Playing with Pigments

by Mar 1, 2016board games, family1 comment

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I’m pleased to once again welcome my fellow board game geek, Renée Harris, to the blog today for a review of Fresco. If you’re a fan of board games and you don’t immediately want to run out and purchase a copy after reading her review, you have much more willpower than me! That’s just what my husband and I did when I first read her post, and our entire family enjoyed the game so much that we recently bought an alternative game board featuring another gorgeous fresco. Read on to discover this game for yourself, and stay tuned for more in-depth reviews of other Eurogames! — Melanie 

There are great games, and then there are games with mechanics so smooth and flawless that they border on near perfection. In my home, this near perfect experience would be known as Fresco, a game that is jam-packed with rich theme and simply stunning components. Fresco is a European strategy board game where players are transported back in time to the Renaissance as they become master painters, who are restoring a ceiling fresco in a local cathedral. This game is universal in its appeal. It holds the distinction of being a game light enough to make a perfect “gateway” game for novice gamers, but it can also become complex enough to enthrall even the most established Euro gamer. How can one game captivate such a diverse range of people? It does this, in my opinion, with mechanics that flow beautifully from one aspect into the next, all the while keeping the theme of painting rich and alive.

Fresco utilizes a mechanism that is not often found in board games—a shifting player order based on positions on the score track. Fresco addresses the points differential by allowing lagging players the opportunity to be first player. This has the leading player bidding last which will deter them slightly from becoming the runaway leader. This changing player order mechanism really balances the game and keeps new gamers encouraged and engaged.

Fresco board game review | Antiquated Notions

{Each player has two screens that keep their actions hidden from fellow players.}

There is also something very alluring about games that include screens. It is enticing to have players keep their actions secret until the big reveal. And Fresco allots two screens to each player. The larger screen will block your inventory from fellow players, while a small shield will help you hide the planning of your apprentices before each round begins. Each player in Fresco begins with five small apprentice tokens, an individual player board, money, and a stock of primary color cubes.

Fresco board game review | Antiquated Notions

{The happiness of each apprentice is determined by the time they are scheduled to begin work.}

Each round begins with the players randomly filling the market with paint tiles. The starting player—who has the least amount of points, remember—will choose what time his apprentices will wake up. Several things are determined by this thematically rich choice. The player to choose the earliest wake up time will have first choice of tiles in the market, but these tiles will be expensive. Also, these early rising apprentices will be exhausted, and their happiness rating will plummet. Once the level of happiness of your apprentices descends to a certain level, you will have to give up one of your wooden apprentice tokens. He simply refuses to come into work! But if you choose a later wake-up time, the paint tiles are cheaper and the happiness level of your apprentices will increase. They may even become so pleased with you, the master painter, that an extra worker chooses to come into your employment, and you will gain a sixth apprentice token. But sleeping-in will mean that the best paint markets will already be picked over. This simple choice of what time to have your workers rise each round beautifully balances happiness, money, and paint selection. The novice gamer can easily grasp these decisions, while the established gamer will love the thrill of wagering between these decisions.  

Now that I know what time my apprentices are rolling out of bed, which paint market I am likely to attain, and how much I will spend purchasing paints, I am ready to plan my actions for the round. Enter the secretive screen. My stash of paint and money is hidden, and so is my small player board. Behind these screens, I will allot apprentices to their tasks. I will send some workers to the paint market, while others will be assigned to restore the fresco. Often I will need these apprentices to paint portraits in a studio to earn income to support our endeavors. A large portion of the game is allotted to my apprentices mixing paints. The final action available on my player board allows me to send my weary apprentices to the theater, which will, of course, improve their mood! This will aid game players in the next round as they attempt to please their crew and prevent an apprentice from playing hooky. While I’m planning, so are my fellow players. Once workers are set, we all remove our screens at the same time, thus revealing where we each chose to send our motley crew of painting apprentices. We will then carry out our actions, one at a time, according to the player order determined from our wake-up time.

Fresco board game review | Antiquated Notions

{The bishop will award a player extra points if he can be moved to their fresco tile.}

How well do you remember your color wheel from art class as a child? If the details are foggy, they will be refreshed and solidified after one game of Fresco. When it is time to mix paints, you will exchange yellow and blue paint cubes for a green one. Do you need purple to restore a fresco tile next round? Then you will need to acquire red and blue cubes and remember to assign an apprentice to the mixing studio. The same goes for mixing paint cubes to gain an orange. You will earn more points when you paint fresco tiles that contain these mixed colors. Extra points are also earned if you can entice the Bishop to be nearby when restoring your chosen fresco tile.  The game will continue over several rounds, all the while choosing wake up times, buying paints, painting frescos, earning money, mixing paints and going to the theater. Players will continue until there are only six fresco tiles left on the board. At this point, the end of game is triggered and there will be one final round, and the player with the most points will win. The base game of Fresco is fresh and original, with nothing else needed for the novice Eurogamer. But Queen Games, the publisher, goes above and beyond with this game. The base game box includes the first three expansions. These expansions are so phenomenal, that you will use them in your second play-through of the game and never leave them out again. But let’s say you’ve read this review, and Fresco sounds like the perfect next game for your family or gaming group. Before you purchase simply the base game, give the the Fresco Big Box some serious consideration. Fresco ultimately comes with ten expansions that can increase the complexity and thrill level of the game exponentially. This Big Box includes them all, and it is a perfect fit for the experienced gamer. Some of the expansions include the super paint colors of pink and brown, a gallery of portraits to earn money, wall fresco tiles that can earn the player paint income each round, and our favorite expansion, the glaziery, just to name a few. The glaziery adds stained-glass windows to certain tiles, which means the painter must not only work to acquire the needed paint cubes, but also the glass baubles used in the installation of stained glass windows next to their portion of the fresco. With this many expansions turned on, your experienced gamer will be in heaven, yet the base game with only a few expansions included, can become an amazing gateway game for any player.

Fresco board game review | Antiquated Notions

{Better dubbed the huge box, the Big Box version of Fresco comes with enough variations to always keep this game fresh no matter how many times you play it!}

Fresco hits the game table in my home more than any other game in my collection. It is the game I continually use as a gateway experience for my friends who are new to gaming. I continually gravitate to Fresco for this purpose because it can be used a second time with a few more expansions brought out. This allows the novice gamer to once again experience a game that they are familiar with, yet I’ve increased their options with a touch of complexity. The game grows as the understanding of the new player grows. The mechanisms imbedded in Fresco are simply fresh and fun. Each decision you make beautifully dovetails into later actions. The whole game flows seamlessly into what I would term a near perfect gaming experience. I encourage you to add Fresco to your game collection soon, and enjoy a wonderful game experience of playing with pigments!  

Sincere thanks to Jeremiah Harris for beautifully photographing the game for this post.

Playing Time

60-90 minutes

Depends on number of players, numbers of expansions, and familiarity with the game

Number of Players


(Age 10+)

For Fans Of

Worker placement mechanism

Art themes