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Subject: Happy Little Trees: a review of Bob Ross' Art of Chill rss

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Stephen Rochelle
United States
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9 92 33 JOFA
Bob Ross: Art of Chill Game is at heart a 30-minute take on Ticket to Ride minus the map element and using about 30 of Bob Ross' paintings and The Joy of Painting as its thematic base. It's not particularly deep, but as the rules note: "you're playing a Bob Ross game, so really, you're all winners".

That's it. That's enough right there to know whether or not this game is of interest to you.

The meat of the game is common with Ticket to Ride

At any given point in the game, there is a Bob Ross painting on an easel, which is marked with three features Ross is known for (such as Almighty Mountains, Wondrous Water, and of course Happy Little Trees). These are marked with two to four required paint colors plus a brush and are analogous to the routes in Ticket to Ride. There are no overarching "destination" links between the features, nor are they unique, but players earn additional Chill points for completing a feature before other players and/or Bob.

There are double-ended Art Supply cards showing a paint color and a brush type, and players can use either end (but not both) of a given card to fulfill their sets. Like Ticket to Ride's train cards, there are face-up cards available as well as a face-down deck; drawing a face-up wild card counts as two cards drawn and incentivizes blind draws. Unlike in Ticket to Ride, players can spend an action to empty and refill the face-up cards.

Distinct from Ticket to Ride, there are Technique cards, Chill cards, the palette, and Bob Ross himself.

There is one Technique card per paint color and brush type that can be claimed by players to award a bonus point when that card is used in a future painting action. I suggest house ruling the Chill point award for earning a Technique from 2 Chill down to 1. Spending two cards for two points is already a powerful exchange rate, and gaining additional points for later use of those cards makes this action the dominant early-game strategy.

Chill cards are special effects that rotate through play -- Bob really likes his Titanium White one day and awards an extra Chill point for its use, or the players all get to draw an extra card, or something of the sort. One particular card (each player one time draws cards equal to the number of Technique cards they have purchased) stands out as distinctly lacking the general balance of the others, and players should consider setting it aside.

The palette forces players to commit to colors of paint before painting a feature -- instead of the mass play of cards from hand in Ticket to Ride, the painting action plays only a brush from hand and appropriate colors from the palette. This affects two things -- first, opponents can get some sense of your immediate intentions; second, the palette has limited space and paints that are mixed (played jointly on the palette) must be used together or not at all. This last point becomes relevant when we consider...

Bob Ross paints along with the players as an NPC timer. Roughly every other turn, the Bob mover advances along a track at the bottom of the easel. Periodically Bob completes a given feature. Players who paint that feature before Bob earn some bonus Chill points; the feature remains available for players to paint even after Bob completes it (you're painting along with him at home, not fighting over a single canvas). When Bob reaches the end of the track, or when a single player has completed all of the features of the painting, the painting is complete and is swapped out for the next one. This interacts with the palette -- a player who has committed several paints to one mixed area may find that the new painting doesn't use that combo, in which case the palette must be cleaned and those paints discarded. Be wary of investing heavily in a feature you may not get to paint.

Finally, rather than train pieces as a game timer, the game ends when a player reaches the end of the Chill track (30 points).

Component Quality
There are roughly 15 double-sided painting cards about 4 inches by 6 inches, and I assume all are actual Ross paintings. They're nice card stock (around 100 lb weight) but definitely paper rather than cardboard. They pair with a sturdy and stable easel that folds down for storage and has low-profile plastic guides to keep the painting from falling out. These components are quite nice.

The central scoreboard, palettes, and player completion tokens are standard weight cardboard. These components are serviceable but nothing special.

The card decks are of good quality and the Art Supplies deck shuffles well. The Chill and Technique decks are small cards (and therefore difficult to shuffle), but likely only require shuffling once each at the beginning of the game. The Art Supplies deck is noticeably thinner than Ticket to Ride's train deck, which means more frequent shuffling but also means a deck size that is readily shuffled. Since the Art Supplies deck doesn't clump card types (rather than playing six Red trains, players might play a Blue, Yellow, White, Green, and Fan Brush card), shuffling isn't nearly as arduous as in Ticket to Ride, and so the more frequent shuffling isn't a real issue.

It's not clear that the game is inherently colorblind-friendly. The Art Supplies cards don't have substantial differentiation in shape effects for the colors, although the name of the color is also printed on each card. More problematic are the paintings themselves, which show color splotches but not names. Whether that's sufficient for colorblind players will come down to whether the heavy saturation means that there's enough to distinguish; I'm not in a position to evaluate that. On the upside, that's a public-information piece and so other players can point out the info as needed without disclosing anyone's intentions or held cards.

Rules Quality
The rules are simple, straightforward, and generally clear. Two issues are noteworthy, though.

1) Players earn 2 Chill points for gaining a Technique card. This is noted in the middle of a paragraph and should be better highlighted, as it's the only place outside of the (expected) paint action that points are earned.

2) The reference for what the sides of the Bob Die do should have been printed on the back of the rulebook and/or on a card for ease of reference, though this is only an issue for a first play.

Bob Ross: Art of Chill Game is a smoothly-playing set collection game that is accessible to all skill levels and has a unique theme that demands attention (at least in the US where Ross is well-known). However, it's not particularly deep and isn't going to reward players over multiple plays. Consider it as a game to play with non-gamers or talk a buddy into buying it, but think twice before purchasing it for your own use.
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Dave S.
United States
Des Moines
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Thanks for the review! My wife and I grew up watching Bob Ross, and still do from time to time so this is a must buy. Sounds like a fairly laid back, relaxing game.
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