Game at a Glance
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes; however, I always strive to provide fair and honest reviews
Abstract Academy is an abstract strategy card game for two or four people who play as rival students at a competitive art school. In order to earn top marks you must complete assignments, pay attention to your inspirations, and impress the professors. After tuition money is tight. To make ends meet you have to share your canvas with a rival classmate. Watch out – they just might sabotage your work!
This game arrives in a small box with a few decks of cards. The Canvas Deck includes 54 cards split into quadrants made of one of the three primary colors: yellow, red or blue. These cards are used to “paint” on the canvas to create Areas – adjacent quadrants of the same color. Depending on the scoring conditions, players will be working to create areas of specific shapes and sizes. There are several smaller decks for scoring purposes – the Inspiration Deck, The Professor Deck, and the Assignment Deck (which includes scoring conditions for all three paint colors). The Color Assignments and Professor Cards act as public goals that players are competing for, while the Inspiration cards act as personal goals. If you are able to earn a goal card, you set it aside for end-game scoring.
Players each start with three Canvas cards in their hand and take turns placing a card to a shared “Canvas” – a 4 x 4 grid, then drawing back up to three cards. Cards may be placed orthogonally adjacent to other cards in a 4 x 4 grid. Once the canvas is full, the scoring conditions are resolved. Ties are broken by the Teacher’s Pet Card which doubles as the first player marker and is passed onto the next player resolving a tie.
The goal is to earn the most points over a period of three rounds by outshining your rival(s) on the canvas.
When I first looked at the game and rules I worried that the simplicity of design and gameplay would translate to a game that would be unable to hold my interest. I was very pleased to find out that I was wrong. Yes, Abstract Academy is simple, but the choices it gives its players are anything but. The genius of the design is the shared canvas, which gives a lot of offensive and defensive opportunities to players. Your opponent can and should try to mess with your plans, and vice-versa. The first interesting decision comes in the form of setting the axes, especially the Y-axis which determines each players’ scoring area and home row. The timing and placement of your card plays are quite tricky – you can place cards in a way that works well with the round’s goals but until those axes are set it’s tough to know if they will benefit you or your rival.
Once the axes are set you may still have opportunities to play cards into part of your opponent’s canvas, but by doing so you may be leaving your scoring area blank and vulnerable to sabotage. It can get quite nasty very quickly. Fortunately, the rounds move at a lightning-fast pace and when you are feeling beat-up, you are only a few card plays away from a fresh canvas and relief.
There is a bit of luck involved – at all times you will have three cards in your hand to play and there is no way to discard cards in favor of getting new ones. Occasionally I have felt “painted into a corner” when the cards in my hand do not work well with the open areas on the grid. But the game is short and these moments don’t leave me feeling disappointed or cheated in any way.
Abstract Academy allows for plenty of interaction between players, and although there are many interesting strategic decisions to be made they are not so heavy that it detracts from in-game chatting. I feel like it is a good two-player game for couples who enjoy banter and some feisty take-that in their games.
I’m normally disinterested in four-player variants of games designed for two, as they tend to ask players to split into teams and play the same game. With a few slight modifications to the canvas size, Abstract Academy is able to turn into a four-player competitive game that sounds chaotic (in a good way), and I am waiting for the right opportunity to try it at that count.
The theming on this is quite clever. Similar to a previous Flatout title, Point Salad, the designers took board game terminology and converted it to a theme. It just makes sense to make an abstract strategy game themed around abstract art. I appreciate that the scoring cards utilize famous artists and styles to help shape each canvas.
The components are simple – this is a box full of cards after all. I had no issues with card quality. The artwork is simplistic at first glance, especially the Canvas Cards. But upon closer inspection I find myself enjoying the different painting techniques depicted from the smooth, fluid strokes to the heavily-textured impasto quadrants. The fully-assembled 4 x 4 canvas is never something I’d hang on my wall, but I appreciate the small details in each unique card.
I love when a game is portable and can be thrown in a bag or purse for gaming on the go. Simple packaging such as this is better for the environment than games with packaging bloat. Another bonus is it helps keep the price down, and Abstract Academy is priced very competitively. That being said, I really dislike the execution. In order to fit into the side-opening, the cards must be divided into 2 equally-sized stacks and shimmied in, side-by-side. It’s awkward to get them in and out, and the stacks always seem to get mixed together which is a minor annoyance. I’m likely to ditch the box entirely in favor of some alternative plastic storage bin.
I have been having a lot of fun with Abstract Academy despite being quite bad at it. I may be a better artist, but my husband is better at this spatial-duel. I always seem to “bring a palette knife to a gunfight” as we like to say. I feel the short length really balances out the sting of the take-that element. Whenever I’m losing the battles for scoring points, which is often, the pain is short-lived because we are able to move onto a fresh canvas very quickly.
The pattern building would be fairly bland on its own but the saboteur element adds a lot of interest. Rather than only focusing on the patterns I am trying to build I must also consider the parts of both scoring areas that are vulnerable to attacks. Sometimes I feel the need to put a sub-optimal card in my scoring area to block my opponent from playing a worse card there. Sometimes I have to choose between defending my area or going on the offensive and putting a bad card in my opponent’s scoring zone. These decisions feel important, yet happen very quickly and do not break the rhythm of this fast-paced battle.
I appreciate fine art and love the theme. I think it’s charming, especially with the inclusion of the scoring cards based loosely on artistic movements, artists, and techniques. I can see this game having a strong appeal to those who are in the art world in some form. This is an abstract game so the theme does feel a little thin, but that tends to come with the territory.
The length of this game lends itself to back-to-back plays. As much fun as I have had during my plays with my husband, neither of us has felt the pull to play it twice in a row. That affected my rating slightly. I appreciate the elegant design and felt a personal connection with the theme, but I find myself more “in like” with this game than in love with it. This has to do with personal taste and lukewarm feelings about abstract games in general and is not necessarily due to a design fault.
Abstract Academy is pretty interactive and it can have a heavy dose of take-that. This game won’t appeal to those who dislike games where somebody can sabotage their plans, but fans of quick and interactive duels should enjoy this, especially if they like abstract games. I see this working very well as a portable travel game. The quick setup and playtime make it useful as a filler in between other games, while waiting for a meal, or killing time at the airport. The simple rules mean it is easy to teach to new players and children, but the interesting decisions will keep more seasoned gamers on their toes. I would never turn down a play of Abstract Academy – its quick setup and playtime are a very low time investment and when I do play, I genuinely have fun.