Starving Artist Review

Starving Artist
Set Collection
Fairway 3 Games, LLC
Mike Wokasch
Vaughn Reynolds (plus, like, a million others)
1-4

Starving Artist is an abstract, light set collection game with some gorgeous art and a unique take on its theme.  Its great presentation and simple core mechanics offset the slightly percussive end-game, which can sometimes come too suddenly.

A while back, we did one of our patented, award-winning Kickstarter preview for Starving Artist, a game that caught my attention on nothing more than some pictures – an appropriate-enough introduction for a game themed on creating masterwork pieces of visual art.  Our preview went up, as did the Kickstarter, and (thanks in part, I hope, to that time I almost ate a paint sandwich), it funded nicely and has since been delivered.

Slightly tinkered-with and expanded thanks to stretch goals, does Starving Artist still have our recommendation?

Diana:  Yes!

Andrew:  Yes, mostly!

Jess:  Ok, let’s unpack that a bit.

We do like a nice box around here, and Starving Artist does great with its magnetic closure and in-box scoreboard/rules summary

Not to rehash ground we’ve already covered in our preview, but the basics of sa are these.  The titular artists will take turns gathering and placing paint cubes on their canvases, working to complete paintings to gain both fame and food.

Fame, measured in a painting’s ‘star value’ is important because getting enough of it is one way of winning the game.  Food is important because without it, you will do that other titular thing and starve, ending the game and getting yourself eliminated from the last round (but not eliminated from the game, importantly).

Trackers for your food and scores. We found the fish oddly out of place. Make of that what you will.

Turns are very straightforward – each player takes two actions from those available, gathering or trading paints, purchasing canvases to work on, and assigning paint cubes to their purchased canvases.  Once a painting has all the requisite cubes assigned to it, it is considered finished and can be sold at the end of any turn.

Once all the spaces are filled in on a painting, it can be sold.

Jess:  One of the complexities of sa, in fact I’d say the only complexity, really, is deciding when it’s best to sell a painting.

Rob:  Right.  That’s because when you sell a painting, you get your star points and your food, but you also get a variable number of paint cubes drawn from the bank.

A huge plies of canvases for sale. You’ll only get through a fraction every game.

Diana:  And the contents of the bank change from round to round – it is entirely possible that the color cubes you want won’t be present on the turn that you complete a painting.  Or if multiple people sell paintings on the same turn, then they have to start splitting the bank, meaning that you are likely to get far fewer paint cubes than you may deserve, based on what the painting’s value is worth.

Excellent summary cards, complete with First Player Carrot.

Ultimately, sa is a set collection/completion style game. You will spend your turns gathering paint cubes, hoping to complete paintings ahead of your ever-dwindling food supply, as well as faster and more effectively than your opponents can manage.

It’s a light game, though its limited decisions and luck-based bag-draws can still lead players to a bit of analysis paralysis as they try to figure out just how best they can manage to spend their precious few actions.

Obligatory ‘cubes spilling out of the bag’ shot.

Andrew:  On the downside, I do have some gripes with the end-game triggers in Starving Artist.  I find that sa is a game that ends all at once, sometimes incredibly unsatisfyingly, leaving you wondering just how you could have done better while another player walks away with the win.

To clarify, there are three end-game triggers: a player hits the requisite star points, a player hits the requisite completed canvases, or a player starves.  In the first two cases, the end-game is triggered immediately upon one player achieving one of these milestones.

The fact that either of them represent an instant win is a little frustrating – yes, there is theoretically the interesting tactical choice of ‘lesser, faster paintings’ vs ‘more valuable, complex paintings’, but we found that the game nearly always ended when a player finished a certain number of canvases, rather than reaching the point-cap, and that disincentivized players from pursuing complex, high-scoring paintings.

Andrew:  Having a higher score means nothing if someone manages to just churn out cheap canvases.  And maybe that’s a comment on commercialism in art, I have no idea…

Diana:  Ugh, believe me, it is.

It really does have a lot of gorgeous art, though. The game is a feast for the eyes.

Andrew:  …But it can be frustrating to have worked your butt off to make some really awesome paintings come together, only to have another player flip over their fifth canvas and win, clearly many points behind you.

On the other hand, in the case of someone starving, the starved player must simply sit out one final round of play, and, assuming no one hits either of the other victory conditions, then the player with the highest score, including the starved one, is the winner.  We like that, since it means that there isn’t really player elimination.

Rob:  And the consideration here is that intentionally starving yourself becomes a viable tactic, as long as you’re far enough ahead in points and the table conditions are right.  I won’t say that’s a negative, but it feels sneaky.

Andrew:  All that aside, it’s a pretty game.  The success of the Kickstarter campaign added a huge number of canvas cards to the mix, and the upgrades to the box, with its gorgeous, functional magnetic enclosure and scoreboard, make it a pleasure to bring to the table.

Diana:  I know!  I really appreciated the theme and the mechanics.  There were decisions to make, but none of it was overly-heavy, and I liked the balance between needing to keep yourself fed and needing to keep yourself painting.  I can relate!

This one’s a personal favorite.

Jess:  I thought it was fine, I just didn’t find as much substance there as you did.  It’s a fun game, actually very solid at its different player counts, and its presentation is gorgeous.  It just doesn’t quite have the longevity I’d like.  Still, as an every-once-in-a-while filler, it fits the bill nicely.

Diana:  I realize I liked Starving Artist the most out of all of us, but honestly, I find the mechanics clean and engaging – I like the limited choices every turn, and the puzzle of trying to get my paintings done the most effective way possible.

Rob:  I hear what you’re saying about the victory conditions – it does tend to happen all at once, and there is really very little you can do about it, since there is basically no interaction beyond when players sell paintings on the same turn.  Still, I really like it for its weight, and hey, it has a solo mode!

Starving Artist is a good game.  While its relative lack of depth and reliance on luck may be a turn-off to some, there is still plenty to be enjoyed in this aesthetically-pleasing package.  We think sa will be a solid fit for players looking for a lighter, faster set collection game.

(Gameosity received a review copy of this title.  We were not otherwise compensated.)

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