Full disclosure: A preview copy of Swatch was provided by Minerva Tabletop Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game. Also, while I don’t charge for Kickstarter previews, the publisher was charged a rush fee due to the tight timeline they needed the review completed in.
Awesome, we’re back with more Kickstarters. I had originally thought Cascadia was going to be my next one, but that’s like, September, so, nope. Next one is probably going to be the various titles from Dr. Finn’s, which I’m pretty stoked to get to. Right now, we have Swatch, new from Minerva Tabletop Games. I’m always excited to see new publishers emerge; even if the games aren’t my particular cup of tea (which happens!), it increases the variety of folks who are getting in and trying their hand at game design, which I think is a net positive for the industry. First game up from them is Swatch, as I’ve mentioned, so let’s dive right into it.
So, you’re sharing a studio with other artists working for a demanding company that wants only the finest colors. If you’re me, a reviewer, you’re sort of like “… a shared … office … space?” but I think I’ve also been in my house for almost 5 months at this point, so, cut me a bit of slack. It’s been a weird time. Either way, you need to collect colors and get a bit experimental if you want to deliver on your deadlines and make a way for yourself in the industry. Will you be able to use your eye for color and come up with some truly dazzling new shades? Or will your best efforts just end up largely unpaletteable?
Not a ton. Set out the Swatch Cards, shuffling them to make six piles of four cards (all with the same number):
The Action deck should be prepared next; shuffle those cards up:
Make three rows of five face-up action cards with enough space between each row for some meeples. Give each player their Artist Meeple (or give them two, if you’re playing a two-player game):
Give every player a Scheme that they should keep private:
Finally, place the tokens in six supplies within reach of all players:
You should be ready to start!
The gameplay cycle is pretty straightforward for Swatch, as far as I can tell. Your goal is to collect three Swatches, which are created by combining red, green, and blue tokens together. Unfortunately, you can only collect cyan, yellow, and magenta tokens, so you’ll have to put your color theory knowledge to work if you want to come up with the victory! Let’s dive in and see what’s going on.
During each round, you’ll take one turn for each meeple you have (so, two turns in a two-player game). Let’s walk through how a round plays out. Each round, all players are given a card for free from the deck, adding it to their hands. Then, each player takes their turn:
Take an Action Card from the Active Row. The Active Row shifts each round to be the row below the previous one. This means you start with the top row at the beginning of the game, and you move back to the top row after you start a round at the bottom row (it wraps around). To indicate that you want a card, place your meeple below it and then, you may do one of three things:
- Do the card’s action and discard it.
- Add the card to your hand without taking its action.
- Discard the card without performing the action.
If none of those options appeal to you AND you are the last player in turn order, you may instead skip your turn to place on the next row. You’ll take your turn last when the other players get there.
(Optional) Play a card from your hand. You may also play any one card from your hand and perform its effect. Discard it after you do it.
For either card, you must be able to do the card’s action fully to take it. This means if you cannot Mix a full 4 resources, you cannot perform that Mix action. Speaking of action types, there are three:
- Add: Take the indicated number of the indicated type of resources and add them to your personal supply.
- Swap: Exchange one Cyan / Magenta / Yellow from your supply for a Cyan / Magenta / Yellow from either the main supply or another player’s supply. Rude, but sometimes necessary.
- Mix: Combine an equal number of Cyan / Magenta / Yellow to take the written number of Red / Green / Blue tokens (depending on the combination) from the supply. Note that if you have a Mix 4, you must get rid of 4 Cyan and 4 Yellow to get 4 Green.
If, during your turn, you have the right number of Red / Green / Blue tokens to take a Swatch, you may exchange those tokens for the corresponding Swatch. Keep in mind that you must follow your Scheme in order to win.
Once all players have finished their turn, the row below the row just played in becomes the new Active Row. If you finished a round at the bottom of the play area, the topmost row becomes the new Active Row.
End of Game
Once any player has completed three Swatches, they win, unless they still have resources. If they still have resources, they’re in limbo. Instead of taking a turn, they must move their meeple to the right side of the board. After the end of the round, they may then discard one resource. If multiple players would win at the end of a round, the player who completed their Scheme this round wins!
Player Count Differences
The game is pretty different at two players; much more for each individual player to do when they’re managing two artists at the same time. It also allows you to play a bit more in your own interest, since you can often secure multiple spots that you want for various actions. You still only get one card per round no matter what the player count, so you will explicitly have a 1:1 ratio if you only take one turn per round. Anyways, that’s getting into the weeds on that particular thing. With more players, you’re likely going to experience more tension around resources depending on how your luck shakes out. If you’re consistently drawing good cards each round, you may not care about your placement too much and might just opt to hang out near the front so you always get first pick. If you’re doing poorly but you can’t get cards to work for you, you may end up behind the power curve for a while. I think, to that end, I slightly prefer this at lower player counts since you get more turns per round and it’s harder to feel entirely shut out if the cards aren’t working for you (since you’ll pull two cards from the Active Row each round, even if you do only get one card from the deck). It’s a slight preference, though; not too big of a deal.
- I assume there’s some galaxy-brain-level strategy around optimizing for the exact number of resources you need, but that honestly seems like a lot to ask for new players. Most players are going to do the same thing, which is aggressively take resources until they’ve really gotten one Swatch and maybe are halfway to their second one. It’s very hard to nail the perfect win where you get the third Swatch and then end your turn flawlessly. I think it requires a more intuitive understanding of the game than you’ll even get after three plays, so, I would expect to overshoot (or undershoot) it when you’re trying it.
- In your final turns before you buy the third swatch, mix your remaining resources so that you have fewer to get rid of. It shouldn’t slow you down too much, but be careful that you don’t waste so much time mixing resources that another player steals the Swatch that you need. Though I suppose if that happens you’ll probably have plenty of resources with which to get the next available Swatch.
- Swapping with an opponent works well if you can see what they need. Try to mess them up. Are they nicely and neatly going for the Mix 3 next turn? Swap one of those for one of a different color. Now they’re going to have to take a Mix 2 or really rethink their plans. It’s extremely mean, but, this isn’t the nicest game if you don’t want it to be.
- Try to figure out what swatches your opponents are going for. If you know, then you might be able to snake one out from under them and really mess them up! Again, it may help to play a bit mean, though it likely won’t make you many friends. Depends on how important winning is, to you.
- It seems like it would almost make sense to mix all your resources together to make them slightly harder to count quickly? Just in case someone’s trying to snoop on them. This seems like a kind-of-weird / passive-aggressive thing to do, but I guess it’s technically street legal?
- Unless you absolutely need a certain card, I find it difficult to justify skipping a turn. You can at least take the card at the front of the line if it hasn’t been taken; then you still get to choose first and you get a card. Win-win. If that’s not an option and you really can’t do without that card, I suppose skipping ahead isn’t the worst thing.
- Remember that you need to have the exact number of tokens to Mix, successfully. This will inevitably trip you up! If you want that 4 Mix, you need 4 of each color, and you can only produce one color! You may need to do some swaps or take some extra tokens to get what you want.
- Taking the first couple spots (especially in a two-player game) to give yourself more options later can pay off really well, depending on the cards. I usually try to occupy the front spot with one meeple in a two-player game so that I can get first pick of the remaining slots, and then I use my other meeple to go after the spots that I actually want. It works well in 2P, but at 3+ I think you need to be a bit more strategic. Even then, favor the leftmost card if multiple cards are the same value so that you can go earlier in the turn order.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Generally a big fan of the concept of games themed around color. I think they’re very fun, conceptually! I like mixing colors and making colors; I think I saw one about layering that also looked pretty cool! I think there’s a lot of appeal with colorful games that have good graphic design and good color schemes. I will be excited to see how the Kickstarter for this one turns out!
- The names of the colors are generally fun, as well. They clearly had fun with generating some of the names, which is usually a good sign.
- Fairly portable. The box has a pretty small footprint, which is nice if you’re taking this one with you. No idea what the full game box will look like, though hopefully it won’t expand in a ridiculous way.
- Having schemes force players to try certain strategies is interesting. I like that it makes you play a bit differently every game (though it does seem like you could always favor Monochromatic and just consistently go for the same Swatch type under the rules as written, but I have found several of the rules confusing). I hope they add more schemes in the final version!
- A few things are a bit unclear. One thing is the cards; the Swatch cards would benefit immensely, in my opinion, from not having any C/M/Y icons on the cards. It confuses players that I’ve tried the game with and makes them believe that they can buy the cards without having to mix to RGB. There’s some concerns about how winning works that I think could be diagrammed out a bit more cohesively in the rules, as well. I was also a bit confused by how skipping a turn worked, but I think I mostly figured that one out. Even things like the endgame resource discards are a bit vague; do you discard two resources because you get two turns? That would make sense to me, but it would be helpful if the rulebook said one way or the other, I think.
- Likely will benefit from some sort of playmat. Having to pick up as many cards as you’ll need to that are just face-up on the table is a bit of a pain if you’re not playing on a mat of some kind. Don’t want to damage the cards after only a few games.
- The blue and cyan tokens are a bit too similar in color, currently. New players struggle with that a bit, in my experience; you have to tell them to group by shape, not by color.
- I’ll be interested to see how the cards look in the final version of Swatch. They’re currently not my particular cup of tea; I think the shapes look a bit plain. There’s a real opportunity to leverage the color combinations you have to make something that’s really popping and has a lot of table presence. I think it could be pretty cool!
- It’s kind of weird that if you don’t play cards you’ll just gradually get too many. I played against a player who played fewer cards (admittedly, she should have played more), but this just ended up with her having too many cards in her hand because there’s no hand limit. It seems like having a hand limit of 3 or 5 cards at maximum would probably help that issue, a lot.
- Generally not a big fan of swapping with an opponent. It’s mild take-that in a game with a decently-tight resource market that can set your opponent back a fair bit, and that feels like kind of a “feels bad” sort of situation? I generally try to only swap with the center, as a result.
- Is it possible to make the game unwinnable for one player? So there’s an victory type called Monochromatic, which forces players to pull only one swatch number. Others are odd / even or adjacent. There are currently four colors per stack. What happens if a player with Monochromatic only takes two of them and then the other players take the other two? Can they no longer win? This is a particular example of where I think the rules could be cleaned up, but it seems to imply that they would have to find something else.
- I just don’t like the way the game ends, personally. I have a number of problems with this. For one, as a player with three completed swatches, it’s just … boring to do nothing on your turn beyond discarding one resource and hoping nobody beats you to the punch when you win. For other players, it can feel really bad to have to continue to struggle to win against a player that’s already effectively won but just needs to take a few rounds to really cement it. It also is just a weird situation; the player with three swatches is locked out of the gameplay loop and cannot affect it at all, but has to hope they’ve got enough of a runway that they can pull it off. It feels weird when it happens and I don’t … like that. Really hoping they come up with something that feels better for players before the release of the game. It currently feels a bit unpolished.
Overall: 5.75 / 10
Overall, I think Swatch is just okay. For me, I think that it approximates a Splendor-style game market, but in an attempt to add a worker placement element in addition to the resource collection element it starts to show some of its seams in ways that I don’t necessarily think are positive. There are some good things, of course: it plays nicely with color and it seems to have been made by a designer that has both an eye and an enthusiasm for color, which makes the game feel more fun. My particularly high-level gripes are mostly around the way the game ends. My ongoing high-level rule for game endings is that when a winner has been decided, the game should end quickly. If, in this case, the player who “wins” has too many resources, then the game lags until they are either beaten by another, scrappier player (very unsatisfying for the player who is essentially the Hare in the classic fable) or until they shed all their remaining resources. Either of those cases are a “feels bad” moment for players, which can leave a bad post-game taste in your mouth. And I think that’s … not great. It seems like the kind of thing that will shake out a bit in more playtests, as though a happier medium exists. It speaks to the game being a bit rough around the edges. And generally, that’s okay for a Kickstarter game to be a bit rough around the edges; that’s the point of previewing. You get my opinion on a game that isn’t quite finalized yet. And, as you might notice from this, there are a few things that I hope get shaken out before the game’s finalized! Clearing up the rulebook, the graphic design, and the ending can make the game easier for players to get into and more satisfying for players to get out of, in my opinion. The core concept is interesting, though, and I’ll be interested to see how the full game turns out, but as far as Swatch goes in its current iteration, I think there’s some work I’d still like to see done before I can enthusiastically recommend it.