Overview: Should board games be considered art? I don’t know that all of them should, but Pastiche, a recent board game from Gryphon Games, certainly makes a good case for it. The game features 34 famous (and not-so-famous) masterpieces, and the goal of the game is to collect the correct paint cards to complete each commission.
Players: 2 to 4
Ages: 10 and up
Playing Time: 45 to 60 minutes
Rating: A masterpiece of a game that works on several levels.
Who Will Like It? Artists and art lovers will get a kick out of this board game based on famous paintings. The mechanics are a combination of tile-laying and resource management, but playing the game is a low-stress experience.
The richness of this game is evident from the time you pick up the box, which is matte finish and extra-heavy cardboard. I often complain about game boxes, so it means something when I say this is a really nice box. The game is all about painting masterpieces, and the graphics and images all help to create the right atmosphere. There’s a board to hold all the palette cards which is made to look like an artist’s palette, and the painting cards are oversized cardboard tiles that are large enough to display the paintings at a nice size.
The gameplay involves mixing paints to get the colors you want, and then matching those paint colors to the various commissions to “paint” them. This part is, of course, a little abstracted — you mix paints by playing hexagonal tiles strategically, and some of the ways you trade paints with the bank aren’t exactly how you would mix paints in real life. (Also, primary colors are more difficult to obtain than secondary and tertiary colors.) Still, the game does a pretty nice job of simulating painting, if simplifying it down to a paint-by-numbers level.
Pastiche comes with:
- 34 Commission cards (paintings)
- 132 Palette cards (mini cards each showing one paint color)
- 54 Palette hexes (each has six dabs of primary colors on the corners, and one large dab in the center)
- 1 three-hex starting tile
- 4 Player reference cards (very handy, showing the color mixing combinations)
- 1 Palette game board
As I mentioned above, the painting cards are large and sturdy cardboard, each showing a number of paint colors and the score value. In addition, each card also has the painting’s title, date, medium, current location, and the artist’s name and dates of birth and death. The palette cards are small, about half the size of a standard poker card, and are very simple with just the name, a splotch of color, and a number on the splotch representing its value. The hexes are pretty small, about an inch or so across, which is just about right for a tile-laying game.
I only have a few complaints about the components. First, the palette board, although very nice-looking, is really not very necessary. If you look at my game setup below (for a 3-player game) you can see that we had to pull up a second card table just to hold all of the palette cards — and with the board it would have taken up even more space. Also, it bothers me that the colors on the palette board aren’t laid out in a color wheel fashion. Sure, the colors are sort of grouped together by family, but Magenta and Scarlet should probably swap spots.
Finally, I’ve never seen “purple” used as a different color than “violet.” More specifically, in this case Violet is the secondary color (Red + Blue) and Purple is the tertiary color (Blue + Blue + Red). I suppose they didn’t want to use “Blue-Violet” but even “Indigo” would have been better.
Each player starts with 2 commission cards, 2 hexes, and 1 each of Brown, Green, Violet, and Orange. The three-hex starting tile is placed in the center of the table, and 4 additional commission cards are laid out to form the gallery. All of the palette cards are laid out (on the palette board, if you like) as the bank.
The goal of the game is to score the most points by completing commissions, which in turn is accomplished by collecting one of each color shown on the commission card. Paintings are worth different amounts, based on the number of colors and the difficulty of obtaining them. In addition, you’ll get bonus points for two paintings by the same artist (each artist represented has two paintings in the game) and some points for unused palette cards once the game ends.
Each turn consists of the following sequence of mandatory and optional actions:
- Place a hex to create mixtures and collect the appropriate palette cards.
- Trade palette cards with other players and the bank. (optional)
- Trade a commission card from your hand with one from the gallery. (optional)
- Complete commission cards by trading palette cards to the bank and placing the completed painting in front of you. (optional)
- If you have more than 8 palette cards you must discard down to 8.
- Draw a new hex tile.
The primary mechanic of the game is the tile placement/color mixing. Each time you play a tile, you look at all the new combinations made at the corners of the hexes. The hexes only have primary colors on them, so a two-dab mix creates a secondary color and a three-dab mix creates a tertiary color. Primary colors are more difficult — you can only collect a primary if you match three of the same color: matching only two dabs doesn’t get you anything at all. Optionally, when you play a tile you may choose to collect the primary color shown in the large dab in the center of the tile (or one of the two, if it shows two colors). This means you’ll only get one card, but it’s the easiest way to get a primary color if you need one.
Palette cards can be freely traded with other players in whatever combination is agreed upon. However, trading with the bank has some restrictions:
- Exchange three of any single color for either black or white.
- Exchange a black and a white for a grey.
- Exchange a brown and a yellow for a bisque.
- Exchange any primary color plus any additional card for another primary color of your choice.
You can complete commissions either from your hand or from the gallery, and each time a painting is completed it is replaced by one from the supply.
The game ends when a player has reached a certain number of points in completed commissions (35 points for a 4-player game, 40 points for a 3-player game, and 45 points for a 2-player game). Then you add some bonus points if you have both paintings by an artist (from 3 to 6 points, depending on the value of the paintings), and you also get points for unused cards that match incomplete commissions in your hand.
Pastiche is a joy to play. While there is some strategy, the theme encourages a relaxed, casual atmosphere which is a nice change for players who aren’t into cutthroat competition. It’s a game that experienced gamers will enjoy for the tile-laying and resource management aspects, but new gamers and non-gamers may be attracted by the paintings and art theme. I’ve gotten both regular gamers and a few people who don’t normally play board games with me to try Pastiche and the general consensus is that it’s a lot of fun and feels like you’re getting some Real Art in the bargain. Also, I think the theme helps people enjoy the game even when they don’t win, because the act of creating the paintings naturally inspires some camaraderie, and it’s always fun to see what painting somebody has revealed from their hand.
The scoring on the paintings and the way paint combinations work all seem quite well-balanced. Since you can only hold 8 cards at the end of your turn, you can’t simply store up a whole lot of colors in the hopes of eventually getting the right combination — you really need to have a goal in mind when you play your tile. Although I mentioned that it’s a bit weird thematically that primary colors are harder to come by, it’s definitely an important factor in the game and works well in the game mechanics even if it doesn’t reflect reality.
We even tried playing a 5-player game (reducing the goal score to 30 points) and it seemed to go quite well, other than the longer wait in between turns. The main limitation is probably the number of components (and table space) but we never ran out of any particular paint colors throughout the game.
Pastiche was designed by Sean MacDonald, who is a member of the Board Game Designers Guild of Utah (along with Alf Seegert, designer of Bridge Troll, Trollhalla, and the not-yet-released Road to Canterbury). I’ve been consistently impressed with the types of games coming out of the guild, in particular the non-traditional themes and unique game mechanics involved, and I’ll certainly be paying more attention to games released by guild members in the future.
If you’re looking for a pleasant game with great visuals that you can play even with non-gamers, check out Pastiche.
Wired: High-quality components, somewhat educational, a good hook for drawing in non-gamers.
Tired: Violet and purple are different? Palette board takes up a lot of space and isn’t entirely necessary.
Disclosure: Gryphon Games provided a copy of Pastiche for review.