Sometimes the very mention of the title of an upcoming title can get people talking about a game’s prospects. Certain IP’s, designers, and publishers will raise expectations; others…not so much.
And sometimes the enjoyment we get out of playing a new game comes from the simple relief that it exceeds our expectations, that whoever took on the godforsaken task of designing it refused to grind something out but instead took the time and trouble to produce something of quality. The game I’m talking about this time is one of those games: Bob Ross: The Art of Chill Game, published by Big C Creative and designed by the relatively-unknown design collective Prospero Hall. Originally it was a Target-only exclusive (another red flag), and is now appearing in FLGS’s.
Historically, tabletop spinoffs of TV shows and movies have been poor, serving only to make money by their association—particularly in the children’s market. This has changed over the last couple of decades with such games as Battlestar Galactica, Knizia’s The Lord of the Rings, etc.
However, there are some IPs which, by their very nature, tend to signal “low quality knock-off” to gamers. “They’re making a game about that? No way it’s gonna be good.”
I never watched Bob Ross as a kid; I’m not even sure he was on in Ontario. (A quick Wikipedia check says his show aired in Canada 1983 – 1994.) He’s infiltrated my consciousness over the last few years through various pop-cultural references from comics to television. I assume his appeal today lies in mocking his Mister-Rogers-esque earnestness, his quasi-spiritual approach to painting, and his massive ‘fro. We are a cynical age, children.
Clearly, someone decided to capitalize on this ironic and totally unforseen surge of interest in this minor relic of television self-improvement. Why they thought a boardgame would be a suitable means to do this I do not know.
The graphic design embodies the theme authentically. The inside of the box lid looks like a painter’s supply drawer. There’s a plastic easel to put the paintings on. There’s a Bob Ross meeple that moves across the bottom of each painting, tracking Bob’s progress.
I have read on BGG that Art of Chill is essentially a retheming of Alan Moon’s 2004 blockbuster Ticket to Ride series. While there is no question that Art of Chill borrows the card-drafting and set-collection mechanics of TtR, the similarities end there. In the Art of Chill players are working as a group to complete paintings which are composed of random Features such as The Fluffy Clouds or The Charming Cabin. Each feature requires a different set of Art Supplies. Completing a Feature gets you Chill points, and the first to 30 Chill points wins.
The first of several twists that Art of Chill adds is by having players roll a die at the beginning of their turn which could give them an extra card, action, or (most likely) turn over a new Chill card which contains a speck of Bob Ross wisdom as well as temporary rule changes. The other effect of the Chill card is to (usually) move Bob himself down the progress track for the painting in question–another big departure. Imagine Ticket to Ride where a neutral “other” player was gradually laying routes between cities and you’ll get the idea.
Bob’s progress provides two nice bits of tension: first, if you can finish a Feature before Bob you may get extra bonus points. And if you’re too slow, Bob might just finish the painting, which means it gets tossed and a new one goes up on the easel, and the stuff you’ve been saving up is now almost guaranteed to be useless.
The other little wrinkle The Art of Chill introduces is Technique Cards, which form another market below the Art Supplies. Technique Cards net you immediate VPs as well as bonuses when you complete part of a painting. And they are limited in number, so you want to grab them fast–except they cost Art Supply cards to acquire, which means you’re doing less painting.
Although Perfect Planners will be frustrated at the extra randomness, gamers can confidently use The Art of Chill to introduce their ironic hipster friends to tabletop gaming. It’s not going to become a new gateway classic, but it is such a pleasant surprise because it goes beyond simple rip-offery and is just a solidly good game.