Despite the fact that I’ve been playing games since I was tiny, I have no idea what to class myself as. This is probably a good thing – putting yourself in a box, saying you’re a Eurogamer or a fan of Ameritrash cuts out a huge amount of quality games from your potential plays. Friends who see you as someone who will only touch German games involving cubes won’t offer you the chance to play stuff like Memoir ’44, for example. On the flipside, if you’re known as the kind of person who demands huge amounts of immaculately sculpted minis in their game, titles like Fresco may pass you by and that would be a pity because Fresco is a cracking game.
Based in Rennaisance times, players take the role of artists who have been commisioned to paint (shockingly enough) a fresco in a cathedral. While it basically comes down to collecting different types of paint – yes, represented by cubes, this is a German game after all – and trading them in for tiles bearing differing amounts of victory points, there’s an awful lot more to Fresco than that.
The first time I saw the board, which covered in what seemed like several thousand cubes, tiles and meeples, I honestly thought I was in over my head. I’m not the best at managing several different tasks at the best of times (see several disasterous games of Colonia – a game that I am truly awful at) and was sure that this was going to be more of the same. However, beneath the piles and piles of bits lies an actually quite simple game – keep on top of what you should be doing and everything will be fine.
You start by – randomly enough – choosing what time you’ll be getting up. This effects your mood, which can prove very important. Drop into too much of a foul mood and you will lose an apprentice, and you need them for the next stage of the game where you secretly select what actions you will take. You may choose to visit the market to buy paint – tiles are places on four different stalls, but you may only buy from one – the price is set by the time you chose to get up, getting cheaper the longer you choose to sleep in. Other options include hawking your sevices as a portrait painter (which builds up your cash reserves), visiting the cathedral to paint part of the fresco itself (trading in paint cubes to claim a tile, thus scoring points), mixing up paint (higher value points tiles need mixed colours) or even visiting the theatre to cheer yourself up and improve your mood!
No cathedral is complete without a bishop, and Fresco‘s one is very useful indeed – should he be on your tile (or adjacent to it) when you pick it up, you are awarded bonus points. Paying one coin allows you to move the bishop, so his strategic use can really help you build up points. Each action can be taken up to three times, depending on how many apprentices you chose to send to each area in the initial secret selection. A bonus apprentice can also be picked up if your mood is sufficiently good, gaining you a very useful advantage.
Fresco is a game of spreading out your limited resources and keeping ahead of your opponents while constantly making sure you’re building up your supplies. I found that people who failed to buy good quantities of paint then neglected the mixing aspect as well – and if you ignore that part of the game, you are going to fall way behind on the points track very quickly.
Now, a small admission: I have only played the simplest version of the game. Players can choose before starting what level they wish to play at (higher levels have a second level of mixes leading to greater points scores, for example) but I believe that I’m still able to comment on Fresco. Once you grow to understand the range of different actions – and their consequences both good and bad – you will discover an entertaining game that is rich in theme. You really can get into character, sending your minions out to the paint stalls, mixing up their purchases and revealing the fresco piece by piece. A special mention for the artwork must be made as well – Fresco is a game well worthy of it’s name. It’s a beautifully put together effort from the elaborately decorated (double sided) board to the brilliant rule book – well worth a purchase and definitely worth playing.
Fresco was published in 2010 by Queen Games, and was designed by Marcel Süßelbeck, Marco Ruskowski and Wolfgang Panning. It handles between two and four players and will cost you around £40 here in the UK (though IGUK are doing it for a bit less).