My reviews are going to end up similar to, but with a few different aspects from, Marti/Fluffy Meeple’s reviews. For starters, I play a lot of my games solo so I’ll be including my reflections of the solo play in every review I do. I also have a lot of various different games from different publishers rather than a bunch of games from the same publisher (although there are a few publishers/creators I keep up with because their games are always great) so there won’t necessarily be a cohesive theme among the types of games I review (except I really like deck builders so I have a lot of those, haha).
I initially found out about this game last year because I follow The Indie Game Report on their website and Twitter. The designer, Mike Wokasch, is one of the founders of the site and of course started talking about the game when the Kickstarter went live. What initially drew me to it was the idea of having a tabletop game that featured incredible works of art that already exist in real life (though many are only viewable in museums).
I backed it then and there and anxiously awaited its arrival. Earlier this year, my waiting was finally over and I had the game (and playmat) in hand! It took me a few weeks to get it to the table because life and work got in the way (*shakes fist*) but I was able to get in a couple 2-player games this past weekend and a solo playthrough this week. We tried a couple of the alternate rules in the second 2-player playthrough but I think the first one with the regular, default rules was the one that went the smoothest. Read on for more details!
Game Play Overview: In Starving Artists, you and up to 3 other people compete to complete master paintings to sell for food and victory points. Watch your food level, though: if it gets too low you starve and the game is over. Be the first to complete enough paintings or earn the minimum amount of points based on the number of players and you win!
The game is played over a series of turns each consisting of a morning action, a day action, and a night phase. During the morning and day you can use your action to buy a canvas, work for paint cubes, or put your cubes onto the canvases in your workshop. Once per turn you can also either trade cubes with the paint market or reset the canvas market. At night you can sell your completed paintings for food, paint cubes, and victory points. Beware of others also selling paintings the same turn as whatever cubes are in the paint market get split between you!
Pros: I really like this game overall, so here are the 4 things I want to highlight.
- Art design. Obviously this is the biggest draw to the game. Famous and beautiful art pieces are found on every canvas card, and some comic book covers are thrown in to add to the mix. The color cube choices are spot on for the works and the cube placement was smartly done to allow you to still appreciate the piece behind.
- Small footprint. The game box is as wide as the canvas cards are long and everything fits snugly inside. The scoring track is on the inside of the box cover/lid and, while sometimes I had wished it was removable, the overall space the game takes up on the shelf is nice and compact. On the table it really depends on the number of players but even with the playmat we had no issues with a 2-player game on a small coffee table.
- Easy to learn. The rules are fairly straightforward with 3 actions to choose from during each action phase and 2 free actions to choose from once each turn. The hectic part comes when multiple people are selling paintings in the evening but once you get used to the distribution of cubes per payment it starts to go more quickly.
- Quality components. The components in the game are great. The cards have a nice finish to them but still maintain their vibrant colors and the cubes are hardy.
Cons: I really could only think of one thing that I found negative about this game.
- Somewhat confusing solo/optional rules. I’ll touch on this a bit more in the solo section below, but a few of the optional or solo rules aren’t entirely clear and even after searching online I wasn’t able to find a satisfactory answer. The FAQ for the game clears up some of it but not everything important for the solo mode.
Solo Play: The main premise of the solo mode in Starving Artists is that you’re working to gather as many points as possible within a time limit (measured by the number of canvas cards remaining in the deck/market). You start with 35 canvas cards in the deck (rather than the whole deck) and at the end of each evening phase you remove the canvas in the 1-cost position of the market as well as cubes from the paint market that match the removed canvas. Once there are no more canvas cards available, or if you starve, the game ends and your final score is tallied (so the more canvases you buy, the shorter the game).
As mentioned above, I had some confusion when trying to play the solo mode from just reading the directions. First, the process for removing the “matching” cubes of the removed canvas each evening phase wasn’t entirely clear. The rules say to remove matching cubes, but the FAQ explains that this means you take the quantities on the painting of the specific colors, not the colors as a whole. So, a painting with 2 blue squares will take 2 blue cubes from the paint market if available. This makes sense once clarified, but the rules don’t lay it out as explicitly as they could.
The other rule I wasn’t sure about, and still don’t know for sure, is how the wild/clear cubes are treated when removing “matching” cubes as above. The rules, and some posts I found when searching, say that wild cubes can match but you choose what matches in all cases. Does this mean that you can choose a color that isn’t present in the market to match to a square so you don’t have to use a wild, or that you could choose a wild to replace a colored cube if both are available? I made the assumption that wild cubes must be removed if there are any in the market and there are not enough regular cubes to match the spaces on the removed canvas. I ended up with 29 points so wilds not staying in the market didn’t affect the end result in an overly negative way (as my score was still above the maximum “rank” for solo scores).
Overall, the solo mode is decent. It plays like the regular game only you’re not competing with other players for paint cubes when selling, just the canvases leaving the market every turn. Using a portion of the canvas deck creates lots of different possibilities for the deck you’ll be using each time, though the gameplay itself doesn’t change from game to game and the goal is always the same. If anything, it seems tuned to be on the easier side. I got 29 points (25+ is the highest rank of scores) on my first try after having only played the multiplayer/normal version twice before. The rules say to remove the 0-point comic book canvases but I think leaving them in might be a fine increase of the difficulty level (as they’ll either clog the market for some turns or else force you to buy it to complete for food/paints but no points).
Try, Buy, Deny. A thoroughly enjoyable game, I would definitely recommend picking this up. It’s lightly competitive (and can be made even less so with optional rules) and you get to play with wonderful art the whole game. The mechanics seem cohesive together and make for a great experience. I love playmats so I picked up the one for this game, it’s thicker than other playmats I have which seems to make the ends stay curled up a bit during use if you store it rolled up but is still nice, but the game can be played just as well (and takes up a little less table/storage space) without.
Scott – The Solitary Meeple