Ashley Kronebusch, Staff Writer
“Vast: The Crystal Caverns” was launched on Kickstarter in August of 2015 and became an immediate success, getting funded in just one day. Although this board game presented a fairly familiar fantasy world to players, anyone looking for the smooth, realistic art that usually accompanies this genre would be in for a shock. Instead, it featured an art style full of rough edges and abstracted creatures, balancing the dark atmosphere achieved with dynamic shading with vibrant colors and emotions. Four years later, this art has been put on display, along with the other works of artist Kyle Ferrin.
“The Worlds of Kyle Ferrin” is hosted at the Light Grey Art Lab, a small studio space near the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Exhibiting work from Vast: The Crystal Caverns, as well as the board game Root, both published by Leder Games, the show is a celebration of how art can elevate and impact board game experiences. Ferrin’s art is not only hung on the walls, but also displayed on tables through the form of the board games themselves. These two games have found significant success, in no small part from the charm and character that Ferrin gives with his work. “Vast: The Crystal Caverns” puts players into competition through various fantasy roles, from a knight to a dragon, while Root has players take the role of anthropomorphic animals fighting for control over the forest.
Because these games are both asymmetrical board games, meaning the rules and objectives of each player are different, there is a heightened focus on the characters that the players embody. This is where Ferrin’s art comes into its own, immediately establishing vibrant personalities for all the player characters that are not only endearing, but also give players a sense of place in the board game’s world. The cards and boards of these games are a joy to look at in of themselves, so it’s hard to not feel absorbed into the world.
The highlight of the show is a wall that displays art for different cards in Root. These illustrations range from the adventurous, swords drawn sort of fair that one might expect from a fantasy game, to the cozy and cute. In one, a fuming mouse gathers a mob with a pitchfork outstretched, and in another, a fox sits at a campfire sipping tea. The kind of wonder contained in Ferrin’s artwork is truly infectious, and I challenge anyone to look at his anthropomorphic critters without a smile on their face.
Ferrin is at the forefront of a new wave of independent artists that value expression and aesthetic over realism and tradition. This art pushes at the boundaries of what we have traditionally considered to be artistic mediums, as now even board games can get recognition as works of art. In his short time working with Leder, Ferrin has already impacted our understanding of what art can do for a board game. As Ferrin (whose concepts for a new game, Oath, have been put online) continues to create, he also continues to inspire new artists, excited to share their emotions with abstract art styles. I can only look forward to what Ferrin creates, as well as inspires, in the future.
This article was originally published in the November 8, 2019 issue.