13. Board Game: Das Amulett [Average Rating:6.46 Overall Rank:3522]
Board Game: Das Amulett
Randall Peek
United States
Preston
Connecticut
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A really good game with a really awful board. The different regions are garishly colored and there is no sense of this being a real place at all. A picky point, I know, but just some semblence of real geography might have been nice.Probably would have been difficult to acheive given that the similar regions have to be well-separated.
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14. Board Game: Close Encounters of the Third Kind [Average Rating:4.79 Overall Rank:18008]
Board Game: Close Encounters of the Third Kind
My friend just bought this game at a thift store. We laughed pretty hard when he opened it to check out the board. My god. , that thing is just DRIPPING with theme.
 
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15. Board Game: War at Sea (Second Edition) [Average Rating:6.49 Overall Rank:2997] [Average Rating:6.49 Unranked]
Board Game: War at Sea (Second Edition)
Mark Kolenski
United States
North Andover
Massachusetts
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Great game, but what were they thinking? Some sort of Kubrikesque primary color deal? Short on art budget?
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16. Board Game: Kingdoms [Average Rating:6.64 Overall Rank:1261]
Board Game: Kingdoms
Mark Kolenski
United States
North Andover
Massachusetts
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I'm talking about the Kingdoms version. I love the game, but: The lack of proper color contrast, the non-iconic busy-ness of counters, and the vague playing locations drive me batty. This may just be me though. A game like this should not be cardboard either.
 
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17. Board Game: D-Day (3rd edition) [Average Rating:5.94 Overall Rank:8211]
Board Game: D-Day (3rd edition)
Mark Kolenski
United States
North Andover
Massachusetts
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Apparently in the 60's and 70's they could only print in two colors heh heh ...
 
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18. Board Game: Tactics II [Average Rating:5.39 Overall Rank:18895]
Board Game: Tactics II
Mark Kolenski
United States
North Andover
Massachusetts
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Granddaddy of them all, so perhaps we can forgive ugliness. Luckily, there is currently no reason to ever play this game except for nostalgia purposes. Another two-color jobber. Not for the color-blind!
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19. Board Game: Aggravation [Average Rating:4.80 Overall Rank:19232]
Board Game: Aggravation
Jody Morgan
United States
Fancy Gap
Virginia
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The image I mentioned below in the comments. gulpyuk
 
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20. Board Game: Castle of Magic [Average Rating:6.15 Overall Rank:7575]
Board Game: Castle of Magic
Jorge Montero
United States
St Louis
Missouri
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I'll take Manhattan in a garbage bag. With Latin written on it that says "It's hard to give a shit these days"
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While the board is functional, the color combinations and complete lack of artwork make this board one of the most horrible things I've ever seen. Add to that that it has as much dice rolling as monopoly, and you get a big American disaster.

The worst part is that if you made a decent board, removed the dice rolling mechanism and tweaked a couple of mechanics to fit modern standards, Castle of Magic could be an amazing game.
 
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21. Board Game: Medici [Average Rating:7.14 Overall Rank:524]
 Missing Image
Justin
United States
Creve Coeur
MO
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MY EYES!

when you add cards and such, it only gets worse
 
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22. Board Game: Lords & Wizards [Average Rating:5.84 Overall Rank:15297]
Board Game: Lords & Wizards
Darrell Pavitt
United Kingdom
Unspecified
Unspecified
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This has the worst board in my collection. Although the rules aren't bad, the counters are awful and the map is so amateurish I have never had any desire to try it. Note that the area of map shown is one of the better areas - in some places it's obvious that someone has used a ruler and marker pen to draw the roads. FGU should have stuck to RPGs.
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23. Board Game: Age of Steam [Average Rating:7.76 Overall Rank:122]
Board Game: Age of Steam
Mark Stadel
Canada
Calgary
Alberta
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I'll probably get linched for saying this, but I've always found Age of Steam to be one of the ugliest games I've played ... its a good game, but uuuugly: plain board, tiddly-wink money, bland charts that noone uses (using fan-created stuff instead). The fans will tell you its art is "minimalistic" and "clean" but if every other game was as underproduced as this one, there would be a lot of ugly games out there.

(As a side note, I would be interested in seeing what this would look like if produced by ... say ... FFG. Hmmm ... And I know of the ~2008 third edition with "nicer bits and better graphics" ... I guess it cant do anything but improve devil)
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24. Board Game: Princes of the Renaissance [Average Rating:7.39 Overall Rank:804]
Board Game: Princes of the Renaissance
I think this is maybe the best Wallace game along with Age Of Steam. I REALLY love this game.

By the way, the board is one of the ugliest I've ever seen.

Oh, and WHY city spaces are rendered with a Jupiter photo?

Waiting for the reprint... ninja
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25. Board Game: Rise of the House of Sa'ud [Average Rating:4.79 Overall Rank:17767]
Board Game: Rise of the House of Sa'ud
Kevin Roach
Canada
Brandon
Manitoba
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Well, I recall this being one gosh awful map. Too bad there isn't a better picture of it.

Board Game: Rise of the House of Sa'ud
 
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