Pastiche – Review

Design by:  Sean D. McDonald
Published by:  Gryphon Games
2 – 4 Players, 45 minutes – 1 hour
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

Sid Sackson’s Bazaar meets the art world.  This provides a decent description of Sean McDonald’s Pastiche, an entertaining game published by Gryphon Games that features classical paintings from world renowned artists.  The challenge is to amass the correct colors to complete these master works of art, producing the most valuable paintings and become recognized as the world’s foremost artist.

The game is chock-full with heavy cardboard components, including over thirty commission cards depicting replicas of master works of art from mankind’s history.  Each of these cards depicts the colors required to complete the painting, its value and interesting historical information on the artist, painting and where it is currently on display.  Over four dozen palette tiles are used to form a modular board, which dictates the color cards a player receives on his turn.  These hexagonal tiles each depict one of the three primary colors in the center and an assortment of six of the primary colors along the corners.  Each player receives a handy reference card which displays the color combinations required to create a specific color.  For example, two blue cards and one yellow card create teal.  The card also provides other valuable information about the acquisition of certain cards.

The large assortment of palette cards is displayed on a very large and entirely superfluous board.  In its favor, the board does depict a large artist’s palette, but it takes up an enormous amount of table space.  While atmospheric, it would have been nicer to have a more compact board, or to simply stack the palette cards on the table.

Players begin the game with two commission cards, an assortment of palette cards (but no primary colors), and two palette tiles.  Four commission cards are revealed, forming the gallery.  Each player’s commission cards are kept secret, forcing players to constantly lift them from the table in order to reexamine the colors required to complete the painting.  A holder would have been nice, and this problem is being rectified in subsequent printings, which will include small wooden easels to hold the paintings.  Very nice.

A player’s turn consists of:

1) Place a hex and collect palette cards.  The player places one of his palette tiles to the table, aligning at least one side with an existing tile.  The player then has a choice:

a) Take a primary color palette card that matches the center color of the played hex; or
b) Take the palette cards generated by matching colors along the edges of the aligned tiles.  For example, aligning red and yellow dabs gives the player an orange card, while aligning two red and one blue dab results in a magenta card.  It is important to note that two aligned dabs of the SAME color do not produce a card.

One of the major decisions of the game is to decide where to place a palette tile, and how to orient that tile.  This placement determines the palette cards you will collect, which are ultimately used to complete your commission cards (paintings).  There are trading options to help secure the cards one needs, but it is critical to collect the needed cards as often and as quickly as possible.

Further, one must decide whether to take the central primary color or an assortment of cards generated by the colors formed by the dabs on the outer edges of the tiles.  Primary cards are required in the vast majority of paintings and, by-and-large, are more difficult to obtain.  There is the persistent temptation to take multiple cards as opposed to just one primary color.  One can trade for a primary color with the color palette, but must surrender a different primary color plus an additional card in order to do so.  That’s expensive.  Oh, and don’t hold your breath waiting for an opponent to trade you one; it isn’t going to happen.

Care must be exercised when placing a palette tile lest you set-up your neighbor for highly desirable colors.  Creating an opening where a newly placed tile will be adjacent to three or even four other tiles will result in a color bonanza for your opponent.  Further, a player can earn a primary color by aligning three identical color dabs.  It is wise to avoid benefitting your opponents in this manner.

2)  Trade.  The active player may trade palette cards with his opponents, making whatever deals he desires.  More common, however, is trading with the color palette.  As described above, a player may combine color cards to form other colors, swapping them for the appropriate card(s) on the color palette board.  Note that this is the only way to obtain several colors, including black, white, gray and bisque.

3)  Trade a commission card with the gallery.  A player may trade one of the commission cards he possesses with one from the gallery.  This gives players an opportunity to dump an undesirable or too-difficult-too-complete painting for one that is more appealing.  Further, there are bonuses for completing multiple paintings from the same artist, so when a player has the opportunity to grab a second painting from the same artist, he should scoop it quickly.

4)  Complete commission cards.  If a player has assembled all of the colors required to complete a painting, he discards those cards and reveals the painting.  He may complete one or more directly from the gallery.  As can be expected, completed paintings score victory points, with the more difficult paintings earning more points.

5)  Hand Limit.  A player may not possess more than eight palette cards at the end of his turn.  This is a tight hand limit, making it very difficult to hoard cards or work on more than one painting at a time.  This strict limit usually results in frequent trades with opponents and the palette board.

A player concludes his turn by drawing a new palette tile and replacing any completed commission cards from the face-down deck.

Play continues in this fashion until someone achieves a predetermined number of points, which is based on the number of players.  This amount ranges from 35 – 45 points.  The rules have a glaring omission in that they state the game ends immediately once a player achieves the indicated amount of points.  This is clearly wrong, and has since been corrected.  All players should have an equal number of turns.

Players score points for palette cards remaining in their hands that could have been used towards the completion of commission cards in their hands (not in the gallery).  Palette cards each have a point value, with the more complex cards being worth more.  Further, players earn bonuses if they have completed two paintings from the same artist.  These points range from 3 – 6 and are based on the point value of the paintings completed.  While seeming to be a nice incentive, this bonus is actually far too luck-based.  It is entirely possible that one or more players will not be able to grab a second painting from the artists they possess, thereby making the achievement of any bonus impossible.  So, while I like the idea of the bonus, in reality it truly skews the end game scoring.

I have always enjoyed Sid Sackson’s Bazaar, and Pastiche is clearly a derivative of that title.  The collecting and swapping of palette cards is extremely similar to Bazaar, giving the game a familiar feel.  However, the manner in which the colors are collected – by the placing of palette tiles – is different, and presents players with more decisions.   The miserly hand limit also forces players to be very selective and conduct their trades wisely and efficiently.  There is also a race aspect to the game, as if a player is too conservative or takes too long in assembling the cards needed, they may find the game ending before he can complete enough paintings to compete for victory.

My only true problem with the game is the manner in which bonus points are earned.  As mentioned, it is too heavily based on luck.  One could simply eliminate the bonus scoring and everything would be fine.  Still, I like the idea of adding another planning element – another goal for which to strive.  I would be interested in hearing ideas on how this aspect of the scoring could be modified to make it less luck prone.

Pastiche is a lavishly produced game that will be made even better with the addition of the miniature easels.  The artwork is attractive, and I appreciate the historical information provided on the artists and paintings.  The collecting and exchanging of colors requires some thought, but is not overly taxing.  The race to beat your opponents in producing art is fun and exciting.  The game is not complex and has many ingredients that help make it appealing to families and casual gamers.  It may not be as exciting as a visit to the Louvre, but it still provides for an entertaining foray into the art world.

Comments from other Opinionated Gamers:

Mitch Thomashow: This is unquestionably a very appealing game from an aesthetic perspective. You’re right to suggest that it is derivative of Bazaar and as such you spend most of your time puzzling out various equations of color combinations. I like both abstract games and games that emphasize the manipulation of color. Yet I am not drawn to Pastiche as much as I thought I would be. It’s not particularly interactive and there is a sameness to it after awhile. The components are great and it is relaxing to play. Hence I like it, but I have to be in the right mood to play it.

Dale Yu: Overall, I found this game to be a great choice for my family.  The rules were easy to pick up and both of my boys were playing this one without assistance by the end of the first game.  I agree with Greg that this scratches a lot of the same itches that Bazaar does.  However, there are a few things which keep me from loving the game. First, the scoring for some of the more complex colors seems off… especially Bisque. It seems to me that you spend more time and paint value trading in for the color that it’s worth.  Second, while trading is an option in the rules, in reality it never happens. I wish that there would have been some way to make the game more interactive.  Third, the bonuses for artwork done by the same artist seems tacked on, and it’s really hard to keep track of.  Luck is the biggest determinant of this bonus, and it is frustrating to see a game be decided by something like that.  Despite those complaints, I have really enjoyed playing the game with my boys, and I have taught it to a number of casual gamers.  This is not a game that I would bring out with more seasoned gamers though for the reasons outlined above.

Doug Garrett:  I really wanted to like this one, given the beautiful art involved, but it seems to plod along much more slowly than it should.  That, and the random luck that Greg refers to was the last straw for Shelley and me.  I don’t see this hitting the table again, especially since I sold my purchased copy.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers:

Love it:
Like it:  Greg Schloesser, Mitch Thomashow
Neutral: Dale Yu
Not for Me: Doug Garrett

About gschloesser

Greg Schloesser is the founder of the Westbank Gamers and co-founder of the East Tennessee Gamers. He is also a prolific reviewer of games and a regular contributor to numerous gaming publications and websites, including Counter, Knucklebones, Boardgame News, Boardgame Geek, Gamers Alliance and many others. Greg has been a gaming enthusiast his entire life, growing up in our hobby mainly on the war game side. His foray onto the internet exposed him to the wonderful world of German and European games and now nearly all of his gaming time is devoted to this area of our hobby. He travels to several gaming conventions each year and is the co-founder of Gulf Games, a regional gaming get-together held in the Southern USA. Greg was born in 1961 and lived his entire life in New Orleans before moving to East Tennessee in 2005. He is married and has one daughter (now married.)
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