April was a great month for Kickstarter game deliveries and a very special one as I got the very first game I ever backed: Paint the Roses. Of course, I backed more games back then, but the excitement to see the first one had finally been delivered was an amazing feeling and I had to write a review.
What’s The Game
Paint the Roses is a cooperative deduction game from North Star games set in the world of Alice in Wonderland. In the game 2 to 5 players play the role of newly appointed Royal Gardeners. Yes, I’m talking about the ones that are trying to paint the roses to match Queen of Hearts’ whims before she gets angry and cuts off their heads.
The game aims to work together to finish the palace garden according to a random set of cards that represent the Queen of Hearts’ whims. A nicely sculpted gardener miniature traces your progress while another one, the Queen, chases you. If the Queen reaches you before you complete your goals, the last thing you hear will be, “Off With Their Heads!” and the players will lose the game.
Each player is given a whim card representing how the garden should be arranged. To make sure you stay ahead of the Queen, the players must guess these secret whim cards by placing shrub tiles and revealing clues on the Queen’s whims. Although you can’t discuss your own secret whim card, you can openly discuss other players’ and you work cooperatively to guess a whim and move you further away on the score track.
To add pathos, the Queen’s speed increases progressively through the game and, if you guess incorrectly a card, the Queen moves twice as fast, making you feel her axe getting closer and closer to your neck.
Opening The Box
The first impact of opening the box is amazing: the box is nicely done, sturdy, and with a great aesthetic. I especially love the rendering of the characters and the overall art by Jacqui Davis.
I backed the deluxe edition therefore I managed to get two nice plastic organizers to keep all playing pieces in order. The main one is shaped like a bow with some tiles in the center in the shape of a rose. The first tray is designed to keep all the tiles, the player pieces, and the miniatures while the second one stores the whim cards, the expansions, and the greenhouse.
Although the trays look quite nice, I feel only the bottom tray adds some value to the game by organizing the cards and the expansions. All tiles could probably be better stored in the bag to be ready to be used instead of in the tray. Also, the tray does not have space for sleeved cards which for me is a big fail.
All player pieces, tiles, cards, and miniature are of good quality. The miniatures in particular are nicely designed and each of them feels very unique. The acrylic tiles add a great value to the game compared to cardboard ones in the retail version and are definitely an upgrade to look after.
Finally, the game and greenhouse boards are both double layered and they feel very sturdy. The overall graphic on them is pleasant but I personally feel the art here is a bit less detailed and less whimsical than the one used in the rulebook and on the expansion cards.
A final couple of pleasant surprises: the Queen’s royal log is a small leaflet to record the scores of your games. It does not seem a great idea on paper but it actually turns out to be a nice touch as you could record also if you are executed or not in the end. The notes pads are very useful to help in solving the whim card in particular by recording the order in which the tiles are added to the board. This last one in particular will be your best tool to beat the game.
Paint the Roses is at his core a puzzle game where deduction and (lack of) communication are the key mechanics. One aspect I really love is that the core rules are very simple and getting a new player into the game requires just a few quick explanations.
When you start playing, communication and cooperation among the players are key to winning. The whim cards have three levels of difficulty and they could allow you to move many spaces in the scoring board depending on their difficulty. Should you pick more difficult ones at the beginning when you could lie tiles more strategically or should you opt for a more steady speed? The more you move the faster the Queen will move too thus having a good strategy is key to staying ahead of her.
To add more to the strategic aspect of the game, you need to remind that a player is not allowed to discuss their whim card. Contrary to a lot of other games, a very good player will not be able to take the lead every turn and they will need to patiently see the rest of the team fail or succeed without their help.
Another key aspect of the game you will experience is its strong sense of escalation. The Queen starts very slow but she progressively moves faster and faster giving you a strong sense of urgency. You soon realize that the better you play the faster the Queen will move and that she will always be very close to you when you arrive at laying the last tiles. It is not infrequent to place the last tile just to realize the Queen’s last move will chop off your head.
Escape The Castle
The expansion “Escape the castle” deserves a separate discussion. Although the game mechanic is the same, the expansion increases the level of the challenge by adding additional obstacles in the form of a deck of cards for the Queen. The new obstacles could be counteracted by a deck of Helper cards.
There are a 7 different decks (8 considering the Kickstarter exclusive one), each associated with one of the key characters of Alice in Wonderland.
The aim is to fulfil the requirement of the helper cards as fast as possible to obtain the keys needed to escape the castle. In the expansion, the game will not end till you get all the keys, and depending on which helper deck you pick the challenge could vary a lot.
Overall, the expansion increases a lot the level of challenge of this game making each session much more interesting.
Overall, I really love Paint the Roses. I played some deduction games in the past but I feel this one gives a nice refreshing experience in the genre. It should definitely be considered in your collection if it is not already there.
The strategic and challenging aspects of the game are its biggest selling point although I found I love how balanced it is. Paint the roses plays pretty much the same with 2 or with 5 players where 3 is probably the most balanced challenge. The additional players add the opportunity to make more points but also increase the noise and the difficulty to guess the whim cards so that the two aspects even out.
The high level of repeatability added by the expansion is another of the strengths of this game. As expected, after a few games you will probably start to feel you found your strategy to beat the queen and that the randomness associated with the tile drafting could be managed efficiently.
At this point, you could add the expansion and you will have a lot more hours of challenging games ahead of you while you try to find whole new strategies. I think the expansion has been very well thought out and a must have if you are looking to keep the fun going longer.