Saturday, August 5, 2017

Day 5: Which RPG cover best captures the spirit of the game?

I think this question has come up before and my answer is always the same: Shadowrun. That single scene covers almost everything you do in Shadowrun and shows what makes it different: guy plugging in to computer, girl with a gun and some kind of magic effect, and then indian-painted guy with dual sub-machine guns, all in a dirty part fo town with a backdrop of skyscrapers and opposition - Yeah, that covers a lot of ground.

It's so perfect for the game that second edition kept the same cover - how often do you see that?

Later edition still have nice art but 3rd kind of lost it's purpose and became "generic action scene", 4th goes back to something similar to these covers (a step in the right direction), then 5th is so busy I can't tell what's going on.

My runner-up hasn't changed in a long time either:

Gamma World has had some incredibly evocative covers and this one really pushed my buttons as a kid when it was current - armed men going into a ruined, overgrown city - please tell me more! That is a whole bunch of what the game is about. Plus the whole style is pure 60's-70's sci-fi art and it really sets the tone.

Then with second edition we get this:

This is another winner with Giant Deadly Robot acting out against a human with a stone axe and some kind of mutant with an energy weapon - yep, that's pretty much Gamma World. The cover of the rulebook inside the box was pretty solid too:

Mutant with pistol and shield and another with a fusion gun against blaster guy on a horse? Yep, that's the game!

Honorable Mention:

It's not a rulebook but it is the origin of the legendary Stop Sign Shield! This picture, again, is totally in line with what a Gamma World adventure looks like.

In contrast ...

There are lots of good covers out there, and even more bad ones - static posed hero, static posed monster, symbol of something relevant to game + title of game = boring and non-evocative. They may be pretty at times but they are often just too plain. The covers for 5th edition D&D and for FFG Star Wars are usually pretty and well done technically but they don't tell me much about the game itself. Most Pathfinder rulebook covers have some kind of action happening and so in my mind are a step above. Look at Numenera or The Strange too - what do they tell you, visually, about the game or the setting? Even the new Trek game, for example, on the collector's edition has a cover picture that is a close up shot of a starship hull.

WHY? It's incredibly boring and tell you nothing about the game! At least the standard version has some characters doing something! It's a great example of "pretty but uninformative". People get excited about Star Trek ships, sure - but not hull textures. Not really.

It's an interesting question today and I ended up writing quite a bit more about it than I expected.

More tomorrow!


thekelvingreen said...

I gave the exact same answer. It may not be a great picture, but that Shadowrun cover captures the spirit of the game more than any other I can think of.

Blacksteel said...

I tried for a while ... looked thru a lot of other newer games, but I could not find one that covered the whole thing in one shot any better or even "as good."