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Parfum

Reviewed by: Herb Levy

(Queen Games, 2 to 4 players, ages 8 and up, 45 minutes; $49.99)
parfum1The smell of success is in the air for the player who can concoct the more desirable perfumes and sell them to the illustrious clientele who desire them in the latest game from the design team of Marco Ruskowski and Marcel Sobelbeck: Parfum.

As master perfumers, players receive a perfumery in their chosen color (with matching scoring tokens, in the shape of perfume flasks, placed at 0 on the scoring track) as well as two randomly chosen “water well” tokens. The two-sided board (one for 2 or 4 players, the other for 3) has a “street” for customer tiles, “fragrance notes” and other components. The “fragrance notes” (tiles) are placed into the provided cloth bag from which they will be drawn. Customer tiles depict buyers with preferences for certain scents who are eager to obtain them (4 or 5 depending on the number of players). These tiles are labeled A and B. The A tiles are shuffled and placed on top of the B tiles to make on draw pile with a special tile (the “closing time” token) placed five tiles from the bottom. Customer tiles are drawn from their stack and placed, face up, on the “street”. And there are dice, lots of them.

“Market tiles” determine turn order as well as the number of actions you may take and, in reverse order on the scoring track (which charts a player’s money or randomly for the first turn), players take turns picking them. A player choosing to go first will receive three actions this round but, the later you go, the more actions you will receive. So just what are those actions?

Players are presented with a menu of three actions from which to choose: pick a die, draw a fragrance note to fill a vacant spot and/or randomly draw a water well token. The same action may be done more than once. Once all actions are chosen, players begin their “distillation” on their way to creating new and desirable perfumes.

Dice are the means of distillation. There are 25 “aroma” dice, five in each of the game’s five colors: green (bergamot), blue (violet), red (rose), black (vanilla) and purple (lavender). Each display symbols for flasks (indicating a successful distillation) and flies (representing unsuccessful attempts). The green, blue and red dice have four flasks and two flies on them. The black and purple scents are a bit more difficult to distill with an even breakdown of flasks and flies. If you roll a flask, congratulations, you have one flask of that color. But if you roll a fly, you may have a problem. But problems can be fixed and that’s where those water well tokens come in.

If you don’t like a roll, you can discard a water token and either re-roll ALL dice (including flasks) OR all flies of ONE color. Even better, discard two water tokens and you can change one fly of your choice to a flask. This decision is not as obvious as you might suppose as water tokens may have a money value. (While many water well tokens have no monetary value, some of them are worth 1, 2 or 3.) Giving up tokens with a sure value to roll again can be an expensive decision when final scores are tallied. (Used water tokens form a discard pile and do not go back into the pool.) Now, with those flasks, player can obtain fragrance notes to create their perfumes.

1233(1)Fragrance notes display various colored dice (from 1 to 4). If the colors of the flasks rolled match the dice on the note, a player may claim that note. (Multiple claims are possible too.) These notes also carry a money value. When taking the note, that money is claimed and the player’s marker moves up the scoring track accordingly. But there is more.

The BACKS of these fragrance tiles will show the top, middle or bottom of a perfume flask. (These notes are color-coded and the segments highlighted so you can identify which they are without flipping them over.) When taken, a player needs to decide if he wishes to make a “minor” perfume consisting of a top and bottom (placing the note on the left side of his perfumery) or a “major” perfume with top, MIDDLE and bottom (placing the note on the right side). Once placed, these notes may not be moved. (No “second guessing” allowed.) When the perfume bottle is complete, a minor perfume receives two wooden flasks to sell with the major receiving three. Once all players have had a chance to distill, those flasks can be sold.

In turn order, players may sell up to TWO flasks of perfume, ONE at a time. To sell to a customer, the perfume MUST contain the ingredients that the particular customer demands. If the perfume does contain those ingredients (and, of course, if there is still a flask of that perfume available for sale), the player hands in the flask and takes the customer card. All customer cards have a money value and that value is added to that player’s score. If a player can sell a perfume but no customer is asking for the matching ingredients, there is always the option to sell at a bargain rate: 3 for a major perfume and 2 for a minor. Once all flasks of a perfume have been sold, the fragrance notes used in making that perfume are discarded (no refills) and, as a reward, the player draws 2 well water tokens. (There is, however, no more than 4 water tokens may be held at the end of a round.) Once all players have either sold perfume or passed, the next round begins and we do it all over again.

Play continues until either the closing time token is revealed (in which case, the final round is triggered) OR fragrance notes cannot be resupplied at the end of a round (which ends the games immediately). Now, players reveal any water tokens they still possess and add any money found there to their running total. The player with the highest score wins.

As in Fresco (this team’s earlier design, featured in the Fall 2010 issue of Gamers Alliance Report), turn order is a double-edged sword: go early and you get first choice at the ingredients and customers but fewer actions, go later and you get more actions but the available choices will most certainly be fewer and, possibly, less attractive. But understand that Parfum is a much simpler entertainment, designed to appeal to the more casual gamer evidenced by the constant dice rolling and the blind draw of water tiles in the hope of snatching a bunch of Victory Points. This means more luck factored into the gameplay. Although the impact luck can have on your fortunes can be assuaged to a degree (the dice favor favorable results – all dice are at least a 50/50 probability for success and water chits can bring the percentage up to 100), luck, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if your target audience is not that of more serous gamers as for Fresco. Games tend to be close but the game provides no tie-breaker. Because the number of customers players serve has no other function in the game, you might wish to consider having more customers as a tie-breaker if needed.

Parfum fits comfortably into the gateway game niche. The high quality graphics, the fun of dice rolling, the colorful board and components, the intriguing and unusual theme, all combine to allow aspiring gamers intrigued by the Euro game phenomenon to get a taste (or is it a smell?) of what the Euro style of gaming is all about. Like the soft scent of a delightful perfume, Parfum is very light and airy. Unlike Fresco with its layers of decision making to challenge players, there is nothing exceptionally deep here. But there is enough here to keep you engaged throughout the process of procuring perfume ingredients and preparing to sell to your select clientele which is the essence of this game of essences.


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