Fresco Board Game
by Ashley Cotter-Cairns
(Boardgame Beast HQ)
Board game manufacturer:
Number of players:
Fresco is a nicely balanced game of mixing colors and managing resources that is accessible to gamers of all ages.
The game and gameplay
Fresco charges players with painting a cathedral with a classical mural. The game is played by allocating workers over five game phases:
buying paint at the market
painting a piece of the fresco at the cathedral
doing portraits to earn money and bonuses
relaxing at the theater
Each of these affects your score, your income, and your workers’ happiness levels.
The player in last place on the scoring track (which runs around the edge of the board) gets to act first.
The first challenge is to decide what time to get your workers up in the morning. Insist on them rising at 5am and they will lose three happiness; let them sleep in until 9am, they gain one happiness. The choices between offer a range of strategic options.
The happiness of your workers is important, because letting it slip too low will result in your losing a worker for the current round, while building it up sufficiently will allow you access to an extra worker.
Whoever gets up earliest in the morning gets the benefit of acting first on each of the five phases.
The market is a randomly selected grouping of tiles with paint colors on them. Whoever gets to market first has to pay the most for the paint, but gets the best choice. Sleeping in means you have to put up with whatever paint is left, but often at bargain basement prices. Players may only select paint from one stall per turn.
The cathedral is where the big victory points are scored. You claim a fresco tile by spending paint from your stack in the amount shown on each tile. (Paint is represented by cubes of progressively larger sizes, depending on the complexity of the colors.) If the Bishop is in proximity to your work, you score bonus VPs. More on this later.
If you find yourself with a lot of unwanted paint, you can trade in your paint for VPs in this phase instead. The more complex the color, the more points you receive.
Portrait painting is where you allocate workers to bring in three extra gold pieces. Gold is used to influence the Bishop, as well as buying paints at the market. Each turn, two cards with various bonuses on them may be claimed instead of the gold pieces. This is first-come, first-served, so once the cards have been taken, the other workers will have to settle for three gold each.
Cards are either an immediate, one-time benefit (represented by a lightning symbol on the card), or apply forever (indicated by an infinity symbol).
Paint mixing is fairly straightforward. Primary colors mix the way they do in real life (yellow + blue = green, red + blue = purple). Each worker assigned to paint mixing may mix twice. More complex paints always require advanced colors, so you will need to mix your purples, greens and oranges to get to pinks and browns.
The mixing phase may also be used to trade in “sets” of fresco tiles. This tends to happen in the later stages of the game.
The final phase is theater. Sending a worker to the show will improve happiness by 2.
I mentioned influencing the Bishop earlier. If you spend one gold piece, you can move the Bishop by a single square in any direction. If the Bishop is standing on the fresco tile when you paint it, you score a bonus. If he is adjacent to the tile, you gain a lower bonus. The Bishop always moves to the square last painted.
VPs are claimed by painting tiles, by using the bonus cards in the portrait round, and by cashing in unused gold at the end of the game. The winner is the player with the most points at the game end.
Pros and cons
The Fresco board game is really well designed, both visually (the double-sided board is a nice bonus) and in its balance of gameplay. As with all the best board games, you’ll find yourself needing to make tough choices between the need to get ahead of your opponents and the happiness of your workers.
Decisions you make in earlier phases of the game — happiness management, color mixing and hoarding, cards that give you benefits each round — can have a big outcome on the game for you, but it seldom feels as if there’s a runaway winner. Players can catch one another fairly quickly.
Fresco comes with a basic rule set and a built-in expansion, and there are already further expansions available.
Thanks to the Montreal boardgames Meetup for introducing me to this great game!
Fresco board game is a must-play. There’s tons of components, lots to think about, and a short learning curve. Recommended for families looking for a game that’s challenging, but not too stern and offputting that it stays on the shelf.
If you’ve played Fresco, please leave a rating and comments using the link below.