March 21, 2016

Open source board game box art icons

I’ve discovered a number of oddities during my foray into the world of indie board game development, but few rank quite as high for me as the fact that there exists no standardized, free-to-use set of box art icons.

Box art icons?

Yes, you know: those little icons that denote a game’s supported number of players, average playtime in minutes, and recommended player age. If you look at games from different publishers, you’ll see a wide assortment of different icons–or in some cases, no icons at all–each meant to express the same exact information.

Why bother with open source icons?

Coming from the world of video games, I find the lack of standardization with regard to the most basic information that consumers need to purchase our products strange–it’s a bit like if video game developers each had to invest time and money in creating brand-new icons for ESRB ratings!

For one thing, it’s consumer-unfriendly. Lack of standardization means that anyone shopping for a board game has to process an endless array of different visual cues just to see whether games are age-appropriate or support the number of players they want. Just look at these totally different symbols taken from a selection of popular board games:

Every time you switch, there’s a cost as your brain works to evaluate the new set of visual cues. You can figure out the meaning of each set of icons, sure–but having to do so slows you down and makes the process more taxing than it has any right to be.

It turns out that every board game publisher has their own, different set of icons; and even then, many publishers use different icons across their own libraries of games!

Not only are these icons not standardized, they’re also proprietary. Which is to say, these icons are all protected by copyright–you couldn’t take a set and use them yourself even if you wanted to. Worse, there is no widely available, royalty-free set of box art icons available for developers to use in their stead.

This means that any developer entering the board game space without a publisher has to waste time or money (likely both) reinventing the proverbial wheel, designing yet another different set of icons to convey the exact same information.

Enough of that.

Now, I do not by any means consider myself the greatest graphic artist in the world, but when I see a need and no one else stepping up to fill that need, my instinct is to Do The Thing.

So this is me Doing The Thing. Click a link below to download some nice, free icons set up in a layered image with vector graphics, groups, and editable text fields:

Download as PSD | Download as TIF | Download as PDF | Download as EPS


I am making these graphics freely available to anyone and everyone under a “CC0” creative commons license. This means that you can use the graphics commercially, distribute them, and edit them freely. Put another way, they’re open source. Happy hunting!

Craig Stern is an independent game developer with numerous video games to his name, now completing his first commercial board game, True Messiah. You can find him on Twitter here and on Facebook here.