- Designers: Molly Johnson, Robert Melvin, Shawn Stankewich
- Artist: Dann May
- Release Year: 2022
- Mechanics: Pattern Building, Set Collection
- Players: 2 or 4
A copy of Abstract Academy was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
I have never aspired to being an artist. I’ve scribbled little sausage people in the margins of my notebooks while in school, but chose to spend my efforts with the written word instead. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that I’ve never applied paint to canvas.
That said, some of my family members are ardent artists. One will paint anything they can get their hands on, including their game controllers or the table they happen to be sitting at, and the other achieved a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Tangentially to this, I had aunts and grandparents who vary from incredible artists with paint to amazingly skillful with wood. What I’m trying to say is there is art all around me, but devoid in myself.
How to Play
Abstract Academy is a two of four player game where players are playing cards to a shared tableau in an effort to achieve the goals that are laid out at the start of the game.
What makes Abstract Academy unique is that the grid of cards doesn’t start out set; on your turn you can play a card orthogonally adjacent to any other card on the table, until there are 4 cards on the X axis and 4 cards on the Y axis. Once that requirement has been met, then the grid becomes locked.
Once the grid is locked, the ‘home row’ and scoring zones become set. The row of cards closest to you is your ‘home row’, your opponents cannot play cards in the row closest to you. Your scoring zone is the two rows of cards closest to you. Once the 4 by 4 grid of cards is completely full, you score each of the objectives. In the first round, you’ll be evaluating the colours. In the second round you’ll evaluate the composition of your scoring area, and in the third round you’ll have a mix of objectives from the previous two rounds.
After 3 rounds, the player with the most points wins.
Abstract Academy‘s box is white with big colourful letters. If it were a much larger box it would certainly catch more attention. Thankfully the box is literally as big as it needs to be. Ninety-two cards is everything that makes up Abstract Academy. I really appreciate the packaging being slim and small, taking up almost no space on my shelf and making it very easy to travel with. What I don’t like is that the flap to open the box is difficult to open, and I suspect won’t stand the test of time.
The cards in Abstract Academy are excellent. The card stock is thick and glossy and the colours are vibrant, which is important in a game that focuses on the colours on the cards. The main deck of cards that you’ll be handling look to include various brush strokes and the textures of paint on canvas. If you’ve painted before, you’ll feel right at home.
The game was easy to teach, but had a few edge cases that made it slightly tricky. “You cannot play cards in your opponent’s home row, but the home row isn’t decided until 4 cards are played on the x axis. Also, you can play on your opponent’s home row if there are no other options.”
Once beyond the rules, Abstract Academy plays quickly. Turn by turn you’ll each place cards onto the tableau either trying to further your own goals, or try to hamper your opponents. If the goal is to have the most blue zones, you might play a card that connects a couple of their blue zones together, lowering their overall number.
It is possible to have an entire shut-out during a round where a single player wins all the objectives, which feels like it shouldn’t happen, but sometimes that’s just how the cookie crumbles. Each player will also get a personal objective each round where they’re trying to create a shape somewhere in their scoring zone. You get an objective every round, but if you don’t accomplish your goal it can carry over to the next round. That said, you can only accomplish one goal per round, so holding onto them round to round isn’t very helpful.
When evaluating the goal cards, ties are broken by the ‘Teacher’s Pet’ card. If you have this card and there is a tie, you must surrender the card to your opponent, but you win the tie. I actually really like this decision as it feels like the most fair way to distribute who wins ties.
Luck does play a role in how well you can do at Abstract Academy, but it’s not obvious. Sometimes you may find you need a very specific order of colours in order to accomplish a shape that you just can’t seem to get. You’ll flip the card around and around desperately wishing you could just flip it over and get the mirror image. Alas, the paint is not always in your favour.
Overall, Abstract Academy is a cool little two player game that is worth playing with the artist in your life. While the art theme is just a window dressing, I’m a fan of games using a theme to appeal to an audience wider than the those already in the board game hobby. It may draw someone in who has always loved art, but hasn’t experienced the joy of board and card games yet.
You can get Abstract Academy from the Crafty Games website and it includes a promo card when ordering directly from the publisher.