It wasn’t that long ago that a game being based on a familiar media property – whether that be a book, film, comic or video game – would simply be lazily layered onto a roll-and-move style design. In recent years, however, companies have wised up to the fact that it benefits them hugely in the long run if they actually make an effort to apply satisfying and thematic mechanics to their licensed games. It’s a real pleasure to encounter games such as Back to the Future: Dice Through Time and Horrified, both based on perennially popular yet aging licenses, to find that the designs are incredibly strong and incorporate their themes deeply to be relevant to the stories they’re based on.
It also means that we’re seeing brilliant designs based on the unlikeliest source material. A case in point is Bob Ross: Art of Chill, in which players compete to paint different features on a number of paintings that the late and much-missed artist created himself on TV show, The Joy of Painting. Given how cross-generational the show’s appeal is, due to the host’s wonderfully laidback manner, inspirational advice and charming turns of phrase, it must have been quite the challenge to come up with a game that did it justice and still remained satisfying as a design in its own right.
It’s a very straightforward game to learn and play; each turn, players roll the custom die for a potential bonus or – if you roll a Bob Ross face – to turn over a Chill card (which gives either an immediate bonus or one which will remain in play until the next Chill card is drawn) and then move the little Bob marker along the painting progress track. Players are then able to carry out three actions from a varied selection – collecting an Art Supplies card (they’re dual purpose – paints and brushes – in another smart touch) from the four face up cards currently on offer, drawing an Art Supplies card blind, swapping two colours of paint or two brushes for the matching Technique card (which gives an immediate victory point bonus, as well as further bonuses when completing features using that particular technique on a painting), painting a feature on the current painting and more. The aim of the game is to reach 30 points on the Chill track, thus achieving maximum chill.
In practice, it plays like an incredibly fast moving Ticket to Ride, albeit with no train map – and a few extra wrinkles to the play mechanics to give it a nicely thematic feel. It’s competitive without ever feeling unfair or nasty in a way that competitive games can sometimes become.
The components are wonderful and there are several excellent touches even to the packaging design – with paints and tools shown on the inside of the box lid. The features to be painted are all named with the turns of phrase that Bob Ross is famous for – Happy Little Trees, Fluffy Clouds and Wondrous Water, for example. Chill cards have inspirational, charming quotes from Ross himself on them – and his smiling, avuncular face (and famously fluffy silhouette) is everywhere on the components. The plastic easel to hold the current painting that everyone is competing to finish is another lovely touch. Demonstrating further that the publishers have gone to the nth degree with their component design, each player has a thick cardboard palette for readying their paints to apply to their chosen feature.
If I have a complaint, it’s that the various decks of cards – while they have a lovely finish – are a little thin, and their non standard, varied sizes mean that it’s difficult to get sleeve protectors for them. Another small issue I had was with the similarity of green and brown paints, which led to a bit of confusion for me (having, as I do, some issues with colour blindness). These are, however, nitpicks. The overall design and implementation of the game is fantastic in all other areas.
As you’d probably expect from a game based on such charming, whimsical and laidback source material, Bob Ross: Art of Chill is a brilliantly inclusive and satisfyingly competitive game which is suitable for players of all ages and experience levels. It’s becoming more difficult to find these days – it was initially released in the US as a Target exclusive game in 2017 – so if you do want a copy and can find one online, it’s well worth picking up. I can see this one getting a lot of time at the table, given its ease and speed of play, not to mention the nicely colourful theme and focus on light, pleasant competition. As Bob Ross himself often said: there’s no such thing as mistakes – just happy little accidents. Don’t make the happy little accident of missing out on Bob Ross: Art of Chill though; it’s a game I can highly – perhaps surprisingly – recommend.
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