Continuing my year-long trek through the board game art galleries, today we’re going to look at someone who is a bit polarizing as an artist. He is the very distinctive…
Klemens Franz is an Austrian illustrator and game designer who made his name primarily from illustrating the games of Uwe Rosenberg. His stuff tends to appear in a lot of Eurogames, and his style tends to be kind of whimsical and not necessarily as tight as some would like it. He does have a very distinctive style, which people tend to love or hate. He has 24 pages of credits on BGG, with the first one being The Game of Authors in 1861 (though how he got his hands on a time machine to pull that off, I’ll never know). So let’s take a journey through his career and see what we can make of it.
Some of the first games that may come to mind when you think of Klemens Franz are those by Uwe Rosenberg. Indeed, the two have worked together on a number of games, starting with Agricola in 2007.
Agricola was a ton of work. All the cards had their own illustrations, and of course, there was also the rooms and the game boards. While the character work in the games was mostly found on the cards, the boards and rooms established Franz as someone with some good graphic design skills.
While I’m quite annoyed at how the shadows on the chairs all go in different directions, it is pretty cool that Franz was able to design several different layouts for the rooms instead of just one standard one. I also am quite amused that the room shown at the lower left features a game of Bohnanza in progress (Agricola itself is featured in one of the other room types).
Le Havre was the second heavy Rosenberg game, and came out in 2008. This is my favorite of the heavy Rosenberg games that I have played. There’s just as much, if not more, going on as in Agricola, but as you always seem to have options to help your strategy, it seems less limiting and less like you’re just bashing your head in to get something done. But I’m not here to get into why I’m not an Agricola fan, I’m here to talk about the art.
The board in the game is where all the main action takes place, and Franz was able to design it such that there’s a good flow with every spot having a purpose. It’s very functional, and even with all the stuff out, it doesn’t feel terribly cluttered. I like this board a lot.
Of course, while Franz did (and continues to do) a lot of work with Rosenberg, he’s also worked with a number of other high profile game authors. Luna is a 2010 game from Stefan Feld where players are competing for the right to decide on a new Moon Princess. As with most Feldian games, the theme doesn’t matter in the slightest, but the game does feature seven different islands and a main board:
I really like the look of this game. The islands are all irregularly shaped, and each one has its own personality that I think is captured well through the art. The board too is not a standard rectangle, and is laid out well to include all information that is needed. Definitely a very visually striking game.
Citrus is a 2013 game from designer Jeffrey D. Allers. In this one, you’re planting groves of citrus trees around the board, and harvesting them for points and cash. The game has an interesting tile market where you have to pay for all tiles in a row or column and place them when purchasing. Your goal is to surround fincas and get lots of points, or to harvest groves to gain some points and money. It’s a tile placement game at its core:
The board is frankly quite bland. And that’s part of the visual appeal of the game, because as soon as some tiles get added to it, it begins to pop with color. The tree groves on the different tiles are lovely to look at – I do like the look of this one. I like the game too.
Murano is a 2014 title from the design team of Inka and Markus Brand. This is a game that I honestly know absolutely nothing about, other than it’s by the Brands and they are quite good at their craft. But it’s not the gameplay I’m interested in at this point, it’s the art:
I really like the cover for the game – it promises some very colorful gameplay, and you can see that in this image. From a graphic design perspective, you can see that everything has its place and there are some guides to different things you can do. This is an instance where the art really makes me want to know more about how a game plays.
Orléans is a 2014 game from designer Reiner Stockhausen, and is most famous for being a so-called “bag building game” (I have ranted enough about my distaste for that moniker, I won’t get into it again). This is another that I haven’t played, but I know you’re putting workers in a bag, drawing them out, taking different actions, and acquiring different workers to add to your bag. Action takes place on the player boards:
Whereas I often like covers by Franz, I don’t in this case. I do like the layout of the player boards. You can see the different characters, each action has a different shade to it – it’s a nice layout. Orléans is a game I keep wanting to play, not so much because of the art but because I hear good things. But I do like the boards.
Port Royal is a game by Alexander Pfister that came out in 2014. This is a straight card game, with players trying to acquire money to purchase crew members to help them win the game. There’s a significant push-your-luck element as you try not to bust with two like colored ships on your turn, but there’s also a lot of money management going on. And of course, there’s the art:
It features all that standard Klemens Franz character work, but the cards all have a pretty clean graphic design and the symbology helps know what each one does. The Steve Jackson version changed the cover and kept the card art, which was a weird choice – I like the cards more than the original cover too, but I wouldn’t have changed one and kept the other.
Grand Austria Hotel is a 2015 title from designers Virginio Gigli and Simone Luciani. This is another I don’t really know much about, but it’s about competing cafés trying to get important customers. A lot of the game centers around the guests, and here’s where Franz comes in:
I really like the character work here – that has never been Franz’s strongest point, but I think there’s a lot of good ones here. Also on this board:
So let’s add this one to the list of games I’m more interested in after looking at the art.
The Kennerspiel des Jahres winning Isle of Skye came out in 2015, and marked another collaboration between Alexander Pfister and Klemens Franz. Despite being almost completely different in gameplay, it often gets compared to Carcassonne. I think most of that comparison comes from the artwork:
Isle of Skye is definitely a lot heavier than Carcassonne, but the visual similarity is there. I think Franz did an excellent job emulating the visual aesthetic of Carcassonne, but still managing to create his own world.
One thing you can say about Franz is that he sticks with certain designers through many of their games. Oh My Goods! is a 2015 game from frequent collaborator Alexander Pfister, and, like Port Royal, is a pure card game. This one had a bit more of an resource management element to it as players collected goods to pay for buildings to get them more goods.
As per usual, the graphic design is very good on these cards, with everything in its place and clear symbology. My one real gripe with the game is that the characters, which are pretty well drawn, are basically all the same guy or girl with different hair or clothes. I know it’s a lot of work creating art for all those cards, I just wish the characters were a little more different.
The most recent game on this list is Altiplano, which came out in 2017 from Reiner Stockhausen (another apparently frequent collaborator). I mostly like this one because of that big ole alpaca on the cover, which is also represented as the giant first player token. But there’s some character work too:
I hope that I’ve shown a bit of an evolution in the work of Klemens Franz. He’s definitely grown as an artist since Agricola, and I think he does some pretty fine work. I know there are a lot of people who don’t like his art, and that’s fine. He’s not going anywhere, however, and I think he’ll keep getting better.
Thanks for reading!