Review: Pictomania

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Paul: Draw Christmas, without drawing a Christmas tree. How would you do it? The clock is ticking. Tick tock, tick tock. Tick. Tock. Maybe you’d draw a Christmas dinner! Of course! Wait, no, what you’ve drawn looks like the Last Supper fix it QUICKLY NOW oh dear too late everyone’s finished and you didn’t even bother trying to guess what they were drawing-

Quinns: Don’t be difficult. You’re being difficult-

Paul: DRAW “DIFFICULT.”

Quinns: Pictomania is our game of Christmas, our recommendation for what you play with your relatives on the day itself. It’s our game for everyone. Sure, we looked at Game of Thrones to see if that was a gamer’s game for Christmas, but we still need a game to replace all those tired favourites you trot out on the day. In this review-

Paul: DRAW “REVIEW”.

Quinns: DRAW “PAIN IN THE ASS” oh God don’t actually jesus Paul stop.

Quinns: You know Pictionary, right? The classic family game where one of you tries to draw something, and their team has to guess what it is. It’s not a bad game. It’s fun.

Pictomania is literally Pictionary designed by Vlaada Chvatil, our favourite board game designer here at SU&SD, and it plays like the game Pictionary might have been in its youth. Pictionary, but leaner, funnier, more experimental, stronger and so, so much more of a man. Game. More of a game.

Review: Pictomania

Paul: Pictomania has a few big differences from Pictionary. In Pictionary, you’re given a word to try to represent as a picture and it could be a film title, an abstract concept, or something else that’s a bit challenging. Then, something like this might happen…

Excited Player: Spartacus Spartacus is it Spartacus it’s Spartacus Spartacus Spartacus is it Spartacus it’s Office Space it’s Local Hero it’s Spartacus is it Spartacus shit what was the film with that guy with the OH MY GOD IT’S THE MATRIX.

Paul: …And the person who shouts loudest or longest might well win the game for their team, simply by spamming their environment.

In Pictomania, that problem is eliminated right away because you can only guess once, by playing a token that you can’t get back. You also guess while you’re drawing, because you’reall drawing a word and guessing everyone else’s at the same time. Aha.

Quinns: What’s more, all the words everyone’s drawing are actually on display. At the start of each round you deal six cards into the game’s card holders, each displaying seven similar words (so a card might list only jungle animals, or Harry Potter books, or whatever), and everyone’s assigned both a card and a number.

So a round goes something like this: You’re drawing something. Frantically. You’re also watching what everyone else is drawing. Frantically. Your eyes are darting back and forth between the drawings and the cards on display to try and guess who is drawing what. Then you commit one of your guess tokens by slapping it down in front of a player only to find what you thought was some form of camel has suddenly grown a trunk. But it’s too late. Hopefully your own picture is clearer, because the more people who guess correctly, the more points you win.

Paul: You want to be quick, though. You have to be. Guessing faster than anyone else gets you extra points, assuming you’re correct. Finishing your picture and all your guessing also means you get to grab a chequered flag tokens from the centre of the table. They’re all worth different amounts of points too, so if you’re quick enough you can get the most valuable one.

Review: Pictomania

So, to recap, Pictomania goes something like this: Draw as quick as you can. Guess as quick as you can. Draw well, so people guess correctly. Guess well, so you also score points. Finish quickly, so that you can get bonus points. Sweat. Panic. Dribble. End up being committed.

Quinns: The whole multiple choice and one-shot system feels like the perfect evolution of Pictionary. Squinting at a picture you don’t recognise in Pictionary is about as much fun as looking at anything you don’t recognise. In a sense, Pictionary is just a simulation of being old. “Is that… my son? No. It’s, it’s a kettle. Shit no IT’S SPARTACUS.”

By comparison, Pictomania is a window into being high as a kite. You’re often able to determine which card a picture comes from, whether it’s an animal, a family member, a heat source or whatever, so you’re never entirely in the dark, your brain is just on permanent overtime as it stares many evolving puzzles in the face.

Paul: Every round becomes a recipe for wonderful and terrible disaster. Your rushed drawing will be awful because you’re trying to guess everybody else’s. Or, your guesses are going to be awful because you spent too long trying to draw something. But no matter how quickly you try and act, it’s assured, unavoidable, inevitable that you’ll find yourself gawping, slack-jawed at something that’s happening. It’s brilliant- Pictomania is a game about speed that always succeeds at reducing you to immobility. What the hell is that person drawing? How is it that two people seem to have such similar pictures, when they have to be drawing two different things? How are you ever supposed to draw a sociologist?

A sociologist, yes. Depending upon how much you want to make your friends and family suffer, Pictomania has different levels of difficulty. Above you can see the lowest-level green cards and the slightly harder orange cards. Below, you can see the third level cards.

Review: Pictomania

Do you see? At a lower level, you might be trying to draw seomthing simple- different kinds of vehicle, say. At higher levels, things get more abstract and arbitrary and seeing a list of ridiculous and punishing possibilities laid out in front of everyone only makes the guessing and the drawing even more frantic.

The fourth level cards, the purple ones, are especially amazing.

Review: Pictomania

Quinns: Yes. These can range from subtle traps (drawing “drawing” will sound easy unless you notice that the words “sketch” and “doodle” are also on the card) to balls to the wall nightmares. Just look at the above examples! How the crap would you draw selflessness without drawing generosity, bravery or willingness? And don’t forget, you’re doing this while trying to correctly guess everyone else’s comedically dickish words.

Paul: Of course, you’re free to set fire to these purple cards in terror, if you must. Your group can play with whatever difficulty level they want. If they’re newbies. Weaklings. Softies. Wimps. People who can’t draw the difference between a softie and a weakling.

Quinns: God, it’s just so tense and so exciting and so, so ridiculous, from the second you start playing to the second you put everything back in the box. If you’ve somehow gotten this far into the review despite having no interest in a “family game”, know that no game we have ever covered on Shut Up & Sit Down offers more excitement per minute than Pictomania.

In fact, Pictomania’s biggest failing is that it’s a family game I wouldn’t be comfortable taking with me to half the families I know, because it’s too fierce and demanding. Not only is it an extraordinarily tricky mental challenge, on every other round who gets the most valuable chequered flag token will come down to how fast players can move their arms. Just imagine. Christmas day, you’re all a bit drunk, and your nephew and and nan simultaneously slingshot their hands forward to grab that all-important three point token. A sound like a crab dropped off an apartment block fills the room. The ambulance is on its way. Christmas is ruined.

Paul: …he’s joking, of course. Sure, the game is intense, but don’t expect it to cause injury outside of Quinns’ monstrous family. And can I just repeat that you don’t have to play with the hard cards? The easiest cards are genuinely easy, but the game will still be brilliant. Genuinely brilliant as an idea, as an accessible game, as a family game, as something everybody gets in seconds but can play for hours… It’s just brilliant.

Pictomania is to Pictionary what the Eiffel Tower is to an electricity pylon. Buy it. Put it under your Christmas tree. Play it all holiday long.