Full disclosure: A review copy of Atelier: The Painter’s Studio was provided by Alderac Entertainment Group.
Alright, let’s crack into more Gen Con games! I’m going to be doing this pretty much forever, so, might as well start digging into them. I’m also managing to rebuild my post-Gen Con buffer, which is nice; should mean that I have some free time to play Pokemon Sword / Shield once they come out (I haven’t decided which one I’m getting yet), and I’ll be able to manage PAXU and BGG.CON, both of which I’m very excited about. Anyways, I’m getting ahead of myself. This game is Atelier: The Painter’s Studio, another title from Alderac, who provided ECOS: First Continent, which I reviewed (to great acclaim) last week. Let’s see how this one holds up!
In Atelier: The Painter’s Studio, you are an artist managing your own studio, which, nice, that’s usually a good sign. But that’s not enough! You crave to become a master of the (regular) arts, and to do so you have to paint! But, you also still have a studio to manage, so don’t forget to do that too. Send out your students, acquire paints, and create your masterpiece! Will you be able to emerge as one of the first Masters? Or will you be a footnote in art history?
To set up, first give each player a player board:
Next, set out the paint tokens:
They need to stand up otherwise they’ll roll. Give each player a set of student meeples in the color of their choice:
They should get dice in the same color:
Shuffle the painting cards and reveal seven:
Shuffle the Patron cards and deal each player two; they should keep one:
Finally, give each player one Inspiration token:
You can give a player the First Player token, but set aside the +4 First Master token for now:
Each player in reverse turn order now chooses a paint color and places one of their students adjacent to that pile. Players may choose a pile that another player already has a student meeple at. You’re ready to start!
A game of Atelier takes place over multiple rounds, as players endeavor to become master artists by painting various pieces from different periods. Paint enough Masterpieces to cement your place in art history, and then the player with the most points wins!
Your turn always starts the same way: roll all the dice you currently have not used. Then, do one of two things:
Take a Dice Action
On your turn, you may take one of 6 possible dice actions, depending on what number you roll. Place the die on your player board after taking the action; it’ll be out of play until the round ends. You may take the same action more than once per round.
1 / 2 – Place a Student Meeple
Rolling a 1 or a 2 allows you to place a Student Meeple of yours near any one paint token pile.
3 – Move Student Meeples
If you roll a 3, you may move up to one Student Meeple belonging to each player from their current paint pile to any other paint pile.
4 – Collect Paint Tokens
For a 4, you may take one paint token from every pile where you have the most Student Meeples. If you’re tied for the most, you do not get a Paint Token for that pile, unless you’re playing a 4-player game.
5 – Paint a Painting
After a 5 is rolled, you may paint one of the seven paintings in the center by discarding the paint tokens indicated on the cards and taking the painting and placing it in front of you. Paintings with a bolded title and a star are Masterpiece Paintings, and typically they require returning one or more of your Student Meeples from the paint token supply areas to your player board, as well (it’s indicated on the card).
Generally, paintings have a variety of unique effects, and these effects can be used at any time during your turn. Some effects are When Painted effects, meaning they happen once upon the painting’s completion and then are done. Either way, reveal a new painting to replace the painting you just painted.
6 – Collect Any Paint Token
And finally, a 6 allows you to take any one paint token from the supply and add it your player board, even if you have no Student Meeples there.
Take an Inspiration Token
Instead of using the die for its action, you may instead spend it, placing it on your player board, to take 1 Inspiration Token. These can be used for a variety of free actions.
Take a Free Action
Inspiration Tokens may be used on your turn to take as many free actions as you can afford to take. These may be done before or after your standard action.
- 1 Token: You may reroll all of your active dice. You cannot choose to only reroll some of them.
- 2 Tokens: You may take the Paint a Painting action as though you had rolled a 5 (in addition to your normal action).
- 3 Tokens: Draw two Patrons from the Patron deck. You may keep one, and place the other on the bottom of the deck.
End of Round
Once all players have used all their dice, the round ends. Pull your dice off the player board, pass the first player token clockwise, and begin a new round.
End of Game
When a player has completed their third Masterpiece Painting, they take the First Master token (worth +4 VP). Complete the current round, and then play one more round. After that final round, the game ends, and the player with the most VP wins!
Player Count Differences
Not many, beyond contention for the paint spots. This is what makes the game tough; you’d imagine that there’s less contention at lower player counts, but honestly you just end up going tit for tat with your opponent at two, since any time you play one they can just … also play one, usually. At higher player counts (especially three players), it’s just kind of a mess. You can’t normally get paint tokens on ties (unless you play at 4), so you’ll see a lot of players just dump other players’ meeples onto paint piles and let them sort it out. At higher player counts, 3s do become more useful, as you can move more students in one fell swoop, but it’s not personally my favorite feeling. At four, you’re just … very busy getting assailed on all sides by players who want to have a majority on the paint tokens. To that end, I wouldn’t say I have a particular preference on player count; the management of actually getting resources is fairly complicated at any of them, realistically.
- Figure out a way to get the tokens you want. This is most of the game, right? You’re collecting resources to spend them on things that will, ostensibly, help you gain more of those resources you crave. Naturally, this means you need to start building something resembling an engine. Will you go for luck mitigation, and try to avoid rolling bad dice? Will you attempt to bypass resource collection and try to build up combos that just reward you with paint tokens? Or will you try something entirely different? Up to you.
- Certain painting abilities are usually too good to pass up. I had one that basically let me gain two paint tokens of my choice with a 6 and another that let me set two dice to take any one action. So my plan of attack was if any of my dice were a 6, take it, and if not, set two of my dice to become a 6 and gain two paint of my choice anyways. Needless to say, it made the game a lot easier once I didn’t have to deal with resource collection.
- Rushing Masterpieces isn’t a terrible strategy. It’s hard for your opponents to counter, but it’s often hard for you to get paint if you only focus on painting, so, be careful.
- Trying to assemble a strategy to get Inspiration Tokens so that you can always paint is a good thing to do. A few paintings give you the ability to regularly get Inspiration Tokens. Having two pocketed at all times means, no matter what, you can always paint on your turn, which is awesome. You really don’t want to hit the end of the game and lose 7+ points on a bad die roll. At the very least, keep one handy so you can either reroll or blow your die to gain another and then paint. It’s better than the alternative.
- Be careful of the catch-up mechanism. Pulling your Student Meeples back may make it hard for you to get paint in the future. Be mindful of that, lest you get totally shut out.
- A bunch of early 6s is good, especially if your opponent rolls poorly. I find that this applies most in 2-player games, since you’re essentially slap-fighting over area control.
- Make an early attempt to stake out your claim on a few colors. If you gain enough in one color, usually other players won’t fight you for it. That’s good for you, generally.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Cute theme. I do like painting a lot. There are a few games with painting as a theme, but I haven’t seen a ton of them lately beyond this and The Colours of Paris, which I am also working my way through, eventually.
- I’m always a fan of unique cards. It’s a nice way to try and figure out your own combos, though they come with their own challenges that I’ll mention elsewhere in this review.
- Doesn’t take too long to play. Especially with two, you can bust the game out pretty quickly.
- The Student Meeples are also cute. Very artsy; I’m a fan of unique meeples for a game.
- They made the rulebook look like an art museum brochure! That might be my favorite part of the game, to be honest. It’s super cute, even if it makes the PDF version of the rules kind of a mess.
- The educational parts are also super nice; I like that every painting is named and some information is provided. I actually feel like I learned something about paintings from playing the three games of this I played. Will I retain it? Probably not, but I learned it. I could see some schools using this game to get students excited about art history. Would actually be kind of cool if you could use themed painting sets to hook into lessons or something.
- Resources via area control is an interesting concept. I think that it’s something I haven’t seen much of (beyond like, Las Vegas), but I’m not sure I’m 100% sold on how it’s implemented, here. That said, I always respect concepts that are novel to me.
- The paint tokens being perfect cylinders means that those bad boys are just going to roll everywhere if they’re not standing up. It’s sort of like the V1 Everdell’s wood tokens; they just kind of roll away if you’re not doing anything about them. It’s a bit funny but also kind of a nightmare to deal with. I’d say put them in one of those bit bowls, but you kind of need an easy way to see all the Student Meeples nearby. It’s an odd problem, and there’s no really simple solution beyond “stand them all up”.
- All the cards having unique powers does kind of mean that synergies are largely random. Sometimes the card you’re looking for never comes up! A lot of times, especially at lower player counts. You may get a card that gives you a bonus for every card of a certain type you paint and then you’ll never see that card again. It’s … not terribly satisfying, to be honest. It would be nice if there were a way to manage that issue.
- I genuinely do not enjoy the way you have to get resources in this game. Yeah, I thought it was cool my first game until I realized that I enjoyed it because I didn’t have to participate in it. Since you get nothing on ties at lower player counts, it just means the game cannot hit a stable equilibrium point. People are just one-upping each other forever, and that’s … kind of annoying, to be honest. Some games you get totally shut out, which isn’t fun either.
- A bit too random for me, between the Patrons and the paintings being random draws and rolling dice to take your actions. If some of those factors were fixed or able to be planned around (mostly the paintings, I feel), it would be a lot easier to form a cohesive and not reactive strategy. But add in that your opponents are also eyeing paintings that you might also be looking at and you’ve got a whole mess of options on your turn that may be completely different by your next turn. All in all, it ends up being a bit hard to track, and so even if you win you might feel like it was mostly good fortune.
Overall: 5 / 10
Overall, I was kind of underwhelmed by Atelier: The Painter’s Studio. I think that part of it was that my first play of it was particularly good because I managed to unlock a combo that essentially let me avoid taking any paints from the central pool, which is the part that I really don’t like about this game. I find it frustrating, since players can essentially lock you out as you get behind and there’s no good way to recover beyond waiting for players to capitalize on getting Masterpieces (at which point they may not even help you with a move) or trying to use a Move action to accelerate that process. For a game defined by resource-gathering, that can be enormously frustrating. There are some processes to try and ease that pain, but they largely end up ineffective, as it just benefits players who roll 6s more frequently (to a point). I had hoped that this was just a problem at higher player counts, but at lower player counts you can essentially go tit-for-tat against your opponent and whoever gets the drop on their opponent first will likely pull away. Thankfully, the resource-gathering part is really my major complaint. I can see this game put a lot of thought into the art side, with painting names, choices, and genres designed to maybe add a tiny bit of education to the gaming side of the process. I think that’s great, and honestly, I wish more games would engage with their subject matter like that. It means that even if you don’t particularly enjoy the game, you come away from it having learned something. And I did! If you’re okay with a slow-moving resource-gathering game, you will hopefully enjoy this more than I did, but the randomness and the resource-gathering tension caused Atelier: The Painter’s Studio to fall pretty flat for me.