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The Waste Land

In gaming terms, April 2010 has been the crullest month since i started logging my plays on Boardgamegeek. We are 22 days into the month and i, to my horror, have only played eighteen games so far. In a normal month i would usually log between 40 and 50 games played, this month i don't think i'll reach twenty five. Whilst i'm feeling sorry for my (gaming) self i should also mention that i have not mamaged to write any game reviews for two months. i have about five reviews 'on the go' - on the go being two lines ending with 'great', 'good' or 'average'.

Of the new games i have played this month Fresco is (borderline)great. It was Greg Schlosser (i think) who described Fresco as a 'Eurogame 101', and that's an almost perfect summary. There's nothing original in the game, it's got worker placement, turn order manipulation, a market, conversion of one good into another.....however, the game is more than the sum of it's parts. One of the first things that came into my mind when i played Fresco was that it's the game Colonia 1322 should have been, Colonia also described by Greg Schlosser (again i think) as a 'parody of a Eurogame'. However, in terms of game weight and complexity Fresco is closer to Stone Age than Queen's bloated Essen 2009 offering.

One of the things i like about Fresco is that the theme is original and integrates with the mechanics seemlessly. Your workers are artists, helping to paint a fresko onto a cathedral ceiling, turn order choice effects the mood of your workers and going early (getting out of bed early in game terms) too often means one of them might just stop working. Their mood can be improved by a trip to the theatre or having a lie in, and if their mood improves sufficently then you might recruit another worker to your happy band. getting up early means you are first at the paint market, you will have have first choice but will have to pay a premium for the goods on offer. Strolling down to the market late morning will get you some bargains but all the paint you need might have been sold to the early birds.

One thing i particulalry like about the game is the goods conversion ; instead of the ubiquitous wood + stone = ...yawn you mix paints to make secondary colour paints (in one of the expansions you can futher mix to tertiary colours - though i think this might be straying into Colonia territory)

This conversion is easy to explain to non gamers. And what you do with the paints is simple to explain as well - you are painting a Fresko. The Fresko is dvided into a five by five aquare grid and tiles, with the required paints and the victory points awarded for completing a section printed on tiles that are randomly laid over the grid. Every worker you allocate to the Cathedral paints a section of the fresco, and if the bishop (a wooden figure you can pay to move around the grid) sees you paint the ceiling or is directly underneath the section being painted you score bonus points. The bishop is pleased that you have completed a piece of the artwork and grants you an income every turn for each piece completed.

and thats the joy of this game, you can explain the mechanics by telling the story of the game - there is no part where the mechanics disconnect with the theme. The other actions include painting portraits to help raise some cash and visiting the theatre to improve the mood of your workers.

The game comes boxed with three expansions, which is very generous of the publisher. I suspect that the original design of the game included the expansions as standard, they don't feel like a bolt on and whilst the bascic game is fine for family gamers and geeks alike, the expansions just pushes the comlexity up a notch.

Fresco has received some deserved Spiel des jahres speculation and i think it is worthy of the shortlist, though i doubt it will pip Tobago for the big one.

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