#808 – Paint the Roses [Preview]

Base price: $30 for the base game; $60 for the deluxe.
2 – 5 players.
Play time: 50 – 70 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Check it out on Kickstarter! (Will update link when Kickstarter is live.)
Logged plays: 4 

Full disclosure: A preview copy of Paint the Roses was provided by North Star 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. 

Humorously, I’ve been kind of under the Kickstarter bus for a bit over a month, now. I had a whole thing I was planning, review-wise, and unfortunately there’s been exactly one Kickstarter every week since September started that’s junked up those plans. So it looks like that might get pushed back to … November? Which is a bummer? But what can you do? Maybe I’ll just push four reviews one of these weeks. Maybe I already did it! I tend to write these sections decently far in advance, is the thing. Either way, let’s check out another Kickstarter! This time, it’s Paint the Roses, from North Star Games! Haven’t heard much from them since Oceans, so let’s see what’s going on in this one.

In Paint the Roses, you’ve got pretty much the worst job in Wonderland; gardening for the Queen. She’s a bit … hard to read, so you’ve decided it’s far easier to just paint white roses and then paint them whatever color she wants than it is to actually cultivate roses in any particular color. Is it good for the plants? No, but you’re a professional. Unfortunately, this job’s got a bit of a high turnover rate, given that the previous gardeners always end up decapitated. You’d prefer that not happen to you, but she’s already chasing after you, so you better learn to garden on the fly. Will you be able to keep ahead of the Queen? Or will she end up taking yours?

Contents

Setup

First, set out the board:

Set the Greenhouse nearby:

Take out the minis, and place them on their respective starting spots:

  • Queen: Goes on the 44 (see the heart).
  • White Rabbit: Goes on the first Rabbit Space (between 9 and 10).
  • Gardeners: Goes on 0 (that’s you!).

You should set aside the Queen’s flower tokens, as well; she’s not normally that tall. Once you’ve done that, give each player 6 Clue Tokens in the color of their choice:

Place the Starting Shrubs on their respective locations. They have a red back and they’re numbered:

The remaining Shrubs go into the bag:

Shuffle the three Whim Card decks separately. That should leave you with Easy Whim Cards:

Medium Whim Cards:

And finally, Hard Whim Cards:

Each player should draw one of their choice, but only one player can have an Easy Whim Card at a time. Choose accordingly. Give each player sheets to keep track of the Whim Card of the player to their right:

Fill the Greenhouse with four Shrub Tiles and choose a start player randomly. They should get the Placement Order sheet to track which tiles were laid when:

You should be ready to start!

Gameplay

A game of Paint the Roses works a lot like other games: you win or you die. To avoid that, you must place tiles, guess whims, and score points to stay ahead of the axe-wielding Queen of Hearts. But how? Each turn takes place over 5 phases; let’s go through each!

Place a Tile

To start your turn, take any tile from the Greenhouse and place it on any unoccupied space on the board. Ideally, that tile will be adjacent to other tiles, but we’ll get to that later.

Place Clue Tokens

Once you’ve placed a tile, all players do the next bit. Check your Whim Cards, and if the just-placed tile creates a pair of tiles that match your Whim Card, place a Clue Token on the new tile for each pair it creates. There are three types of Whim Cards:

  • Easy: These cards match flower colors to flower colors. The colors are red, yellow, purple, and pink.
  • Medium: The cards match color to color and shrub shape to shrub shape. The shapes are hearts, clubs, diamonds, and spades.
  • Hard: These cards match color to color, shape to shape, and shape to color. That means that “yellow + spade” is a valid pair on a Hard Whim Card.

Clue Tokens are always placed on the newly-placed tile; even if you draw a Whim Card that is already present on the board, you cannot place tokens after the fact.

Guess a Whim Card

Now, players can collectively choose to guess a Whim Card. You must guess at least one, and you can guess more than one as long as each guess is correct.

When guessing, you may discuss any player’s Whim Card except your own. You must also state that you’re formally guessing. This means you will be correct or incorrect. We guess by stating the symbols on the card, like “Pink and Heart”.

If you’re correct:

  • Score points! Advance your Gardener token as many spaces as the number on the Whim Card.
  • Return the Clue Tokens of that player’s color to them.
  • Place the Whim Card face-up in that deck’s discard pile.
  • If the Gardeners, after scoring, pass the White Rabbit, advance it to the next Rabbit Space and add a Flower to the Queen mini. If there are no flowers left, remove the White Rabbit from the board.
  • You can guess another Whim Card, if you want. If not, move on to the next step.

If you’re incorrect:

  • Immediately move to the next step.

Move the Queen

The Queen moves every turn! Her speed is equal to the number of Flowers on her mini (she starts with one). When she moves, advance her clockwise. If you guessed incorrectly in the previous phase, she moves double her normal speed. You hate to see it.

This does mean that the White Rabbit increases the Queen’s movement speed by 1.

If the Queen would ever move onto or past the space with the Gardeners, she’s caught you, and you’re immediately killed. Bummer. Otherwise, move onto the Replenish Phase.

Replenish

During this phase, every player without a Whim Card draws one (remembering that you can only have one Easy Whim Card out at a time). Then, refill the Greenhouse with a Shrub Tile.

End of Game

The game ends when players are either murdered or when the board is filled! In the latter case, the players must still guess correctly and survive the Queen’s movement. If the Queen catches you, you lose! Subtract 10 points from your score for your final score. Otherwise, you win!

Two-Player Game

To play with two players, play normally, but take out three neutral Cube Tokens as well (in an unused player color). On a turn, in lieu of guessing, you may return one of these cubes to the box. The Queen still moves, but she moves normally, not double speed.

Player Count Differences

I tried Paint the Roses at a few different player counts, and I think there’s a certain amount of configuration available based on how much interaction you want. At five, the game becomes highly tactical; every turn, you’re potentially getting information from up to five players. If that works out, then you’ve got a good ramp to be consistently scoring 3 – 5 points per turn. And that’s superb! You can get away from the Queen pretty quickly with an act like that. At lower player counts, you may miss on that front. That’s why a two-player game has three bailout tokens; you can spend each one once to essentially pass on a turn instead of having the Queen move double-speed. Personally, I think the game operates best at the higher end of the player spectrum; having more players makes the game more interactive, but a bit more luck-dependent; you need to hope that you either can correctly clue your card right out the gate or that your tile placement hits more than one player’s Whim Card. While I have some more structural concerns about the game (see Pros / Mehs / Cons), I think that the more players you have, the more interactive it gets, so I tend to recommend it most at five players. Two is also pretty interesting, though, so that’s probably my second choice.

Strategy

  • Even if you figure out multiple players’ Whim Cards, you may not want to guess them all at once. There’s a reason for this. If you guess everyone’s Whim Cards, you will end up in a state where even though you’ve moved ahead, you haven’t necessarily won the game; you’ve just put some distance between yourself and the Queen. Now, you have to hope that next round, you can continue to guess perfectly, or she’ll move twice as fast and potentially ruin all the progress you just made (if not more). If you ration the Whim Cards, you can always guarantee having at least one guaranteed correct guess and use that to hopefully keep the Queen away from you and your precious heads.
  • Generally, you want to keep the Queen just barely behind you at all times if you want to have the best shot of winning. You don’t need to be 10+ spaces in front of the queen (unless she’s moving at 5 speed and you guessed wrong), but if you can keep consistently staying in front of her axe blade, you’ll win just fine on your own. It’s not the most glamorous win, but, it’s probably better than the “getting decapitated” narrative.
  • Guessing wrong can be disastrous, but you may not always have better options. If you’re going to lose either way, take the shot. Sometimes you might be right!
  • There’s occasionally a tension between placing a tile to tell everyone else what you have and placing a tile to potentially narrow down the Whim Card of the player you’re tracking; I tend to recommend the former since only you know what your Whim Card is, so only you can provide useful information about it. I’ve considered trying to use my tile placement to whittle down what another player’s Whim Card options must be, but, have not traditionally found that wise. The game recommends that you only track the player to your left, so unless you’re tracking multiple players
  • Try to assume players are playing optimally, if you have no better information to go on. I recommend this in all cooperative deduction games. It means that you might assume they did something that they didn’t do, but it’s better than trying to think through “okay if they made a mistake, what mistake did they make, and how does that influence what I assume they’re thinking?”. It’s honestly too complicated to trace all those possibly-branching paths.
  • I talk through my thought processes and why I assume players played in one spot over another, so even if I’m wrong players get a better sense of how I think about placement for the rest of the game. There’s a fine line to walk on this, since you could use this to overload information about certain plays, like “I would generally expect them to do X, Y, or Z if they have A, B, or C card”, which isn’t great, but I’ll definitely say things like “what I get from this placement is that they’re more likely to have X than Y, otherwise I would have expected them to play at this spot” to try and at least help them understand how I’m thinking. We don’t always align (and sometimes it’s truly a matter of opinion), but it’s good to at least have the process.
  • Eventually, you’ll need to go for Medium and Hard cards, rather than Easy / Medium cards. I’d almost recommend sticking with Medium cards rather than Hard, just because the Hard cards move you farther along (and consequently move the Queen farther along, as well), but when the Queen is moving 3+ spaces per turn, Easy cards alone aren’t going to cut it.
  • Be cognizant of what your placement implies; don’t just necessarily go for the placement that lets you drop the most cubes. There are times where you may not place as many cubes but you’ll perfectly indicate without any chance of mistake what your card is. You should go for those, instead. The only counterargument for this is if you’re trying to help other players put down cubes, it may be worth putting your tile adjacent to as many tiles as possible, but even then, prioritize getting your card guessed over helping other people get their cards guessed, I’d say.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • You know what? I haven’t played a Alice in Wonderland-themed game in a while. Glad it’s coming back around. What was the last one I played? Hats? Wonderland? Not sure. Either way, it’s not a terribly overdone theme, so, nice to see that it’s popping back up. It might have been Jabberwocky, if that counts. Either way, there’s a rich terrain to explore here for game themes, so I’m happy to see it again.
  • Jacqui Davis’s art is especially welcome, here. I think this is a theme that plays to her strengths. Bold, colorful characters with a certain softness to them and bright, fun landscapes really work well in this particular game, and I think it’s some of my favorite work of hers, thus far. I’m particularly impressed by how well the minis translate her art style into 3D form, as well.
  • The narrative and gameplay mesh pretty perfectly, here; I really like the “cooperative game about staying ahead of the Queen’s whims (and axe)” interplay, and I think it’s strongly represented in the gameplay. I think it helps that the Queen is very literally chasing you around the garden while you’re guessing what she wants and painting flowers. There’s a certain frenzied energy implicit in the gameplay, and that really appeals to me. I think they did a good job aligning the narrative with the game structure.
  • I am a simple man, and a double-layered board is always welcome in my gaming experiences. The tiles fit so nicely in their little slots, and that means that they don’t move around basically at all while you play and put cubes on them. That kind of thing is very important to me. Or, at the very least, it greatly increases the quality of my play experience.
  • The deluxe version upgrades are, across the board, pretty nice. Game Trayz always does very impressive insert work and, while I’ll freely admit that having dedicated spots for the eight starting tiles is gently ostentatious, it has been very helpful for setup, so, I’m a fan. Acrylic tiles are wonderful, and the general component quality is top-notch, especially for a preview. I wish it had been shipped a bit more carefully (one of the corners of the box got smashed, which is always The Photographer’s Dream), but them’s the breaks, sometimes.
  • Trying to figure out how you can most effectively clue your Whim cards is pretty fun. I think it’s possible to do some pretty cool moves if you have the right card, the right color, and the right tile. It’s nice when that all works out!

Mehs

  • The Deluxe Edition is very nice, but the additional expansions (six extra mini-modules) are almost a thing I wish came in a separate box. There’s a lot here, but the bigger box makes transport more difficult, as well. This is kind of the common Kickstarter problem, exemplified in two different ways. In one, you get a ton of expansions so you’re overwhelmed when the game arrives (I love Railroad Ink Challenge, but I still haven’t played every expansion), or the game comes in a giant box with so much content that it still overwhelms you. I tend to prefer the former case, since it allows me to review them distinctly, but I would save the Escape the Castle expansion for a separate review, anyways. It seems like the expansion version comes in a separate box, rather than the Deluxe Edition combining everything and adding better-quality components. I’m largely moving towards the “I prefer separate boxes for everything” model, but I think that’s also a bias built on having a fair amount of game storage available. Your milage may vary, on this one.
  • As player counts increase, it feels like larger tiles would be helpful so that players could see more of the tile’s features without being obscured by cubes. Especially at 4+, if you get lucky with a certain tile configuration, it can be difficult to see what the features of the tile are through the mess of cubes on it. Dedicated recesses for cubes is frankly ridiculous, so larger tiles would probably better accommodate it. We had a three-player game where everyone put 1+ cubes on a tile and it was pretty hard to see the tile.
  • The scoring system feels like a remnant of an older iteration of the game, frankly. I think this problem is kind of emblematic of the gap between Paint the Roses and other, similar games that I enjoy. Scoring systems don’t really do anything for me unless the score is directly tied to you winning or losing the game. I understand that this allows you to enter a game state where you lose the game, but since you got so many points you actually perform better than players who won (since losing only costs you 10 points), but that seems … silly to me. I don’t really invest in improving my high score between games, and my game group largely plays the same way. The scoring system, as-is, feels like it doesn’t entirely jive with the “you lose if the Queen catches you”, mechanically. I think it will likely appeal to folks who do want to iterate on their scores and compare them, though.
  • Having players pass the Greenhouse (with tiles on it) around feels a bit goofy and unwieldy. It’s what the game recommends, but I’ve played enough games with my friends that I don’t necessarily trust them (or me) to pass around something with tiles on top of it. That’s a recipe for disaster. That said, we did have an incident where a player forgot whose turn it was, so maybe there’s some method to all this.
  • There’s a lot of per-game waste if you use a new Whim Card sheet every time a player draws a new card, especially at higher player counts. I ended up just laminating five of each sheet to save myself some emotional strain, but you’ll be burning through those at a pretty good clip, otherwise. It would probably have been nice to have markerboard versions of them, but those add to the cost of the game, so, I understand going with paper.
  • This is more of a semantics thing, but if you’re letting players take notes without restrictions on what notes that they can take, you might as well make the discard pile open information, as well. Players can just write down what cards have been discarded. The current setup just rewards players who can remember every card that has been discarded, which is impressive but not terribly interesting? I understand the point of obfuscating the cards, but if you’re going to let players keep a notepad (especially one that theoretically gets discarded every time a card is guessed), it does seem like the discard pile is essentially public information with extra steps.

Cons

  • I’m surprised the game only has two difficulty modes; it would be nice to see some changes that could be made to make the game easier. I think the difficulty of the cards is one thing, but having ways to slow down or stop the Queen so that players can still play whatever cards they want without preemptively accelerating her would be a welcome way to adjust the game’s difficulty. It seems like, given how number-heavy this game is, there would be more ways to fine-tune the difficulty for your group, but alas, there’s not. We were having trouble keeping the Queen at bay at three players, and beyond min-maxing our movement to keep the Queen moving slowly (something we didn’t really think … seemed fun), we didn’t have many options to make the game easier.
  • There’s a bit of tension between the game’s narrative and what gameplay actions are rewarded, which incentivizes min-maxing in a bad way. This is most of my gripe with the game, actually. I think there are deduction games that really play into min-maxing (Hanabi, for instance, is one I usually point to) and deduction games that play more around stressing the logical deduction part of the game. I tend to come down more favorably in the latter camp, and this game seems better-suited for fans of the former camp. If you want to get a high score, you need to be making big deductions and getting the right cards at the right time, which is fun and exciting, but if you want to win, you also kind of need to be guessing the right cards on the right turns so that you move the Queen just enough that she doesn’t catch you. More than that, and you start introducing unacceptable risk. And that meant that on one turn, we ended up not guessing a player’s card even though we knew what it was so that the Queen wouldn’t accelerate. This meant that they didn’t get to do much strategizing or planning; they just kind of sat until we guessed their card. It wasn’t super fun for them, but it was well-structured and orderly. It ends up meaning that there’s a tension between a player’s micro-goal (get their card guessed and guess other cards) and the macro-goal (win the game by staying ahead of the queen), which left a small sour taste in our mouths after the game. I think if your group enjoys sacrificing a bit of fun for that orderly min-maxing (which some do!), then this will land pretty well for you. We just weren’t as keen on that particular part.
  • This also means that big chunks of important game decisions can come down to luck / guessing, which feels bad for a deduction game. This is, I feel, not a great look in a deduction game, especially at critical points. Shipwreck Arcana solves this somewhat by allowing players to take a reduced penalty to not guess, which I appreciate. Here, you must guess every round, even if you’re not sure, which means that players are often making educated guesses and hoping the dice land in their favor. With more difficult cards, that means that your odds can be … bad. I understand there’s no way to fully eliminate luck, but it doesn’t always feel possible to get your guessable odds down to something that I’d call “good”, which can be frustrating if it ends up costing you the game. I would perhaps be a bit more tolerant of this if the game were shorter, as well, but that’s not the case, here.

Overall: 6.75 / 10

Overall, I think Paint the Roses is an interesting game that does a bunch of things I like and a bunch of things I don’t. For one, I have to hand it to them: the Deluxe Version is incredibly nice. Acrylic tiles, a very fancy insert, the works. It looks great. It’s also a favorite combination of a few things I like. Cooperative games and deduction games are both up my alley, so having them both happen at the same time is excellent. There’s a problem, though: this reminds me of a deeper, more complex Hanabi pretty significantly, and I don’t like Hanabi. The major issue is around how play actually works, and what players are incentivized to do. In a normal deduction game, more guesses are good, right? I’m not entirely convinced that’s the case, here. More guesses up front means you score more points, but also the Queen moves faster. That might end up doing more harm than good, unless you think you can keep that luck up indefinitely. If not, it means that you have to do something that I hate, which is essentially min-maxing to make sure that you always have one Whim Card to guess each turn. That’s fine and all that, but it feels like the game is not letting you do the funnest part of the game because failure is so punishing. One wrong guess can often be all it takes to doom you, and that kind of sucks when you’ve been playing a game for an hour. It can leave a real bad taste in your mouth. That said, the actual deduction part of the game is pretty great. It’s fun! It’s difficult! There are good note-taking sheets! You love to see it. I don’t think that’s quite enough, for me, though? The game’s not bad, but I struggle to pick this over other deduction games (even more competitive ones) as a result of the conflict between guessing and trying to keep the Queen at bay. I want to do weird deductions and make risky guesses and have it all not pay off, but this is also an hour-long competitive game and I don’t want to be the player that tanks the team after a long bit of play because I feel like getting dangerous. In a shorter game, maybe, but not this one. If you’re into that level of conduction or you want to guide your friends on a deduction adventure, you might enjoy Paint the Roses!


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