WBG Score: 7.5/10
Player Count 2-4
Published by: Crafty Games
I love abstract games. The puzzle they create. The beauty they often have. The quiet satisfaction when you do well at them. Some abstract games try and manufacture a needless theme around the mechanics. Others proudly run devoid of any theme. From the designers of Dollars to Donuts, Point Salad, and Verdant, Abstract Academy sits somewhere in the middle, but how does it play?
Set-up for Abstract Academy is simple. Each player is dealt three canvas cards and given one challenge inspiration card. For the first round, one red, blue, and yellow assignment card is then flipped over to reveal the ways to score points for this phase. And that's it. You are ready to go!
Players will then take it in turns to place one of their three canvas cards into the central shared playing area, before drawing back up to three cards. As more canvas cards are placed a grid will start to form, with the maximum height and width being four cards. Once a 4x4 grid is created, the round is over and each player will assess their performance against their own private inspiration card and the public assignment cards.
Players are looking to place their canvas cards down to form groups of colours based on the scoring options available for that particular round. Players will only score for the two rows closest to them. As more canvas cards are placed, the rows can build out in any direction until a four sided row or column is formed. So, it might be that you place a card down with the expectation that it will end in your half and score for you, but as later canvas cards are placed behind, this could mean that this is not the case. Players are never allowed to place cards in the row furthest from them, once this has been formed, unless it is their only remaining option.
The evolution of the grid forming in front of the two players is a unique and interesting part of the puzzle. Your choice is not just about what to place and where to place, but also about how you can manipulate the board to end up being set up as you wish come the end of the round. Do you place bad cards at the start to try and then build back from that point so that these end up in your opponents scoring zone? Or do you react to the other players plans and try and disrupt what they are doing and build from it to suit you? There are many ways to play this.
In the second round, professor cards are used instead of the assignment cards. And then in the third and final round a mixture of the two are brought in. The assignment cards are all focused around the particular colour deck they are from. Largest red area. fewest blues etc. The professor cards offer slightly more complex challenges such as trying to have the fewest amount of colour areas on your side. As in, you need to group the colours together as best you can.
Your private inspiration card will challenge you to create a Tetris style polyomino shape. You will get a new inspiration card each round which offers a nice supplementary mini private quest for you to focus on. Sometimes, you can complete these tasks naturally without much thought. Other times when they contradict the other professor or colour assignment cards for that round, they can be a little more tricky or even an avoidable nuisance.
All the professor and assignment cards are scored with an all or nothing mechanic. One player will take the points if they have the most, fewest or longest of that colour, the other player will get nothing. You are rarely fully in control of winning these cards and getting the available points. Whereas you can guarantee the points from the inspiration cards if you want to focus on them.
Playing Abstract Academy feels light but challenging. Laying a card, picking up another card. Choosing from one of three. The rules are simple and rounds and games can fly by. But there are so many nuances to every move. Games can quickly slip away from you if you are not careful. But the overall play time can be as low as 15 minutes with two players who are used to the game so you can always shuffle up and go again. As the scoring cards are win or loose, if you miss out on a few cards by a small margin, it can look like a big loss when the points are tallied up when in fact the game was very close, but hopefully it wont take long to get your revenge!
Abstract Academy is a beautiful looking game. The art is very simple on the canvas cards but it looks stunning. And when the grid is finished, I defy you not to stare at your combined creation, at least for a moment, and see what you made. I always see British farm fields from the perspective of a plane, high above. With rivers and ponds scattered about. What do you see?
I would recommend Abstract Academy to anyone looking for a quick two-player duel card laying game, who enjoys abstract games that relay on a visual puzzle. This game is certainly not going to suit everyone's playing tastes, but those of us who like these sorts of games I think are going to love it!