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The ART Project

This game from Lumberjacks Studio and The Op sounded like it might be another Pictionary variant. It's not. It's actually a cooperative puzzle game where the 1-6 players are members of a crime-busting Art Rescue Team battling 'The White Hand' - a criminal organisation responsible for stealing priceless works of art in various locations around the world. The ART Project is designed by Florian Sirieix and Benoit Turpin, with art by Vincent Dutrait.

The game comes with three double-sided boards offering six different maps on which to play - each with slight differences that alter the level of challenge. The 'basic' game is played on the Japan board, with Egypt, USA, Scandinavia, Polynesia and Rio de Janeiro furnishing the other maps. There will be White Hand tokens on each location on your map, and more tokens will get added as the game progresses. You'll need to keep these under control (ie: roll dice to fight them) because if there are ever five White Hands at a location, that location is taken out of play and becomes impassable.

Your mission is to retrieve crates of art stolen by The White Hand. To place a crate out at a location, you'll need to collect three matching mission icons. You get these from cards but they'll require the expenditure of various resources - mixes of fuel, guns, walkie talkies or health tokens - tho' they may also give you resources. Players will each be drawing two mission cards and choosing between them but you'll want to discuss the requirements and benefits because those are likely to determine the best order in which to take your turns that round.

Moving your agent pawn costs 1 fuel for each space moved, so it's expensive and thus important to optimise movement.

The game steps up in difficulty as you play. When you recover a crate of art it goes on a track on the board where it has the effect of increasing the difficulty (dice rolls required) for all subsequent contests with The White Hand - to the point where the rolls required for the last couple of crates look impossible to achieve with the d6 dice with which each character starts. To have any chance of collectively winning, players will not only need to combine their dice at the same location but they'll also need to 'obtain allies' (ie: spend walkie talkie tokens to buy extra d6 dice that all the players can make use of in combat). In our plays at Board's Eye View, we often did best in games where players deliberately chose missions early on that gave a reward of extra walkie talkies and/or health which we spent straightaway on ally dice.

If you enjoy Pandemic (Z-Man Games) in any of its various incarnations, you'll almost certainly want to try your White Hand at The ART Project. At its best with three players, the game delivers just the right balance between tactical planning and push-your-luck gambles. Those 'ally' dice are expensive early on in the game (they initially cost 6 walkie talkies) but they can be a good investment because, once added, they are available in every battle against The White Hand; and you'll certainly need several of those ally dice to have any chance of winning with those last crates.

Players are all involved all through the game, so there's really no downtime in The ART Project, and the way in which the difficulty steps up with every success gives each game a clear arc. It, and the ever-impending threat of collective defeat, inject tension and excitement so that if you do win you'll have a real sense of achievement. And the six different maps, each with their extra twist or requirements, mean that there's enough variety in the box to keep players coming back for more.

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