If Atelier: The Painters Studio is to be believed, painting a great masterpiece was more about the cutthroat world of securing the right paints and pleasing your benefactors than it was about actually striving towards an artistic vision. Heck, in this recent release from AEG, your apprentices will do most of the hard work, while the act of actually creating a painting, well, that’s just a roll of the dice.
Whilst that introduction might seem flippant, I’m actually not joking. Atelier is an attractive, straightforward game that allows the players plenty of time to enjoy the artworks that it depicts, but does little to connect the player to the actual process that goes into creating such works. It is more about art appreciation than becoming an artist, but at a mechanical level, I think that makes the game lighter and easier for players who might be interested in fine art to get to grips with.
The main reason I surmise this is because I can’t think who Atelier is aimed at. The casual board gamer doesn’t seem — generally speaking — like the appreciator of fine art. The majority of board gamers these days are in their twenties and thirties, with a love of Marvel and DC that runs deeper than their fondness for Monet or even Van Gogh. Those same players are able to comprehend games as complex as Root, Feudum or Kanban, and they when a lighter game is required, I don’t think fine art is where they’ll look for inspiration.
Rather, I think Atelier is aimed at a more refined audience. Perhaps a small niche of such players exists among the younger gamers that I described previously. I would think Atelier’s true hunting ground will be found amid older players. Players who have rarely experienced modern board games, but to whom the likes of Catan and Ticket to Ride must seem terribly bright and plasticky.
Atelier offers a similar level of lightweight gameplay to these gateway gaming classics, but with rich red and green oils brushed carefully onto canvas and wrought in gilt edges, it appeals to a very different gamer. In Atelier, players will simply roll their four dice, take actions as depicted on them and use their indentured student slaves to collect paint, which can then be converted — rather succinctly — into one of the seven face up masterpieces.
At a mechanical level, several factors come together. There’s the rolls of the dice, which forces players to optimise their decisions based on what actions they are allowed to do, or the ability to use limited inspiration tokens to act more freely. There’s a slightly competitive worker placement angle, whereby the players can collect one or more pots of paint, but only where they have the most students placed. A six allows the player to take one paint pot of their choice, again, reducing the disparaging feeling of having fewer students out than everyone else.
A set collection aspect is also introduced as the result of the different kinds of paintings and the mysterious benefactors who fund various works. One benefactor might like to see simple painting that only use two colours, whilst another might want to collect paintings with a linked theme. All of these hidden benefactors — as many as you can draw to your cause — will only be scored after the endgame condition (triggered when one player paints their third masterpiece) is triggered.
It’s all nice, simple stuff, yet there’s plenty at work here for a novice gamer. Ask my mum to play a light to midweight game like Lords of Waterdeep, for example, and the answer will be a resounding “not a chance” but show her the box for Atelier, as I did, and the next thing I know, I’m being schooled on how best to manage several sets of cards for peak return on investment based on the interlinking requirements of several benefactors.
Regardless of whether you actually like fine art or impressionism, there’s no doubt that Atelier shares the lovely build quality that almost all AEG products have. The player boards are actually paint boards and the paint pot, student meeples and dice are colourful and well finished. There is a fair bit of repetition in the benefactors card deck, which is unfortunate, but they spend most of their time face down on the table anyway.
What you will want to see — and Atelier knows it — is the beautiful artwork that is printed in high gloss and at a nice resolution onto each of the extra wide painting cards. These cards dominate the centre of the table and all of them look fantastic, even if some of the artists are of the lesser known variety. Cole, Renoir and Van Gogh all feature, and whether your preference is romance, realism or impressionism, you’ll be well catered for.
And so that’s Atelier, an attractive and easy to learn game that should appeal to an unusual audience in the main, but which could also be played by just about anyone. Whilst the subject matter doesn’t quite match the mechanics (making Atelier feel more abstract that thematic) the artwork is so front and centre that it remains the focus. As such, Atelier might be a really pleasant way for a grandparent to connect with relatively mature child, for example.
Atelier is the kind of game that really allows a player that understands the subject matter to show off their knowledge, hopefully in a positive way, educating and enthusing the other players to the same extent. Judged on pure gameplay, Atelier is fun, but decisions rarely extend beyond the next two or three turns and are linked to a loose strategy such as which artworks your benefactors want you to produce.
Ultimately, Atelier is a very well produced, attractive game that has a unique theme and probably quite a niche audience. It is mechanically interesting and very balanced, with gameplay that feels a little tense due to the student placement, but fair because of the inspiration tokens and the ability to take paint when sixes are rolled. Overall, it’s a very good gateway game for a casual player interested in the artwork it depicts, or anyone who values aesthetic beauty in their games.
You can purchase Atelier from their website.