There is a sort of meme going on over at that I find very interesting. The thread is called “When we play the game, it has this cover,” and it’s predicated on the premise that, though a game has a cover that tells you something about it, sometimes when we play, the game experience doesn’t necessarily match what the cover hinted at.

The opening post talks about Vincent Baker’s In A Wicked Age (IAWA), a game meant to create pulp swords & sorcery stories based on the random story generators called Oracles it comes with (read more about IAWA here). Here’s the cover of the game as sold (back and front):

And here’s how the cover of the game looks to the originator of the thread based on his group’s play experience:

I will let you draw your own conclusions.

Back in Master Plan #23, Ryan Macklin interviewed graphic designer Daniel Solis, and they had an entire conversation on the statement that I used as the title of this post, A Cover Is A Promise. Listen to it because it is a fascinating discussion of what covers for games say, or try to/should say, to the customer about what they have in store for them.

Does every game succeed? No, but I don’t think that it is necessarily a fault of the designer either. Some games just support a wide array of play experiences, so each group will see a different cover to the book of their game. That said, I think it is interesting to see how people’s perception of a game is so shaped by the cover, and how that can be a detriment at times based on the play experience the game generates.

It’s not that a game shouldn’t be able to deliver a variety of play experiences, but if the game consistently is delivering a particular kind of play experience which is not the one promised by the cover, then there is a problem with the original design that should be addressed with the cover and it should be changed. (See comments for why the strikethrough.)

Take a look at the Story Games thread then think about your own games. Does your play experience match what the cover of the game promised?