Reviewed by Chris Wray
PICTURES (PD-Verlag/Rio Grande Games, 3 to 5 players, ages 8 and up, 30 minutes; $44.95)
Pictures by designers Christian and Daniela Stöhr was released at Spiel ‘19. The game did not garner much attention in the United States until its Spring 2020 release, which was quickly followed by a nomination for the Spiel des Jahres.
Pictures — as the name implies — is an image association game, in the same vein as Dixit or Mysterium. The game plays with 3-5 players, who sit around a 4×4 grid of images, trying to use their image-association equipment to get players to guess the image they’ve been assigned.
Each round, the players all draw a “coordinates token,” showing the image on the grid they need to make. The grid in front of them has 4 letters (A,B,C,D) on one side, and 4 numbers (1,2,3,4) on another, so a sample coordinates token might be A3. The images in the game look decidedly like clipart, featuring everything from animals to buildings to landscapes.
Each player also has a unique set of equipment, which includes: (1) two shoelaces, one long and one short, (2) a set of 4 sticks and 4 stones, (3) a picture frame in which players must put precisely 9 colored cubes, (4) a set of 6 different building blocks, and (5) a set of 19 icon cards depicting various images.
Players arrange their equipment in a way that evokes the images they’re aiming for. For example, the player with the shoestrings — if aiming for an image with a flower — might make them resemble a flower, while the player with the picture frame and colored blocks might try to capture the impressionist colors of the image.
Everybody writes down guesses at what the correct answers are. Then there is a big reveal. Players earn one point for every player that correctly guesses their image plus an additional point for each image they guess. Then the equipment rotates around the table. If there are less than 5 players, the equipment is just left unused in the rotation that round.
The game is played over 5 rounds — giving each player the opportunity to use all 5 sets of equipment — and the player with the most points at the end of the five rounds wins.
Pictures is remarkably simple to learn, and the game can be taught to gamers and non-gamers alike in just a few minutes. And it is fun: players enjoy fiddling with the equipment, and the big reveal always features a few “of course” exclamations around the table. The game inspires creativity, and it is innovative in that it gives players different ways to express themselves.
The rulebook is well written. And the game works well at all player counts, though it is most fun with 5 players.
Unlike many games I review here, I traded Pictures away after a few plays. I certainly enjoyed the game, and I’m glad I bought it to try out, but it lacks the spark that makes other image association games so special. For example, Pictures isn’t as engaging or well produced as Dixit, which evokes similar feelings in gameplay for me and my group. Pictures basically has clipart on the cards whereas Dixit has stunning original illustrations. Some groups will likely prefer playing with the different equipment types but for me, the novelty wore off after a half dozen plays.
Image association games are a dime a dozen these days and Pictures is doubtlessly one of the better ones. But for those of us that prefer strategy games, there is only so much shelf space for lower player-count party games. For many groups, Pictures will fit that bill, but for me, I’ve chosen Dixit and a few other titles. – – – – – – Chris Wray
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