Board Gaming on a Budget

By Luke Muench

Whenever I suggest someone consider delving into the rich and varied hobby of board gaming, the one factor that deters most is the seeming large cost that comes with it. Board games range from $10 to well over $100, each title customizable to an absurd level. From upgraded components to various expansion packs, any one game can change a $30 affair to something far more extensive and costly. Yet, even if we assume that someone isn’t ready to “bling” out their games, each game tends to be available for, on average, a $50 or $60 price tag in my experience. And when you already aren’t sure where you should start, this can become a deal-breaker quickly.


We live in a day and age when board gaming is on the rise, yet there are very few resources made explicitly for people just getting into the hobby.  So, for those of us who do take the leap, it's important in our starting days, months, even years that we find a way to make it manageable monetarily. Fortunately, this is a subject I consistently explore in my YouTube show, Budget Board Gamer.

So whether you’re new to the game or a veteran of the hobby, I thought I’d share some advice to make things easier on your wallet. No matter who you are, saving a couple bucks is never a bad thing, and while this subject does cater to newer members of the board gaming craze, I think the following can be helpful to anyone throwing cash at their unwieldy and ever-growing collection.

1. Be Selective

As of writing this, there are 92,094 board games registered on, the internet’s central hub for all things board gaming. So if you’re going to be picking out a game for yourself, make sure it’s one you REALLY want to play. Is the theme something that excites you? How much strategy are you looking for? How much luck should play into who wins? How nice are the components? These are all factors that need to be heavily weighed and considered, and some of this will come with time and experience. Don’t expect that the first few games you get will be your favorites. My first, Small World, now adorns my apartment wall as an art piece, a reminder of where I started this journey and how far I’ve come. So pick something that you think looks mind-blowingly cool, just make sure to-

2. Do Your Research

There are a lot of factors to consider when looking at any game, and you won’t have the answers to most of them by simply looking at the box. is a fantastic research tool and should not be wasted on you. Find a game’s page, see what people are saying about it, what game mechanics it contains, a handful of price quotes. But don’t stop there; find some recent reviews to see how the game has held up over time. If you’re going to spend the money for it and the time to play it, you should have a pretty good idea of what to expect from it well before the box arrives on your doorstep.

3. BGG Rank, BGG Spank

When I first started getting games, I was pretty attached to the BoardGameGeek ranking system, scouring the top 500 games every few days to see if there was anything I missed, if any games had risen or fallen, what titles jumped out at me on a given day. While seemingly helpful, this can be a big waste of time. BGG’s list is about the overall ranking, not about the best games for you. It can be easy to see positive ratings and be swept away by the idea of a complex and involved game like Terra Mystica. But, more often than not, the most complex games are the most expensive due to how many components are involved. And without having experienced the game at least once beforehand, you could be dropping a ton of money on a game that you may not even enjoy. Rather than focusing on the games everyone else is talking about, look for games that you know you like, then use resources like the BGG forum, geeklists, or the countless videos and articles on the internet to find games that scratch a similar itch. So yes, a game’s rank can help to indicate an overall quality of a product to the masses, but it shouldn’t be a number that you rely on to measure if a game will be good for you.

4. Dealing With It

There are deals for anything on the internet if you go looking for them, and board gaming is no exception. Various websites will hold big clearance sales when they become overstocked, with a sale showing up on my newsfeed and email every couple of days. In a day and age when you can get just about anything you set your mind to, make sure it’s for the best price you can find.

5. Stay Informed

I’ve set up my Facebook, Twitter, and email to bombard me with notices regarding sales, contests, and more to help me be aware of what new things are headed to store shelves and how cheap I can get them for. While I’m not saying to make your accounts become a pile of ads, consider following or subscribing to those publishers that produce games that really appeal to you. It could save you a lot of time and money in the long-run.


6. Support Your FLGS (Friendly Local Gaming Store)

To some, this will seem to contradict my previous points; going to a store to pay full price for my games? How will that save me money? In order to compete with online giants like Amazon and Cool Stuff Inc, local retailers have come up with various reasons as to why you should stop in. Many have back rooms of games for people to freely play, allowing you to try out a ton of games before you buy them. Some will even give you a discount if you attend an event featuring the game before purchasing. Most have some sort of loyalty program, providing better discounts the more you support the store. And for those who are newer to board gaming, having someone there to walk you through what games are worth your time and money is well worth the price of the game itself. Sure, not every store will be staffed with good, honest folk, but any worth its snuff will have someone who can direct you to a selection of options worth considering.

7. Giveaway Galore

Now, I’m not trying to say you should rely on giveaways and the promises of free stuff to actively build your collection. More often than not, those contests won’t be featuring games that you have any interest in. All the same, there’s no harm in entering these contests; most of these contests are free, and you’ll educate yourself on the types of games being released in the process. There’s a list of such giveaways on, but some Facebook pages specialize in informing its followers of such deals and events.

8. PnP (Print and Play)

Some publishers, in the hopes of allowing more budding gamers to grow, have provided their works online as PDFs. Those interested can print off the necessary cards or components and, using card sleeves and dice, can experience some fantastic games for relatively cheap. No, these won’t be the prettiest things to look at, but it helps inform players as to what they like, allowing you to grow your collection early for little to no money down. And if you end up liking the game enough, you can always go out and buy your own retail copy down the road.

Here are four of my favorite Print and Play games worth checking out:

Tiny Epic Kingdoms:

Deep Space D-6:

...And Then We Held Hands:

Elevenses for One:


9. Your Board Gaming Buddy

At the end of the day, you won’t be able to afford every game you’ve ever wanted to play, and it’s a rookie mistake to buy everything you want to try. Fortunately, this hobby is rife with people with huge game collections just looking to hang out and play. Whether it’s through your FLGS, conventions,, or word of mouth, you should be able to find someone with knowledge, experience, and a wealth of games to play. Now, I’m not saying you should go looking for these people just to leech off their games; go to make friends, to hang out, to hopefully join or establish a gaming group (After all, games are only as good as the people playing them). As long as your friendship is mutual and everyone is respectful of one another, there’s no reason not to use your friends as a resource to learn more of what you do or don’t like.

There you have it; 9 solid pieces of Budget Board Gamer advice - your wallet and I thank you for reading. That said, if you are hunting for deals, just keep an eye out for sales or use price trackers like Like anything else, stores sometimes buy too much stock and end up selling games at sometimes steep discounts. In no particular order, the following are board games that sell for $40 - $80 retail that I’ve managed to find for $30 or less over the last few years - happy hunting!

  • Splendor

  • Ethnos

  • Libertalia

  • Deception: Murder in Hong Kong

  • Lord of the Rings: The Card Game

  • Samurai Spirit

  • King of New York

  • Machine of Death

  • Pandemic Legacy

  • The Big Book of Madness

  • Elysium

  • Discoveries: The Journals of Lewis and Clark

  • Flash Point

  • Kingdom Builder: Big Box

  • Tokaido

  • Seasons


Board gaming is something you invest in, in every sense of the word, so I hope this article helped alleviate some of the struggle I know all too well. If you liked this article and want to see more like it, please comment below and let us know what subjects you’d like us to cover in the future. From the size of your collection to the size of your boxes, Budget Board Gamer and the Cardboard Herald will have you covered.

Luke Muench is a freelance writer and the founder & host of the youtube series Budget Board Gamer.


2017 Hype with Jack and John

We talk a lot about the past around here. Past games, cultural heritage, the legacy of certain designers. But the past can only get us so far, and in light of the world climate right now, let’s talk about how cool the future will be; lets get HYPE!

What is there worth getting HYPE about? CleganeBowl for one. But there are other things to get excited for, movies, books, video games, and yes, board games; especially board games. On episode 15 of The Cardboard Herald podcast, Jack and John talked in depth about the games they are most excited for in 2017; here is that list:

Jack: Legend of the Five Rings LCG - David Seay, John Zinser, and David Williams - Fantasy Flight Games

There was a period in my life where all of my gaming was in the L5R tournament scene. Frequently playing 2 tournaments per week, I equally loved the intensely strategic gameplay and the mystical setting of Rokugan. I’m leery of diving into an LCG model if the base set doesn’t feel complete, and I don’t know exactly what FFG has in store, but I’m excited and cannot wait to see what this new game looks like.

John: First Martians: Adventures on the Red Planet - Ignacy Trzewiczek - Portal Games

Mars is the “in” planet these days and 2016’s smash hit Terraforming Mars is just one of many new games to jump on that train and I am %100 ok with that.  I’ve had plenty of great and not so great viking games, pirate games, wizard games, and even space empire games, but I’m oh so ready for a dash of that spirit of frontier-style adventurism that Mars evokes.  This is Ignacy Trzewiczek’s follow up to Robinson Crusoe; a co-op game I personally enjoyed, but felt didn’t quite scratch that “roughing it” itch for whatever reason.  This should be that same desperate struggle for survival with the benefit of being set in a place that hands down wins the award for most hostile and some new or updated gameplay to maybe push it to the next level..

Jack: Yamatai - Bruno Cathala / Marc Paquien - Days of Wonder

I love Days of Wonder Games. Something about their business model and company ethos is endearing to me. They make one really solid game per year that is enjoyable and satisfying to a broad audience, and then fully back it with their considerable promotional and developmental power. While not every game has been a success, almost all of their releases have been memorable and fun. Yamatai captures the same mystical asian lore that I loved about L5R and combines that with the somewhat abstract and strategic gameplay Bruno Cathala is known for. How can I not be intrigued?

John: Dark Souls - Mat Hart / Richard Loxam - Steamforged Games

I don’t typically “pull the trigger” on licensing alone. If you want a company that takes its licensed properties and lovingly develops them then look no further than Fantasy Flight Games and if you want an example of how it can be done with...let’s say a little less devotion to actual gaming content, then look at Cryptozoic.  This was an exception for me in that I jumped on board after getting into the “Dark Souls” games last year and I’m truly hoping it ends up in the FFG end of the spectrum.  The rules seems promising and should deliver on a tough but rewarding co-op experience that feels very true to the source.  The true test will be whether the game offers a rich experience for both gamers who praise the sun and those who have absolutely no idea what I’m on about.

Jack: Charterstone - Jamey Stegmaier - Stonemaier Games

I like legacy style games, but I’m not ready to ditch my traditional “one and done” style of gaming yet. That’s why I’m happy that Stonemaier is releasing a city building legacy game that is meant to be played continuously after you are “done” with the legacy elements. I’m also a big fan of the “fit and finish” of Stonemaier’s games up until this point, always a smooth and beautiful production (even without those upgraded resources). So I’m definitely going to check this sucker out.

John: Chronicle 1: Origins - Rob Daviau / Dirk Knemeyer - Artana

This is an odd duck for me and one that Charterstone almost took the spot from.  Artana games isn’t a huge publisher and Dirk Knemeyer isn’t a name I see everywhere like the Bruno Cathalas and Erik Langs right now, but the premise of this one caught my eye and having Rob Daviau attached is the best and only legacy-gaming pedigree at the moment.  The rough idea is a civilization building game that spans multiple game entries using a legacy game format combined with a new “echo” system that carries over some details from each game released in the series to the next.  Sadly this was supposed to launch a kickstarter last year and was delayed and my attempt to contact the designer for the inside scoop was unsuccessful so far, but if the BGG page is to be believed this will be a 2017 release and I have high hopes that this could be more of what I loved about legacy-gaming so far.

Jack: Kingdom Builder: Harvest - David X Vaccarino - Queen Games (Expansion)

I really love Kingdom Builder. It fits a niche that few other games do, both mentally stimulating yet also so incredibly soothing. There is something almost therapeutic about the game. One of the big things that I love is that expansions integrate so seamlessly and rarely with any conflict. I’m really looking forward to more challenges, mechanics, and especially (hopefully) new scoring conditions.

Both of Us: Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 - Rob Daviau and Matt Leacock - Z-man Games

John: One of my top 10 greatest gaming experiences of all time will undoubtedly be Season 1 of this franchise.  I sat down every week with the same group of players and we participated in something that delivered more than just a one-and-done game session.  We cared about our world.  We cared about our characters.  And best of all, we had influence and ownership of how those things fared.  That game, to me, was the best mix of strategy board gaming blended with the story and investment of a book or television series that I’ve had outside the realms of the traditional RPG.  I’m working on a project to frame my first board to hang in my board game room and I’m already expecting that I’ll need room for a second season to hang alongside it.

Jack: Does anything really need to be said about Pandemic Legacy? When I said that 2015 gaming discussion was dominated by Blood Rage, what I meant was that all non-Pandemic Legacy gaming discussion. PL Season 1 took the world by storm and defined what a legacy game could and should be. Playing through Season 1 was among my favorite board game memories of all time, and I cannot wait to see what clever mechanics and cool story unfolds before us in  Season 2.

Jack: Unannounced 3rd game in the tile laying trilogy - Ted Alspach - Bezier Games

According to designer Ted Alspach, he is busy working on the follow up to Suburbia and Castles of Mad King Ludwig that will be the best of the three. That’s a bold claim, especially since Suburbia is one of my favorite games of all time. I’m eagerly anticipating this “new challenger”.

Both of Us: Rising Sun - Eric Lang - Cool Mini or Not

Jack: Probably the HYPE-ist game of all, this is the follow up to the kickstarter mega-hit Blood Rage. Eric Lang has been amazingly prolific in the past couple of years and Blood Rage dominated internet gaming discussion in 2015, blending european “point salad” gameplay with american style aggressive confrontation. Again, between the setting entrenched in Asian lore (Onis are so hot this year!), and the proven capability of the Blood Rage team (same designer, artist, sculptor, publisher), there is a lot to get HYPE about here.

John: Japanese inspired fantasy is such a refreshing break from fairly common fantasy in the “elf-on-orc violence” and “my old bearded guy fights a dragon” traditions.  We’ve also seen a lot in the way of mythology from Greek, Viking, and Egyptian pantheons so something with just a touch of Shinto or a dash of Tao might be nice from time to time.  Theme aside, I’m excited to see what comes next after last year’s Blood Rage in terms of taking area control and conflict and mixing them with things like drafting and resource management.  Erik Lang has been seemingly everywhere lately and going back to an old favorite of mine, I can already say I really liked his much earlier Chaos in the Old World and loved that Bood Rage seemed to take elements of that style and push it in a totally different direction.  I’m hoping Rising Sun keeps pushing.

Bonus Unannounced / Semi Announced Expansions!

Jack: Next Five Tribes big box expansion - Bruno Cathala - Days of Wonder

Know how I said I love Days of Wonder? It’s the consistent design, approachability and polish of their games that really attracts me to them, though admittedly I don’t consider most of their games as top 5 or 10 games of all time. Five Tribes is the exception. That game is my jam. I love everything about it. And while I was talking with designer Bruno Cathala for the podcast, he let slip that he is working on a big expansion due out this year. I cannot wait to see what comes.

John: All the Arkham Horror LCG! - Fantasy Flight Games

This this this!  I can’t get enough of this experience and I would compare my approach to it with the same approach I have to great television; I’m waiting for the whole first season to finish so I can binge.  I opened up a core set and immediately knew I wanted to pursue this blend of co-op strategy and Arkham-family story (tragedy mostly).  That first campaign is a fun experience, but one that teases so much potential that it feels incomplete without more to play after the first 3 games.  I’m afraid to purchase any more just yet for fear that it really will continue to deliver great experiences for me and I’ll be left waiting again for more.  So instead I’ll sit patiently while the product line develops a bit, but make no mistake, I will be diving into this one later this year to see where it goes and I expect good things for gaming and not so great things for my wallet.

Jack: Champions of Midgard expansion(s) - Ole Steiness (?) - Grey Fox Games

Grey Fox has been pretty coy on the BGG forums, but they have let on that a kickstarter will be up very soon (next week or two from me writing this) for Champions of Midgard Expansions. They haven’t clarified if this is one or many expansions, something that’s modular, who is designing, whatever. But I really need/want to know because I consider Champions a good game that needs just a little bit more. I think the mechanics are better than the game itself, and it just needs a few more strategic options to elevate it and give the game the punch it needs. So I’m really eager to see what they have in store.

***Breaking News Update*** Since originally recording the podcast and writing this article, Grey Fox has announced the names of the two expansions for Champions of Midgard; “Dark Mountains” and “Valhalla”. No details further details so far.

***Breaking-ER Breaking News Update*** The Kickstarter for the two new Champions of Midgard expansions, including full details of what you are getting, is now live and can be found here.

That’s it! Are you feeling the HYPE!? Were any of these off your radar but now you are frothing at the mouth for? What games are you most excited for in 2017? Send us an email at or tweet to us @cardboardherald to let us know!





John's Favorite non-2016 Gaming Experiences of 2016

The turn of the year is always a convenient break in time between the moments that make up the tumultuous pace of our lives.  It grants us a convenient excuse to look back on the most recent chapter of our stories and decide how we feel about certain aspects of it and examine the moments from the passing year that will become our most cherished memories.  As gamers our thoughts naturally turn to the experiences our hobby has brought us and with the gaming renaissance still in full swing, it’s easy to find a score of new games to fill your highlight reel for the year.  2016 has been no exception to this, with new releases conquering ranking lists on every review site and forum available.  While the releases this year have been many in number and varied in design, who can yet say if these games will stand the test of time and breed even more memories in years to come?  Instead of taking part in the top ten list building that inevitably sings the praises of the new, I would instead like to take a moment to share 3 of the games published in prior years that created some of my best gaming moments of 2016 and did in fact hold value for me well after the smell of new cardboard wore off.

Descent: Journeys in the Dark (2nd Ed.) (2012)
Descent is hardly a new game and hardly new to me, but this year was a renaissance year for the venerable game, both for me personally and for gaming as a whole.  The “Road to Legend” app ratcheted up the team and story elements of Descent up in a big way and undeniably opened up the game to a whole subset of players who might have been turned off by the now common one vs. many “overlord” format.  I have enjoyed a game or 2 of cooperative Descent since the advent of the app, but this year was all about 1 on1 adventure for me.  When my girlfriend said she was tired of my nagging about playing dungeon crawls, she followed up by telling me she had set up a play date for a friend of mine and I.  Since then I have played no fewer than 20 individual Descent scenarios this year and finally finished the core set campaign after 4 long years of starting and restarting.  Rediscovering how much I enjoy the game was absolutely a highlight of my year and playing it as an overlord against 3 heroes under a single player added an edge of competition that combating a team sometimes lacks.

Big Book of Madness (2015)
The genre of deckbuilding games is one that has lived its life in dog years an aged more rapidly and less gracefully than many other core designs.  The explosion of such a simple type of game design was akin to the CCG bubble of the 90’s and these days it takes some interesting mechanics for a deckbuilder to catch my attention.  Big Book of Madness is a lovely co-op experience tied to very basic deckbuilding frame with some interesting new mechanics bolted on for good measure.  I especially appreciated how it punished players for playing like a standard deckbuilder and drawing as many cards as possible in a turn.  This one found its way to my 2016 roster when I was asked to teach it at our local gaming convention in January.  It’s not a game that redefined the industry, but its a very solid entry with a fun theme and it came along at a time my girlfriend was just entering the world of tabletop gaming.  As a cooperative game the interaction levels are high, but players have their own decks and can easily avoid “quarterbacking” (which I am guilty of) which helped it become a date night favorite at my house this spring and a game we both bonded over.

Cthulhu Wars (2015)
My first foray into Kickstarting board games began with a bit of madness induced by the whispers of dark gods.  Those whispers were all the more potent because the elder beings in question were plastic miniatures of immense size that positively wriggle with detail.  The last of Cthulhu Wars’ vast swarm of extra content made its way to my collection in 2015, but this year saw a resurgence in play for me.  This game is a centerpiece in my collection and I was extremely happy to see it be in the top 20 most frequent games I got to the table this year.  What makes this game special to me is the size of it all, and yes I literally mean the so called miniatures.  The gameplay is fantastic and would fit a smaller game, but the extravagant scale of this game makes the experience a grand one.  Every time my group sat down to play we walked away with a story of immense beings of unimaginable power wreaking havoc on the table/earth and everything about the art and design of the game lent itself to that story.  This year was the year Cthulhu Wars rose from the depths of my collection and saw massive play, proving that that which is dead cannot die and in strange aeons (and 2016 was strange) even weighty games might see play.

2016 was defined by the people I played with more than the games.  I began a new relationship in 2015 and by January of 2016 she was fully engaged in her gaming indoctrination;  I reconnected with several close friends over the gaming table; I even began my first attempts at bringing tabletop adventures to the world of my 8 year old daughter.  2016 was a year full of great new designs, but these 3 games found a fresh audience or renewed vigor this year in my house because of their ability to create experiences that I could share with the people whose company I enjoy.

-John L.S. Foster

Jack's favorite old but new games of 2016


How often do you play new games? And of those new games, how often were they released in the same year you are playing them? Don’t get me wrong, I love playing the new hotness. Sinking my teeth into a new game fresh in our hobby’s collective consciousness is among my favorite gaming experiences; though by far my exposure“new games”  are most often older gems or games that hit wider availability in the year following release. While much of the discussion this season will be dominated by new releases, let’s honor some of the older games that were new to me in 2016.

Suburbia (2012):
I’ve gushed plenty about Suburbia on the site. We picked it up in a trade early in 2016, and wow, what an impact it’s had throughout the year. Time and time again, month after month, my wife and I would find ourselves passing other games up for Suburbia. Not only does it have an incredibly satisfying set of mechanisms, the theme is really strong. You really get engaged with the operation of your city, and see it come to life. Set up is relatively quick, the pieces are of high quality, there is tension and player interactivity through the market, this isn’t just one of my favorite games new to me in 2016; it’s one of my favorite games of all time.

Concordia (2013):
Catan was my entry point into modern tabletop gaming. I existed on the fringes for a long time, playing CCGs and occassional tabletop miniature games, but it was Catan’s city development and adding abstract little wooden pieces to a board in a non-confrontational (but secretly EXTRA! confrontational) manner that hooked me. My lust for Catan has waned, but I still long for that feeling of development and investment that I first had so many years ago. Fortunately, Concordia delivers. This game is has incredible strategic depth while maintaining a solidly middle-weight approach. Perfectly balancing limited choices with a wide breadth of options, Concordia is one of the games that I feel most satisfied after having played. Like a good stew, a game of Concordia sticks to your bones.

Pandemic Legacy: Season One (2015): *no spoilers*
I’m still undecided on the whole Legacy thing. I can’t tell if a few years from now I’ll look back on destroyed games and feel like my time with them was as satisfying as the many more games I played of more traditional games. But there is no doubt that I had an incredible time playing through Pandemic Legacy during 2016. Along with my wife Christina and our friends Sarah and Mikko, we played through the campaign over the course of the year. At the beginning of each month, we’d contact eachother, schedule a game session, figure out who was making food, and try to save the world. Tension was high as we ripped cards, marked the board, and fretted over each strategic decision. The weight of each action and it’s consequences added such stakes that I’ve never felt in a game, it was really something to behold. So while I can’t say Pandemic Legacy is my favorite game that I played in 2016, I can easily say that it facilitated some of my favorite gaming experiences of the year.

That’s it! What are your favorite new-to-you-old-games-of-2016?



Interview with Melissa Benson - Original Magic: The Gathering Artist

 Shivan Dragon; one of the most iconic illustrations from the original run of Magic: The Gathering.

Shivan Dragon; one of the most iconic illustrations from the original run of Magic: The Gathering.

In 1993, Wizards of the Coast released Magic: The Gathering; a game that would forever shape the tabletop gaming landscape. The game's popularity spread like wildfire; attaining a massive and dedicated international fanbase, ranging from casual collectors to professional competitors in worldwide tournaments.

The success of the game is in large part due to the incredible game design by math-professor-gone-game-designer Richard Garfield; balancing simple approachability with deep, complex strategy. But design alone isn't enough to catch the eyes and inspire the hearts of generations of gamers. I strongly believe that without the incredibly talented and stylistically diverse set of original 25 artists, Magic would have never succeeded. These artists showcased mysterious and strange worlds, simultaneously paying homage and subverting classic fantasy tropes. The art gave context to the cards; attracting players and encouraging them to learn the how to play (and purchase more!) "Magic Cards". 

Melissa Benson illustrated more than 60 cards between 1993 and 1998, including many iconic creatures from the original release. I can still remember the first time I held in my hands my brother's Shivan Dragon. I didn't need the text on the card to tell me that Shivan was one bad mother. I am so proud and honored to be able to present the following interview with one of my absolute favorite Magic: The Gathering artists, Melissa Benson.

Melissa, you've illustrated some of the most iconic cards in Magic: The Gathering, including Shivan Dragon and Nightmare for the original set. How much art direction were you given by Wizards of the Coast when you first started producing art for them? 

We had free reign to do what we wanted to do. Jesper, who was the art director in the beginning, had a list of titles that he would read off to you over the phone. You picked the ones that appealed to you, made a sketch and faxed it over to him for approval. Yes, I said faxed. This was 1993 remember. The sketch was approved, the art was done and the original mailed in. No email attachments then. Easy-peasy.

Did your relationship with Wizards of the Coast evolve over time as you became more of an established artist in the medium? 

Yes, it evolved. I became more discontented with the way the company did many things but I don’t believe that’s what you are asking. Artistically, after a while, there were specific pieces they wanted me to do, which I usually did. And once I faxed in the sketch, I didn’t usually wait for approval before I started. There was only one Magic card that was rejected outright that I had to do over. That was “About Face”. I never did get an actual answer as to what the problem was.

 Lord of Atlantis; from the original run of Magic: The Gathering

Lord of Atlantis; from the original run of Magic: The Gathering

It's my understanding that you originally wanted to make book cover illustrations, but you decided to contact game publishers after seeing some game artwork in a comic store. What was that process like? Did you find it easy or difficult to break into the industry? 

I thought my art was best suited to illustrate fantasy novel covers, but I contacted every sort of company that I thought my art was a good fit for. It was the gaming industry, Jesper in particular, who gave me work so that’s where I went.

It was extremely difficult to get traction of any sort in the beginning. I spent a lot of time lugging my portfolio (my samples were oil paintings on masonite) into the city (New York) on the train; sending out query letters that included three 4 x 6 inch photos of my work with a pre stamped response postcard; and signing up with an art placement agency for companies that had temporary jobs. Sometimes there was work for a day, sometimes a week, occasionally more. I worked for the WWE assembling boxes for a couple of days; and I painted resin "master casts" of castles, lighthouses and Peanuts characters that were sent overseas for other artists to copy using my piece for reference. My first paying job was for futuristic lawn care equipment.

Like Dungeons & Dragons before it, the artwork for Magic: The Gathering served as inspiration for countless kids to pursue fantasy artwork hobbies and careers. What are some of the iconic images of your childhood that inspired you to pursue art?

That’s an interesting question. I don’t remember any particular image, but I read a lot and would see images in my head. Especially the creatures. When I couldn’t find an existing image of it, I would draw it myself. I also found it was easier to explain things with pictures, like maps, or how something works. There are many artists whose work I enjoy in general, but I can’t single out any one piece. I do enjoy the artwork of Frazetta, Mucha, Alma TaDema, Roy Kernel and the like.

 Wine Glass Half Full; a surrealist piece by Melissa Benson

Wine Glass Half Full; a surrealist piece by Melissa Benson

Is there any one person that helped guide and mentor you artistically, either during childhood or in your adult life? If so, who and how? 

Ken Davies and Joe Funaro of Paier College of Art were by far the most influential. Both were fantastic artists themselves. Ken Davies gave you a taste of how the business actually worked and what you could expect as a professional. He also taught the merit of discipline. You can see his art is on Wild Turkey bourbon labels although he is best known for his trompe-l'œil work.  

Joe Funaro was an extraordinary portrait artist. He hammered home the importance of simplifying gestures, of ratio and proportion and of paying attention to the temperature and edges of shadows. A man of few words and no nonsense. He was great.

Describe your process. If someone commissioned you for artwork today, how do you begin? Does that change when you are creating non-commissioned art? 

The process is pretty simple. Let’s say you want a role playing character. I’ll ask you to tell me about the character, and give you estimates for various sizes based on what you want in the picture. If you have some reference material, let me know that too. The idea is modified until we agree on cost and content. After that, I create a loose thumbnail sketch and if something needs to be further clarified, there will be a loose sketch for that as well. Finally, a tighter sketch is done and a color study if one is needed, and your part of the work is done.  I’ll let you know when it is ready.

The biggest difference between commission and non-commission pieces is the time I spend amassing reference and creating small sketches. The thumbnails may change radically from the initial idea. The actual painting is more fluid as well because I can regroup and make changes at every stage which I often do. And I can experiment without guilt. I have to watch that because I can spend way too long exploring options that don’t warrant that kind of time. 

 Nightmare; one of the most recognizable pieces of fantasy art from the last 30 years. Come on! Look at that thing! Who  wouldn't  want to play a game with that artwork!?

Nightmare; one of the most recognizable pieces of fantasy art from the last 30 years. Come on! Look at that thing! Who wouldn't want to play a game with that artwork!?

What is your preferred medium? 

Graphite pencils, colored pencils, oils, and colored pencils mixed with oils. That being said, the Magic card art was done with Dr. Martin’s dyes and Berol prismacolor pencils. Magic art in the beginning had to be roughly 6 x 7 inches to fit in a scanner. I needed the dyes for color saturation and the pencils for details. I can’t paint well in oils that small.

Is there a type of visual art that you wish you were more adept at? 

I would like to be adept at sculpting. I know some comic book artists and envy their mastery of rendering in ink. Setting up an actual object to paint from is so much better than using a photograph. And because it would get me more work, digital art would be helpful.

Many professional artists find other creative outlets to pursue as hobbies during their off-time. What are your interests outside of visual art? 

I read. I have an awful lot of books. An AWFUL lot; in every room in several bookcases. I have a collection of Ivan Rebroff albums and mineral spheres. I listen to all kinds of music, mostly classical (really dislike rap and country). I’m getting into gardening. I watch British crime shows. My interests are pretty eclectic in scope.

What projects are you working on now? 

I have a Nightmare/Mesa Pegasus yin/yang design on the easel now. Plus the first illustration in a deck of Tarot cards. This deck has graphic design elements within the illustrations. It feels like a good way to get a lot of the symbolism across. There are a couple of field guides for fantasy creatures I want to do, several stories I want to illustrate, and jewelry to design. There is never a lack of things to put down on paper. I’ll doubt there will ever be a lack of things to do, just time to do them.

The Nightmare/Mesa Pegasus idea came from a commission that was done in black and white several years ago. While I was doing it I knew that I wanted to do it in color at some point. It is a large piece (for me it is anyway) at 20 inches in diameter. The pose is different than the first time around and it is the subject of the “works in progress” section of my website. You can see the first commission here.

 Work in Progress; The beginnings of a Mesa Pegasus and Nightmare combination piece.

Work in Progress; The beginnings of a Mesa Pegasus and Nightmare combination piece.

Where can people find you if they want to contact you, commission art, or buy prints? 

I’m glad you asked! My website is Email: There is a section on the site for commissions where you can get more detail about how to have a commission done, and how to get a ball park price for it. There is a testimonials page and gallery of previous commissions.

I also have a section on my site where you can purchase original art and prints directly, as well as links to several of my Print on Demand shops. Magic has a section to itself.

Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. As a final thought, do you have any advice for any aspiring visual artists? 

Never discount the value of luck and timing. Do not neglect the business side of art. Have a good grasp of bookkeeping, and understand your contracts. Cultivate a relationship with an attorney. That is every bit as important as knowing how to draw a wagon in perspective. This is what they do not teach you in school, but what allows people to take advantage of you. And NEVER give up you copyright without a huge amount of money in return. 

 The Holly King and Oak King by Melissa Benson

The Holly King and Oak King by Melissa Benson

Interview by Jack Eddy & The Cardboard Herald - Dec 16, 2016

Three Perfect Expansions

By Jack Eddy

Expansions are not a new concept. The first one I ever owned was “The Return of the Witch Lord” for my brother and I’s beloved Heroquest. Somehow we scored a copy of what is now a highly sought after collectors item. Regrettably, ours was lost to the abyss that has eaten oh so many childhood  treasures. The expansion contained exactly what young adventurers wanted, more miniatures, more stories, more maps, if anything it felt like a sequel than anything else.

Like dwarven miners, we dug greedily and deep into the new content, always taking turns with who played the heroes and who played the forces of evil, my wins were probably more to do with the benevolence of an older brother than any skill on my part. In the days when we had only one or two “cool” board games, the expansion perfectly augmented the base experience, fleshing it out enough to make the game feel new even after playing the original quests a hundred or so times.

I can’t speak to the perfection of The Return of the Witch Lord, as my current copy of Heroquest is sadly lacking any expansions. But there are many excellent expansions that I do consider pretty much perfect for their admirable augmentation of the base game. To recognize these small twists that make great games even better, here are three expansions that I love so much that I would almost never consider playing the base games without them, even when teaching new players.

Five Tribes: The Artisans of Naqala
Designed by - Bruno Cathala (Ca’Thal’a, Ca’Thal’a!)
Published by Days of Wonder - 2015

What’s New: Five tribes get’s a 6th tribe, the purple artisans. They earn you face down treasure tokens, which are either points ranging from 5 to 9, or one time use powers! To accommodate the extra meeples, there are a few more board spaces including an impassible pit, and three tiles that have tiny wooden impassable mountain ranges placed on two of it’s sides. Also there are are a few more Djinns that play off of the treasures and artisans.

Why it’s so good: In base Five Tribes, you either saw optimum moves or you didn’t; there was never much risk in the game aside from turn order bidding and leaving good moves for your opponents. The treasure tokens entice you to consider risks when evaluating your turn, never knowing the exact reward they will net. Fortunately the artisans are inherently worth points, the treasures are never bad, and you get your choice of those drawn, so it never impacts the strategic core of the game. The impassable terrain also present interesting obstacles, causing you to migrate meeples in more interesting ways, making the board feel more dynamic and alive. Also the little wooden mountains are visually striking, making the otherwise drab board pop a bit. Plus, purple is the best color for board game pieces, so I’m happy to play with the artisans.

Suburbia: Inc.
Designed by Ted Alspach
Published by Bezier Games - 2013

What’s New: Bonuses, Challenges, and Borders! Awesome, jaggedy borders!. One bonus and one challenge tile are drawn randomly at the start of the game and placed face up on stacks B and C. Players fulfilling the bonus or challenge when those stacks are available are given rewards. Borders are like super-tiles that function like any other city tile, but you can only build off their interior jaggedy edge, meaning that your city will begin taking strange, OCD defying shapes. Oh yeah, you also get some extra scoring objective circular token thingys, and really interesting city tiles to add some variety to the base set.

Why it’s so good: The bonuses and challenges are an elegant little twist that gives everyone a clear mini objective to follow, or not follow, as they so choose. It nudges them in a direction and helps add value to different city tiles each game.And the borders. Oh boy, the borders. These puppies are what give your city life and character, it tells the story of what your city is, and how it came to be. Not only will it make your burrough thematically different, your city shape will change to become unique and unlike anyone else’s. Overall the expansion just adds so many cool options that are intuitive and consistent with the rules and spirit of the base game; which is amazing because it does that while ALSO enhancing the thematic imagery of expansive, sprawling, unique cities. Now that I own Inc., I can't imagine playing Suburbia without it. 

Lords of Waterdeep: The Scoundrels of Skullport
Designed by Chris Dupuis, Peter Lee, Rodney Thompson
Published by Wizards of the Coast - 2013

What’s New: Tons of stuff! An extra meeple for each color, tokens for a 6th grey player, and 2 separate modules that can be combined or played separately. “Skullport” and “Undermountain”. each add new Lords, quests, intrigue cards, an additional location board, and buildings that get mixed in with the base stack.

Skullport adds the corruption track and most of the new content revolves around gaining and losing corruption. The more corruption tokens that are taken from the track by the end of the game, the more negative points each token is worth. lf all players are “dipping in”, these little smurf poops* can be up to -9 points each. Why not avoid corruption you ask? The problem is the skullport locations and buildings and quests provide awesome rewards, and many chances to return corruption to the track.

*corruption tokens are supposed to be blue skulls, but we can all agree they are secretly smurf poops. I bet Gargamel is behind this...

Undermountain, perhaps the less interesting of the two, adds new PHAT & FAT quests and big actions. I’m talking 40 point quests, or quests that put all buildings in builder’s hall into play under your control. Undermountain doesn’t change the fundamental play of the game, other than adding the option to go after really explosive actions that require high investment for high reward.

Why it’s so good: First off, this kit is modular without the hassle. Too often modular expansions are a hassle to deal with if they don’t integrate with each other. Not so here. The insert is beautiful and easy to manage and  the components for each module are clearly identified, so integrating and separating is a breeze. Both modules compound the interesting options you have in the game.

Skullport adds a risk and reward element which alters the flow of the game in a really cool way. Early on, you amass a pile of corruption, rarely thinking about the consequences, but later you are desperately searching for opportunities to get rid of it. Or maybe you avoid corruption altogether, and try and find ways to force other players to take more? I almost never play without Skullport EXCEPT when I’m playing with Undermountain.

Undermountain is fun for a change of pace, because completing your aforementioned PH/FAT quests feels really, really good. You’ll relish the-deer-in-the-headlights your friends give as you zoom forward on the point track, only to witness them soon do the same. The lack of corruption doesn’t mean Undermountain is without risk, either; there’s a balance in completing a variety of quests, and not getting bogged down with too big of quests with not enough turns or resources left in the game. The big difference with Undermountain’s risk is that it isn’t punitive like Skullport.

For advanced gamers, or those who want more strategic meat on  Waterdeep's bones, Skullport has you covered. Alternatively Undermountain adds more variety and tactical options while keeping the barebones, new-player-friendly nature of the base game intact. For those who just want a sandbox to play in, they can play with both. What’s not to love?

Well. That went well. Now I want to play all three of those games! And, in writing this article, I’ve found my new expansion review format. What are your favorite expansions? What expansions destroy what you love about the base game?

Look forward to more expansion mini reviews in the future!





CCGs, LCGs, Expansions, oh my!

By Jack Eddy

It’s 4:30 in the morning. You have work today. Maybe you could make a go of it if you just get up and make some coffee, but your bed begs you to stay, promising an hour or two of sleep, sleep which you will desperately need to make it through your day. So you continue to lay there, trying to empty your mind, but it turns plodding, pulsing warmth. Have you slept at all?  In the delirium, your only company is a singular thought that you always return to; Is your copy of Suburbia complete without the 5 Star expansion? Sure, the experience is nearly perfect with the base set and Suburbia Inc, and sure, 5 Star sounds like it may even detract from the purity of the game; but it exists, and you don’t have it, and ordering online is just a click away. After considering this a few thousand times, you look at the clock, it’s 6:52am.

Expansions are a funny thing. When you buy a game, the publisher is trying to sell you a complete product worth your time, money, and energy. They painstakingly craft this delightful box of a goodies, honing it to it’s purest and most perfected form, and yet, inevitably, an expansion comes along. Does this mean the base game was incomplete? Or is it there for people who want to dive in deeper? Perhaps it fixes some issues that the designer and publisher overlooked during playtesting. Or maybe, just possibly, an expansion was created because they know gamers, who have a tendency to be completionists, will feel obligated to buy it.

I don’t truly believe that publishers are as insidious as that. Most of the people in this industry seem to be good natured gamers who want to make game that they’d enjoy playing. Many companies have extremely good customer service, they want consumers to feel like they got value out of their purchase; but you better believe that many publishers are now considering their games as content platforms rather than standalone products. If Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) can get you to feel so invested in Descent, or Imperial Assault, or Netrunner, or Lord of the Rings, or X-Wing, Arkham Horror, or (insert massive product line here) that you feel somewhat obligated to buy the next expansion, then they have achieved their goal.

This parallels a similar trend in the video game industry, where additional downloadable content (DLC) can be purchased for most new game. The best case scenario is that the game feels complete without the DLC, and those who want to dive deeper have the option; this empowers consumers to have the experience that they want, and they won’t feel cheated out of the core game experience. More egregious examples like Mass Effect 3 and Resident Evil 5 (both games that I love), house meaningful story content or game modes on the disc you already purchased, but you have to pay extra to unlock them. Some may argue that you can still play these games without that extra content,  I’d argue that there would be a massive prothean-sized hole in the experience. It’s a difficult thing to put your thumb on because value is so hard to measure in the entertainment business. Affordability, artistic impact, and level of entertainment are all extremely subjective, but it does seem like both video game publishers and their cardboard cousins see much better return when they get gamers to buy into small expansions down the road.

In 2015, FFG was credited as publisher for 130 listings on Boardgamegeek; of these, 11 were standalone games. Compare that to 2010, with 99 total and 20 standalone listing. In spite of FFG’s massive success over the years, they are making fewer and fewer new games. And it makes sense too.Each new game has to compete in a massive field with tons of great products, but an expansion is safe, publishers know they already have an audience for that product, and suddenly the value proposition goes out the window. Star Wars: Imperial Assault is usually found in the US for around $70-$80, and it comes with about a billion miniatures, tons of cardboard, cards, gorgeous art… But the mini character pack expansions released at the same time usually come with a single miniature, a couple cards, instructions, and costs $10. For the same price as 8 character packs, you could have a complete game with way more than double the content.

Fantasy Flight is an extreme example, but most publishers want games that have room to expand. If the base game proves to be a success, they will have an install base eagerly awaiting content for their favorite game. Unfortunately, expansions are not always great, and can sometimes bog a game down with needless mechanics and bloated content, making the game a much less focussed experience. Remember, it didn’t get to be your favorite game of all time because it was missing something, sometimes less can be more.

Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of expansions for my games, and there are some that I would say are so good that it fundamentally transforms a game into a better experience. And yes, a few of those may even be from Fantasy Flight Games. I just want gamers to feel empowered to make smart decisions. Consider what you are spending your hard earned money on, be informed of what you are getting, and make sure that it brings value to you. If you are the person who wants to play every mission in descent with the most character options available for an uber epic campaign experience, by all means, do so! Just don’t buy every expansion released for the games you own simply because they exist, lest you end up with a pile of unplayed plastic and paper, reeking with the stench of regret.

In light of how overwhelmingly negative this article turned out, we’ll have something up soon highlighting some of my absolute favorite expansions.