To be honest with you, my first impression of Final Touch wasn’t good.
I mean, the art is wonderful. The cards are sturdy, and I love the oversized cards for the paintings. The iconography is super clear. Then I read the rules. The rules are great! By that I mean, they are very clear and well-explained. But it didn’t seem like there is much going on.
In fact, I can go ahead and explain the whole game to you. In the picture below, there is a painting in the middle of the table, with colored icons (one blue, one pink, one yellow, one green, two brown). Those are the colors needed to finish the painting. You can also see the next card in line, farther to the right (two red, two green icons). Players play cards on their turn, either to contribute towards completing the painting (left side) or to smear the painting (right side). If you choose to contribute to the painting, you can play as many of your five cards as you want, as long as they are what the painting is asking for. When you add the “final touch” and complete the painting, you keep it as points (indicated on the center of the card). If you can’t or don’t want to, you smear the painting by playing 1 unhelpful card on the other side. If you smear a painting for the third time, your opponents keep it as points (half as many – the top right number). You immediately play again if you trigger a scoring, whether it was helpful or not. Players always draw back to five cards and keep playing like this until someone has 25 points. That’s all there is to it!
Seems random, I thought. How can you plan ahead if you don’t know what cards you’ll draw? Nevertheless, I took it to game night, explained my concerns, and trusted we would figure it out. We didn’t. After one game, I couldn’t convince them to play it a second time. Pure luck, they said.
This is why you never review a game after playing it once.
The next day, I took the game to work and played it over lunch. A friend who is well-versed in traditional card games like Rummy, Euchre, and Spades played with us. And he beat us again and again. We played two more games than we expected to because he smashed us so quickly. And suddenly, I began to see the nuances of this game – there aren’t many, but they are definitely present. You don’t have to play every card that you can play when contributing to the painting. You can even smear it intentionally instead! And was I really paying attention to the next painting in the queue? Was I keeping my hand flexible by pitching doubles? Our last game, I played far more carefully, and finally came out on top.
Yes, this game is lucky. I mean, some of our games took as little as five minutes – what do you expect? However, I found it did have some decisions to think about. And it’s so simple to teach and to play. The act of trying to stick another player with the third smear is very reminiscent of our old high school lunchtime games of Cheat, and I love that. In fact, that same co-worker borrowed the game that same day to try out with his family.
I have always maintained that entrance to our hobby should be with very simple games, and this one fits. I could see my parents playing this. We often forget that people who have only played mass market games are used to intense amounts of luck, and this game can be a step forward from something like Uno or Phase 10.
Now, the game still has its flaws. For one, it apparently takes a few games to realize that the game isn’t just playing you. Second, the three-player game is heavily influenced by turn order. Four-player is done in partnerships, and that’s probably best. It’s also a nice throwback to our other lunchtime game in high school, Euchre.
This isn’t a game I’ll clamor for on game night with my fellow hobbyist geeks. However, it’s a game that would make a great stocking stuffer or present, or simply a way to play with and teach new games to more people. And that makes it a very easy game to recommend.
And if you do pick this game up, and find yourself unimpressed – I might suggest you play it one more time, just in case.