Fresco – First play and explanation of game

Last night I got the chance to get Fresco to the table for the first time. After Queen sent me the English instructions I’d had a read through and knew what I was doing, which was handy and kept the game flowing smoothly.

Fresco game board

Fresco, set up for two and ready to go

What’s Fresco all about?

Fresco puts each player in the place of a master painter restoring a fresco in a Renaissance church. Not the most exciting theme for some, but it works.

Each player has three master painters that they use for picking wake-up slots (more on that later), tracking score, and tracking mood. Along with these they have five apprentices who get used to pick which actions are going to happen in that round. I’ll try and keep this brief, but this is what happens in each round, in the order it happens.

  1. Pick a wake-up slot. Each player picks one, starting with the player in last place on the scoring track, and then going up, so the leader picks last. Each slot has pros and cons. Pick an early slot and your mood goes down (who wouldn’t be grumpy getting up at 5am?), and the paints at the market cost more, but it means you get to carry out your actions first. Conversely if you pick a late slot your mood improves, things cost less, but you get less to pick from at the market.Once the slots are filled, we move on to the game proper.
  2. Choose actions. The players have an action board, and place their apprentices – in secret behind their screens – on the available actions for each turn. Each one can be picked up to three times. The players then remove the screens to reveal what they’ve picked for this round, and everyone goes through them, in order, with the player with the earliest wake-up time going first at each station. These are:
    1. Market – There are several stalls available with various sets of paints on them. The player picks one stall and may buy as many paint tiles as apprentices they have on that slot on their board.
    2. Restore – This is where the majority of the points are scored. If the paints you have behind your screen match those on a tile, you can choose to ‘restore’ that part of the fresco, claim the points and the tile (which adds income at the end of the round). You can alternatively choose to restore the alter for smaller points, but this only tends to happen towards the end of the game.
    3. Paint portraits – In the base game this sees you painting a portrait and recieving three Thalers (the currency) for it. Included modules expand on this, but that’s for another day.
    4. Studio – This is where you mix paints, and it takes you back to being a kid, using primary colours to make secondary ones. Blue and yellow make green, and so on. Each apprentice lets you mix paints twice.
    5. Theatre – A visit to the theatre improves your mood track by two places. The mood is important because reaching the upper spaces gives you an additional apprentice for the time you stay up there, meaning an extra turn per round. If you drop all the way to the bottom of the track, you lose one instead.
  3. Cleanup and income. All the unused paints go back in the bag to stock the markets for the next turn, and the players get 1 Thaler income for every completed Fresco tile they have.That’s the end of the round, and it all starts again.

It sounds pretty basic, and I suppose it is in pracitse, but it’s really tactical. Knowing how long you can stockpile paints before you go on a restoration binge is pushing your luck a bit, and the trade-off between getting up early to get first pick at the market and restoring, against the cost of the paints and the loss of mood is a tricky one to balance.

Fresco mid-game shot

Mid-game. Lots of the Fresco restored and my apprentices deployed in secret behind my main screen

I’ve got a few games where there’s a lot of endgame scoring (Stone Age is a great example), and your plans throughout the game pay off with big ‘final round’ scoring, but this isn’t one of them. My wife was out in the lead for most of the game and kept saying ‘I know what’s going to happen, you’re going to go past me again at the end’, but it never happened. The only endgame scoring is 1Victory Point (VP – get used to seeing that abbreviation) for every two Thalers you’ve got left.

In the end, I got creamed by about 25 points, and I think as much as anything my ignoring of the mood track (and the extra apprentice you can get from there) was to blame. Next time… The two player game adds a dummy player (‘Leonardo’) which I thought would be a real pain, but it wasn’t too bad at all, it was actually quite good fun using him to try to mess plans up.

Overall, after just one play, I think I really like this one. The decisions you make are really quite tough, and this is without adding in any of the three included expansion modules. I think those will come into play once we’ve got very comfortable with the base game. The last round especially took us ages because we were running through every scenario in our heads, trying to see how to milk every last point out of the game before it ended. I’m really looking forward to trying it out with four players.

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