Monday, July 9, 2012

8 Shades of Fresco

One of the first games that really piqued my interest back when I got into the hobby was Fresco. As a graphic designer, I was really struck with the theme of collecting paints and creating a masterpiece on a cathedral ceiling. The mechanic seemed very clever and unique. All around I couldn't wait to try it out. I had the opportunity to watch a round being played, but I couldn't join in as I had to leave the game group.

I finally picked up the game when it hit the clearance shelf at my local Barnes & Noble and was eagerly looking forward to trying it out.

Getting Up
As I alluded to above, the players in Fresco take the role of painters in the Renaissance who have been commissioned by the local bishop to paint the ceiling of a cathedral. They compete to collect the choicest of paints and paint the most complicated sections in order to earn the best reputation (victory points.)

To aid in this task, each player has four assistants that they send around town to buy and mix paints, work on commissions or even relax at the theater. This worker placement mechanic is the core of the game and has some interesting decisions to make through the rounds.

Getting To Work
Each round is played across five different phases. At the start of the round, the players secretly decide how to assign their assistants over these phases to best accomplish their goals. After these decisions are made, the phases are executed in order, with every player performing the task before the next phase commences.

Before the main phases, the players decide the wake up time for their crew. This is one of the more interesting decisions because it affects three things. First is turn order; you get up first, you get to act first. The second thing is the mood of your workers. If you make them get up early, then they lose morale. Morale is important because if you treat your crew well, you can earn an additional assistant, thus allowing you more actions. If you make them get up early too much, then you can lose a worker, weakening your potential. The final part of the first phase is the price of paint at the market. If sleep in late, then paints will be cheap. The downside is that you'll also have a smaller selection. This first part part of the turn is really well designed and makes for some interesting choices.

The first phase is buying paint. There are three or four market stalls on the board, depending on the number of players, that have between two two and four paint tiles on them. The paint tiles various numbers and colors of paint. When performing this action, the players chooses one of the markets and buys one tile per assistant allocated there. The price of the paint depends on his wake up time. After purchasing, all the left over tiles on that stall are removed and the next player chooses which of the remaining stalls to visit.

Next, the players actually paint the cathedral. To do this, they trade in paints that correspond to one of the tiles on the board. Sections that require more complex paints are worth more.

The third phase is getting commissions for portraits from the local nobles. This is how players earn more gold to spend on buying more paint in future rounds. Each assistant assigned here receives three gold for their services.

The next phase is mixing paint. The game has two levels of paint (three in the included expansion) the primary colors of yellow, red and blue and the secondary colors of green, purple and orange. In this step, players can trade in the primaries for the secondary colors which are required for more valuable tiles.

And finally, the player can send his assistants to the theater to increase their mood. This is helpful if you keep wanting first crack at the market and making your crew wake up early. The game continues until there are only six cathedral tiles left on the board, in which case the final round triggers.

Dried Up Paint
I was very surprised when I first played this game, and not in a good way. I kept hearing it referred to as a gateway worker-placement, which is exactly what I needed for some of my family members. However, I found this to be much more complex and confusing than I expected.

In my opinion, one of its major faults is that lacks a clear direction for layers to take. When comparing it to other 'gateway' weight games, I found them to have a logical starting point for players to follow. Ticket to Ride has the ticket cards to complete. Settlers of Catan has the progression of roads, then settlements, then cities. But I felt that this game doesn't really have a clear goal to go towards. You just start doing things and see what happens.

Glossy Coat
One thing I do really appreciate about this game, however, is the production. I would expect a game about painting to be beautiful and this game delivers. All the pieces have a really nice classical aesthetic to them. The cardboard pieces are nice and thick. And the loads of colored cubes are fun to move and play with.

The inclusion of the three basic expansions adds some great value. I only played with the third tier of colors (pink and brown) and did appreciate that extra level of mixing and resource management. The other ones looked interesting as well, but no one that I played with cared to try again with them.

Closed Stall
I really am disappointed that this game didn't work for me. I really wanted to like it and have it be my intro to worker placement game. I haven't tried Stone Age yet, but from what I heard that may be better. I can't recommend this game to anyone. Maybe some day I'll try it again after some of the bad taste is gone from my mouth. I just like other worker placements in my collection better.

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