Buzzworthiness: Abstract Academy

Thanks to Crafty Games for providing a review copy of this game.

I recently reviewed TEN, from the designers of Point Salad. And guess what? I’m about to review another game by them, this one titled

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Abstract Academy is a 2-4 player game (but really a 2-player game) from designers Molly Johnson, Robert Melvin, and Shawn Stankewich, published by Crafty Games. In the game, you are an art student trying to win the acclaim of the professors while having to share a canvas with another student.

The game comes with a deck of 54 Canvas cards, each divided into four quadrants that each have one of three colors (red, yellow, or blue). Additionally there are Assignments for red, yellow, and blue, as well as Professor cards and a deck of Inspiration cards. At the start of the game, each player gets a hand of three Canvas cards and an Inspiration card. Assignments are revealed based on the round:

  • ROUND ONE: One Assignment of each color.
  • ROUND TWO: Two Professor cards.
  • ROUND THREE: One Professor card and two Assignments (the current Teacher’s Pet gets to choose).

One player (the one who most recently took a class) takes the Teacher’s Pet card.

image by BGG user pkapera

Beginning with the Teacher’s Pet, players take turns placing one Canvas card on the table. Cards will be placed in the same orientation, and won’t exceed a 4×4 grid. When someone places the Canvas card that defines the height of the grid at 4, the row closest to each player becomes their Home Row and can only be played in by that player (unless there is no other move). Other than that, there’s no restriction to play.

After playing a card, the player draws a new one. Once the 4×4 grid is built (each player will have played eight cards), it’s time for scoring. For this, you’ll only be looking at the two rows that are closest to you. First, each player can reveal one Inspiration card. If the shape indicated on the Inspiration card is exactly present (no extras), you score the Inspiration. Next, you score all assignments from left to right, with ties broken by whomever holds the Teacher’s Pet card. If you do break a tie like this, you pass the Teacher’s Pet to the other player. Finally, you score any Professor cards that are present.

At the end of the round, you discard all Canvas cards and draw the next round’s assignments. Players get a new Inspiration card, also keeping any that were not played in the previous round, and you continue as before. After the third round, add up your points to find the winner.

image by BGG user PlayItYourself

Components in Abstract Academy are fairly nice. The cards have a really freshly painted look to them, and they look good. Assignment, Professor, and Inspiration cards are all well laid out, though there was a bit of confusion as to whether or not you could have the shape from an Inspiration card have extra squares (I found the answer on BGG – you cannot). My biggest problem with the components is the packaging. It comes in a flat tuckbox, which is great for portability and not so great for packing the game up again. Tuckboxes are fine for single decks, but you have to split the cards up into two decks here, and it makes putting the game away (and getting it out again) incredibly awkward. I think that if there’s going to be multiple stacks of cards in the box, you need a removable lid. That’s just me.

As for theme, there’s not much. Abstract is in the name, so you’re not really looking for a whole lot of theme. The general art world theme is OK, but really it’s more about making the patterns of colors that are going to score you points. You’re not necessarily creating “art” in the traditional sense – that is, there’s no interpretation of any deeper meaning. But basically what abstract art is, so I guess you can look at your painting at the end of each round and make it mean whatever you want it to mean.

Abstract Academy is really about pattern building. The Assignments and Professor cards give you a goal for the round, and it’s up to you to put the pieces in place to score those points. The building of the 4×4 grid is an intense strategic point, because you can play a card anywhere except your opponent’s home row. This row doesn’t exist right away, so you can play on your opponent’s side to try and manipulate the boundaries of the grid. As you play, you’re going to want to focus on your own side and making those patterns, with an eye on your opponent to see what they’re doing and how you might be able to screw it up.

It’s a fairly easy game to understand, but Abstract Academy is definitely a spatial perception game. You need to be able to visualize the board, make decisions that will get you points, and be able to see where the cards you have in hand should be played.

The Inspiration cards are nice for some private goals you’re working on, and they’re three points each. Assignments are two, and Professor cards are five. Still, as you can only play one per round – if you don’t play one in a round, you won’t be able to play two the next round, even though you keep the unplayed card. I always like having personal goals in addition to the group goals, especially when you can combo the two together.

The game doesn’t take up a lot of room on the table – the grid doesn’t get too huge, and Assignments/Professor cards don’t need a lot of space either. It’s portable to take around, plays fairly quickly, and is a good puzzle challenge.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? I enjoy Abstract Academy. It’s a good spatial perception puzzle type game, with lots of opportunities for strategic play in a small package. It’s fairly rules light and quick, but there are some good things going on underneath the surface.

Thanks again to Crafty Game for providing a review copy of Abstract Academy, and thanks to you for reading!

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