Dale Yu: Review of Art Decko

Art Decko

  • Designer: Ta-Te Wu
  • Publisher: Rio Grande Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Age: 14+
  • Time: 60 minutes
  • Times played: 4 (2 on review copy of new version provided by RGG, 2 on original Promenade, 2019 version)

art decko

Art Decko was once known as Promenade.  As Alan How once wrote about the game: “It was my hidden gem from Essen 2019, proving that despite copious amounts of information now available before the show, there are interesting games to find.”  After hearing about the game, I managed to track down a copy and play a few times prior to the COVID era.  Copies were pretty scarce, and their value on the secondary market was rising; but then I heard that the game had been licensed to Rio Grande Games, and I endeavored to wait it out…

Two years later, the game has finally come to market – and I’m really glad that I waited for this new version.  The theme is mainly the same, deck building in the world of fine art.  The goal of the game is to manipulate the value of the paintings from 5 genres by buying them at bargain prices and then trying to increase their value by putting them on display in the Museum.

art decko in play

The Museum is seen at the top of the main board with the five different display areas found left to right.  The types of art that each display desires is drawn randomly out of a bag of chits.  Additionally, draw out one bonus tile and place it over each area – this tile will be activated at endgame scoring if the area is completely filled during the game.  Below this, you will see the four galleries and the two banks where you can purchase new cards for your deck.

The game includes paintings from five styles of art — Art Nouveau, Pop Art, Renaissance, Surrealism, and Impressionism — and you start with five random painting cards in your deck. Each art style starts with a value of 1 gold for a painting. You also have five starting gold cards in your deck, with the cards being worth 1 or 2 gold, with some cards having a special ability on them.  Each player in turn order gets a slightly better starting hand to compensate for their place in turn order. As with most deck builders, you shuffle your deck and then take five cards for your starting hand.

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Fill the four galleries with 2-3 random paintings each, then place two random 3-gold cards (each with a special power) in the bank, along with the deck of 5-gold cards. Paintings in galleries cost 1-8 gold, while gold cards cost 5 or 8 gold.  Each player gets their own player board where they can keep track of the values of the paintings.  Additionally, there is a separate scoreboard where the values of the five art types (and gold cards) are also tracked.  As the market rating of an art style increases, each painting in that style is worth more gold, effectively increasing its buying power; that art style is also worth more points at game’s end.

On a turn, take two actions from these three choices, repeating an action, if desired:

  • Haggle: Discard a card from your hand to draw two cards from your deck.
  • Acquire: Pay the acquisition cost of a painting or gold card by discarding cards from your hand (gold cards being worth their printed value and paintings being worth their current value — If you use the special ability on a gold card instead of its listed numerical value, remove that card from the game), then place the newly acquired card in your discard pile. Increase the “market value” of the painting’s art style or gold by the value listed in the gallery/bank.  You cannot buy from the same gallery twice in the same turn. 

art decko galleries

  • Exhibit: Pay the exhibition cost for a gallery, then place a painting into that gallery that matches one of that gallery’s invitation markers. Mark that painting with one of your ownership tokens, then place the related invitation marker on the highest available victory point (VP) space, scoring those points for yourself immediately. That painting is now removed from your deck.  If this is your first exhibition in the game, take one of the available one-time bonuses found above the display areas.

art decko museum

At the end of your turn, discard any number of cards from your hand, then refill your hand to five cards. If a gallery has no paintings in it, refill all of the galleries with 2-3 paintings, then replace each empty gallery’s cost token with the next highest one available. When at least twelve paintings are in the museum, the painting deck is empty, or an art style or gold reaches a market rating of 70, finish the round, then proceed to final scoring.

Final scoring awards points for the cards left in your deck.  You can flip over your player board to find a nice tool to help you score the remainder of your deck.  The value of gold depends on its market rating, with its value ratio ranging from 6:1 to 1:1. Each painting in your deck is worth 1-7 VPs depending on the market rating of its art style. Each exhibition space in the museum also has a random bonus that was revealed at the start of play, and you can earn additional points through these bonuses if that particular display area had all of its requests met. In the end, the player with most VPs wins.

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My thoughts on the game

Art Decko is a great light strategy game; I had thought the same of the original version which I played a few years ago, and honestly, if I had not heard that Rio Grande was going to do a new version, I would have purchased a copy of Promenade (at likely high cost) back then.  The game plays essentially the same.  

While I don’t have a copy of the original here to compare to – I do know that the game now has a cardboard board instead of a cloth board – and that’s a big plus to me.  It also appears that there are a few extra bonus tiles, card changes, etc – but overall, the game plays pretty much as I remember it.

In this game, you try to collect art and manipulate the values of them.  In a sense, it is a “deckbuilding” game as each player is adding the different cards to their deck to fulfill their strategies.   You can thin your deck out a bit by exhibiting art in the museum and also by trashing gold cards.  The gold cards all have a special ability at the bottom – so adding these cards can give you a few more options.   Most of the cards, however, don’t have actions – during the game, they are essentially currency cards of varying value.  You just have to constantly count up the value of your hand as the value of each of the five suits constantly changes.

While we’re talking about these gold cards, I should bring up that this is the most confusing part of the game.  I’m not a fan of the iconography that they have used here.  One of them says “8 gold: exhibit one painting”.  On initial glance, this said that I could exhibit a painting for 8 gold.  What it means, according to the rules, is that this card can be trashed to provide 8 gold towards exhibiting a painting.  Once you’re used to the syntax, you can understand what your cards do – but this has pretty much required a special explanation at the start of every game for anyone new to the game.  A different icon for the currency value here would have cleared everything up nicely.  Anyways, just make sure that everyone in your game understands how to use those cards.

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The way that the five art types (and the gold cards) change in value is complicated to see on your first few plays.  I mean, the mechanics are easy.  Each time that you buy or display a type of art, it’s rating increases.  Each time that you buy a gold card, the rating of gold increases.  Nothing makes a rating go down.   But, man, in my first few games, I had a hard time predicting how the ratings would end up at the end of the game – and of course, this is the skill that will propel you to victory.

You should try to keep track of which player is collecting which types of art – because again, every action will increase the rating of something… And, you may want to decide between two seemingly equal actions based on who you want to help.  

Pretty much any card that is exhibited in the museum will return more points than if it remains in your deck at the end of the game.  I try to figure out which art types I think will be at the lower end of the rating spectrum because then I’ll get the best marginal return on that card.  Furthermore, for the rest of the game, I’ll keep more buying power in my deck – because again, remember that the cards essentially act as currency when in your deck.

I would definitely place the rating board in front of the most OCD / attentive / nitpicky gamer at the table.  The whole game revolves around the increasing ratings of the art/gold, and you will probably make a change to at least one rating in EVERY player turn.  Thus, it’s vital that you update the board after every action, and in our group, this means that John should have control of the board because he never misses things like that!

The art in the game is pretty sweet, and yes, I know that it’s rare for me to gush over the graphic design of a Rio Grande game, but it really looks like they have turned the corner – the overall look of the 2021 releases are increasingly pleasing to the eye.  Each of the five art types was done by a different artist – and the 3 examples used for each type all seem quite representative of the stated genre.  Other than the special abilities on the gold cards as mentioned above, everything else is easily seen; and while I first thought the player boards were superfluous – they provide you a nice way to organize your cards (and make sure things aren’t erroneously shuffled into your deck), a nice way to be sure you can see the current values of each of the suits, and a nice way to tally up the score of your deck at the end.

The game plays swiftly, and with players that know the rules, the game will probably take 5-10 min to set up and 30-40 minutes to play.  It provides you with a challenging economic game where you try to manipulate the values of the art types as well as the composition of your deck to succeed in making the most out of the art you own.  I really wanted the original version of this game a few years ago, and I’m really glad that I waited for this new version to be produced.  I’m sure this will get a lot of play over the winter here.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Dan (3 plays of Promenade, more of Art Decko): I like this game quite a bit. I am in general not a huge fan of deck builders with random cards to buy, but in this case there are only a handful of different cards, not to mention that the art cards are all much the same at the start of the game. But that’s just a negative aspect it avoids. On the positive side of the ledger, it feels very different from any other deckbuilder I’ve played. It has some of the typical elements – you often want to thin your deck by getting rid of the starting gold cards, for example, but the rest of it revolves not around clever card combinations or the like but around getting the proper mix of art which will allow you to exhibit paintings in the correct galleries for the bonuses you like and actually pay for the exhibitions.

Alan H (20+ plays combined of all versions) Unsurprisingly I like the game a lot. The original version was a prize – something that you find at a show (Essen) before anyone else- that works. And I found a designer that I hadn’t come across before and have bought from since. I’m glad the game has a wider audience now via the RioGrande version and the Boardgamearena online version is easy to use and play. I like the game for the same reasons as Dan, but ultimately it’s the ease of play that allows wide groups of gamers to enjoy it so I’m pleased even more will do so now.

Craig M. (20 plays of Promenade, none of Art Decko…. yet): It didn’t take long for Promenade to hit evergreen status. I have not been overly enamored with decking building as a mechanism, but something here makes it feel fresh. The original added in a few fun mini-expansion which frequently see use. Given that Promenade will likely continue as an evergreen game, but I look forward to seeing what Art Decko has to offer .

Jonathan (5 plays of Promenade and a few of Art Decko on BGA). I enjoyed the game a great deal, but in the end, it felt like a stock market game and I was fine letting it go for the high prices Promenade was commanding. I enjoy Art Decko as much as Promenade, but appreciated that the Promenade art was created by the designer. I look forward to playing Art Decko on BGA or in person if offered the chance.

Mary P. (1 play Art Decko, not sure about Promenade) I liked the game and would like to play again. The box art is beautiful – love the clean look. The components are what you would expect from Rio Grande – high quality.

Patrick Brennan: Deck builder which does some neat things. You receive 5 money cards and 5 painting cards (across 5 genres) in your deck to start with, and use them to buy more paintings from a re-fill type display. The paintings can all be used as money cards – they start at value 1 and each genre’s money and VP value increases each time a painting in that genre is bought, The other cool thing is that the money cards can be trashed to use their one-off ability. This means your deck gets more powerful holistically, doing away with the usual deck-builder trope of having to first upgrade your money cards before buying big VP cards. It’s also thematically nice … you want to get in on the genres that others are buying. Once your deck is powerful enough you can exhibit (maybe less popular?) genres, also thinning your deck, for big one-off VPs, a big market value raise, and potential end-game bonus points over and above what the paintings in your hand are worth. The big downside of the game is the continual change-tracking of every genre’s value. Playing online does all that for you and allowed me to enjoy the game. I can only imagine the rating would have dropped playing physically otherwise.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Dale Y, Dan B, Alan H, John P, Craig M., Dan
  • I like it.  Lorna, Jonathan F, Jennifer G, Mary P., Patrick B
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me.

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
This entry was posted in Essen 2021, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

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