Tuesday, May 10, 2011

HOT BOX - "Pastiche" by Sean D. MacDonald (Review) +Can you be color blind and play this game?

(I started writing this review a couple of weeks ago when I was quick on the uptake, or so I thought. I neglected to get it completed and since then, a glut of reviews have come out. So why read yet ANOTHER Pastiche review? Because I'm awesome. Oh, and because my father played - he is color-blind and you might want to know how this plays if you play with someone that is also color-blind).

As I mentioned in the box opening for Pastiche previously I knew I would have to have this game as soon as I saw it. I love art. I love mixing colors. Yada-yada.

I've played it a handful of times now and am ready to tell you if I actually LIKE this game or not. Well, not until a bit later.....first let me tell you about the components.


Pastiche! The box!

When I initially opened the box and looked at the components I had a couple of immediate thoughts about them. First, it was obvious the quality of the components was excellent - tasteful artwork, clean, consistent graphics, and nice quality and thickness of the various tiles. The box itself has nice thick walls and feels luxurious.

The Board
This is a board game, right? I thought the board looked really nice with the painter's palette. Here's the board with the cards on them (note: these are fairly small cards)

The palette board with cards on it and
example of the size of a card (back showing)

However, I was concerned about HOW BIG the board was in relation to it's function which was solely a placeholder for the color cards - it isn't exactly 'central' to the game - well sort of. I guess it seemed a bit overkill when first looking at it. Others have noted this in reviews and comments with everyone coming to pretty much the same conclusion: the board size ends up being just fine because there is so much card churn they kind of get messy on the palette and there's enough room that they don't mix together. Interestingly, this fits nicely thematically as well as functionally. Personally, I still think it could have been tightened up a bit, but when you're playing, you won't really find any issues here.

I DID wonder why it wasn't organized differently with perhaps the primary colors grouped together with white and black, then the others listed in some other manner perhaps by value or something. I think this arrangement (or perhaps a myriad of other possible arrangements) could have been laid out. In practice, it just doesn't matter much - you get used to where the colors are and generally can spot them quickly. And, if it really bothers you, just lay them out in any order you want because it won't affect the game one bit!

The Player Aids
In looking at the player aids, I wondered why they didn't show pictures of the color trading rather than writing it out in words -- it seemed symbolically it might be more clear. In thinking about it more, it's probably because they either would have had to invent a 'multi-colored' icon of some kind and/or shown all the possible combinations - neither of which would have improved the player aid at all. Overall, I really like this player aid and it does ultimately make it easier to look for color combinations in most cases:

Summary card - turn order summary on one side,
color mixing on the other side.

One small issue is it's a little confusing being able to tell the difference between what color mixing happens on the table with the hex tiles versus what you must 'trade in' to get other colors. Ultimately, though, this is only a problem for new players during the first couple of rounds.

The Commission Cards
The commission (aka painting) cards (tiles) themselves are beautiful and clearly show which colors are needed to complete them. The point value in the lower-right corner is that total point value for the colors you need to complete the painting.

Here are a couple of example cards:

Commission cards - some with splotches on the right, some on the bottom.

I again have a couple of small issues:

  1. I think the color splotches could have consistently been in one location - either all on one side or all along the bottom (or maybe even the top). I believe the variation in location was due to the shape of the paintings versus the shape of the tiles. As is consistent with my 'issues' with this game, this is only a small quibble and doesn't really hurt the game play much, if at all. I suppose it could be argued that it gives the commission tiles variety and interest as well.....
  2. The name of the artist is in a cursive type of font and in a rather small print - this makes it somewhat difficult to match up paintings from the same artist as you have to look very closely to spot the matching names and may be somewhat troublesome for those with old/failing eyes. Something to help indicate artist matches might have been helpful - or at least make them a bit more readable from across the table. Perhaps this is an intended purpose - to encourage/prevent matching. Or perhaps it's just forcing you to get cozy with the people you are playing with....
The Palette Hexes
What the heck is a palette hex? It's a hexagonal tile with color splotches on the corners and one larger one in the center. The hexes only have primary colors (i.e. red, yellow and blue). When placed next to each other the colors 'mix' and you get the matching palette color card(s) into your hand. Honestly, I have nothing to complain about these tiles at all. Nothing. Well, nothing. They're greeeat!

The palette tiles sorted by center color splotch.

The Palette Cards
These are the cards you get after mixing colors using the palette hexes. They are small so people with large hands might not like them, but they are necessarily small because otherwise you'd have way too much table space taken up by piles of cards. If you don't like the original small sized Ticket to Ride cards then you may have an issue with these as well. Personally, the small size doesn't bother me. Maybe this is because I use a multi-slot card tray to hold them, so I'm not really fumbling around with them anyhow.

The information on the cards is simply the color name at the top and the point value in the middle.

Palette cards

My one gripe with the cards is this: I think information about HOW to get the colors printed right on the cards themselves might have been useful. Then, if you look at the palette and decide you needed Teal, you'd see right on the card you'd need to mix 2 blue and a yellow to get it - or that you can also trade 3 of any one other color to get it.

Ok, without this information on the card everything looks a lot cleaner. AND, I admit it's not really THAT hard to figure out what you need to get a color by looking at the player aid first. But, it seems that maybe it would make it easier both on the newbies to the game AND to those that have a hard time spotting what they need on the player aid and keep asking "what do I need to get a Teal card?"

The Rules
So, after describing all of the components in excruciating detail I will just give a quick summary of the rules. Really! It's not possible for me to do that you say?! Just watch me....

You start with a hand of 2 commission cards, 4 color cards (brown, green, orange and violet), and 2 hex tiles, all held secretly. 4 additional commission cards are available on the table for everyone to see.

You must ALWAYS start your turn by placing a palette hex after which you collect your palette cards from color combinations created (mixed) - usually you will get 1-4 cards. At the end of your turn you MUST discard down to 8 palette cards.

In-between you can do the following:
  • Trade in color cards for other color cards with the 'bank' (board) OR trade with other players.
  • Complete commission cards (i.e. turn in matching color cards according to the color splotches)
  • Swap out one of the public commission cards for one in your hand.
The game ends when one person has collected a designated number of points for completed commission cards and everyone has had an equal number of turns.

Final scoring allows you to get partial points for the colors you have in your hand that match up with colors on commissions in your hand.

That's it! Well, ok, there's a couple of more rules around mixing and trading, but that's pretty much it.

Actual Game Play
For some people, perhaps this sounds all a bit too simple. In reality, the complexity is in finding the right colors on the board to get you what you want, timing your commission plays correctly to maximize your points, and forcing the end-game only when you are sure you are ahead in points. You must be efficient or you will lose precious actions and time which can easily put you behind.

Something I should note here: the first and last actions of your turn are always done first and last respectively. The rest of the actions are, according to the rules, performed in order as listed above and are all optional. HOWEVER, when I play, I don't worry too much what order people do the in-between actions as, ultimately, it always works out to be the same result.

For instance, if you have the cards in your hand to complete a commission card, you might want to just turn them in and put the commission card in front of you. Then, you might realize you can do some further trading and do that. Then, you might see that a public commission card is one that you want and grab it (rather than drawing a random card) in order to keep others from getting it done before you. Finally, a commission card would then be drawn to replace the open public spot.

Doing these actions in an order different than that stated in the rules would have no averse consequences. You could have just as easily reversed all your actions, done them again in the correct order, and ended up with the same result. The amount of trading you can do is effectively unlimited so it doesn't matter when you do it. Completing commissions is naturally limited to the colors you have in hand - you can probably only do 1 to 2 (and maybe 3) so you are restricted only by what you WANT to complete. 

Finally, as long as you only do 1 commission swap/grab per turn then you're fine whether you complete one out of your hand first before grabbing a public one or not. If you swap out a hand commission card for a public one, then complete the one you just put in public, you have the same result as doing it the other way around.

You made me read this far down and you still haven't said whether you like this game! So, do you like it or not?
Yes, I love it! And not just because I happen to love art and painting and mixing colors. That's certainly a factor, but if the game didn't deliver otherwise, I wouldn't be afraid to pan the game. 

What I like:
  • I like the puzzliness to the game trying to find the best combination of colors to efficiently produce more/better paintings. 
  • I love the race mechanic of trying to get done first AND with the most points at the same time. The tension is great and continues to escalate throughout. The ability to come from behind and win is not unreasonable (and is actually likely to occur) so you never feel like you are out of the game. 
  • I love games that have simple rules but squeeze a lot out of those rules. This suggests a well-designed game and it shows. Also, because the rules are simple it makes it accessible to a wide range of players. The recommended age is 10+ but I think kids as young as 8 could play this game successfully and even younger would have a great time playing the tiles and getting the color cards, although they might have a tougher time planning very far in advance.
  • And, finally, I find the game just flat out fun!

Will color-blind people be able to play this game?
I know at least a couple of people that I game with that have varying degrees of color-blindness. When I game with them I have to ask them if they have any issues with the colors in the game - if there are too many issues then we will move on to something else.

So, when I brought Pastiche to my parent's house and enlisted my dad to play, I knew there could potentially be issues and was curious if he could work with the colors or not. I don't know specifically what color blindness he is, but I know that he has trouble distinguishing between colors such as blue, green, brown, and black. 

I think color-blind people learn to recognize certain colors based on experience, but sometimes it can be difficult and, if a game is difficult, it can really ruin it as a result for them.

So, in teaching my dad this game, he didn't seem to have any particular issues with colors. If there were any that were difficult to distinguish he never really stated anything specific other than one small issue noted below. I think the main reason this is true for Pastiche is that the colors are labelled 90% of the time (on the palette cards, the player's aid, and the commission cards) and, where they aren't labelled they were mostly obvious such as on the palette hexes (either because the primary colors are easy to distinguish normally and/or because each color splotch is slightly different looking).

The only real difficulty my dad had was on the player's aid for Gray and for Bisque. Now, trading in white and black for gray is pretty obvious (at least if you know how to mix colors). The brown needed for Bisque is another matter as he couldn't tell if it was brown, blue or black. Yes, the splotches are all slightly different shapes, but they are amorphous enough that it's not 'obvious'. Looking closer it is decipherable though.

All-in-all, my dad didn't seem to have any issues with the colors as he never asked beyond the player's aid issue. So, I would conclude that it's very likely nearly anyone that is color-blind would be able to play this game. This is somewhat surprising considering the number of colors in the game and all their uses. I'm not sure if it was specifically designed as such, but labeling the colors was key to making this playable for people with color-blindness (at least the variety that my dad has).

Do you see any general problems/issues with Pastiche?
I don't want to discourage anyone from trying this game as I love it and I think many other people will as well. It's accessible and fun and easy to teach to gaming newbies.

However, I would be remiss if I didn't cover what some people may consider to be issues with this game, so here goes.

Potential issues:
  • Luck of the draw - There are two occurrences of draw luck here - commission cards that come out and hex tiles that you draw.
    • The Commission cards - if the matching cards don't come out for the artists you complete, you will miss out on the bonuses. Yes, the bonuses are small, but as we all know, games are won or lost by small margins when considering equal players. My most recent loss of this game was due to me not getting a bonus and the other player getting one. And, sometimes there's nothing you can do to prevent it due to a lucky commission card drawn directly into their hand.
    • The Hex tiles - sometimes the tiles you get just don't help you get the color you want. Now, this is not a huge issue as usually you can get other cards that let you trade up to what you actually need. But, I've sometimes been stuck with 2 identical tiles, neither of which has the color splotch on them that I need (such as lacking a blue when that's what I need). Usually there's a spot you can leverage on the table that helps you accomplish your goal, but occasionally you can get stuck with nothing immediately helpful.
  • Imperfect theme fit - For a majority of the game, the theme fits very well. However, I have two issues with the reality of the theme in relation to the game:
    • The fact that primary colors are more difficult to obtain (and worth more) than mixed colors is counter-intuitive if you already know how to mix colors. You would think you would start with primaries (easier to get) and mix them to get other colors (harder to get). This is not the case in Pastiche as primary colors are much more difficult to get than most of the other colors available which is really weird to me. I'm comfortable with it in terms of the game rules, but not in relation to the reality of mixing colors.
    • Some color mixing combinations aren't exactly true-to-life. What could be a factual exercise in actual color mixing begins to break down to the point of having to be cautious of using it as a learning tool. For instance, red and blue actually make purple, not violet (you must mix 2 blues and a red here to make purple). Some of the other Tertiary colors are questionable as well. Yes, I realize that perhaps the proportions of each color might give you the colors indicated when mixed, but the implication is more like equal parts, thus my complaint. Also, trading in 3 of one color to get a white or black just doesn't make sense thematically. Lesson to learn: be cautious if you use this game as a learning tool for properly mixing colors. 
  • Confusion around palette TILE colors, palette CARD colors and color mixing. There's a whole lot of colors going on in this game. Note that the primary colors on the palette hexes are NOT primary colors you can use in your works. ONLY the palette CARDS can be used to complete paintings. But, if you already HAVE the primary colors on the tiles and are mixing them together, why can't you just use them directly? This concept is not a problem for me and I haven't seen it directly, but I have heard instances where this is a problem for other people and I can definitely see potential for confusion there.

    Speaking of confusion, it's important to note that the player aids show, as an example, Olive = Yellow+Yellow+Blue. Can you trade in an Olive to get two Yellows and a Blue? NO. For those that understand color mixing this isn't a problem, but it could be for non-artist types.

In all honesty, I think there's enough flexibility to the game that luck of the draw can be mitigated in many ways and shouldn't be a problem for all but the most luck-averse players with a very low tolerance for such things. It's what keeps the game interesting and is conducive to clever play.

To me, the color mixing issues are more troublesome, only in that not everyone knows how to properly mix colors and could learn incorrectly here. No, this is not really a big deal and doesn't affect actual game play, but mixing red and blue to get violet does bug me a bit.

Let's varnish this review already!
So, is this a game you or someone you know will enjoy? I'm sure you've already come to your own conclusion by now, but someone that likes puzzly games with some player interaction (depending on number of players) or that likes art and color mixing will find a lot to like here. It is definitely on the lighter end, but not too light as it has interesting decisions to make. And I think it's fun to play. 

The theme works for me, even with it's deficiencies and makes it that much more enjoyable for me. The theme definitely helps ground the game and makes it easier to digest the rules, but under the fancy artwork is an abstract game at heart. You are playing tiles to get cards to then trade up to get other cards and eventually complete a set of matching colors. I'm sure I'd like it even without the theme, but I like icing on my cake and this definitely does everything right for someone like me.

Now, go find a copy and play it with your family! Or a least go visit a museum or something....


  1. Great review... perhaps a bit too comprehensive (is that possible?) :-)

    Yes, some of the color mixing combos are a bit obscure/off-base, so alerting readers that using this as a teaching tool is not recommended. However, kids learn to mix primary and tertiary colors in grade school... if someone playing this game doesn't know that yellow & blue make green I'd be surprised.

    That said, all of your points are spot-on. Even the minor quibbles, which honestly can be found in any game (even Factory Fun)... don't quote me on that! :-D

    Bottom line, as you've stated:
    Beautiful, fun, great game!

  2. Thanks Mr. Chris! Hmmm, your comment about the comprehensiveness sounds like a challenge :) I certainly could have written more about a variety of things related to this game. Perhaps a follow-up article is in order ;)

    Yes, most kids learn how to mix colors at an early age - I wasn't claiming otherwise. I'm just saying that:
    1. Don't expect it to be 'correct' - my expectation to get purple was red+blue, not red+blue+blue.

    2. Don't let it throw you off that you have to learn the right combinations for this game.

  3. I am an artist/art teacher and most people actually have it wrong.
    If you mix red + blue = violet.
    A standard color wheel does not have purple as a secondary color, it has violet.
    Even crayola crayons have violet, blue violet and red violet.
    Most of us unknowingly exchange purple for violet which in most circumstances makes no difference; however when teaching an art class I always use the word violet.


Comments are open to anyone. Criticism is fine if it's clean and reasonable. Anything deemed inappropriate by me will be removed.