Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Saturday 31 August 2019

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Atelier: The Painter's Studio

Game: Atelier: The Painter's Studio

Publisher: AEG

Designer:  Nicolas Bongiu

Year: 2019

Atelier is a game all about 19th century paintings. In fact, BGG credits 30 artists to the game, presumably because most of the artwork is original artist from some classically famous artists. In Atelier you are playing as an artist managing an art studio during the 19th century. By managing your assistants you can collect the combinations of paint you will need to complete different works of art. Works of art vary in complexity and depending on their content they might be more or less suitable for your patrons who are always demanding something different. Of course, you might just want to ignore your patrons and produce only the most stunning and valuable works of art in order to win the game.


At the start of the game each player will be handed the dice and of meeple in their colour along with a choice of 2 patron cards. Each turn players will roll all of their unused dice and then performing one of the matching numbered actions by using one or more dice of that number. Play then moves to the next player who will do the same. Once it's back to your turn you will roll all the dice you haven't yet used and pick an action again until you run out of dice.

There are 5 standard actions that can be performed with dice. a 1 or a 2 lets you place a meeple besides on of the paint piles. A 3 lets you move meeples around (both yours and your opponents) in order to get them into the ideal position. a 4 lets you gain one paint of every colour where you have the most meeple.  A 5 lets you consume paint in order to create a painting and a 6 lets you take a paint of any colour. If you don't want to do any of the actions you rolled you can always throw away a die to gain an inspiration token. These can be used for re-rolls, extra painting slots or to gain patron cards.

All of this is done with the goal of gaining paintings. There will be seven paintings available at any one time and to paint a painting you will need the right collection of paint which will be consumed in the process. Painting cards typically rewards you end game points and may give you an in game power for the rest of the game. These powers can be extremely strong, such as a permanent reduction in the amount of paint needed to paint future paintings. Among the paintings are masterpieces, these tend not to give such big in game bonuses, but better end game rewards. Once one player collects their 3rd masterpiece the end of the game is triggered. At the end of the game players will gain points from their paintings and any patrons they have sufficiently pleased.

Amy’s Final Thoughts

Atelier is an easy game to get in to, and gameplay is fast around the board which all works in its favour. The theme is truly done justice with the incredible player boards and gorgeous card art. All in all a strong start. But the biggest problem you'll find is that most of the time this strong start if rapidly followed by a limp finish. The target goal of 3 masterpieces is far to easy to reach far too early, almost half the deck of paintings are masterpieces and they aren't usually that much harder to paint than the regular paintings. This strongly incentives rushing to get the 3 masterpieces first, especially as there is a juicy 4 point reward for doing so! And like that, the game is over before you got stuck in!

But when you can get stuck in, that's when Atelier really shines! The combos and bonuses you can get from the regular paintings really make you feel like you are more powerful the longer the game progresses. Suddenly you are placing more workers, painting for cheaper and being somewhat lax about the colours you have to use. Building up a functioning tableau is really where the fun is in this game, so it's a shame that it's typically too short to allow you to do so.

Dice rolling action selection isn't my favourite mechanic by a long shot (just let me choose my action!) but here the ability to use any die for an inspiration token goes someway to assist the unlucky. Still losing control over the paint selection can be incredibly painful. A full 4/5ths of the available dice rolls revolve around the meeples and the paint piles, which means that Atelier is more of an area control game than you may have originally expected. Overall Atelier is a nice gateway game, but for experienced gamers you'll find most games don't give you enough time to really sink your teeth into the tableau building. Go in prepared for a fair amount of luck to factor into what you can do and you'll have a good time.

Fi’s Final Thoughts

Atelier could perhaps be accused of being a little overproduced, but I do love the paint palette player board and the rule book that looks like a leaflet you’d pick up in an art gallery. The heart of this game is one-part tableau builder and the other part area control that drives resource management. For me, the opportunity to build a tableau that drives your ability to mitigate the luck of your dice is really what makes the game interesting, as you build up to take bigger and more exciting turns.

Atelier initially caused me a fair amount of frustration because of the dice luck aspect. A significant element of the game is area control. The dice dictate whether you get the opportunity to place workers onto one of the four paint stacks or move workers to manipulate control. Dice rolling then determines whether you roll the four that’s needed to maximise the position you created in order to get a bunch of paint. Sometimes you feel like you have no power at all, whilst another player might get into a good position and roll three fours, giving them the motherload of paint to play with. It surprises me that the one action you can take by spending the cardboard tokens is action 5 for painting a painting. Why not just have a spend 2 tokens, take any actions for free – after all – if you’re rolling fair dice then are not all actions intended to be perceived as equally strong?

Whilst there are limited ways to mitigate your luck in the standard actions on your player board, it wasn’t until we ended up playing some extended games – provoked by a fortunate shuffle of the painting deck – that I really saw the value in the mitigating actions available from painting cards. Too many of our games ended too soon to really appreciate that building a tableau that uses these effects seems to be where the true enjoyment in Atelier is found for me.

However, it's not really fair that I want to give a briefing to my friends to warn them that extending the game and not painting masterpieces early is the way we’ll make this game more enjoyable. The game should be enjoyable without an advance briefing and unfortunately for us it was a 1 in 2 or 1 in 3 chance that we got to enjoy it to the full.

You Might Like...
  • Atelier is light and quick to setup and teach.
  • Through tableau building you can create a power set of special abilities that reduce your reliance on the dice as the game progresses.
  • The paint palette is a fantastic, thematic player board and simple player aid.
You Might Not Like...
  • Dice luck is a factor, especially with whether you can gain control with your assistants to gain paints.
  • Masterpieces feel too common, so it's too easy for the game to end abruptly and early when one person paints three masterpieces.

The Verdict
6/10 Atelier would rate a little more highly for us if you could always guarantee it would last longer. Building a tableau of interesting special abilities and complementary end-game scoring cards is fun. The lovely production quality and theming are just slightly let down by having an area control game that's powered by dice luck and no consistent mitigation. If you're looking for light dice rolling and a lovely theme though, then Atelier may be for you.

Atelier was a review copy kindly provided to us by AEG.

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