The ArtSee card game is a small box set collection game (for two-to-five players) with a few nice twists. A game lasts 30-45 minutes. And the simple rules mean you can ignore the ’12+’ suggested age range on the box. I think 10-year-old gamers 10 will be just fine.
The game is fairly gentle and thoughtful, fitting well with the nicely realised art gallery theme. Although it’s not overly thematic in terms of game play. In the box you’ll find 80 cards, 85 cardboard tokens and 45 wooden pieces.
The components are great quality and the artwork on the cards is fantastic. It’s just a shame the clever takes on famous works of art are so small. Don’t get me wrong: they need to be this size for the game to work. But I’d love to have seen some of them blown up onto bigger cards. That said, despite its nice quality ArtSee is retailing in the UK for around £25. That feels a bit steep for a filler game of this kind.
Teaching the ArtSee card game
Setup is a little fiddly for a filler game (there are starting cards and main deck cards, presumably for balance – which seems a little arbitrary). But once you get going, turns are straightforward. Each player starts with two cards face up (side by side), three cards in hand and 5-9 visitors in their reserve (depending on player count).
Players take turns clockwise, playing through the entire deck (all players have the same number of turns). On most of your turns, you simply play a card, score points, then draw a card. On opponent turns, you may have the option to place visitors. Most points wins.
Cards are in four colours (back and bottom of the card) and have 2-3 pieces of art in 2-3 colours. For example, a yellow card may contain yellow, red and green paintings (but never more than one of the same colour). When you play a card, you either place it on top of one you’ve already laid (making a stack, or ‘gallery’ for the theme fans) or to the left/right of your current tableau. If you place on top of other cards, you ensure all artwork images are visible on the cards in that stack.
You also announce the colour of the card you played. Your opponents can then immediately place a visitor (if they have any in stock) on each/any of their own tableau stacks where the top card visible matches that colour. As in games such as Bruges, the cards depict their colour on the backs of the cards – giving you an idea of what your opponents may be playing next. And there are two draw piles, (usually) giving you a choice of two colours to choose from when taking a new card.
The clever bit
Each card points either left or right. To score, you count the number of paintings (matching the colour of the card played) in the stack in the direction your just-played card points. And yes, this could be an opponent’s gallery: if you place a left-pointing card on your leftmost stack, that is pointing to the rightmost stack of the player to your left. Are you with me…?
If there were any visitors on the stack you placed your card on, these are removed and count as points this turn (they’re then returned to your stock). So… I place a green card on a stack with two visitors on it. It is pointing left, at a stack which has three green paintings in it. So this turn, I score five points (two visitors, three green paintings). I then redraw to three hand cards, and my turn is over.
On good turns, you can also claim a masterpiece. There are five in each colour and you can claim one if you’ve scored 5-9 points that round (in the appropriate colour) and don’t already have a masterpiece in that colour. They can be worth good end-game points. And, once claimed, you place them between two of your ‘galleries’ – so they count as a paining in that colour when you score either of those galleries later.
The four sides
These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.
- The writer: ArtSee is an engine-building game stripped to the barest essentials. Unlike most card game fillers it offers a relaxing rather than confrontational gaming experience, which fits the contemplative theme (although the theme falls down quickly if you really try to apply it. Why am I hanging a masterpiece in the alley between two of my galleries…?). But a good player ignores their opponents at their peril, as their tableau and hand can give both clues and opportunities.
- The thinker: I enjoyed this as an evening starter. Initially it seems grabbing a set of portraits (10 bonus points) is essential; but you start to realise hammering a few big galleries for large late gains is also an option. It’s nice to see emergent game play in such a short, small offering. Luck does play quite a large factor, despite being able to draw from two different card piles – but the game is just about short enough to get away with it.
- The trasher: For a game that, in essence, is a turtling, heads-down, point-grabbing puzzle game – ArtSee has a surprising amount of passive interaction. Knowing you’ll use the whole deck means keeping an eye on which colours have been played a lot early on can be valuable end game information. While ensuring you have a range of top-of-stack cards matching your opponents’ hand cards improves your chance of grabbing visitor bonuses. Not a game of choice for me, but I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would during setup.
- The dabbler: This game is pretty to look at and simple to teach. And it also has a non-nerd/gamer friendly theme. That’s more than half the battle won! Plus it’s short, and comes in a nice small box (although the cover is weird). It’s good that you have to pay attention when it’s not your turn (which can help stop younger players drifting off), while there’s a nice satisfaction in scoring a great round – especially when you get a masterpiece as a bonus. Having scoring chits, rather than a track, also helps make everyone think they’re in with a chance of winning!
Aesthetically thinking, people complain the ArtSee art is too small. True, but it works. Similarly, people complain the theme breaks on closer inspection. Again, true – but overall it works. If you play with people who complaint about this kind of thing, well, good luck to you. The fact is, most people will understand the art has to be this small. And it’s cool it’s there at all. While the theme works a lot better than in many similar abstract games. And at least it isn’t elves and dwarves (again).
Complaints about the rulebook being poor and well founded. While it is nicely laid out with plenty of examples, some key aspects are poorly explained and the order seems odd at times. But we muddled through, so while a shame it’s not a deal-breaker.
For a non-confrontational engine-builder, there’s going to be too much luck for some players. Having two draw piles and a hand of three does help. But you can easily be left with no option to do what you want to do. I did get frustrated sometimes, especially near the when an arrow direction can mean a big point swing. But for the majority of people I’ve played with, the lightness and game length kept us on the right side of frustration.
Conclusion: ArtSee card game
I’ve enjoyed my plays of ArtSee and will be keeping it in my collection. I don’t think it will be a go-to game in many situations. More an occasional play than a regular. But with the right crowd it has been a real winner as a thoughtful filler game.
But I fear it may fail to find its audience. The game has been a little overlooked, perhaps in part to its odd cover art and meaningless title. But also, I’d wager, because it’s not the kind of game people get excited about. Small fillers take-off because they’re crazy fun. And euros because they’re big box, last 90-120 minutes and have a complexity rating of three-plus. ArtSee, in the middle, is going to miss both markets. But hopefully the word will slowly spread.