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Review: Fresco:: UMCR Fresco Review: A Work of Art

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« on: October 10, 2017, 10:00:08 PM »

Review: Fresco:: UMCR Fresco Review: A Work of Art

by toothpickman

I bought a copy of Fresco from a gamer who was thinning his collection.  It was an add in game to get a better deal on Ticket to Ride Europe and Asia.  I added it in because I had read it was a good worker placement starter.  I have since played it more than the other two combined.  It is a fantastic game.


Fresco has a lot of components, and it is clear a lot of thought has gone in to each of them.
Like many games it comes with a pile of cubes, stacks of cards, meeples, tiles, cardboard coins and chits... it is a lot of stuff, and it is all of very good quality.

The cubes come in red, yellow, blue, green, orange, purple, brown, and pink.  Their size corresponds to their complexity, so red, yellow, and blue are the primary and smallest colors.  orange being a combination of red and yellow is larger, with pink being more complex than that and brown requiring the most colors largest of all.  It is an unnecessary but nice additional detail to the production.

The cards are of good quality and are of the euro/ticket to ride scale.  These like the rest of the game have nice artwork, and symbology that is quick to pick up.  The deck is specifically for the portrait element to the game.

The meeples are also remarkable, along with your standard workers in each players color (red, blue, yellow, green), there are unpainted meeple workers which may be gained or loss during hte course of the game.  Along with these workers each player has 3 master painter meeples, one for the score track, one for determining turn order, and one for the worker happiness/mood track. 

The cardboard chits, tiles, player screens, and coins are of good thickness are design.  They are not overcomplicated and yet remain atractive to the eye.

Finally the board is a wonderful combination of form and function.  It has a standard scoring track around the boarder, along with sections for the "expansions".(which are really just parts of the game which can be left out when teaching).  There are sections for the portraits, Bishop's orders, as well as the market, mood track, and turn track.  The main feature is the Fresco, which is initially covered with tiles that are painted throughout the course of the game.  The Fresco depicts scenes from the Bible, and it quite beautiful.  My compliments to Oliver Schlemmer for creating such a beautiful game board. 
Of all the games I've played I've yet to see a board that matches the visual appeal and functionality of this one.
One final note is that the board is double sided, one side for 2 and 3 player games, and the other for 4.

The rule book is just a few pages and easy to understand.  It walks you through setup and how to play, and has a section that explains each of the "expainsions" that may be added or removed from play.  It also does a very good job of describing the 2 player game which involves a dummy player.

Game Play

The object of the game is to accumulate the most victory points, or to become the favored painter of the Bishop.  This is done by painting parts of the Fresco in the core part of the game, and additonally by completing Bishop's orders and portraits in the full game.
This id done by managing your workers, and accumulating the paints you need to complete sections of the fresco, or the orders.

Turn order is determined by score, with the lowest having the advantage to choose wake up time first.  Wake up time determines who will act first, how much paints will cost (with paint becoming less expensive as time passes), and the mood of your workers.

Workers who sleep in are happier, and workers who wake up early, or really early are less happy.  If your workers become too unhappy one of them will not show up for work, if they are really content they will bring along a friend to help.

After the Master Painter meeples are placed to select wake up time, the "simultaneous selection" worker placement is done.  Each player secretly places their workers on where they are sending them, to buy paints, to paint the fresco, to paint/sell portraits, to mix paints (so make more complex colors), to the theater to raise happiness in the workers.

One this is done the placement is revealed and each location is resolved.  The workers placed to the market begin their shopping with the workers who got up earlier going first choosing which stall to buy from/close out.  (the stalls are filled with paint by random draw before wake up time is determined)
This is followed by painting the fresco, which gets you victory points, as well as income, from each section of ceiling/tile you complete.
Then comes the painting and selling of portraits, which can gain you money or a special reward from the cards.
Mixing of paints which helps you get he colors you need to complete the fresco or you may choose to complete a Bishop's order, and finally the theater a nice reward for your workers after a hard day's work.

Initially I was unsure if I would like this game.  After the high praise of games like Stone Age I wanted to try a worker placement game, and with that one being out of print, I read that this might be a good option as entry into that mechanic.  So when it turned up for a reasonable price on a craigslist sale I thought I'd try it.  I was not disappointed.

During the first play the game is a little complicated to explain with my wife not quite grasping all that was going on, but in subsequent plays it became rather intuitive in its play.  The theme really shines to make sense of the mechanism.  As I said earlier the form and function with beautifully.  Wake up time affecting the mood for the workers makes a lot of sense.  Getting to the market later when the vendors are wanting to get rid of their stock, so it is less expensive makes sense to players too.

- The theme and mechanics of the game are married beautifully, which makes the game much easier to learn.
- There are a lot of choices and different paths to victory which provides a variety of play.
- The game can be simplified for first time players, and there are additional expansions that may be added, but they are not needed for fun.
- The components and design are fantastic, it is a beautiful game.
- It has a really good 2 player game.

- It can seem overwhelming to newer gamers.
- It only plays up to 4.
- A small amount of nudity on the board though done in an artistic way,  may be problematic with some players.
- Only small quibble is I wish there were more Frescoes to uncover.

Fresco as a worker placement game

Fresco is definitely the best worker placement game that is not designated worker placement by the Admins at BGG.  This is because Fresco is not a "pure" worker placement game.  It includes many other mechanics, one of which is worker placement.  It is a shame that this mechanic is not represented in the list as many of the others are.
Fresco includes many mechanisms simultaneous selection, set collection, programming, etc, and the placement of workers, which will limit the possibilities for the following choices of opponents.  I really enjoy this element of managing and placing my workers.
After having played Lancaster, which may be argued is a "purer" worker placement game, I would say that Fresco is a better game, perhaps a bit more complex in it's mechanisms.  Stone Age, may be a little simpler and "purer" as well, but is extremely hard to find at a reasonable price.  Lords of Waterdeep is also heralded as a good entry level worker placement game, unfortunately the theme is off putting to several in my group.  So with that understanding and those caveats I highly recommend Fresco as a good worker placement introductory game.   

(The two player game)
As I said before Fresco has a 2 player game with a dummy player.  This really works well in Fresco.  The player can be used tactially for your advantage on your turn or to hinder your opponent, it really adds some fun complexity to the game.  Each player takes turn controlling the third player (Leonardo) which can help to block your opponent or make them pay more for paints, lose a chance at a portrait, etc.

Final Thoughts Fresco

Fresco is as fantastic game.  It allows to tactics and strategy, interplay between players but not too much actual confrontation.  The theme is unique and appeals to me as it relates to my hobby of painting (it is the best painting related game I've seen so far).  The form really compliments the function and mechanics of the game.
It is complex enough for many plays, but simple enough for me to find people to play it with.  It is a really good mix of a lot of things, theme, mechanics, art, strategy, with a dash of luck in the paint draw.  Like a good Fresco it takes all of these different elements and colors, mixes, blends, applies them to form an inspiring and enjoyable experience.

Fresco is one of my favorite games, a definite current top 10.
I give it 10 out of 10 stars 

Source: Review: Fresco:: UMCR Fresco Review: A Work of Art

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