Updated: Mar 11
For most people, creativity is collaborative. Even the most isolated and hermit-like artists borrow their ideas from others, and here at DoaLG, we wouldn't be able to create all the content we do without a team working together. But Abstract Academy takes that artistic collaboration and goes one step further: players are artists-in-training working on the same canvas.
Players: 2 or 4
Game Time: 20-40 mins
This canvas takes shape as the players lay cards from their hand to form a 4x4 grid in a 2-player game, or a 5x5 grid in a 4-player session. Each card is itself split into four quadrants, which can contain a swirl of either red, yellow or blue. By the end of the game, the players will have built an abstract artwork that's different for every playthrough in each of the game's three rounds.
It's not all happy co-operation. Each player has their own Inspiration - a secret objective to create a specific shape, inspired by a style within abstract art, which will earn them two points if they succeed. The budding artists will also want to impress their Professor, either by completing Assignments relating to a particular colour (for three points) or by mimicking that Professor's style (for five points).
There are only six unique Inspirations and seven Professors in the deck, so even if you only play this for a couple of games, you'll start to notice the same objectives coming out. This is shaken up a bit by having to compete with the Inspirations and strategy of your opposing players, but it gets pretty easy to guess what Inspiration your opponent has based on the cards they're playing; and it feels like a missed opportunity to highlight the work of more artists. (You do get a free 8th Professor if you order the game directly from publishers Crafty Games.)
The cards you reveal in each of the three rounds are different. Round one starts off with a card from each colour assignment (red, yellow, and blue), round two gives you two competing Professors, and round three ups the ante with one Professor and two colour assignments.
This is a great progression when you're learning the game for the first time, but the colour assignments can seem pretty basic once you've got the hang of it. You could play each of the three rounds like the third, with a balance of Professor and colour assignments providing more competing objectives to work towards for a more challenging experience - but I feel like I shouldn't have to house rule a game on its third playthrough.
Even the most visionary artists go mad if you tell them they can score points, so let's talk about how you earn them. Objectives are only successful if they're in the two rows closest to the scoring player. In a two-player game, that divides the canvas neatly in half; a four-player game spices things up by creating corners where scoring rows overlap - meaning the formation of the canvas area becomes even more strategic, and that placing cards on your scoring row might also be gifting points to a rival.
If you are interested in a copy of this game you can buy this direct from the publisher here and in doing so will give you an exclusive professor Promo card for the game.
This is all presuming your duelling players are sat at a table opposite each other, or that your group of four is sat around all four edges, which is where the practicality of this game starts to fall apart for me. At a dedicated gaming night, this wouldn't be too much of a problem; if you're sat in a pub or your local friendly board game café, you'd certainly have to sit somewhere quite specific to get the best perspective for all four players. Even two players sitting on their sofa at home and trying to play on their coffee table struggled...
The cards are great quality, the text is clear, and the images & colour are vibrant, doing justice to the art which inspired the game. Although the colours are the same, each brushstroke on the cards is unique. Unfortunately, though, these excellent cards are all packed into a basic box that opens at the ends, with no insert to keep things in place, and you have to get two very equal stacks of cards to fit them back in the box. A simple open-top box with a lid would have made for much more portable play.
Ultimately, I'm left a little disappointed by Abstract Academy. There's a solid idea behind this great-looking game, and for an RRP of £9.99 you'd probably get more plays per pound than you might for a bigger box game you might only play once or twice!
But it's hindered by limited replayability and variety of the objective cards, and the limited spaces I'd be able to actually get the game out for it to play well - let alone worrying about trying to shove the cards back in the box. For a quick game like this, I want to be able to bring it to the table anywhere and often, without it getting tired, and Abstract Academy simply doesn't tick those brightly-coloured boxes. If you are interested in a copy of this game you can buy this direct from the publisher here and in doing so will give them an exclusive professor Promo card for the game.
Check out our 3 min Review here: