Monday, April 11, 2016

Quick Review - Starving Artists - Kickstarter Preview

Starving Artists
Designer: Mike Wokasch
Publisher: Fairway 3 Games, LLC
Quick Review - Starving Artists - Kickstarter Preview
Back in October I went to the Madison Protospiel event and got to play a number of great games.  One just recently funded on Kickstarter (see my review of Flag Dash), and now a second is launching as well.  Starving Artists was originally created to compete in The Game Crafter's survival game design contest.  And guess what, it won!  I played a 4 player game of the contest version in Madison with the designer, Mike Wokasch, and his son and when I heard it was coming to Kickstarter with a few updates, I was super excited.  I have a degree in fine art (sculpture to be exact, despite a career in web development), so the theme and art in the game really grabbed my attention.  What's more, my wife loves the theme and artwork also, so this is a perfect game for my family, thematically anyway.  Read on to see if the gameplay matched my expectations.

Starving Artists is a 2-4 player game for ages 10+ (although my 6 and 9 year old gamer sons played it just fine).  It takes about 45 minutes and comes packed with gorgeous, classic masterpiece paintings from many great artists.  The Kickstarter launches on April 19 and the game will be available for $29.

In Starving Artists, each player is an artist trying to survive by completing paintings.  There is one resource in the game, paint, and it is used to both paint your paintings and as a currency used both to purchase canvases and as earnings when selling completed paintings.  Players must also manage their meals, which is the equivalent of health or strength - if you hit zero meals left you are out of the game and the end game is triggered.  The paint is represented by cubes in seven different colors: Red, Blue, Yellow, Green, Purple, Orange, and Black.  Each canvas in the game requires a different combination and number of paints in order to complete the painting.  Once a painting is completed it can be sold to both earn new paints and to gain a few meals.
You'll need to paint some masterpieces in order to survive!

The game is played in a series of rounds.  At the start of each round players have to feed themselves, pass the first player token, and then add some paints from the main stock into a common payday pile.  Then players will get to take one action at a time until each player has taken two actions.  Between rounds there is a selling phase where players can sell any completed paintings before the next round begins.
The choices are simple, but the decisions are difficult.  There's a lot of depth here!

Actions available each turn include Work, Paint, and Buy.  With Work you get to draw three paint cubes from the bag.  To Paint you can apply up to four paint cubes to their corresponding spaces on a canvas you own.  And when you Buy you purchase a canvas from the market (for 1, 2, or 3 paints depending on how long the canvas has been available) so you have something to paint on.  Paints used to purchase the canvases go into a central payday pile.  You are also allowed to trade paints from either the payday pile (at a rate of 2 to 1) or the main paint bag (at a rate of 4 to 1, or possibly 3 to 1 depending on the final rules).
As you paint more you'll be able to add paints to the canvases you are working on completing.
After each player has taken two actions the selling phase starts.  Any players that have completed painting canvases can then sell the canvas.  Each canvas has a value that it is worth and a number of meals that it provides.  When a completed canvas is sold the player can increase his meals by the amount of the canvas and then take the number of paints indicated from the payday pile (paints used on the canvas go back into the bag).  Then that canvas is worth a certain amount of points at the end of the game.  The catch is, if more than one player sells a completed painting, paints are collected from the payday pile in a round robin fashion.  The player with the most valuable painting gets to choose four paints first, then the next most valuable painting nets that player two paints, and each other player then gets one paint each.  This repeats until each player has collected all the paint they are allocated or until the payday pile is exhausted.  So if you sell at a time when other players are selling and the payday pile is fairly empty there's a chance you won't get as much paint as you expected.  But waiting to sell a painting means you'll get closer to starving as you run out of meals.
The Scream, worth 1 meal, 8 paints, and 2 points, is one of the many famous paintings included in the game.

The game goes until either one player paints a certain number of paintings (depending on the number of players) or until one player runs out of meals (and either starves or gets a real job, depending on how hard core you want the theme to be).  If one player runs out of meals then the other players finish that round and the game ends.  The player with the most points worth of sold canvases at the end of the game is the winner.
Fun for the whole family!  And learn a bit about famous paintings, too!
Final Thoughts:
The use of paints as both a resource and currency, and the way selling canvases results in a bit of marketplace competition creates a great economic engine that adds a bit of player interaction to a game that is otherwise a pretty solo experience.  Each player is working to manage their own paints and canvases, but it's important to pay attention to what your opponents are working on, too so that you can try to sell your canvases at an optimal time, decide if you should buy a new blank canvas now or wait until another player buys a canvas to make the one you want cheaper, and pay attention to what paints other players are collecting.  Coupled with the great theme and artwork, this makes Starving Artists a great game for both casual and serious gamers.  A game lasts about 45 minutes, which is a perfect length (the first prototype I played went on a little too long, so the revised rules really improve that).  The mechanics were simple enough that my six year old son played fine (he's used to much more complex games though) and the strategy was deep enough that my gamer friends really enjoyed the game, too.
The game was great for both my family and my gamer friends!

I did have a few concerns with some of the randomization that happens with the paint cubes that come out in the game though.  There is a lot you can do to control your own fate, but sometimes the colors you need just don't come up when you work and aren't available in the payday pile for trade.  In those cases there's just nothing you can do to prevent yourself from starving.  That's one aspect of the game that is still being playtested and balanced.  A few solutions that I suggested include being able to paint a portrait by trading in four paints for one meal.  Or being able to sell a completed canvas a second time to get those meals, but lose the points the canvas is worth.  Mike Wokasch had a few other things he was working on, too, and I'm confident this little hiccup will be resolved by the time the campaign is completed.  It's a minor issue and the game was still a ton of fun.  And at the very least, it's an easy house rule to add if you need to.
Sometimes the colors you need just aren't available.  I expect that to be fixed in the final game though since it's an easy fix, mainly just a decision on which method works best for the game.

The only other concern with the game is the reliance on accurately identifying the colors.  This will definitely be a challenge for colorblind players and can be difficult in lower light situations even for those without color sensitivities.  There are a few tips in the rules for helping out color blind players and each canvas has a list of the quantities of each color paint required, but that doesn't help with identifying the cubes as they come out of the bag.  Yellow and Orange are particularly difficult to tell apart at times.  I'm not sure if there's a good, cost effective solution (different shapes for each color might work, but then pulling them out of the bag becomes less random).  Still, this is a minor issue in a game that looks fantastic in part because of the great colors.
The colors of the cubes are bright and vibrant, but sometimes difficult to tell apart.

So, overall I really, really like Starving Artists.  The theme is wonderful, the artwork is gorgeous (it has to be since it's composed of some of the greatest paintings of all time), and the gameplay is simple yet strategic.  Starving Artists would be an attractive addition to any game collection and is sure to capture the attention of gamers, families, and art lovers alike!  Plus, the whole thing is packed into a nice, portable sized box.  If you follow my blog you probably know that I really like big games in small boxes.  The Tiny Epic games are some of my favorites, and Starving Artists is a great addition to my collection of small, portable games with big gameplay.  Now, let's see if Mike can come up with an expansion for classic sculptures!

So check out Starving Artists on Kickstarter starting April 19.  Visit where $29 will get you one copy of the game shipped in the US ($10 worldwide shipping).

Preliminary Rating: 8/10
This review is of a prototype game.  Components and rules are not final and are subject to change.

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  Quick Reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first few times playing.  Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

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